Dark and sinister rhetoric drenches right-wing media amid Trump indictments

Published 9:24 PM EDT, Thu August 3, 2023

Millions of Americans are immersed in a twisted world where language used to describe autocrats is being applied to America’s democratic institutions.

The draconian rhetoric, once reserved for the likes of tyrants and dictators, has become commonplace in right-wing media when referring to President Joe Biden and the elected government he leads. The dark and sinister language, normalized on mainstream conservative platforms such as Fox News, has been on full display this week during coverage of Donald Trump’s third indictment.

The Biden White House is referred to as the “Biden regime.” Federal law enforcement are referred to as the “Gestapo” and Biden’s “personal police force.” Institutions such as the Department of Justice are referred to as “the Department of Injustice.” The indictments against Trump are referred to as “political war crimes” and an “assassination.”

Talk of imprisoning Democratic politicians — and even their families — in acts of revenge is par for the course. Even floating the outright execution of Biden, as Charlie Kirk recently did, is accepted in the warped world of MAGA Media, where the audience has been programmed through years of conditioning to welcome such vile rhetoric into their homes.

None of this is an exaggeration. It is the reality of what is being broadcast in millions of homes across the country.

It’s all part of a larger trend that has dramatically disfigured the conservative media since Trump ascended to power. With the aim of portraying progressives as an evil force in America, right-wing media’s most popular figures and outlets have casually appended despotic terms to Biden and his administration.

The extreme vernacular often flies under the radar, drawing eye rolls from those outside this alternate universe and receiving little media attention. But it shouldn’t. Language carries with it serious consequences. And repeatedly conveying to millions of people that their democratically elected leader is a tyrant out to nefariously use the force of government to target and imprison his political opposition carries with it great risk.

“I think it’s hard to overstate the dangers here: This language moves beyond mere demonization because it suggests a need for violent resistance,” Charlie Sykes, a former conservative talk-radio host and an editor-at-large of The Bulwark, told me Thursday. “It’s language that undermines the integrity, the democratic institutions, and the justice system itself. And there’s a constant escalation without much concern where this leads or who might act on the idea that our opponents aren’t just wrong — but evil, dangerous, and illegitimate.”

Sykes smartly pointed out, “One does not argue, debate or disagree with the gestapo.” Instead, “You go to war with them.”

Each day gives way to evidence that the fact-defying repetition is working. A CNN poll published Thursday found that nearly 70% of Republicans and Republican-leaners said they believed Biden’s presidential win was not legitimate, a staggering majority despite there being no evidence of widespread election fraud. Perhaps more alarming, about half of Republicans say they now have no confidence at all that elections reflect the will of the people.

Arguably, the rhetoric saturating mainstream right-wing media today is more extreme than the hyperbole used in the weeks leading up to the insurrection at the US Capitol. In those weeks, just like now, right-wing media forces set the stage and gathered the tinder for Trump — who was happy to light a match to the gasoline-soaked kindling gathered before him on January 6.

At the very least, the poison pumped into the national discourse has maimed America’s shared sense of democratic principles and contributed to profound polarization, dividing neighbors, friends, and families. But in the wake of Trump’s third arrest, over an attempt to topple American democracy, and ever-intensified rhetoric, let’s hope history does not repeat itself.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter.