A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
The title of Charlie Sykes’ Sunday newsletter for The Bulwark is perfectly applicable to the news right now: “How alarmed should we be?”
That’s the question undergirding so much of the news coverage about American politics. How alarmed should we be about the antidemocratic words and actions of the GOP?
“An interesting debate is developing over how seriously we should take the rolling Trumpian coup,” Sykes writes. Here are six reasons to take it seriously:
- Many of Trump’s fans are supporting it. Top right-wing media outlets are amplifying the messages, with countless segments about supposed voter fraud and constant appeals to the MAGA base’s biggest fears. This coverage sometimes looks backward to 2020 but it mostly looks ahead to future elections, softening the ground for future assaults on the rule of law.
- Key lawmakers are giving cover to it. On “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace,” the No. 2 House Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise, repeatedly refused “to acknowledge the legitimacy of the vote, instead sticking to his belief that the election results should not have been certified by Congress,” The AP’s Hope Yen reported. Historians are able to see what might be coming. On “Face the Nation,” foreign policy expert and Trump impeachment witness Fiona Hill told Margaret Brennan said that the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol may have been just “a dress rehearsal for something that could be happening near term, in 2022, and 2024.”
- Immigrants are able to draw from past experiences. When Brennan asked Hill how to respond to riot deniers, Hill said, “All of the people I know who are immigrants are looking around and saying, ‘Can’t people see this?’ We have come from war-torn societies. All of the hallmarks are here. Perhaps Americans should talk to some of their neighbors who came from somewhere else, who came to the United States to flee just this kind of occurrence and have them tell them what their personal experience was.”
- Viewers are able to hear Trump’s doublespeak. He continues to call Nov. 3, 2020, a/k/a election day, the “real insurrection,” which is a mind-blowing example of doublespeak. At his rally on Saturday night, he called the Jan. 6 committee probe “the left’s new obsession.” Much of his rhetoric is forward-looking, focused on “saving” America.
- Readers are able to see a coverup of the past. Trump allies with key knowledge about Jan. 6 continue to resist efforts to reveal what they know about the lead-up to the attack.
HBO host Bill Maher went viral after he warned of Trump’s “slow coup” on “Real Time” Friday night. He delivered an eight-minute monologue premised on these three points: Trump “will run in 2024; he will get the Republican nomination; and whatever happens on election night, the next day he will announce that he won.”
Maher laid out a scary undemocratic scenario in the hopes of arousing viewers from slumber.
“I’ve been saying it ever since he lost, he’s like a shark that’s not gone, just gone out to sea,” Maher warned. “But actually he’s been quietly eating people this whole time.” Using a reference from “Game of Thrones,” a show in which power-hungry characters kill each other for the coveted Iron Throne, Maher clarifies his warning by saying, “And by eating people, I mean he has been methodically purging the Republican party of anyone who voted for his impeachment or doesn’t believe that he is the rightful leader of the Seven Kingdoms.”
MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan reacted by commenting, “I wish more actual journalists would say what a late-night comedian’s saying.”
Coming at it from a very different ideological POV, “Allahpundit” of the Hot Air blog said Maher was right, “even if Republicans don’t want to hear it. And it’s a show of integrity on his part that he felt obliged to drop this truth bomb at the very moment that he’s gaining right-wing fans for his anti-woke commentary.”
Decide for yourself -— here’s the monologue.
How to help reverse ‘democratic decline’
Michael Abramowitz, the president of Freedom House, joined me on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” to discuss democratic backsliding and how small-d democratic media can “hold the line,” as Nobel Peace Prize recipient Maria Ressa likes to say. “Independent journalism is a cornerstone of democracy,” Abramowitz said. “And without it you can’t have accountability for power…It’s the fact-based journalism, the focus on facts, that is really the way out for us.”
Media shouldn’t ‘normalize’ abnormal political behavior
This was our “A block” conversation on Sunday’s show, with comments from James Fallows and Brittany Shepherd. Fallows said that when artificially created chaos is covered like “a naturally occurring phenomenon,” the audience loses. Watch:
– Rep. Liz Cheney’s tweet over the weekend, mainly in reaction to Scalise: “Millions of Americans have been sold a fraud that the election was stolen. Republicans have a duty to tell the American people that this is not true. Perpetuating the Big Lie is an attack on the core of our constitutional republic.” (Twitter)
– ABC’s Jon Karl shared new reporting from his forthcoming book “Betrayal” on “This Week” Sunday: During the riot “the former president liked what he saw” and “boasted about the size of the crowd.” (ABC)
– “A whistleblower identifying as a former high-ranking US Capitol Police official excoriated the department’s leadership before, during and after the deadly January 6 insurrection in a new letter to Congress.” (CNN)
– Related? The words “Civil War” trended on Twitter on Sunday after MSNBC aired a clip of a Trump rallygoer saying “I see civil war coming.” (MSNBC)