Are there any living Americans who don't care very much about President Trump? Maybe there is a retired prospector living without cable television or internet in a small Alaskan town who has only heard of this faraway necktie magnate via a yellowing newspaper. What a sane and prudent, though unfortunately not real, man he would be.
The rest of us are hopelessly obsessed with the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. I do not think it is likely that a single historical figure not (formally) said to be possessed of divine attributes has ever so thoroughly captured the hearts and minds of a population. The propaganda achievements of Roman emperors, French kings, and German dictators pale in comparison with the all-consuming interest that Trump generates so effortlessly, not least among those who affect to despise him.
Last Friday's day-long extravaganza of speculation was remarkable even by our current standards, however. Discovering the origins of the rumors that led reporters to write hundreds of ultimately meaningless stories about the imminent departures of H.R. McMaster, John Kelly, Ben Carson, and goodness knows how many other White House officials and their replacement by John Bolton, Corey Lewandowski, and, for all we know, "Stone Cold Steve" Austin would require the work of a large team of gifted historians.
The entire literate population of the English-speaking world was desperate to find out what was actually going on, not least the White House press secretary, the hapless Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who tweeted the day before that she was certain Trump and McMaster remained on excellent terms. Over the course of the morning and afternoon it was reported that Kelly and McMaster would not survive the day, that McMaster would stay on at least until Monday, that Kelly, who might not be fired after all, had spoken with and was about to can Carson, that McMaster was in fact fine, that actually he wasn't, that actually he was (like for real though), but that David Shulkin at Veterans Affairs was probably a goner and so was Jeff Sessions (despite the urging of Sens. Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley), that McMaster (guys, we're not joking this time) was definitely on his last legs, and that Trump was, whoops, making all of the foregoing stuff up on purpose and spreading it through the media in a kind of a telephone game for his own amusement. Nothing so far has come of any of it, save the firing of Andrew McCabe, the — forgive me — "former acting director" of the FBI, by Sessions on late Friday night.
Meanwhile those interested in a Grand Unified Theory of Trumpism were suggesting that this was all evidence of, well, something. Maybe it meant that the president was finally getting comfortable in his nacarat skin, settling down at last to the actual business of governing after more or less randomly trying out different personnel configurations — you know, like a businessman would if he were in the White House. Other readers of the tea leaves mystically inferred that all the prefabricated conjectures about firings were some kind of elaborate ploy to distract the American people from the ongoing scandal involving Trump's alleged affair with the star of Camp Cuddly Pines Powertool Massacre (2005). Then there was the line of reasoning that assumed our president has actual concrete and more or less immutable positions on important questions related to public policy, and that the departure of Rex Tillerson and the still likely removals of McMaster and Carson and various others reflect serious disagreements about matters of substance.
All of these are, in my view, painfully naïve. The Trump administration is a totally sui generis experiment, albeit in entertainment rather than governing, the first ever 24/7 365-day-a-year reality show cum open-source West Wing fanfic. It is a circus, a freak show, a participatory soft reboot of Battle Royale, an old-fashioned Fourth of July parade, Disneyland, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, and SeaWorld all rolled into one. It is a high-powered omnidirectional ratings-grabbing machine that exists to generate publicity, attention, gossip, speculation, and, above all, outrage not for political reasons or even for profit but for their own sakes, a chthonic engine designed to rob the American people of their attention spans and, ultimately, their dignity.
Why are we going along with it? Maybe there is a case to be made that spiritually and emotionally well-adjusted adults need to care whether H.R. McMaster or John Bolton or Chuck Norris is the national security adviser, but I'm not so sure. It might or might not have consequences for your life and the lives of your friends and family, but there's almost certainly nothing you will be able to do about it one way or the other. At the very least, it wouldn't hurt anyone, journalists least of all, to wait to report facts until there are actually facts to be reported. That a single person benefited in any conceivable way from last week's entirely voluntary exercise in gas lighting and dissimulation from our commander in chief beggars belief.
Ever since that fateful day when the orange man came out of the gold elevator in the grey building, the American people have had a hard time imagining that any words or gestures of his or thoughts he might be having, have had in the past, or show signs of having in the near future could be worth ignoring even for 30 seconds. This more so than anything else explains why Trump rather than Hillary Clinton is president and why he will probably remain so until 2024.
He has stolen all of our lives from us. Take them back.