Judy Veloski has stopped watching television news. Albert Eisenberg tries to spend the first 30 minutes of each day away from his phone. Melissa Byrne refuses to follow the president on Twitter.
Call it self-care in the age of Trump, when the news cycles run at light speed. Take the last two weeks, during which President Trump denounced his attorney general over his recusal from the Russia investigation, pushed out his press secretary, hired a communications director who publicly wished unprintable ills on his coworkers, fired his chief of staff, and fired the aforementioned communications director. He gave a campaign-style speech at a Boy Scout jamboree, tweeted about banning transgender people from serving in the military, and told a room of police officers not to be "too nice" to arrestees. Oh, and the Senate Republicans' health-care bill failed.
For observers on both sides of the aisle, following along can be exhausting.
Byrne, a Philly activist and political consultant, spent the last several weeks traveling back and forth from Washington, advocating against the health-care bill. And though she's been losing her voice at protests, she said, they're a welcome break from the crush of breaking news notifications and Twitter sniping.
"It's like Whac-A-Mole," she said. "Every day something horrible is happening."
Eisenberg, 26, a communications consultant who formerly worked as spokesman for Philadelphia's Republican Party, has been trying to take his morning coffee without scrolling through Twitter: too much adrenaline, too much outrage, too early, he says.
"It takes a lot of care and energy to not allow yourself to be pulled directly into that immediate notification, gratification, boom-and-bust media cycle," he said. "I wish everyone in journalism would take a Klonopin and download a meditation app."
The role of social media
The rise of social media and the subsequent acceleration of news cycles, of course, predates Trump. And it's hard to gauge whether people are glued to the news more than usual these days, said David Uberti, a media reporter at the news site Splinter.
Trump's approval rating, though historically low, is fairly steady, "despite all these incredible news cycles," Uberti said. "So a significant portion of the country is either tuned out or distrust mainstream media." Still, cable news ratings are having a banner year. And the national media have invested heavily in political coverage. "You can't watch CNN anymore without them covering Trump," Uberti said.
Drew Jennings, 44, of West Bradford, watches the endless political debates on cable news with a mixture of fascination and amusement. He's a libertarian. His wife is "to the left of Bernie Sanders," he said with a laugh. "And she's exhausted to the point where she doesn't even want to talk about it."
But Jennings watches CNN mostly to scoff at the "manufactured outrage," he said. It's somehow less depressing than the shootings and overdoses on the local news.
Then again, nothing the administration has done so far has affected him personally. "I try to be honest about that," he said. "I'm not obtuse to the fact that people are impacted."
For those who are closely following news about the administration, it can be difficult to look away from the daily ups and downs.
"It's this amazing real-life drama with these larger-than-life characters," said David Boardman, dean of Temple's Klein College of Media and Communications (and chair of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which owns the company that operates the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com). "It's riveting, but it's also, for a lot of people, exhausting and even frightening, because there's so much uncertainty, so much change."
And Trump's own use of social media is at once a mirror of and a catalyst for the kind of unrelenting news cycles that have marked his presidency, said Sherri Hope Culver, a Temple University professor who studies media literacy.
"Trump is as much a victim of it as a supplier of it," she said. "He watches something in the news and is like, 'Oh, I have to tweet about this.' He doesn't show that he's consuming thoughtfully, balancing where he's getting his content from, and then making a measured and thoughtful response. All the media literacy skills we hope to imbue in our young people are not being modeled by our president."
Too much attention to drama
Veloski, 66, a retired nurse from Lansdowne, has stopped watching television news entirely. A longtime independent, she volunteered for Hillary Clinton's campaign last year — her first presidential campaign — and has grown increasingly politically active, attending meetings of the local Democratic Party. But she's careful about when and how she reads the news — no politics on Facebook or Twitter, she says, no matter how much her friends post.
Like Jennings, she's more concerned that "the things that don't really make the headlines" — debates about, say, education and the environment — are getting lost in the interpersonal intrigue playing out in the White House.
"We become focused on the political drama and there's very little time and space for consideration of issues," Boardman said. "I don't think it's healthy for the country and I don't think it's healthy for individuals."
Those who are riveted do their best to look away sometimes. Byrne takes spin classes and goes to the beach. Eisenberg has his phone-free mornings. Adrianne Standley, 29, of Manayunk, who jumped into health-care activism after the election, just watches "really stupid TV."
"It's about knowing that if I can't follow something, I will be able to find a breakdown of it later or touch base with a friend," she said. "It's about knowing when to take a mental break."