Donald Trump is in campaign mode. He’s started making speeches again and stopping in for visits at ice cream shops and burger joints. The constant media coverage of his daily exploits has returned. The fact that this is actually happening is surreal, and requires an important reminder: For his bid to secure the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency to be covered as anything but an attempt by one of the greatest con artists in American history to further his own dangerous ends would be morally wrong.
So far, Mr. Trump’s speeches and posts on social media bear a marked resemblance to the rage farming he became known for in his successful 2016 run for the presidency and his failed effort in 2020. There are the usual shots at the “fake news media,” many mentions of Hunter Biden’s laptop, and the attacks on the institutions that form the bedrock of the American political system.
In a recent speech, Mr. Trump said he trusted Vladimir Putin more than he did the “lowlifes” in the U.S. intelligence community.
And, of course, there are the interviews that reveal the profound dimwittedness of the man. Asked on Fox News recently what he would do differently than President Joe Biden in terms of the war in Ukraine, he answered: “Well, what I would do, is I would, we would, we have tremendous military capability and what we can do without planes, to be honest with you, without 44-year-old jets, what we can do is enormous and we should be doing it and we should be helping them to survive and they’re doing an amazing job.”
He has the brain of a four-year-old. Maybe make that three.
American news organizations are doubtlessly struggling with how to cover Mr. Trump’s campaign for the Republican nomination. What does “fair” coverage look like? Reporters can’t ignore everything the man says, but there is a peril in amplifying the often-alarming rhetoric for which he’s become known. I would argue there is no way in which the U.S. media can cover Mr. Trump the same way they did in 2016. There is now important context that needs to be included in much of what he will say in his often-incoherent stump speeches. We are now fully aware of the danger lurking in his rants about the “deep state” and the “political elites” who he insists had a role in stealing the last election from him and his party.
The New York Times ran a piece this week written by the senior investigative counsel for the Jan. 6 committee looking into the attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021. James Sasso interviewed many of those who took part and was struck by how many believed the political establishment – including the Department of Justice – was corrupt and that only a revolution could save the country.
“With the legitimacy of democracy so degraded, revolution appeared logical,” he wrote. “Like any good liar, Mr. Trump succeeded by building his lies off a truth; people no longer trust the federal government because they see its corroded institutions as corrupted for the few against the many.”
Mr. Trump further eroded that trust with baseless conspiracy theories, especially as they pertained to the results of the election he lost.
This is the man who, in the immortal words of senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, is a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot,” who didn’t represent the values of his party. The same man Mr. Graham recently praised for taking part in the Republicans’ 2024 presidential nomination process, saying: “There is only one Donald Trump.”
It’s absolutely appalling Mr. Graham could promote someone who recently dined with known white nationalists and antisemites. But then maybe it’s not. The fact that someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene’s name could be tossed around as a potential running mate of Mr. Trump tells you how much danger America is in. And that she received a hero’s welcome at a white-nationalist rally where she spoke a year ago arguably makes her the perfect choice for any 2024 Trump ticket.
This is all to say that none of what we are seeing unfolding in U.S. politics right now is normal. And none of it should be normalized in media coverage. Mr. Trump violated the terms of the Constitution and his oath of office when he fomented an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which had the intent of overturning the legitimate results of an American election and the peaceful transfer of power. He is cited in four criminal referrals by Congress’s Jan. 6 committee.
He should be disqualified from even seeking his party’s nomination, let alone running for the U.S. presidency again. He is a threat to American democracy and the future of the country. And he should be covered as such.