CNN’s Disastrous ‘Town Hall’ with Trump Put the Country at Risk

“CNN’s New Hampshire town hall with DONALD TRUMP last night may have done more to boost his chances of winning the GOP presidential nomination than anything that’s happened since the 2020 election.” That was Politico Playbook’s substantive conclusion the following morning. Its more direct take: “To call it a shitshow would be generous.”

The New York Times concluded, “Trump’s Falsehoods and Bluster Overtake CNN Town Hall.” The Times also vividly described the raucous, hostile atmosphere CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins encountered:

The audience’s regular interruptions on behalf of Mr. Trump were like a laugh track on a sitcom. It built momentum for him in the room — and onscreen for the television audience — and stifled Ms. Collins as she repeatedly tried to interrupt him with facts and correctives.

No matter how vulgar, profane or politically incorrect Mr. Trump was, the Republican crowd in New Hampshire audibly ate up the shtick of the decades-long showman.

He would pardon a “large portion” of Jan. 6 rioters. Applause.

He mocked the detailed accusations of rape from E. Jean Carroll as made up “hanky-panky in a dressing room.” Laughter. No matter that a New York jury held him liable for sexual abuse and defamation this week, awarding Ms. Carroll $5 million in damages.

Calling Ms. Carroll a “wack job.” Applause and laughs.

Flip-flopping on using the debt ceiling for leverage, because “I’m not president.” More laughs.

The cheers revealed the current psyche of the Republican base, which is eager for confrontation: with the press, with Democrats, with anyone standing in the way of Republicans taking power.

It made for tough sledding for Ms. Collins, who was like an athlete playing an away game on hostile turf: She had to battle the crowd and the candidate simultaneously.

“You’re a nasty person,” Mr. Trump said to her at one point, echoing the line he used against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The town-hall format felt like a set piece for Mr. Trump that he leveraged to cast himself as both the putative Republican incumbent — “Mister president,” he was repeatedly addressed as — and the outsider, recreating conditions from his two previous campaigns.

This town hall carnival comes on the heels of the inexplicable decision CBS made to give airtime to Marjorie Taylor Greene on its respected 60 Minutes show last month. I’m deeply disturbed that America’s mainstream media platforms are choosing to platform politicians who are openly espousing the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen and who are fueling their runs on openly racist and anti-democratic sentiments.

Prior to the event, CNN’s defense was that its coverage was appropriate because Donald Trump is a former president who’s currently the leading Republican nominee for president in 2024. But he is also, of course, a twice-impeached president who attempted to steal an election he lost via a raft of illegal schemes, the chief of which was his incitement of a violent insurrection at the US Capitol building that put his own vice president’s life in jeopardy and resulted in the deaths of seven people, plus two US Capitol police officers who later took their own lives following the trauma they experienced that day.

There’s no legitimate, much less pressing, reason to give our disgraced former president such a national platform. The election remains 18 months away, and the GOP field of presidential candidates hasn’t fully taken shape. Moreover, Trump was found guilty, on the day before the scheduled town hall meeting, of sexually assaulting and defaming E. Jean Carroll, giving the network an easy excuse to kill the interview. Yet it moved forward.

Even if one concedes the newsworthiness of an interview with Trump at this time, the decision to fill the room exclusively with Republican primary voters—and to misleadingly call such a skewed audience a “town hall” meeting—remains indefensible.

To state the obvious, Republican primary voters are the strongest partisans and the biggest MAGA fans. To give you a sense of just how skewed the attitudes of this demographic are, and how far out of step they are with mainstream Americans, here are just a few of the beliefs of those who say they strongly identify as Republican (a group that constitutes only 15% of Americans), based on recent surveys from PRRI.¹

Strong majorities of this group are all-in for Trump’s MAGA worldview and support the television media networks that promote it:

  • 84% have a favorable view of Trump, compared to 32% of Americans.
  • 71% continue to believe the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, compared to 28% of Americans (PRRI, American Values Survey, 2022).
  • Nearly half (48%) say they most trust either Fox News or far-right news such as Newsmax or OAN to give them accurate news about current events and politics, compared to only 14% of Americans. Notably, only 2% say they most trust CNN.

Most do not blame Trump for the violence on January 6th, and one-third believe our current political and cultural context may justify political violence.

  • Only 15% believe Donald Trump bears a lot of responsibility for the violent actions of the rioters who took over the U.S. Capitol building on January 6th, compared to a majority (56%) of Americans (PRRI survey, 2021).²
  • 32% believe that because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country, compared to 16% of Americans.

Most cheer on Trump’s displays of aggressive and predatory masculinity:

  • 70% agree that “society as a whole has become too soft and feminine,” compared to 38% of Americans.
  • 63% agree that “these days society seems to punish men just for acting like men,” compared to 34% of Americans.

Most hold Christian nationalist views and affirm the racist “great replacement theory.”

  • 62% believe God intended American to be a new promised land for “European Christians,” compared to 30% of Americans.
  • 69% believe that immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background, compared to 32% of Americans.

It’s also important to emphasize that this package of beliefs is held together among strong Republicans by a firm ethno-religious identity. While the country continues to become more racially and religiously diverse, those who identify as strong Republicans remain a highly homogeneous group. More than three-quarters of strong Republicans (76%) identify as White and Christian, compared to only 42% of Americans overall.

This White Christian identity, easily animated by appeals to resentment and racism, is the moral glue holding this defensive and defiant group together. Its apocalyptic worldview—where the all-important end of preserving a White Christian America justifies a by-any-means-necessary politics—legitimates support for Trump.

I’ll give the last word today to Michael Fanone, a former police officer who was at the Capitol on the day of the Jan. 6, 2021, attacks, and who wrote an op-ed in Rolling Stone calling out CNN’s irresponsibility in giving Trump their stage.

I witnessed this assault firsthand as an officer with the Metropolitan Police Department, who like hundreds of MPD officers, responded to the U.S. Capitol Police Department’s calls for assistance after their officers were overrun by Trump’s mob. As a result of my efforts that day I was severely beaten, struck numerous times with a taser, and suffered a heart attack as well as a traumatic brain injury. One police officer died, and several others took their own lives in the wake of that barbaric day. 

It is not just that Trump’s lies and political rhetoric sparked an uprising at our nation’s Capitol. Trump, as U.S. president, lied in an effort to defraud the American people and overturn a free and fair election in an attempt to remain in power. (See the January 6th Select Committee’s Report.) In doing so he betrayed every aspect of his oath to represent us as Americans. We no longer need to imagine what Trump is capable of. He has shown us that he is an authoritarian who will use any means at his disposal, including violence, to remain in power….

To me, allowing Trump an open forum on a major television news network is the moral equivalent of putting an AR-15 in the hands of someone mentally unstable. Whether words or bullets — and I have seen firsthand the effects of both — they are equally dangerous in the mouths or hands of those who have shown us time and time again what their true intentions are.

By platforming a former president who is a clear and present danger to democracy in front of his most ardent supporters—particularly the day after his conviction of sexual assault and defamation—CNN has put not only its own reputation but the country at risk. It has chosen to value clicks over country and to place profits over principles.

¹ Unless otherwise noted, all findings are from the PRRI/Brookings Christian Nationalism Survey.

² Note that this number is among all Republicans rather than strong Republicans and is therefore likely high. This survey did not distinguish between strong and not strong Republicans.

Title: CNN’s Disastrous ‘Town Hall’ with Trump Put the Country at Risk
Source: Religion Dispatches
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Date: May 12, 2023 at 11:31PM
Feedly Board(s): Religion