Trump goes all in on Nazi rhetoric, and the media gives him another free pass
In any other America on any other timeline, a presidential candidate echoing the words of Adolf Hitler would soon be packing up for an early retirement. We clearly don’t live in any of those Americas, because former President Donald Trump got yet another free pass from the press after echoing fascist slogans during a rally in New Hampshire last week.
What should have been shocking and disqualifying conduct has instead become so mundane that Republican leaders don’t even bother to feign shock at the latest paean to far-right authoritarianism. Trump’s unhinged pledge to “root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical-left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country” was a line barely modified from its original 1930s Nazi form.
Trump’s rhetoric also settled on the same foe as its German counterpart: the political left. “The real threat is not from the radical right; the real threat is from the radical left, and it’s growing every day,” he said. The solution is implied in the problem: when the “radical left” represents an existential threat to America itself, every response becomes legitimate — including disenfranchisement, dehumanization and even political violence.
If the rest of the Republican Party has any deep concern with Trump’s extreme goals, they sure aren’t speaking up.
Former Rep. Liz Cheney blasted RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel for her silence, with Cheney going so far as to accuse McDaniel of “collaborating” with Trump’s effort to push “Nazi propaganda” on the American people. Cheney’s accusations are right, and they shouldn’t shock anyone — the GOP has for years been nothing more than a wholly-owned Trump subsidiary. What’s inexcusable is the media’s shrug-and-move-on response to the presidential front-runner’s increasingly full-throated fascist rhetoric.
Less than a week after Trump’s indefensible comments, almost every mainstream media outlet had seemingly moved on. The message was clear: Sure, what Trump said was extreme and a clear threat to his political opponents. But Trump always says stuff like that! That’s just his thing! Take Trump seriously but not literally!
The muted response to Trump’s latest authoritarian outburst shows just how dangerously far our media has normalized what should be disqualifying conduct — and how ready the Trump campaign is to exploit the media’s moral numbness.
In the absence of any serious condemnation from his Republican colleagues or from the press, Trump understandably has grown even bolder. His campaign doubled down on his strongman rhetoric, promising that Trump critics’ “sad, miserable existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.” It’s tough to get much clearer than that. But once again, the former president’s threats barely generated a single day of sustained media engagement. On Capitol Hill, few Republican lawmakers faced tough questions from the press about Trump’s remarks. The story blew over.
Mainstream cable news outlets may not have dedicated much time to Trump’s “vermin” speech, but that doesn’t mean it went unnoticed. Across the right-wing Internet, websites including 4chan’s far-right Politically Incorrect message board, Trump’s own Truth Social platform and MAGA-aligned streamers like Steve Bannon hailed Trump as a “badass” for speaking so bluntly about the threat “radical leftists” pose to America’s far-right restoration. The patchwork of Christian Dominionists, Proud Boys, neo-Nazis and shock jocks who make up the online MAGA right made certain their audiences saw Trump speaking their language. If cable news outlets hoped to limit the reach of Trump’s words by keeping the story off the air, they undeniably failed.
I understand the desire to see less Trump on our screens. I’ve criticized American media outlets before for what I considered an over-reliance on Trump content to pad broadcasting hours and boost ratings. But those same media outlets are now at risk of overcorrecting and missing those instances when Trump does actually make news — and parroting well-worn propaganda lines made famous by Nazis is certainly newsworthy. That’s doubly true when a presidential candidate appears to be treating that virulent far-right propaganda as part of his campaign platform.
If we want American democracy to survive, our media must resist at all costs the urge to normalize extremist, far-right rhetoric that history has shown is the precursor to state violence. Sadly, our country can no longer count on the Republican Party to condemn the use of Nazi propaganda by its most popular presidential candidate. But that doesn’t mean Republicans — or Trump — should get a free pass from the media when they seek to invoke language from one of humanity’s darkest periods.
Trump’s own words make clear that he views the 2024 election as a referendum on whether our country will head down a dangerous authoritarian path or a prosperous democratic one. The media owes it to the American people to make the stakes of our election clear. That means reckoning with Trump’s admiration for fascism.
Max Burns is a veteran Democratic strategist and founder of Third Degree Strategies.
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