Here’s what news organizations need to tell the public about the 2024 election

Donald Trump has made it clear that he will abuse his power in dictatorial fashion should he win the 2024 election.

The typical horse-race campaign coverage, even supplemented by the occasional hard-hitting analysis, is not up to the task at hand.

What’s needed is some relentless truth-telling, along with some remedial civics education.

If I were in charge of a major newsroom, I’d assign a legion of reporters to write daily about the stakes of the 2024 election, eventually putting together a special section that we’d encourage the usual audience to share with non-readers who may be under-informed or misinformed.  

The Atlantic magazine, to its great credit, did something like this in its December “If Trump Wins” issue. It was superb — but too erudite and writerly, and was preaching to the converted.

The New York Times also deserves kudos for its occasional series of alarming lookaheads by Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman and Charlie Savage. But even those stories are full of weak language like “critics call such ideas dangerous.”

And more generally, elite reporters almost always skip over what they consider the “obvious” parts – like an explanation of why the rule of law is so central to our democracy, or the importance of the separation of powers, or the value of civil rights. 

What’s needed is simple explanatory journalism. So here are some quick summaries — known as “budget lines” — for the stories I would assign, starting with the essential background and moving toward current events. In some cases, I link to articles that have come close.

DEFINITION OF KEY TERMS: What is fascism, socialism, communism, authoritarianism, tyranny, dictatorship? What do those words really mean? How are they different? And what elements of the Biden and Trump campaign reflect those values? Joe Biden cannot credibly be accused of socialism or communism, while Trump fits the bill as a would-be tyrant. 

THE RULE OF LAW: In a functioning democracy, the administration of justice needs to be independent from politics. Nothing was more important to the American colonists than to ensure that their government would never again have the power to tyrannize the people. That’s why John Adams called for “a government of laws and not men.” Trump is directly threatening to shatter this important precedent by using the power of the state to harass and imprison his political opponents. See:

Sidebar: How the Trump prosecutions have been guided by evidence and are affirming the rule of law; how Biden has remained separate and apart from any decision-making. See:

Sidebar: The peaceful transition of power, especially from one rival party to another, is the ultimate expression of the rule of law. It is an essential element of a functioning government. Trump’s refusal to give up power peacefully created the worst crisis for American democracy since the Civil War.

THE SEPARATION OF POWERS:  The founders established a constitutional system with checks and balances to prevent tyranny. Congress has the power of the purse. The Supreme Court makes sure the other branches abide by the Constitution. Trump showed his contempt for the separation of powers when he unilaterally imposed steel tariffs and repurposed military funds to border wall construction. He chose Supreme Court justices who are radical extremists. And he has now vowed to — at the very least — take unilateral action on the border and on oil drilling on his first day in office. Whatever guardrails constrained him in the past are gone: The people who prevented Trump from exercising more unilateral power while president would not be there in a second term.  

USE OF THE MILITARY: A 143-year-old law called the Posse Comitatus Act embodies an American conviction that military interference in civilian affairs — an army turned inward — is a threat to both democracy and personal liberty. But now Trump aides are said to be working on plans to invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office to allow him to deploy the military against civil demonstrations. That would be dangerous and unconstitutional. See: 

GOVERNING: Under Biden, we’ve seen the traditional approach to running the government: Advisers make a case to the president, he and his most senior advisers makes a decision, the details are formulated through a regulatory process and then implemented by career federal employees. Under Trump, it was government by willful social-media fiat. Some of his proposals got stymied by “adults in the room”; others by process rules and career employees. Next time around, Trump and his aides have made clear that they intend to fill the government ranks with obedient loyalists who will do whatever he tells them to do, which will lead to chaos and corruption. See:

THE IMPORTANCE OF A FREE PRESS: A free press, creating an informed electorate, is essential to a democracy in which the government is accountable to the people. A free press, protected by the First Amendment, functions as a watchdog and a vibrant marketplace of ideas. Trump as president tried to undermine the legitimacy of the fact-based news ecosystem. If he returns to office, Trump and his aides are vowing to go after media outlets that challenge them, including with criminal charges. See: 

VOTING: We are already a deeply flawed democracy, and one party is only trying to make it worse. Two of the last four presidents (George W. Bush and Trump) won office even though they lost the popular vote. Wyoming’s 580,000 residents get as much representation in the Senate as California’s 39 million. A massively gerrymandered district map in North Carolina virtually guarantees an 11-3 advantage for Republicans in November’s congressional elections, even while Biden won 49% of the vote in 2020. Trump and Republicans are trying to make voting even less representative by citing voter fraud – which is essentially nonexistent – to justify voter restrictions that mostly affect Democrats. They also cite this nonexistent voter fraud to discredit election results they don’t like. See:

