Trump’s Retribution Promises and Media Complicity

I have been critical of NYT’s serial effortnow joined by WaPo — to predict retribution in a second Trump term, without doing any recent reporting on how that represents a continuation of Trump’s first term, not anything new. Rather than assign three reporters (including reporters who played key roles enabling past retribution efforts) to treat this as a hypothetical future endeavor, why not assign one to report on newly disclosed details of how Bill Barr ordered Scott Brady to dig up more evidence against Joe Biden’s son?

The attention on the WaPo, especially, has sucked up attention that might otherwise be focused on an excerpt from Jonathan Karl’s new book. It’s about the same thing — retribution. But not about past retribution, nor future retribution, but the way that Trump is leveraging cultural cues about retribution, starting with the launch of his campaign from Waco, TX on the thirty year anniversary of the raid (connotations that were evident in advance).

Given the excerpt, I’m not entirely sure whether Karl thinks Trump is doing this out of a sense of weakness, or because he knows the cultural connotations retribution invokes will elicit a certain kind of response from his followers.

Karl describes how Trump turned to this theme after being rattled by his first indictment (and elsewhere describes Trump’s fury at Todd Blanche to agreeing to a trial data in the Alvin Bragg case prior to the end of the primaries).

The problem was that the indictment had rattled him. For all his bluster, Trump desperately wanted to stave off an arrest, and he was embarrassed he hadn’t been able to. When it came time to turn himself in, he slipped out of Trump Tower and got into a black SUV.


D.A. Bragg and Juan Merchan, the presiding judge, were met by a version of Donald Trump that was much quieter, more somber—more timid—than the man he appeared to be on television and social media. The night before, he had said that Bragg should “INDICT HIMSELF.” But finally given a chance to confront them face‐to‐face, Trump was mostly silent. During the 57‐minute proceeding, Trump said just 10 words—“not guilty,” “yes,” “okay, thank you,” “yes,” “I do,” “yes”—and spoke so quietly that reporters had to strain to hear him.

For the first time in years, Donald Trump was not the most powerful person in the room.

Karl also describes Steve Bannon revelling in the explicit Neo-Confederate iconography of the speech Trump gave at CPAC.

“The sinister forces trying to kill America have done everything they can to stop me, to silence you, and to turn this nation into a socialist dumping ground for criminals, junkies, Marxists, thugs, radicals, and dangerous refugees that no other country wants,” he said. The speech was ominous, but one rhetorical flourish stood out. “In 2016, I declared I am your voice. Today, I add: I am your warrior; I am your justice,” Trump said. “And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.” He repeated the last phrase—“I am your retribution”—and promptly the crowd started chanting: “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

When I spoke with Bannon a few days later, he wouldn’t stop touting Trump’s performance, referring to it as his “Come Retribution” speech. What I didn’t realize was that “Come Retribution,” according to some Civil War historians, served as the code words for the Confederate Secret Service’s plot to take hostage—and eventually assassinate—President Abraham Lincoln.

Both can be true, of course. Faced with a kind of vulnerability he has never before faced and willing to burn everything down to find a way out, Trump is all too happy to mobilize far right extremists as his instrument (in his description of the Waco event, Karl describes Trump celebrating January 6).

To the extent that Trump’s campaign logic is retribution, then, the spate of stories — both the NYT one and the WaPo one featuring Trump-whisperers — simply reinforce Trump’s campaign message while downplaying the way Trump has always engaged in retribution, often backed by threats of violence.

Indeed, they help Trump provide assurances that in the future, he’ll find better prosecutors than John Durham, who was every bit as corrupt as the prospective stories predict Trump’s select prosecutors might be in the future, every bit as much about retribution, but who never found evidence that could sustain a conviction. He’ll find better prosecutors, more corrupt ones, Trump needs to tell his mob, because quite honestly, he made these very same promises in 2020 and failed to deliver, though did untold damage in the process.

And those failures weren’t for want of trying or any kind of ethical compunction on his part or the instruments of his retribution.

The reason I think Karl’s descriptive piece is more useful than the predictive pieces (aside from the way the predictive pieces totally whitewash Trump’s past unprecedented focus on retribution) is because he identifies the puzzle at the core of Trump’s success running on retribution: What’s in it for his mob? Why does this focus on retribution work?

“If they can do it to him they can do it to you,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted. Noticeably absent from Trump’s obsession with his own victimization was any real focus on helping Americans who weren’t under criminal investigation, but his advisers were convinced that the ploy would work. “This week, Trump could lock down the nomination if he played his cards right,” Bannon told me as rumors began to swirl of Bragg’s indictment. “‘They’re crucifying me,’ you know, ‘I’m a martyr.’ All that. You get everybody so riled up that they just say, ‘Fuck it. I hate Trump, but we’ve got to stand up against this.’”


“The DOJ and FBI are destroying the lives of so many Great American Patriots, right before our very eyes,” Trump posted on Truth Social the day after four members of the Proud Boys militia were convicted of seditious conspiracy for their role in the storming of the Capitol. “GET SMART AMERICA, THEY ARE COMING AFTER YOU!!!”

