Seeing Donald leave: A farewell to my obsession?
By now we can be very sure that the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, will be leaving the Oval Office on the 20th of Januar, 2021. Obviously we will still be hearing a lot, A LOT, of this man. Be it him suing the country, the states, the libs, the dems, everyone, for losing the "rigged" election. Be it him trying to cause as much damage as possible before having to leave the office. Be it whatever else this twisted and hurt mind can come up with. Furthermore, he will absolutely not be gone for good after January, 20th, either. People already expect him to (i) stay in politics, (ii) to build up a media empire, (iii) to be sued for tax evasion, (iv) to probably go to jail, (v) to maybe run for president again in 2024, and so on. However his last months will turn out, we can be sure that the media will still be filled to the brim with news on Donald J. Trump. But, and here is an important distinction, after January 20th, the news about him won't matter as much as before. While he was POTUS, his every move was of importance: Leaving the Paris Climate Agreement, stopping the funding of the WHO, building walls, giving conspiracy theorists and white supremacists a voice... just to name a few on the top of my head. If this is done by an American president, it matters. If it is done by an ex-president, it is still dangerous, true, but it just doesn't have as much impact for the rest of the world. Thus, for the first time in years, I am confronted with the prospect of leaving this man behind, to bid him farewell and refuse him to be a part of my life anymore. And questioning how my unhealthy obsession with him came to be, how I came to identify it, and what I can do to get rid of it.
The first step in my recovery must be to acknowledge that I have a problem: Yes, I consumed so many media reports on Donald Trump that one may call it an obsession. Donald Trump himself reported how the Democrats, the liberal media, the "mainstream" media, and the "fake media" (I guess these are all basically the same in his viewpoint) are obsessed with him. I feel a bit bad about admitting that this guy has been in my head for four years now, because I do not want to give him that space. My head is too precious for hosting such a parasite. But still... he was right.
But why the obsession with Donald Trump?
One of the reasons that I (negatively) fell for him so much: He was omnipresent in the media channels that I used to consume and his frequent wrongdoings often were of the quality of a super villain. Just like I would invest time and passion into reading a story about a serial killer or about a kidnapped child that was held in a cellar for fourteen years, I would consume reports on Donald Trump. I was painfully aware of doing this: Sometimes while reading the news I caught myself skipping over the daily headlines and mainly reading those articles that were about Trump. Rarely, when I didn't have much time on my hands, I would limit my media consumption to only Trump news. Oh, how much I love true crime documentaries... and this was one playing out in front of our eyes (I am still certain that Oliver Stone will do a big screen picture about Trump, probably for Netflix, before 2022, mark my words). Starting with the unlikely rise from Reality-TV-idiot to Republican nominee to actual President of the United States was a magnificent start. His breaking with traditions, his incoherent speeches and deeds, his narcissism, and his blatant stupidity... they all formed such a stunning picture of one orange man who by accident had become one of the most powerful people of the world. How can you not be sitting on the edge of your chair on that one?
In the first years of the presidency, my focus on Trump news had a simple legitimatization: I was desperately searching for the mishap that will cause him to fall. Fall hard. Whenever there was a new scandal, I was psyched: Will it be the final one? Will it bring this powerful man finally to his knees? Of course, the two major spectacles of the last 4 years were the Russia collusion and the Ukraine "I want you to do me a favour" scandal. But when I saw the Mueller report being published without the damning evidence (albeit without any exoneration either) and being redacted by AG Barr, I knew this would not be the end. And when I saw the Ukraine scandal unravel so clearly and leading to an impeachment before the House of Representatives, yet still the Senate Republicans blocked a hearing of John Bolton, I came to realize that Trump will not be taken out of office prematurely. The system will not let this happen, as long as the Republican party still showed him support. And they did.
Yes, in order to watch him these past four years you would probably need a bit of love for disaster, a bit of voyeurism - like when passing a car wreck on the autobahn and looking out for puddles of blood -, and certainly you need a large bit of masochism. But with all the funny comparisons and bon mots, I cannot hide that he also scared me shitless. There were many times that I just couldn't believe how truly brutal, incompetent, drastic, and downright ruthless this man acted. Due to the sheer number of horrible things he committed, it would be impossible to give a proper account of what shocked me the most. I would surely forget something important. But the things that directly come to mind are him leaving the Paris climate agreement (because coal lobbying money is just so precious and plentiful), stopping the funding of the WHO (during a fucking pandemic), and openly refusing any scientific counsel on most important questions. And even making this a point of his re-election campaign! He "accused" his opponent of "listening to the scientists", as if this was a bad thing. That is unthinkable, unimagineable, yet still... he managed to wrap his doings in such a way that his loyal followers came really close of re-electing him as a president. More than 70 million Americans bought in on this crap. How this echo-chamber/social-media/murdoch-media/horror-scenario came to be is the actual question in these trying times (and not this secondary "obsession" topic I am writing about here), but it is far beyond the scope of this article.
