A funny thing happened on the way to the 2024 horserace. The mainstream media brought Hitler into the conversation.
Trump gave them no choice. He kept amping up his rants in terms that were so explicitly Nazi, so lifted — practically verbatim — from Hitler’s speeches, that it was hard for them to keep ignoring what they’ve willfully ignored for so long.
When Trump used the word ‘vermin’ in his Veteran’s Day speech, he was taking a whole chapter from the fascism playbook. Whether he knew it or not.
Dehumanization — the art of equating human beings with insects — is a classic stochastic terrorism technique, beloved of dictators the world over. In Rwanda in the nineties, the Hutu tribe openly called its rival Tutsis “cockroaches” on the radio, inciting its members to exterminate them with machetes, which they did.
We’ll probably never know who actually wrote the Vermin speech — Stephen Miller or Steve Bannon are likely suspects — but we can be sure it wasn’t Trump. Not that he doesn’t totally embrace Nazi philosophy, it’s just that any philosophy at all is outside his skill set. I’m not sure he has either the cognitive wherewithal or the attention span, let alone the vocabulary, to articulate Nazism. Or anything else.
But he can still read a teleprompter, and he delivered the dark message in his typically demented style. He made crystal clear what we’ve always known, but the media could never admit — that these people mean what they say, and it’s past time to start paying attention.
It wasn’t even that Trump ripped off any masks. There’s nothing new about Trump as Hitler Lite. But now, as his legal and financial tribulations careen out of control, his reptilian mind is having a WTF moment. With seemingly nothing to lose, he’s free to be the unapologetic, full-on, blood-sucking monster he’s always aspired to. And there’s no shortage of stooges who will aid and abet him.
This new wrinkle in Trumpian rhetoric has caused whiplash in the mainstream media, who are so deeply invested in the “both-sides” narrative, they can’t see beyond the next electoral horserace. If the story isn’t about who’s ahead, who’s in trouble, who made a gaffe, or who tanked in the latest poll, they seem totally lost. They crave conflict and controversy, even where there is none, so they can keep their readers reading and their viewers viewing.
Which means that, even as Republicans plot a complete take-down of democracy, the press continues to compulsively run stories that make Biden look old and Trump look shrewd. This is how they compensate for the wild disparities in intelligence, competence, and basic humanity of the two horses in this race.
And they always follow the same tired formula: Pretend both sides are equally bad. Pretend Democrats are in disarray. Pretend Republicans are adults. Pretend Trump is sane.
But Trump, as usual, isn’t following anyone’s formula, which has the press totally flummoxed. What’s the other side of Nazism again?
The Times was especially disconcerted by the Vermin speech, though they shouldn’t have been, having covered Hitler himself firsthand in the thirties. They started by dipping a reluctant toe in the water, running a remarkably tepid headline — "Trump Takes Veterans Day Speech in a Very Different Direction" — which mentioned the word ‘vermin’ once in the second paragraph, and never again.
When they were instantly smacked down by most of the Western world, they reran the article with a new headline — “In Veterans Day Speech, Trump Promises to ‘Root Out’ the Left” — which was a little better, but they were still burying the lead.
It wasn’t until two days later that they succumbed to reality, putting ‘Vermin’ in the headline and ‘Hitler and Mussolini’ in the subhead. This surely gave the entire editorial board vapors, but there it was.
They were already reeling from the election earlier in the week, when yet another of their predictions of imminent Democratic disaster went embarrassingly wrong. But that wasn’t just The Times. The entire mainstream media was nearly unanimous in its failure to understand what has been glaringly apparent since the fall of Roe: that the abortion issue is a heat-seeking missile, with the whole Republican party in its sights.
But would the press, chastened by that failure, abandon the horserace, even for a day? Hardly. Here’s a sampling of headlines and subhead copy immediately following Election Day:
Democrats see 2024 roadmap in election wins, as Biden problems loom [Washington Post]
President Biden is unpopular, but the winning streak for his party and its policies has been extended through another election night. [New York Times]
Democrats Grow More Confident in Campaign Message, but More Nervous About Biden [Wall Street Journal]
And then there was this, just yesterday:
For an Aging President, a Birthday With a Bite [New York Times]
In other words Trump might be a Nazi, but Biden’s almost 81.
Their evidence for this Biden-is-doomed narrative derives from one outlier poll that was irrelevant at best, rigged at worst, and in utter defiance of common sense. But while the whole subject of polls is fraught, the real problem here is not the polls themselves, but rather how the media spins them.
And the media are, for the most part, missing the point, which is that the next election isn’t about Biden. The Democrats could run Bugs Bunny for president and it wouldn’t be about him either. The next election will be about abortion, about the threat to democracy, and, above all, about Trump. Whether he actually runs or not, he’ll be the elephant in the polling place.
Not everyone in the press is getting it wrong. Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, has been one of the few influential columnists to weigh in on the media’s failure to sound the alarm. A former Republican, she has been hammering the press for several years now, and she articulates the problem better than most:
Whatever the reason for the long delay in focusing on the MAGA cult leader’s frightful, unabashed vow to create an authoritarian state, responsible media outlets now have an obligation to blanket the airwaves with coverage of Trump’s designs. There is no excuse to treat the two parties as equivalent or to not explain that Trump is a uniquely dangerous figure. Interviewers are obligated to grill Republicans about supporting an antagonist of basic democratic values.
From her mouth to her bosses’ ears.