Once upon a time this part of summer, especially August, was known as the dog days. Everything slowed w-a-y d-o-w-n like a snoozing hound. Schools were out. So was the sun. Make that Sun. Everyone, it seemed, was on vacation or about to be. Including those slow-motion clowns in Washington.
The definition of important news changed too during those somnolent summer weeks. I once wrote a newspaper story about a dog that found his owner’s missing wallet and brought it home. On one humid August afternoon, that made the front page.
You may have noticed things have changed. News happens fast now. Very fast. Too fast. Every day. Every hour. No. Every minute.
It’s no longer a stream. It’s a flood, a never-ending torrent delivering events to us and ripping them past us so quickly that it’s often impossible to discern their shape, let alone their meaning. If there is any.
Once, you mailed someone a message and were content to hear back in a few days, perhaps a week. Now, 30 minutes for an email reply is an eternity. And annoying. Also confusing. Often requiring an apology — “Sorry, I was in a meeting.”
Who can keep track at that pace of what’s important and what’s not?
Many Americans have simply dropped out. Oh, they catch snippets of news here and there. Those pieces are delightfully devoid of context, require little thought and go down easily.
Many others, however, have become so overwhelmed by everything, they’re just trying to stay afloat in an age of instantaneous everything — news, denials, shame, outrage. Lots of that. They grasp onto one line of thought as if it’s a log floating by in the floodwaters, and they hang onto it for dear life.
Nothing will convince them to let go, not even facts. The president is valiantly draining the swamp. He’s doing exactly what he said he would. Donald Trump shouldn’t be president. He’s an insane liar.
Both sides see in him what they want. The media see guaranteed clicks and viewers for virtually anything Trump-related. The more stark the coverage, the better it is for business and media adrenaline.
For someone who originally claimed not to be a politician, Trump read the 2016 voters better than anyone. He knows how to play to his crowd and troll the others, especially media.
He earns guaranteed attention from virtually anything he says or does, no matter how outrageous or false. Or especially because it’s outrageous or false.
He knows that every GOP primary candidate he endorsed recently has won. And he knows that so far — and it’s more than three years already — he’s paid no price for his, uh, unconventional behavior. That may not be sufficient for reelection, but that’s two years distant.
And, by the way, an important election is coming in just 14 weeks. So both camps — Republicans led by the president and Democrats led by who-knows — have every incentive and possibly as much as a billion dollars to divide the country as sharply as possible into supporters, opponents or worse.
It looks like that’s working. A Pew Research Center survey finds Americans increasingly polarized, especially over once highly-respected national institutions such as the FBI.
So, let’s take a deep breath or three. And look around for some midsummer context. It’s not perfect, but considerably better than you might think.
The economy is growing soundly, 4.1 percent in the second quarter on an annualized basis, the Commerce Department says. Jobs are growing. So is consumer spending after a stagnant winter.
More importantly, just as the unorthodox Oval Office occupant predicted when signing tax cuts last December, business investment has surged — to a whopping 9.4 percent annualized pace, which augurs more hiring to restock inventories and more consumer spending.
The quarreling House of Representatives has left town until September.
It’s not Victory Korea Day yet. But no missile launches in many months. As Pyongyang promised during the Singapore summit, it is returning allied remains from the Korean War, and satellite photos confirm Kim Jong-un is dismantling a major rocket test site.
Scientists announced some hopeful progress in the 35-year hunt for a vaccine to prevent AIDS, which has killed 35 million already and about 2,700 more every day.
A Minnesota man the other day captured a photo of one female duck cruising across a pond with 76 ducklings furiously paddling along behind. It seems mergansers leave their wee ones with an experienced mom while they forage for food, a kind of ducky day care.
That’s a summertime smile story that belonged on many front pages, though obviously not as good as a dog recovering his master’s wallet.