But “they” weren’t coming after Trump’s law‐abiding supporters—they were coming after Trump. Decades earlier, the presidential candidate Bill Clinton told voters that he felt their pain. Trump was now doing the reverse, trying to persuade his supporters to feel his pain as if it were their own. [my emphasis]

The answer this question is both obvious, and urgent.

It’s obvious, because Trump really is keying into something that isn’t entirely about extremism. And/or Trump is in many cases the gateway drug to radical extremism, something that has shown up over and over in January 6 cases. People respond to something in Trump and then, because Trump’s networks include large numbers of right wing extremists, their ideology gains traction where they might otherwise not. And then the cultural coding of retribution starts to resonate.

It’s urgent, because whether or not Trump wins election, if he primes his mob to embrace political violence again, January 6 will look like elementary school recess. On January 6, many people were armed, but even the ones who brought guns — and plenty did — kept them holstered. That won’t be true the next time.

It is more urgent to show how Trump’s past obsession with retribution hurt people, from his targets, to American security, to the wives of Republican Congressmen, than it is to report that he’ll do more of the same, only earlier this time. It is more urgent to understand why Trump’s mob buys into his messiah syndrome and puncture its power.

I’m not suggesting we return to a moody contemplation of the Deplorables. Nor am I hoping NYT reverts from its prospective reporting on retribution to its past obsession with Trump supporters in diners.

I’m asking for a focus on the continuity of retribution in Trump’s power — past, present, and future — along with some soul-searching about the media’s cooperation in that retribution dynamic.

Of particular note: the media’s coverage of Trump’s legal woes has only helped him create this dynamic.

Take the coverage of Trump’s testimony in his fraud trial yesterday. The NYT was one of the rare outlets that got into something substantive — that Trump did have a role in the valuations that Judge Engoron has already ruled to be fraudulent — in a headline; and it reported on that substance after six paragraphs describing Trump’s stunts. Most of the rest, however, reported nothing but conflict, virtually all of it staged or baited by Trump. Trump succeeded in entirely flooding out any reporting on his fraud — something that goes to the core of his ability to govern, something that goes to his success at fooling supporters and lazy journalists — by distracting everyone with spectacle, a strategy Rolling Stone reported he would adopt a month ago. Rather than reporting on all the evidence — even presented yesterday, amid the circus stunts — that Trump is actually the guy sticking it to the little guys, not the one vindicating them, most outlets just printed one after another of Trump’s taunts.

And in the process, just like any other staged wrestling match, spectators pick one or another side and root loudly, brainlessly. Even for those rooting for law and order, that’s unhealthy, because it invites hero worship and a false belief that prosecutions are easy and quick. It encourages people to outsource defense of democracy to prosecutors rather than do the hard work of organizing themselves. It invites people to engage in mockery rather than rational assessment of the legal case.

But for those who’ve been convinced by unrelentless propaganda about the Russian investigation — which showed that five top Trump aides lied to cover up Trump’s ties with Russian, for those who bought into Trump’s sustained attack on the legitimacy of democratic elections, for those who’ve been bombarded by non-stop coverage of Hunter Biden’s dick pics, the side they’ll pick is obvious. Adopt Trump’s conflict staging, and you will only ever heighten existing partisan divides.

Trump doesn’t care if a bunch of self-satisfied people mock him as a clown. Indeed, that’s what he wants. Because every time they do so publicly, it reaffirms that he’s the guy on the side of average people, fighting the pencil-headed assholes who frown at the little guy. Plus, if you mock something as serious as a lifetime of defrauding financial institutions as a circus, rather than explain how it allowed Trump to get something he hadn’t earned, it tells everyone that Trump’s adjudged fraud isn’t really serious. In your actions, you confirm the argument he is making.

And all the while, it prevents anyone from talking about how Trump has disavowed all the January 6ers who are facing the consequences of following Trump, claiming he has no role in their crimes. It prevents anyone from talking about why leaving nuclear documents in your bathroom requires spooks to shut down collection programs, leading directly to diminished US influence as war breaks out overseas. It prevents anyone from talking about how all of Trump’s brand has been built off lies claiming he, his net worth, his gaudy penthouse are much larger than they are.

Regular life may be screwing over the little guy (or, under Biden, regular life might have delivered financial gains and a resurgence of organized labor strength that never gets covered). But that’s a different thing than saying that “they” are coming for the little guy.

Yet Trump continues to convince people differently, in large part because the media plays along with Trump’s staged circus.

84 replies
  1. dar_5678 says:

    Great, great article!

    This is precisely on-point and desperately important to understand. I wish I knew how to distill it into a set of points that could be communicated persuasively to others.

    It continues to baffle me that someone so apparently lacking of self-awareness, is able to thoroughly hack and own the belief systems of so many people. I don’t know whether it’s an ability or a trait — active or passive, smart bomb or Sarin.

