The Trump Show 

“We caught President Obama and Sleepy Joe spying on our campaign. That’s treason. These people should take them and do something with them.”

Donald Trump, 2020

“This is an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!”

Donald Trump accusing former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark Milley of treason, 2023

“Democracy,” the slogan beneath the Washington Post’s masthead warns, “dies in darkness.” However, the demise of our democracy, as it inches ever closer to authoritarianism, is taking place in broad daylight, in the blinding glare of television lights. The threat is not just Trump’s dictatorial aspirations and the real and potential violence they spawn. It is that those aspirations and the bloodshed they unleash do not matter to a Machiavellian right that supports Trump, no matter how inflammatory his rhetoric and seditious his actions, or to a feckless left that appears powerless to contain them. A democracy cannot endure if those entrusted to protect it – be they elected officials or the Fourth Estate – abrogate their responsibility.

Recent events have made it clear that Republicans are not serious about protecting the Constitution. Consider that, however farfetched, they have floated the idea of nominating Trump for House speaker, a suggestion that is not only foolhardy and recklessly irresponsible given the contempt with which Trump holds the Constitution but potentially deadly.

Setting aside the question of whether House Rule 26, which stipulates that members of the Republican leadership, including the speaker, must relinquish their position if indicted on felonies that carry a sentence of two or more years of imprisonment, would apply to a non-member like Trump, and whether he would want the post if offered, the chilling prospect remains that were he nominated and became speaker, he would be second in the line of succession to the presidency, a ludicrously perilous possibility surprisingly few beltway pundits have raised. One would think this would be a matter of some concern given Trump’s penchant for accusing of his perceived political opponents of treason, which includes recently retired generals and former and sitting presidents, and, as evidenced in the epigraph that introduces this piece, calling for “something to be done with them.” Or is that “to them”? The fact that he tried to overturn the 2020 election should be sufficient grounds for disqualification.

As improbable as a Trump speakership seems (with Steve Scalise currently out of the picture and Jim Jordan still scrambling to muster the support of Republicans who voted against him, it may turn out that Trump is the only one capable of securing a simple majority in the House), one would think that considering his authoritarian ambitions that some thought would be paid to increasing President Biden and Vice President Harris’ Secret Service detail, assuming that the Secret Service can still be entrusted with their protection.1 As Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reported in August, the Secret Service had been in close communication with members of the Oath Keepers as early as September 2020. According to Rep. Adam Schiff, “The Secret Service had advanced information more than 10 days beforehand regarding the Proud Boys’ planning for January 6,” was monitoring online activity by the group and the Oath Takers, and had received a tip that the Proud Boys planned to “literally kill people.”And while, according to a Secret Service spokesman, “It’s not uncommon for law enforcement agents to maintain contacts with groups that are of investigative interest,” the erasure of January 5 and 6 texts as part of a purported “device replacement program” doesn’t pass the smell test.

This cavalier lack of proactive concern from Republicans and mainstream media pundits about a Trump speakership is remarkable since in August FBI agents fatally shot a Utah man who had threatened to kill Biden and Harris, and only two months later, the home of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s was invaded by a man who planned to kidnap her and bust her kneecaps but had to settle on smashing a hammer into her husband’s skull, an assault that Trump and his audiences found amusing.

Welcome to The Trump Show, America Prime’s multi-ring, multimedia, traveling circus – six and a half years of televised, episodic buffoonery that has only recently been interrupted by Hamas’ horrific attacks on Israel and its characteristically disproportionate and merciless, asymmetric response.

In America Prime’s The Trump Show, as in classic rerun fare like Seven Days in May (1964), treasonous coups are led by seditious, Burt Lancaster-jawed generals. In the real world, they come from a bloated, narcissistic former reality show host and “wannabe dictator,” incel militias, and conspiracy-obsessed MAGA cultists.

In its current run, The Trump Show provides a preview of two possible scenarios with dire consequences for America. If Trump fails to regain the presidency in 2024, he will continue to push his claims of election fraud, citing as evidence the impact of the “bullshit” indictments against him and whatever straw men and women he can fabricate to prove he has once again been robbed of victory. In a rerun of 2020, his supporters will voice outrage, threaten the lives of Dear Donald’s “persecutors,” and commit acts of stochastic violence that will be sanitized by sycophant Republicans and right-wing media.

On the other hand, if, despite his history of unrelenting criminality, Trump does win (which, sadly, may be more likely than him actually serving time in prison), the victory will say less about Trump than about the depths of America’s moral morass. His victory will, in part, have been made possible by the six Republican presidential aspirants who have declared their unwavering support even for a felony-convicted Trump, one of whom, Nikki Haley, declaring that Trump’s threat to execute Gen. Milley is insufficient grounds to disqualify him from the presidency.

