Wednesday was bad enough for Donald Trump. Then he dug himself deeper.
That’s when Trump made things worse for himself. In a pre-recorded interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, he insisted: “If you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, it’s declassified. Even by thinking about it, because you’re sending it to Mar-a-Lago or to wherever you’re sending it.” This, of course, acknowledges that the documents he hoarded were highly sensitive, that Trump knew they were and that he sent them to Mar-a-Lago anyway.
Former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa called Trump’s remarks the “Secret Telepathic Unilateral Preemptive Irreversible Declassification” — or “S.T.U.P.I.D.” — defense. Others simply called it “insane.” All true, but most of all it is “typical” and “par for the course.”
This is precisely the sort of self-damaging delusion that we have come to expect from Trump. After all, he has been saying outlandish, blatantly false things for years — from his lies that President Barack Obama was not born in this country to his claims that the call in which he extorted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect.”
Unfortunately, the mainstream media has refused to come right out and say it: He’s unable to process reality. And in turn, millions of Americans have bought into his ludicrous conspiracy theories.
The media is not alone in its refusal to acknowledge the emperor has no clothes. Nearly every elected Republican leader knows it, yet they supported him for president twice, refused to convict and remove him from office, parroted the “big lie” of a stolen election and mouthed his contradictory excuses for absconding with top-secret materials. Cannon played along as well, disregarding basic legal principles and treating him as if he raised a legitimate defense by claiming that he declassified the documents.
Why is it that Sunday news show hosts don’t ask Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), “Why are you pretending Trump’s document excuses are real?” And why is that when they talk to Trump supporters who spout the “big lie,” the interviewers do not ask them, “You know this is a lie Trump cooked up months before the election, right?” The Kabuki dance in which Trump, his defenders and his supporters are treated as rational (clever even!) is what comes from a media establishment that refuses to discard its need for false balance that it has developed over the course of decades.
The free, independent media is supposed to be the tripwire between disinformation (deliberate distortion) and widespread misinformation (innocent or willfully ignorant regurgitation of lies). Instead, it has been a megaphone for disinformation, upholding the pretense that there are two political parties with equally valid takes on reality.
And so we are left with media coverage that expresses shock when Trump says something laughable, demonstrably untrue or just plain crackers. While mocking the “defenses” Trump and his sycophants have raised, the political media might want to consider whether this is all that surprising — and what it has collectively done to normalize Trump. It should also consider how it can reconfigure its coverage to better convey objective reality and rise to the task of sustaining our democracy.