That’s been the watchword of Donald Trump’s presidency — a roiling, sprawling circus of content and controversy that never slows down and never rests. Which is why it’s hard to say that things are ever, somehow, more chaotic. Because what’s more chaotic that utter chaos?
The answer to that question is the last five days. Because in those five days we have seen an avalanche of news, quotes and just general Trump-related content that even by the bananas standards of this administration seems like a whole new level.
Consider what we’ve seen just since Friday:
1. Two Trump rallies — one in Mississippi and one in Kentucky — filled with the now-familiar rhetorical excesses and outright lies that have become the President’s calling card
2. A federal appeals court rules against Trump on taxes — setting up a likely Supreme Court showdown
3. E. Jean Carroll, a columnist who alleged that Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s, filed a defamation suit against him
4. The Department of Justice threatened legal action against the publisher of the not-yet-released anonymous tell-all memoir of Trump in the White House
5. House Democrats began releasing transcripts of their closed-door interviews with key players in the Ukraine controversy
6. Roger Stone’s trial — into his alleged attempts to gain information about Russian hacking efforts — opened
7. Newly released documents from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation made clear the Trump campaign was very focused on trying to find Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails
And in that same time frame — Friday night at 5 p.m. through Tuesday at 10 a.m. Eastern — Trump had tweeted 68 times, in addition to dozens of other retweets. He also held three press availabilities — one each on Saturday, Sunday and Monday — as he traveled to and from New York City and then to Kentucky.
The rate of news and the sheer quantity of words spoken or tweeted by Trump since Friday night alone are staggering. Even for people — like me! — who are paid to follow this stuff, the last few days have been mentally exhausting. There’s just so much going on.
At one level, the chaos is the point. Trump knows that the media (and people more generally) can only focus on so many things in a given hour, day or week and so the more he throws against the wall, the harder it will be for anyone to hone in on the stories — like impeachment — that are less favorable to him on a day-in, day-out basis. You can’t look in 10 places at once. (Trump doesn’t, of course, control when House Democrats release transcripts of their interviews or when federal courts rule on things like his tax returns.)
And the more people tune out and ascribe what they are seeing in Washington as just the “same old, same old,” the better for Trump. His behavior is actually deeply abnormal; the pox-on-both-houses mentality helps him immeasurably as it avoids casting his actions and words for what they are: Totally ahistoric.
From a fact-checking standpoint, Trump, again, benefits from the sheer volume of news — and the content he creates off of it. Reading through the transcripts of his campaign speeches in Mississippi Friday and Kentucky Monday, I was struck by how wildly Trump veered from both a) the truth and b) even the outer bounds of acceptable presidential behavior, which he has defined downward since he became a candidate for office.
But by Monday morning, Trump was actively cheering on the idea of outing the whistleblower while White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway was offering up a new set of “alternative facts.” And the transcript of the interview with former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was out. And the tax returns ruling happened.
Even for vast news organizations like CNN, it’s simply not possible to give all of these stories the full attention they deserve. And, if the news flood overwhelms huge, well-staffed national news entities, what must it feel like for the average news consumer? Drinking from a firehose doesn’t even come close.
Now consider this: We are still just under a year away from the November 2020 general election. And 90-ish days from the first votes of the 2020 Democratic primary process in Iowa. In short: If you think this is bad, just wait.
The real question going forward is not whether this news stream will let up (it won’t) but what the political — and psychological — impact of this unending chaos new cycle will be. Do voters tune it out? Do they dial in (even) more? And how does the eventual Democratic nominee deal with Trump’s constant content cavalcade?