A note from Isaac: Don't look away.

Some concerning data about this moment.
Isaac Saul Mar 10, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and you’re reading Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone forwarded you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 5 minutes.

Since Joe Biden was elected, many Americans have turned their gaze away from the happenings of government.

Traffic on politics news is down, and people are clicking on political news stories about 30% less often than they were going into January. Ratings on political television shows are down, too, and even the open rates of this newsletter have dropped around 8-10% in recent weeks (I was expecting a post-election slump, but am gratified by our resiliency compared to some other political news outlets).

Why is this happening? I have a few theories.

One, the most obvious, is that Donald Trump drove a huge ratings surge. Whether you hated him or loved him, nobody seemed to be able to look away. His presidency was the greatest show on earth, as they say, and Americans were clicking, watching, and tuning in with bated breath — jumping from one splashy headline to the next.

Two, perhaps a little less obvious, is that people are exhausted. This was reflected in a recent Tangle poll, where “exhaustion” was the most frequent choice by readers about their current state of mind or feelings around U.S. politics. This is understandable. Again: Love or hate former President Trump, or President Biden, the last four years of politics in our country and around the globe were exhausting — the last year especially.

Three, and this is probably the biggest reason in the case of Tangle’s diminishing open rates, is that most of my readers wanted Joe Biden to be president. Recent Tangle polling shows a little more than 50% of my readership identifies as liberal and another 10% identifies as “far-left,” compared to about 20% conservative and 5% “far-right.” So now that Biden is in office, I think there’s a sizable chunk of the Tangle readership who are breathing a collective sigh of relief and, as a result, turning away.

Again, speaking specifically to Tangle, the situation isn’t dire. More than 40% of my readers still open any single email, and before the election, that number was around 50%. That’s a big drop, and it makes sense that during such an explosive political time more people were dialed in on a daily basis. But many of you are still engaged, just engaged a little less on the day-to-day.

And yet… it does worry me. Not just because I write about politics and am growing a political news company, thus desiring the most engaged readership possible. I actually think it’s healthier for the country to have a more balanced news diet, and I think far too many people consume nothing but political news every day.

Instead, what I’m worried about is a populace that stops paying attention to what its elected leaders are doing, especially at a time when our government is doing so much.

The inner-workings of government can be boring. In Tangle, I’m trying to make the exciting, dramatic, stressful, biased, over-sensationalized news a bit more digestible and a lot more intelligent. I’m also hoping to make the wonky, boring, important, dry policy issues more interesting and engaging. Trump brought a kind of entertainment to politics that often distracted from his very substantial policy efforts. President Biden has been low on entertainment and big on boring, important, dry policy issues so far. The result in both cases is that a lot of Americans are missing big changes on some very important issues.

Even more, a familiar face in government (like President Joe Biden) can be disarming. Would the current crisis on the border be a more engaging story for the left if Donald Trump Trump was still president? Would our retaliation strike in Syria have gotten more attention if the order had been given by Donald Trump? What about balking on harsh retaliation for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi? What about the Cuomo nursing home and sexual harassment scandals in New York? Would these stories have engaged more Tangle readers if Trump was the protagonist in them?

In almost every case, I’d bet the answer is yes.

Whenever a paying Tangle subscriber leaves the newsletter, I reach out to them and ask for feedback. Oftentimes, to my delight, they have unsubscribed by accident, or because their credit card failed, or they made some mistake or they were re-subscribing with a different email. Sometimes, it’s because they hate something I wrote, or think I’m a closet progressive or a secret Trump supporter.

Recently, though, I’ve been getting a new answer: “I just need a break. I’ll be back soon.”

It’s an answer I can appreciate. As someone who immerses myself in this news, and is taking on the sometimes impossible-feeling task of talking across the political aisle, I share the sense of exhaustion many of you feel. Sometimes, I need a break too. And this week is no exception.

So here’s what I’m thinking: Let’s take a little break. This timing is a little awkward for those of you who just signed up in the last 24 hours (if that’s you, you can check out Tangle’s archives and view this week’s newsletters on COVID-19 restrictions and The American Rescue Plan here). But it’s been over four months since the election and many of us still haven’t come up for air, so what better time than now?

Here’s what I’m thinking: tomorrow, I’m going to send a newsletter to all of you with some quick hits on the news you need to know and a collection of reader feedback to recent newsletters — much of it very entertaining, insightful, critical and moving — especially some stories from readers in Texas I’ve been hoping to share after asking how they were doing.

On Friday, you won’t hear from me. I’m going to take a day off and you’re going to get one, too.

And then on Monday, we’ll be back in your inbox. With all of us (hopefully) a little bit refreshed and having had five days away from the daily news chaos that can be our country, we’ll get back to the business of understanding this complicated, divisive, difficult, messy place we live in.

When Monday rolls around, whatever the topic is, here’s my promise: If it’s a splashy, dramatic, stressful story, I’ll try to make it digestible and turn the temperature down. I’ll make it less exhausting. If it’s a critical, boring, dry story, I’ll try to find the interesting and engaging angles in it and why you should care. Even if you can only muster 10 to 15 minutes a day to dedicate to understanding our political world, I hope you spend it with us.

I’ll continue to take your feedback and criticism and publish it here. I’ll continue doing my best to make sure I’m representing views from across the political spectrum. I’ll continue to be as honest with you about my own biases, feelings, and perspectives as I possibly can. And we’ll all continue to learn together.

In the meantime, thanks for reading. And don’t look away.

Best,

Isaac & the Tangle team


Quick hits.

  1. The Senate is expected to confirm Merrick Garland as attorney general today, five years after he was blocked from becoming a Supreme Court justice. (CBS News)
  2. After months of rationing shots, states are preparing for a surge in vaccine supply that could overwhelm them. The expectation is to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in the country by May. (The Washington Post, subscription)
  3. South Korea will pay the United States $7 billion over the next six years as part of a cost sharing agreement for troops. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
  4. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas activated a volunteer force within the agency to go to the border and help as the latest border crisis unfolds. (The New York Post)
  5. The American Rescue Plan will fulfill Biden’s promise of expanding the Affordable Care Act — at least for the next two years. (The New York Times, subscription)

New podcast.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Uighurs and the human rights crisis in Xinjiang, China. Readers were very interested in the topic, so last week, I sat down with Minky Worden, the Director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch. We discussed what’s happening in China, how we know, and what we can actually do about it.

Click here to listen.


Don’t forget…

If you appreciate the way Tangle balances the news, and our attempts at making things more interesting, informative and easier to digest, please consider becoming a subscriber. For $4.16/month, you get Friday editions that include original reporting, deep dives, interviews, personal essays and more. We keep the vast majority of our content free out of a fundamental belief that reliable news shouldn’t be behind a paywall — but we rely on reader support to continue to grow.

Subscribe now


Have a nice day.

Yesterday, Alaska became the first state to drop vaccine requirements and allow anyone above the age of 16 to register for and schedule a vaccine shot. The announcement marks a major milestone in the effort to end the coronavirus pandemic and illustrates an expected surge in vaccine supply that states are hoping to see over the coming months. (CBS News)

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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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