We are addicted to the drama of Donald Trump. Do you reach for your phone every time a news flash pops up or receive several emails each hour with the latest breaking news? Are you listening to the news in the car on the way to and from work and then turning on the TV when you get home? Do you need to know everything happening in Trump-world at every moment or feel somehow untethered? That’s the catch about Trump-drama – we want more – we can’t stay away from it, and it’s become a compulsion. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof coined the term “Trump Porn” and we can’t avert our eyes from it. Every New York Times best-seller of 2018 has been about Trump[i]. We are clearly addicted, but why?
Why Do We Keep Watching?
Firstly, Trump-news is like a dopamine hit. Like alcohol, drugs, shopping, or any other addiction, it gives you an internal jolt that is relieving and pleasurable on some level, even if you know there is a cost. It also serves as a distraction or buffer so that you don’t need to deal with the challenging stuff in your own life. That’s what addictions do, particularly emotional addictions.
Secondly, you want to be right. You may be in the bubble of confirmation bias which leads you to pursue validation of your existing beliefs and values. You seek out news that is in alignment with what you believe in order to prove to yourself (and others) that you are right. We even watch shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Jack Ryan which confirm the possibility of our worst fears coming to fruition. You can read more about confirmation bias in our book: Beyond Resistance: Coping with the Stress of the Trump Era.
Finally, you want to be in control. Knowledge is power. When you believe you are informed you tend to feel more in control. In today’s political climate feeling uninformed is unsettling because it leaves us feeling powerless. We may believe we are not good citizens if we don’t know what’s going on at every moment. Invariably, we will be asked by someone daily, “did you see the report about XYZ?” and we want to be able to say “yes” – to not be seen as uninformed or slacking off in our efforts to hold Trump and his administration accountable.
All the News, All the TIme
And the news outlets are loving all of this, feeding into our desperate need to know. Most were limping along before Trump who has sent them a lifeline. He feeds the machine. Without him and his drama, they would probably still be floundering. And we love drama. If you don’t believe that, just look at the extreme popularity of reality shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians. And, is there anyone more dramatic than our beloved Rachel Maddow? Comedian Michelle Wolf summed it up neatly at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner: “He has helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you are profiting from him.”
Trump is a showman who knows how to use all of this. His wildly erratic and impulsive personality leaves us at the edge of our seats, waiting and wondering – we surely don’t want to miss a thing. A quiet man of integrity like Jimmy Carter is not loud or shiny, not compelling to our addictive brain. While our nation and society could learn much from him, he hardly makes headlines. Trump, on the other hand, is waving a shiny object in front of our faces and we can’t help but look. But at what cost?
Staying informed is perhaps more important than ever. But, it serves us to remain conscious of how and why we choose the news we do. Let’s make sure our choices are benefitting us, not causing further anxiety and stress.
What Can You Do?
Relieve your stress: Evaluate the quantity and content of your news and the underlying reasons for your choices. Make adjustments that will create a more balanced approach. Read Beyond Resistance: Coping with the Stress of the Trump Era, for additional stress management strategies.
Reclaim your power: Read a book about one of our founding fathers. Maybe even read the Constitution. Broaden your knowledge to include more than just the latest Trump scandal.
Remain engaged: After cutting some of your news consumption, use that extra time to support a candidate in the upcoming elections. And most importantly, VOTE!
 Will Bardenweper, Our Trump Addiction, Fed by Junk News, is Making Us Sick.” The Hill, 5/1/18 https://bit.ly/2xaf0BZ