21 story assignments about Trump’s authoritarian threat

It seems like every poll result these days is an indictment of the corporate media: a clear indication that it has failed to create an informed electorate.

The latest case in point is a new Democratic poll which, according to Greg Sargent of the New Republic, finds that “Large swaths of voters appear to have little awareness of some of Trump’s clearest statements of hostility to democracy and intent to impose authoritarian rule in a second term, from his vow to be ‘dictator for one day’ to his vague threat to enact ‘termination’ of provisions in the Constitution.”

Our newsroom leaders should be ashamed. They should be publishing stories about Trump’s authoritarian intentions every single day.

This is not a partisan imperative, it is a journalistic imperative. It is the news story of a lifetime.

I find it highly unlikely that any of today’s newsroom leaders will look back some day and regret they didn’t write more about Biden’s age. But they may very well regret it if they stood by as we lost our democracy.

Ideally, senior editors wouldn’t need hand-holding when it comes to assigning the necessary stories.

But as luck would have it, the marvelous Just Security website recently launched a 21-point “American Autocracy Threat Tracker” — an incredible resource for the public that doubles as a series of assignments that editors should be giving their reporters starting yesterday.

The authors write that Trump, along with his advisors and associates, “have publicly discussed hundreds of actions to be taken during a second Trump presidency that directly threaten democracy.”

These vary from Trump breaking the law and abusing power in areas like immigration roundups and energy extraction; to summarily and baselessly firing tens of thousands of civil servants whom he perceives as adversaries; to prosecuting his political opponents for personal gain and even hinting at executing some of them. We track all of these promises, plans, and pronouncements here and we will continue to update them in real time.

It has 21 headings, each of which would make a fine article or three.

    1. Day 1 Dictatorship Promise: Immigration
    2. Day 1 Dictatorship Promise: Energy and the Environment
    3. Subverting the Rule of Law to Protect Himself from Prosecution
    4. Persecuting his Perceived Political Enemies
    5. Draconian Abortion Access Crackdown
    6. Purging Federal Employees
    7. Rigging Elections and Promoting Harmful Election Conspiracy Theories
    8. Rejecting the Constitution
    9. Demonizing Americans with Whom He Disagrees 
    10. Trump’s Effusive Praise of Autocrats 
    11. Enriching Himself and His Family
    12. Creating an Unconstitutional Criminal Justice System
    13. Wielding the Military to Suppress Civil Dissent
    14. Undermining America’s Stature Abroad and Eroding International Alliances
    15. Discriminating Against LGBTQ+ Americans
    16. Attacking the Free Press 
    17. Spreading Disinformation and Conspiracy Theories on Public Health
    18. Embracing Christian Nationalism
    19. Politicizing Education & Censoring Disfavored Ideas
    20. Condoning Anti-Semitism
    21. Bipartisan Actions to Counter Autocratic Threats

The tracker was created by Norman L. Eisen, who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee majority during Trump’s first impeachment; Siven Watt, a legal fellow at Just Security; former Tampa state attorney Andrew Warren; election lawyer Jacob Kovacs-Goodman;  and pro-democracy researcher Francois Barrilleaux.

It’s the latest but not the only resource available to pro-democracy journalists.

Another wonderful guide is “The Authoritarian Playbook” published by Protect Democracy last year. It is explicitly intended for reporters who want to “contextualize and cover authoritarian threats as distinct from politics-as-usual.”  It breaks the playbook down to seven key points:

None of this is to suggest that the mainstream media is entirely ignoring the threat to democracy. There are exceptions.

I particularly welcomed Carlos Lozado’s essay for New York Times Opinion: “What I Learned When I Read 887 Pages of Plans for Trump’s Second Term“. He wrote:

“Mandate for Leadership,” which was edited by Paul Dans and Steven Groves of the Heritage Foundation, is not about anything as simplistic as being dictator for a day but about consolidating authority and eroding accountability for the long haul. It calls for a relentless politicizing of the federal government, with presidential appointees overpowering career officials at every turn and agencies and offices abolished on overtly ideological grounds. Though it assures readers that the president and his or her subordinates “must be committed to the Constitution and the rule of law,” it portrays the president as the personal embodiment of popular will and treats the law as an impediment to conservative governance. It elevates the role of religious beliefs in government affairs and regards the powers of Congress and the judiciary with dismissiveness…

“Mandate for Leadership” is about capturing the administrative state, not unmaking it. The main conservative promise here is to wield the state as a tool for concentrating power and entrenching ideology.

The New York Times’s news side has also published an occasional series of strongly-worded analyses about Trumps authoritarian intentions – although its daily coverage, as the aforementioned Greg Sargent put it the other day, features “bizarrely bloodless language that is entirely out of sync with what these outlets are themselves reporting.”

And kudos to MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace for launching a series entitled “American Autocracy: It could happen HERE,” which she kicked off by asking “Strongmen” author Ruth Ben-Ghiat: “I wonder if you have a theory on why everyone isn’t having this conversation.”

I wonder about that, too.


  1. You should move # 16 — “Attacking the free press” up to #1. Otherwise our mainstream “liberal” political journalists are likely to miss that direct threat to themselves. That is the one threat they will take seriously if they bother to take it seriously.

  2. Our elite journalists have decided “there’s no point” asking Trump, or any Republican, a question they won’t answer, and certainly not asking more than once, because “the answer won’t change.”

    Yet Joe Biden continues to be old, and they ask about that every single day.


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