These are the men that try The Times’s soul.
With the disreputable Donald Trump challenging the disfavored President Biden, the 2024 race has become the embodiment of Oscar Wilde’s witticism about fox hunting: “the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.”
Bleeding young and nonwhite voters, the president finally heeded Democrats urging him to “get out there,” as Nancy Pelosi put it, and throw some haymakers at Trump.
Biden flew to Pennsylvania on Friday to visit Valley Forge and make a pugnacious speech invoking an earlier moment when we were fighting against despotism and clinging to a dream of a democracy.
In a discontented winter during the American Revolution, George Washington tried to inspire his downtrodden troops at Valley Forge by having Thomas Paine’s “The American Crisis” read to them.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Paine wrote, adding, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.”
As the voting to determine the next president gets underway, it is clear that the tyrannical Trump won’t be easily conquered. And that is our hell.
“You can’t love your country only when you win,” Biden said in his speech, making a forceful case that America, which dumped the mad King George, should not embrace the mad King Donald.
If we bow down to a wannabe dictator who loves dictators, who echoes the language of Nazi Germany, who egged on the mob on Jan. 6 and then rewrote the facts to “steal history” just as he tried to steal the election — what does that say about who we are, Biden wondered?
Rejecting Trump’s campaign of grievance, vengeance, malignance and connivance, the president said, “We never bow. We never bend. We speak of possibilities — not carnage. We’re not weighed down by grievances. We don’t foster fear. We don’t walk around as victims.”
On Thursday, the Biden-Harris campaign blasted out excerpts from a Margaret Sullivan column in The Guardian, upbraiding the media on its tendency to fall into “performative neutrality,” focusing too much on Biden’s presentation and poll numbers and not enough on stressing what a second Trump presidency would mean.
Journalists should not fear looking as if they’re “in the tank” for Biden if they zero in on Trump’s seditious behavior, Sullivan said; the media should worry less about the horse race than about underscoring that many of Trump’s threats are authoritarian.
She is right that the media must constantly remind itself not to use old tropes on a new trollop like Trump, particularly since the media is in a confluence of interest with Trump — as he himself has pointed out.
Thanks to Trump, journalists can be festooned with gold — lucrative book contracts, TV deals and speaking gigs. The man who enriched himself with millions from foreign states and royalty seeking favors from the United States has the power to enrich us, too. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime story, the outlandish star of an even bigger reality show than his last.
He put up a video on Truth Social on Friday touting the idea that God created him as a caretaker and “shepherd to mankind.” (It also chided Melania, showing her tripping and acting as if all she had to do was lunch with friends.) A narrator intones: “God said, ‘I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, fix this country, work all day, fight the Marxists, eat supper, then go to the Oval Office and stay past midnight at a meeting of the heads of state,’” topping off a hard week with Sunday church. “So God made Trump.” It was bound to happen: Trump playing divine victim, to pass himself off as Christlike or even hard-working. Both are equally untrue.
At his Friday afternoon speech in Sioux Center, Iowa, Trump resorted to his bully-boy ways, mocking Biden’s stutter.
I am not sure whether pounding away on the facts will work in a country with alternate realities. According to a new Washington Post/University of Maryland poll, 25 percent of Americans said it is “probably” or “definitely” true that the F.B.I. was behind Jan. 6. Among Republicans, The Post said, 34 percent said the F.B.I. “organized and encouraged the insurrection, compared with 30 percent of independents and 13 percent of Democrats.”
If people don’t know by now that Trump tried to overthrow the government he was running on Jan. 6; if they don’t know that the MAGA fanatics breaking into the Capitol, beating up cops and threatening to harm Pelosi and hang Mike Pence were criminals, not “patriots” and “hostages,” as Trump risibly calls them; if they don’t know that Trump created the radical Supreme Court that is stripping women of their rights, then they don’t want to know, or they just don’t care.
But the media must pound on. The duplicitous enablers at Fox News aside, journalists learned a lot in 2016 and have changed practices to better fence with Trump, fact-checking him more closely, engaging in defensive reporting, no longer covering every tweet like holy writ. Threats to democracy now count as a beat, just like schools and courts; The Times uses the rubric “Democracy Challenged.”
When Dick Cheney was a deranged vice president, I was not permitted to call him a liar in my column. But now The Times lets columnists call Trump a liar. We have learned to separate the man from the office. Just because someone sits in the hallowed White House doesn’t mean he deserves the respect of the office. Not if he’s ginning up a fake war or if he’s flirting with treason and white supremacy.
Still, the Biden-Harris campaign’s trumpeting of Sullivan’s column gives the impression that it expects the media to prop up Biden.
Biden has to press his own case and not rely on the media or Trump’s fatuousness to win the election for him.
People don’t want to vote against somebody; they want to vote for somebody.
The president must continue to be aggressive in convincing people he’s the best alternative; that, at 81, he’s not too old for the job; that he has solutions to stop the chaos on the border and relentless death in Gaza.
You do your job, Mr. President, and we’ll do ours.
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