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Faced with an authoritarian ruler who proudly announced he has no intention of abiding the election outcome, the New York Times faced an editorial choice this week — how big to play the story? How much attention should the Times give to one of the most un-democratic things any sitting U.S. president has every said in public when Trump refused to commit to the peaceful transfer of power following the election. Should the Times run a banner, front-page headline, giving the story its full attention and indicating the historic significance of Trump's promised power grab?
It should have, but the Times did not.
Following its four-year tradition of normalizing Trump's extreme behavior, the Times tucked the story inside the paper on page 15, gently noting that he "declined an opportunity on Wednesday to endorse a peaceful transfer of power." The newspaper stressed that it's Democrats who are "increasingly alarmed" by Trump’s pledge to ignore election results, not every American who values liberty.
What political story did the Times find space for on Thursday's front page? An article about how Trump is running well in the virtually all-white suburbs north of Milwaukee.
The Times was hardly alone in its timid, irresponsible coverage. "Trump Won't Commit to Peaceful Transfer of Power" should have been on the front page of every newspaper in America. Arrogantly shredding the Constitution and the ideals about free and fair elections that have guided this country for nearly two-and-a-half centuries, Trump committed himself to authoritarian rule.
How does that not generate huge, blaring headlines everyday from now until November?
I could not find a single major American newspaper that ran that "Trump Won't Commit to Peaceful Transfer of Power" headline — let alone that story — on the front page on Thursday. That list includes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Arizona Republic, Boston Globe, Charlotte Observer, Chicago Tribune, Hartford Courant, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, St. Louis Post Dispatch, and Washington Post. (On Thursday night, the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board posted a strong denunciation: "It's up to us to save democracy.")
Wednesday's network evening newscasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC night were no better. Not only did none of them lead with Trump's stunning proclamation, none of the broadcasts even reported on Trump's comments. This is how you normalize a madman. (CNN and MSNBC did a much better job covering the transfer-of-power story.)
What's driving the media's failure at this country's crucial juncture? "Newsroom leaders made a considered, intentional decision not to panic after Trump was elected," suggests media critic Dan Froomkin. "This was an epic, obvious mistake, and everything that has happened since was in some sense entirely predictable."
Trump isn't running for re-election in the sense he's hoping to accumulate more voter support than Biden. (His campaign keeps taking down ads in swing states.) Trump's running to maintain power. He's signaling that he'll refuse to give it up and will not accept his defeat as being legitimate. He’s trying to steal an election. In reality, he doesn't care what the results are — he has no intention of abiding by the nation's will, and thinks he can count on the corrupt support of the GOP, the Department of Justice and the United States Supreme Court to win his lawless battle in the days and weeks after the election.
"Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states," The Atlantic reported this week, in a dispatch that describes a looming election scenario unlike any in American history. "If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress."
That's why this is the only election story that matters, since the stated plan for Republicans is to challenge the November results when they lose by citing mail-in ballot fraud, taking their ginned-up claims to the Supreme Court, where a newly installed Justice will let them remain in power. Republicans have moved beyond trying to suppress votes, and now want to invalidate them.
There's a reason experts say that America under Trump is hurtling down the same path of Turkey and Hungary, which recently ceased being functioning democracies. “The United States is not unique” in its decline, Staffan Lindberg, a political scientist at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg told the Post. "Everything we see in terms of decline on these indicators is exactly the pattern of decline” seen in other autocratizing nations.
Damaging election integrity remains a hallmark of that fast slide away from democracy. From Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democratic Network:
The scale of Trump’s cheating is breathtaking: using government resources for his reelection, including partisan attacks on Biden at official, taxpayer-funded events; appropriating the White House itself for partisan activity; launching a clearly illegal $250 million media campaign by Health and Human Services right before the election; sabotaging the U.S. Postal Service; wrecking the census; undermining the legitimacy of the electoral process itself; creating political space for Russia to once again intervene in U.S. politics on his behalf; brazenly manipulating media and using other disinformation tactics; employing deceitful campaign accounting to hide suspicious activity; coordinating with the absurd Kanye West campaign; and too many of Bill Barr’s activities to fit into one column.
Meanwhile, Trump has repeatedly told his supporters that if the election results aren't the ones they want, than the outcome is inherently illegitimate — that there are no circumstances under which he and his supporters can lose a fair election.
Our democracy is at stake. Trump is trying to steal an election, and the press should say so, every day until Election Day.
💻 GOOD STUFF:
Click below for a good thread from the Washington Monthly's Paul Glastris on how the Times still won't come clean about its dreadful Clinton Foundation misinformation campaign during 2016:
🎧 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Andrew Gold, Crystal Knives & Sarah de Warren, "Thank You for Being a Friend"
This is probably my favorite cover song of 2020 — a radiant dance remix of the Andrew Gold's delightfully cheesy pop classic, which reached No. 25 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1978.
Here, Gold's original, exuberant vocals are married up into a duet with Sarah De Warren, laid on top of a nightclub beat. It instantly creates a much-needed rush of endorphins to the brain.
If it's a car you lack
I'd surely buy you a Cadillac
Whatever you need any time of the day or night
I'm not ashamed to say
I hope it always will stay this way
My hat is off, won't you stand up and take a bow