The endless, impossible search for just one conversation that doesn’t involve Trump
BYBy Lavanya Ramanathan
August 9, 2017
(Eddie Alvarez/Washington Post Illustration/iStock)
(Eddie Alvarez/Washington Post Illustration/iStock)

Harriti Shah has had her share of awkward first dates. No-chemistry first dates.

But then a man on a date this summer spent the bulk of the time they were supposed to spend getting to know each other talking about President Trump.

“Dude,” Shah thought to herself. “It’s June. You have to figure out a way to deal by now. It is what it is. This is our lives now.”

Her banter with the Trump talker? “One-word answers,” she says. “Uh-huh. Yes.”

A Washington food truck owner, the 33-year-old Shah once passed the hours in her cramped, 140-square-foot quarters listening to NPR, bathing in the soothing tones of Terry Gross. She read several newspapers.

Now, she says, “I don’t turn on the news at all anymore, which is weird for me. I don’t want to hear about it, I don’t want to deal with it.”

It, of course, being anything to do with the current occupant of the White House. Because even when we’re supposed to be on dates, or at bars, or sprawled out on a remote beach somewhere, we’re all just talking about him.

We had hobbies once, you know.

“We had lives!” Shah says.

But now: “My therapy sessions have become an MSNBC panel,” one Washington-based journalist tells us.

“It always comes up, no matter what,” groans Kelly Buford, 39, even in her town of Rosharon, even in Texas, which handed all 38 of its electoral votes to Trump.

“I know when I check out at the grocery store, someone is going to throw out a comment,” she says. “When I get my hair cut, somehow we end up talking about Trump.”

At home: One of Buford’s sons is worried about the president’s proposed border wall and what it might mean for his friends, so she has to talk him through that.

“I don’t bring it up,” Buford insists. But here’s the problem: “I do participate.”

This, of course, is everyone’s problem. In our allergists’ offices, at the gym and while pretending to be out for perfectly innocent dinners, it’s sneeze, Jared Kushner, squat, Russian pop star, chew, Robert Mueller.

Now, tidbits of news outside of the daily White House briefing and the now-predictable tweetstorms seem like tiny gifts from the gods.

R. Kelly. The greatest eclipse our eyes will ever see. The latest episode of “Game of Thrones.” Each is an opportunity to look away from @realDonaldTrump for an hour — just an hour! — and collectively rest our weary souls.

We have good reason to be Trumped-out. It’s been nearly 800 days since the real estate mogul, hotelier and reality-show star announced his bid for the presidency. (Shah: “Oh, my God, seriously? That long?”) It’s been months of side-choosing. Months of waking up with a jerk in the dark hours of the morning to three different Apple News alerts that the universe is burning.

We suspect that our synapses have stopped firing, because we feel nothing now.

We suspect that we have become the sort of zombies who don’t eat human flesh but who make “covfefe” jokes, which is pretty much the same thing.

“They’re not even talking about the football season, which is odd,” says Daniel Hernandez of his clientele at the Hawk ‘n’ Dove on Capitol Hill, where he is general manager. “It’s always been news or sports,” the primary preoccupations of the youthful, politically minded Hill happy-hour crowd. Now it’s Russia. Scaramucci. Health care. Repeat.

Hernandez shrugs. “We wish there was something else to talk about. We’d love to hear more about sports. Or travels.” Anything.

Political talk has always been on the menu at Hawk & Dove, one of Capitol Hill's most famous pubs. But now, says its general manager, “We wish there was something else to talk about.” (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

Even those who have moved on can’t seem to avoid political conversations, even for a night. Arts publicist Amanda Hunter recalls simply trying to have a farewell dinner with friends on the patio at an Adams Morgan restaurant recently, when her bon voyage celebration was abruptly interrupted by an angry rant about Trump, courtesy of the guy one table over. “We were all making faces at each other because it was so distracting,” she says.

Sensing that we as a nation are becoming deeply annoying, some couples have begun setting limits on Trump talk in their marriages. (Sundays only, thanks.) Others, like Shah, have put themselves on strict no-CNN diets.

The writer David Brooks has said that he’d like to devote more of his brain to something else, calling Trump talk an addiction, “educated-class meth.” The actor Aziz Ansari announced that he’s on an Internet fast, telling GQ recently that keeping up with the 24-hour Trump cycle is “like reading about what happened on ‘Monday Night Raw.’ ” “I’m not choosing ignorance,” he said. “I’m choosing to not watch wrestling.”

Waiting outside a Capitol Hill pharmacy with his sister on a breezy afternoon, William Travers, 73, of Bowie, Md., claims to be on a kind of fast, too, because, he laments, “There’s nothing we can do about it, anyway.”

He doesn’t watch the news that much. Except. . . . He leans in. “Sometimes, when I think, ‘They got him!’ ”

The summer vacation season has provided some with a reason to look away. A self-described news junkie who once worked in broadcast news, Kyle Schmitz, 36, last month booked a three-week trip to Japan, where she found that because of the language barrier, “even if they were talking about Trump, I didn’t know.”

Schmitz, who runs a media group in Washington, watched Japanese game shows. She had fabulous dinners at restaurants with no television screens. “I’m telling you, I could feel my blood pressure drop,” she says.

But, alas, we all have to get back to the grind eventually, or, as Schmitz describes the startling return to reality after her Zen vacation, to “sensory overload in the worst way possible.”

“You got Scaramucci,” she marvels. “You got Spicer popping out of the bushes.”

This is our life now.