Politico Magazine published an article Thursday that perfectly embodies the failures of tabloid-style political journalism to address the fundamental dangers facing the country: “145 Things Donald Trump Did in His First Year as the Most Consequential Former President Ever.”
“In ways both absurd and serious, the 45th president refused to let go of the spotlight or his party and redefined what it means to be a former leader of the free world,” the article sub-headline states, sitting above a colorful image containing a photo of a smiling Trump and images that have defined his post-presidency, including his second impeachment, golf clubs, and a vaccination needle.
The problem here is that Trump’s continued presence in American politics is not merely “both absurd and serious” — it is an ongoing threat to the American republic in the wake of both the former president’s attempt to overthrow the 2020 election and his continuing efforts to put his election-denier acolytes in place for 2024.
“Donald Trump started his time as an utterly unprecedented former president before he was even technically a former president,” the article says, referring to Trump refusing to attend President Joe Biden’s inauguration and instead holding a small rally with his own supporters.
But, according to the article, even the events of January 2021 were part of Trump not following the usual rules, as it declares that a man who “instigated a deadly insurrection” had also “obliterated the long-agreed-upon parameters of the post-presidency just as he did with the presidency itself.”
This framing culminates in a paragraph that Trump himself (or his devoted fans at One America News Network) might have enjoyed, extolling his continued political appeal and possible comeback in 2024 — even elevating his importance on “the body politic and the national discourse” above the sitting President Biden:
Trump, so unabashedly unlike any other former president, simply has refused to let people not have to think about him, and what he’s doing, and what he’s saying, and what it might mean. To reengage with the reams of news coverage of Trump from the course of the last 12 months, to read and reread his statements in chronological order, is to get a visceral, dizzying reminder of the persistence, of the manic relentlessness with which he has done this and is doing it. Biden, the man who beat him, has ushered through Congress trillions of dollars of legislation, and might manage to persuade lawmakers to spend trillions more, no small record of accomplishment in spite of setbacks and stalemates in a historically challenging time. And yet there remains a sense that it is not the current but the former (and the next?) occupant of the Oval Office who is somehow the one who is imposing his will, still, on the body politic and the national discourse.
The article's greatest failure is its tone and the way it treats the 145 facts it has rounded up. For example, the author openly declares many times in the list that Trump has lied about the election, sought to purge any internal Republican opposition headed into 2024, and built up a network of political endorsements based on “his monomaniacal insistence that he won an election that he lost.”
But this is presented in a colorful spread of horse-race coverage, rather than a clarion call that America now faces a threat from a modern fascist movement. In addition, the pseudo-handwritten font used for blockquotes of actual Trump statements seems less than appropriate, making him appear almost friendly and casual.
The problem with celebrity-style political journalism is that Trump is not just some celebrity, a Kardashian who is famous just for being famous. He is the leader of an authoritarian political movement against American democracy, and any article about his continued presence in public life should treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves.