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On Wednesday NPR will broadcast the public impeachment hearings — so listeners won’t be hearing the daily programs on Texas Public Radio. The question being explored is: Did President Donald Trump abused his office and should he be impeached for pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival while withholding U.S. aid? Texas Public Radio commentator Yvette Benavides urges Americans to fight off news fatigue, pay attention and be a juror.
Americans will bear witness to an impeachment inquiry starting Wednesday, to decide whether Donald Trump used the powers of his office to pressure Ukraine to help his reelection by announcing investigations into his political opponents.
Starting Wednesday, we’ll wake up to updates, be barraged by social media snark and anchors editorializing, and fall into fitful slumber in those spaces between wakefulness and sleeping where the day’s chaos intrudes and continues to worry our subconscious and wear us down.
That’s the thing about directed attention fatigue. It’s a real thing and might go by other names like Trump fatigue or impeachment fatigue. We see the breaking news banner and say, “What now?”
Even as we focus on our workaday worlds, we are bombarded by constant distractions. One of those is the drumbeat of unceasing breaking news of the day that sounds a lot like the news that broke yesterday or last week. People talking at us, telling us what happened or might have happened.
Former Brietbart News head and Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon has often said the fatigue is strategic to keep people off balance and keep them from focusing on any one thing. He calls it “flooding the zone.”
This is how propaganda works. How it’s always worked. That “flooding” is the use of images and language to fill in a space we expect will be rational and real and representative of the truth. Instead, the flooding drowns it out, frames it in distorted terms and overwhelms us with noise we can no longer discern as either the truth or something false and far more insidious.
One Yale philosopher, Jason Stanley, asserts that propaganda in the digital age is not about making people believe lies but about making information irrelevant. It’s not distilled for our easy consumption. It’s flooded with far more than any one of us can process just as a mere matter of course — as consumers of news who just want to be well-informed.
Never before have we been so connected to the players in the government. We can follow them or heart them or tweet at them. We can read or stream news from just about any media outlet online any time we want. We’re never fully disconnected. In that way, we bear some of the responsibility of the fatigue that overcomes us and saps us of our energy and good judgment or makes us stop caring.
What is the use of true transparency in this context, if no one is listening anymore because we are so overwhelmed by it all? If we want our leaders to be transparent, we have to be on the other end of that reception.
We need to tune in to the actual hearings — not to any particular social media platform or news outlet, journalist, anchor or pundit. The hearing. The horses’ mouths. The people who were in the rooms where all these things happened.
We’ve got to listen and make up our own minds about this curious case. The “nothing burger” and “nothing to see hear” claims are the cues to be especially vigilant. We need to hear the hearings. We need to go directly to the source. We need to shake off the fatigue, mute the noise and listen carefully for ourselves.
Yvette Benavides is a writer and professor of creative writing at Our Lady of the Lake University.