Ria likes to read the same books many times in a row. “Mas,” she’ll say. “Again, Dadda.” That’s for my benefit, because she knows her rube of a father doesn’t speak Spanish. I try to coax her toward a different story. Does she really want to read about Curious George making pancakes for the third time that night? I get that the book includes an exciting chase scene, and my heart, too, races every time the pancake chef and his assistant sprint through the fairgrounds hunting for George. They never find him, even though Ria always ruins his clever hiding spot, hanging amid the stuffed animal prizes. Pointing isn’t nice, Ria. Besides, are you trying to get our olde friend busted? Goodness knows the kind of grief awaiting a monkey who’s been cooking DELICIOUS pancakes for everyone at rapid speed, thanks to his four arms. Actually, I do know. Because I’ve read the book, probably more times than is healthy. Spoiler alert: It all ends well, and George gets to present the money at the big fundraiser celebration. He’s even invited back to the pancake breakfast next year.
But there’s another story we’re all watching unfold again and again. And its conclusion is far less certain. We used to live in a world where so much was happening all at once. In any given day, your attention could be split between a campaign and Capitol Hill. Or between John Legend and Game of Thrones. The Red Sox or the red carpet. Now, during this pandemic, it feels as if there is only one story being told, over and over. It’s a constantly developing story, and it’s one with a panoply of angles, but largely, it’s all part of the same broader narrative.
And, in fact, if we pull back a little farther, we might see that COVID-19 is actually, in many ways, just the next chapter of an even larger story that’s been stuck on repeat for years. It’s the latest installment in the saga of Trump leading us toward the apocalypse. Many of us have feared exactly this. Some of us even predicted it would happen. And yet, we can’t turn away. Nor should we.
Trump has been thriving on disinformation campaigns for his entire political life. After all, it was his commitment to the birther movement that helped shape his dangerous candidacy. And now we see him spewing lies—lies that have already cost an untold number of lives—in front of the Seal of the President of the United States. Same plotline, different setting.
The scary thing to me is that the more we see this happening, the more we trick ourselves into normalizing his behavior. We’re desensitized to Trump’s racism because he was so unapologetic when he spoke crudely about Mexico at the bottom of the escalator. We’re desensitized to Trump’s misogyny because we’ve known about it at least since the Access Hollywood tapes. My fear is that the more we’ve heard different versions of the same lines, the more complacent we’ve become. There’s certainly a fatigue that sets in, watching the same story play out again and again. I think I’ve been feeling this fatigue even more acutely now because of the limits that have been temporarily placed on all our lives.
But now is exactly the time we should be paying the strictest attention. Without distractions, and with every channel more or less tuned into the same topic, Trump will face greater scrutiny than ever before. He’s relishing in his ratings and floating conspiracy theories about those conniving nurses hording masks, while those very health care workers are risking their lives to care for others. It’s not a new story, of course, Trump and his sociopathic ways, but maybe now, with the added attention, even more people will wake up to it.
During the bedtime routine, I try not to sigh when Ria asks that I read Daniel Tiger or Curious George yet again. I don’t adopt any sort of monotone. I do all the voices. I let Ria tell me that she, and Mamma and Dadda and Manny and Manny’s dogsitter Tina are all going to get to ride the trolley to school. I sing the songs. I express my excitement when she correctly points out the star or the diamond. I commit myself to the same story, mas and again, because that’s exactly what Ria deserves. –Andrew Waite