The political news these days comes barreling at you in relentless waves, and so much of it is depressing, discouraging and scary. And, of course, some of it is merely a distraction, bright shiny objectives that have little or no real importance. Worse yet, some of it is fake.
If you are a person who feels a responsibility to keep up with current affairs, to be knowledgable about what our government and its leaders are doing, you can’t just shut yourself off or bury your head in the sand.
To take an example, how does someone sift through the torrent of news items from the past couple of week? Roy Moore and teenage girls. A Republican tax bill that threatens to exacerbate the income and inequality gap in this country. Continuing Congressional efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. Mass shootings followed by Congressional “thoughts and prayers.” Jeff Session’s incredible shrinking memory. Donald Trump’s foreign travels that emphasized his high esteem for dictators. More revelations about Trump campaign officials meeting with Russians during the presidential campaign. The threat of a nuclear war with North Korea. Further dismantling of environmental protections by the EPA.
And the surprisingly positive results from the 2017 election.
I’ve only scratched the surface, but even this list is more than most of us can absorb. Yet, our in-baskets are filled with countless news summaries and updates. Some of us start the day with “Morning Joe” and make sure we are still up to date by evening by checking in with Rachel Maddow.
The challenge is finding the happy medium between being constantly outraged and being disengaged. How do you fulfill your responsibility to be an informed citizen without driving yourself crazy?
I certainly haven’t figured out a foolproof approach, but looking back at recent events may help develop some rough guidelines. In any cases, here’s my best shot.
Robert Mueller is going to figure out whether there was collusion or improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. Neither the additional public revelations nor the continuing denials will change that. Until the investigation fingers the President or people really close to him, it’s not important to follow the day-to-day drama. That should free up a lot of time and emotion.
Roy Moore is a Republican problem. That party is now in a lose-lose situation of its own making. We already have enough information to confirm without doubt that Moore is a slimy hypocrite and sexual predator. Additional disclosures will only be further confirmation. Other than the priceless material he is providing to late night comics, Moore isn’t worth much of our attention.
When the Alabama election results are in, one of two things will happen, either of which is significant. Democrats may pick up a Senate seat which would cut the Republican majority to one. That would be important. On the other hand, a Moore victory would mean that every Republican office holder for the foreseeable future would have to answer questions about the Party’s association with him, a prospect none of them will relish.
Both Donalds, the original and Jr., are going to continue their vaudeville performances. Much of it is tweets and stupidity signifying nothing. We know Jr. is a lightweight who has stumbled into incriminating acts, but his antics are only worth Mueller’s attention, not ours.
President Trump is obviously a more complicated category. He draws a lot of attention for his erratic behavior, his buffoonery, his endless lies that often have no point and his stunning lack of a moral compass. While we shouldn’t ignore those characteristics, neither is it worth obsessing about them. He is what he is.
On the other hand, his actions should get our attention. In foreign affairs, he has already done great damage to this country’s national interests and seems eager to do even more. Pulling out of the international climate agreement. Shredding trade deals. Calling into question our collective security treaties. Engaging in irrational taunting of North Korea. Acting as if Vladimir Putin is our friend rather than a deadly enemy.
Trump has sacrificed our leadership position in the world, has made us a less reliable partner to our allies, has failed to understand much less respond to the serious threats that this country faces. Our attention and activism should be focused on these areas, not on his idiotic tweets.
Similarly, the tax bill now under consideration by Congress, the efforts to dismantle the health care system and the relentless attacks on environmental regulations should have all of us up in arms. Public opinion and political pressure have already contributed significantly to the many failures of the Trump legislative agenda. This is no time to stop.
Nor should we ever accept the level and frequency of deadly gun violence in this country as normal, as just another day in America. Rather than periodic upswings of attention when another massacre occurs, we need to push every day for sensible gun laws.
With all the time that my suggestions have freed up from your day, the best way in which you can change the political landscape and at the same time enhance your mental health is to get involved in state and local elections in 2018. As the results of last week’s elections demonstrate, there is a real opportunity to make significant gains in state legislatures. The political winds are shifting and may even lead to a change in party control of both houses of Congress.
The winds aren’t enough however. Volunteering, organizing, and making campaign contributions are essential if the light is to be restored to American politics.