Trump's CNN town hall is rigged

In a healthy society, we would all turn away in protest

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published May 10, 2023 12:08PM (EDT)

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

"May you live in interesting times." Those words are not a blessing, they are a curse.

The Trumpocene and this fascist fever dream most certainly qualify as those "interesting times." Trump and his MAGA movement have cursed the American people and their country by empowering even more racism, white supremacy, bigotry, hatred, death, suffering, sickness, violence, fascism, authoritarianism, conspiracism, greed, anti-intellectualism, misery, loneliness, religious fanaticism, collective unwellness and pathology and other great troubles and problems. Of course, Trump's MAGA cultists believe such a horrible state of affairs is a type of blessing.

Are we closer to the end of this fascist nightmare than we were before? I doubt it. A new Washington Post/ABC poll shows President Joe Biden lagging behind Donald Trump.

Whatever the outcome, escape or remaining lost and in limbo, stuck in an interregnum, on Tuesday the traitor former ex-president Donald Trump added one more "distinction" to his ignominious list of "accomplishments" and "firsts." Trump was the first president to attempt a coup to end American democracy. He was the first former president to be arrested and charged with a felony. Now he is the first president to be deemed liable by a jury in civil court for committing acts of sexual abuse and defamation.

Salon's Gabriella Ferrigine summarizes:

A Manhattan jury on Tuesday rejected E. Jean Carroll's rape allegation against former President Donald Trump but found him liable for sexual abuse in the 1996 attack.

The jury reached its verdict after less than three hours of deliberations, finding that Trump sexually abused but did not rape Carroll, according to the Associated Press. The jury awarded Carroll $2 million in damages.

The jury also found that Trump defamed the longtime columnist by calling her allegations a "con job," awarding Carroll another $3 million in damages, bringing the total damages to around $5 million.

Carroll walked out of the courthouse smiling.

"We're very happy," Carroll's attorney Roberta Kaplan told reporters.

Trump raged over the verdict in an all-caps post on Truth Social.


Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her in the dressing room of a Bergdorf Goodman department store in the late 1990s, sued Trump for defamation for dismissing her allegation and later also sued the former president for sexual assault under a new New York law that allows survivors to file civil claims in cases where the statute of limitations has long expired.

Following the jury's decision in her favor, E. Jean Carrol released this statement: "I filed this lawsuit against Donald Trump to clear my name and to get my life back. Today, the world finally knows the truth. This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed."

Will the E. Jean Carroll decision negatively impact Donald Trump at the polls and derail his 2024 presidential candidacy? Writing at Just Security, Norm Eisen and Ryan Goodman are hopeful that it may:

The unanimous jury verdict that has turned Donald Trump from an alleged sexual assaulter into a proven one may create political shockwaves if recent history is any guide. As numerous empirical studies have shown, the American public has come to view sexual assault as a form of abusing power that can disqualify a perpetrator from holding public office. Trump may suffer significant political damage from this new majoritarian understanding….

With #MeToo translated into the political arena, many Americans have shown they are not willing to support a candidate for elected office who has committed sexual assault – with the understanding that such a severe abuse of power is simply disqualifying for holding a position of public trust. Time will tell if the E. Jean Carroll sexual assault verdict has the effect that a large majority of Americans said they wanted in 2017, namely, to deny the presidency to Trump if the allegation that he had engaged in such abominable conduct was proven. It now has been.

I am much less sure: Trump's many public examples of hostile sexism and misogyny and other horrible behavior have made him more popular with his voters and not less (the most notable example being the "hot mic" recording of him bragging about sexually assaulting women) and helped him to win the White House in 2016. The conviction may actually be a form of bragging rights for Donald Trump as part of his fake victimhood narrative where he is supposedly being "persecuted" by a vast imaginary conspiracy comprised of the "deep state" and the Democrats and his other "enemies."

I have described the Age of Trump and the Trumpocene as being a book or a type of elaborate computer simulation that has endless chapters. In this story, suspension of disbelief was shattered years ago. The story is overwritten, too densely plotted, and thus unbelievable. If someone wrote the Trumpocene - Age of Trump story or screenplay no reputable publisher or studio would have purchased it. Alas, we, the Americans are stuck living in it. There are so many moments where it does feel like the author or computer programmer who is running the simulation is having a grand time tormenting us.

The conviction may actually be a form of bragging rights for Donald Trump as part of his fake victimhood narrative where he is supposedly being "persecuted."

In the newest dramatic twist, Trump is set to appear on a CNN "town hall" special tonight, just one day after the decision which found him liable for sexual assault and defamation.

CNN's special has been widely — and deservedly so — criticized for allowing the disgraced former president a platform to spread more of his lies, disinformation, and other political effluence and foulness before a potential viewing audience of many millions of people.

The format for the town hall is also rigged in Donald Trump's favor.

