‘Soul-Sucking, Attention-Eating Black Hole’: Why we need to look beyond Trump

REUTERS/Carlos Barria
President Donald Trump speaking prior to signing an executive order on "Energy Independence" on Tuesday.

I confess I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the doings and sayings and tweetings and lies of the current incumbent. When I worry about that, it is for two reasons: Reason A is that if one is just calling out President Trump’s lies (let alone his self-serving and self-obsessed hijinks in other non-mendacity areas) one is overlooking a great many important things going on in the nation and the world, many of which are relatively unrelated to Trump’s antics.

Reason B derives from having spent so many of my scribbling days (and years and decades) as a hard news reporter. I still sometimes hear the voice of the old norms of the “objectivity” paradigm within which that game was circumscribed. If I write about 10 Trump lies, do I have to find something he said that was true and make a big deal about it, to fend off the inevitable criticisms of bias? Or bring up some much-less-outrageous half-truth that the no-longer-terribly-relevant Hillary Clinton once uttered?

I’ve tried not to listen to that voice (and I do note that Trump admirers in the comment thread occasionally accuse me of bias along those lines) in part because I don’t want to engage in what smarties like the late Sen. Pat Moynihan called “defining deviancy down.”

This morning, I read this excellent piece by Foreign Policy Editor David Rothkopf. It brings up another argument against excessive focus on the Trump clown car: A great many other important things are happening in the world and many of them are very, very worrisome. Some of them relate to the larger Trumpian phenomenon and some of them don’t. But they are big and have long-term, real-world and potentially world-changing consequences, whether or not they are related to the latest 10 versions of Trump-is-a-liar, Trump-is-a-boor, Trump-said-something-that-might-be-called-racist-sexist-xenophobic-ignorant-egocentric categories.

Rothkopf, whose writing is often on the dry side, showed off his gift for sarcasm and hyperbole in this piece, which is titled “The Soul-Sucking, Attention-Eating Black Hole of the Trump Presidency,” (followed by the subhead: “While we endlessly watch for the latest blunder or scandal, America is being pulled dangerously off course.”)

Perhaps you can infer the argument from that. I promised myself I would write short today so I won’t try to summarize all the ways Rothkopf suggests that Trump is sucking our souls and eating our brains nor the things to which we should be attending other than the latest Trumpian tweet (the rise of China as a threat to U.S. global leadership figures heavily in that part). But, in an effort to get you to read the whole Rothkopfian rant, I’ll paste in his first two paragraphs, in which he manages to mention both rapper Kanye West and theologian Thomas Merton, and see if you can resist clicking through to it.

Rothkopf begins:

America is a naturally narcissistic nation. From “exceptionalism” to being the “last best hope of Earth,” we are raised to believe that life on this planet revolves around those of us who live somewhere here in “God’s country.” But even with a history of believing that we are the sun around which all other countries orbit, it has fallen to our nation’s narcissist-in-chief to take us to a level of self-obsession that makes Kanye West look like Thomas Merton.

It is not just that Donald Trump is an egomaniac. Most presidents have a pathological need for approval and attention. It’s why they suffer the slings and arrows that come with seeking the country’s top office. Egomania is for Hollywood actors and House committee chairmen who think the rule of law doesn’t apply to them. Trump is a Transcendental Solipsist. It is not just that he has a strong sense of self. His view of the universe does not extend a single inch beyond the boundaries of his own interests. That is why normative concepts like truth or commonly held values or the national interest are completely alien to him. There is Trump world, and then there is oblivion.

The whole piece is here. Have a good afternoon.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Patrick Tice on 03/29/2017 - 11:53 am.

    A minor point

    Isn’t an incumbent always current?

    Now, on to West & Merton… Thanks for the link.

  2. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 03/29/2017 - 04:14 pm.

    Take heart…

    If nothing else, “an old time hard news reporter” should appreciate that the competition to uncover facts about the Russian hacking and Trump involvement is almost reminiscent of Watergate: the Washington Post vs. the New York Times. Sure, we have a lot of excess, bonus noise from the far left and far right emerging media; but, big time, mainstream, well funded (well, sort of) news groups see a potential Watergate like seismic event in the making and want the lead in breaking the next story. The legacy of Woodstein lives!

