Not so very long ago, August was the doldrums in the news business. If it was not an election year, major political news was scarce. Reporters, columnists and cartoonists scrambled to find things to write about and comment upon. The country was on vacation, and so was Congress and the president.
In his summers as president, Theodore Roosevelt would round up his swarm of children and head off to his big, rambling house on Long Island to take up residence for weeks at a time. A later Roosevelt — Franklin Delano — would successfully disappear to his family home on the Hudson. Even when a president as recent as Barack Obama retreated to Hawaii, he usually slipped out of the headlines.
Sadly, this is no longer the case. Our current commander in chief claims to be on holiday at yet another of his exclusive golf resorts, but he has not taken a vacation from tweeting every morning to pick fights with his favorite targets — in particular, the free press and the prosecutors who are investigating him, his family and many of his key campaign aides.
Donald Trump continues to seethe with his crazy obsession over what he calls “fake news” (otherwise known as the facts he does not want to face). On Monday, he was insisting his base of support is far bigger than polls indicate because, by golly, a whole bunch of people turned out for his recent campaign-style rallies in Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania. When he claimed the “liberal” news media is lying when they say his support is the worst of any new president in modern history, he gets instant and pervasive coverage in that same media.
Trump has been a highly unusual president in almost every way, but the amount of obsessive attention paid to his every word and deed may be what is most unusual of all. TV news cannot stop talking about him and America’s major newspapers cannot resist uncovering the near-daily string of outrageous, if not scandalous, behavior of Trump and members of his administration. This attention is not unjustified — it can be argued that the Trump presidency is a historic threat to the normal functioning of American democracy — but it has created a drastic imbalance in news coverage. If it’s all Trump all the time, that means there are a great many major stories that are being ignored or given too little focus.
Beyond that, there is simple fatigue. In the era of Trump, Americans deserve a break, a holiday, a vacation from the dispiriting muddle and machinations of politics. August should be a time for boating at the lake, driving in the family car to a national park, sitting in the hot sun and sipping a cool beverage, running through a sprinkler or rafting a river. It should be the one brief season where the bizarre tweets of a petulant leader do not automatically intrude on our fun and keep the White House press corps as busy as they would be in a time of national crisis.
Yet the hard truth is that we are in crisis. Being obsessed with our political predicament is a rational response. This is a summer of discontent and escaping from that fact takes more work than a vacation normally demands.
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