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None of This Is Normal

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None of This Is Normal

On Monday morning, Axios’s Mike Allen blasted out his early morning email with the subject line: “Scoop: Trump’s retaliation plan.” It seems that Republicans, after failing to find actual evidence to support their vibes-based impeachment of Joe Biden, are plotting how to prosecute the president and his family if Donald Trump returns to power. One Trump ally argued that there is precedent for a second Trump administration to investigate and prosecute the Bidens: the current federal charges against Trump.

Let’s pause for a moment from today’s latest campaign “scoop” to make something clear: None of this is normal. None of this is how American democracy is supposed to work. Trump is not a normal candidate, despite how the media often covers him. He has autocratic ambitions, having told supporters, “I am your retribution,” and has promised to be a “dictator”—a dictator!—on “day one” in office.

Trump is a presidential candidate unlike any other, just as he was a president unlike any we had before. We have never had a president who didn’t accept the peaceful transfer of power and encouraged rioters (“will be wild”) to storm the US Capitol. We have never had a president who was impeached twice, including for trying to incite said insurrection. We have never had a former president who faces 88 charges across four criminal cases, and is scheduled to be in court next week for a hush money trial. (This is also a person who is now opposed by many of the people who worked closest to him the last time around; even Mike Pence won’t endorse Trump.) The situation we’re in, and will be in for the next seven months, is without precedent. And there is no handbook for US media outlets covering the rise of authoritarianism on its own shores.

Taking Trump literally and seriously doesn’t mean taking him credulously. One of the truths of autocrats is that they lie. As The Economist has noted, “the arsenal of deceit is highly effective at keeping malign leaders in power, which is perhaps why global democracy has been in retreat for the past decade.” That’s why the media needs to call a lie a lie, and not worry if doing so appears partisan, while making clear that Trump’s authoritarian agenda would mark a radical break from America as we know it. This isn’t just another normal presidential race. 

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