The outrage over Donald Trump’s election has continued unabated on social media for more than two weeks now. It has been a useful and necessary exercise, allowing many on the left to voice their concerns, fears, and anger about the results. Eventually, however, the outrage must serve a greater purpose if progressives expect to have any say in the direction of their government.
There has been ample coverage of Trump’s outrageous statements and lies for well over a year. Hours upon hours of airtime and thousands of articles have been devoted to declaring him a danger to the republic. Several prominent newspapers abandoned their long-held impartiality to declare him unfit for office. It didn’t work. The people who supported Trump knew the things he had said and done and were aware of his temperament—and still chose him to be leader of the free world.
It is painfully clear that all our outrage didn’t work. And now there’s a danger of getting sucked into a vortex of what I’d like to refer to as “outrage porn.” Trump’s horrific statements aren’t going to stop. He’s going to keep tweeting about every sleight and alleged offense, from Hamilton controversies to unflattering Saturday Night Live sketches to the untold thousands of protests and articles and taunts forthcoming. And he will use these incidents to cement his reputation as a political outsider with his voters. He will weaponize these reactions, holding them up as proof of just how much know-it-all elites loathe his “deplorable” white base.
Far worse, he will use our indignation over cultural kerfuffles to distract from far bigger stories—like his settling of the Trump University fraud suit for $25 million or the sprawling ethical conflicts that have emerged from running the presidency and a business empire at the same time.
Which is not to say that we shouldn’t be outraged about the endless parade of sycophantic cabinet nominees, the conflict of interest scandals, or the possibility that Russia hacked our election. Of course we should. But shouting into an echo chamber will not amplify our voices. To the extent that our outrage forces us to stay vigilant and harness our anger to formulate a plan of resistance, it can be useful. But we must remind ourselves that the television media, especially the cable news networks, will continue to highlight the glamorous if petty squabbles like the one between Trump and Alec Baldwin, while paying almost no attention to issues of grave importance like climate change.
To the media CEOs who care about ratings above all else, Trump’s outrageousness is manna from heaven. Better that we voice our disdain for this coverage by turning it off or by diligently insisting that they shift the narrative to actual policy differences that matter. Other outlets can play a role as well, by reminding the networks that the fourth estate serves a greater purpose than corporate profits. Outrage may keep viewers glued to the screen, but it will not lead to an informed electorate.
When we play the outrage game, we are playing on Trump’s turf—and he has already proven to be master of this game. Opposition to Trump should focus far more on opposition to his policies, decisions, and judgment, rather than on calling him out for his every remark or relying on funny but ineffective memes to make our point. While they might make us feel better in the short term, the benefits of feeling intellectually and morally superior to the man who just defied all polls and pundits to become the president-elect of the United States will certainly prove ephemeral.
Better if we defeat Trump on the issues. Force him to defend his ideas and policies. The less attention paid to his Twitter feed, the better. We don’t have to reiterate to ourselves or to the rest of the world why Trump is unacceptable. Far better if we stand up to him by defending our values of decency, honesty, and equality. Far better, when his policy proposals seem at odds with his promises and will likely betray the very people who voted for him, that we point out these inconsistencies vociferously. We have to make the positive case for change from here forward.