Trauma in the Age of Trump
For a long time, part of my job as a journalist was to scrutinize images of horror to determine if they depict what they say they do: war, natural disasters, or other nightmares.
Plenty has been written about vicarious trauma and PTSD in among reporters who cover wars on the ground or from their computers.
Activists understand the necessity of self-care to prevent burnout and trauma, but casual news consumers may not have been exposed to the kind of information and bad news overload that has come with the election of Donald Trump.
In this age of Trump, it’s important for journalists and consumers of news to occasionally pull ourselves away from echo chambers and step back to evauluate the barrage of information.
What Trump has already done and apparently plans to do is massively important. I’m not suggesting we ignore or normalize this administration; I think we need to ruthlessly examine every statement for the truth and report bravely on the consequences of his actions. Be the Badlands National Park you wish to see in the world.
We risk overreacting to every development — my Twitter timeline went ballistic during White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s first briefing on Monday when he broke tradition by not giving AP the first question — and that creates echo chambers. Each subsequent story must be more outrageous, hilarious or appalling to attract an audience.
We’re unlikely to break out of the cycle any time soon.
“The media” as a monolith, regardless of ideology, is bigly responsible for this: Trump remains cheap news and by all indications enjoys the spectacle as much as CNN does.
What’s happening in the United States right now does affect the rest of the world, but when was the last time you heard about Deir ez-Zor?
The deluge of outrage isn’t healthy for several reasons: it harms us mentally and creates anxiety; it desensitizes us to horror; it undermines real criticism by elevating honest mistakes and gaffs to the level of mendacious lies; and it creates fatigue. When we’re bombarded by bad news, we stop caring.
My suggestion is two-fold:
First, slow down.
Instead of reflexively reacting to every headline, take a minute to read the story.
(On The Media’s news consumer handbooks lay out best practices for news consumers in a variety of situations.)
Follow basic principles of media literacy:
- Does the story back up the headline?
Are sensational claims supported by quotes (not from anonymous officials), and facts? How close is the source to the story?
Trump Will Murder Puppies
…according to a study of 19th century dictators done by a researcher in Finland with no knowledge of the current administration.
Tump Administration Offical Under Investigation for Russia Ties
2. Is it important?
Sean Spicer was a mess on Saturday when, with an hour’s notice, he berated reporters and made five false statements in as many minutes about the size of Trump’s inauguration turnout.
It was frightening and unprofessional. But Monday was better, and Tuesday even moreso. Spicer will certainly say stupid things, and he will evade questions — but so did Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, and every other agency spokesperson.
Trump dismantling sanctuary cities is horrifying; Trump tweeting about Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t matter.
3. Consider the source
There is plenty to criticize the new Trump administration for. They are seemingly determined to unilaterally dismantle healthcare, environmental protections and international humanitarian law. Even if you agree with their decisions, the pace and manner (executive orders) in which these things have been done is deeply troubling.
But look at who the critics are — do they gain personally or professionally from undermining Trump, the Republican party or the United States? Are they up for election? That doesn’t mean their information is incorrect, but their interests should be noted.
Second, get away from the news.
By pulling out of the echo chambers we get a better perspective on what’s important and what’s hysteria. Most importantly, we reduce the risk of trauma due to the constant exposure to bad news and fear.
If you use Twitter for newsgathering, consider putting all your sources on lists so you can close the tab to get away from them sometimes.
Watch a movie. Read a novel. Hug a puppy. Follow the cute baby animal photo accounts. Lately I’ve been reading the funny threads on r/askreddit to unwind.
Go outside if you can. (Consider one of America’s great national parks!)