You don’t have to watch very much TV news these days to get the basic plot: President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, it’s improper for him to challenge the result, and we all must unify around President-elect Joe Biden.
That’s not exactly how many journalists reacted four years ago. Instead of accepting Trump’s victory in the spirit of unity, some in the media sneered it was a “tainted” election, a “moral 9/11” and evidence of the “decline of civilization.” Some hosts engaged in hyperbolic scare talk of “jailed political opponents” and “millions” being rounded up; others indulged fantasies of defective voting machines stealing votes from Hillary Clinton in crucial battleground states.
The 63 million Americans who voted for the new President were targeted, too. “There’s no such thing as a good Trump voter,” announced the headline over a piece by Slate’s Jamelle Bouie. Time’s “Person of the Year” cover branded Trump as the “President of the Divided States of America.”
“No, we can’t” work with a President Trump, insisted New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, because it would “normalize” the presidency of “a pathological liar with a loose grip on reality.” And Trump was really just a “Manchurian candidate” controlled by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Here’s a quick flashback to how the media that today tout unity and acceptance dealt with President-elect Trump’s transition in November and December, 2016.
“For 240 years, American government and American civilization has been steadily moving up, slowly but surely improving, rising higher and higher and higher and then last night, we turned down. That’s what you’re feeling. That’s what the decline of a civilization feels like.”
— MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on The Last Word, November 9, 2016.
■ “This is a moral 9/11. Only 9/11 was done to us from the outside and we did this to ourselves.”
— New York Times columnist Tom Friedman on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, November 11, 2016.
■ “Should we be taking lessons now from countries that have lived under leaders who have rounded up millions of people? Should we be taking lessons right now from people who have lived in countries where they do jail their political opponents, where they do crusade against the press, where they do ban people based on their religions?”
— MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on her eponymous show, November 11, 2016.
■ “All the solicitude, outrage, and moral telepathy being deployed in defense of Trump supporters — who voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes—is perverse, bordering on abhorrent….To insist Trump’s backers are good people is to treat their inner lives with more weight than the actual lives on the line under a Trump administration. At best, it’s myopic and solipsistic. At worst, it’s morally grotesque.”
— Slate’s Jamelle Bouie in a November 15, 2016 post, “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Voter.”
■ “A lot of people in politics and the media are scrambling to normalize what just happened to us, saying that it will all be OK and we can work with Trump. No, it won’t, and no, we can’t. The next occupant of the White House will be a pathological liar with a loose grip on reality; he is already surrounding himself with racists, anti-Semites, and conspiracy theorists; his administration will be the most corrupt in American history.”
— New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in a November 18, 2016 column.
■ “Some Clinton supporters are trying to mount a campaign to ask for an audit in key states to see if a recount should be ordered. According to a group of election lawyers and computer scientists cited by Gabe Sherman in New York magazine, there is, quote, ‘persuasive evidence that election results in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan may have been manipulated or hacked.’”
— MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Andrea Mitchell Reports, November 23, 2016.
“Some political activists say in counties using electronic voting, Hillary Clinton appears to have mysteriously under-performed compare to areas with paper ballots by as much as 7 percent, according to what they told top Clinton aides in a call urging an official review. They’ve not released their analysis nor provided proof of hacking, but the margin could have tipped Wisconsin and, if the others went her way too, she would have won.”
— CNN correspondent Tom Foreman on The Lead with Jake Tapper, November 23, 2016.
■ “Yes, we’re sore losers, because a lot of the reason he won was based on racism, the Russian hackings. Lies. Continuous lying that went on. And the intrusion of the FBI at the last minute there. All of that seems to have basically distorted the whole election. So, yeah, we’re sore losers. Because it wasn’t really won legitimately, as far as I’m concerned.”
— Co-host Joy Behar on ABC’s The View, December 2, 2016.
■ “It is a fact that the Trump campaign gave a platform to white supremacists. The only question is whether the Trump presidency will do the same. Many Americans who voted for Trump may not consider themselves racist, but they cast a ballot for a candidate who espoused racism and xenophobia and told lie after lie without remorse. They have to take responsibility for their decision, and so do the people who choose to work for Trump.”
— New York Times columnist and former editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal, December 7, 2016.
■ “Objectively speaking, we’ve never had an administration that’s spewed this kind of open anti-Muslim rhetoric, starting at the top with Donald Trump….He’s building a dream team of anti-Muslim hate there.”
— Daily Beast contributor Dean Obeidallah on CNN’s New Day, December 9, 2016.
■ “What we have are ignoramuses, billionaires and a few generals….This is pretty frightful stuff. You have loads of people who have never been in government who don’t understand the difference between business and government.”
— Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin discussing Trump’s Cabinet picks, MSNBC’s AM Joy, December 11, 2016.
■ Host John Dickerson: “We heard about Russian involvement potentially while the election was going on, but what seems to be new is that it was targeted to help Donald Trump….”
Slate writer Jamelle Bouie: “If it is true, if we have further verification of this, then what it suggests potentially is that the election was in some sense illegitimate. And I don’t know where you go from there.”
— CBS Face the Nation, December 11, 2016.
■ “So this was a tainted election. It was not, as far as we can tell, stolen in the sense that votes were counted wrong, and the result won’t be overturned. But the result was nonetheless illegitimate in important ways; the victor was rejected by the public, and won the Electoral College only thanks to foreign intervention and grotesquely inappropriate, partisan behavior on the part of domestic law enforcement.”
— New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, December 12, 2016.
■ “No presidential candidate in American history had done or said so many outlandish and offensive things as Trump. He cheered when protesters got hit at his rallies, used sexist insults for members of the press….This is the method of a demagogue. The more the elites denounced his transgressions, the more his growing movement felt validated.”
— Writer Michael Scherer in cover story for Time’s December 19, 2016, “Person of the Year” issue.
■ “Biggest winner? Vladimir Putin….He basically took over the United States and got himself a Manchurian candidate and that is something no other Russian leader has been able to do.”
— The Root’s Jason Johnson on MSNBC’s Hardball, December 21, 2016, announcing his choice for the biggest winner of 2016.
■ “We have what, I think the total is 7100, individual nuclear warheads. I don’t even want to know what the destructive capabilities there. And we’re about to hand the launch orders over to a guy who can’t stay away from his phone for 15 minutes.”
— Esquire’s Charles Pierce on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, December 27, 2016.