The Trump administration is wasting no time pushing out executive orders that will fulfill his campaign promises and even some things that weren’t promised. Before he’s been in office a week Trump will have issued orders to build the wall, halt the majority of visas granted to Muslims, put a stop to the admission of refugees, kill DACA, silence government scientists, and on Twitter he’s promised a massive voter fraud investigation.
All of those are true if the leaked executive order drafts Vox ran with are true, and they seem to be. The Trump administration is counting on the American public’s 30 second attention span and a bit of PR strategy to do all of this without real consequence.
In 2009 David Letterman walked out for his monologue like he had every night for years. Instead of telling a joke to open his late night talk show, he confessed to a scandalous series of sexual relationships with staffers at the Late Show. He said someone was trying to blackmail him, and that he wouldn’t let that happen.
Then, Letterman put everything on the table. The audience didn’t know what to think at first, but after he told them he’d been, “creepy” and that he owed his wife an apology, they figured out that he was serious. His description of the act left the audience in stunned silence. You could hear the awkward feeling in the room through the television. He put everything out there, and after he finished, he went on with the show. After a few news cycles, the story got buried precisely because Letterman knew to throw all the details out at the start.
In 2013 Target found itself the target of hackers. Millions of debit cards were compromised when their servers were breached. Instead of pushing all the information out as soon as they could, Target executives decided to go to the public some time after obtaining certainty of the data theft.
They then continuously generated headline cycles by repeatedly adjusting number of accounts compromised, whether or not PIN information was stolen, and when exactly they knew the data breach occurred. The scandal hit Target’s sales hard for over a year, and the company saw its image intertwined with data theft. In reality, data breaches are almost as ubiquitous as data storage in large corporations. Home Depot, T.J. Maxx, Wal Mart, Ebay, Verizon, Yahoo and many others have experienced major data breaches. Due to Target’s PR strategy allowing the information to trickle out, their brand became intertwined in the public conscious with data theft, and they became the poster child.
The strategy is pretty simple, but many don’t get it. In order to bury the headlines, you push all the information out as quickly as you can and let the nature of the American public take over from there. In America, we love to be outraged for a half an hour or so after dinner and then make our way off to bed. The topic might come up at the water cooler the next day, but after a week or so even the most egregious public events are replaced by some fresh scandal.
The Trump administration is wisely attempting to cram the headlines with all the things they want to do into a short period of time. They know that America forgets. They know that millions of people, seeing their own day to day lives unaffected will move on. In this case it may not be true, but it’s the best bet to take if you’re in their shoes.
If you don’t believe that Americans quickly forget, try to think about the last time you thought of the kid in Chicago who was kidnapped and tortured.
Can you remember who Rod Blagojevich is? He was literally caught on tape trying to sell a senate seat, among other things. That one is a little farther back, and some of you may remember, but quite a few people won’t.
What about HSBC? Does anyone remember why they paid over a billion dollars in a settlement? Hint, it was laundering drug money for cartels.
How about that time six journalists covered a protest and wound up charged with a felony? Another hint, it was last week and many likely didn’t even hear about it through all the noise.
I say all of that to say this; right now the rights of everyone in this country are at stake. If you really look at it, this administration is an exaggeration and acceleration of the erosion of civil rights in our country that has been going on for almost two decades. If there was ever a time when it would be important for America to throw off its terribly short, 24 hour news cycle attention span it’s now.
The Trump administration is hoping that Americans will continue to be the jittery, fifteen minute outrage culture that they’ve keenly observed. When millions of Americans who are fired up right now continue the cycle of going to work, complaining about the latest scandal, going home and binge watching Netflix without seeing any drastic change in their day to day life the temptation to put their protest signs down will be real.
The one thing you can trust is that even if your daily existence isn’t different, it will be for millions of people, and if we don’t fight for their rights we’re essentially giving up on our own.
Even while it’s being constructed, you may not think the wall is going to effect you. But where does the money come from? Mexico certainly won’t pay for it. Money that could do so much actual good will.
When refugees are turned away from this country, you won’t miss a single episode of the Bachelor.
When the administration publishes weekly updates on crimes committed by “aliens,” most people won’t somehow wake up in American carnage. The carnage comes when anyone with an accent is treated differently because a demographic is singled out and painted as criminals by the US government.
No demographic is free of crime. Publishing everything you can about a group has easily predictable consequences.
The EPA will no longer be able to publish study results unless they’ve been approved by a political appointee. It won’t stop you from watching your favorite sports team, but in a year when the only climate change data that is available has been approved by big oil sponsored politicians, the only data that’s available will be alternative data. By that time, the circumstances will be set for the right wing to call Bill Nye a science denier.
I’m not saying that we have to stay outraged all the time, or that every bit of our lives has to be dedicated to the fight. What I am saying is that now more than ever, America has to throw off its well-established tendency to forget and move on. It is certainly a tendency that the Trump administration is counting on in their fight to erode the values we hold dear. We are the country of huddled masses.