Something funny is happening. A bit out of the blue the country’s big media organizations have started noting something peculiar. Ex-President Trump’s rhetoric has grown increasingly violent over the course of 2023 with an escalating round of threats against his perceived political enemies. Those messages go out loud and clear to his supporters. But they’re either muted or ignored by much of the mainstream press which has focused on discussions about President Biden’s age, Kamala Harris’s experience and popularity and the like. This isn’t a new observation. We’ve noted this dynamic repeatedly, as recently as a couple weeks ago. But suddenly the bigs themselves are noting it.
Yesterday there was this piece by Paul Farhi in the Post: Trump’s violent rhetoric is getting muted coverage by the news media. The day before that Axios’s “1 big thing” was “Trump’s violent streak.” Today in The Bulwark it’s The Media Mutes Trump’s Crazy. These are only a few examples. Most articles reference an Atlantic Monthly article by political scientist Brian Klass from September 25, which references a phenomenon he calls “the banality of crazy.” He argues it has left Americans numbed to Trump’s increasingly open dictatorial ambitions. In a follow up essay on his personal blog he argued, “The Case for Amplifying Trump’s Insanity.”
There are probably various reasons why this continuing reality is suddenly getting a clear look. But the clearest trigger is a delayed reaction to Trump’s call to execute now-retired Joint Chiefs Chair Mark Milley. The initial reaction to the remarks was mainly, “why aren’t these comments getting more reaction?” But Trump followed those remarks with an escalating series of comments including promising to shoot shoplifters on site. Another key reason was the venue for Milley’s comments that Trump was reacting to: The Atlantic Monthly. Few publications today are more deeply wired into the American media and professional elite, particularly in Washington, DC. That fact probably helped push Trump’s comments and the larger issue over the edge.
Another key moment came when Trump attended his New York civil trial in which his family company risks dissolution. One big driver of Trump’s two channel incitement is his effective ban from mainstream social media. Those bans have mostly been lifted now. But he’s still operating almost exclusively on his Truth Social site. His people hear the message. But normal people mostly don’t. One question has been whether Trump would bring Truth Social Trump to the courthouse. It turns out he did, raucously attacking the judge in his case in the courthouse itself. That made a difference too.
It’s hard to say whether this will continue or turn a new page in mainstream media coverage of Trump. But it is worth noting that the apparent uptick in Trump’s violent rhetoric, while real, is an incremental change at best. Most of it is unsurprising if you have watched Trump’s daily comments on social media and his activity there generally for the last two-plus years.