KNOWLEDGE UNDER SIEGE: The modern Republican party is attacking the entire knowledge supply chain, including schools, libraries, books, science, and history. As Clint Smith put it in The Atlantic, “A central part of Trump’s project is to depict the presentation of empirical evidence as an attempt at ideological indoctrination.” See:

OTHERING AND DEMAGOGUERY: Empathy and pluralism have historically been considered core American values. They are not, however, Trump’s values. His rhetoric is about othering and full of demagoguery. Does that represent the new American way? Or do a majority of Americans still support diversity and compassion?

INSURRECTION: Reminder: Donald Trump tried to steal the election he didn’t win in 2020. Let’s review special prosecutor Jack Smith’s case. In ordinary times, with anyone else, this would be disqualifying. See:

CIVIL AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS UNDER SIEGE: Until recently, the history of the United States was one of expanding rights. What’s next after the repeal of Roe v. Wade? Republican-controlled states are passing laws restricting abortion. A federal ban could be on the agenda if Trump wins. Contraception and same-sex marriages could be in danger. Trump-appointees in the federal judiciary are fighting to turn back the clock regarding attitudes to gender, sexuality and race.

Sidebar: Meet the extremist Trump judges like Matthew Kacsmaryk, who rules based not on law but on his hatred of permissiveness; James Ho, who is obsessed with “cancel culture”; Drew Tipton, who single-handedly blocked new immigration enforcement rules until being overruled by the Supreme Court, 8-1; and David Stras, who ruled that private citizens could not sue to protect their voting rights under the Voting Rights Act.

GUN LAWS: An overwhelming majority of Americans want more limits on gun purchases, but Trump opposes them and the Republican Party is blocking them, even after mass shooting follows mass shooting.

THE RECESSION THAT NEVER WAS. Economists widely predicted the economy would go into recession after the post-Covid boom and with interest rates headed up. But they were wrong. In fact, the U.S. economy has outperformed the economies of other developed nations. A temporary but significant increase in the inflation rate (again, lower than in other developed nations) has caused intermittent distress, although much of it was offset by wage increases. There is no actual evidence that Biden’s policies have hurt the economy; quite the contrary.

Sidebar: A look at Biden’s economic record (including reduced income inequality).

Sidebar: Trump’s unclear, unbalanced, and inflationary economic policies.

Sidebar: Here are some people who got jobs and raises and aren’t complaining about the price of a Big Mac.

Sidebar: How do economic indicators change under Democratic and Republican administrations? It’s uncanny.

IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER: Anyone who says there’s a quick fix is a liar. It’s a complex puzzle with huge ramifications for real people, many of whom have established constructive lives in the U.S. Also: Immigration is a net good for the country. Trump has vowed to begin the largest domestic deportation in American history, which would mean hundreds of thousands of displaced people. See:

Sidebar: Trump’s record of tearing apart families.

CHANGING CLIMATE: Few issues more dramatically illustrate the difference between the two parties than climate change. The Republican Party increasingly sees it as a hoax, and Trump proudly wants to “drill, drill, drill,” while the Democratic Party at least acknowledges that something must be done, even though they are dragging their feet. See:

Sidebar: The future of electric cars. Booming under Biden, bust under Trump.

WAR IN UKRAINE: Should the U.S. financially support Ukraine’s defense against Russian invasion, or not? Let’s review the history of Russian and Soviet expansion. 

THEOCRACY AND MISOGYNY ON THE RISE: The Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was a shattering blow to women’s rights and autonomy. It was an enormous victory for the forces of theocracy. The Republican Party has chosen a bigoted Christo-fascist to be Speaker of the House. Trump personally has been accused of sexual assault or misconduct by at least 25 women, and earlier this year was found liable for raping one of them. Another Trump presidency could mean terrible things for women (and  non-Christians).

HEALTH CARE: Obamacare, despite its faults, has been a great success and is hugely popular. More than 35 million Americans now have health care coverage who didn’t before. Many more benefit from the law’s provisions regarding pre-existing conditions and allowing children to remain on their parents’ plans until age 26. Forty states have expanded Medicaid coverage to more low-income adults. Trump wants to repeal it all and presents no alternative plan.

