Trump’s coup—the press never took it seriously

Normalizing doesn't work

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Trump's manic demand over the weekend that Georgia election officials "find" 11,780 votes and declare him the winner of the state's November election officially obliterated a long-running press narrative — that he would never plot a coup here.

Ever since Trump descended the escalator inside Trump Tower in June of 2015 to announce his presidential run, a constant theme from the press regarding his hateful, radical ways has been, "Calm down." The Beltway press has for years dismissed urgent warnings that Trump's presidency represented a criminal enterprise that threatens to destroy American democracy. "Newsroom leaders made a considered, intentional decision not to panic after Trump was elected," noted media critic Dan Froomkin. "This was an epic, obvious mistake, and everything that has happened since was in some sense entirely predictable."

Only in the last few weeks have some mainstream news outlets addressed the obvious nature of Trump's presidency — that he's an unstable, autocratic, pathological liar. Yet I still haven't seen a straight news article where Trump's attempted "coup" is mentioned in the headline.

And that's been a hallmark failure of the press during the Trump era — refusing to use blunt language to describe the madman in the White House. Right on cue, the press embraced a timid storyline following Trump's defeat as he unleashed a vicious campaign against free and fair elections in America. Even after witnessing four years of Trump's erratic and unlawful behavior, newsrooms for the last two months have consistently opted to err on the side of caution by implying Trump's election crusade didn't pose a threat to our democracy and that a lot of it was just political theater — nothing really to worry about.

This, even after Trump held White House discussions with deranged, conspiracy-peddling advisers about possibly imposing martial law in order to secure his election win. That stunning martial law story was badly underplayed by the press. It didn't even appear on the front page of the New York Times, it received page 28 treatment, instead. Wildly downplaying the severity, ABC News referred to the idea of imposing martial law to illegally secure Trump's power as a "scorched earth policy."

And now we have a recorded phone call of a rambling, often incoherent Trump demanding Georgia's secretary of state solicit election fraud, and then Trump threatening the secretary with a "criminal offense" if he did not comply. It's the most compelling evidence yet of Trump's long-running coup attempt, which the press for months has tried to avoid.

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Reporters and producers certainly spent months rejecting the use of "coup" following Trump's election defeat, no doubt convinced the word carries too many connotations to be used in the context of American politics. (i.e. Tanks in the streets.) But that's a mistake.  "Only one widely understood word captures what Donald Trump is trying to do, even though his acts do not meet its technical definition," Zeynep Tufekci recently argued in The Atlantic. "Trump is attempting to stage some kind of coup, one that is embedded in a broader and ongoing power grab."

We’ve had a sociopath as president for four years, and every newsroom in America was too afraid to say so. On Wednesday, a dozen Republican Senators will try to overturn the election results by rejecting state electors, while Trump urges mobs of supporters to gather in Washington, D.C. to protest his loss. But even those extraordinary facts are not producing the proper media coverage.

"The Washington Post dubbed Wednesday’s events — which will also see thousands of armed, right-wing and white supremacist Trump supporters converge on Washington, as Trump has commanded them — as merely “high drama” and “open rebellion against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell” rather than an open rebellion and coup attempt against America itself," noted Michelangelo Signorile.

We've seen this over and over since Trump launched his dangerous crusade to overturn the election results. The Daily Beast reported on Trump’s “quixotic and potentially destructive effort” to steal a victory. "Potentially destructive"?

Instead of detailing his treasonous, post-election behavior surrounding the would-be coup as a power-hungry authoritarian out to steal an election, we received updates about Trump’s “tactics,” his vague “moves” and “chicanery”; his legal “strategy” and “power play” while  “sulking” and “brooding” inside the White House.

When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State to make the shocking inquiry about throwing out legally cast ballots, the New York Times headline made it seem like a quirky strategy: “Lindsey Graham’s Long-Shot Mission to Unravel the Election Results.”

One Politico dispatch dismissed Trump’s erratic behavior as little more than “bad sportsmanship," suggesting at the time that Joe Biden not giving reporters enough access during the transition period was more troubling than Trump’s denigration of the U.S. election system.

This timidity dates back to the 2016 campaign. During the final presidential debate before an audience of more than 60 million viewers, Trump told 11 separate voting lies. "This is going to be a fraud like you've never seen," he claimed, then insisted election officials were going to lose "30 and 40 percent" of all early ballots. "It's a fraud, and it's a shame." He later added, "It's a rigged election." The media reaction to Trump's barrage of Election Day falsehoods that night? They actually toasted his debate performance as being "normal." "He spoke with an inside voice," reported the Times. "He interrupted little."

Trump’s been plotting a coup. It’s time for newsrooms to take it seriously.

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📞 GOOD STUFF:

It's only Tuesday, but Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger  is in the early running for Hero of the Week. Not only did the Republican record Trump's deranged, rambling one-hour phone call and release it to the public so everyone would hear Trump solicit election fraud, but Raffensperger spent months avoiding calls from the White House madman.

From TPM's, "Trump Tried 18 Times To Get Ahold Of GA Sec Of State Before Bullying Him In Irate Call":

Trump’s attempt to strongarm Raffensperger into overturning election results in an hourlong call on Saturday, which was first reported by the Washington Post, came after 18 previous attempts by the President in the past two months since the general election. According to CNN, Trump repeatedly pushed his staff to set up a call with Raffensperger and Georgia officials.

NBC also reported that during Trump’s unhinged call with Raffensperger, officials within the Georgia secretary of state’s office recorded the call. Prior to the call, Raffensperger told advisers that he didn’t want a transcript or audio of the call released unless Trump attacked Georgia officials or misrepresented the conversation.

🎸FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

Phoebe Bridgers, "Kyoto"

I'm a bit late to this 2020 entry, but I'm glad I found it. LA indie singer Bridgers delivers a pleasing, Liz Phair-esque offering with "Kyoto," an upbeat guitar meditation.

"The song relates to the collage of everyday thoughts which inspired it, with Bridgers leading the listener to reflect on a fraught relationship, recall a distant trip away from home, or realise that what they’ve been longing for isn’t actually what they want after all," noted The Best Fits, while crowning "Kyoto" its favorite song of 2020.

The low-fi, pandemic-era music video is a hoot, too.

Sunset's been a freak show on the weekend
So I've been driving out to the suburbs
To park at the Goodwill and stare at the chem trails
With my little brother