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Why Trump’s ‘enemy of the people’ smear will have long-lasting effects

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

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 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.”

Fresh source of false hope

January 6, the date Congress will certify the 2020 election results, is emerging as a fresh source of false hope for Trump dead-enders. There is mounting pressure on VP Mike Pence to do… something… that day.

CNN Business managing editor Alex Koppelman writes: “The new person being set up as the anti-Trump villain is Mike Pence! That’s where the poisoned well leads — every fact is wrong, every person with expertise is a liar, everyone who acts in any way against what you want is a traitor. It’s the monster the conservative movement created and found itself unable to fight against when Trump started using it for himself, it’s what has been hurting Fox recently — and, helped out by Trump’s efforts, it will stick around after him. Anything that contradicts your worldview is a lie, it’s from biased people, it’s a conspiracy, any effort to push back on the lies we tell is proof of bias — that’s where Trump’s war on truth has brought his base…”

Sunday’s special edition of “Reliable…”

…was all about how Trump changed the media and how the media changed him. Trump retweeted a post about Sunday’s broadcast on Monday afternoon — it was a Mark Levin tweet insulting Jake Tapper and me.

Tapper responded on Twitter and I reacted on Instagram if you’re interested. Anyway, here’s the part that Levin, and then Trump, complained about: Tapper said that some Trump aides are “just so mendacious, I just wouldn’t put them on air. Kayleigh McEnany, I never booked her. Jason Miller from the Trump campaign, I would never book him. I mean, these are just people who just — they just tell lies the way that, you know, most people breathe and there was no value in that.”

That comment got picked up across the websites and networks that Tapper ID’ed as the “MAGA media.” Personally I thought his comments a couple minutes later were more newsworthy: He said “I think that Donald Trump succeeded with many of our colleagues in, you know, throwing the ball close to the batter so that they were scared. You know, the brush ball. I think he scared people away. And I think a lot of our colleagues failed to rise to the challenge.” Click here to watch part one and part two of our conversation…

Here’s how to catch up on the show

Jim Acosta, Abby Phillip, Jeremy Diamond, and Kaitlan Collins all joined me to discuss their experiences covering the Trump WH. We talked about the “blood sport” aspect of Trump’s anti-media attacks and how his unhealthy TV addiction affected all of us. I also talked with fact-checker Daniel Dale about “calling a lie a lie.” Watch the video clips on… Catch the entire episode via CNNgo or VOD… Or listen to the podcast via Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your favorite app.

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