To cover or not to cover Trump? Unfortunately, the choice is easy
“Please stop covering the crazy stuff out Trump’s mouth [sic]. The nightmare is over. Please #CNN, #NBC, #CBS, #ABC.”
That’s just one of probably thousands of similar tweets in recent months imploring the media to just ignore the former president and, to invoke a Bush-era mantra, move on.
“I can not say this enough. Stop covering donald trump. We don’t care,” read another.
“MSM STOP COVERING TRUMP. HE IS IRRELEVANT.”
The frustration is ALL-CAPS PALPABLE. After four years of round-the-clock coverage of a president who willingly inserted himself into all aspects of American life, sometimes tweeting in the middle of the night, it’s understandable that voters and viewers want a break.
It was part of Joe Biden’s direct appeal, to be less visible and less invasive. “Remember when you didn’t have to think about the president every single day?” a Biden September 2020 ad began.
I’m here for a post-MAGA America, one that resides permanently within a history book and not in a newspaper, but we don’t yet live in that America. I’m sad to say, Trump is not “irrelevant,” the “nightmare” is not over.
For one, he’s trying to influence the 2022 midterms, and is likely to play a significant role in Republican efforts to win back Congress. Considering Biden’s substantial and fragile agenda, that seems, er, important.
Likewise, Trump may very well run for president again in 2024. And if you want to know what it looks like when the media doesn’t take a presidential run seriously, see the early months of 2016 and the eventual result.
After being de-platformed on multiple social media sites, he plans to launch one of his own. According to former adviser Corey Lewandowski, the site promises “an opportunity for other people to weigh in and communicate in a free format without fear of reprisal or being canceled.”
He’s established a leadership PAC, Save America, and is reportedly launching a Super PAC, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.
In short, this doesn’t sound like someone who is going away. And with the money he’s already raised, his impact isn’t either. Covering Trump’s potential king-making will be an important and on-going part of the media’s job. Ignore it at your own peril, and talk to me in November of 2022.
But the more alarming aspect we simply cannot afford to ignore is Trump’s continued influence over culture.
It wasn’t PACs or Super PACs that catapulted Trump to power. It was his politics of revenge and grievances, a fetid cauldron of racism, bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, perverted populism and nihilism. All that hasn’t gone away.
While many Republicans left the party in droves over Trump’s divisive rhetoric and policies, a sizable amount have remained and calcified — nearly 26% of the country identifies as Republican — more than enough to sway elections. What those voters believe in may trouble us. But pretending they don’t exist is, I promise, not the answer.
Trump’s influence on them is well worth covering. After all, it helped shape their opinions on COVID — his anti-mask and anti-science rhetoric inarguably prolonged and worsened the pandemic.
Trump is still trying to stoke their skepticism. In a statement he just released this week, Trump calls his own scientists Dr. Deborah Birx, “a proven liar,” and Dr. Anthony Fauci, “the king of ‘flip-flops.’” He collectively calls them “two self-promoters trying to reinvent history to cover for their bad instincts and faulty recommendations, which I fortunately almost always overturned.”
Just as dangerously, he’s still spreading the big lie that his election was stolen. That lie has become so fundamental to the Republican Party, Georgia just turned it into a law.
And Trump’s re-awakening of white supremacist elements in the United States resulted in an insurrection at the Capitol just under three months ago, along with a rise in far-right extremism. If we agree we must root out hatred and systemic racism, we must also cover the people promoting it, including Trump.
Believe me, no one wants to be past Trumpism more than I do. It’s been one of the ugliest eras of modern American history, the lasting effects of which are nowhere near complete.
And it’s because the story is unfinished that we must continue covering it. As NPR public editor Kelly McBride put it, “It’s virtually impossible to stop talking about Trump. There’s still too many questions about what he did as president.”
We can plug our ears, cover our eyes, and will him to go away. But the reality is, Trump is still a big problem for America — and yes, a problem worth covering.