The Media Steps Up Coverage Of Trump's Second-Term Threats. We Need More Of This.
This week marked a surge in coverage of Trump's alarming authoritarian plans and rhetoric. Journalists should continue escalating this scrutiny because, once again, democracy is on the ballot.
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Two months ago, my debut article for this newsletter was entitled “Why The Media Should Be Unapologetically Pro-Democracy.” I echoed the sentiments of media experts like NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen, who have called for the media to cover the stakes of the 2024 election and not the horse race.
Now, we’re finally seeing more coverage of the stakes, which is nothing short of democracy as we know it. That’s not hyperbole. This sense of urgency can be seen in coverage this week, as major media institutions compared Trump’s rhetoric to fascist dictators.
Over the past week, there’s been a flurry of articles about Donald Trump’s blatantly authoritarian plans for his second term. Journalists are increasingly beginning to highlight the extremism of Trump’s Agenda 47 and the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, which work in conjunction with one another. I covered them both in my article on Project 2025 earlier this month, which I was happy to see got a lot of attention on social media.
If he wins re-election, Trump is preparing to replace up to 54,000 federal workers with Republican loyalists and then plans to use the federal government as his lawless tool. He plans to implement authoritarian immigration policies, weaponize the Justice Department against his political targets, shut down multiple federal agencies to further centralize power, and use the Insurrection Act to authorize military force against Americans.
These plans run contrary to all of America’s stated ideals. As he did in the final days of his presidency, which culminated in a violent insurrection, Trump is seeking to dismantle American institutions and remake them in his image. This threat can’t be overstated and requires vigilance from our press and voting public.
Let’s dive into some of the recent coverage of Trump’s second-term plans and how journalists can continue to improve that coverage.
How The Media Is Spotlighting Trump’s Plans
We’re seeing the beginnings of a shift in narrative among several notable news organizations as the scary reality of a potential second Trump term is sinking in. The coverage is coming from organizations that heavily influence the broader mainstream media narrative, like The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, and Axios.
This week, Axios published a great piece on Project 2025 and Agenda 47, showcasing how the Heritage Foundation is already pre-screening thousands of Republicans so they’re ready to be installed on Day One of the next Republican administration. As I outlined in my Project 2025 piece, Trump plans to reinstate his “Schedule F” executive order, which will strip tens of thousands of federal employees of their civil service protections so he can fire them at will.
Once these loyalists are installed, Trump will be able to execute his agenda without career civil servants there to push back. When it comes to the specifics of that agenda, they’re getting much more coverage as well.
The New York Times has published a series of articles outlining exactly what Donald Trump plans to do. They’ve published articles covering how he plans to weaponize the Justice Department against his political enemies and how he plans to shut down federal agencies he doesn’t like. But one particular agenda item is particularly depraved.
Last Saturday, New York Times journalists Charlie Savage, Maggie Haberman, and Jonathan Swan published an in-depth look at Donald Trump’s authoritarian immigration plans. This article triggered a lot of media coverage and voter outrage.
In a nutshell, Donald Trump plans to try to end DACA protections again, round up millions of undocumented immigrants a year, detain them in camps, and deport them without due process. He plans to end birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants and implement ideological screenings for all new immigrants.
These plans are overtly authoritarian and xenophobic. They fit well within Donald Trump’s white nationalist approach to immigration we saw during his presidency, with systematic family separation being among the most inhumane policies he pursued.
Trump Advisor Stephen Miller, who engineered Trump’s immigration policies during his presidency, spoke extensively with the Times about their 2025 plans, and the piece was published the same day Donald Trump called his political targets “vermin.” It’s clear the Trump Campaign wanted to put his immigration plan front and center, and the accompanying fascist rhetoric wasn’t an accident.
In his Saturday Veterans Day speech, Donald Trump promised to “root out the Communists, Marxists, Fascists, and Radical Left Thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country.” Proving this was not just a one-off remark, Trump also posted the same comments on Truth Social.
This comes after Donald Trump recently said that immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.”
Trump’s immigration rhetoric has always been fascist, so much so that his words have been echoed almost verbatim in white supremacist terrorist manifestos. But Trump’s vermin comment appears to have struck a nerve with journalists, as it blatantly echoed fascist dictators.
Several media publications made this comparison they usually shy away from. And they did so right in their headlines.
Forbes published their article on it with this headline:
Living up to their “Democracy Dies In Darkness” slogan, The Washington Post notably published their article on Trump’s speech with this headline:
Trump’s overtly fascist rhetoric is finally being called out for what it is.
Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat told The Washington Post that “calling people 'vermin’ was used effectively by Hitler and Mussolini to dehumanize people and encourage their followers to engage in violence.” She’s right.
When the Trump Campaign was asked about these comparisons, Spokesman Steven Cheung told The Washington Post that “those who try to make that ridiculous assertion are clearly snowflakes grasping for anything because they are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome and their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.” A totally sane and normal response.
Saying those who dare compare Trump to fascists will have “their entire existence crushed” doesn’t do much to convince anyone that Trump isn’t a fascist.
The timing of Stephen Miller speaking to The New York Times about his immigration plans and these vermin remarks, it’s clear this was all premeditated. According to Semafor, some in the Trump campaign felt this was not positive, while others relished the attention:
Privately, Trump aides admit that having their candidate’s name in the same sentence as Hitler and Mussolini this week isn’t a positive. But they also see some upside as well: More media attention amplifies his attacks — one Trump advisor said seeing “vermin” next to Democrats in cable news chyrons was an “effective message” — and provides an opportunity to rally supporters by accusing the press of playing up the outrage. The campaign’s initial response also seemed to play up the dictator angle as a troll, with spokesman Steven Cheung telling the Washington Post their critics “are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome and their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”
Trump has a tendency to overplay his hand. I believe he’s done so again here. Trump may still believe that any attention is good attention, but as this 2024 campaign heats up and more Americans tune into the truly insane plans Trump has for a second term, I think the pro-democracy coalition that beat him the first time will reunite again.
Regardless of whether Trump’s campaign feels this coverage is good for him, journalists should continue spotlighting Trump’s plans anyway.
CNN jumped into the fray on Thursday, publishing a wide-ranging article covering Project 2025 and a summary of Trump’s radical agenda with this spot-on headline:
Last Sunday, MSNBC Anchor Jen Psaki powerfully outlined what Trump’s second term would look like while also painting the contrast with Biden:
“Guess what? Joe Biden isn’t perfect. No candidate is, by the way. But we have to understand what the alternative is here. If elected to a second term, Donald Trump would prosecute anyone he deems an enemy, unleash troops on protesters, and essentially unravel the rule of law as we know it. And this time, he plans to line his administration with people who actually will help him do it.”
That is the kind of straightforward approach that can effectively relay Trump’s plans in a succinct manner. But there are other ways journalists can do this, too.
How Journalists Can Better Portray This Threat
Independent journalists and those who work for organizations that permit them to publish analyses must continue to call out Trump’s second-term plans as a threat to democracy. They should repeatedly lay out the stakes, so Americans truly understand what is on the ballot.
While some may argue this can appear alarmist, it doesn’t matter if it’s the truth. Journalists should make sure to explain to readers and viewers that these plans are not only being promised but methodically outlined in their implementation. The what, how, and why should be made clear.
Of course, most journalists objectively report the news and can’t necessarily offer up their opinions and analysis like some anchors, independent journalists, and columnists can. But there is a way they can relay the gravity of Trump’s potential second term without necessarily appearing to be biased.
Journalists should interview and quote authoritarianism experts and historians in their stories. That way, they can depict the scope of this threat with credible voices and break through to readers in a way their own words might not.
Last week, Guardian Columnist Margaret Sullivan offered some excellent suggestions about how journalists can better communicate the threat of Trump’s re-election plans:
So what can the press do differently? Here are a few suggestions.
Report more – much more – about what Trump would do, post-election. Ask voters directly whether they are comfortable with those plans, and report on that. Display these stories prominently, and then do it again soon.
Use direct language, not couched in scaredy-cat false equivalence, about the dangers of a second Trump presidency.
Pin down Republicans about whether they support Trump’s lies and autocratic plans…
Reporters love to write about what voters think. That’s why polls get so much coverage. So, the idea of interviewing voters of varying demographics about how they feel about Trump’s second-term plans is an excellent idea.
Also, questioning Republican lawmakers constantly about Trump’s rhetoric and plans is key. Questions can be illuminating in their framing, and garnering quotes from Republicans who support or oppose Trump’s second-term plans will make their 2024 choices clearer for voters.
As I wrote in my piece about the Democratic wins last week, elections are won on contrasts. The press should outline the contrasts between America’s choices in the 2024 election as often as possible so they can make a more informed choice at the ballot box.
While Democrats can certainly do a lot of this in their campaigns, journalists also have a responsibility here to inform voters of what’s at stake. We all have to do our part.