  2. tradtrad says:

    Marcy, thank you, thank you, thank you for this. Am passing it along to people who need to understand what you have so clearly presented here. It can’t/won’t be found anywhere else.

  3. BobBobCon says:

    I think a strong parallel to the whitewashing of his past retribution is the ongoing whitewashing of his failures in so many other areas.

    Covid stands out — all of his paranoid denial and incompetence of 2020 is in stark contrast to the way the Biden administration created the Covid vaccination program practically from scratch out of the wreckage of the Trump administration’s failure. It’s telling that if you look back at Maggie Haberman’s reporting prior to lockdown, she completely ignored what Trump was doing on Covid, focusing instead on garbage like insider leaks about Hope Hicks’ possible role in the 2020 election.

    You can look at how he completely shattered the US diplomatic corps, and left the country unable to work with other countries in any serious crisis, or how he fumbled infrastructure investment over and over.

    But to focus on Trump’s past incompetence would lead to giving Biden credit, and that is something the DC press is simply unwilling to do. It’s purely personal pettiness driving their agenda.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      We don’t talk about Covid. It’s such an American tendency: over a million people died, but that was SO 2020. Forge on into the territories. Leave the past behind. And certainly don’t learn from it.

      The greatest irony of which is that Operation Warp Speed was, in fact, Trump’s signal achievement as president. The disinformation he drove, however, has rendered it an unclaimable success.

    • soundgood2 says:

      I think you misunderstand the media. As a former member of it, I can tell you, it is not personal pettiness, it is the pursuit of profit. Trump knows how to generate eyeballs, the media is desperately trying to stay profitable. Biden’s competence is just not as compelling to the public. As long as the media has to turn a profit, that is what will happen

      • BobBobCon says:

        No, profit is only one piece. Everywhere you look, you see how the press kneecaps stories which would drive engagement, and it’s a major reason why newspapers and TV are losing their audiences.

        Haberman’s non-coverage of the looming Covid disaster in early 2020 is a prime example. Nobody cared about the trivia about Trump’s reelection plans she was offering early that year. They were desperate for details about what, if anything, Trump was doing as shutdowns loomed. She had the access to develop blockbuster stories in February about the nutjobs who were lurking around the White House and feeding his paranoia. She could have gotten millions of reads. Instead we got little whispers from Jared Kushner about messaging on the Middle East.

        And to be clear, the complete lack of imagination of news executives as far as the dangers of the GOP may well destroy the economic viablity of their organizations. If Trump is reelected, NBC, the NY Times, and other outlets may well be sued into the stone age. They may well find unbearable political pressure to turn their outlets into Chris Licht-style outfits, with the same disastrous effect on ratings.

        They are doing this because of a rigid, narrow mindset that includes a lot of ideology and groupthink, and they’re risking enormous future profits because of it.

      • Harry Eagar says:

        When I was a reporter, I got paid the same whether I worked hard or not, got hot stories or not. Collecting the news is a collegial activity, and even the Chicago Tribune at its worst had more reporters and editors who didn’t give a damn about Col. McCormack’s fantasies than who did.

  4. Peterr says:

    Trump’s embrace of retribution is a long-standing practice. It’s how he rolls, from the moment he rolls out of bed in the morning until he rolls back into it at night.

    When the NFL snubbed him from joining the ranks of NFL owners, he took a leading role in the fledgling USFL and used it as a cudgel to beat up on the NFL. He did not operate his team in a manner designed to succeed on the field. He did not use his standing as a USFL owner to develop the new league. Instead, he used both to try to exact revenge on the NFL.

    And it didn’t work. The USFL did not get merged into the NFL. The USFL sued the NFL and won, but were awarded a mere $1. His team did not get invited into the NFL when the USFL folded. And through it all, Trump’s anger grew, as did his lust for retribution.

    He passed on buying the Patriots, because (he said) they had too much debt. He tried to buy the Buffalo Bills, but lost out in a bidding war. He tried to get Tom Brady to sue the NFL over Deflategate. He blasted the NFL over coddling athletes, etc., etc., etc.

    Retribution. Trump’s business model is and always has been to make someone else pay for his failures and failings. To borrow a phrase, when it comes to Trump . . . as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever more shall be: retribution.

    And every time a disgruntled otherwise ordinary right-leaning guy hears this in Trump’s campaign rhetoric, it taps into every time he made a bad deal on a used car, every time he got laid off by a rich bigwig, every time he got convicted for drunk driving when he had only had six beers and knew he was perfectly sober, and every time he felt he got screwed by The Man, it taps into his fevered dreams of getting retribution himself.

    This is what Trump is betting on working: retribution.

    • BobBobCon says:

      One of the many interesting pieces of news from the NY fraud trial is that the NFL laughed at Trump’s bid to buy the Bills because he refused to disclose the actual state of his finances.

      Of course, a crystalizing detail like this which would also make coverage more compelling and clickworthy is missing from today’s coverage of the fraud trial, because the press has other agendas.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        There’s nothing NFL owners understand as well as money, who has it and who pretends to have it.

