Don't let the media's Trump obsession distract you from rising red state fascism
Let's discuss some important stories you may have missed this week while it was all Trump all the time on TV.
By Noah Berlatsky
Trump’s indictment has obsessed cable news this week. CNN and MSNBC breathlessly covered Trump’s plane flight from Florida to New York, where he was going to turn himself over to authorities. Once he was there, Fox stuck a camera outside Trump Tower because Trump was sitting inside. More than one commenter nervously recalled the 2016 campaign season, when the networks would show empty podiums before Trump spoke, effectively giving him $2 billion in free media coverage.
The worry that media coverage will sweep Trump to victory in the general election seems overblown. His approval rating has plummeted since news of the indictment, according to 538’s tracker, and most Americans approve of the indictment. Blanket coverage of Trump being treated like a criminal is likely to remind people that they think Trump is a crook and don’t like him. It may make it hard for other Republican candidates to get oxygen — as it did in 2016. But Trump criminal trials 24/7 for months isn’t a great campaign strategy to win a general election against Joe Biden.
The focus on Trump does have a major downside though. When the media is obsessed with the gross corruption and authoritarian disdain of Trump, it’s difficult to also focus on the ongoing gross corruption and authoritarian disdain of the movement of which he’s a part. Trump may finally be facing some accountability. But the Republican party is doubling down on authoritarianism, cruelty, and minoritarian fascist governance. The media is failing us if it stares at Trump so hard it can’t spare a glance for Trumpism.
Public Notice is entirely funded by readers and made possible by paid subscribers. To support this work, please click the button below and sign up to get our coverage of politics and media directly in your inbox three times a week.
Red states: laboratories of fascism
Red states have been immiserating their own residents for decades. A recent, disturbing study showed that conservative governance in states is associated with lower life expectancy. Since Trump established a Christofascist supermajority on the Supreme Court, though, state governments have felt empowered to shred all Democratic norms, and attack political rivals and marginalized groups with renewed fury.
In a particularly egregious example of authoritarianism run amok, the Tennessee state house is planning to expel three Democratic members for joining a protest against gun violence. After a mass shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School left six dead, including three children, gun control advocates staged a demonstration at the capital. Three Democratic representatives — Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones, and Justin Pearson — led chants on the House floor. The Republican House speaker claimed that this was “maybe worse” than the January 6 insurrection; the House is voting on expulsion later this week.
The double standard is obvious, and is in fact the point. Republicans see themselves as the rightful rulers of the country. They can engage in violent insurrection, because the nation should be theirs. Protest against them, on the other hand, is illegitimate, and must be crushed. Democrats deserve no place in government — and neither do people who dare question the righteousness of the holy assault rifle.
Other red states are also busily figuring out ways to strip their residents of rights and dignity. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis just signed legislation allowing for the permitless carrying of firearms while posing with NRA official Art Thomm.
Meanwhile, the Florida legislature is moving ahead on a draconian six week abortion ban. Authorities arrested peaceful protestors, including Florida Democratic chair Nikki Fried and state Senate Minority leader Lauren Book.
As in Tennessee, the arrests and targeting of opposition lawmakers underlines that GOP minoritarian rule involves using authoritarian methods to silence dissent to extremely unpopular policies. A majority in Florida disapprove of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe. The GOP’s attack on women’s bodily autonomy has very shaky support. But rather than listening to their constituents and moderating their approach, the GOP prefers to cater to their rabid base, and use the power of the state to force everyone else to shut up.
There are lots of other examples. Missouri is trying to defund its libraries, as retaliation against librarians who objected to a law that censored books with LGBT themes. Across the country, red state legislators are pushing anti trans bills: the Texas Senate just last week passed a bill that prevents trans people from competing on sports teams that align with their gender, and another that makes it harder for minors to update official documents to match their gender identity. Law enforcement in Atlanta — a city with a Democratic administration — has cracked down viciously on protests against its “Cop City” police training facility, charging protestors with “domestic terrorism.”
Don’t let the orange obscure the red
Trump’s indictment is important news. He’s accused of falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments to three people during the 2016 campaign, including two women who say they had affairs with him. Those hush money payments were intended to subvert democracy by withholding information from the American public. They quite possibly helped Trump win the 2016 Republican nomination and general election. News media has a responsibility to inform the public about the potentially criminal, and demonstrably antidemocratic, actions of a man who served as president once and wants to serve again.
Squatting outside Trump Tower isn’t especially informative though. It’s celebrity coverage, implicitly telling viewers that the important thing about Trump is that he’s Trump — a fun, charismatic media figure. It’s treating a crisis of democracy like a reality television show. And it’s treating Trump as if he’s a unique figure of special, even transcendent, interest and importance.
Trump is important. But that importance is less about him as an individual than it is about the authoritarian movement that elevated him, and which he has supercharged. Trump promised to use the power of the state to crush dissent and target marginalized people. The GOP voted for him because that’s exactly what they want from a leader. Now that Trump is a private citizen, the GOP is pressing on with the business of fascism on the state level. That’s a story that needs to be told. But you can’t tell it if your camera is on the tarmac, watching Trump’s plane.
Trump begs for a gag order
By Aaron Rupar
Now that we’ve talked about stories you might have missed amid Trumpmania this week, let’s address the surreal scenes that took place in a New York courthouse on Tuesday.
I’m going to save legal analysis of the the 34 felony charges that Trump faces for another time. Suffice it to say for now that I connected with a trusted lawyer source who told me that he thinks Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case is rather weak, because it seems to be grounded in a federal campaign finance violation that is not the purview of a local prosecutor. But my source said he wants to review more cases before drawing final conclusions.
What I do think is worth discussing now, however, is the relentless stochastic terrorism coming from Trumpworld.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Public Notice to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.