Distracted Democracy

Everyone is itching to know who anonymously wrote a scathing review of President Donald Trump’s leadership in “The New York Times.” The op-ed was published on September 5 and has since been the subject of speculation from news outlets, politicians, and even gambling websites. The author, a “senior official” in Trump’s administration, describes a state of disarray inside the White House and a covert agenda to combat the President’s “worst inclinations.” Unfortunately, despite its patriotic tone, this op-ed only serves as a further detriment to American politics.

For starters, the piece expresses few sentiments that we haven’t heard before. Claims of infighting, questioning of Trump’s morality, and references to impeachment are hardly revolutionary. Even the “insider” nature of the piece has precedent within Trump’s White House. Leaks have become so commonplace in this administration that multiple memos regarding anti-leak initiatives have been leaked. At this point, we should hardly be surprised by a breach of trust from a White House official.

If redundancy were its only issue, this op-ed might be harmless. Unfortunately, the nature of this story contributes to a larger issue in the media. While columnists furiously type conspiracy theories about Mike Pence and television panels squabble over impeachment law, the actual policies being debated in Washington receive little attention. However scrambled and disorganized the Trump administration may seem, there is legislation being passed — legislation that might have monumental consequences for America’s future. But most Americans would be none the wiser. Can you blame them? Who wants to read about a tax bill when there’s a Vox article about the latest Trump mistress or a story about the chief of the EPA brokering a franchise deal with Chick-fil-A for his wife? Readers can catch up on the latest Trump gossip, pat themselves on the back for being informed citizens, and call it a day without gleaning a word of policy.

This op-ed is just another scandalous distraction. Even as late as September 10, five days after the editorial broke, the trending headline on CNN Politics was: “White House aides narrow search for anonymous op-ed writer to a few people, source says.” Meanwhile, the site bore not a single article on Trump’s decision to cut 25 million dollars in foreign aid to Palestinian hospitals.

The op-ed also broke just a day after the beginning of confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s pick to replace Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kavanaugh’s stances on controversial topics like abortion and religious freedom were subject to heavy debate leading up to his hearings. His confirmation would strengthen the “Roberts Five” — a narrow majority of judges that tend to lean conservative — and likely alter the future of the court. Yet, after the breaking of the “New York Times” op-ed, the hearings received considerably less media coverage.

Think about Trump policies that you can recall off the top of your head. “Kids in cages,” “repeal Obamacare,” and “space force” seem to be top hits. The only time that there is significant coverage or public discussion of actual policy is when that policy is so inhumane, so dangerous, or so outlandish that it manages to sway public attention away from the Trump administration’s reality show antics.

News outlets can make greater efforts to cover meaningful politics, but responsibility for this distraction issue ultimately falls in the hands of the American people. The effectiveness of our democracy depends on politicians’ accountability; citizens should have a commitment to being informed on the workings of their government. This op-ed is just another story that will most likely dominate the news cycle for a few days, divert public attention from important news, and die down after leaving no lasting political impact. We can do better.