This week journalist Farhad Manjoo attempted a noble experiment – taking a week away from news about Donald Trump. In his weekly New York Times column Manjoo describes an eye-opening discovery he made during the week – Coverage of Mr. Trump may eclipse that of any single human being ever.
That’s a pretty bold statement. Manjoo is frank that he has no scientific way to back up his claim that Donald Trump may be the most talked-about man in all of history. But he does have analysis from an organization called MediaQuant to support his theory. According to MediaQuant Trump received $817 million worth of media coverage in a single month, almost double his closest competitor, Barak Obama. previous
I did my own semi-scientific investigation into Manjoo’s theory. Logging into Google Trends I compared searches for “Trump” to searches for “Jesus.” On the whole, over the past five years, people searched for “Jesus” 25% more often than they searched for “Trump.” But starting in 2015 that changed dramatically. In the week of the November 2016 election searches for Trump hit an all time high with “Trump” getting almost eight times more search traffic than “Jesus.” Plug in “God” instead of “Jesus” and you see the same trend, suggesting that Donald Trump is literally more popular than God.
Why, though, is Donald Trump on everybody’s lips and everybody’s mind? Does he command respect, admiration, awe or fear? Not for me. I think he’s a boob. A schmuck. A grifter. An unalloyed asshole.
Columbia University law professor Tim Wu might have an answer for us. In an episode of the Kai Rysdall, Molly Wood podcast Make Me Smart Wu explains how our attention has been commoditized over time. The Church, political parties, private entrepreneurs have all clamored for a share of the public’s interest and attention. Wu elaborates the inexorable conquest of public attention in his book The Attention Merchants.
“If my book is successful it foretells…if I would have been a genius I would have written this in the book…that there will arise,” Wu says in the podcast, “a lord of the attention merchants who uses the techniques of commercial media, of celebrity, of reality television and social media which jump over the media and reach the people directly, using this to accumulate political power transforming politics as we know it into part of the entertainment industry.”
Donald Trump, if Wu is correct, is this man who for whatever reason is able to demand our attention, sucking it like a vampire from our hearts, feeding off of it and growing bigger by the day. In some ways it was inevitable that such a man should arise. Many prophets from George Orwell to Saint John the Apostle have predicted this time would come. Trump simply had the means to be the right man at the right time coupled with a disposition to stop at nothing until he gets the attention he feels he deserves.
Back in November I wrote a blog post suggesting that Trump doesn’t seek political power, he seeks our worship. Judging by the enormous amount of attention he continues to get I’d say that he’s getting exactly what he wants.