June 9, 2021

Today in are you f’ing kidding me:

Yes, CNN, Barack Obama and Donald Trump are totally equal actors on the subject of democracy. Obama has, after all, talked about the importance of democracy in a few speeches and interviews, while Trump has spent months trying to overturn an election, including through violence. Obama did an interview on CNN. Trump is planning rallies to keep pushing his efforts to make sure the Republican Party is successful in its efforts to overturn the next election. Sure, sure, this is definitely a situation that merits a frame of two people doing the same basic thing as each other, just on opposing sides. And Donald Trump doesn’t wear orange makeup.

The article, an analysis piece by Stephen Collinson, is not as bad as the tweet and headline, which he may very well not have written. Collinson starts off on a gravely “norms are being shattered” note: “Most presidents stop trying to define the nation's future once they leave office. But Barack Obama and Donald Trump are refusing to concede the battle for America's soul on which they first clashed more than a decade ago. No modern former commanders in chief have been so present or outspoken about politics, or each other, after returning to private life.”

But then he gets more real: “But the 44th and 45th Presidents just renewed their battle over the country's political lifeblood -- democracy -- which has rarely faced a graver assault than from Trump's election fraud lies.” Okay, that’s a start.

The farther down the column you read, the blunter Collinson seems to get, but in the opening paragraphs—the ones that, let’s face it, are all many people will read—euphemism rules. “No two individuals better exemplify the current chasm between the two halves of the country: one racially diverse and socially liberal, the other mostly White and conservative.” Is it a chasm, though, or an assault by one of the groups on the other’s right to exist, let alone vote or hold power? The chasm, if that’s what it is, doesn’t just happen to be there. Racism made it. Donald Trump worked to make it deeper and wider.

If Collinson mentions Trump’s embrace of “a racist conspiracy about Obama's birthplace,” he chases it with a reference to “a populist backlash to the nation's first Black presidency,” in which … he might mean “populist” as a euphemism for “racist,” but he’s going to need to be clearer about that, because a lot of people still take that word as a very flattering one.

I think Collinson was trying here. He describes Trump’s Saturday appearance in North Carolina as “demagogic.” He’s clear about the existence of “a Big Lie of a stolen election,” and its influence on the Republican Party more generally. “Election fraud lies” makes two appearances, and “narrative of lies” and “Trump’s falsehoods” each show up once. By big media standards, this is not half bad.

Racism, though? That shows up only in the “racist conspiracy about Obama’s birthplace.” Trump’s “political method weaponizes division, makes a virtue of chaos and distills grievance into power,” a sentence where you could put the word “racist” in at least two places, but Collinson puts it not at all.

But the fact that this is what it looks like when someone at a major media organization tries to be blunt about what Trump is doing is a big problem. The fact that CNN ran it with a far more egregiously “evenhanded” headline and tweet is a bigger problem. Donald Trump has lied nonstop, he’s shattered norms, he’s smashed basic decency, and he’s propelled overt racism back to the center of the national political discourse. If the media fails to accurately portray what he's doing, it helps him do it, however unintentional that may be.

Published with permission of Daily Kos

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