        • BobBobCon says:

          It’s worth noting that not long after, Maggie Haberman was happily going along with Trump’s claim to be worth $10 billion. There was plenty of reporting to dispute it, but what did she care? She had the backing of editors like Carolyn Ryan to write whatever her feelings told her was true.

    • gruntfuttock says:

      I’m no psychiatrist but Trump does seem to have a persecution complex: anybody who isn’t slavishly devoted to him is out to get him.

      Right now he probably feels his back is against the wall and he’s flinging as much chaff and shit as he can every which way in the hope that something will stick and save his arse. And then he can retake his appointed God Emperorhood and indulge his childish revenge dreams.

      Engeron and Chutkan, at least, have, I think, seen through that and will keep their judgements within reasonable limits and not allow Donald any excuse for appeals or mistrials. And if that makes justice grind slow, then let it. As long as it grinds fairly and does its job.

  5. Konny_2022 says:

    I can’t help but remember what Melania once said: “When he’s attacked, he’ll hit back ten times harder.”

    I forgot the occasion (I think it was pretty soon into his presidency), and I didn’t associate this with the term retribution back then. But I think this is it.

    • LaMissy! says:

      Another Trump wife, Ivana, stated in her divorce hearing (later recanted) that Donald raped her and tore hair from her scalp because his hair plugs procedure, performed by someone recommended by Ivana, was a failure. If that’s how he exacts retribution from an intimate partner, imagine what happens to strangers.

  6. hstancat says:

    It was about retribution from the very start of his transition from cheesy TV character to prime time player in national politics. The birther scam only gained traction because some people felt personally aggrieved by the success of an African American politician. The “Lock Her Up” scam probably provided the margin of victory in 2016. His core supporters have always viewed him as an avenging angel.

      • hstancat says:

        What’s your point? People make jokes all the time. The joke came after the birther scam was well underway. It doesn’t explain at all how the birther scam was taken seriously by so many.

        • RipNoLonger says:

          Obama’s “joke” was way too accurate and was done in a room full of “important” people. Yes, the birther issue came up earlier and debunked by most reasonable people. But it was always another blunt arrow in trump’s little quiver. And repeatedly fired. Tfg doesn’t have a lot of viable weapons other than his mouth.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          My point? Have you ever seen video of that night that shows Trump’s reaction immediately after Obama’s joke? If not, you should look it up. You don’t need to be a body language expert to read the rage in Trump’s face–compounded unbearably by his powerlessness to “hit back” in the moment because he’d been stung by the sitting president.

          There’s a reason he talks now about running against Obama.

          • jdmckay8 says:


            Trump’s retribution gene is a lot deeper and a lot (totally?) less recessive then most corrupt politicians: the later group stop someplace, eg. there’s a saturation of evil they will not embrace. Trump has no such barriers.

            To me, retribution is too mild a word: psychotic hate is a lot closer.

          • Alan King says:

            Yes, and I thought that Obama’s joke displayed a lack of grace and very poor political judgement. Sure he was being bullied by a racist meme, but he is the President. And as the saying goes: when in power keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer.

            • ExRacerX says:

              “And as the saying goes: when in power keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer.”

              Obama dropped that joke while Trump was in the same room. In GPS terms, that’s pretty close.

  7. Verrückte Pferd says:

    Marcy’s thinking/writing here is truly strong and on point. Should be widely shared. Danke sehr, thanks so much.

    (There is such a need for real journalism now.)

  8. HikaakiH says:

    5th para from end: “unrelentless” = unrelenting or relentless?
    This piece reads as a clarion call to the fourth estate to finally get up to speed with Trump’s modus operandi and the real danger he poses to people’s lives in America and elsewhere in the world, rather than continuing to treat him as a revenue generating entertainment cross-over to the political pages.

  9. sohelpmedog says:

    1. A brilliant and distressing analysis. With a few exceptions, (e.g., Pentagon Papers, Watergate, Iran-Contra) the enormous power of our free press, has been put to pernicious use.
    2. Assuming that they are correct, I wonder if polls that say Trump has increasing support among black voters – something that would seem to be unthinkable for this virulent racist – is a result of his theme of retribution, because even though his retribution has nothing to do with remedying treatments of blacks in this country, the general sense of righting past wrongs, of getting back against those who did you wrong, may resonate. I am reminded of a black woman interviewed during one of the Black Lives Matters protests, who said that this country ought to be thankful that the only thing that blacks we’re asking for was reparations.

  10. Rugger_9 says:

    ‘Tweety’ Matthews was merely an example of the lack of journalistic integrity. He was by no means alone (Richard Cohen, David Brooks, Chris Cilizza, Maggie Haberman, etc. in a vast swarm of access ‘journalists’) and their reporting is also shaped by editors who want horse races (thus the attention on HBDPs and Biden’s age in spite of what we see in every speech) and are generally pro-GOP in outlook because most are rich twits.

