This past weekend, however, he expressed some weariness on Twitter about writing for a public audience in the Age of Trump. As he put it: “I don’t like writing the same argument multiple times, and the problems of the Trump era just keep repeating.” Those problems range from Trump’s persistent nativism to the quadrennial cycle of CEO-wannabe-presidents moronically raging against political parties. Whatever the topic, he concludes: “It’s just too depressing to keep paraphrasing the same arguments.”
Other reporters and commentators chimed in to agree with Levy. Vox’s Dara Lind tweeted, “not only is it abundantly clear that saying it the n+1th time doesn’t persuade anyone who was persuaded the nth time, but that the only people even paying attention were already paying attention and are using ‘getting it’ as a virtue signal.” Lawfare’s Quinta Jurecic concurred: “At a certain point there’s just not much more you can say, and anything you do say comes off as ‘I told you so.’”
Normally, the hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts reaches consensus very quickly. On this question, however, we are conflicted. A weary part of the staff likes to bring up this 2016 column that concludes, “No matter how much one tries to develop an alternative perspective, the inescapable conclusion is that Trump is a narcissistic, ignorant, misogynistic gasbag. Which means that, at this point, the entire commentariat winds up sounding pretty much the same when it comes to him.” The very fact that I could easily reference an earlier column would seem to reaffirm Levy’s thesis: All the arguments about Trump have already been made, and there is no point in thinking up new ones. (Worse, because this consensus is so strong, the temptation is always there to try to offer a counterintuitive take that gets attention merely because it likely offers some rationale for whatever Trump is doing.)
There’s a less weary but more insecure part of the staff that points to others on the beat and envies their ability to put a fresh spin on the current moment. My Post colleague Catherine Rampell’s column last week on how “under Republican leadership, the United States is starting to look an awful lot like the failed Soviet system the party once stood unified against” is a brilliant idea executed to perfection, and it kills me that I did not think of something so clever. My other Post colleague Alexandra Petri offers up an inexhaustible supply of brilliant satire about life in the Age of Trump. I can generate copy, and on occasion make the trenchant point or two. On many days, however, the staff feels too much like Tahani from “The Good Place,” contributing little to the conversation beyond epic name-dropping.
The more optimistic part of the staff, however, is the one in charge of picking topics, and there are many reasons Spoiler Alerts focuses so much on the Trump administration. The most banal reason is to avoid the memory hole problem. The Age of Trump is so exhausting that it is easy to forget news items that would have dominated cycles in years past. Example: The dodgy means through which Jared Kushner got his security clearance. That story dropped last Friday but generated little discussion, as it was so close to the end of the government shutdown. Or, even better, the New York Times’ blockbuster story about Trump’s tax returns, which everyone across the board acknowledges was good reporting but barely caused a ripple. That came out less than five months ago. But here I am reminding you of these scandals, because it reminds us of the deeper rot within the Trump White House.
There is also some virtue in making the same point on multiple occasions, particularly if the point happens to be, you know, correct. There is an awful lot that political scientists don’t know. There’s a reason that debates about the future of the liberal international order are so furious right now; it’s because no one really knows how this is going to play out. Furthermore, the political shocks of 2016 make it easy for knaves and hacks to claim that the political world as we know it has ended. So there is some virtue in pointing out when the empirical regularities that define modern politics persist even under this president — see FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon Jr. on the politics of the shutdown to see what I mean.
Finally — and I rarely say this — but Dara Lind might be wrong. There are always new readers. Kids grow up and start to learn about the world. They want it explained to them. People who never thought of themselves as interested in politics start to get interested. They need things to read.
If Trump’s election has taught me anything, it is the dangers of complacency. Never assume that an argument, once made, has been cast into stone. Sometimes it needs to be updated to incorporate new information. Sometimes the point is worth making again and again. And again.