Five years ago, after teasing a potential run for the White House for years, Donald Trump descended down a golden escalator, and from that moment on, the news cycle was predominantly his.
Trump hijacked our collective attention span and held it hostage for the duration of his presidency, subjecting Americans to a running stream of boasts and grievances, never-ending rants at any time of day or night, campaign rallies that far outlasted the actual campaign, outrageous insults against anyone and everyone, manipulative gaslighting, and a pathological, look-at-me cry for attention.
Every minute was a nearly impossible test for journalists and fact-checkers, who struggled to keep up with the non-stop, assembly-line churn of baseless attacks, conspiracy theories, misleading statements and outright lies.
For many of us in media, even political media, Trump felt like a full-time job we never applied for. Even when we tried to tell other important stories, little could compete with the Trump news cycle.
For many voters, even those who liked Trump’s “policies,” he was the president they wished would just shut up already.
Now that the country has voted him out of office and most social media platforms have banished him to the hinterlands, we are free — for now, at least — to focus on other things. Hopefully that starts with combating COVID-19 and helping our economy recover.
Here are just a few other stories we should turn our attention to now that our days are a little freer:
The rest of the world. Remember the rest of the world? A lot happened — and is still happening — overseas while we were busy navel-gazing at Trump and pretending that his “America First” foreign policy excused us from global atrocities and obligations.
In Nigeria, a social movement populated largely by young people known as End SARS — that’s the acronym for a unit of the Nigerian police — has risen up against police brutality and government corruption.
In Syria, Bashar Assad’s now decade-long genocide of his own people rages on, with millions of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons unable to return to their homes.
And while America rejected Trump’s nationalist populism, elsewhere it’s on the rise — Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, India’s Narendra Modi and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte are all enjoying record high approvals in their countries. That’s a worrisome trend.
Child hunger. Back here at home, thanks not only to COVID-19 but a longtime lack of policy focus, child hunger is now at alarmingly high levels.
President Biden’s executive order last week to send more subsidies and nutrition assistance to families in need will help fill in some of the gaps. But child hunger is a broad and complicated issue that is interconnected with everything from our health-care system to education, housing policy to the opioid crisis. It finally deserves our full attention.
The Earth. While the Trump administration insisted climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese, real, substantive debate on climate between rational actors on both sides took a backseat to the culture wars.
But last year, amid a presidential election and global pandemic, the Russian town of Verkhoyansk, in northern Siberia, reached scalding temperatures of 100 degrees, the highest-ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle. The coinciding shrinkage of Arctic sea ice changed wildlife behavior and impacted plant growth in the Arctic, and created massive swarms of mosquitos.
Last year, 2020, was tied for the hottest global temperature on record, and saw multiple natural disasters fueled by climate change. What to do about that should certainly be up for debate, but with few on the right able to admit to some basic facts, starting points are hard to find.
The death of local news. While we obsessed over national headlines, local stories were consistently overshadowed and local news was neglected. Ultimately, that’s bad for our small towns, suburbs and cities alike, where the goings-on at the department of health, sanitation or education are far more likely to impact our daily lives than Trump’s tweets.
Local news, charged with holding the leaders closest to the people accountable, has been suffering a slow death, with at least 1,800 communities that had newspapers in 2004 without them in 2020.
While media and tech moguls directed their millions toward growing giant media conglomerates — or into their own political ambitions — hardly anyone is left to fund local news. That’s making us less informed and more divided.
The past four years were, in many ways, an assault on our senses. With Trump’s constant shenanigans, growing racial and cultural tensions, and then a global pandemic and economic downturn, it was genuinely hard to focus on much else. Now that we have some relief and added bandwidth, let’s try to budget some time for these other pressing issues.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.
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