You Can Mute Trump
This Sunday, the pleasant if occasionally unnerving quiet that has returned to American life over the last month will be broken: Donald Trump is speaking again. The former President will return to the Conservative Political Action Conference, the place where he hugged a flag two years ago and where a disturbingly large percentage of the people in attendance were first exposed to Covid-19 last year. It’s going to be quite the party.
It will be the first public appearance for the former President since he gave his awkward, rambling, “Skyrocket Downward” speech on the tarmac shortly before President Biden’s inauguration. Since then, neutered by all his social media bans, Trump has been incredibly quiet. He called into Fox News when Rush Limbaugh died, he unleashed a few press release screeds (which just don’t have the same angry verve they do on Twitter) and he has surely eaten a megaton of Mar-a-Lago cheeseburgers. But mostly: He’s just been a retired guy in Florida.
That is going to change Sunday. CPAC always gets a lot of coverage — too much coverage — anyway, and with Trump on stage for the first time since leaving office, you can expect most news networks to cover his speech live. This is journalistically sketchy, to say the least; any news value Trump’s first speech might provide will surely be outweighed by the continued amplification of his Big Lie that the election was stolen from him. If you’re holding out hope that the networks would learn their lesson from, oh, the last five years of Trump, witness what those same networks did just last Sunday.
Getting my colleagues in the news media to wean themselves off their Trump addiction in just a month-and-a-half was always unrealistic; after all, you may feel bad for your country, but this is tremendous content. But I think the rest of us can all do our part. I think we can just ignore him.
It’s not that hard. It really isn’t. You just mute him. You’re on social media. You mute people all the time. Muting is perhaps the best thing about social media, because you turn a yammering buffoon into something worse: A buffoon who is yammering despite not realizing you are not listening. It is a higher level of online justice, because it accurately distills social media to what it truly is: People just talking to themselves so they don’t feel so alone. Sometimes I’ll go on social media and see a bunch of people angry about something someone whom I’ve muted has said. That person has already beaten them: Getting people angry and stirred up is the only reason they do anything, and the only thing that gives them power. But not me! I don’t even know what they said!
You can ignore Donald Trump. You really can. You can just mute him from your life. There is no election he can run for until 2024, and you and I both know he’s not really going to run then anyway. There’s no pressing urgency to check in on what he’s doing right now unless you’re a beat reporter assigned to CPAC. (And you’re not. So you don’t have to act like one.) Don’t worry about feeling an obligation to confront his venality, corruption and bigotry personally: There are hundreds of prosecutors, not to mention you know, history, who will take care of that for you. Maybe he will be held to account, and maybe he won’t. But I do know that whether or not you pay attention to him on a late February afternoon will not be the deciding factor.
This man has commandeered so much of our attention, of our energy, of our hearts and minds, over the last five years that this last month without him has felt like a vacation, a return trip to the world before he arrived and wouldn’t stop screaming in our faces every second of every day. I’m not going to return from that vacation any sooner than I have to. I know he is speaking on Sunday. But nothing he will say will matter, not yet. He’s just talking to himself. I’m going to mute him. You should too.
Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel How Lucky, released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.