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/29/2017 - 07:42 pm.

    Make no mistake, Trump and the people around him have an agenda that they are serious about accomplishing. Trivialities such as jobs for coal-miners and health-care reform will be done in shoddy, slip-shod manner, with the exception of the parts that benefit the plutocrats (de-regulation and tax-cuts being the most obvious ones).

    It is interesting that the Republican party has devolved in putting forward candidates that are flawed policy-people, but win elections (Reagan, Bush2, and now Trump). One should realize that it is the people behind the President are the ones to watch, so the tradition of corrupt authoritarianism of Republican administrations in now a tradition. Yes, the mis-steps and faux-pas are entertaining, but they are in the service of ill-intent.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/29/2017 - 07:56 pm.

    Spot on

    “Off course” Under “T” we no longer set the world course, we are losing the play book, to those that don’t get it, when we no longer set the world course someone else does. The business saying is “lead, follow, or get out of the way” The “T” and his followers don’t get it, we are moving to a 2nd if not 3rd class country, if you can’t compete with the best of them, you don’t make the final 4! Our ass is grass and China, Taiwan, India, etc. are the lawn mower because “T” and his minions can’t compete! Who the hell said life was fair?

  5. Submitted by Candace Kragthorpe on 03/30/2017 - 07:23 am.

    Thank you!

    For my own well-being, I try to limit my exposure to the cynicism that abounds but this was well worth reading and sharing.

  6. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/30/2017 - 07:42 am.

    Three questions and a thought

    The first question: Who is making Trump bigger than life and can’t stop talking about him? The answer: The media. Since beginning of February, Mr. Black wrote about Trump or something related to him 20 times and just one time about something else… So maybe this is the problem, not Trump…

    The second question: Trump has been a President for two month but all the international problems mentioned in the referenced piece have been with us for a while… Is it possible that Obama was doing something wrong there?

    And the third question: Why is the world upset with the idea that Trump may not be as much involved in the world anymore? Wasn’t Bush pounded for getting involved too much? Even the Chinese understand that America provides the world security – a notion foreign to Democrats.

    And finally, being not-biased doesn’t mean balancing criticizing Trump with criticizing Clinton in the same article or in the next. It means historical balance in the meaning that if Clinton or Obama got a pass in the past for something, so should Trump in the same circumstance. Again, said to defend the fairness, not Trump.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/30/2017 - 11:32 am.

    Not to second-guess someone who has made a career out of journalism, but I remember days when objective news gathering did not involved some kind of “balancing” [countering] the facts with, well, . . .something else from those who don’t like those facts.

    The whole “balancing” thing is an anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, ideological push from “conservatives” who would like never to see the future, just a re-enlivened past where all was well with the world and we didn’t have to think about what humankind is doing to the only planet we know of that sustains life. To mention just one fact that in recent years somehow needs “balancing” with opposite opinion.

    Don’t buy into that right-wing emphasis on some fake “balance,” Eric. Objectivity in reporting is to be pursued, even though perfect objectivity is never reachable. A lot of objectivity seekers, though, put together, can get pretty close to truth.

    We should keep our eye on other things besides Trump, who manipulates the media so magisterily that the media think they’re in the wrong when it’s really him priming the Trump Pump all the time–phone calls to Time magazine or the Washington Post, phoned-in, self-generated “interviews” with his faves at Fox News, releasing classified intelligence data to Rep. Nunes about how “innocent” administration figures get caught in tappings of Russian phones (if you guys haven’t figured out that it was Trump who released his two-page summary 2005 tax returns, and Trump who oversaw release of classified intelligence to Nunes, then you’re slow–the White House under Trump is a leaking sieve.)

    But we seem unable so far to stop Trump, and in the meantime, China is stepping right up to the international leadership plate that Trump has abandoned for our country. Anybody following China lately? They are now leading the environmental movement, they’re the ones developing Africa, they’re the ones controlling what happens to South Asian trade compacts, etc.

    Trump’s tweets aren’t the worst of this. It’s his ignorance of what he’s doing, his inability to grasp where he is and what to do for our country and the world to make it better

    Let’s keep tracking and calling him out, so history will at least not say we didn’t pay attention.

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