    The MSM won’t discuss the economy because once people understand how much better Biden’s policies worked the GOP would be banished to the political wilderness for a generation. The MSM won’t call out the unrelenting lies as fast as they come because that would blow apart the horse race dream.

    Defendant-1 is a media creation from ‘The Apprentice’ on down. The MSM owns him and his actions and will never acknowledge that responsibility. Instead they will pivot to the escape clause that Defendant-1 keeps blathering about for why the accounts shouldn’t have trusted his valuations. In this case the MSM will blame voters for not getting informed even though the MSM deliberately failed to inform the voters.

    Retribution by Defendant-1 is not only expected, he will demand it. This late OMG campaign by the NYT and WashPo is too little, too late.

  11. Super Dave says:

    His decision to run for President was an act of retribution for President Obama’s remarks about him at the White House Press Corps Dinner. Thanks, Obama. /s

    • IconDaemon says:

      I saw this happen in real time and I knew the Gilded Turd®, right then and there, had decided to run again for president, and that he would win.

      I had the same feeling when I’d heard that George Bush the lesser had attained the Governorship of Texas. I said to myself – “He’s going to be president of this benighted country.” If only I had the same prescience about the PowerBall lottery, I’d be one rich dude.

        • David F. Snyder says:

          To be sure, the phrase “golden/gilded turd” also implies its referent has value, which is certainly questionable.

          • Purple Martin says:

            As metaphor, IconDaemon’s Gilded Turd represents something disgusting made to appear valuable. Conversely, bmaz’s Golden Turd is something valuable made disgusting.

            Different ideas, with the first seeming the more appropriate Trump metaphor.

        • Skelly00 says:

          Typically, such an insult serves to identify the subject as a member of an ‘out group’ with respect to the speaker, and hopefully, a member of the ‘in group’ IconDaemon is addressing. Additionally, the use of humour serves to ingratiate the speaker with an ‘in group’, in this case, readers of this blog that share a similar sense of humour.

          It feels good to be a member of a group, and to pour scorn on a member, especially a leader, of an ‘out group’. I expect that is why IconDaemon may have felt good.

          As to who the phrase ‘Gilded Turd’ was referring to, I expect you knew the answer clearly from context, so brought up the topic to identify that your portion of the ‘in group’ doesn’t include IconDaemon. Additionally, you think such insults are childish and below your dignity and wish people in the blog community, that you hold and have earned high status in, would not use.

          I, on the other hand, have typed this response to cushion the weight you dropped on IconDaemon (cus having large weights dumped on you sucks) – and to make myself feel good about how witty I am. This, despite the almost certain disdain you, and perhaps some other members of the Emptywheel blog reading community, will hold me in for answering your obviously rhetorical question.

          Human behaviour isn’t that complicated. Status in ‘in groups’ and fear, including the fear of being excluded from groups one may want to be a member of, explain almost everything.

          Yes I wasted a bunch of space here on a topic unrelated to the blog topic, but you did ask the question.

  12. GSSH-FullyReduced says:

    Thank you for this big picture focus. Lots to ruminate upon.
    And why I choose to support EW and yank my subscriptions to NYT & WaPo.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      Rachel Maddow hyped her interview of Devlin Barrett last night, only to have it boil down to three minutes of piffle. Absolutely zero content. And spouse wondered why I exclaimed “Oh god!” when I heard his name come out of her mouth in the intro.

  13. Onwatch says:

    Thank Dr. Wheeler, you have laid out the clarity of Trump’s use of slippery words and events to create a following and purposeful chaos. Many people don’t seem to be paying that kind of literary attention to this and it is very dangerous. Be Here is happening.

  14. scroogemcduck says:

    Thank you for spelling this out so clearly, and for doing so consistently.

    In the Watergate era, the fact that the President had an “enemies list” was a scandal of epic proportions (citation 1). Now, the fact that Trump has such as list (citation 2) and an active plan to flood the federal government with political appointees (citations 3a and 3b) who will do exactly what he wants is somehow barely gets any attention. Republicans have been openly lionising Orban’s assault on democracy and the rule of law (citations 4a, 4b, 4c) in the open for several years, and the risk that 2024 is the last meaningful US election is a very real, clear and present danger. The media continues to ignore this in favour of reporting everything as a business-as-usual “horse race”.


    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      As his criminal and civil trials ARE his political campaign, acting on his retribution list will BE his next administration. But he’s already had a lot of experience at it and is getting more every day. What else, for example, would one call his constant denigration and threats against judges, prosecutors, and foreseeable witnesses. They are more than threats about future retribution, they are part of today’s.

    • says:

      Well done, Scrooge!

      But. . .
      Not all the media has ignored reporting on the fragile democracy or importance of the 2024 election. The RIGHT WING media has been touting the next election as the last one that will be held in America — if DEMOCRATS remain in power! They appear to have been FIRST in this message, and, with social media’s assistance, may be the LOUDEST, as well.