TAXATION: Should the rich pay more taxes, or less? That’s one of the most clearly defining questions of 2024.

CORRUPTION: In a second Trump administration, companies will have learned that by pumping money into Trump’s properties, they can win government favors. The loyal functionaries replacing career bureaucrats will funnel contracts to friendly firms and punish critics. See

INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES: Trump has declared his contempt for NATO and other security alliances. Breaking those alliances would leave countries that currently count on automatic U.S. support in case of attack to consider the U.S. an unreliable partner. See:

EXPLAINING THE POLLS: This requires a newsroom-wide effort to seek out and conduct deep, empathetic interviews with Trump supporters to figure out if they support him because of his authoritarian and racist views or in spite of them, and if exposure to accurate information changes their minds. Why is the race between a normal president and a would-be dictator even close? See:

Can you think of other explanatory articles that news organizations should publish? Have you seen any examples of what I’ve described above? Please let me know, either in comments or by emailing me at



  1. I’ll just say that republicans want to emulate here in the US what Putin did in Russia. That’s why they want to eviscerate Nato and that’s why they not aprove aid to Ukraine and make the most hilarious excuses, because the would feel ashamed in admitting they want the same regime as Putin has. Nobody tells that in the press, it’s just unbelievable.

  2. Thanks. I hope your list helps. Sadly, what I saw in an article today was horserace laziness/impatience/desire to get the story out/lack of expertise in the area. That is, no indication of a desire to learn how to do it right and you and others have been crying (in the wilderness?) for a while.
    For instance, s/he wrote that the Democrat said FL Senator Scott’s corruption was the worst ever. All we got was what the Democrat alleged. Was his corruption bad? Yes! Was it the worst ever? Dunno, but it might be. Would it be important if it was the worst ever? Yes because it would attest to the Dem’s credentials and Scott’s. But: zero.
    *Please send way to send you money that doesn’t entail PayPal. You have my email.

  3. Strongly, strongly disagree with your advice about the economy.

    The economy is wonderful if you are an economist or someone who makes $100k+ a year. Or a millionaire pretend journalist on MSNBC. Just as it has been for the last 30 years.

    The American people have told continuously, how wonderful the economy is all the while they have been losing ground. For all intents and purposes, the 60% that live paycheck to paycheck are now the real economy, and what used to be minor economic changes are a disaster.

    Wages have emphatically not risen to meet higher prices. Or did prices just fall by 40% without me noticing?

    Biden presided over the greatest expansion of the welfare state in a long time. Unfortunately, he also presided over, maybe, the greatest elimination of social benefits in a single Presidential term. That happened second, unfortunately.

    That is why Biden needs to spend 80% of his economic discussion talking about what he is going to do.
    Most especially about the programs that expired that he will bring back and improve on. The fact that they were already in place once gives that promise credibility.
    He might even talk about talk about the promises he made which disappeared after he took office, especially the public option for health care.

    He can spend 20% of his time talking the alleged economic good news as the reason he can do more; the economy is recovering, inflation is down, so now we can do these programs.

    • Finally!!! YES, the economy is not the stock market or anything like that. It’s effing nonsense. Big corporation cuts 10,000 jobs, their stock goes up, great news for the “economy”. . . . Nope.
      How many of the new jobs created under Biden are second and third jobs for people already working — so they can afford insane rents or an ever-rising mortgage payment.
      The economy in any country in which an ever-increasing number of people live paycheck to paycheck, old people must work into their 70s and 80s to avoid living in a cardboard box, and the minimum wage has not risen in FOURTEEN YEARS is an absolute shit economy.
      (I want to make sure to say that Dan’s writing is always fantastic and I wish there were 100 more people doing what he does.)

  4. “Next time around, Trump and his aides have made clear that they intend to fill the government ranks with obedient loyalists who will do whatever he tells them to do, which will lead to chaos and corruption.”
    Our memories are short but remember when Trump was in office and he made everyone go around the table and compliment him in front of the media. The only one who took a pass was Mike Pompeo. I shudder to think what the next group would be like.

  5. The other thing that the press (and all Democrats from the White House down to city council members) is that a Democratic president needs a Democratic Congress (without pseudo-Democratic placeholders like Sinema and Manchin) to get anything done.

    Nationwide, only about 50% of American adults vote in presidential elections, and even fewer vote in Congressional and Senate elections.


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