In February, the New York Times technology columnist Farhad Manjoo tried an experiment: He ignored news about Donald Trump for a week. Or, more specifically, he tried to ignore news about Donald Trump. What Manjoo found is that, even if one is actively trying to read or hear or learn about anything else in this big, teeming world of ours—even when one is seeking out information about the extremely large percentage of the human population that is not Donald Trump—the 45th president was unavoidable.
“The new president doesn’t simply dominate national and political news,” Manjoo wrote.
During my week of attempted Trump abstinence, I noticed something deeper: He has taken up semipermanent residence on every outlet of any kind, political or not. He is no longer just the message. In many cases, he has become the medium, the ether through which all other stories flow.
Trump’s permeative power is something the American press and its critics are keenly aware of (see Jon Stewart’s recent mockery of “the media,” on the Late Show With Stephen Colbert, for its co-dependent relationship with the reality star-turned-president). Pop culture’s Trumpian subtext, however, is also something that has presented a quandary for late-night comedy and its writers. How much attention should those shows—and their jokes, and their hosts, and their guests—pay to the president, and to politics in general? Should they approach the new administration, with all its new policies and personas, in a quasi-journalistic, truth-to-power kind of way? Or should they, assuming audiences already get enough of Trump through literally every other media source, offer counter-programming—focusing their comedy on movies and TV shows and essentially ignoring politics?