After Buffalo, Trump threatens "civil war": Mainstream media refuses to connect the dots

As the Trump movement builds toward violent conquest, mainstream media keeps pretending it's all a game

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published May 25, 2022 6:30AM (EDT)

Donald Trump gives two thumbs up to the crowd during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Donald Trump gives two thumbs up to the crowd during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Last Saturday, Donald Trump endorsed a post on Truth Social — his own social media network — by a user who was either calling for or predicting a "civil war" in response to "enemies within" the United States. Exactly a week earlier, an apparent white supremacist terrorist killed 10 Black people in Buffalo. His "manifesto" channels the same basic values and beliefs as the Trump and the contemporary Republican Party.

Even after that event, America's mainstream news media and other public voices, for the most part, still refuse to tell the unfiltered truth about the dangers to American society and freedom represented by Trump and the Republicans. 

Within hours of the Buffalo attack, Donald Trump told a rally audience in Austin, Texas: "I think they had a tragic event in Buffalo ... with numerous people being killed." He followed that up with the narcissistic claim that "in 18 months in Afghanistan, we lost nobody." That is not true. For Trump, claiming credit for his imaginary successes as president is clearly more important than paying respect to innocent people killed in a domestic terror attack. Trump said nothing that resembled condolences and did not appear to be sad about the loss of life.

RELATED: Buffalo: This is where Donald Trump's race-war fantasies lead

Earlier in the Austin rally, aging right-wing rock star Ted Nugent told the audience: "I love you people madly, but I'd love you more if you went forward and just went berserk on the skulls of the Democrats and the Marxists and the communists." He also described Democrats as "enemies of America."

This is part of a larger pattern of stochastic terrorism and outright threats of political violence.

At Donald Trump's rallies, he has said that nonwhite migrants and refugees are "invaders" coming to America to take over and commit crimes against real (i.e., white) Americans. He often says the "traditional family" (meaning white right-wing Christians) is under siege from the "woke" or "politically correct" Democrats and other "un-American" forces. He has encouraged right-wing political violence with his race-war fantasies, suggesting that his followers should descend upon major cities to wreak vengeance if he is prosecuted for his crimes.

Trump repeats the Big Lie that he is still president, claiming that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen" from him by Black and brown voters and their Democratic enablers. Trump praises the Jan. 6 terrorists who participated in his coup attempt by launching a lethal attack on the Capitol. He channels the antisemitic QAnon conspiracy theory and makes threats against Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and other leading Democrats.

Trump has now embraced the Confederate "Lost Cause" mythology, and tells his followers they may need to kill or die to resist "critical race theory."

He has embraced the neo-Confederate Lost Cause ideology and its fiction that the South was engaged in a noble and honorable cause in launching a catastrophic civil war to keep Black people in bondage as human property forever. He has told his followers that they may need to kill and die to protect their families and children from the white supremacist bogeyman known as "critical race theory."

During one recent rally, Trump joked about the familiar racial slur used against black people — the same one the Buffalo shooter shouted as he murdered 10 Black people.

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Donald Trump's language, values and beliefs are drawn from the same white supremacist imagination that led to the Buffalo massacre, and also spawned the massacres in El Paso and Pittsburgh as well as the 2017 rampage in Charlottesville.

In not-unrelated news, many leading figures of the "conservative" movement gathered in Hungary last week for the first Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) session ever held in Europe. They made common cause with members of the neofascist global right from Europe and around the globe. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has become the far right's hero and role model, having increasingly suppressed free expression and imposed a pseudo-democratic system often called "competitive authoritarianism." The Republican-fascists and their movement are working feverishly — and so far, quite successfully — to apply Orbán's lessons in the United States.

At the New Republic, Michael Tomasky writes:

This event was the American right wing stating as openly as it ever has that fascism is its goal for the United States of America…. Hungary is a one-party, right-wing state where the ruling ideology encourages racial hatred of minorities (Jews and the Roma). And that is where American conservatives decided to have a party….

Tucker Carlson spoke at this conference, of course, as did Mark Meadows, and via video, Donald Trump himself. Trump beamed that he and Orbán were "very close" and said: "He's a great leader, a great gentleman, and he just had a very big election result. I was very honored to have endorsed him. A little unusual endorsement. Usually, I'm looking at the 50 states but here we went a little bit astray — and I did that only because he really is a good man and he has done a fantastic job for his country."

Orbán cut right to the chase. He said that Hungary had been "completely healed" of anything smacking of liberalism, and he was crystal clear about how to do it: Control the media….

The American right, from Trump to CPAC Jefe Matt Schlapp on down the line, celebrates and seeks to emulate a racist, neofascist anti-democracy. They want to turn the United States into Hungary.

In a recent report for Salon, Kathryn Joyce highlighted how the "great replacement" conspiracy theory, which inspired the Buffalo shooter, was both echoed and amplified at CPAC Hungary:

The second day of CPAC Hungary was marked by vitriolic denunciations of immigration, declarations that leftists are seeking to eradicate "white Western nations" and that mass migration is being used as a "weapon of mass destruction" worse than a nuclear bomb. Less than a week after a mass killing in Buffalo motivated largely by the racist "replacement theory," speakers at CPAC didn't shy away from reiterating its key argument: There is a concerted effort underway to "replace" the white majorities of countries in Europe, North America and elsewhere with nonwhite immigrants.

