Normalizing Trump normalizes political violence

In search of ratings, CNN is enabling the next Trump coup.

Wednesday, CNN aired a townhall meeting in which an audience of New Hampshire Trump supporters got to address questions to their hero/demigod. The outcome was easily predictable: Trump spewed one lie after another, while he ignored and insulted the “nasty” woman the network had assigned to moderate. Meanwhile, the crowd cheered.

Disinformation. In the post-event discussion, Jake Tapper summed up:

We don’t have enough time to fact-check every lie he told.

In a nutshell, that’s why fact-checking fails against a determined liar who is not shamed by having his lies exposed: Outrageous falsehoods can be entertaining, but reasserting the truth is boring. If he just keeps going, who’s going to stick around to hear you correct it all? And even if some do, the bell can’t be unrung; the people who heard the lie can’t unhear it. (For what it’s worth, you can read fact-checks of the evening here, here, and here.)

So the net result of the evening was to promote disinformation. People who watched are probably less well informed now than before they tuned in. When it scheduled the town hall, CNN had to know that would happen.

The justification given by CNN boss Chris Licht was that the broadcast “made a lot of news”, which he described as “our job”. “America was served very well.”

I’ll let The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols answer that one:

To be clear, I am not taking issue with CNN offering Trump time on the network. Trump is far and away the front-runner for the GOP nomination. Neither CNN nor any other network can refuse to cover him; as I’ve said, it would be a disservice to let him spread his toxic slurry out of the public eye. But “covering” Trump does not mean packing an audience with supporters and then setting the resolutely misogynist Trump against a young female reporter in a situation that practically could have been designed by the Trump campaign itself.

January 6. But I want to focus on something else about the event: Trump doubled down on his endorsement of the violence on January 6.

It started right away, when moderator Kaitlin Collins asked if (should he become president again) he intended to pardon those convicted of crimes committed during the January 6 riot. Trump admitted that he might not pardon all of them, because “a couple of them, probably, they got out of control”. But most of them did “nothing”, and are “living in Hell” now.

They’re policemen, and they’re firemen, and they’re soldiers, and they’re carpenters and electricians and they’re great people. Many of them are just great people.

The rioters were prosecuted for specific crimes (including assaulting policemen), and a jury of their peers unanimously found them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But that doesn’t matter because

In Washington, D.C., you cannot get a fair trial, you cannot. Just like in New York City, you can’t get a fair trial either.

He doesn’t explain why that is, but apparently he believes you can just write off any verdict from a DC or NYC jury. Maybe those people don’t count as Americans, or even as people. He doesn’t say.

Collins zeroed in on the Proud Boys, who were just convicted (again: unanimously, beyond a reasonable doubt, by a jury) of seditious conspiracy. Think about what that means: Seditious conspiracy is one step short of treason. They didn’t just throw a tantrum because their candidate lost the election; they actively conspired against the United States of America. But Trump might be OK with that.

I don’t know. I’ll have to look at their case.

He described January 6 as a “beautiful day” and said that his supporters “had love in their hearts”. When Collins pointed out his supporters injured 140 police officers, Trump offered no sympathy, but instead focused on one of the rioters, Ashli Babbitt, who was killed while trying to break down the only remaining door protecting members of Congress from the violent mob.

There was no reason to shoot her at blank range. Cold, blank range, they shot her. And she was a good person. She was a patriot.

She was shot by a “thug”, i.e. Lt. Michael Byrd, a Black police officer with 28 years of experience, who has been hounded by Trump’s supporters ever since.

For Byrd, who is Black, the incident turned his life upside down. He has been in hiding for months after he received a flood of death threats and racist attacks that started when his name leaked onto right-wing websites.

Months later, Byrd was interviewed by Lester Holt and had the audacity to defend his actions. Trump characterized this as “he went on television to brag about the fact that he killed her.” (You can watch the interview and judge for yourself.)

In short, Trump paints a picture of January 6 in which the rioters are the heroes and the police are the villains.

But what about his own vice president, Mike Pence? The mob chanted “Hang Mike Pence”, and his Secret Service protectors, fearing for their lives, made good-bye calls to loved ones. But Trump knows better:

I don’t think he was in any danger.

And he owes Pence no apology

because he did something wrong. He should have put the votes back to the state legislatures and I think we would have had a different outcome. I really do.

Pence deserved to be threatened, in other words, because he refused to play his part in the overthrow of American democracy.

