Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump (Getty Images/Salon)

So much for the "liberal media": Chattering-class hypocrisy is supporting Trump's rule

Hillary warned us — and the media crucified her. Now a smug culture of neutrality is enabling a would-be fascist


Chauncey DeVega
January 15, 2020 8:30PM (UTC)

The myth of the liberal media "shambles on" like one of the undead, even in the Age of Trump.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton warned us that "you can put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the 'basket of deplorables.' Unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up."

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Clinton was pilloried for that observation by the professional, "serious" and "respectable" voices of the American chattering class. Many in the media declared her to be an "elitist," out of touch with "ordinary people." 

Of course, the Trump-supporting "white working class" was to be empathized with and understood because of its understandable rage at "the system," which Clinton's words encapsulated and legitimated. Her "deplorables" comment was certified, at least in retrospect, as a reason why she was defeated by Donald Trump in a white rage uprising, in which an army of the deplorables lifted him into the White House.

Even in the fourth year of Trump's regime, there are still voices both on the left and right who summon Clinton's "deplorables" insight as a diagnosis for her 2016 defeat. presidential contest to Donald Trump. In their obsession with the supposedly redeemable "white working class," many liberal or left-leaning analysts and commentators use that episode as a teachable moment to illustrate what the Democrats must avoid doing if they are to defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

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If anything, Clinton's comments about Trump's human deplorables were overly generous. Trump's reign has encouraged a wave of lethal hate crimes and other violence against nonwhites, Muslims, Jews, gays and lesbians. Trump's foot soldiers have engaged in acts of political violence and terrorism against Democrats and others deemed to be the "enemy." Trump leads a political cult, whose members are so devoted to him that that truth no longer exists. Only the dictates and fantasies of Donald Trump matter. Trump's followers encourage and support his assault on the rule of law, the Constitution, democracy and human rights. Trump's followers are co-conspirators and human truncheons in his white supremacist campaign against the full and equal rights of nonwhite people and America's multiracial democracy.

What Trumpism has wrought in the last three years proves the wisdom of Hillary Clinton's warning.

Leading voices in the mainstream news media, of course, have offered few if any apologies for their unfair treatment of Clinton, either in response to her truth-telling about Trump's movement, specifically, or their coverage of her in 2016 more generally. "Hillary was right, and we were wrong" are forbidden words for most editors, commentators and political reporters.

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For too long, the American mainstream news media has normalized Trump's behavior, hoping that he would become "presidential." It's still struggling with how to confront a president and his spokespeople who are habitual liars. Only in rare moments has the mainstream news media been willing to state the plain fact that Donald Trump has shown himself through his words, personal behavior and public policy to be an authoritarian, a fascist, a demagogue and a white supremacist.

Hypocrisy and cowardice — and of course the profit motive – drive this behavior. There are many examples.

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On Monday of this week, Trump unleashed a torrent of hatred and threats against Muslims as well as the Democratic Party's leaders and voters. On Twitter, he shared an image of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as "Muslims" — wearing a hijab and turban, respectively, standing before the Iranian flag. The caption said that Pelosi and Schumer were coming "to the Ayatollah's rescue." Trump's obvious message is  These Democratic leaders — both political moderates and strong supporters of Israel — are traitors who hate America and love Iranian terrorism.

Trump also shared an image of a person supposedly killed by the Iranian government. The caption said that Nancy Pelosi "supports this mullahs' crime."

The collective message is that the tens of millions of Americans who support the Democratic Party are also traitors. Trump's lies about Pelosi, Schumer and Democratic voters also contains a slur against the roughly 4 million American Muslims — a group that Trump and some of his closest advisers have repeatedly demonized, suggesting they should be barred or expelled from the United States as likely terrorists.

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White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who has held no briefings for the press corps during her entire tenure, then attempted to "clarify" Trump's hateful threats. Here's Anushay Hossain at CNN:

Instead of trying to apologize for her boss's tweets ... Grisham went on Fox News and defended Trump's decision to amplify the tweet, stating he did what he did to make a point. "I think the president is making clear that the Democrats have been parroting Iranian talking points and almost taking the side of terrorists and those who were out to kill the Americans," she said. "I think the president was making the point that the Democrats seem to hate him so much that they're willing to be on the side of countries and leadership of countries who want to kill Americans."

Trump was even clearer in expressing his disdain and hatred of the Democratic Party, its leaders and its voters at a rally in Toledo, Ohio last week, describing Democrats without qualification as "vicious, horrible people."

Considered as a whole, Trump and his minions' behavior is part of a larger strategy of stochastic terrorism and political violence whose language is designed to encourage political terrorism and other forms of violence against virtually anyone and everyone who opposes the Trump regime.

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Ultimately, Trump's hateful and violent tweets on Monday and his rally comments at his rallies reflect his 2020 campaign strategy. On Monday, journalist and author Jared Yates Sexton summarized this on Twitter: "With no accomplishments to run on and a complete, abject failure of a presidency, Trump is going to try [to] win re-election based solely on a strategy of claiming the Democratic Party is treasonous. This is going to put so many lives in danger. Just unbelievably reckless."

Yet there has been no mass outcry by the mainstream news media about Trump's threats against the tens of millions of Americans who support the political opposition. Leading voices in the American news media (and public life more generally) are not demanding that Trump apologize for his threats and slurs. Once again, Trumpism is the normalization of political deviancy and American authoritarianism, aided and abetted by the mainstream news media.

Media critic Eric Boehlert locates the above dynamic relative to a larger context. In a recent email to Salon, he explained:

The problem is that the media's constant normalization of Trump is now in its fourth year, which means as his behavior gets more dangerous and hateful and radical, there's no proper way to describe it, and to warn about it, within the mainstream press. News outlets have committed themselves to downplaying his outrageous behavior, whether it was the disturbing wheezing and slurring of words that marked his national address on Iran last week, or Trump literally depicting Democratic leaders as Muslim-looking Iranian sympathizers, as he did on Twitter this week. Most of the press has made the collective decision to not only not aggressively highlight or condemn these types of actions, but to essentially look away from it. And yes, this was same press corps that couldn't sleep at night during the 2016 campaign when Hillary Clinton made one passing reference belittling some Trump supporters as "deplorables." The dangerous double standard persists.

In its kid-gloves treatment of Trump — largely a function of fear, intimidation and relentless bullying by the right — the mainstream media appears to have willfully forgotten the distinction between objectivity and neutrality. Especially in a time of crisis such as this one, the press should be committed to telling the truth, and the truth should be based on objective reality and facts.

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As the truism holds, if one person says it is raining outside and another person says it is sunny, a reporter's job is to open the window and report to us which one of them is telling the truth.

In the Age of Trump, too many voices in the American mainstream news media have defaulted to a type of cowardly neutrality where they are unwilling to tell the truth — or where, as Trump would have it, the truth is always fungible and malleable. Such behavior is avoidance of moral responsibility.

Today's mainstream news media might report black Americans' struggles against slavery and then white racial terrorism and Jim Crow by telling us that "Black and white Southerners disagree about voting and civil rights." It might report on the Holocaust with a headline like "Jews and others in spirited dispute with the Nazi Party and Hitler."

But there is something even worse and more insidious and malicious than the abandonment of objectivity to the weakness and amorality of "neutrality." This supposed neutrality is actually enabling Donald Trump and his movement's assault on democracy and freedom. Too much of the "liberal media" has in fact chosen a side: the side that is against democracy, decency, progress and the rule of law; the side that is on the wrong side of history, and even the wrong side of reality. 

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Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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