If Trump’s lawyers are to be believed, not even Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment disqualifies him since its framers “chose to define the group of people subject to Section Three by an oath to ‘support’ the Constitution of the United States, and not by an oath to ‘preserve, protect, and defend’ the Constitution [and] never intended for it to apply to the President.” It remains to be seen how this game of semantic legerdemain squares with Trump’s announcement less than a month after declaring his current bid for the presidency that he would “terminate the Constitution.” Even so, judging by their silence, few Republicans saw this pronouncement as disqualifying. Trump, of course, denies he made it. Still, none of this seems to have damaged Trump. Rather, his authoritarian antics and criminal indictments have added to his “anti-deep state” cachet and boosted his standing among Republicans and, as conservative media gleefully report, bling-blinded rappers.

The Trump Show feeds a demand that is symptomatic of a problem larger than Trump himself. Modern media prioritizes revenue-generating ratings over public service, infotainment over information, cacophonous, cross-shouting, talking-head punditry, and fly-on-the-wall, “time-release” book promotions over real-time investigative journalism. It is infuriating that, to learn what Trump knew about the lethality of the coronavirus, one had to wait for pre-publication excerpts from Bob Woodward’s Rage. The safety of American lives takes a back seat to corporate media hype and potential New York Times bestsellerdom.

CNN’s “town hall” with Trump was rightly pilloried for journalistic malpractice when it failed to adequately fact-check him. Very little he said was new or newsworthy, as none of his lies were fresh. Yet moderator Kaitlan Collins was ill-prepared to factually counter Trump’s tsunami of lies, a torrent that, given his previous stream-rolling public performances, she and the show’s producers should have anticipated and been ready to challenge with diogenesian precision. Their reward? 3.3 million viewers. Lesson learned.

A few months later, NBC Meet the Press host Kristen Welker was similarly overwhelmed – and garnered 3 million viewers. In both cases, the motivation for such broadcasts appears to be less journalistic probing for truth than drawing massive ratings, a guaranteed no-brainer with the Trump brand, just as it was in 2016. Trump grifting isn’t confined to Trump and the hawking of “Never Surrender” mugshot T-shirts and coffee mugs; the media has, like its polarizing, perennial meal ticket, already capitulated and is reaping the benefits.

How else to explain the fact that two and a half years out of office, Trump remains a ubiquitous fixture on the news and late-night TV, although, in the case of the latter, the Writers Guild of America strike did provide a five-month respite? However, with the end of the strike, the late-night talk show hosts and their obligatory lampoons of Trump have returned. Even Stephen Colbert, who once refused to call Trump by name in his monologues, now uses it. Trump is, after all, a comedy, tragedy, and horror show all rolled into one babbling, gesticulating ball of orange-tinted lard. What’s not to parody?

Sadly, New York Attorney General Letitia James’ claim notwithstanding, the Trump Show is far from over. Despite the staleness of its scripts and the pathetic, increasingly dispirited performance of its tired and tiresome lead, the Trump Show continues its domination of the infosphere. On the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Michigan, Iowa, and Florida, its logorrheic star dips deep into his drunk-uncle repertoire of boastful and bromidic oratory to dust off his best hits. Today, Trump ceaselessly repeats trite talking points, resurrects racist “Barack Hussein Obama” chants, reiterates the need for a Muslim ban, and regurgitates the Big Lie. As ABC News pointed out in 2020, Trump has a long history of claiming election fraud. He claimed the 2012 election was “a total sham” and “travesty.” In 2016, he claimed that he lost the Iowa caucuses because Ted Cruz “stole it.” Even in victory, Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

If Trump does become the Republican nominee and is defeated in the general election, he will inevitably declare the election a fraud, though this time it may be from a prison cell or ankle-monitored home confinement at Mar-a-Lago.

The Trump Show has legs. Even if its lead is ultimately canceled, his understudies – Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Kari Lake, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Jim Jordan – gather in the wings, awaiting their cue.

The damage to our democracy has already been done; faith in the electoral process has been undermined. A third of Americans and 69% of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen. A 2021 Collaborative Multi-Racial Post-Election Survey found that more than 40% of white Americans believed there was fraud in the presidential election.[2]According to an ABC News/Washington Post survey, only 20% of respondents were “very confident” in the integrity of the American electoral system. A 2022 CNN poll found that 56% of Americans have lost confidence that elections reflect the will of the people. An October University of Virginia Center Politics poll found that 31% of Trump supporters and 24% of Biden supporters believe democracy is “no longer viable.”

If Trump wins in 2024 and America survives the constitutional crisis of a potential felon in the White House, one can expect to see Trump and his reinvigorated enablers “terminate” the Constitution and its defenders as promised and systematically dismantle the remnants of our besieged democratic institutions.

We have already seen what happens when he loses.

No, democracy does not die in darkness. It dies under the harsh klieg lights of network television studios and fascistic campaign rallies, ushering in the darkness with its demise. The proverbial revolution will not be televised, but the death of democracy will – with commercial interruptions.


[1] A Trump speakership is not the only threat. Conceivably, if Jordan secures the speakership and if the President and Vice President were killed or incapacitated, he would ascend to the presidency and most likely pardon Trump and other convicted insurrectionists of any federal criminal convictions, a move Jordan would have little difficulty wrestling with considering his role in conspiring to stop certification of the 2020 presidential election.

[2] In contrast, only 17% of African American respondents, 22% of Latino respondents, and 20% of Asian American and Pacific Islander respondents believed that some election fraud occurred.