I have to share these opening paragraphs from tonight's "Reliable Sources" email newsletter. (Subscribe here.)
Enemy of the people
If someone managed to sleep through the Trump years, and asked me what they'd missed, I'd start with "enemy of the people." Why? Because Trump's demonization of the media explains almost everything. He convinced his fans that the people covering him were lying. He advised them to trust certain Fox shows and ignore practically everything else. He said he was in a "running war with the media" on his very first weekend in office, and never stopped.
Many times, in many influential corners of the mainstream media, there was an impulse to ignore Trump's attacks. To deprive him of oxygen. But here's the counter-argument: Americans are drinking from a poisoned well of information. It's what caused some of the fractures in America and exacerbated so many of the others. And the poison is advertised as an antidote! Whataboutism, cherry-picked controversies, cover-ups of Trump's corruption – all of it flows 24/7 from a parallel universe of news, a universe that is largely predicated on criticism of legacy news outlets. All of it relates back to Trump's endless campaign against the people who report the news. The people he labeled as the "enemy."
Trump said it more and more every year, between 2017 and 2020, according to Factba.se data. And his base believed it. Disdain for the media glued his base together. That's why, in my view, "enemy of the people" is the No. 1 thing to understand about the past four years. It needs to be factored into every story about governmental action and inaction, every analysis of American politics, even after President-elect Biden is sworn in...
A "cult president"
David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, wrote this about Suffolk and USA Today's newest poll: "What does it mean to be a 'cult president' — one whose supporters will believe and trust him no matter what any other government officials, academics, journalists, politicians, and 'professional' experts say? Donald Trump could at the very least be characterized as one of the few presidents with a cult of personality and a cult-like following."
"A whopping 78 percent of Republicans do NOT believe that Joe Biden was legitimately elected president," Paleologos wrote. In the poll, he wrote, "we ask a question about which television and news sources are trusted the most. Among those who trust Fox News, 16% said that Biden was elected legitimately and 83% said he was not. If you combine the next seven news sources including PBS, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS and NBC, 93% said Biden was legitimately elected and 6% said he was not."
Biden was elected legitimately. The widespread belief that he was not – that a vast conspiracy rigged the election against Trump – is evidence of radicalization among the Fox-GOP base. Conservative columnist and CNN contributor Matt Lewis tweeted on Monday, "As a lifelong conservative, I am still surprised by how many people I thought were like me have revealed themselves to be right-wing AUTHORITARIANS."