Already in the lead-up to the conference, which concluded Friday evening in Budapest, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had doubled down on his frequent invocation of replacement theory, which in Hungary is effectively treated as a matter of state policy. In a speech last Monday, as he was sworn into his fourth consecutive term in office, the Guardian reported, Orbán charged that "the great European population exchange [is] a suicidal attempt to replace the lack of European, Christian children with adults from other civilizations — migrants."

Again, the mainstream news media has been reluctant to warn the American public in any consistent way about the escalating fascist threat to democracy, which is now global in nature. If "blowback" is the term used in foreign policy and intelligence to describe "the unintended consequences of the U.S. government's international activities that have been kept secret from the American people," the growth and spread of right-wing terrorism in the Age of Trump is the exact opposite. These events are obvious, public and easily predicted, indeed almost inevitable. They are happening right now, in real time.

RELATED: CPAC Hungary: Global right doubles down on "replacement" theory: "This is what tyrants do"

Because of a desperate desire for "normalcy" and no small amount of self-delusion, America's mainstream news media and much of the political class has deliberately downplayed the existential danger to American society and democracy represented by Donald Trump, the Republican-fascist movement and the larger white right. In fact, the public is to blame as well, for having chosen willful ignorance and denial, and defaulting to the helpless belief or hope that someone, somewhere — but definitely not them — will solve America's problems.

Many Americans feel disconnected from politics and society, and view democracy is a meaningless idea. It's not an unreasonable view, under the circumstances.

Here is another uncomfortable truth: many Americans feel disconnected and alienated from both politics and the larger society. To them, democracy is just an empty idea, relatively meaningless in their lives. That conclusion is not entirely unreasonable: Incomes and wages have been stagnant or falling for decades; the American Dream is on the critical list. Future generations will be worse off than previous ones. The COVID pandemic has killed more than a million Americans, with no clear end in sight. The social safety net is in tatters, and America's social and political institutions are experiencing a legitimacy crisis.

That disconnect is made even worse by the fact that money rules American politics and that corporate leaders and oligarchs have more impact on the day-to-day lives of the average American than does representative government and democracy.

If many Americans are asking what democracy has done for them lately, the Democratic Party and its leaders have not offered a clear and compelling answer. Trump and the Republican-fascists are working to fill that void.

Yet in the face of this existential threat, leading news media figures and other political elites rely on obsolete, insufficient or failed narratives and conceptual frames when they try to interpret this escalating disaster. So we get horserace journalism, an obsession with endorsements and whether Trump's chosen candidates are winning or losing, the fight of the day, or the controversy of the minute. The 24/7 news cycle is filled with tedium and minutiae elevated as crises or "breaking news," with little effort to provide the information, context and framework needed to understand the fascist calamity.

In a much-cited essay from 2011, media critic and scholar Jay Rosen explained these failings as a function of the "savvy" style in political journalism:

In the United States, most of the people who report on politics aren't trying to advance an ideology. But I think they have an ideology, a belief system that holds their world together and tells them what to report about. It's not left, or right, or center, really. It's trickier than that. The name I've given to the ideology of our political press is savviness.

In politics, our journalists believe, it is better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It's better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere, thoughtful or humane. Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.)

Savviness is that quality of being shrewd, practical, hyper-informed, perceptive, ironic, "with it," and unsentimental in all things political. And what is the truest mark of savviness? Winning, of course! Or knowing who the winners are.

In 2020, Rosen returned to this topic, observing that the "savvy" style was even more inadequate to America's altered circumstances and state of malignant normalcy:

You might not like it, but it's smart politics … was helpless to describe a party "unmoved by conventional understanding of facts." Strategy coverage, both sides do it, who's up and who's down, winners and losers, controversy of the day, access journalism, "we'll have to leave it there" … all these forms were spectacularly ill-matched to Donald Trump when he emerged as a threat to American democracy. 

The press had drifted too far off course. It still identified with the pros who knew how the game was played. But the pros were themselves under attack in Trump's style of resentment politics. Journalists trying to cover him discovered they were hate objects, useful for keeping his supporters in a state of pop-eyed rage. Nothing in their playbook had prepared them for that; they are still trying to recover from the shock of it.  

Rosen concluded that it was possible for political journalism to recover a sense of mission, if it began to understand that the "defense of democracy" was "basic to the job," rejected "symmetrical accounts of asymmetrical realities," abandoned the frame of politics as a "strategic game," and stopped using "bad actors with a history of misinforming the public" as sources.

That's a tall order when so many in the media and the punditry appear addicted to the drama of "who's up and who's down," in Rosen's words. 

As a class, the American mainstream news media, the pundits, and too many other members of the commentariot see politics as a type of horserace and are choosing to ignore that one of the horses is death, petulance, chaos, destruction, and evil. The horserace itself and the stakes of winning and losing are fundamentally different in the Age of Trump and beyond. Yet too many of the country's public voices, in the news media and the political class as a whole, are continuing to operate as though things are all more or less OK and this is all just a slightly more stressful version of business as usual.

As matters devolve in America, the everyday people, those regular folks, will not have the ability to delude themselves or somehow insulate themselves from the reality of this new American nightmare.

Read more on the age of Trump and the rise of fascism:

By Chauncey DeVega

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

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Buffalo Shooting Civil War Commentary Democracy Donald Trump Fascism Media Republicans Social Media