A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.
In the era of President Donald Trump, it's rare that anything other than Donald Trump works its way into the headlines.
And over the last couple months, there has been plenty of headline-worthy news drowned out by Trump tweets, Trump controversy, and all things Trump-Russia. Unfortunately, many of the stories that aren't reaching the American public as readily as what Trump last tweeted are monumentally important and necessary for us to know.
I'm guilty of making the problem worse, too. On my Facebook page, I give updates about Trump every Monday that typically don't touch on international news coverage. In this very column, I've written almost 80 percent of my articles about something Trump did or said, or a Trump administration policy, over the last few months. I've even written about the reality TV nature of Trump, and how the fact that it's so hard to look away might be a good way to get Americans more engaged about politics.
But all that Trump noise comes with consequences beyond just making people singularly focused: we Americans lose the context of our nation in the larger global picture.
So much has happened in the last few months across the globe that so few Americans are aware of. Our recollection of President Trump lashing out at Saturday Night Live hosts is vivid; but how many Americans can share the details of Philippine's President Rodrigo Duterte mission to kill thousands of civilians for being drug users?
Most of us, with little effort, can probably spout off the basic outline of the Trump vs. Hamilton controversy, or where Steve Bannon worked before Trump, but how many know the details of the civil war raging in Yemen? Or the U.S. drone strikes that have brought the country to its knees? Just this week, thousands of Yemenis were protesting in the streets to end the war on their soil.
Even stories about the people around Trump — such as Kellyanne Conway illegally plugging Ivanka Trump's products on television — generate far more readership than, say, the fact 110 people in Somalia died over the course of 48 hours last week due to starvation and dehydration.
It's not just bad news we're missing, either: success in the fight against ISIS as Iraqi forces take back Mosul has gone down with little fanfare. The near eradication of polio in India is swept under the rug. A decades-long fight against poverty that has saved millions of lives generated zero television spots that I could find on Google.
Perhaps nothing illustrates the disturbing bubble the U.S. media, and the U.S. citizens, are living in right now more than the sparse coverage on television news and our most popular websites given to the crisis in South Sudan.
If you're wondering "What's happening in South Sudan right now?" well, that's precisely the point.
In February, the United Nations declared famine in South Sudan, a highly unusual move that is reserved for only the harshest conditions. Aid agencies say people are already dying of hunger and 100,000 people are on the verge of starvation. A total of 5 million people — or the equivalent of two Chicagos — are in "need of urgent help."
Since South Sudan declared independence in 2011, largely with the help of the Western world and the United States, the country has been buried in hardship. Civil war has displaced many, set off a refugee crisis of its own, and has now morphed into a total economic collapse.
"Our worst fears have been realized," Serge Tissot of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, told CNN. "Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive."
More than 1 million children are suffering from malnutrition in the country, and the economy has seen inflation rates as high as 800 percent — making food and medicine practically unaffordable. Reports have surfaced that families are digging through swamps for something resembling food to eat just to stay alive.
All this makes news coverage of the situation there more important and more valuable. Organizations like the World Food Program (WFP) has the expertise to address these issues, but they need the donations and volunteers to get it done (you can donate here). By July 2017, it estimates that more than 5.5 million people will be food insecure, and it is trying to intervene.
"This famine is man-made. WFP and the entire humanitarian community have been trying with all our might to avoid this catastrophe, mounting a humanitarian response of a scale that quite frankly would have seemed impossible three years ago. But we have also warned that there is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security, both for relief workers and the crisis-affected people they serve," WFP Country Director Joyce Luma said in a statement. "We will continue doing everything we possibly can to hold off and reverse the spread of famine."
News like this may not be easy to read, but it's important to. Coverage of troubling events abroad inspire some of the best minds in the world to act, and when America's media — the most watched and read in the world — obsesses over tweets and reality television-esque drama, the people suffering most lose out.
All of us, myself included, would be wise to change our ways.
For more political commentary, you can follow Isaac on Twitter @Ike_Saul
Cover image: punghi / Shutterstock