Trump and the climate
As you can tell from my blog I am pretty involved in matters of climate change and related communication issues, involving debunking climate science misinformation. So for me personally, Trump's refusal to listen to climate scientists, his withdrawal from the Paris agreement, his bullying of scientists, his replacement of important figures with science deniers in scientific institutions was what really hit me hard. His closeness to Brazils right-wing leader Bolsonaro and his ruthless burning down of the crucially important rain forest added to that. Thankfully, many of this can be turned into a better direction now: Biden has vowed to re-enter the Paris agreement asap, and Bolsonaro is not exactly psyched of seeing Trump - one of his closest allies - go; after all, POTUS could not have cared less to watch him burn down the rain forest. But some things will take much, much longer to be turned around, if it is possible at all. For example the current anti-science sentiment that is shared by millions of persons in the United States (but also worldwide) and the constant distribution of blatant disinformation via social media. It seems that it is not important anymore to be correct in what you are uttering on these channels - it's just important that there are enough people that believe you out of loyalty or whatever reasons. The most recent example of this is Trumps refusal to leave office: He simply states that there are loads of evidence of voter fraud, while his lawyers at the court house openly admit that they have NO evidence - but this discrepancy really doesn't matter. What matters is that Trumps initial statement is shared and believed millions of times by his followers.
Welcome to 2020, the end of Trump is nigh
Let's not kid ourselves: Without the Covid pandemic and Trumps shocking mishandling of it, he would have been re-elected into office. It really took this coincidence to put him down... when I woke up in the early hours of November, 4th, (CET), I didn't know what to think or feel. Of course I was expecting Trump to be in the lead. It was reported before the election that Trump would benefit from the in-person votes and first take a lead in the race, while the mail-in ballots would be counted later on and obviously benefit Biden, resulting in a blue shift. This was reported weeks before the election so it shouldn't have come as a surprise. But when I saw Florida and Texas be called for the red team, I was devastated. Both of these states were admittedly close calls in the polls, but Democrats saw a chance of turning them blue. When this didn't happen and also the other states were redder than expected I was crushed. I already started seeing Biden and Harris as losers and tried to find out what they may have done wrong. What exactly had been the problem? Hopes and stakes were so high. We had all been waiting for Trump to finally be removed - basically for four years. How could it have gone so wrong? And how would we endure four more years of this? After four more years of Trump, he would have bent this democracy and bent the laws of this country to probably ensure him a presidency for a life time. Not to speak of completely wrecking our climate on the way by courting fossil fuel lobbies, denying climate change, and going to his golf course with Bolsonaro and other culprits not giving a single shit about the climate. What a fucking disaster.
But in the days to come, I would unblinkingly stare at the election results, going to sleep around midnight and getting up at around 5 in the morning. And I started rejoicing after some time passed. The blue shift actually was a thing. It was actually happening as predicted. My relieve was beyond words, when Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and later Pennsylvania switched to blue and stayed there. On Saturday, when the election was finally called for Biden to be president-elect, I had a great dinner with my wife and kids, and since I couldn't go out with friends to celebrate - due to Covid - I drank half a bottle of fine bourbon and watched nothing but the news of people dancing in the streets. I couldn't recall the last time that I was this happily drunk. It was finally over. And I am not here to celebrate Biden, I really am not. He seems a decent guy and I hope for the best. I merely celebrated to be rid of the orange baby guy, because nothing and no one could be doing the job worse than him.
Now that the orange guy is gone, what's left of the obsession?
Truth be told I cannot say if Trumps removal from office will really mean that my obsession with him is gone as well. Especially given the fight that he's showing us right now and the prospect of him being either prosecuted or staying in politics makes me doubt that I can or will go cold turkey. But it surely will be alleviated and be getting better over time. I'll have more time looking at trees and mountains or watching small dogs play. And I can find a new focus in my media consumption, will have more time to read on the climate, on local news, on finding a vaccine against Covid. Have a look at what some right wing nutters in my own country are actually up to now (see AfD and the anti-covid movement, but also see the rising star of F. Merz). But I am pretty sure that my main focus will and must be combatting the further spread of misinformation - be it in politics, be it in Covid news, be it in climate change news. You may have noticed (or not) that I did not provide a lot of resources and links in this article to underline or verify my statements. That is due to a) this being rather an article on emotions instead of facts that need to be verified, and b) I take quite a lot of the statements in this article for granted and as common sense. Alas, I am completely aware that people living in different echo chambers than my own may be very vocal about the implications I am making here and may deny them to be true: (i) Biden has won the presidency, (ii) there is no evidence of voter fraud, (iii) Trump should have been impeached by the Senate, (iv) mail-in ballots favor Biden, and many many other statements of this article... all of this is contested by many millions of people. And the main reason is the rising spread of disinformation, primarily on social media. This is not something that has started with Donald Trump, and it will not end with him leaving office. He may have employed it in a way and on a scale like no one before, but he didn't invent it. This spread of misinformation will stay and it will amplify the division not only of the people of the US, but in the world.
So I will continue going into the direction that I am going with this blog: Counter and combat disinformation, and stay alert about this topic. How can it be identified, how can it be debunked, how can people be sensitized on the matter that you cannot simply trust everything that looks truthful on your media channels. Especially, how can we teach this to our children (as a father of three this makes the aspect even more important to me)? One nice book that I stumbled upon recently was "Calling bullshit" by Jevin West and Carl T Bergström. Despite being aware of the abundance of misinformation out there this book still taught me a lot about identifying and calling it for what it often is: bullshit.
PS: Although I now can spend my life looking at mountains, the guy in the last picture is not me. Picture reference is Stefan Stefancik.