It was just going to be for a few days. But he is now more than a year into knowing almost nothing about American politics. He has managed to become shockingly uninformed during one of the most eventful chapters in modern American history. He is as ignorant as a contemporary citizen could ever hope to be.
James Comey. Russia. Robert Mueller. Las Vegas. The travel ban. “Alternative facts.” Pussy hats. Scaramucci. Parkland. Big nuclear buttons. Roy Moore.
He knows none of it. To Mr. Hagerman, life is a spoiler.
…He said that with some pride, but he has the misgivings about disengaging from political life that you have, by now, surely been shouting at him as you read. “The first several months of this thing, I didn’t feel all that great about it,” he said. “It makes me a crappy citizen. It’s the ostrich head-in-the-sand approach to political outcomes you disagree with.”
It seems obvious to say, but to avoid current affairs is in some ways a luxury that many people, like, for example, immigrants worried about deportation, cannot afford.
The Lady of the House has a business acquaintance with whom she keeps in intermittent touch via social media. This woman — let’s call her Shelly — is, to judge by her newsletters and Facebook updates, a thoroughly unpleasant person. Each post is brimming over with typical performative spleen-venting about the sociopolitical outrage du jour, and supplemented with performative wallowing in angst/situational depression. Naturally, like all the other #resistance! nonconformist freethinkers, she looks like she was rolled off the assembly line in a social-justice shrew factory, complete with bright yarn-colored hair, hipster eyeglasses, ugly tattoos, and t-shirts emblazoned with feminist slogans. Being terrible people and known thought-criminals, the Lady and I of course laugh at each status update, treating it like a guilty-pleasure TV show. How long until this dunce finally figures out that she’s using “wokeness” as an excuse to flounder in self-inflicted misery? we keep asking after every episode.
Anyway, back to Erik Hagerman, the subject of this aghast NYT profile. This was one of the most unintentionally hilarious articles I’ve read in some time. Avoiding current affairs is a, surprise surprise, privilege! Don’t you know there are information-starved citizens in Africa who would gratefully gobble up all that social media ephemera you’re wasting? Now, to be clear, countless ordinary people live lives of prosaic local and personal concerns without ever paying the slightest attention to the dreadfully important issues of, uh, pussy hats and D.C. insider gossip, but the Times is gravely concerned because Hagerman is a former corporate executive at Nike, Walmart and Disney. It’s all well and good for hoi polloi to busy themselves with trivia and leave serious matters to their betters, but if an Important Person calls shenanigans on the whole charade of being an informed, cosmopolitan citizen, it cuts straight to the heart of the clerisy’s flattering conceit that they matter. External enemies are always necessary for maintaining the faith, but heresy corrodes it from within. We can tolerate, indeed, we require a large outgroup of proudly-ignorant Trumpenproles to define ourselves against, but if one of “us” stops performing the rituals and ablutions of being well-informed and suffers no adverse consequences, what does that say about the rest of us? Make no mistake, the fear is not that society will collapse if a small minority of citizens stop paying attention to news they can’t use, the fear is that the lack of dramatic consequences will prove the utter emptiness of this whole media-class pretense. Like Shelly, Dolnick and the clucking hens he appeals to for sympathy are deeply invested in consuming the very garbage that makes them sick, but they find that preferable to having to face their own insignificance.
Look at the list of “newsworthy events” that Dolnick lists up there. Ask yourself, how many of those have profoundly changed anything about the way you view the world? Did Parkland or the unsolved Las Vegas shootings change your views on gun control or reinforce them? Has any of the skulduggery surrounding Trump and Russia changed your political principles and allegiances or just reinforced them? When was the last time you read anything that made you stop at length to rethink your most basic attitudes and commitments, if ever? For most of us, the ideological foundations of our worldviews were cemented in place long ago; all we’re doing now is laying more bricks on top of them to keep us safe and dry. None of you are going to donate money, time or energy to political causes (especially those of you who are too busy tweeting to have time for anything else). None of you are going to do anything other than vote for the same political party you’ve always voted for, no matter how they perform. Go ahead, read a few more articles about subjects you only half-understand and can’t meaningfully act upon anyway. Send a few more vituperative tweets and posts into the void to convince yourself that you’re “doing something.” Alternatively, you could get over yourself and go focus on something that makes you feel pleasant for a change. Quietly tending to your own garden would do far more to make the world a better place than sharing your ill-informed, dyspeptic tirades with the rest of us. But you’d rather have attention and adrenaline rushes, wouldn’t you?