How democracy survived Trump’s first term. In other reporting this week, Rolling Stone revealed some of Trump’s plans for his second administration: He wants to bring back Michael Flynn, who advocated declaring martial law to hang onto power. Also Jeffrey Clark, who pushed for the Justice Department to lie to the State of Georgia about “various irregularities in the 2020 election” to justify the legislature replacing the legitimate members of the Electoral College with Trump supporters.

Both efforts were blocked by people within the government who were still loyal to the Constitution.

In a nutshell, that’s the story of Trump’s attempt to hang on to the presidency after losing the election by 7 million votes: Plots to overturn the election didn’t end because Trump decided he wouldn’t go that far. They ended when people inside his administration refused to participate.

We still have no idea how far Trump himself was willing to go to stay in power.

What we do know is that he wants his second administration to pick up where the first one left off. His first administration began with appointees who were typical conservative Republicans, like Jeff Sessions and John Kelly. They saw the world through right-wing lenses, but they were loyal to America as they understood it.

As the term went on, more and more of those people were kicked out in favor of people who were loyal to Trump first and America a distant second. Trump’s coup attempt failed because he hadn’t completed his purge of American loyalists.

What becomes clear as you listen to Trump is that he understands that mistake now. So his second term will begin with the appointment of true Trumpists to all major positions. When it comes time to throttle democracy again, no one will say no to him.

What are we normalizing? CNN’s critics talk about the problem of “normalizing” Trump, i.e. of treating him as we would any other front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination.

Different people use that term for different reasons, because Trump is abnormal in all sorts of ways. No impeached president, much less the only president to be impeached twice, has ever been nominated again. No candidate for the presidency has ever brushed off a jury verdict holding him liable for sexual assault. It’s been a century since a candidate ran for the presidency while under indictment or in prison. No major American politician of any sort has kept up such a steady stream of lies. No presidential candidate since George Wallace has been so blatantly racist.

Those — and many others — are plausible reasons to refuse to give Trump a platform, much less construct such a favorable platform as CNN offered Trump. But they all pale before the most serious reason to treat him differently: He’s running to finish his coup.

The debate about whether to end democracy cannot be treated as a normal democratic issue. We can’t have a “reasonable” discussion about whether an attempt to overturn an election by violence is or isn’t legitimate.

Trump has very recently threatened to unleash political violence again. He warned of “death and destruction” if he were indicted, and mocked pleas for his supporters to stay peaceful.


Does anyone doubt that he will incite violence again, if he thinks it will help him regain the White House in 2024?

That’s the kind of “issue” that should never be normalized. No candidate of any party should be given a platform to make promises to past violent supporters, and to offer implicit concessions to people who do violence for him in the future.

That needs to be a red line. Wednesday, CNN crossed it.

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  • carolannie1949  On May 15, 2023 at 11:39 am

    However Licht may play this, a news organization’s job isn’t to make the news. It is to report the news.

  • Prof Tom  On May 15, 2023 at 11:59 am

    Freedom of speech our SCOTUS has twice unanimously said is only free when also ugly speech is free.

    Hustler and Skokie Nazis

    Neither Hustler nor Nazis are prevalent today and restricting their free speech is more likely to make them martyrs

    Chris Licht is trying to fix a sinking ship and 3 million viewers was his pursuit

    The lady need to learn her job from giants of the past like when 20/20 or similar programs took on pursuit to discover the truth

  • John  On May 15, 2023 at 1:53 pm

    Donald Trump, if re-elected, will not willingly leave office again.

    • Prof Tom  On May 15, 2023 at 2:17 pm

      Lynching by public opinion is not legal nor is removing due process.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On May 15, 2023 at 6:32 pm

        Yes, but losing an election is due process.

      • Prof Tom  On May 15, 2023 at 8:51 pm

        Durham’s 300-plus page report also states that the FBI used “raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated intelligence,” to launch the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into Trump and Russia but used a different standard when weighing concerns about alleged election interference regarding Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

        Only if both sides follow the law and bureaucrats treat every individual equally can we unite as a nation and media role is to report we citizens decide – power tend to shift every 12 years so whatever one side dishes out comes back like a boomerang

      • George Washington, Jr.  On May 15, 2023 at 10:04 pm

        There is almost no in-person voter fraud in the US. But if we’re going to require an ID to vote, it should be issued to all eligible citizens free of charge. Having a national holiday to vote would help, but not everyone can make it to the polls on the same day or take the day off. Oregon and Utah have had 100% vote by mail for years and it works fine in those states.

        We should make voting easier, not more difficult.

      • Anonymous  On May 15, 2023 at 10:24 pm

        Perception has become reality and as a country trust must be restored .