      See, for example

      My biggest fear is Marcy’s compelling critique above is coming 2 years too late. . . that the dam has already broken, and we are so far from the dam’s location, by the time the water reaches us it will be mere puddles at our ankles, preventing our understanding that the dam has broken, or even existed in the first place.

      • says:

        I believe the water behind the damn builds because several news outlets and elected officials on the right repeatedly refer to the collective menace that is fighting against the hard working, innocent, legal residents who strive to live in a nation free from government over reach and intrusion. A force — conveniently packaged as Democrats or left leaning radicals who make up 100% of the party in this fictional collective — that news accounts and poltical speeches skewer as responsible for BIDEN’S ACTs of RETRIBUTION, BIDEN’S IMMORALITY, BIDEN’S CORRUPTION, or for THE VAST CONSPIRACY that will come if Dems win the 2024 election, TO TAKE AWAY THE FREEDOMS OF ALL EXCEPT BIDEN SUPPORTERS.

        The news reporting that Marcy notices has been missing, HAS ONLY BEEN MISSING FROM REPORTING ABOUT TRUMP. It has been widely available in news accounts about BIDEN.

        And I firmly believe this narrative circulates widely because those in its audience fail to recognize individual members of that collective as their friends or neighbors, and any struggles of individuals in that collective as struggles or difficulties they too have experienced, or can empathically relate to.

        • says:

          This is not up to the media to reverse. It is something YOU, and I, must do. . .and not through in-person bickering or ineffective social media posting. In fact, what YOU do, actions YOU take, neighbors YOU talk to, relatives YOU visit with at Thanksgiving, and co-workers YOU lunch with in the next 12 months MATTER GREATLY.

          Every center and left-leaning person who posts here has been repeatedly labelled — whether truthful or fitting or not — a ‘radical’ or someone who ‘favors socialism’ or ‘fights to take away freedoms’ or ‘is coming for their speech or their guns’ to an audience not independently seeking out news sources that tell long-form, empathic stories about individuals who are suffering… stories that build empathy, compassion, and understanding of our neighbor.

          If someone in your life recently rambled on about ‘the invading illegals,’ only YOU, IN THAT MOMENT, HAVE THE POWER to point them to the story, for example, of the ship MS St. Louis in 1939, full of 900+ Jewish refugees, hoping to dock in the U.S. who were, of course, denied permission to enter U.S. shores. These ‘illegals’ were sent back to Europe, where around 250 would later perish in the Holocaust.

          Marcy is not the only capable story teller and harbinger here. Get busy. Your friends and neighbors need to know YOUR story, or a story in history that causes us all to reflect and compare then and now. They need to have their notion of ‘THEIR ENEMY’ — that left-leaning, radical collective — is made of of people like you, their neighbor or friend, who is, at their essence, like them… and who IS NOT their enemy.

          We must disarm Trump’s words with our words and with stories from our history that we point our friends, neighbors, and relatives to. We cannot rely on media, left or right, to do this for us.

  15. Veritas Sequitur says:

    Thanks, Dr. Wheeler, for your thorough analysis and inspiring wisdom. An important fact to keep in mind which perhaps might help assuage anybody’s foreboding about the present state of US democracy and domestic tranquility is that the American people can be capable of sound choices at the ballot box. The people peacefully chose oustanding former United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, and the people peacefully chose genuinely good-hearted and tremendously effective President Joe Biden in 2020; regardless of misinformation broadcast far & wide, contrary to electoral college shortcomings, despite voter suppression, independent of a parochial federal judiciary, undeterred by a federal legislature driven to dysfunction, and in spite of dangerous armed insurrection at the Capitol. The nation faces enormous challenges, but the ballot box has been a hard-won place for the people to exercise their better judgement.

  16. earlofhuntingdon says:

    If it were not so serious, it would be comically head-in-sand of the NYT and WaPo to frame Trump’s quest for retribution as a “hypothetical future endeavor.” Retribution is the omnipresent flip side of his painful narcissism, which can’t abide the existence of non-believers in his Greatness. It’s a lifetime passion.

    It’s how he treats labor that refuses to take half the agreed amount. He litigates for years against people whose meager paychecks he withholds. It’s how he treats former sex partners. He allegedly sends mugs to their parking garages, with threats to break kneecaps or harm their children, if they don’t keep schtum. He pettily refuses to allow govt workers a ride home on the govt dime after he fires them while traveling on govt business. He ruins the lives of poll workers for doing their jobs, instead of just declaring him the Winner. No retribution is too small or too big for him to forgo.

  17. DChom1234 says:

    I pine for the 80’s when Spy magazine simply labeled him ” the short-fingered vulgarian” and made him a New York one-liner. On the upside, his fingers are still short.

    • Purple Martin says:

      Phillip Bump follows Emptywheel and occasionally quotes Marcy, as he did today. Marcy also occasionally cites Bump’s work, I suspect partly as an example that research and analysis provides more actual insight than the source stenography of Devlin Barrett/Josh Dawsey-style access journalism.

