With TV town hall, Trump suckered CNN right into his sewer | Dick Polman

Trump was emboldened by the audience questions, which were more vapid and than we could’ve predicted

May 15, 2023 6:30 am

Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for his arraignment at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 04, 2023 in New York City. With the indictment, Trump becomes the first former U.S. president in history to be charged with a criminal offense. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

To borrow a phrase from Claude Rains in “Casablanca,” I was shocked, shocked! to find that non-stop lying was going on in the MAGA game room at CNN last week.

Just as I (and many other rational observers) had warned in advance, CNN’s decision to gift a free hour to a pathological cult leader – to a criminal defendant, and, now, a proven sexual abuser – did indeed fulfill our worst expectations.

As anyone who isn’t naive surely knew would happen, Trump suckered CNN right into his sewer. Actually, it was worse than that. CNN, anxious to get maximum ratings mileage from its MAGA informercial, attached a sewer pipe to his mouth and pumped his demagogic diarrhea directly into our homes.

How else could it have gone, given the network’s decision to pack the “town hall” audience with “star”-struck Trumpers who clapped and giggled at every lie and slur? He’s their favorite TV character. They know his shtick to a T and hooted their appreciation whenever he recited the rot that he posts on social media.

With CNN’s blessing, he pounded out his Greatest Hits. No wonder they responded with such gusto! Like when he defamed E. Jean Carroll (again) by calling her “wacko.” (Yes, they laughed at a victim of sexual assault.) Like when he said, over and over, that the 2020 election was stolen. Like when he said he wants to pardon “a large portion” of the jailed Jan. 6 traitors. Like when he said that his two impeachments were a con job ginned up by “crazy Nancy Pelosi.” Like when he critiqued the Access Hollywood tape by insisting (despite his words on tape) that he hadn’t talked about grabbing women per se, that he grabbed only when “women let you.” Like when he condemned one of host Kaitlan Collins’ rebuttals by calling her “nasty.”

Collins tried her best to inject some factual reality by talking just as fast as her grifting guest, but as anyone with a shred of awareness has long known, there’s no way to stand in front of his blitzkrieg without being flattened. And I’m not going to waste my time fact-checking all his lies, because I have a life and so have you.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a respected scholar of fascism, saw last night what so many of us knew would happen.

She tweeted: “This is a propaganda spectacle designed to reinforce the leader cult – thus the relief and enjoyment of the audience at hearing favorite slogans and untruths…The more approval authoritarians get, the more they feel emboldened to be even more lawless. This is why this ‘town hall’ was so dangerous.”

Trump was certainly emboldened by the audience questions, which were more vapid and open-ended than any of us could’ve predicted.

A succession of Trump 2020 voters and delegates posed brain-twisters like …What do you think about the “current debt situation?” and What would you do “to make things more affordable?” (His answer: drill for more oil.) And this was my favorite semi-question: “I’m worried that government will act to suppress gun rights.” (Trump’s answer, ignoring the civilian death toll of recent weeks, was that he’s the greatest Second Amendment champ in human history.)

Granted, the sick spectacle reminded those of us who love democracy what we’re up against on the road to 2024. Trump and duh Republican base hide in plain sight, making it abundantly clear what they’re willing to say and do to seize power. Maybe that will help galvanize enough Americans to stop them once again.

David Jolly, a former Republican congressman, seems to think so; he tweeted that “Trump is not picking up a single new general election voter. And every voter who came out in 18, ’20 & ’22 to stop him now remembers why.” Maybe so.

But that does not excuse CNN for debasing itself. To do responsible journalism, it’s really not rocket science. If you feel compelled to put this guy on the air, you do it in a studio with two sharp questioners.

At minimum, that format ups the odds of holding him at least somewhat accountable for his pathological lies.

What you don’t do is precisely what the network did.

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Dick Polman
Dick Polman

Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star's Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected]