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The unemployment rate in the United States fell to a paltry 3.9 per cent last month. That’s big news. To find an American rate lower than today’s, you have to go back half a century to the late 1960s.

The new jobless rate is noteworthy given all the crying that’s been going on about how automation was a job killer, an existential threat to employment. It’s a strong counterpoint to all the yelping about how so-called unfair trade agreements deprive Americans of work. But apparently not enough of one. Trade-war threats are still on – against countries with more people unemployed, such as Canada and France.

Despite their significance, the sweet new job numbers weren’t big news in Washington. The story was halfway down page 12 in the Washington Post. Elsewhere, it was dwarfed by yet more supposedly dire developments in respect to Russian collusion, Stormy Daniels and the big yapper, Rudy Giuliani. Important stories, yes. But more important to Americans than jobs?

The slight attention paid to the employment numbers is an illustration of how the country’s image is being excessively Trump-framed. We in the media are consumed by his every utterance. No president has sucked the oxygen out of every room like this one. He has the news cycle by the throat. Big domestic stories are lost in the daily anarchy, the shattering of the norms, the circus never leaving town.

The obsession with him started with the Republican primaries, when he was such a ratings hit that the media lavished several times more coverage on him than other candidates. Mr. Trump didn’t have to buy airtime. The fourth estate supplied it. It was critical to his triumph.

Recently, some in the media have begun calling themselves out on their obsession with Mr. Trump. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times says this president has sadly become the media’s business model. “As long as our focus is on Trump, audiences follow.” The-all-Trump-all-the-time coverage, he says, is ushering the country into “a hole.”

Excessive media focus on personality and political manoeuvrings at the expense of substantive developments in public affairs has long been the case. But in the United States it’s reached absurd levels, as if the state of the union equates with the state of Mr. Trump.

The Atlantic’s James Fallows, a progressively inclined writer, is soon to publish a book called Our Towns. In researching it, he travelled the United States for years. He draws a contrasting portrait to the one emanating from Washington. On immigration, he finds thateven as the national discussion grows more hateful, the lived reality of absorbing immigrants and refugees has remained remarkably calm.” In contrast to the green bashing in Washington, he finds conservation and environmental programs thriving at state and local levels. While the discourse at the national level has become raw and vulgar and erudition-starved, at the local level, there is a library revival. Libraries are “becoming more rather than less popular and central to civic life.”

Mr. Fallows’s argument is essentially that Americans, owing to the problems of journalistic proportion in Mr. Trump’s era, are being deprived of a clear and accurate view of their country.

Jon Meacham has just published a book called The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels. Bad angels have always been around, he was saying at a forum at George Washington University. There’s always been a large segment of the population that align themselves with their dark impulses. Thirty-five per cent of Americans, for example, supported red-baiter Joe McCarthy, even after his fall.

But Americans, he tries to show in his historical survey, have always overcome their destructive chapters. They know when to turn the page. They often bring in presidents who are the opposites of the one they just had. After Mr. Trump, he slyly suggested, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see someone more akin to Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Mr. Meacham found that the advent of new media – whether it be radio, television, the internet, Twitter – always brings with it a jolt to the system. The new communication tools provide leaders with potentially new strongman powers. They make, as in the case of Mr. Trump, demagoguery more possible. The American media has to figure out a way of not playing into it, and of staying out of his cauldron.

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