MAGA fatigue and the “exhaustion of outrage addiction”


Last weekend the American mainstream news media, especially its elite agenda-setting outlets such as the New York Times, had a choice to make. They could repeat and amplify the nakedly partisan, inaccurate, unprofessional, editorializing, “report” by former Trump regime member special counsel Robert Hur about President Joe Biden’s non-existent classified documents “scandal” and his supposed “memory problems,” or they could instead focus on how Donald Trump is continuing with his threats and promises to be a dictator, create a concentration camp system and engage in illegal mass deportations of hundreds of thousands of black and brown undocumented residents that will involve martial law and an invasion by the military of “blue states” before giving Vladimir Putin permission to attack Western Europe.

Predictably, the American mainstream news media chose the first option.

“The anti-establishment rage is one of the more potent forces for mobilizing voters in today’s politics, and if many voters think that the system is horrible, then they will vote for the candidate who is vowing to crush it.”

In terms of the mainstream news media as an institution, and its centrists and careerists especially, their behavior is odious as they appear to be actively diminishing President Biden and his successes and further normalizing Donald Trump’s dangerousness in order to create a horse race narrative that they believe will be most financially and personally profitable for them even as it imperils American democracy and the future of the country. The recent coverage of Biden’s supposed “memory problems” by the New York Times – what is clearly a coordinated act of political character assassination – is almost stupefying in its irresponsibility.

For its claims to objectively and fairness, the Times and the country’s other elite media have been mostly treating Biden and his administration quite the opposite. This pattern of anti-Biden framing and bias is having a clear impact on the 2024 election, where a new poll from the Economist/YouGov shows that President Biden is losing to Donald Trump by one percentage point. This poll also finds that “Registered voters are slightly more likely to expect a Trump victory than a Biden one if the expected Biden-Trump matchup materializes (43% vs. 40%).”

Writing at the Philadelphia Inquirer, William Bunch correctly described this most recent example of media malpractice: “The press corps’ feeding frenzy over Biden’s brain is maybe the worst example we’ve seen in 2024 of reporters playing the odds of a political horse race, as defined by media critic Jay Rosen, while ignoring what’s at stake between the only actual choices we have, Biden and Trump.”

In an attempt to gain some clarity about this increasingly bewildering “longest election ever,” what the early public opinion polls mean and how many political observers are deeply concerned that the 2024 election is increasingly feeling like a repeat of the disastrous 2016 election, I recently asked a range of experts for their thoughts and suggestions.

Matthew Dallek teaches at George Washington University and is the author of “Birchers: How the John Birch Society Radicalized the American Right.”

I struggle to understand how 47/48 percent of voters can continue to support Trump and, by extension, his cruelty, conspiracy theories, and criminality. Tens of millions of Americans believe the big lie that 2020 was stolen from Trump, and they have such scant faith in the judicial system that they buy Trump’s baseless conspiracy theory that Democrats orchestrated a plot to put him in jail. My feeling that I’m out of touch is worsened by my belief that Joe Biden has been a good president. He has passed emergency COVID aid, infrastructure reform, landmark climate change legislation, the CHIPs Act boosting US manufacturing, achieved some student debt relief, appointed the nation’s first African-American woman to the Supreme Court, and inflation has come way down, while the US has enjoyed the best post-Covid economy of any advanced industrial country. His leadership on Ukraine has been resolute, measured, and grounded in values like national self-determination and anti-authoritarianism. I’ve heard the knocks against him, but the perils of a second Trump term – to democracy, the rule of law, mainstreaming political violence and Trumpian vengeance—are far more dire than any of Biden’s defects, real or perceived. “The longest election” in U.S. history is a trope that doesn’t hold much explanatory power for me. The primary is likely to be over soon, but Trump has never stopped campaigning, and Biden has long spoken of the risks Trump poses to democracy and stability. I think the “longest election” is likely shorthand for a jaded sense among some in the press corps, and affirmed by polling, that the country has to endure a Trump-Biden rematch.

We know that the election is likely to be very close for all of the familiar reasons (partisan polarization, the nature of the electoral college, six swing states). We also know that Trump is unlikely to concede if he were to lose the election; he will do anything to win the White House and stop his criminal cases from going to trial. What we don’t know is more than what we do know. Here are four of the biggest questions that have not been answered: What will the economy look like in the late summer/early fall? Will the Israel-Hamas war have ended by November? Will Trump be a convicted felon by then, and will felony convictions cause him to lose votes? Will young voters of color and Arab-American voters vote third party and risk a Trump presidency, or will they return to the Democratic fold?

