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Now for the final divorce from Trump

Margaret Sullivan is The Washington Post’s media columnist. Previously, she was The New York Times public editor, and the chief editor of The Buffalo News, her home-town paper

Long before he glided down that golden escalator at Trump Tower in 2015 to announce his presidential candidacy, Donald Trump was an object of media fascination. He could never actually become president, of course — that was unthinkable — but he captivated us all the same.

Once he was elected, the media's fascination turned to utter obsession. Newscasts, front pages, opinion columns — whatever the form, we couldn't seem to tear our gaze away.

The relationship was bumpy, sometimes abusive — "scum", he called us early on — but Trump commanded attention nearly every hour of every day.

What new insult? What new outrageous policy? What new threat to democracy?

And the paradoxical reality couldn't be denied: although he trashed us, he also helped us. Cable ratings skyrocketed, newspaper subscriptions soared and podcasters never had to scrounge for topics. (Media columnists were busy, too.) There was even an inside-the-industry name for this audience increase: the Trump Bump.

Stand-up comic Michelle Wolf hit the bull’s-eye at the 2018 White House Correspondents' Association dinner: "You act like you hate him, but I think you really love him," she accused the reporters, editors and publishers in the room. And then she went for the journalistic jugular: "You helped create this monster, and now you're profiting off of him."

But soon, very soon, the party needs to end. It's late, everyone's had too much to drink, and it's time to head home and sleep it off.

Take inspiration where it can be found: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell managed a hollow smile on Tuesday as he acknowledged that Joe Biden is the president-elect and Kamala Harris the vice-president-elect. Now the news media need to do something every bit as challenging: Go cold turkey on Trump.

Yes, breaking up is hard to do. And this one is going to hurt more than most.

Because Biden, although he has the definite advantage of not being a constant threat to democracy, is no ball of fire. He stays on script. He rarely goes on the attack. And he seems interested in bringing citizens together, not driving them apart.

"The most boring human being I've ever seen," as the present Oval Office occupant put it in his usual tactful way.

Some of the attention, of course, will shift by itself. And that reality appears to be much on Trump's mind. "He will be astounded at how irrelevant a president becomes after losing re-election," the presidential historian Michael Beschloss told Politico. "Ask Jimmy Carter. Ask George H.W. Bush."

But then again, those former presidents were not all that captivating to begin with. Trump is already manoeuvring to keep the spotlight shining exactly where he likes it by broadly hinting at his 2024 presidential run.

But so what? The media should, for once, decline to take the bait.

Don't allow him to become a self-styled president in exile, the golf-cart version of Napoleon on Elba.

Do not set up a Mar-a-Lago bureau.

Don't have entire reporting beats dedicated to what he and his family members are up to.

And for God's sake, stop writing about his unhinged tweets.

There are sure to be temptations in that realm, such as, for instance, Trump's retweet of attorney Lin Wood's view that Georgia's Republican governor and secretary of state "will soon be going to jail" because they didn't do the President's bidding to try to overturn the election.

How can you not cover that? Here's how: you just don't. It may not be easy, but you have a thoughtful, predetermined policy, and then you stand by it.

I'm not suggesting that the name Trump never appear in a headline again. A former president's legal troubles — should they arise, as seems inevitable — will be worth some ink.

If he starts volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, a la Carter, I would cover that.

But the rest of it? The preening, the insults, the efforts to take down the lawfully elected president, the constant, straight-up lies?

Let's give it a good long rest, shall we?

We've all had our fill. And then some.

Margaret Sullivan is The Washington Post’s media columnist. Previously, she was The New York Times public editor, and the chief editor of The Buffalo News, her home-town paper

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Published December 17, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated December 16, 2020 at 5:43 pm)

Now for the final divorce from Trump

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