Donald Trump isn't losing his mind, we are
For Pete's sake, we stopped talking about #Covfefe so we could complain a shock comic was shocking
Hey, did you hear the big news last week?
In a spine-tingling report, scientists revealed that bowhead, fin and blue whales are far bigger now than they have ever been. Granted, this isn't exactly breaking news, as the march to gigantism has taken place over the span of 4.5 million years. (And also disproves my theory that the cause of the whales' growth is video games and the size of Big Gulps.)
But the coverage of the report buried the real showstopper: 50 million years ago, whales were hoofed animals that walked on land. They developed fins and hit the water about 20 million years later, with environmental changes providing them with nutrients that allowed them to swell to unbelievable sizes.
This is the type of non-fake news story people should be discussing at their dinner tables. What if whales had never developed fins? Would we have to have special whale parking spots at the grocery store? Would Moby Dick have to come with a trigger warning? Could I buy a ticket to a whale-only screening of Free Willy?
These crucial debates will never take place, however, as there is only one real news story in 2017: the minute-by-minute activities of President Trump. Even before his election, Trump soaked up media coverage as a biscuit soaks up gravy; after the November election, he has been the only show in town.
Much of Trump's coverage is attributable to the codependent relationship he enjoys with the major media outlets. National newspapers and cable networks devote more resources to covering Trump because his erratic and often unprecedented actions provide them with more readers and better ratings. Admit it; you started reading this column because it mentioned Trump in the headline, not the dietary habits of baleen whales.
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But Trump also provides news outlets with all the fodder they need to wallpaper the airwaves with his face. Outlandish statements, historical ignorance, Russian meddling and potential obstruction of justice are all on the Trump menu; if CNN has a flood-like "Bat Signal" they use to call Wolf Blitzer down to the station, it has to have doubled the station's electric bill by now.
Sadly, airtime and staff writers are a finite resource, and for every latest Trump bombshell, another story is ignored. In many cases, that can help state and local politicians trying to get away with budgetary chicanery. Raising taxes? Helping cronies? Hey, look — Trump shook French president Emmanuel Macron's hand for too long!
This particularly affects local newspapers, whose reporters are out working their tails off covering state budgets, local crimes and school boards. Even if they manage to continue covering local events with the stresses of shrinking newsrooms, their readers may no longer be paying attention. There's only so much time for people to consume news during the day. So North Korea successfully tested a Hwasong-12 missile that traveled almost 500 miles – Ivanka Trump wrote a book misquoting Toni Morrison!
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Even if it's not Trump making news, his opponents vacuuming up precious headlines with their anti-Trump histrionics. This week, comedian Kathy Griffin thrust her name into the national spotlight when photos were released of Griffin holding up a bloody head meant to represent Trump. But this was a glaring non-controversy; Griffin was universally excoriated and lost two of her jobs as a result of her poor judgment.
But as with anything Trump-related, America had to go through the tired kabuki dance, feigning outrage when a woman paid to draw attention to herself managed to successfully draw attention to herself. In true 2017 fashion, the Griffin story supplanted a late-night Trump Twitter typo as the dominant story kicking around in the collective American brain. It's enough to make one question whether this all really exists. (For solace, recall Descartes' defining maxim, "#Covfefe ergo sum.")
Perhaps our laughable myopia will be amusing in the future, when we look back and think, "Can you believe what we were preoccupied with in 2017?" Let's just pray we can all have a sense of humor when the climate changes, whales once again grow hooves, and there's a 380,000 pound mammal occupying the White House.
Christian Schneider is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors and a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow him on Twitter @Schneider_CM
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