Erik Hagerman is the poster child for post-2016 liberal angst. Unlike the many Americans who vowed to move to Canada or France or some other foreign locale if Donald Trump won the presidency, Hagerman has made good on a vow he made in connection with the election.
As the New York Times reported in a front-page feature article, Hagerman and all who wish to have contact with him adhere to “the blockade.” That’s the way he refers to his refusal to read, listen to, or watch any news about what’s going on in the world.
While he does read about the weather and discusses the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team with his mother, pretty much everything else is taboo, making it difficult for the 53-year-old retired Nike executive and former digital-shopping tech for Walmart and Disney to converse with most people. But since he has never married and lives alone on an Ohio farm, where he works on art projects and reclaiming wetlands, it isn’t all that much of a problem. If it means he must wear headphones blasting white noise while in a nearby town for a morning cup of coffee lest he have any inadvertent contact with other humans, Hagerman thinks that’s an acceptable price to pay. (He used to listen to music but found that the gaps between songs allowed some words and phrases uttered by people sitting at nearby tables to filter in.)
As far as the Times is concerned, Hagerman’s self-imposed exile from exposure to current events is akin to a National Geographic expedition to a strange backwoods tribe where knowledge of life in Trump’s America and the post-2016 world in general is unknown. But while he is both a curiosity and a challenge — like some of Hagerman’s acquaintances, Times reporter Sam Dolnick couldn’t help trying to bait the hermit with questions about whether Charlottesville means anything more than a place where his sister teaches — he’s more than just a metaphor for the trauma that Trump’s election represents to many liberals. He’s also a reminder that much of the news his fellow liberals have been consuming and obsessing about during the past 16 months doesn’t actually put them that far ahead of Hagerman in terms of understanding the world the rest of us are actually living in.
It’s true that Hagerman has missed out on some objective knowledge that leaves him badly uninformed. For example, he doesn’t know who was finally confirmed to fill the Supreme Court seat occupied by the late Antonin Scalia. Nor is he aware that, after years of stalemate in Iraq and Syria on President Obama’s watch, ISIS has been routed since Trump changed the rules of engagement for U.S. and coalition forces. And since he doesn’t read the financial reports sent to him by his investment adviser, Hagerman, a wealthy man who now plays at being a pig farmer when not dabbling in art and environmentalism, is unaware of the booming stock market, the positive impact of Trump’s regulatory rollback, and the major tax cuts the GOP passed.
But when Times reporter Dolnick wrote of the things he thinks Hagerman has been missing out on, he didn’t focus on the course of world affairs or the economy, i.e., the things that we normally judge presidents on. His list of topics that cover Hagerman’s self-imposed ignorance consists of: “James Comey. Russia. Robert Mueller. Las Vegas. The travel ban. ‘Alternative facts.’ Pussy hats. Scaramucci. Parkland. Big nuclear buttons. Roy Moore.”
While there are some things on that list that are important, such as mass shootings and Trump’s efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the list is really shorthand for all the things that the anti-Trump “resistance” and their mainstream-media cheerleaders have been obsessing about. In other words, most of what Dolnick and his editors think Hagerman has been missing is nonsense.
The Trump-Russia investigation that’s promoted to news consumers as if the smoking gun were always around the corner, but that never seems to prove the crime it was created to investigate. The White House scandals du jour about trivial leaks or personnel changes. The exposés about former Trump paramours. The speculation about what marginal groups of extremists who have no influence on the government think about Trump. The endless huffing and puffing about the president’s comments about the press and his political enemies as well as what he writes on Twitter.
For readers of the Times and similar left-leaning media outlets, those topics represent what it means to be a news consumer during the Trump presidency.
Hagerman is probably making a more intelligent choice than many of his fellow Clinton voters have.
Seen from that perspective, Hagerman is probably making a more intelligent choice than many of his fellow Clinton voters have. Other liberals have fed themselves a nonstop diet of bile, resentment, and conspiratorial speculation about Trump’s misdeeds and his inevitable doom. They have taken deep dives into journalism that was rooted in unwarranted and unproven assumptions about Russian collusion or Trump’s responsibility for hate crimes. This has entertained and fascinated them, but it hasn’t done much to help them understand a perplexing and at times disappointing administration — including what the president has done right or wrong and why so many of their fellow Americans are still sticking with him. It’s the same kind of denial and wish fulfillment as Hagerman’s “blockade,” but it entails considerably more anxiety.
Hagerman’s claims of better mental health are probably well founded. Unlike his fellow Trump haters, he isn’t eating his heart out being tormented by a biased media that wakes up every day trying to prove that Trump has no business in the White House. You don’t have to be a Trump supporter, or be unaware of the president’s obvious shortcomings, to understand that much of what the Ohio hermit has passed up on are partisan attacks that wouldn’t have done much to inform him.
Instead of treating Hagerman as a novelty item or a casualty of a bruising political world from which we should all wish to escape, journalists should think seriously about whether they, too, have been blocking out reality. At a time when so much of the mainstream media is still stuck complaining about an undesired election outcome and “resisting” rather than covering the presidency, Hagerman’s experiment should be treated as a cautionary tale, not a humorous anecdote.