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CNN (and the mainstream news media, more broadly) is committing the same errors that helped to normalize Donald Trump and his neofascism movement in 2016 – and then willfully continuing with those same errors and obsolete practices throughout his regime and beyond.

In the end, CNN made the decision to provide Trump with a platform because money and ad revenue are more important than democracy and a healthy society and political culture. In a recent interview, Bill O'Reilly correctly summarized the dynamics at work in Donald Trump's CNN appearance:

It's not a matter of high stakes. It's a matter of high drama. So, Trump is smart. I mean, he's going to get a big audience. CNN will quadruple its usual delivery…Trump gets to say what he wants because the audience in the town hall are Republicans or those leaning to the right. So, he's got no threat….Jeff Zucker ruined the network, there's no doubt he did. I mean, there's only so much 'hate Trump' stuff you can do and then when Trump disappears, who are you going to hate,… So, Zucker got axed and now they're trying to rebuild it. CNN is smart going this way….This civil case in New York City against Trump by E. Jean Carroll could be in play, because closing arguments were today. The verdict could come in tomorrow or Wednesday. That puts CNN in very difficult position….The Trump people don't care….No one knows how he'll react.

On Monday, conservative pundit Charlie Sykes told MSNBC's Joy-Reid that: "Let's be clear about this: This is not journalism, this is entertainment. In journalism, you will control the questions, the answers and you'll have some sort of a filter for misinformation."

In a healthy society, we would all be disgusted by Donald Trump and what he represents and would turn away from him on TV in protest.

Ultimately, Donald Trump is a monster. CNN knows this. CNN needs and wants the money that Trump's destruction, chaos, bad behavior will bring to them. Such a decision is also shortsighted: if Donald Trump returns to power in 2025 he will escalate his attempts to end the free press and free speech in America. CNN will not be spared – despite how much they may try to earn Trump and his regime's favor. 

What version of Donald Trump will appear on CNN's town hall tonight? Even more importantly, what version of Donald Trump will his followers choose to see? Trump is first and foremost a showman. On his Truth Social disinformation platform, Trump made this announcement on Tuesday:

I'll be doing CNN tomorrow night, LIVE from the Great State of New Hampshire, because they are rightfully desperate to get those fantastic (TRUMP!) ratings once again. They made me a deal I couldn't refuse!!! Could be the beginning of a New & Vibrant CNN, with no more Fake News, or it could turn into a disaster for all, including me. Let's see what happens? Wednesday Night at 8:00!!!

The deep power and appeal of Donald Trump are that for his followers and other true believers, he is a symbol and a performance more than a human being and a politician who is ruled by or constrained by facts and reality. To them, Trump is Jesus Christ, a martyr, a savior, a warlord, an avenging force, a sadist, a destructor, hero, role model, lover, parent, a platonic ideal, friend, and so many other things all at once. Such is the allure and power of the strongman leader and demagogue fake right-wing populist. At its core, the personality cult is bound together by emotions and passions and desires and ideation for the Great Leader and the Movement and not reason and intellect. Those who believe in normal politics and "small d" liberal democracy are, even seven years into the Age of Trump and ascendant American neofascism, largely still unable to and refuse to accept that fact – which is why, in the end, they will be defeated.

I was not going to watch Trump's CNN town hall either live or after the fact. He and they do not deserve my or anyone else's attention in that way. Because of professional obligations, I would have read the transcript later. But now, like many other millions of Americans, I will be watching Trump on CNN, perhaps not transfixed, but certainly very curious and interested in what will happen one day after the decision in the Carroll case.

Will Trump rage and lash out? Will he be cowed and disordered, broken as his niece Dr. Mary Trump has suggested, by finally being held somewhat responsible for his antisocial and other malevolent behavior in the E. Jean Carroll case, the New York hush money case, and by the other far more serious criminal indictments looming over him in Georgia and from the Department of Justice for stealing top secret documents? Will we get "low energy" Trump or "high energy" Trump tonight on CNN? Both? Neither?

Whatever happens tonight on CNN with Trump and his town hall, it will be a spectacle and type of political rubbernecking. What has the Age of Trump and the Trumpocene and this fascist fever dream done to us (or more precisely "liberated" us to be)? In a healthy society, we would all be disgusted by Donald Trump and what he represents and would turn away from him on TV in protest. CNN would be boycotted for providing a traitor, coup plotter, and now-confirmed sex predator a platform to spread his poison.

Instead, many millions of Americans will watch CNN tonight. A third of us (or more) will be hoping to see Trump implode and his power dissipate. Another third will be watching to cheer on their champion and Great Leader. And the rest are either undecided or indifferent and are just watching for the show and entertainment value.

In so many ways, we, the Americans, are an unserious people who have amused ourselves to death, and by doing so trapped ourselves in this never-ending fascist nightmare dreamworld known as the Trumpocene.

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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Cnn Commentary Democracy Crisis Donald Trump E. Jean Carroll Fascism News Media