Dan Rather has had an illustrious career as a journalist. He is now blogging at Steady. He was annoyed that CNN gave Donald Trump a platform to repeat his lies, to bulldoze the interviewer, and to play his usual demagogic role. After Trump was elected in 2016, CNN was widely criticized for giving Trump so much air time, more than any other network or cable station did. CNN sometimes covered his rallies live and at length, a courtesy not extended to other candidates. By some estimates, CNN gave Trump $2 billion of free on-air time.

He writes:

Donald Trump is a liar. He is a bigot, a misogynist, and a deadbeat. He has just been found by a jury to be a sexual abuser. He faces multiple other serious criminal investigations. He spurred a violent insurrection. He has repeatedly demonstrated complete disdain for the foundations of American democracy. The list of traits that makes this man unfit for the presidency fills pages.

And yet despite these debased qualities, or maybe (depressingly) because of them, he is immensely popular with many Americans. They cheer on his worst impulses. They bask in his hatred. They are fueled by the danger he poses to this nation. They have propelled him once again to be the favorite for the Republican presidential nomination.

And although many Americans don’t want to believe it, at this moment, he is a real threat to return to the presidency.

Among other things, Trump is and always has been a performer, and performers, no matter how vile their message, crave and thrive in the spotlight.

Last night, CNN gave Trump not only a spotlight, but a platform and a rabid crowd of cheering supporters. He made the most of it, as chiling and distressing as that might be.

Those who have made up their minds on Trump — those who love him and hate him — undoubtedly found plenty of justification for their opinions watching, ignoring, or doom scrolling his performance.

But what about the casual observer, the disaffected, the persuadable? Trump knows how to command a stage. He knows how to go on the attack. And the format CNN gift-wrapped for him allowed him to score a mark.

There is a school of thought that Trump is so toxic that the more America sees of him, the less they like him. And there were moments last night that could easily be plugged into effective attack ads against him. But what we should have learned from 2016 and the years that followed is that people as shameless as Trump do not measure their success by metrics of civility. It’s about demonstrating primal dominance, and that instinct delivered him the presidency once before. And even though he lost reelection, he remade American politics in ways with which we are still contending.

Trump played the part CNN surely knew he would play. What did they hope to get from normalizing this demeaning and dangerous demagogue? Ratings? Relevance? A tack to the mythic “middle” in line with new ownership and direction? Trying to become some new version of Fox News? Is any of this worth endangering the health and security of our country?

When CNN announced that they would give Donald Trump more than an hour of free prime time for a “town hall” (more like a town maul), it was clear what was going to happen.

Trump would lie, and bully, and insult, and lie, and lie, and lie some more. That is who he is. It is who he has always been.

There is no moderating a discussion with Trump. It is nearly impossible to engage in dialogue by asking probing follow-up questions. Because he will just ignore them. And lie and lie and lie. And this is especially true when he has an audience that seemed hand-picked to double as a campaign rally — hooting and hollering with approval the more he launched into his mendacious invective.

The press will have to figure out how to cover Trump as he stomps his way toward renomination. Liars should not be given open mics in formats where they can filibuster falsehoods unchallenged. Edit what he says with context. Do not sugarcoat how untrue many of his rantings are.

America rejected Trump in 2020. He is further weakened by the court cases he faces. But he remains a potent force. He will get his message out. Let us hope the press will analyze it, not amplify it.

The future of not only American journalism, but of America itself, will be shaped by how Trump is covered going forward.