There’s no question that the 37-count indictment of former president Donald Trump for his mishandling of highly classified documents is a historic and momentous event. It’s the first time a former president has been charged with federal crimes, and the fact that Trump is the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination means this indictment may have serious political consequences. Yet, as significant as it is, the indictment is overshadowed by an even more consequential development: the effort by broad segments of the Republican Party to attack the charges as illegitimate, even going so far as threatening and inciting possible violence to get their way.

This deranged response is part of even larger story, arguably the biggest one in American politics: the ever-increasing radicalization of the Republican Party into an authoritarian entity, one in which cult-like worship of Donald Trump, white supremacism, the specter of violence, and a growing rejection of democracy are central to the party’s identity.

This ominous drift of the GOP was cemented in the days after Trump’s Capitol Putsch, when the majority of the party’s congressmembers rallied around their leader and refused to support either his resignation or removal from office. In the years since, we have witnessed the party at both the state and national levels take up the insurrectionary cause of demolishing democracy, from blatant efforts to restrict the votes of Democratic-leaning voters to the stripping of rights from American citizens, and perhaps most strikingly in the abortion bans passed by Republican-governed states in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The problem is not so much that the media isn’t reporting the actual events that are happening, but that they are consistently failing to provide the larger context for them. For instance, outlets like the New York Times have reported on the immediate torrents of threatened violence that emerged from the right following the Trump indictment, such as failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s statement that, “If you want to get to President Trump, you are going to have go through me, and you are going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me. And I’m going to tell you, most of us are card-carrying members of the N.R.A.” The Times has also noted the way that Trump allies “have portrayed the indictment as an act of war, called for retribution and highlighted the fact that much of his base carries weapons.” These are hugely important parts of the story of Trump’s indictment, and the Times and other news sources are doing a public service in highlighting them.

Yet the Times article noted above is also emblematic of the limits of so much of this coverage. Among other things, there’s a general reluctance to draw a through-line from the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to this current round of threats; they are treated with an air of abstraction rather than as familiar inciting rhetoric that has already led to violence in the past, and so in this respect constitutes more of the bloody-minded same. Tellingly, the Times also largely relies on experts on political violence to talk about “Trump Supporters’ Violent Rhetoric in His Defense Disturbs Experts.”

I’m all for listening to professionals, but such framing distances the reader, as if it requires training and particular sensitivity to understand what’s happening here. The article’s point that violent political language can incite violence is a crucial one, but aren’t millions of regular American citizens also disturbed by this violent language? And aren’t Democratic politicians and (potentially) some Republican ones as well?

More importantly, such distanced reporting also ends up abstracting the GOP’s threats of violence from the larger authoritarian agenda involving rollback of voting and civil rights around the country that is already well underway, as if it were an unrelated phenomenon when in fact it’s part of the same anti-democratic juggernaut. That is especially true since mainstream media outlets almost never include this vital context in quotidian articles about Trump’s legal cases.

Media coverage of the indictment has also been plagued by a tendency to present this news as not just objectively serious, but as a “somber” or even “sad” day for the United States, and to highlight the supposedly ever-more fraught state of American politics and “polarization” to which it contributes. But such editorializing and appeals to a sort of mythic median voter actually serve as a substitute for news organizations taking a more decisive position towards a GOP response that has emphasized lawlessness and lies, as well as towards Trump’s essential long-standing criminality. The indictment has been broadly presented as being a vaguely dark event for America — an actual (former) president has been accused of criminality! How low we have fallen! — to which the American public should presumably respond with a round of soul-searching and possibly garment-rending.

But as Josh Marshall notes at Talking Points Memo, the “sheer ordinariness of the whole story” is a key aspect of the indictment itself: “if you commit crimes repeatedly and brazenly, you’re very likely to get charged with one or more crimes, particularly if you’re in the public spotlight.”

Even acknowledging the grave and unusual nature of the alleged crimes, the federal response in fact reflects the ordinary and proper working of the justice system: if there is credible evidence that a person has committed crimes, then there should be no surprise that they are prosecuted.

As I discussed recently, this humdrum process is in fact how a democratic society protects itself — by punishing wrongdoers and deterring others from similar crimes in the future. From this perspective, the indictment should rightly be seen as a sign of the health of our government and democracy. The law is working to hold an accused wrongdoer to account, even though he is rich and powerful. This is hardly anything to feel sad or somber about: if anything, it’s something to be proud of. A powerful argument could be made that the day of the indictment was actually a good day for America — a day not to rend your garments, but to shop for a nice new shirt or even a pair of slacks to commemorate the occasion.

If anything is saddening or sobering, it’s not the indictment but a Republican response in which broad swathes of the party indicated they would rather attack the rule of law than accept that Donald Trump might actually have done things that merit a trial and judgment by a jury. There are plenty of other, arguably more appropriate responses to the Republican turn from democratic politics, including feeling disturbed, angry — or even determined to resist and defeat this retrograde movement.

A subtle dose of artificial amnesia has also been worked into the general coverage of the indictment. While it is a bedrock principle of American justice that every defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty — a principle that also applies to Trump in this case — this rule should be weighed against the corruption and open criminality that Trump displayed throughout his business career and his presidency. The prime example, of course, is his incitement and organization of an attempted coup in more or less plain view of the American people and press in late 2020 and early 2021. Whether or not he is ever convicted on charges related to January 6, Trump’s attempt to overthrow our government is by now an established fact, despite the propaganda of his defenders.

So we are not starting from some vague zero hour in reacting to the indictment, but from within the context of our existing, well-established knowledge of Trump. And that knowledge would suggest that we should not at all be surprised or sad that a former president has been charged with a crime, when that former president is specifically Donald Trump with his horrendous record of terrible offenses against the country. The real cause of concern should be not the indictment but the Republican reaction to it — the effort by so many in the party to deny the charges or to attack the Justice Department and the rule of law more broadly.

