Trump leaving the airplane.
Trump walking inside the courthouse.
Trump getting into the SUV.
Trump and his motorcade, trailed by helicopters.
Trump delivering a prime-time speech to supporters.
Trump threatening a judge, a prosecutor and other presidential candidates.
Trump testifying in New York about his businesses.
Trump filing lawsuit against his former attorney.
Trump posting on social networks.
All Trump all the time.
Much as in the frenetic presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016, we journalists are making many of the same mistakes. We are devoting an unusual amount of attention and time to a man for whom nothing is enough, and whose only interest appears to be himself. And just as we, without realizing it, paved his path to the White House back then, now that we fully understand, we should refuse to report on each and all of his whims.
In my four decades in journalism, I never saw so many journalists covering one person as I saw recently in New York, during Trump’s arraignment on 34 criminal charges. It was four full city blocks of correspondents, camera people, producers, technicians and satellite trucks. In fact, there were more journalists than supporters at a pro-Trump rally in front of the New York criminal courthouse.
Trying to be “even handed,” many journalists are reporting the criticism of the former president alongside his many lies and insults. And in that way they promote Trump’s public image, spreading a parallel universe of facts. He continues to insist, for example, that he won the presidential election in 2020. That’s the “Big Lie.” But for his followers, it’s a matter of faith.
Trump has divided the United States.
Seventy-nine percent of Republicans reject the criminal charges against Trump while 80 percent of Democrats favor them, according to a recent poll by the conservative Fox News. Few politicians would be able to continue a presidential candidacy after a scandal involving a porn actress (He denies an affair.) But Trump, far from self-destructing, has expanded his lead in the polls over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to 30 percentage points, 54-24.
I recently asked criminal attorney Robert Osuna what advise he would give Trump for his next appearance in court. “I would tell him to shut his mouth,” he told me. “But he’s not going to do that. He’s a difficult client. He’s not going to stop, and that’s not going to help him.”
In fact, Trump has not been silent. Before his arraignment, he wrote on social networks that it would be “impossible” to have a fair trial before Judge Juan Merchan, who “hates me.” What he said about Merchan, who was born in Colombia, was very similar to what he said about another judge in 2016. He said Gonzalo Curiel hated him and could not guarantee a fair trial in the Trump University case because he was “Hispanic” and “Mexican.”
What’s more, Trump has taken advantage of the charges against him to raise millions of dollars for his presidential campaign. But the real danger is that Trump’s attacks on the judge, the justice system and even democracy in the United States will generate instability in the country. In a predawn post on social networks, Trump threatened “death and destruction” if he was criminally charged.
He was charged, and nothing happened. But his words rise the specter of a repeat of January 6 2021, when several people died during an insurrection at the US Congress in Washington. That came after a heated Trump speech, and now prosecutors are investigating whether he incited the violence.
The true threat of Trump is not in the criminal charges he faces or the four investigations of his actions underway. His worst effect has been to break the trust in a democratic system more than two centuries old. Throughout that time, people in the United States have trusted that the winner of a presidential election will get the job. But Trump has injected doubt and suspicion by refusing to recognize his defeat in the 2020 elections. Let’s remember that Biden won 306 electoral votes against Trump’s 232. Biden also won the popular vote, with 81 million votes to Trump’s 74 million.
US voters – and only US voters – will decide whether Trump returns to the White House. That’s what democracy means, and the results of elections must always be accepted. But journalists are required to inform and to question. That’s our job. Not to spread, without interruption, filters or questions, whatever Trump wants.
All Trump all the time is not journalism.