By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Biden calls out Trump’s Nazi rhetoric — but the media can’t get past ‘both sides’

Photo (cc) 2021 by Alex Kent/Tennessee Lookout

President Biden delivered an excellent speech Friday on the threat to democracy posed by Donald Trump and his supporters. He even used the N-word (Nazi) to describe Trump’s rhetoric in referring to his opponents as “vermin” and to refer to immigrants as “destroying the blood of our country.” If you missed Biden’s address, Heather Cox Richardson has a detailed overview.

But will it matter? Of course not. One of Trump’s go-to tactics when confronted with harsh truths is to childishly assert, “I know you are, but what am I?” So of course Trump’s response to Biden’s Valley Forge event was to hold a rally and accuse Biden of “fearmongering.” It worked because the first rule of media is to cover both sides. The tease on The New York Times’ homepage right now says:

Clashing Over Jan. 6, Trump and Biden Show Reality Is at Stake in 2024

Former President Trump and President Biden are framing the election as a battle for democracy — with Mr. Trump casting Mr. Biden as the true menace.

The actual headline is a little better, adding “brazenly” to Trump’s claim. And the story is better still, calling Trump “the only president to try to overthrow an American election” and adding: “Mr. Trump’s strategy aims to upend a world in which he has publicly called for suspending the Constitution, vowed to turn political opponents into legal targets and suggested that the nation’s top military general should be executed.” Good and true stuff. But wow, that tease.

Today, as we all know, is the third anniversary of the failed insurrection that Trump fomented. I may have written this before, but I remember returning to our car after a long hike in the Middlesex Fells and turning on public radio. The station was carrying the feed from the “PBS NewsHour,” and the first thing I heard was Judy Woodruff freaking out. What had happened? Were the Republicans pulling some sort of ridiculous stunt?

I soon learned the truth. As Biden reminded us Friday, a Trumpist mob, carrying Trump and Confederate flags, had invaded the Capitol. Gallows had been constructed to hang Mike Pence. (Mere symbolism? I don’t think so. What do you suppose would have happened if they’d actually got hold of him?) Angry Trumpers roamed the corridors, looking for Nancy Pelosi. Again, what do you suppose would have happened if they’d found her? Police officers were injured, and some died in the aftermath.

Now we’re waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether Colorado, Maine and possibly other states can keep Trump off the ballot under the 14th Amendment, which bars officials who “engaged in insurrection” from serving. As I wrote earlier this week, this is where the question belongs. But I don’t trust the court, dominated as it is by two justices who occupy what are essentially stolen seats (Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett) and a third (Clarence Thomas) who is so corrupt that he ought to be off the bench and consulting with his lawyers.

But it’s all we’ve got. “Democracy is still a sacred cause,” Biden told his audience in Valley Forge. I wish I shared his optimism that we are capable of preserving it.

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  1. Stephen Walker

    what an awful time for our kids to experience – my own are now subjected to Fox watchers every day with my ex-wife and her parents in rural Wisconsin

  2. Ilex

    I’m alarmed for the future of this country. We don’t need to go back to the Nazis to see how Trump’s talk plays out. We’ve seen desaparecidos in Argentina and Chile in the 70’s and 80’s when the country’s leaders would not tolerate criticism. We’ve seen the horror of Rwanda in 1993 when half its population was declared “cockroaches” by the other half.

    The complacency of the media in how they cover Trump — as if he’s a normal human being, and this is normal election rhetoric — is frankly disturbing. The fact that Trump’s supporters don’t walk out of his rallies en masse when he talks about other human beings this way is disappointing despite being expected. And having this kind of talk become routine and acceptable is horrifying. I keep telling myself my fears are exaggerated and “it can’t happen here” but everyone thinks that until it does happen. I’m with you on “what do you suppose would have happened if the mob had found Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi?” And rumor has it that GOP leaders routinely receive death threats from their own voters. We aren’t looking much like a country where “it can’t happen.” Even if Trump loses this election, we’ve crossed a line of political rhetoric, and I’m not sure how we get back behind it. And all too often violent rhetoric and promises to stamp out enemies become actual violence and loss of life.

    Fourteenth Amendment or no, I would leave Trump on the ballots in the hope that he will be truly beaten in 2024. That refutation would speak much more strongly and convincingly than using what looks like a politically-motivated and kind of weak tactic to keep him out of office.

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