Trump indictment looms as the world looks on

If you really think about it, it’s funny we use the phrase to “pay attention.” If attention is ours, why do we have to pay for it? Usually you buy something you don’t have. It seems counterintuitive since others literally pay for our attention through ads, media placement, and so on. Do we really pay?

The truth is, both sides “pay” for attention. You as the consumer pay when your attention is consumed. The news story or ad was paid for too, through time and resources. It’s a kind of auction where you’ve bought something with your attention. It’s today’s top currency.

How much is our attention worth? It’s worth billions in USD to the advertisers who built the framework for the internet, for the social platforms that have commoditized our attention, and worth a similar order of magnitude to the politicians who use our attention to gain power.

Things that draw our attention can feel like black holes: former president Donald Trump, for one. This week he could be arrested for hush money payments he allegedly made to an adult film star, payments that may have violated campaign policy laws. Interestingly, Trump is the only one who has made this claim (of a looming arrest), so you’d have to wonder why he’d do that? What does he stand to gain? He stands to gain a lot, because it puts him back in the spotlight where he can command our attention.

Trump has accumulated power the way black holes consume matter, by sucking the world’s attention into the center of his dark void. And because we pay attention to him, the media has kept us on an endless diet of Trump.

Here in the US, this week will probably feel like a throwback to those days when all we heard was Trump Trump Trump, as Trump feeds off our attention and uses the moment to force loyalty from his allies and opponents. Those who are with him will go on the record of calling it a witch hunt, those who keep silent risk losing Trump supporters in a future bid for the presidency. Pretty much everyone on the right is falling in line, calling for protests, with sporadic online calls for violence.

The divisions are real. Americans have taken up arms against each other already, at Trump’s provocations. Some have warned of civil war in America; it would seem we’ve met those preconditions already.

So what do we pay attention to? Where do we pay tribute or pay homage? I think we forget there’s a cost to liberty and freedom and a real value to our attention.

But if we give it away so willingly, to any snake oil salesperson or clown, does our attention hold value for us anymore—or has it shifted to those who take it, and it’s only us who pay?

I don’t think we will never know the true cost of this politician. But he has proven how much damage can be done by commanding the world’s attention. Perhaps that’s the only thing he can really command, and that’s all you need to do these days to lead.

Categories: musings, writing


23 replies

  1. When he was elected in 2016, my advice to the world was that he should be treated just like any victorious politician and that Democrats needed to give him a chance. That never happened. I don’t know that it would have mattered if they had. He is truly an agent for narcissistic chaos. It is the only mode he knows.

    When he lost in 2020 (and, yes, he did, in fact, lose), my advice was that the world needed to stop paying attention to him. Again … that never happened.

    I so wish for the day when we no longer have to have him in our living rooms. That day can’t come soon enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s a good analysis Bill. About 10 years ago, the KKK became very interested in Gettysburg (and why not, there are already confederate flags everywhere). On at least two occasions, the KKK held rallies here to promote their ’cause.’ Many people wanted huge counter protests. The experts said the best strategy was to ignore their rally altogether. If it doesn’t generate any waves, it’s like it never happened at all. Of course you can’t make a whole town ignore hate, so of course the KKK got exactly what they wanted. How wonderful would it be if our half of the country just ignored Trump altogether. If he didn’t troll the libs, would anyone care about him at all?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing that story Jeff, great case study re: attention. There’s also validation implied with attention right? Kind of “negotiating with terrorists” style, in a sense. So much competition for our attention and it all feels scattershot to me. Real life, real catastrophe seems to demand attention in a different way though, those rare times we’re confronted by that. Speaking for myself, I seem to drift through disillusionment most other times in life with only rare moments of clarity. That rarely come from something that’s just popped up externally, asking me to “look.” More the stuff that’s buried inside of us and largely unseen, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. He’s like a child in a old man’s body, stomping on anthills just to watch the chaos he creates, and to feel powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We all crave attention in different ways (and I thought of the child example myself about him too, funny): but in this case there’s a correlation between the attention and power that must be kind of impossible for him to kick. You think about the thrill and power associated with tweeting like that, the pocket-sized remote control over millions of people, it’s just insane. No other word.


  4. Great piece, Bill. We’re definitely thinking along the same lines lately.

    It seems like politics has become a form of performance art in the 21st century. Performance art gains attention, and attention attracts power. It’s pretty sick and destructive.

    Often I watch national news and wind up saying, Half the stories came from press releases. In other words, we see what people pay to have us see. Zoiks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zoiks! I’ve always admired your candor on politics and keeping it real like that on your blog. Thanks for doing that. I’ve backed off by comparison, and I regret that. Have recently changed my POV and glad I do seem to have the capacity to change. Reading Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny (twice, and just bought the graphic version) helped change how I see things. He said basically we are all political, or need to be, if we’re thinking entities. He referenced a George Orwell collection of essays that mirrored those themes. I suppose while we still have the opportunity to do so, we should make our voices heard. Especially when it seems we are on the brink.


  5. Ughh, the epitome of malignant narcissism. Hope he goes down (and I do mean prison -ahem!) for a very long time. Time he paid…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Despite the fact that I don’t understand what makes Trump fascinating, I sometimes find it difficult to look away.
    What a pity.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Trump is like an accident on the side of the road – folks can’t help but rubberneck as they go by. Unfortunately, accidents cause damage, sometimes serious, and this road is the path of the country. Trump doesn’t care; for him any attention is good attention.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. … But perhaps the real problem is his enablers. Take away a couple of sources that specialize in covering “accidents” and selling that coverage for profit, and he turns into just another dishonest windbag.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, geeze…. Didn’t expect this topic here.
    I feel more like Kenan Thompson on an SNL skit about “Trump’s gonna finally pay!”. I will sit back eating popcorn and watch the drama unfold until there are no more folds to ‘un’. The aluminum hat-wearing part of me is convinced he is a shill for all forms of media, much like a character in some WWF franchise. He is the perfect villain/hero for so many.

    I’m a little bitter I spent so much of my attention currency on this.

    Liked by 1 person

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