Turning on a television at the end of a kidney-bruising Jeep pilgrimage into California's Sierra Nevada mountains with 1,000 of my closest friends was a shock, an experience akin to peeking into Dante's fifth circle of hell where the wrathful and sullen get their just, albeit unpleasant, deserts.
A push of a button on the remote and there it was: two blonde talking heads on the screen and a blonde talking hairdo host. They were all yakking loudly at once. Instant headache.
In the mountains, there was no radio, no cellphone coverage, no talk of politics, no ranting and no raving for several days. No know-it-all talking heads or pompous newspaper guys. It was blissful decompression, like being on another planet. Talk centered on more important stuff: What got broken? How is it going to get fixed? Football. Baseball. The best beer. Tall tales. Stories. Lots of laughter.
Watching the outright meanness, trash-talking hatred and oven-hot anger spill from the TV screen was enough to make abandoning what nowadays passes for civilization a reasonable — if not entirely viable — option.
It is unsettling to go from a quiet, ink-black sky dotted with blazing stars illuminating squadrons of bats flitting this way and that, to watching seemingly insane, spittle-spraying people screaming at each other until the veins pop out on their foreheads. Nobody can take a breath or get a word in edgewise. All talking, all shouting at once, panicked they will be unable to share with Americans their unique vision of President Donald Trump as a boob. What it portends for the nation cannot be good.
None of this is surprising. Despite righteous hooha about how bad things are in today's politics, it always has been a tough, nasty business in this country. John Adams was called a hermaphrodite; Andrew Jackson's opponents claimed his mother was a prostitute. Martin Van Buren's opponents said he wore corsets.
While politics is always rough-and-tumble, under Trump things have veered into Bizarro World. The result? Half the nation hates the other half. The political left hates "deplorables" and the political right — which is too busy hating itself to get anything done. The rich hate the poor and vice versa. All eyes are on the next election. Nobody is running the show; nobody wants anybody else to run the show, either.
At the root of it? Trump won the presidency. The good news is that he is not Hillary. Unfortunately, it turns out, he is nuts and his own worst enemy. His tweet-savaged, dysfunctional White House is a joke, a disorganized revolving door for political nut-jobs and wackos, with more leaks than a Yugo radiator, a home for vulgar nincompoops where uproar and legislative bumbling rule the day. In a rational moment, he finally has hired an adult, retired Gen. John Kelly, to snap it in line. It will be like herding cats. Pity the man.
There is little good news in the spotlight. Trump's foreign policy remains, as The Atlantic puts it, "inchoate and ineffective." There are congressional investigations and a special counsel probe, but despite all that, in the shadows, Trump is getting some things done. His Supreme Court pick was brilliant and he is loading the lower courts with young conservatives. While the media focuses on gotcha moments and the scandal de jour, his administration quietly is remapping the regulatory landscape on everything from gay rights to environmental rules to Justice Department policy to peeling back the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law.
If Trump is a pain, the left is nothing to write home about, either. Democratic National Committee boss Tom Perez is a profane dolt and the party seems to care only about regaining power. It wants to rule, not lead or govern. Democrats have dug in to fight until their dying breath to derail the Trump presidency, no matter the effect on the nation. With his help, they have a good start.
The problem with the incessant political cacophony from the left and right is that Americans are shell-shocked, numb, horrified at what they see and hear — their government in total disarray, a day care center for political brats. For most, that is frightening, like having a front row seat to its ultimate demise.
Perhaps what we need is a national week of silence where we would pledge to pay absolutely no attention to televisions or newspapers or internet websites. We could call it Shut the Hell Up Week. We could talk to our neighbors, but not about Trump or Hillary or politics. We could take walks or sit silently and enjoy family. We could finally catch our breath.
It would be as good as watching bats at night in the mountains.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com, a division of Porcaro Communications.