CNN finally warns of Trump's authoritarian menace — is it too late?

Necessary truth telling

I don't normally publish PRESS RUN three days in a row, but I felt that the disturbing events this week require more attention.

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CNN anchors on Monday night rang loud warnings about Trump's deeply disturbing authoritarian turn, after he ordered peaceful protester rammed out of Lafayette Park across from the White House so he could stage a photo-op at a nearby church. As the night progressed, angry and sometimes-violent protests continued to erupt all over Trump's fractured America. The dramatic CNN proclamations came often. But are they too late?

Lots of people have urged the Beltway media for years to tell the truth about Trump's dangerous, authoritarian leanings and to stop normalizing his radical behavior. Instead, D.C. journalists  obediently played Trump's game. They showed up at worthless White House briefings so they could get lied to and insulted on national television. They refused to call Trump a "liar" even though he's told 19,000 documented lies. And they embraced false equivalencies to make it appear as though Trump and Democrats were equally to blame for the country's political tumult.

For now, I welcome the CNN warnings and others being made by mainstream outlets:

·    "We are teetering on the brink of a dictatorship." (Don Lemon)

·    "I’ve seen countries ripped apart by hate and misinformation and lies and political demagogues and racism. We can’t let that happen here.” (Anderson Cooper)

·    "We are descending into something that is not the United States of America. There is just no other way to put it" (Jim Acosta)

That's all true.

Trump's demand that a 200-year-old law be invoked to allow the U.S. military to wage war on U.S. protesters is the clearest indication that he's anxious to trample long-standing American liberties on the way to creating an entirely different United States. Enamored by authoritarians around the world, Trump has made his goal clear for years. It's just that much of the press was afraid of labeling a Republican president a "radical" or an "authoritarian." Just like the press has been too afraid to accurately call Trump a "liar" and a "racist." Afraid of losing access, the press has looked away, relentlessly.

Purposefully refusing to acknowledge the grim reality that Trump was trying to create by shredding centuries of tradition with regards to national security, criminal justice, and simple decorum, too many in the press pretended that the country would never become derailed under Trump.

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The telltale signs of autocratic rule are not difficult to identify and have been plainly visible in the U.S. for years now —declaring a phony national emergency in order to grab billions in government funds to build a border wall, working to obliterate the country's checks and balance system of government, and attacking the validity of the free press with relentless, false attacks.

The Beltway press allowed the Trump danger to grow for years because journalists made a conscious decision not be honest about what they saw unfolding in front of them. Instead, his undemocratic consolidations were watered down and made to sound almost normal. Journalists opted to sugar coat events and paint them as being merely eccentric and unusual. Terrified of the public backlash that kind of truth-telling could create with Trump, the GOP, and the right-wing media smear machine, news outlets opted for the course of least resistance. Wasting nearly all of Trump's first term hiding behind claims that he was merely spreading "inaccuracies" or he was "misinformed," the press allowed Trump pathology to become normalized.  

Meanwhile, the very loud warnings being sounded about Trump were most often hushed by the Beltway press corps, with suggestion that critics were being overly dramatic. Now we know those critics were prescient. "I think we may have to account for the distinct possibility that the people who sounded the most apocalyptic about Trump were not being hysterical - they were right," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) tweeted on Monday.

We saw this play out when Trump spent weeks lying about a national health crisis. At none of the recent White House press briefings on the pandemic did a single person ask Trump, "Why did you lie about Google having 1,700 engineers working on a  coronavirus project for the government?" "Why did you lie when you said whoever wanted to get tested, could get tested?" "Why did you lie when you said the virus had been contained?" "Why did you lie about having invoked the Defense Production Act?”

The same failings were displayed when ABC News landed Trump's first non-Fox News interview during the pandemic. The Q &A was a journalism fiasco. Accustomed to blustering his way through interviews and facing minimal pushback, Trump delivered an often-incoherent, lie-filled session with ABC. Yet Trump was never closely questioned by "ABC World News Tonight" anchor David Muir, even when the issues at the time included more than 70,000 dead Americans and 30 million lost jobs.

Now the country has moved onto another seismic crisis as the National Guard is dispatched to cities around the country and Trump seeks to gain a political advantage through military control. Are the media warnings today too late? "Frankly there were too many moments Monday when it felt like we were already over that edge," wrote Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I don't know if the alarms are too late. I hope the media keep them up, while reflecting on why they spent years shying away from the dangerous and obvious truth about Trump.

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Here’s more on Anderson’s CNN commentary from Monday night. This was hours after Trump staged his photo-op at a church near the White House, and moments after CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reported the scheme was carried out because Trump was embarrassed about reports that he had spent part of Friday night underground as angry protesters gathered outside the White House:

“Oh my God. Wow. We are in trouble. He was hiding in a bunker and embarrassed that people know that. So what does he have to do? He has to stick police on peaceful protesters so he can make a big show of being the little big man walking to a closed down church.”


Phish, “Everything’s Right”

A) No, I’m not trying to be ironic highlighting a song called “Everything’s Right” during our national nervous breakdown. B) No, I’m not a jam band fan. In fact, I’ve never been to a Phish show. But I do admire what the band has cultivated over the decades, in terms of its community and artistic daring.

This live clip is from this February. And if you let it, the performance might momentarily transport you to a more pleasing place.

I'm going downhill with increasing speed
And compassion gives way, if you listen to greed
Focus on the past and that's what will last
Nothing that is real and nothing you can feel