f all the emotional states President Trump summons up in people—amusement, curiosity, adoration, bewilderment, shock, disgust, rage—the most puzzling is exhaustion. There is a sort of Trump watcher for whom the cumulative effects of the president’s unanticipated and gravity-defying rise are feelings of fatigue, weariness, even depression. Trump’s manic energy and unpredictability, his willingness to defy norms of personal and political behavior, and his unusual nationalist-populist agenda do not excite or titillate this type of political observer. They tire him out.
One sign of early-onset Trump fatigue is the repeated declaration that the president’s words and deeds are abnormal. “This is not normal. This is not politics as usual,” said Jeffrey Toobin. “This is not normal,” said former Obama staffer and frequent cable guest Norm Eisen. Don Lemon, the CNN anchor, said that not only is this not normal, but President Trump should be “ashamed” of it, whatever it is. “Again, this is not normal,” tweeted another former Obama-administration official, in case we had forgotten the other 1,000 times he and other Trump critics have said exactly the same thing.
The “not normal” trope is off for several reasons. Trump has pretty much dominated national life ever since he declared his presidential candidacy more than two years ago, and so, whether we like it or not, by now his fits and outbursts and eccentricities have in fact become normal. They are a part of the landscape. They will remain so until he leaves office. Venting might make you feel superior, but it won’t change anything.
The not-normal brigades also have difficulty separating the president’s genuinely startling and odd rhetoric and decisions (firing Comey, the Charlottesville disaster) from his conventional Republican ones. What these critics forget is that Trump is in office precisely because a large number of voters had become so disgusted with politics as usual that they wanted someone fundamentally unlike a politician. For Trump, and for his supporters, “not normal” isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.
For the acute sufferer of Trump fatigue, however, “this is not normal” serves as a mantra, a way of reminding oneself of the rapidly fading era that preceded Trump’s rise, when Barack Obama was in the White House and we weren’t so tired.
Media professionals are especially susceptible to Trump Fatigue Syndrome. This is odd because the job of our editors and reporters and writers and anchors and pundits and producers and cameramen is to record, analyze, and opine on politics and culture. One might assume, therefore, that media professionals would be thrilled to cover a roller-coaster high-stakes presidency, a roiling populist movement, and assorted international intrigue. I am. Yet in the cable-news greenrooms I visit, and in more frequent conversations with fellow journalists, I hear the same pleas for rest, relaxation, and tranquility that are symptomatic of burnout by Trump.
“Only 9 hours or so till the next massive newsbreak that will prevent us from having lives again,” tweeted a reporter for the Atlantic last January, seemingly unaware that covering “massive newsbreaks” is what she is paid to do. Last May, the television host Samantha Bee, who purports to be a comic, said during a panel discussion in New York City, “I’m just tired of Trump!” Bee continued, “I’m 47 years old, and I really just don’t give a s— anymore.” (That much is obvious.) “I’m so fatigued by the news today.”
Last June, the executive editor of two local newspapers in Maryland heckled White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, accusing her of “inflaming everybody right here.” Later, in a Tweet, he added that he too is “tired,” in his case “of being bullied.” Last August, a New York Times columnist wrote, “For the past two years Trump has taken up an amazing amount of my brain space. My brain has apparently decided that it’s not interested in devoting more neurons to that guy.” Alrighty then.
Just the other day, a frequent panelist on MSNBC more or less admitted that President Trump had beaten him. “He exhausts me,” the pundit said, his voice soft and mournful. “I’m tired of seeing him. I’m tired of hearing him. I’m tired of wondering if he knows what he’s saying or what he’s doing.” Maybe it’s time for a career change?
We all have a tendency to exaggerate our importance as well as our feelings, but it might be helpful for these white-collar political journalists to remember that they are not coal miners or astronauts. For the journalists who ply their trade up and down the Acela corridor, the main occupational hazard is carpal tunnel syndrome. Life is good for those of us in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia). The counties that surround the nation’s capital are some of the most affluent and lively in the land. If anything, Trump’s arrival has made the Beltway more interesting. Yet the wailing persists.
Why? One clue is that many people who suffer from Trump fatigue are not actually involved in politics. They do not work in the White House or on Capitol Hill, they are not involved in campaign fundraising or candidate recruitment, they have not had personal contact or professional experience with the president’s temper, charm, sarcasm, or bluntness. Their only interaction with Trump and his coterie is through media: newspapers and online journals and blogs, talk and news radio and podcasts, network and cable public-affairs programs, and the endless cacophony of social media, of Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat and Instagram.
Meanwhile, the actual impact that Trump has had on most Americans in the real world of space and time is practically zero. And on the topics that voters rank as most important, jobs and the economy, the headlines (whether Trump is actually responsible for them or not) have been good: unemployment low, stock market high, consumer sentiment up. Yet friends and acquaintances whose relation to public life is tangential at best repeatedly tell me how tired the last nine months have made them.
These are the very people, of course, whose faces, like those of journalists, are alight with the glow of their smartphones and other handheld devices, whose digital lives are filled with notifications of breaking news, impassioned Internet posts, captivating Rachel Maddow monologues, the latest diatribe from a former Obama speechwriter, and snarky ripostes to the president’s latest Tweet.
Therein lies a possible cause of Trump fatigue. It is not so much the president himself who is the source of the exhaustion, but rather the overheated, sensationalistic, and occasionally hysterical coverage of him. As justified as some of that coverage may be, it would nevertheless benefit us all if we stepped back from the keyboard and the “send” button, turned off the television, took a walk without earbuds, ignored the comments section, and spent more time interacting in person and less online.
We’d regain some perspective on how most people perceive the world. Our reporting might improve. Our blood pressure would fall. And we’d have a lot more energy.