Resolute Square

Trump Violates Democracy on CNN

"Trump has not changed. Trump will not change. Trump continues to be a threat to the United States and the free world—and Republican audiences still love it," writes Jen Mercieca after CNN's 90-minute demagogue festival.
Credit: Resolute Square
Published:May 11, 2023

By Jen Mercieca
Donald Trump, the twice impeached former president who led a coup attempt against the United States after his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden, appeared on CNN last night.

 Twice-impeached, criminally indicted, lying, sexual abuser and fascist demagogue insurrectionist ex-president Donald Trump lashes out at CNN reporter when pushed to tell the truth during 90-minutes of free air time provided by CNN's Chris Licht. 

CNN argued that there was some news value in having Trump answer questions from reporter Kaitlan Collins and undecided New Hampshire Republicans. Critics of the move, of course, argued that there was little that voters could learn about Trump that they didn’t already know and that it was anti-democratic to give Trump access to CNN’s audience.
If there was any genuine “news value” to be had in platforming Trump, it was in finding out if he would still say the same demagogic things and pursue the same anti-democratic policies as he had for the past eight years.
A demagogue is a political leader who refuses to allow themselves to be held accountable for their words and actions. Demagogues like Trump violate the rule of law as easily as they violate democratic norms. Trump ran for president as a demagogue in 2016, he acted as a demagogue while in office, and he certainly acted as a demagogue when he refused to leave office.
Trump has never allowed himself to be held accountable, which is why he is such a dangerous political figure. Trump’s overarching rhetorical trick is to use demagoguery to advance a fascist agenda. He was never going to allow himself to be held accountable to facts or reality at the CNN town hall. CNN should have known that going in—there could be no “news value” because Trump wouldn’t answer questions responsibly.
Did Trump violate democratic norms by breaking the rules of debate? Yes, he did. He lied. He refused to respond to fact-checks. He aggressively talked over, interrupted, and mocked CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins. And he used ad hominem (attacking the person instead of their argument) when he said, “unless someone is very stupid,” they would believe Trump’s 2020 election lies, and when calling Collins a “nasty person” as she attempted to get him to accurately answer a question about why he failed to return presidential papers.
Would we have expected Trump to do any differently? Of course not.
Trump isn’t a typical political debater. He doesn’t care if he has the correct information or a solid argument. He looks at debates as an opportunity to spin, not educate. This allows Trump to cheat by violating debate rules. Trump uses the kind of rhetorical tricks that would disqualify a high school or collegiate debater in a debate tournament, the kind of rhetorical tricks that used to be disqualifying for anyone seeking political office. Trump uses rhetorical tricks to violate the rules and norms of debate, just like he violates the rules and norms of democracy.
Did Trump violate democratic norms by denying the 2020 election results? He did, repeatedly. The first question Kaitlan Collins asked Trump and the first audience question were both about Trump’s 2020 election conspiracy. Trump continued to spread his conspiracy, despite Collins repeatedly interrupting him (playing the role of an umpire) to deny his claims with fact checks and informing him and the audience that there “is no evidence” to support Trump’s conspiracy theory. Trump refused to admit that he lost the election to Joe Biden. He continued to insist that Vice President Mike Pence had the power to stop the vote certification when he didn’t. He continued to insist that he did nothing wrong on January 6th, 2021. Finally, he refused to agree to accept the results of the 2024 election.
Would we have expected Trump to do any differently? Of course not.
Trump will never admit that he lost the presidency to Joe Biden in 2020. Because Trump does not adhere to democratic norms but rather is a demagogue—an unaccountable leader—he can never admit that voters held him accountable for his failed presidential leadership by voting him out of office. He uses his election conspiracy to keep his base engaged and enraged—and to siphon off massive donations. Trump wields his election conspiracy like a cudgel, he won’t ever stop.
Did Trump violate democratic norms by using crass misogyny? He did. It was Trump’s first interview since a New York civil court found him liable for sexually abusing and defaming E. Jean Carroll. Collins asked Trump if he thought the verdict would impact whether or not women would vote for him. Trump insisted it wouldn’t and then mocked Carroll repeatedly while denying the attack. He continued to defend the misogynistic comments (“I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything…Grab ’em by the pussy) he made in the leaked Access Hollywood tape. He called Carroll’s account of him raping her “a fake story” and referred to Carroll as “a whack job.”
Again, would we have expected Trump to do any differently? Of course not.
Trump sees women as objects, he doesn’t see women as people. If the object makes Trump look good or helps Trump in some way, then the woman is a beloved object—an object of his affection. If the object makes Trump look bad or hurts Trump in some way, then the woman is a hated object—an object of his wrath. Carroll will always be treated as a hate-object because she stood up to Trump and revealed his violence to the world. Trump will always treat women as objects because he sees women as less than human.
None of this is any surprise, nor is there any “news value” in giving this a platform. Of course, Trump did a fascism on CNN, Trump is a fascist.
Trump went on CNN to “own the libs,” and he so did. The format of the event meant that Trump performed his fascist demagogue act in front of an eager audience of Republicans who wanted to see nothing more than Trump owning CNN on CNN. The audience laughed and applauded Trump as he repeatedly and aggressively violated democratic norms.
Trump’s CNN town hall was clarifying: Trump has not changed. Trump will not change. Trump continues to be a threat to the United States and the free world—and Republican audiences still love it. We must continue to defend democracy from Trumpian fascism.