Donald Trump lost his damn mind this weekend. Or to be more accurate, he revealed more clearly than usual the madman wannabe dictator that lurks within him. But for all that, he did one thing that seemed impossible. He created the opportunity for this Wednesday’s Republican debate to seem relevant.
Admittedly, a debate among a pack of spineless nonentities (who have no more chance of being president than you or I) probably deserves scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration as a form of broadcast Klonopin. If you even bother to tune in, it is likely to put you to sleep in minutes.
But what if Fox News moderators Dana Perino and Ilia Calderon actually took their jobs seriously? (I’m not including co-moderator Stuart Varney—a shameless hack beyond all redemption—in this question.)
What if they recognized that Trump, over the weekend, made it clearer than ever that this coming election is about one issue—whether the United States is to remain a functioning democracy—and accordingly treated their journalistic responsibilities with the seriousness they deserve?
It has been readily apparent for many years that Donald Trump is the greatest immediate threat America faces. (I wrote my first column warning of the threat he posed eight years ago, in 2015.) If his performance as president did not make that evident—from his coddling of Vladimir Putin and other dictators to his responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands during COVID, from his corruption to the attempted coup on Jan 6.—then the years since should have done the trick.
In that time, members of his Cabinet and some among his former top advisers have gone public with their profound worries about his unfitness for office and the dangers his re-election might pose. He has been criminally indicted four times on 91 different felony counts. He faces a total of seven different trials—and counting—in the next year or so. Trump has disqualified himself from ever holding public office legally, morally, and ethically on almost a daily basis.
But he has maintained substantial public support and the backing of the Republican Party through all this—even if you don’t believe some of the more ludicrous poll results we have recently seen.
In large part, his enduring viability as a candidate is due to the fact that the leaders of the Republican Party have time and again put partisanship—and their fear of the monster to whom they have hitched their political wagons—ahead of patriotism. Or their oaths of office. Or even the modicum of human decency that would require renouncing this malevolent lunatic. With a tiny handful of exceptions (thank you former Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger) they have refused to condemn even his most heinous acts (insurrection, sexual assault, theft of national secrets).
Even those who revile him (yes, I mean you Mitch McConnell) have been coy in their handling of this would-be American Mussolini.
But Trump this weekend took matters to another level. He turned up his fascism to 11.
In separate Truth Social posts he made it clear that if re-elected, rather than flirting with dictatorship as many warned he had been doing, he would embrace it wholeheartedly, in all the worst possible ways.
Trump wrote a screed condemning Gen. Mark Milley, a patriot who rightly saw his duty as mitigating the risks Trump posed to the world. In it, he said Milley’s outreach efforts to China—to reduce the risk of a possible Trump-incited nuclear war—was “an act so egregious that in times gone by the punishment would have been DEATH.”
Then, he wrote that if re-elected he would investigate Comcast (owners of NBC and MSNBC, and a business partner of debate co-host Univision) for “Country Threatening Treason.” He added that under his administration “they and others of the lamestream media will be thoroughly scrutinized for their knowingly dishonest and corrupt coverage of people, things and events.”
Their apparent crime? Telling the truth about Trump.
These threats overshadowed his call, just days earlier, for the GOP to shut down the government to defund the criminal prosecutions that are targeting him.
The man who is far and away the most likely candidate to represent the GOP in next year’s presidential elections has dropped all pretense of respecting American laws, values, principles, or democracy itself. He is asking to be made our Caesar. It’s not hyperbole. Accept what’s happening.
So the question before every American right now—and especially before the so-called leaders of the Republican Party—is: Do you support a president who threatens his critics with death? Do you support a president who seeks to silence freedom of speech in America? Isn’t it long past time to acknowledge the threat Donald Trump represents? To stop laughing it off or making excuses for it?
More importantly, real journalists would not only pose these questions, they would insist on real answers. They would follow up when the candidates attempted to deflect or dodge the questions. They would ask the debaters, “How many crimes does this man have to commit or threaten to commit for you to dare to criticize him?”
The reporters would recognize that every question they asked that was not about Trump’s threat to democracy helped enable Trump. They would understand that every evasive answer would move us a step closer to dictatorship.
The time for playing along with Trump is over. The stakes are too high.
But, none of it will happen—not from the GOP candidates or Fox News moderators, least. That’s because the right wing in America not only does not fear Trump’s threats to democracy, they join him in actively opposing it.
From buying a majority on the Supreme Court to stripping the jobs away from duly elected officials to suppressing votes, every step the GOP and its enablers take today sends the message that they realize they can’t win a fair election, that majority rule is an existential threat to their corrupt misogynist white supremacist movement.
So, if you watch the debate, listen carefully. Listen carefully for the questions you won’t hear. Listen carefully for the defense of democracy that won’t come.
And listen carefully as every little dodge and distraction, every deflection and move to change the subject, makes the end of the American experiment ever more likely. That is unless the rest of us—the majority they fear—votes in droves and stops this man before it is too late.