Waking up The New York Times to get them to notice how Republicans are attempting to end democracy has been a difficult task. Especially when they’re so busy continuing the investigation of Hunter Biden that began entirely because they were drinking Rudy Giuliani’s dirty bathwater. Or when they’re scratching their heads over how the U.S. lags other nations in vaccinations, but don’t say a single word about the forces that have spent two years politicizing vaccines and pushing anti-science claims that have led directly to hundreds of thousands of deaths. They also don’t seem to notice the nearly 2 to 1 disparity in death rates between counties that voted for Joe Biden and counties that voted for Donald Trump. Nope. It’s all a mystery to them.
Still, every now and then, something is blunt enough, and obvious enough, that the Times must take notice. And the weeks of revelations about Trump’s coup appear to have finally crossed that threshold.
On Tuesday evening, The New York Times analysis hits the target: The revelations of the last few weeks, and specifically Trump’s own statements, have made it clear that there never was any actual concern about election fraud. Trump wasn’t out to correct some perceived issue with voting. He was out to overturn the legitimate results of that voting so that he could remain in power. All of it points out just how fragile democracy was. And is.
Even so, the Times has found a new villain. Someone to blame for failing to sound the alarm over the danger facing America. That someone? Americans.
There is absolutely no doubt at this point about Trump’s intention to remain in power, the steps he took to make that happen, and how close his actions came to success.
Trump’s claims about a “rigged” election didn’t start after his loss in 2020. They started in 2015. From not long after he rode awkwardly down that golden escalator to announce his improbable candidacy, Trump set out to undermine faith in American elections.
This is Donald Trump in Aug. 2016, months before the election that he actually won.
“Remember, we are competing in a rigged election. They even want to try and rig the election at the polling booths, where so many cities are corrupt and voter fraud is all too common.”
But even earlier than that, Trump called the Republican primaries “rigged” and “boss-controlled.” Then he declared that Democratic primaries were rigged, egging on claims that Bernie Sanders was the “real winner” on the Democratic side.
Trump’s lies about massive voter fraud, of dead people voting, about people voting “hundreds of times,” of ballots being filled out in advance or shipped in by the thousands, and of voting machines “switching votes”—none of that began in 2020. Trump not only made all those claims in 2016, they were standard content of every rally he did from the start of his first campaign right up until his rally last Saturday. And they were a feature of hundreds, if not thousands, of tweets, statements, and Fox News appearances in between.
It wasn’t that Trump launched some kind of last-minute blitz to weaken America’s faith in the democratic system; Trump waged a years-long campaign, using almost every opportunity to chip another flake away from those bedrock principles.
Trump wore down faith in democracy geologically—day after day, year after year, a grain at a time.
In this, he was assisted by two forces. One was a right-wing media that helped him reinforce that message. The other was a mainstream media that echoed his statements without making it clear that his intent was to generate lasting harm.
It is far too late in the game to just be discovering that Trump was only concerned about his own power all along, and way too late for statements like this one, from Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University:
“I actually think the American public is dramatically underplaying how significant and dangerous this is,” he said, “because we cannot process the basic truth of what we are learning about President Trump’s efforts—which is we’ve never had a president before who fundamentally placed his own personal interests above the nation’s.”
The “American public” is not “underplaying” anything, because it’s not the public’s task to pull the cable on the alarm. That responsibility falls entirely to journalists. If the public is not alarmed by a systematic attempt to end democracy that resulted in both an attempted coup and an insurgency on the same day … that’s the news media’s fault.
To The New York Times’ credit, the first part of the article about their shocking discovery that Trump is only in it for himself did appear on the first page. But then, so did a review of a new TV series about Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson, along with the requisite reminder about groundhogs.
It should not take Donald Trump sending out a missive that spells out his intent in black and white for the U.S. media to treat an attempted coup as an attempted coup. If American democracy is going to survive, America has to get off the ground and fight, and the organ that carries out that fight isn’t the “American public,” it’s the American news media. It is called the Fourth Estate for a reason.
The whole reason that the First Amendment exists isn’t so that the Times can do cute movie reviews. Or that The Washington Post can bring the nation the latest antics of Punxsutawney Phil. It’s there because it was expected the freedoms it enshrined were necessary to speak out against tyranny.
If the America public is asleep, wake them. If the American public isn’t showing the proper levels of concern, scare them. Stop acting as if your job is simply to report the results of polls rather than drive them. They certainly don’t believe that over at Fox News.
Stop treating the greatest existential threat that the nation is facing right now as if it’s something that can be dealt with by occasionally chastising us from the editorial page. Stop telling us that the American public is blasé in the face of an authoritarian threat. Smack them across the face with that threat until they move.
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Want to save democracy, and maybe journalism in the process? Show people that journalism is relevant. Get agitated. Get breathless. Get angry. And get busy. Stop pretending that ignoring evil is an acceptable position.
Stop blaming the people. Move them.
- Donald Trump schemed openly to overthrow democracy and install himself as an authoritarian ruler.
- His party—from bottom to top—is complicit in this scheme which is, without qualification, the greatest threat the United States has ever faced.
- Why isn’t the media treating it that way?