Over the last few days as most of the media was blathering on about Joe Biden’s “bad week,” Donald Trump was stepping up his campaign and appearing at various venues saying things and behaving in ways that should have made journalists’ ears perk up, wondering if he’s lost more than a step. He was wildly dishonest and incredibly self-destructive — even for him.
It started with an interview with Megyn Kelly for her Sirius XM show last Thursday, the first since shortly after Trump crudely insulted her back in 2015 during the first presidential primary debate. Trump seemed to expect a friendly, Fox-like, interview and she gave him plenty of softballs and expressed her agreement with much of his nonsense. But she did ask some probing questions about his legal troubles and once again he more or less confessed to his crimes. He must have said the words “Presidential Records Act” a dozen times, reiterating over and over that he had every right to take any document he chose. And he slipped up continuously, providing the prosecution plenty of fodder:
When the special prosecutor presents this case to the jury they will be told exactly what is supposed to happen with classified documents and they will understand how utterly ridiculous it would be for a president to secretly declassify documents and not tell anyone that they’ve been declassified.
Over the weekend he spoke at the Christian right “Pray, Vote, Stand” summit in Washington and mocked President Biden mercilessly over his alleged mental unfitness and then said this:
The spooky background music and his bizarre delivery made that downright chilling. He also said:
Any normal person would have just corrected himself for misspeaking but he can never admit he did anything wrong so instead he twisted himself into a verbal pretzel that had it been delivered by Joe Biden would have resulted in a national call to check him into a nursing home immediately.
He later appeared at the Concerned Women for America conference and was a little bit sharper but repeated nonsense such as his silly claim that you need ID to buy a loaf of bread, another sign that he simply cannot retain information. He has certainly heard by now that this is silly and could easily substitute something like “you have to have ID to travel on an airplane” to make his point but he can’t do that. Once he gets something like “low flow showers” or “windmills cause cancer” in his head there’s no getting it out. That’s not normal.
The final segment of his week-end odyssey was the highly anticipated interview on “Meet the Press” which was filmed earlier in the week. To say it was infuriating would be an understatement. As he always does, he ran circles around the show’s new host, Kristen Welker, and basically made a mockery of American democracy by demonstrating that an incoherent con artist is going to be the Republican nominee for president — again.
For every viewer who saw that he was completely unfit to be president there is another who got lost in the overwhelming rush of words, or what’s known to rhetoricians as “the Gish Gallop,” a tactic designed to “defeat one’s opponent by burying them in a torrent of incorrect, irrelevant, or idiotic arguments.”
And he once again showed he is completely oblivious to the legal damage he is doing to himself every time he agrees to answer questions about his cases. Here he confesses that he only listened to lawyers who told him what his own “instincts” told him was true. When pressed he says that the decision about whether the election was rigged was his alone, although he dances away from Welker’s question about whether he was “calling the shots.”
Watching these events is intensely frustrating and I think it’s even more difficult to watch now than before. Trump is no longer a first-time candidate taking the political press by surprise. Neither is he the president whose office confers such immense power that even a dolt like Trump is automatically given more deference than he deserves. Today he is just another candidate for president and he doesn’t deserve to be treated with any more respect than any of the others. In fact, he deserves less since he is a criminal defendant in four different cases and was recently found liable for sexual assault to the tune of $5 million.
The man sat in all the interviews and appearances and made it crystal clear that he believes he is above the law. In fact, with his endless blathering about how he can do whatever he wants with classified documents, he makes it clear that he believes he is the law. And yet, the befuddled yet eager media is treating Donald Trump with the same consideration they always did, before they knew how disordered and his mind was and what a danger he is to American democracy and the rule of law.
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I had thought after the widely criticized CNN Trump town hall everyone understood that you simply cannot allow Trump to ramble incoherently to cover for his unwillingness to answer the questions. They have to find another way to cover him. And yet there he was this weekend on “Meet The Press” doing exactly that. And in spite of the interview being pre-taped, they aired it as if it was live and only put a fact-check on their website after the fact. For every viewer who saw that he was completely unfit to be president there is another who got lost in the overwhelming rush of words, or what’s known to rhetoricians as “the Gish Gallop,” a tactic designed to “defeat one’s opponent by burying them in a torrent of incorrect, irrelevant, or idiotic arguments.” That’s what Trump does, however unconsciously, and the media aids and abets him by treating him as if he’s just another politician.
The Guardian’s Margaret Sullivan wrote about this problem last week:
Trump is covered mostly as an entertaining sideshow – his mugshot! His latest insults! – not a perilous threat to democracy, despite four indictments and 91 charges against him, and despite his own clear statements that his re-election would bring extreme anti-democratic results; he would replace public servants with the cronies who’ll do his bidding. “We will look back on this and wish more people had understood that Biden is our bulwark of democratic freedoms and the alternative is worse than most Americans can imagine,” commented Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of Strongmen, and an expert in authoritarian regimes.
She says the solution for journalists is simpler than we think:
Remember at all times what our core mission is: to communicate truthfully, keeping top of mind that we have a public service mission to inform the electorate and hold powerful people to account. If that’s our north star, as it should be, every editorial judgment will reflect that. Headlines will include context, not just deliver political messaging. Overall politics coverage will reflect “not the odds, but the stakes”, as NYU’s Jay Rosen elegantly put it. Lies and liars won’t get a platform and a megaphone.
I wish I had more confidence that this would happen. At this point, I think we just have to fervently hope that there are enough people in this country who can see through that cacophony of BS and vote as if their future depends upon him never holding office again — because it does.
about the trouble Trump’s big mouth gets him into