Friday, March 10, 2017


Dear George,
One of my favorite words during my college years was “ennui”. defines it as: “a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest.”  I’d sort of forgotten about this excellent term until recently when I started reflecting on my emotional state of emptiness and sudden need for naps.  I’ve been unable to put my finger on the source of these feelings until I started thinking about what my typical day is like.  It goes as follows:

  • 9:30-ish:  Read the latest Trump news in the Cincinnati Enquirer.  
  • 10 to 6:  Check Google News 3 or 4 times during the day to get Trump updates. 
  • 5:30:  Read all the New York Times stories and editorials about Trump.  
  • 6:30: Watch NBC News for Trump news.
  • Evening: Check MSNBC or CNN off and on for Trump critiques.
  • 11:00: Watch the Daily Show for Trump satire.
  • 11:35: Watch Stephen Colbert’s monologue about Trump
  • Midnight: Go to sleep and get rested for the next day of Trump-watching.  

This sounds like a joke, but, in fact, it’s reasonably accurate.  Talk about satiety.  I can’t think of any time in my lifetime that the media has devoted as much attention to a new president.  The connection between Trump and the media seems to be a symbiotic one.  Trump feeds off attention, and the contribution of media attention to his popularity doesn’t seem to depend on whether it’s positive or negative in content.  The media, at the same time, are thriving.  Despite  (or more likely because of)Trump’s constant attacks, CNN ratings are up about 40% from a year ago.  New York Times subscriptions have increased 1000% since Trump’s election.  The Times gripes about the media’s excessive attention to Trump, but they devote around 50% of their daily editorial space to heated criticisms of Trump and his administration.  

I’d like to think that my excessive media habits mean that I’m doing my duty as a citizen by keeping in touch with current events.   Maybe that’s about 5% of it.  A much bigger chunk is something like obsessively watching a horror story.  The administration’s actions have damaging consequences for major sectors of the American populace: women, immigrants and refugees, Muslim-Americans, gays and lesbians, the elderly, African-Americans, the poor, and, when it comes down to it, just about everyone else.  It’s like reading about serial killings or terrorist attacks.  It’s horrible, but it grabs your attention.  Then there is simultaneously a comedy side.  There is a weird cast of characters, and the administration is sufficiently chaotic that it’s a bit like watching the Keystone Kops.  The late-night talk show hosts can’t keep up with all the material.  However, humor can only go so far.  At its core, this is the opposite of funny stuff.    

So, going back to ennui, I’d say that my feelings of ennui are tied to my belief that  we, as a nation, are teetering toward calamity.  Following media accounts of Trump’s words and actions is sort of like breathing toxic air all day long.  It’s no wonder that people feel terrible.   Part of me says to simply tune it all out — turn off the TV, read the sports page instead of the editorials.  I doubt if I’ll do that though.  However, I’d like to be more aware of what I’m doing and why.  I feel like I’m falling prey to Trump’s antics and the media’s highlighting of them.  It’s time to try to get some detachment and perspective.  Just how to do that is another question. 

1 comment:

  1. This is so true. I do the same. In addition to feeling like we're about to go over Niagara Falls (no barrel), I always think that at some point the headlines will read not "This *could be* what finally brings him down" but "He's down! gone! kaput!" I read somewhere that we think this obsessing and watching the news, etc., makes us think we're actually doing something when we're not. That really hit me. But what's the alternative? The one thing I feel positive about is my monthly donations to several good organizations. Let the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center save us! Back in the days of Watergate, I'd walk into town for the Washington Post every day and read with grim delight about Nixon and Kissinger praying or whatever, and I thought nothing could top that scandal. I was so wrong! Anyway, I feel your pain and your ennui. Does it help to know you're not alone? For me the answer is yes. Not that much! But yes.