      Here’s a gift link to Bump’s piece this morning:

  18. e.a. foster says:

    Very good article, Its something I’ll be reading twice.
    The media has a habit of reporting what they think, not what happened actually. Some media do hype things and then when they report on the item, its a nothing. Cost over runs on mega projects aren’t even mentioned.

    • ExRacerX says:

      “The media has a habit of reporting what they think, not what happened …”

      The media has the even worse habit of swallowing—and then regurgitating—whatever they’ve been told without researching it. Some of it is pure laziness. For example, nobody calls with followup questions when they receive a press release these days; they either print it verbatim or don’t print it at all.

      Another big issue is that the big media conglomerates like Sinclair have homogenized the national, regional, and local news via acquisition. Wherever you may be in the USA, you’ll get the same stories and the same viewpoints from the newscasters, who—having had their accents trained out of them—all sound the same. It’s also one of the many reasons dialects and accents in the US have been disappearing.

      As far as I can tell, except for here at EW and a few other bastions of journalism, investigative reporting has become thing of the past.

  19. Estragon says:

    Thank you for this, very thoughtful and a fresh perspective. I do wonder how living outside the US has influenced you (if at all).

    Trump has unlocked something within these people. It’s like he’s made being an asshole fun and acceptable again. Given people an excuse to not treat others with decency. And these supporters are having a great time doing it! Look at the rallies… Costumes! Songs everyone knows all the words to! It’s like parrot-heads from hell (apologies to the actual parrot heads, who are generally kind and fun-loving, although misguided in their tastes perhaps).

    And then there was that rally. There are people in this country, more than I think a lot of us are willing to admit, who take their free time to go to (and take their kids to!!) a political rally where their preferred presidential candidate mocks a 70+ year old for having the temerity to be struck with a hammer in the head by an assailant in the entryway of his own home.

    And that’s a laugh line! Like it’s some Jeff Foxxworthy bit!

    Trumpers are by and large relatively well-off asshole boomers and the people who love them. And I don’t think any amount of pointing out that Trump has been screwing over mom and pop contractors and cheating on his taxes since the 80s and pointing out Joe Biden is actually better for little guy is going to change their minds.

    It’d be like trying to convince me to root for the braves instead of the Mets because Steve Cohen is a crook. I can hear myself now… “yeah, but he’s OUR crook.”

    This whole thing has moved beyond the realm of reasoned persuasion.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Pretty sure this was never about “reasoned persuasion,” even if Trump knew what that was.

      • Estragon says:

        Right. I guess I question the idea that different framing by the media, before OR now, moves the needle for a good number of these people.

    • Estragon says:

      In some ways that is the true genius of trump. He has brought the sports/reality TV mindset to politics.

      Did Pats fans abandon the Pats when it was revealed that they were a bunch of cheaters? How about the Houston Astros and their fans?

      There’s been oceans of ink spilled about how sports taps into something primal in the human brain. Trump has long understood this— see for example the (failed) football league and the attempt to purchase the bills.

      At one point, voting for president was serious business. For Pete’s sake— we are electing one of (if not THE) most powerful person(s) on the planet. And yet any discussion of competency is gone. Its tribal. It’s the apprentice.

      How does mark Burnett sleep at night? His monster has apprentice-fied the entire country and political system. And I’m afraid we’re not coming back.

  20. Fran of the North says:

    The timing of this post is perfect.

    Last night, Iowa’s Governor Kim Reynolds endorsed Ron DeSantis of Florida as the Republican nominee. True to form, FPOTUS Donald Trump aka the ‘Retribution King’ accused Reynolds of being disloyal and predicted the following on his social media platform in advance of the endorsement:

    If Kim Reynolds… endorses Ron… , it will be the end of her political career and MAGA would never support her again…”

    Retribution of the first order. Leading and prompting the faithful to voting against an enemy.

  21. Savage Librarian says:

    It’s all about the brand. Trump is acutely aware that framing is the name of the game. So, because specific laws exist to protect individuals from discrimination and workplace RETALIATION, another word is necessary to enact his incessant yearning for REVENGE.

    VENGEANCE comes close and appeals to his evangelical cult and MAGA mobsters, but it still is tinged with that sound of retaliation and its legal implications. But RETRIBUTION has the whole permission structure of Biblical intention which imbues it with a kind of sex appeal. It fires up the base who really only support Trump because he seems to them to be the embodiment of their own personal grievances.

    The media can and should address the facts and work to expel the flimflam. They should make a much bigger effort to understand how Trump’s framing works. And they should be more scrupulous about their own framing and how it impacts reality. After all, today’s journalists may have children and grandchildren who will have to contend with a reality of their own. Let’s hope that facts mean something there and that rule of law prevails.

  22. earlofhuntingdon says:

    House Republicans want to punish a single Cabinet member – Pete Buttigieg – for not reflecting their priorities, by lowering his salary to one dollar – the amount famously bet by the Duke brothers. Is that what the NYT and WaPo mean by “hypothetical future retribution.?”

