Ever since Donald Trump stepped off a Trump Tower escalator to announce his then seemingly outrageous plan to run for president, there has been much debate about how those in the media should cover him.
Do we cover him too much?
Or do we cover the extent of real-world danger as expressed in both his speech and actions enough?
Should we deny him as much oxygen as we can? Or should we do what we must to keep the danger of Trump and the GOP Trump enablers and the Trump cultists top of mind?
Tell me, how do you ignore, or even selectively ignore, a former president who is the leading candidate in the GOP presidential primary race and, according to polls, edging ahead of Joe Biden? I just have no idea.
There’s good reason for all the uncertainty, though. There has never been anyone like Trump as president, as former president, as possibly future president or as anything else with the word president in it.
So, what do we do when Trump, as several headline writers have put it, goes “full Hitler” by using the word “vermin” to describe his enemies? The enemies, by the way, aren’t terrorists or Putinites. These are “left-wing thugs,” Trump’s oft-expressed terminology for Democrats, especially if they’re judges or district attorneys.
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Vermin was Hitler’s word for Jews. Where did Trump get it? You may remember that Trump’s first wife, Ivana, once told her lawyer that Trump kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bed. Could that really be true? Does Trump even read books?
It’s not just the normal Trumpian insult. The word is used to dehumanize or, as in the case of Hitler, eventually exterminate your opponents. It’s how authoritarians talk. OK, it’s how fascists talk. As Brian Klaas, a political scientist at University College London said Monday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe: “I study the breakdown of democracy, and I don’t know how to say this more clearly. We are sleepwalking toward authoritarianism.”
Here was Trump’s message, which he reiterated, with the usual questionable grammar, in a Truth Social post:
“In honor of our great Veterans on Veteran’s Day, we pledge to you that we will root out the Communists, Marxists, Fascists, and Radical Left Thugs that lie like vermin within the confines of our Country, lie, steal and cheat on Elections, and will do anything possible, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and the American Dream.”
He added: “The threat from outside sources is far less sinister, dangerous, and grave, than the threat from within.”
It would be stunning if anyone other than Trump, or any one of dozens of Trump acolytes, had said it. But it’s not just vermin he’s trading in. In another interview, Trump said undocumented immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.” I can remember when Trump stopped at calling them “rapists.”
Is that, in fact, full-on Hitler or is it Trump just going to even greater lengths to stir up the base? I mean, “enemies of the people” is so 2015. Does Trump know that the use of vermin is Hitlerian? As Philip Bump asked in a Washington Post piece, is it worse if he does know the provenance of the word or if he doesn’t? Did he latch onto it — you can guess that a speechwriter might have suggested it — because it sounded terrifying or because it is terrifying?
In the debate over how to cover Trump, I’m in the quasi-Paul Revere camp. You can’t ring the bell all night long, but in the days leading up to and following the vermin speech, Trump’s made his anti-democratic, authoritarian intentions for an unimaginable — but not unlikely — second term all too clear. None of this can be ignored.
As one example, the New York Times recently reported that Trump’s plan, were he to be elected again, includes rounding up millions of undocumented immigrants, placing them in giant internment camps before deporting them, one and all. Yes, millions. Could he actually get away with that? It would depend, I guess, on how much of American democracy, including the judicial system, could survive a second Trump term.
Plans don’t end there. Trump envisions ideological screening for future visa applicants. He wants to revoke the status of those who have immigrated to America for humanitarian reasons, presumably including Afghans who were evacuated in 2021. He wants to end birthright citizenship. And he has called for a renewal of a travel ban from certain majority-Muslim countries.
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Can it get worse? How about this: Trump has already promised to fire and replace as many as 50,000 federal employees — including those supposedly protected by civil service status — with, uh, loyalists. The Heritage Foundation has put together something called Project 2025, which posits that “nothing is more important than deconstructing the centralized administrative state.” In other words, Trump would finally rid himself of the so-called Deep State, or, as I like to call it, people who would possibly limit Trump’s assault on democracy.
According to the Washington Post, Trump is planning to invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office, meaning he could use the military to quash civil demonstrations. He is also planning to investigate and prosecute opponents, including, of course, Joe Biden and anyone related to him. Among those he’s considering investigating, say the Post’s sources, are former Trump advisers Bill Barr, Mark Milley and John Kelly — each of whom tried to stand in Trump’s way.
This is the “retribution” that Trump has been promising during his political rallies even while claiming to be a martyr who has suffered all those 91 indictments so his millions of followers, whom he warns could be the next victims, would be protected. This is what you might call Trump’s deranged Jesus syndrome.
At a rally in New Hampshire, Trump told his followers exactly what he would do if returned to office. He called the indictments against him “third-world-country stuff — ‘arrest your opponent.’ And that means I can do that, too.”
Yes, he says he can do it. And you can bet he’d try. Has everyone forgotten the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol? Fortunately, Jack Smith hasn’t forgotten.
I’m afraid you might have missed some of this. The people who remain loyal to Trump — House Speaker Mike Johnson just said he’s “all in” for Trump — must have missed it. Sure, there are other things to report on, including whether the government stays open. There are the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. There’s the dangerous rise of antisemitic and anti-Muslim bigotry.
But there’s also this. When the “vermin” stories made it to the front pages, comparing Trump’s words to Hitler’s, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung complained of “snowflakes” suffering from “Trump derangement syndrome” whose “entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”
Later Cheung, apparently feeling the need to clean up the quote — like maybe thinking it sounded just a little too fascist — asked the Washington Post to change “entire existence” to “sad, miserable existence.” I’m not quite seeing the difference.
What I am seeing and hearing are words that should shock everyone — but don’t seem to shock at least half the American people. I don’t know why. If going “full Hitler” doesn’t wake up the sleepwalkers, it’s hard to know what will.
But constantly calling out Trump and his terrifying second-term agenda — calling him out in the media, on the campaign trail, from the White House, from sea to shining sea — seems to be the only chance we’ve got.
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