During the night of the 2016 election, I was at practice for my high school’s one-act play. When the news anchors began to announce the victory of Donald Trump, my drama teacher leapt from her seat in the front row and hollered. Many of my small-town, Republican-raised classmates cheered with her. As a budding Democrat, I hid behind the thick curtain with some of my friends. We hugged each other without speaking, too young to really grasp what a Trump presidency meant for our country but sad nonetheless.
It’s ironic that such a quiet, intimate moment kicked off what was arguably the loudest and most volatile presidency in American history. In the next four years, the sensational moments seemed to follow one after another — mocking reporters; jeering other countries and cultures and, of course, producing an incessant and endless cycle of nicknames.
More than four years later, my anger, guilt and shame associated with the Trump presidency has faded as more and more of his missteps have been lost to my memory. At the same time, I find myself struggling with a new emotion — apathy. Somewhere deep, deep down, I can’t help but admit it — I found it so much easier to engage in politics when they were as ridiculous and entertaining as those of the Trump presidency.
In the past year, America has borne the withdrawal of the sensational, guilty pleasure of the Trump presidential circus. Still, current events in the national political scene are no less important now than they were five years ago. Americans must stay engaged and aware of the national politics around them, even if it isn’t as flashy or sensational. These “dull” issues often have the greatest impact on our democracy and the future of our country.
Since Joe Biden’s election, there have certainly been moments of intrigue. Sparks of progress have been made, like Biden’s refusal to permit the Keystone XL oil pipeline — an issue of environmental vs. economic concern that has simmered since the Obama days. Egregious mistakes, like his fumbled withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, have also cost him support and credibility.
At the same time, I’ve often felt the weight of a lack of controversy — and of its constant media coverage. As someone who consumes the news, seeing this amplification of Trump’s antics was a vicious cycle of clickbait, temptation, indulgence and guilt. At the same time, the journalist in me understood the media appeal. Trump made good, clickable news. He fired people up and inspired them to flock to journalists for reporting and commentary. In the ultimate act of hypocrisy, I felt myself drawn to ridicule Trump’s presidency in my own articles on more than one occasion.
American journalists have been whiplashed in the last year, thrown off by the sudden halt of easily produced content. As Biden’s presidency has unfolded, a new genre of articles has emerged from writers across the country commenting on Biden’s lack of sensationalism. Some optimistic journalists on the left have called it a superpower. For others on the right, it’s an indicator of slowing progress. In fact, even Biden himself has recognized his own lack of spectacle.
But despite the reasoning behind Biden’s dullness, it leaves behind a trail that is hard for Americans to follow. After being accustomed to targeting the newest, loudest piece of Trump controversy for a simple column or opinion piece, reading through today’s national news makes my eyes burn. I find myself forced to swallow bulky, technical news stories about Biden’s new spending plan or slog through vaccine press conferences without a single playground taunt.
At the same time, even if they aren’t flashy, issues like national budgets and vaccine rollouts have major implications on how our country moves forward. Let’s take a look at the budget, which has recently undergone cuts from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion in an attempt to appease moderates Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
The budget itself is incredibly complex and technical in nature. But it’s also important to be informed about, particularly when the House has cut important features like paid family leave and protection against cruelly exorbitant prescription drug prices from the bill. Without being willing to unpack a monster of legislation, Americans remain in the dark about issues that affect them and their families’ livelihood.
With this all said and done, how do we as exhausted, bored Americans push through? If being informed is so important, how do we make that happen?
Fortunately, the answer has already been provided to us through modern innovation in news media. Today, the internet allows people to consume news from all over the country — and even the world. Though some of the consequences of digital media have harmed the industry, one immense upside to digital journalism is that it can serve very specific audiences’ purposes.
Instead of slogging through the mind-numbing paragraphs of conventional news sources, it is completely possible to let your news source work for you. Find a source of daily news that is easy to consume and understand.
For me, that source comes in the form of theSkimm, a daily email newsletter that I’ve been receiving in my inbox since I was in high school. These newsletters give the top headlines and easy to read news, making it possible to catch up while commuting and eating lunch. For fans of audio, podcasts like Need2Know or NPR’s briefing podcast WFPL Daily News also give their audience easily digestible media that won’t take up an hour of their time.
Some argue that these sources lack depth or “dumb down” complex political concepts. To that, I agree. Sources like theSkimm, Need2Know and WFPL Daily News Briefing do take an axe to the complex and nuanced world of modern politics — because that is exactly their purpose. They serve as introductions and overviews, avoiding the technicality and complexity that turns people away from more traditional media. Most of these sources do offer additional links or sources for people to read in-depth about eye-catching events, but their purpose just doesn’t lie in the details.
In a perfect world, we would be able to dedicate the time and energy to learn about all sorts of complicated and obscure topics. We would debate for hours about theories and phenomena. We would each become experts of the political view. But that perfect world does not exist, nor can we expect it to exist.
Instead, we do — and bear — what we can. It can be hard to slog through the news when it feels more like C-SPAN and less like Judge Judy. We each have a responsibility to be informed, but in a world of modern, adaptable media, we shouldn’t need to risk our sanity to achieve that.
Embrace politics. Allow it to be fun. And if your brain begins to shut down over a Wall Street Journal article, do yourself a favor. Skim something smaller, and remember that sometimes boring can be beautiful.
Emma Krab is a junior English and journalism major. Reach her at email@example.com.