Like a lot of observers, I’ve been frustrated that so much coverage is poll-dependent. The most impressive data – see Simon Rosenberg’s Hopium Chronicles for more – is that Democrats have won election after election after election. If democracy and abortion rights are really top of mind for voters, then one would think that the 2024 results would mirror the 2018, 2020, 2022, and off-year/special elections where Democrats have mostly prevailed in key swing districts and states.

The 2024 campaign feels very different from 2016. Trump is a known quantity, and his authoritarian, anti-abortion, strongman impulses are far easier for Americans to see today. Biden has a presidential record to defend and a different set of challenges than Hillary Clinton. But there is a simmering rage in the electorate, and it is metastasizing. Trump has been extremely adept at tapping this hate-the-system, burn-it-all-down mood. Since Vietnam and Watergate, Americans have had little faith in government to do what’s right and to improve their lives, but MAGA has brought this “deep state” vibe to its apotheosis. For a whole slew of reasons, a lot of voters have also become comfortable with the idea of tyranny; many seem to want a strongman to rule with an iron fist by using any means necessary (legal or illegal) to stop illegal immigration, to send the military to stop crime in the cities, and to destroy the civil service and dispense with the notion of checks and balances. The anti-establishment rage is one of the more potent forces for mobilizing voters in today’s politics, and if many voters think that the system is horrible, then they will vote for the candidate who is vowing to crush it. Democracy can’t really survive if too many people think their government is out to hurt them. I’d add here that the hope comes from the fact that there remains in the United States an anti-MAGA majority—pro-abortion rights, pro-democracy, pro-rule of law. If this majority shows up and votes, then Trump can be defeated for the second time in a row.

Gregg Barak is an emeritus professor of criminology and criminal justice at Eastern Michigan University and author of “Criminology on Trump.” His sequel to that book, “Indicting the 45th President: Boss Trump, the GOP, and What We Can Do About the Threat to American Democracy,” will be published in April 2024.

The polling does not mean much to me at this point since the majority of people would prefer other candidates than the two they are likely to be stuck with. From my vantage point, Trump is overvalued, and Biden is undervalued based on their comparative records and behavior. I would prefer Biden throwing everybody a curveball at the August convention and that another capable and younger Democrat gets the nomination. If that fantasy is realized, then I would look for Trump to be blown away as badly as Barry Goldwater was back in the day because all of the youth and people of color, etc. will come home to the Democrats with all the enthusiasm they can muster. Best of all, the GOP will be clueless in their response with only 90 days or so before the election.

If it were not for the undemocratic and unfair electoral college, we could all go to sleep since Trump will lose decisively in the popular vote once again as he and the Republican candidates always do except for “once in a blue moon.” That, of course, is why they have to do everything they can to lie, cheat, and steal because otherwise they would rarely if ever win.

We are already in the middle of an ongoing U.S. insurgency from Trumpism with or without their sociopathic leader, and I believe that even our flawed system of democracy or our prevailing tyranny of a minority will prevail over the authoritarian or autocratic alternative as it won’t sit well with the majority of Americans. And, if I am correct, then we will live another day in order to establish a new and improved democracy or a tyranny of the majority as I argue in Indicting the 45th President.

Investigative reporter and author Heidi Siegmund Cuda writes about U.S. politics and culture for Byline Times and Byline Supplement.

As a practical matter, what does this “longest election” mean? There will be staged horror events daily, forcing Biden to fight too many fronts, but this is because Trump does not have the votes. So, these are not signs of strength. Tucker Carlson being summoned to Moscow is not a show of strength. It’s evidence of weakness. From Kansas to Ohio, it is clear that voters are waking up to the stakes — overwhelmingly showing that women’s health care rights matter, as people quietly exit MAGA. The dark money villains who cynically fund organizations that weaponize people to destroy their own democracy now realize they overshot the mark when Roe was overturned. So, they find new targets, new boogeymen, to take over from the diabolical plot that turned people into single-issue voters. They take aim at trans people, immigrants, books, Taylor Swift, whatever sells in the much coveted 18 to 49 demo. But they’re failing, as the exhaustion of outrage addiction has given way to a fatigue and desire for some semblance of democratic normalcy.

It is, of course, troubling to see the merger of the MAGA-QAnon Cult, because we can’t reach people who are brainwashed. They’re addicted to Russian conspiracy theories sold to them as patriotism, with the Democrats in the role of witch. I do, however, believe there will be a resounding repudiation of Trumpism in November, as the merger of the MAGA and QAnon Cult will not prove strong enough to derail Joe Biden’s re-election. Mike Flynn is the wild card. Am I concerned about Mike Flynn ginning up violence and promising black swan events as he traipses around the countryside of swing states with his merry band of grifters selling Kremlin talking points as patriotism? Indeed. But I am heartened by the tireless work independent investigative journalists are doing to expose U.S. Putinists. The Kremlin and US traitors may have the internet by the throat, but they have not yet won the hearts of the majority of the American people. I think we should not underestimate them this time.