  23. Old Rapier says:

    With word out that when reelected Trump want’s to investigate Barr the story of the prototypical Roman Catholic boy fascist seems to be headed towards it’s inevitable denouement. Congratulations on a wasted life Bill.

  24. Critter7 says:

    Roy Cohn’s rules, as he passed them on to Donald Trump: Never surrender, always counterattack, and no matter what happens claim victory.

    Always counterattack = retribution

    (Sourced from journalist David Marcus as he told it to Michael Cohen on the Mea Culpa podcast, 31 Mar 2023. According to Marcus, this is what Cohn told him during an interview in the last year of Cohn’s life)

  25. dopefish says:

    Margaret Sullivan has a nice opinion piece in the Guardian today, arguing that the media needs to do a better job of explaining what will happen to the U.S. if Trump wins the presidency next year.

    The press generally is not doing an adequate job of communicating those realities.

    Instead, journalists have emphasized Joe Biden’s age and Trump’s “freewheeling” style. They blame the public’s attitudes on “polarization”, as if they themselves have no role. And, of course, they make the election about the horse race – rather than what would happen a few lengths after the finish line.

  26. ThomasJ7777 says:

    The MSM has been downplaying the looming disaster for Trump in the NY lawsuit by AG James.

    Because I read a lot of sources, I picked up on couple of points that seem to be part of the pretense that none of the civil or criminal cases have any reality.

    As long as Trump isn’t in jail, he has the luxury of pretending that he will never go to trial or be convicted or sentenced.

    He acts like it is a foregone conclusion that he will be able to delay his trials until after the election, and the parade of nitwits on the MSM can blithely claim that he “will simply pardon himself” as if overthrowing the rule of law and the republic is something a president can easily do as long as he is elected.

    Trump is actually arguing to the DC Appeals court that he can threaten witnesses and judges and prosecutors if he wants to do that, as if anyone can do that instead of being jailed in pre-trial detention for it. As long as he isn’t jailed for it like anyone else would have been by now, he’s free to keep making threats and getting away with it, and the pretense is reinforced.

    The MSM reports that he could get a judgement against him for “up to $250 million” and maybe he will have to “sell off a few properties in NY.” But that isn’t what James is showing the judge in court. She is showing between 2 and 3.7 billion in fraud, and correct me if I am wrong but his business in NY owns all of his out of state and overseas properties. It seems to me that he could a judgement that liquidates him. Plane, golden toilets, golf courses and all.

    And Engoran’s orders cancelling all the certificates and placing everything in receivership are stayed for now, but it is clear to me that when this trial is over, they will be activated and Trump will have ten days to get the judgement appealed or stayed, but that isn’t going to keep the process in limbo for years. More like months.

    Now, the MSM has entirely ignored the story that Trump STOLE hundreds of millions of dollars from Truth Social and Save America, but when are those shoes going to drop? Probably sometime next year he is going to be indicted again. And again. And three more times. There are several more crimes under investigation besides the ones I just mentioned.

    The MSM ignores it. Oh no. Look at the polls in which they oversample Republicans and who is responsible for that scandal? Look! America’s favorite son is ahead in the polls! No, he isn’t.

    • bmaz says:

      You know, I have seen pretty much all that, and not just here. Good grief, do people never stop whinging about the being more and more relentless cases serially brought? How bad do you want to fuck up the larger case against Trump? This continues to be deranged syndrome land. It is amazing how lame people are in wanting to blunderbuss the investigation and prosecution of Trump, to the detriment of both. It is well into deranged territory.

      • dannyboy says:

        Giving top priority to Jack Smith’s cases is good. But why does that have to be at the expense of The People of New York and The People of Georgia?

        I’m from NY and want justice.

        • bmaz says:

          Because the two state prosecutions are total bullshit that are an albatross around the neck of Smith and the proper federal cases. Manhattan is a case that the very office now bringing it declined publicly for nearly seven years and which has no punitive possibility to Trump. Even if Bragg succeeds in vindictively getting it tried as a felony, it is such a low grade charge that it is, by nature, probation only. In short, it is worthless at this point.

          The case in Atlanta is the most overwrought inflated pile of junk indictment I have ever seen. At least have the accuracy to note that the Fulton County attorney does NOT speak for America, they don’t even speak for the state of Georgia, they are local yokels. And neither are ceding anything to Smith, they are just buggering Smith’s efforts up. That is why.

          • dannyboy says:

            But you skip over our Attorney General’s case, which is the one I am most familiar with. I worked at Bankers Trust Company when the Trump Organization did their deeds (literally). There was malfeasance on both sides (including all parties laundering). I left the Company with the acquisition by Deutsche Bank, but the laundering took off exponetially. Trump and Family did everything that the NY AG has charged (and more). These were not victomless crimes, and I want Justice. The Trump Family, starting with Fred, began their crime spree in NY (Queens) and we want those ill-gotten gains.

            • bmaz says:

              I did not skip over anything. You referenced strictly criminal cases, so I responded to that. Now you are talking about a civil case. Nice pivot.

Comments are closed.