While we all watch the Donald Trump circus, we’re missing the real news

Don’t get so distracted by the ringmaster that you forget to pay attention to the other rings

Skylar Baker-Jordan
Tuesday 04 April 2023 22:30 BST
A court sketch capturing Donald Trump on the day of his arraignment
A court sketch capturing Donald Trump on the day of his arraignment (Manhattan Courts)

When I was but a child, I thought donkeys represented the Democratic Party because of the poor farmers the party champions, and that elephants were for rich circus owners supported by the GOP. As an adult, I am certain this is untrue. However, it is no coincidence that elephants, the most iconic circus animal, are also the mascot of the Republican Party. The GOP is a circus, and Donald Trump is its ringmaster.

To that end, the media has been obsessed with the indictment and subsequent arrest of Donald J Trump, the once and – if there’s a God, not future – president of the United States. As I drove across my home state of Tennessee today, I kept getting alerts on my phone on every update, speculating about what will and won’t happen.

It’s not that I don’t care that a former president is being prosecuted for a crime – a first in American history. It’s just that there is so much else going on in the country that news organizations seem to be ignoring today.

In truth, it feels like 2015 again, when the media first began to act like Victorians agog at the freakshow. They just couldn’t get enough of Circus Trump. And, as my fellow Kentucky journalist Teri Carter tweeted, that is a problem. “Just turned on MSNBC to hear a panelist say, ‘it’s almost showtime!’” she said. “The national media has learned nothing.”

Hear, hear. It is infinitely frustrating to see the media fixate on Trump as though nothing else of note is happening in the United States. Yet, that is precisely the case. Across the country – especially here in the South – Republicans are using the distraction to continue their assault on democracy and freedom.

These stories demand your attention as much as anything happening in a Manhattan courthouse. For while the media focuses entirely on the center ring of this circus, it is missing the real show in the other two rings.

Like, for example, the fact that the Tennessee GOP is attempting to expel three Democratic members of the state legislature for standing up for murdered children. State Representatives Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones, and Justin Pearson are all fighting to retain their seats after joining student protestors last week in a demonstration against the Republican Party’s ongoing failure to protect children from gun violence in schools. This, of course, followed the deadly massacre at Covenant School in Nashville – one Republicans have repeatedly used as a cudgel in their ongoing culture war against LGBTQ people but which has sparked exactly zero action to protect our children from being gunned down before they can grow up.

It’s worth acknowledging here that the disruptive Democrats – and, to be fair, they were that – did break the rules by speaking without permission, something they acknowledge. But sometimes you need to be disruptive.

“We had not been allowed to speak all morning to welcome and honor the people who were protesting for the lives of their children… so me and a couple of my colleagues decided that between bills, we would walk to the floor and recognize the people and why they were there and that we let them know that we cared about their issue,” State Representative Gloria Johnson told Knoxville’s ABC affiliate, WATE News. “Never in a million years did we imagine that they would try to expel members in the body for speaking for their constituents when we had not been allowed to do that previously in the day.” Expelling members for speaking up for their constituents is extreme and undemocratic. Tennessee cannot claim to be a free state if dissenting voices are met with vicious retribution, especially if those dissenting voices are pleading for the lives of our children. The nation should be every bit as concerned – nay, outraged – over this as they are about Trump allegedly paying off a porn star.

While there is no doubt that Donald Trump has been manifestly and unequivocally bad for American democracy and freedom – the lion who almost bit the head off its trainer, unruly yellow mane and all – the truth is that the Republican Party writ large is almost as dangerous. The GOP isn’t a clown car with big-shoed bozos pouring out of it; it’s more like the arsonist setting the big tent of American freedom on fire.

Like a master magician wowing us with their illusions in the third ring of this three-ring circus, they’re even managing to convince some Americans that they’re doing it in the name of preserving freedom. “Constitutional carry is in the books,” Florida governor and literal Disney villain Ron DeSantis said in a curt press release following the private signing of a law that makes it legal for anyone in Florida to carry a concealed gun without a permit.

The Republican Party loves to pretend that these laws increase freedom for law-abiding Americans. Yet the truth is that study after study has shown they lead to an increase in violent crime, including homicides. Their right to carry a Glock anywhere and everywhere, concealed in their oversized red shoes or under the hat they’ll no doubt pull the mangled corpse of a shotgun blasted rabbit from, trumps (there he is again) your right to life.

And let’s be clear here, these laws are meant to enable them to pack heat – not you; their response to the shooting at Covenant School gives away the game there. Former Trump campaign staffer Kingsley Cortes inadvertently revealed the truth behind the Republican “smoke and mirrors” when she tweeted that “if you identify as transgender and/or are undergoing hormone therapy – you should NOT be allowed to legally purchase a firearm.”

She’s not the only one, either. No less than Tennessee’s own Ben Shapiro has called for a ban on transgender Americans owning a gun.

“The Second Amendment for me, but not for thee,” is essentially the Republican message here. While it is unlikely that a law banning transgender people from owning guns would withstand Constitutional scrutiny, it is likely that Republicans could use a very vague definition of “mental illness” to prevent anyone they fear or wish to oppress from owning guns.

After all, “mental illness” was used to keep women in their place in 19th and early 20th century America, and “literacy tests” were used to deny Black people the vote in the Jim Crow South. What’s to stop a Tennessee legislature – once it has expelled every Democratic member – from passing some draconian law that enables them to disarm their political opponents? That is where we’re going.

This is why it is imperative that we do not get distracted by the center ring of this circus again. Yes, what is happening to the ex-president is historic and should be covered – but proportionally, as his minions across the country continue to wreak havoc on our democracy and quite frankly our security. We must pay attention to all three rings of the circus.

We must also be careful not to allow these circus freaks to get richer off our desire to be entertained and appalled. The New York Post reports that Trump has already raised $8 million since being indicted. As the media continues its obsessive coverage of him, he will no doubt raise more.

That is certainly his goal. Maybe child Skylar wasn’t so wrong about those rich circus owners, after all. In his own way, Trump is a modern-day PT Barnum, entertaining and enthralling us in the most unethical and horrendous ways. It breaks my heart to see the media continuing to indulge him.

Cover Trump’s indictment, it is certainly important and newsworthy. But please, don’t get so distracted by the ringmaster that you forget to pay attention to the other rings. The other acts in this circus are every bit as worthy of our attention, because they are every bit as dangerous to our nation.

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