The Hope and Dangers of Trump Fatigue
Lately, it’s not uncommon to hear people in a public setting sigh or see them roll their eyes when President Trump is speaking on TV, radio, and other media platforms. As his speech continues, many start to tune him out and go about their own business. A few unlucky souls shake their heads in disgust and trudge through it until the bitter end. In addition, a very small (and shrinking) group of devotees hold on to every word he says. Whether they are in a bar, store, school, or home, the reaction from many people is the same.
What’s going on? Is there a contagious disease that’s triggered when the president Tweets or takes over the airwaves to complain about fake news, deep states, Democrats, or immigration? It appears that way, but in truth, it's not a disease nor is it a psychological dysfunction found in a DSM-5 manual. It is, instead, a reaction that’s increasingly being observed as the public grows tired of the president’s antics.
This phenomenon shares some similarities with the popular (and fictional) condition known as Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS); however, this condition has some validity that the other doesn’t. TDS is an insult while Trump Fatigue is an observed reaction.
On top of that, Trump Fatigue may be a determining factor in the next presidential election. Speculation may indicate that voters will vote Trump out of office because of this condition. On the other hand, many pundits and political activists warn that Trump Fatigue may foster apathy among likely voters who may refuse to vote. This may actually improve Trump’s chances of winning reelection.
A Term Created by Media
As mentioned, Trump Fatigue and TDS share several traits. In one particular area, they got their name from political pundits within the news media. TDS is a much older term and has gone under various names such as Bush Derangement Syndrome (which is an indication of when it started), Obama Derangement Syndrome, or Hillary Derangement Syndrome.
Depending on the president or political leader, the derangement syndromes were used by supporters to defend or deflect criticism from the opposing side of the ideological spectrum. In other words, it was a gaslighting tool intended to make the other side appear hysterical or “mentally imbalanced.”
Trump Fatigue (which used to be called Trump Fatigue Syndrome) first appeared in newspapers (both print and online). However, Trump Fatigue didn’t have the long background or variations that led to TDS. The first use of the term goes back to the spring of 2017.
Fear the Fatigue
One of the first times the term was used was in a Vox article entitled “How to Fight Trump Fatigue Syndrome.” Around the same time, Mashable made a reference to this condition. In addition, the writers for these publications had the same definition for it.
As the name of the Vox article implies, the term had a negative connotation when it was first used. At the time, Trump had been president for a few months; however, reporters, politicians, and much of the public had been bombarded by the president’s inconsistent and conflicting stories, contradictory policy moves, temper tantrums, and caustic Twitter comments. It refers to the "tiredness" many people felt after taking in all the president's rhetoric and actions.
The writers commented on the fear and uncertainty, as well as the antics the president engaged in while in office. They also suggested that something akin to a “Goebbels effect” may happen.
Trump Fatigue as defined in 2017 was on the mind of many political commentators.
Joseph Goebbels was the infamous propaganda minister of Hitler and the Nazis during World War II. He was credited for stating that if a lie is told enough times, the public would accept it as the truth. In other words, the writer feared that the ongoing shenanigans were going to “fatigue” the public into accepting this behavior and ignore future improprieties no matter how damaging it can be to the country.
Trump Fatigue, as defined in 2017, was on the mind of many political commentators. At one point, comedian Bill Maher expressed his fear of this possible outcome during a segment of his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher. He believed that this could create a situation in 2020 in which an apathetic and fatigued public would stay away from the presidential election, thus leaving the country—and most likely its concept of democracy—in the hands of an authoritarian.
Later, in 2019, Maher would change his perspective, stating he believed that Trump Fatigue may force voters to go to the polls and vote for anyone but Trump. This shift, however, came when several editors, executives, commentators and reporters began to rethink what Trump Fatigue meant.
A Sign of Change for Voters?
Fast-forward to 2019. Numerous polls reveal that Trump is extremely unpopular among voters. Some specific polls not only show people disapprove of his job performance, they reveal that many likely voters don’t give him credit for a successful economy, which is often seen as a bright spot of any presidency.
During this time in his presidency, Trump seemingly has hit new lows in his approval ratings. And the reasons are vast, as well as exhaustive. Most importantly, his ever-changing antics and blunders bombard the airwaves on a daily basis.
In many respects, the meaning of Trump Fatigue changed (as did its full name; “Syndrome” was dropped from the name). Instead of referring to the fear that voters were becoming apathetic, the condition came to represent voters' frustrations, disdain, and disapproval of his job.
This altered definition of the term started in the summer of 2018 and has continued ever since. And major media services such as Washington Post and Axios have taken notice. Surprisingly, Fox News—the news outlet often cited as Trump’s “Propaganda Channel”—weighed in on it (of course, they spun it, thus still living up to the moniker they’ve been given of late).
Lagging Media Exposure Becomes an Ominous Sign
In the beginning, Trump’s rallies were televised on nearly every news channel. These days, the coverage has been scaled back. Fox News and other conservative media outlets have continued to televise them while the rest will only mention the most outrageous moments from them.
