by Justin Rosario
If there's one constant in the Trump administration, it's that the press will go to any length to normalize Trump and give cover to the Republican Party. This week's contrivance concerns Trump stabbing the GOP in the back by working with the Democrats to extend the debt ceiling and government funding by three months. The "conventional wisdom" is that Trump is governing like an "Independent" and will work with whoever can get results. This is good for America, right? Right?!
If Trump is an Independent, then I'm the Easter Bunny. And I don't hop.
Putting aside the fact that Trump's domestic and foreign policies are, when they're coherent enough to discern, hardcore Republican, Trump isn't governing like an Independent because he isn't actually governing. He simply lurches from one self-made crisis to the next and occasionally reads a teleprompter so he sounds like an adult for a few minutes. The rest of the time, he's yelling at the media, holding rallies, basking in the palace intrigue he demands from his staff, picking fights with the GOP, and doing anything more fun than actually governing. Because governing is boring and difficult. Donald Trump does not do boring and difficult. He has people for that.
But if you look past Trump's reality TV antics, you find his administration is, from top to bottom, filled with Republicans carrying out a very Republican agenda. From dismantling the EPA to privatizing public education to using the civil rights division of the DoJ to attack Affirmative Action, Trump's government is right wing Plutocratic wet dream.
Yet, the press is now pushing the idea that Trump is really an Independent and not at all a Republican? Now why could that be?
One way to look at Trump is that he's the logical product of a party that has set about in recent years to promote fear of immigrants, distrust of scientific authority, the specific interests of white people, the belief that all problems have easy solutions, and a contempt not just for the media but for the idea of objective truth itself. Trump is proof positive that if you say Both Sides Do It, you're completely wrong.
On the other hand, if Trump is an anomaly who stands outside the two parties and got elected essentially by accident, then the system is basically fine. Once he's gone and all this madness has come to its merciful end, we can return to the way things were without asking whether there's a profound rot within the GOP and within America itself that allowed this toxic buffoon to become his party's nominee and then the president.
That is a masterful summary of how the press is utterly failing in its duty to the American people. Yes, they're hammering Trump on all of the corruption they managed to ignore during the election but what good foes cutting the head off of the diseased body simply sprouts a new one?
We saw this exact dynamic in play when Republicans, led by George W. Bush, ran roughshod over civil liberties, common decency, and any semblance of good governance. When it all blew up in their faces, the press cast about for any excuse not to hold Republicans accountable and they found their fig leaf in the Tea Party.
Here was a group of colorful lunatics that insisted that none of the mess the country was in was the fault of "real" conservatives. Why, none of them even voted for this Bush fellow! It must have been the other millions of registered Republican voters who just happened to have the same exact names and addresses as the Tea Partiers. As far as they were concerned, Bush and his supporters were just "Republicans In Name Only" and the Tea Party was going to take back the GOP from these phonies.
The press ate it up like candy laced with cocaine. They couldn't get enough of it. The Tea Party allowed the media to absolve the Republican Party of all its extremism and it was back to business as usual. Even as the Tea Party dragged the GOP further and further to the fringes, the press aggressively maintained that both parties were doing it, as if providing women access to birth control was the moral equivalent of making it illegal. Or that the increasingly racist rhetoric of the right was an outlier and not the norm.
The high-water mark of this forced equivalency came during the 2016 election when Hillary's every sneeze was abnormalized and Trump's worst excesses were buried. The media still has not acknowledged its culpability in putting Trump in the White House, with some of the worst transgressors still blaming Hillary for how they unprofessionally obsessed over her emails:
He might as well have asked if Hillary was wearing provocative clothes when she was sexually assaulted.
Now that Republicans control the entire government and their absolute ineptitude is on display for all the world to see, the press, ever ready to save the GOP from itself, is frantically looking for a way to absolve them yet again.
Just as the Tea Party allowed them to pretend that Bush was the problem and not the steadily growing extremism of the Republican Party, they're hoping to pin all the blame on Trump when it all blows up in the GOP's faces again. As Waldman points out, the press will go to any lengths to get back to normality and if that means denying the rot that is destroying the right, so be it. That this rewards the right for the worst possible behavior imaginable doesn't seem to faze "journalists" like Cillizza, safe in their bubble of wealth and privilege.
But giving the right another pass will be a deadly mistake. The lurch to the right after Bush only happened because the media did not hold Republicans and conservatives accountable for their actions. That freedom from consequences gave us mass voter suppression, extreme gerrymandering, a stoeln Supreme Court seat, Trump, and the rise of white nationalist fascism in America. Allowing the right to make another hard lurch after the inevitable collapse of the Trump administration will result in a political movement based on terrorism and election rigging the likes of which haven't been seen since the days of the KKK's ascendancy in the 1920's and Boss Tweed's reign in the mid-1800s.
Maybe when the fascist movement Trump has enabled starts targeting h the "lugenpresse" like Cillizza with violence, they'll finally figure out that both sides are not the same. But by then it may be too late.