        Public paid voting day for eligible voters voting in person with ID

        Free registration and free transport to place of ballot

        Pre registration if desire to vote by mail because of unique situation but ballot only sent in response to such request

        If Finland can do it and Singapore so can we

      • weeklysift  On May 18, 2023 at 3:28 pm

        It’s a mistake to imagine some kind of equivalence between the Clinton and the Trump/Russia investigations. Trump/Russia is fundamentally about RUSSIA, one of our enemies. Was Russia trying to interfere in our elections, and if so why? That’s a much more serious question than anything that came up in the Hillary email flap.

      • Prof Tom  On May 18, 2023 at 3:54 pm

        It’s not about that it’s never wrong to hold all those in power to the highest standard

        No favorites in front of the law

  • George Washington, Jr.  On May 15, 2023 at 6:36 pm

    If Trump is the nominee, we should expect violent mobs attacking Democratic polling places, especially in cities in purple states where those are the votes that will determine the winner. They think the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and they aren’t going to let it happen again. Only a few thousand people will be able to cause serious damage.

    Our best hope is for some other Republican to win the nomination. That way, the rage of Trump’s followers will be directed at that candidate and not the country at large. The potential violence at the 2024 Republican convention could make the 1968 Democratic convention look like a kindergarten class.

    • Tom  On May 15, 2023 at 8:56 pm

      Law and order and peaceful election before 2016 voting was very low now very high

      In G30 all but US demand ID to vote as should we but easy to register and to get to the polls free day to vote removes distrust

    • Thomas Paine  On May 16, 2023 at 5:59 am

      The problem with Trump not being the American Nazi Party’s nominee is that the probable alternative – DeSantis – is every bit as authoritarian and twisted, but fully capable of using the John Yoos and Michael Flynns he’ll have available to finally, fully rupture the 50 United States. He lacks the utter incompetence that has defined Trump as the abject life failure he is.

      More importantly, Trump is probably the only opponent Biden/Harris can defeat. The Democratic Party has done such a pitiful job of building an effective minor league system in the states as well as effectively shaping the political conversation around messaging that speaks to the needs of a majority of Americans, it’s saddled with an incumbent even its own leaders don’t want to run.

      Will there be organized brown-shirt-style attacks against Democrats in 2024? It would be foolish to bet otherwise. These seditionists aren’t going away just because of some J6 jail time; instead, they’ll be far better coordinated and more careful the next time. 2024 will be our American democracy vs. the forces of Christo-fascist white nationalism.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On May 16, 2023 at 6:40 am

        I disagree with you about DeSantis. His absurd fight with Disney has shown him to be, if anything, less competent than Trump. He also has zero charisma and won’t be able to duplicate the hold Trump has over his followers. He’s not ready for the national stage, and if by some miracle he is the GOP nominee, Biden will wipe the floor with him. A President DeSantis would be a gaffe machine.

      • Prof Tom  On May 16, 2023 at 7:18 am

        As one who has earlier in life created products and brands and learned how dangerous it is to assume we or our taste who create the brand for another target group somehow matters, without understanding how the target group thinks.

        Biden was elected because more people saw trump as a worse option not because Biden was the preferred choice.

        And almost as many voted for trump of which majority voted because they wanted trump and the rest because they wanted trump more than Biden.

        The total amount was one of the highest ever and will probably be the highest ever this fall.

        Amongst the voters this fall are those who are not happy with inflation and those not happy with schools.

        I’m old enough to remember Jimmy Carter and this seems like a repeat where Biden will be replaced

      • George Washington, Jr.  On May 16, 2023 at 4:22 pm

        Around 25% of Biden voters were voting against Trump. That pattern should hold in 2024 if Trump is on the ballot. His recent remarks about a nationwide abortion ban, declaring war on Mexico, and staffing his administration with sycophants could frighten more people to vote against him. Plus, if he’s under indictment or even convicted by next November, that’s going to have an effect. The landscape in 2024 will be very different from what it was in 1980.

        Also, it’s not easy to beat an incumbent who wants a second term. Here’s an analysis of the 7 presidents since the Civil War who failed to win second terms (not including the ones who didn’t want one or weren’t eligible).

      • Prof Tom  On May 16, 2023 at 4:39 pm

        Jimmy and George both failed

        Where did you get 25% against Trump ? I heard 1/3 and he did not have any baggage of his own

        There is a young generation voting first time and not happy about opportunities and economy

        Well we shall see


  • By No Time for Truth | The Weekly Sift on May 15, 2023 at 12:37 pm

    […] This week’s featured posts are “Why the Carroll verdict might matter” and “Normalizing Trump normalizes political violence“. […]

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