Trump dupes the media with DeSantis' help: Republican race for White House is no real competition

Here is the story that the mainstream news media should be telling: The Republican Party doesn't support democracy

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published January 26, 2023 5:50AM (EST)

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Over the last few decades in America, partisanship has become a type of personal identity. A political party is more than an organization or the letter next to a candidate's name on a ballot. This is about much more than "political polarization" or "hyper-partisanship" or the other sterile technical language which experts routinely use in academia, the news media, and the larger political class. In today's America, party identification reflects fundamental debates and divides over what it means to be a citizen, a member of a political community and a human being.

Two concepts are particularly useful for understanding this broken politics and the larger democracy crisis:

Asymmetrical polarization describes how one party has become much more extreme than another party. As a practical matter, this means there is much less space for reasonable compromise or true consensus in some middle ground that accurately represents the desires of both parties and/or their voters.

Negative partisanship is a dynamic where party identification is not so much about the political policies that a given person supports but more about viewing your political rivals and others you disagree with as enemies with whom compromise is not possible. 

In a 2021 conversation at the New York Times with Ezra Klein, political scientist Lilliana Mason explained how negative partisanship identity, race and polarization impact contemporary United States politics:

I think that the Democratic Party has been gradually, partly in response to the Republican Party's attraction of attracting people who are high in racial animosity, the Democratic Party has had to react against that. So we end up with Obama, then Trump, and then Biden, for the first time ever, in his inaugural address, actually saying the words "white supremacy." So the parties have been making it more clear where they stand along this line.

And unfortunately, that means that we have in the Republican Party — and again, it's really this MAGA faction, right, these people that really disliked marginalized groups even before Trump came along. They've always been in the American electorate. They were Democrats during the Civil War and Jim Crow, et cetera, and now they've moved into the Republican Party.

But the problem with that is that we end up with an entire political party that is really trying to speak to these animosities and that sense of hatred of marginalized groups, which means that it has become an anti-democracy party, right? It is not in their interest to fully represent every single American. It's not in their interest to have a multiracial democracy. In fact, they're campaigning against that.

With its slavish commitment to "normal politics" the country's mainstream news media, its professional centrists, the Church of the Savvy, and the larger commentariat have, for the most part, not adapted to America in the Age of Trump.

As Mason highlights, negative partisanship and polarization and other indicators of America's broken politics and larger democracy crisis are amplified by white supremacy and white identity politics. In all, today's Republican Party, so-called conservatives and the larger right-wing neofascist movement reject democracy if it means that white people like them will not have uncontested control over American society. Mason continues:

So on average, Americans have left of center issue positions. Most people are to the left of center on their preferences for economic policy and legislation. Even when you put issues like abortion and gun control and immigration into the equation, right, we're still a left of center country on policy preferences. The problem is that there are a lot of people who identify as conservative and hold liberal, leftist policy preferences, but that conservative or Republican identity is so strong that they will vote to make sure that their group is winning regardless of what the policies they're actually voting for are.

And then at the same time, one of the main points of "Uncivil Agreement" was that we have this social sorting, right, where effectively the Republican Party has become increasingly white, Christian, rural, male — or at least pro- sort of patriarchy — and the Democratic Party is not as monolithic as that. They're just sort of the party that's trying to push for a more egalitarian, multiracial democracy. And so the Republican Party is kind of forced into this — I mean, ironically, right — identity-based politics where they are really trying to make sure that the white Christian male is at the top of the American social hierarchy. That's what they're fighting for.

Negative partisanship and these sustained high levels of polarization are relatively new developments in American politics, where voting and partisanship are made salient and meaningful in a person's day-to-day life as opposed to during an election or campaign. Of course, "politics" has been an existential question of literal life and death, slavery and freedom, and civil and human rights for Black and Brown people and other marginalized groups across American history.

With its slavish commitment to "normal politics" the country's mainstream news media, its professional centrists, the Church of the Savvy, and the larger commentariat have, for the most part, not adapted to America in the Age of Trump where politics and party are now a type of deeply held personal identity – one that many neofascists and others on the right-wing are willing to engage in violence and other anti-democratic behavior to "protect." (In practice, "protecting" means using violence and other means, illegal, quasilegal, and otherwise to impose their will on others.) As a function of their obsolescent habits and norms, the American mainstream news media, especially the D.C. Beltway reporting class, continues to focus on political personalities and "the horserace." Such an approach amplifies the differences between political candidates and other leaders instead of focusing on what they have in common as members of the same party, which in the case of today's Republican Party means a neofascist organization that has more in common with a cult or fundamentalist religion than a traditional political organization in a Western democracy.

Here is the story that the mainstream news media and commentariat should be focusing on: The Republican Party does not support democracy and is escalating its efforts to end it here in America.

This dynamic is already present in the very early and premature coverage of the 2024 presidential campaign where the mainstream news media and commentariat are developing a narrative where Trump will face off against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for control of the Republican Party. In this obvious story, Trump, the former president, coup plotter, reality TV star and "unconventional" public figure will be challenged by the younger, more educated, "acceptable" and "polished" "leader" who is seeking to spread his power and influence beyond Florida. The other potential Republican presidential candidates are just stand-ins and extras in the political drama.

In reality, Trump and DeSantis are more alike than they are different in terms of the dangers and threats to America's multiracial democracy and society that they embody.

Both DeSantis and Trump are guilty of democide and willful cruelty and indifference in terms of their response to the Covid pandemic. Both DeSantis and Trump do not support free speech and/or free thought and have tried to censor their "political enemies," including the news media. Both DeSantis and Trump support the Big Lie and other attempts to usurp multiracial democracy through voter suppression and other tactics including violence and intimidation. They are both plutocrats who want to give the corporatocracy and monied classes even more control over American society. They support white Christian nationalism and eroding the separation of church and state. Neither support women's reproductive rights and freedoms. And through their policies and behavior, both Desantis and Trump have shown themselves to be white supremacists and racial authoritarians.

Here is the story that the mainstream news media and commentariat should be focusing on: The Republican Party does not support democracy and is escalating its efforts to end it here in America.

Such truth-telling requires a discussion of power, systems, institutions, culture, history, and how Trumpism and American neofascism are symptoms of a deep problem in America and not the disease itself. So almost by definition, the mainstream American news media avoids a sustained discussion of such topics because it would require being self-critical and speaking too much truth to power.

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There is another reality that the American mainstream news media and political class do not want to publicly admit: Today's Republican Party and the "conservative" movement are anti-democratic and anti-freedom because that is what their voters and other supporters want.

To wit. Donald Trump won more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016. Likewise, more people voted for the Republicans than the Democrats in the 2022 midterms.

It is true that there are differences between Trump and DeSantis and the various factions of the Republican Party and the larger neofascist movement. But in the end, these forces are largely united in their desire to destroy America's multiracial democracy and replace it with a new apartheid Christofascist plutocracy. Whichever candidate ends up surviving the Republican Party's battle royal pit fight to become the 2024 presidential nominee, the mainstream news media and commentariat will earnestly play the roles of referee, color commentator and stenographer when they should instead be alerting police and prosecutors about the crimes against democracy and human decency being committed right in front of them.

The media must make it clear: Be it DeSantis or Trump or some other Republican who wins the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, U.S. democracy and the American people will suffer all the same. 

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 Crisis Donald Trump Election News Media Republican Party Ron Desantis