I launched an experiment last week: I tried to unplug from the tumult of President Donald Trump’s Washington and the Democratic presidential race.
For seven days, I resolved to stay away from Twitter and Facebook, watch no television, and see if the world felt any calmer.
OK, I cheated a little. My wife and I headed for the lakes of northern Italy. We stayed in an old stone house with no TV in a hilltop village without easy internet access. We couldn’t stay glued to Twitter if we tried.
So we took walks in the Alps overlooking Lago Maggiore. We ate long lunches and lingered in sidewalk cafes. We read entire books — novels for her, history for me.
I learned three things.
First, it’s good to disconnect from social media. The signal-to-noise ratio is simply too low.
Trump’s tweets lose their freshness after 24 hours. You can always catch up later — if you need to see them at all. Last week, I’m told, he got angry at Bette Midler; so what? Even when he tweets out new policies, he often doesn’t follow through.
But Trump isn’t the only offender. Your friends’ Facebook and Instagram postings are rarely urgent. Checking in once a week or so — slowing down to the pace of snail mail, in effect — works fine.
Second — and this is painful for a news junkie to admit — even in these chaotic times, the world usually doesn’t change very quickly.
Before we left for Italy, I was paying obsessive attention to the Democratic campaign. Back then, Joe Biden was on top of the polls, Bernie Sanders was second, Elizabeth Warren was rising, and most other candidates were gasping for air.
A whole week of campaigning, speechifying and gaffe-ing hasn’t changed the lineup appreciably. Actually, not much is likely to change before the first televised debates on June 26 and 27. Even then, many voters won’t tune in until later this year or when the actual voting begins next year.
Race barely started
As President Obama’s former strategist David Axelrod said recently, this race is a marathon — but we journalists are focused on who’s ahead every hundred yards. You can safely ignore most of those split times; the race has barely started.
Third, U.S. politics isn’t the center of the universe. The rest of the world has barely noticed the start of our primary season.
Our well-read Italian friends, frequent visitors to the United States, asked us who was running against Trump. The only names they knew were Biden and Sanders.
“Are any women running?” our schoolteacher friend Lala Orsini asked innocently. I attempted to name all 23 candidates, including six women, to demonstrate the glorious variety of our democracy. Eyes glazed over well before I reached Amy Klobuchar.
One reason for Europeans’ tepid interest in our melodrama is that they have big troubles of their own.
In much of Europe, the Great Recession of a decade ago never quite ended.
Trump isn’t helping the cause of European stability. As we saw in his visit to Britain and France, he often appears bizarrely intent on hurting it.
Next year, for a real vacation from the news, we may have to consider Antarctica.
— Doyle McManus writes for the Tribune News Service.