“Mike Flynn is the wild card.”

Trump has been on an impressive losing streak since 2018. The people who truly concern me, however, are those stuck in neutral. Neutrality benefits the dictator, as Elie Wiesel said. In order to secure democratic victories in all three branches of government, we need to waken the silent. They can be reached with back-to-basics messaging — fix the damn roads, save public education, teachers are not your enemies — burning books is unpopular. Seeing a QAnon candidate with a flamethrower burning books isn’t actually a winning message.

Public opinion polls are psyops. I don’t pay attention to them. They are designed to cause despair and anguish, which are weapons of fascism. The metrics on Trump have been trending downward for six years, but billionaire-owned media is big business and big business bets on fascism. Recall, William Randolph Hearst offering a syndicated column to Benito Mussolini. When we defeat these fascists — and we will — corporate media will have been the biggest villain.

It’s unbelievably rare to have voted out a dictator while he was in the process of authoritarian capture — that just doesn’t happen. Americans should feel really good about that. It was messy and it’s ongoing, but the rest of the world could see us take a stand for democratic values after being duped. So now, we have the knowledge that we were attacked in 2016 — our unresolved issues of misogyny and racism exploited by Russian military intelligence and a network of US white supremacist cells. The cover-up continues as the same group of criminals tries to downplay the crimes of 2016 and are involved in 2024 election subversion campaigns, but many of us are aware of what happened and remain rooted in reality. Unfortunately, Putin is desperate for a win in Ukraine, and Ukrainians are putting up an unbelievable fight, so information warfare is cranked up to 11, continuing to inflict casualties on a daily basis. People are being dragged down rabbit holes of dystopian lies every minute— and the ultimate goal is to conjoin MAGAnon with Putin, as we see by Tucker Carlson bouncing on his knee. Western leaders need to step up and let their citizens know we are target nations of information warfare and begin the inoculation process. Information warfare will continue regardless of what happens in November, and that is our real fight — likely, the fight of our lifetime.

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Media is failing to confront the fact that their outdated ideas of journalistic impartiality are failing the very people they’re meant to serve. Neutrality benefits the dictator. This crisis we find ourselves in is existential both for those who want to see our imperfect democracy continue so we can get to the deep structural reforms necessary and those who are trying to snuff it out for the end goal of authoritarianism. And we can’t even frame the conversation properly while the world looks on in horror, bracing for the worst. We have what my friend Keir Giles calls collective amnesia — not one single member of the media should be covering this election like a horse race. That is not what this is. Our country is under attack, the attacks are ongoing — this isn’t Democrats vs Republicans. It’s Putin vs. America. That’s the framework. That messaging needs to get out to the Cult — they are currently united by their hatred for Biden and their belief in American exceptionalism. If they knew that Putin was weakening America with his information warfare attacks — literally making fools and zombies of people — they wouldn’t like that. If they knew that supporting Ukraine would make America strong, they might then see the wisdom in backing the fight against Russian imperialism. We need to at least arm them with the proper messaging. We have allowed hostile nations to tube-feed their poison into our minds, and we have to get tougher. We have to be made of tougher stuff. I’m tired of America playing the role of victim-nation to these malign forces — both foreign and domestic.

Jared Yates Sexton is a journalist and author of the new book “The Midnight Kingdom: A History of Power, Paranoia, and the Coming Crisis.”

My feelings have changed. Curdled, to an extent. Watching our media not just repeat but worsen the mistakes of the past, as well as the larger dialogue about things culturally and politically declining, has saddened me with grim dread. I am still hopeful for the long term because of things that have very little to do with the 2024 Election itself, but to watch this sludge of a race start to take its ugly shape before we’ve even arrived at the South Carolina primary doesn’t bode well. The radicalization is boiling and it’s only going to get worse.

Polling is practically extinct at this point. Everything from the death of landlines to rank polarization has made the whole thing largely moot. All we know about November right now is how everybody feels about the two most likely candidates. But considering their age and their health, we don’t even know for sure that these candidates will make it to that date. That doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do to fight back against things and help create a better outcome. But polling wise, it’s a lot of flying blind.

We’re in a precipitous decline as a culture and nation, and so the old things that should have marked victories or landslides or anything else are kind of out of the window. We could very well ping-pong back and forth between single-term presidencies as things get worse and people just want to change. Or, we could end up with a dictatorial president or a transformative one. I don’t feel good about this whole situation. At all. Trump is great for the new media’s business and profits. The Democrats have become guardians of a wildly unpopular status quo. It isn’t great.

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