TV audiences seem to not care for them, either. Ratings for several of his rallies this year have fallen drastically, sometimes being ranked at the bottom of its time slot.
And the pundits and reporters have noticed. On June 25, 2019, an Axios article from Sara Fischer and Neal Rothschild reported that TV executives told them a “real Trump slump is hitting, digital, cable, and more.”
According to the article, the executives interviewed believed that Trump’s preposterous and erratic behavior was “wearing off” on the audience. As a result, the article continued to state “many media companies [were] scrambling to find their next big moneymaker.”
To top it off, the executives interviewed for the article agreed that Trump Fatigue was real. However, they warned that the fatigue may have another consequence—one that’s ominous and may put the 2020 election in uncertainty; they reported that overall political coverage and viewership was down.
Some See Fatigue as a Good Thing...Sort Of
The New York Times writer Frank Bruni wrote an opinion about his own dealings with Trump Fatigue. He wrote how tiring it was to deal with blistering vitriol, lies, rants and personal attacks from the president on a daily basis.
Yet, one thing that stood out from Bruni’s piece was his cautious optimism that this fatigue created, and most likely felt by many voters including those in swing states who were ready to vote him out of office. In addition, he reported that columnists on conservative (and Trump supporting) outlets such as National Review and Politico were getting tired of the president’s lack of candor.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if voters consciously or subconsciously conclude that they just can’t continue,” Bruni wrote, “ to live like this and that four more years would be ruinous, if not to the country as a whole, then to our individual psyches.”
As Trump-era politics get noisier, a weary public seems to be tuning out. What are the political implications of this trend as we head toward the 2020 presidential election? Certainly, turnout will be critical; motivated voters will drive the outcome in a country that’s turned off by politics.”— Dave Ignatius, Washington Post, 2019
Washington Post columnist Dave Ignatius stated some of the same frustrations Bruni described. Also, he expressed the same cautious optimism that voters are possibly getting tired of the president’s routines.
“As Trump-era politics get noisier, a weary public seems to be tuning out,” Ignatius wrote. “What are the political implications of this trend as we head toward the 2020 presidential election? Certainly, turnout will be critical; motivated voters will drive the outcome in a country that’s turned off by politics.”
Still, Ignatius warns that the candidate that may challenge Trump may have to overcome the voters’ Trump Fatigue.
“But who’s the Trump diffuser?” he wrote. “Who can calm a country that has frazzled nerves from the daily Trump barrage? The best candidate, in theory, would be someone who promises to restore sanity, fairness and national unity.”
To Ignatius, he believed this will be “a high bar.” He continued to state that “in the angry scrum of American politics, the sensible center seems as mythical as Camelot.”
Trump Fatigue Hits the Internet
Trump Fatigue is apparent on social media and content writing sites, too. It seemed a few months ago, many writers on HubPages were frantically posting glowing reviews of Trump. Nowadays, while there are still some pro-Trump articles or Discussion questions posted on the site, their numbers have been falling off a bit.
Currently, It’s not unusual to see pro and anti-Trump writers throw vitriol toward one another in the forums and in the comment section of HubPages articles; however, the heated exchanges have cooled off a bit—and appears to be trending down.
On top of that, some of the most vocal Trump supporters on the site have called it quits, citing the “ugliness of politics”. Whether this sentiment is true or not, other online writers have moved on to write articles outside of politics. Possibly the hate and ridicule have worn many thin. Or, possibly, some pro-Trump writers on the site are finding it difficult to stay positive in light of the divisiveness that Trump publicly portrays on a daily basis.
It Can Go Either Way
Trump Fatigue may be causing a slump in the media, but it doesn’t mean his ardent supporters are not diminishing or shrinking back into the fringes of society. Many are vocal and have means to take to the airwaves.
Still, this is a small group despite how loud they appear to be. And then there are those that have sat on the fence; independents and moderates are getting tired of the antics and fewer of them appear to be supporting the president.
On the other hand, the fatigue is creating a sense of apathy. As of this writing, news leaked that a whistle-blower within the intelligence community had damning and disturbing information about Trump’s conversation with a foreign leader in which he “promised” something. This is more than big news, this can be the making of the biggest scandal in a scandal-plagued presidency.
However, news coverage has been slow to respond to it. And while the news is starting to dominate several cable news and print media outlets, it seems that the general public is slow to pick up on the enormity of this story. It’s as if people have been so punch-drunk from all the Trump news that they’re still trying to get up from the previous blow and recoup themselves before facing yet another blow.
When it comes to Trump Fatigue, caution is the best word to describe it. It may tire out the likely voters in the next election to the point they may vote against Trump in the 2020 election. On the other hand, it may numb them to the point that they just don’t care who is running the country, and simply stay home on election day.
Do You Have Trump Fatigue
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© 2019 Dean Traylor