Published with permission of PRESS RUN, Eric Boehlert’s must-read media newsletter. Subscribe here.
Since Trump's lopsided re-election loss, his supporters have been loudly denouncing the results as a fraud. Tens of millions of them think the election was stolen and that a sprawling criminal conspiracy has denied Trump a second term. Some have made threats on public officials who have overseen the careful counting of votes — even threatening Republican office holders who don't back Trump's fantasy of a "stolen" election.
Cheered on by his relentless propaganda campaign to denigrate free and fair elections, Trump voters are at the forefront of a radical and dangerous political movement designed to undermine democracy. And that's when they're not busy dismissing as a "hoax" the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, staging public tempter tantrums over wearing masks, parroting the rhetoric of a dangerous right-wing cult, or raising $2 million to get a teenage gunman released after he opened fire on a Black Lives Matter protest in Wisconsin, killing two people.
So why does the press so often portray these people through such a loving and understanding lens? And why are high-profile journalists offering public empathy for Trump supporters as they strain public debate to the breaking point by embracing a ceaseless stream of lies? ("There’s millions and millions of Trump votes that were just thrown out.")
In an interview with Vanity Fair last week, CNN's Jake Tapper said he felt sorry for Trump voters. “I feel sympathy for them, is the truth,” he said. “I feel bad. They’re outraged because they’re being told things that aren’t true. And that’s a disgrace for the people who are telling the lies, not the people who are hearing them and getting outraged.”
Tapper acknowledges that Trump's claim of a stolen election, which has been widely endorsed by the Republican Party and its members of Congress, is obviously bogus. (Courts all across the country have come to same conclusion since Election Day.) But Tapper doesn't think Trump voters are to blame. He absolves them of any responsibility in peddling lies about Joe Biden, about Nancy Pelosi, about the Democratic Party, about the U.S. postal service, about voting fraud, about Democratic cities. On and on that list of lies goes, as Trump followers purposefully careen down a post-election rabbit hole, the likes of which has never before been seen in mainstream American politics.
Now is not the time for the media to cast a sympathetic eye. By forgiving Trump voters, the press is also pardoning Trump and the GOP. It's suggesting that in the end, nobody is responsible for the fact that one of our two mainstream political parties now lies about everything, and that conservative supporters eagerly spread those lies every chance they get, thereby attacking our democratic traditions. Soaking up the press coverage, the weird, detached idea is that all of this just happened and it's not really anybody’s fault.
In his Vanity Fair interview, Tapper does point a finger of blame at "the people who are telling the lies, not the people who are hearing them and getting outraged." In this case, that would be Trump, Fox News, the right-wing media, and other prominent Republicans. But this madness only works if millions of Trump voters hear those lies, embrace them, and then happily spread them, which is what they're doing in-person and on social media.
Trump voters all have a choice. They can choose to believe there were more than six million fraudulent votes cast, which cost Trump the election, even though his lawyers haven't been able to document six bogus ballots during the last three weeks of failed litigation. They can choose to believe that Trump's FBI and Department of Justice are in on a wild plan to steal the election from Trump, as he now claims. These are reprehensible choices Trump voters are making and they deserve no "sympathy" from the press.
In fact, their actions ought to trigger the opposite response from the D.C. press. "This [Trump] movement is what is interesting, because it's ultimately, about the rise of American fascism," Salon's Amdanda Marcotte recently noted. She's right. Yet how many Beltway news accounts have you seen suggesting Trump followers are part of American fascism? Probably the same number I have — zero.
“If President Trump comes out and says: ‘Guys, I have irrefutable proof of fraud, the courts won’t listen, and I’m now calling on Americans to take up arms,’ we would go,” a Trump supporter in Texas recently told Reuters, which never suggested that kind of armed rhetoric was fascist. Because that's not a conversation the mainstream press wants to have. Instead, journalists extend their "sympathy" to Americans who increasingly worship autocratic rule — journalists who remain in denial about the prevalence of racism as a principal motivating factor among Trump voters.
Here's a quick example of what now unfolds in this country, without pause, on a daily basis: An 18-year-old fast food restaurant worker explaining to a grown man why not wearing a mask inside the establishment poses a health risk to workers. The man laughs in her face, while dismissing Covid-19 as the flu:
A Trump supporter? Guaranteed.
How about the man in Royal Palm Beach, Florida who got into a dispute over refusing to wear mask inside a local WalMart, then quickly pointed a gun at a shopper, threatening to kill him?
The conservative movement under Trump is gleefully taking a sledgehammer to facts, to science, to reason, and to common decency. It's all being done by design. The last thing Trump voters who traffic in this awfulness deserve is empathy from the press.