We all feel Trump fatigue — and he's in serious trouble. But don't look away

Yes, he really may be prosecuted, and his 2024 prospects are fading. But the danger to democracy isn't nearly over

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published December 29, 2022 5:45AM (EST)

Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

America's democracy crisis is not somehow part of the past, finished or otherwise resolved. The larger threat to the country embodied by Trumpism and other forms of neofascism remains in the here and now — and will be with us for the foreseeable future.

Many Americans are understandably exhausted by this reality, and by the last seven years of the Age of Trump. Public opinion research makes clear that many of the American people are sick to death of Trump and the Republican fascists and wish they would just disappear.

At least arguably, Trump himself is in serious trouble. He faces increasing pressure from the Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies for his many obvious crimes. It's increasingly likely that he will be prosecuted on one or more criminal charges — although conviction is an entirely different matter. That possible or likely prosecution is imagined by many as an immense relief, an end to this long nightmare.

Trump's support among Republicans appears to be softening every day — another reason why many Americans are exhaling, convinced that relief from their collective pain is imminent. Of course, other factors are at play as well. Most Americans are generally uninterested in politics and politically unsophisticated. Most do not follow the news closely and rely on trusted sources of information to tell them what is important and which details they should notice. 

Of course it's true that many Americans voted in the November midterm elections with the aim of slowing or stopping the Trumpist assault on their democracy and freedom. But voting is only one aspect of political participation in a democracy. Too many Americans appear convinced themselves that democracy was "saved" with a great "victory" by the Democrats in the midterms. First of all, that is factually incorrect, given that Republicans will control the House of Representatives (and continue to dominate the Supreme Court and other power centers. Secondly, the 2022 midterms were just one battle in what will likely be a decades-long battle to defend, heal and expand American democracy.

Here are some of the events that too many Americans are deliberately avoiding, at their own peril. Donald Trump is continuing to threaten acts of widespread violence and public disorder if he is prosecuted or punished for his crimes. In a series of recent posts on Truth Social. Trump responded to the criminal referrals by the Jan. 6 select committee:

The Unselect Committee of political hacks are the same group that came up with the RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA HOAX, not to mention many others. They are Corrupt cowards who hate our Country...

Republicans and Patriots all over the land must stand strong and united against the Thugs and Scoundrels of the Unselect Committee. It will be a dark period in American history, but with darkness comes light!!!

The so-called Deep State, often referred to by many other names, including 'Cheaters, 'Insurrectionists,' 'Communists,' and yes, even our good old 'RINOS,' have been working on sinister and evil 'plots' for a long time, even well before I came to office. They are long seated Swamp Creatures, and are bad news for the USA.

He then returned to a familiar but still disturbing theme, contending that President Biden should be removed from office and the government overthrown:

 In other words, the 2020 Presidential Election was RIGGED & STOLEN. It all began a long time ago, they SPIED on my campaign, and tried to "RIGG" the 2016 Election, but failed. Remember, our government is doing this, not a person or party. What should be done about such a terrible thing, or should we let someone who was elected by cheating and fraud stay in office and continue to destroy our Country?

These recent threats continue Trump's recent pattern of stochastic terrorism and incitements to political violence. He has said the Constitution should be "terminated" so that he can be returned to power immediately; he has publicly embraced white supremacists, neo-Nazis and antisemites and right-wing extremists; and he has declared that the Jan. 6 insurrectionists are heroes and "victims" whom he will pardon if he returns to the presidency.

Federal law enforcement and other security experts continue to warn that the country is in a state of extreme danger from right-wing extremists. The recent trial and conviction of leading figures of the Oath Keepers paramilitary organization for their role in Trump's coup attempt and the Capitol attack is further confirmation of how close the U.S. came on that day to martial law and sustained violent chaos. The upcoming trial of senior members of the Proud Boys on similar charges may well provide  further insights into the Trump coup plot.

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A new investigation has again confirmed the widespread infiltration of the U.S. military and American law enforcement agencies by fascists, white supremacists and other enemies of multiracial democracy.

According to a report by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), over 300 members on Oath Keepers membership roles have worked for the Department of Homeland Security. Truthout reports that these people include members of the Border Patrol, Coast Guard, ICE and even the Secret Service:

Some of the members on the list, when contacted, denied Oath Keepers membership or said they have let their membership lapse; government insiders say, however, that the list is only the "tip of the iceberg" in terms of the overlap between dangerous far right groups and government agencies like DHS. ...

Such an overlap at DHS is of particular concern because the agency is tasked with protecting against far right threats. POGO and OCCRP specifically looked at DHS because employees within the agency often have access to classified intelligence about groups like the Oath Keepers.

Talking Points Memo recently obtained thousands of text messages between former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and dozens of Republican members of Congress, discussing how they could assist Donald Trump's attempts to overturn the election and stay in power illegally:

The Meadows texts illustrate in moment-to-moment detail an authoritarian effort to undermine the will of the people and upend the American democratic system as we know it. 

The text messages, obtained from multiple sources, offer new insights into how the assault on the election was rooted in deranged internet paranoia and undemocratic ideology. They show Meadows and other high-level Trump allies reveling in wild conspiracy theories, violent rhetoric, and crackpot legal strategies for refusing to certify Joe Biden's victory.

