I Miss When It Was Quiet

I Miss When It Was Quiet
Ah silence. (Photo: Win McNamee, Getty Images)

My weekend was like most other weekends in the pandemic era. I went for a walk in the park with my wife, briefly saw some friends outdoors and socially distanced, made some mac and cheese, and mainly chilled. But for all the trappings of normalcy (or what goes for normalcy these days), there was something distinctly different.

I felt a degree of clarity I haven’t felt in years. While the underlying, extremely busted-arse state of the U.S. remained, the clearest symptom of it was temporarily muzzled. U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter account had gone mostly silent, and with it, a torrent of hate, lies, autocratic desires, and shitposting. There was still plenty of Trump-related news, but the smog of Trump himself dissipated for a few glorious days.

Though I follow the president, I don’t tend to scroll through his tweets on the regular. But on most days, at least one Trump tweet is at the top of my hellfeed when I instinctively open Twitter in the morning. When the president announced he had covid-19, his tweet was right there at the top of my feed along with overnight push notifications and approximately 128 texts from friends on the West Coast or night owls on the East Coast. But after he went to Walter Reed for various treatments, his feed went mostly silent.

With it, his pugnacious little avatar stopped showing up on Twitter. His words and actions stopped setting the agenda of the media. And they stopped rattling my brain.

In thinking about the impacts of Trump tweets and the absence of, my mind immediately jumped to pollution. Air pollution has been shown to lodge itself in our brains and can even make it hard to think. And really, are Trump’s tweets, press conferences, and other appearances in the media that different? The Oxford English Dictionary defines pollution as “the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful or poisonous effects.”

Whether it’s his pronouncement that extremist group the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by,” spreading baseless antifa conspiracy theories on Fox News that would make an average person’s brain melt, or vomiting up coronavirus misinformation on social media, the intent is clear. Trump has flooded the zone with brain poison that makes it hard to concentrate on anything else or see through his putrid smog of misinformation. That’s been his key operating principle as well as that of Republicans, who have relied on the never-ending distractions and lies to rob average Americans and enrich the already wealthy through tax cuts and deregulation.

For a 48-hour period, with the president on some cocktail of supplemental oxygen, steroids, experimental covid-19 drugs, and who knows what else, the smoke machine switched off. There was a clarity in my head I hadn’t felt in ages, and an ability to step back and clearly see the wreckage we’re going to have to fight to repair in the coming years.

It’s now been two days since Trump returned to the White House. He has yet to make any public appearances since his first evening back (and judging by how his gasping-for-breath return to the White House went on Monday, that’s probably for the best), but his Twitter is back in full swing. Among Wednesday’s gems are a bunch of retweets pushing “Obamagate,” a conspiracy theory that only makes sense if you get your news from Facebook and Sean Hannity, an oddly capitalised tweet asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to sign off on another round of $US1,200 ($1,681) stimulus checks after Trump pulled the plug on negotiating a full stimulus bill, and a quote retweet of a random account saying it “would wade through a sea of COVID infested water to vote for President Trump on November 3rd.”

The garbage continues to pile up, and it will likely only grow more fetid and unseemly as we crawl toward U.S. Election Day. But the reprieve of life away from the tire fire has allowed me to refocus my rage. My only hope is that others found a similar benefit — we’re going to need it to actually get down to work and clean up this mess.