At a gala event held Dec. 11 in New York, leading figures in the MAGA movement, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Donald Trump Jr. and Steve Bannon, all but openly declared war on American democracy. In a subsequent speech to a group of young conservatives, Bannon deployed the language of political violence, threatening "war" and calling for an "army" to fight back against "the administrative state."

The Republican-fascist attempts to end American democracy through a "legal" coup continue as well. The U.S. Supreme Court is now hearing a case which could grant state legislatures (as a practical matter, Republican state legislatures) unlimited power over federal elections, including the ability to nullify the popular vote and appoint their own presidential electors. 

How has the mainstream news media covered these developments? Not much. With a few notable exceptions, the media now seems committed to a "hear no evil" approach.

Yes, the "shocking" and "important" developments of the day will be highlighted, sometimes with great insight, but we do not see the kind of sustained coverage that locates the Republican-fascist attacks as part of a larger narrative of America's democracy crisis. To a large extent, the media is still beholden to the conventions of "normal politics, including obsolete notions of "fairness," "balance" and "objectivity," as well as to horserace political coverage and Beltway access journalism.

For instance, too many journalists continue to circulate and launder the language used by Republican Party spokespeople and propagandists, effectively treating their claims as worthy of discussion and debate. But today's "conservative" movement almost entirely consists of malign actors who are incapable of intellectual honesty or good faith. 

David Corn of Mother Jones addresses this in a recent article that merits lengthy quotation: 

Consequently, an outrage more outrageous than the usual outrage becomes part of the never-ending rush of events. And the growing authoritarian threat Trump presents — empowering antisemites, excusing political violence, encouraging paranoia and conspiracism, and undermining the fundamental rules of American democracy — is not appropriately highlighted. The transgression of the moment joins a long line of transgressions, diluted in a giant cauldron of wrongdoing. Some folks — most recently, Patti Davis, a daughter of Ronald Reagan — have advocated ignoring Trump and denying his lies and scoundrelism oxygen. Yet as a former president and leading GOP presidential aspirant with a following of millions, he remains an important figure in American life who must be reckoned with. With Trump perhaps the No. 1 risk to democracy — as far as any one person can be — Trump TV cannot simply be turned off.

Trump's recent statement about "terminating" the Constitution, Corn writes, "deserved more elaborate and sustained treatment":

Even against the steady stream of Trump excesses over the past seven years, a demand to burn the Constitution stood out — especially with Trump's recent and deeper forays into the realm of authoritarianism. If he is beginning his latest White House chase with a call to abolish the Constitution — while hailing the January 6 rioters and hobnobbing with antisemites and a white nationalist — imagine where he might be heading. Armed resistance?

Media critic Parker Molloy examined the media whitewash of Donald Trump's 2024 campaign announcement:

Oh, The New York Times… *sigh* What are we going to do with you? Times reporters Michael C. Bender and Maggie Haberman covered Trump's announcement. In their headline, the Times went with the words "ignoring the midterms' verdict on him." And once you got into the story itself, it didn't get much better. "Historically divisive presidency" that "shook the pillars of the country's democratic institutions" sounds tough, but what does any of that mean? Why dance around it?...

The Associated Press fumbled its coverage by going with a real view-from-nowhere type headline, simply stating, "Trump seeks White House again amid GOP losses, legal probes."…

CNN's initial write-up (and push notification) for Trump's announcement was a simple "Former President Donald Trump announces a White House bid for 2024." Bizarrely, the story opened with a bit of trivia: if he's elected, he'd become "only the second commander-in-chief ever elected to two nonconsecutive terms." (Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th president, is the other one, FYI). That's great and all, but it omits some important context about what a Trump win would actually mean for the country.

Additionally, while the story does at least mention Trump's "own role in inciting an attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021," the piece danced around the topic.

At his PressWatchers site, Dan Froomkin focused on one particularly illustrative example of how the mainstream media — in this case, the New York Times — continues to normalize Trumpism and the Republican-fascist assault on democracy:

New York Times political reporters and editors are probably high-fiving each other today in celebration of the incredible bravery of their colleague Peter Baker, who definitively declared in Friday's Times that Donald Trump has "embraced extremism."

But as usual with the New York Times, it's way too little, way too late.

Indeed, every baby step the New York Times takes toward recognizing the extraordinary danger posed by elements of the Republican Party to our democracy and our polity only further exposes how far they still have to go.

There is nothing bold about saying Trump has now aligned himself "with forces that used to be outside the mainstream of American politics." The appropriate wording is "with forces whose views are so abhorrent that they have historically been shunned by all respectable people and institutions."…

My question is: What more will it take for journalistic institutions like the Times to acknowledge that what Trump is saying requires condemnation, not speculation.

In the wake of the Jan. 6 select committee's criminal referrals to the Justice Department, recommending a series of criminal charges against Donald Trump, the question now is whether the news media and the public as a whole view those potential charges as an end in themselves, and a sign that America's democracy crisis is over? That would be an error of massive proportions, offering Trump and the larger white-right movement he represents time and space to regroup, mobilize and mount a new series of attacks. There are many battles left to fight. Now is the time for more vigilance, not less.

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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Commentary Democracy Donald Trump Fascism Media Political Violence Republicans