The media tendencies I’m describing are driven by a set of incentives and constraints that have been well-described and documented over the years. Certainly a desire to appear unbiased is central to the media’s inability to more accurately present the nature of the current GOP, as is an institutional inability to fully internalize the virulent, anti-democratic changes that have overtaken the contemporary Republican Party. So we should not be totally taken aback by the media failures I’ve described to properly contextualize and describe the relevance of the GOP’s indictment reaction to American politics.

What we should be surprised by, though, is the relative absence of the Democratic Party from the national dialogue in the week or so since the indictment was revealed and the Republican onslaught began.

While it is understandable that Democrats would want to avoid feeding Republican claims that the charges are due to Biden’s or Democrats’ abuse of the justice system, some Democratic engagement with the charges against Trump seems warranted. The ex-president’s open contempt for the rules around top secret documents involving the “defense and weapons capabilities” of the U.S. and American “plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack” is staggering, and his blatant (and occasionally Keystone Cop-style) alleged attempts to hide the purloined state secrets from the FBI are deeply incriminating.

It is even less clear why Democrats would want to avoid taking on the larger issue of Republican radicalization that’s so sharply delineated by the GOP’s coordinated reaction to the charges against Trump. At a minimum, this creates a highly unbalanced public narrative in which one party makes outrageous claims about Democratic corruption, while the Democrats don’t defend themselves, much less attempt to flip these attacks around into a narrative of Republican corruption and unfitness for office. Too many Democratic politicians seem to view this indictment and its aftermath with the simplistic perspective that it is just about Trump, drawing the conclusion that the best thing is to stay out of the way and let justice run its course. In this, some Democrats seem preoccupied with avoiding any inadvertent validation of claims that this is a biased prosecution unleashed at the behest of the Biden administration.

But this strategy makes a lot less sense when we see that the GOP response is itself a more momentous event than the indictment itself — it is less a defense of Trump and more a wholesale assault on the rule of law that underpins our democracy. This includes claims that reduce to the idea that no charges against Trump can ever be considered legitimate, but reaches much further. No less a “moderate” GOP figure than South Carolina Senator and presidential aspirant Tim Scott has asserted that in the justice system, “the scales are weighted” against conservatives — either a delusion or a knowing lie on the senator’s part that manages to make the case against Trump into a symbolic case against all Republicans.

And though some reporting has credited him with not offering a full-throated defense of Trump in his hour of legal peril, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has fully embraced Trump’s talk of a “deep state” opposed to conservative rule. According to Talking Points Memo, DeSantis reportedly told donors recently that as president he would “break up the Justice Department and the FBI and root out what he and other far-right politicians, like Donald Trump, are convinced is a cabal of “weaponized” bad actors working to go after their political enemies.”

On the House side, Republicans’ majority leader Steve Scalise tweeted that, “This sham indictment is the continuation of the endless political persecution of Donald Trump.” And no less a figure than House Speaker Kevin McCarthy went all in on a defense of Trump, with Dana Milbank summarizing his commentary thus: “McCarthy began by calling the indictment a “brazen weaponization of power” and a “grave injustice.” He threatened to block funding for a new FBI headquarters in retaliation. This week, he accused Biden of stealing classified documents from a secure facility, and he said that Trump’s handling of documents (piled in a bathroom) was superior to Biden’s (in a garage) because “a bathroom door locks.”

This undermining of the rule of law also encompasses the violent and inciting rhetoric deployed by Trump’s defenders, whether it’s Kari Lake with her suggestions of an armed MAGA army ready to stand in the way of justice, to GOP Representative Andy Biggs’s “eye for an eye” tweet in response to the indictment. The good news is that the last week has brought a heartening reality check on Trump’s ability to stir up mass violence on the part of organized groups as on January 6, but those who study domestic terrorism and right-wing extremism warn of the dangers ahead posed by lone-wolf terrorists inspired by the rhetoric of Trump and his allies.

Unfortunately, it matters very little if only a segment of the GOP engages in the most incendiary rhetoric. As I noted above, even so-called moderates are participating in the erosion of respect for the law and basic accountability through paranoid and fictitious tales of a deep state out to get conservatives.

Every point on this continuum, from outright incitement to mealy-mouthed talk about government bias against the right, forms part of a unified attack on the rule of law, and by extension, on the democracy it serves. And as I noted earlier, such attacks are just one facet of a much broader assault on American democracy occurring at the state- and Supreme Court-level to lock in permanent Republican rule and strip citizens of their voting and civil rights. Democrats should feel free to tar all GOP elected officials with the language of the most extreme, in no small part because they are all generally working towards the same anti-democratic goals. And not only are the furthest-right representatives and senators hardly being rebuked by their fellow partisans, they also represent the center of gravity in the current Republican Party, where the former president’s popularity still stifles most criticism of his many offenses against the American people.

As has been the case before, a story in which Trump is the apparent center can be re-purposed by the Democrats to tell a more comprehensive narrative about Republican corruption and authoritarianism. A party that continues not only to defend Trump in the face of all that we know of him, but that has enthusiastically taken up the anti-democratic cause that he has done so much to advance simply cannot be considered an equal or legitimate partner in government.

The GOP’s rush to defend Trump, once again, at the expense of the nation is a fresh opportunity for Democrats to rouse the American majority into a righteous fury at these corrupt men and women who would break our democracy and replace it with a grotesque simulacrum cast in the sociopathic image of Donald Trump.

By telling this essential truth and pairing it with a determined and comprehensive effort to name and tame America’s great challenges, from climate change to income inequality to unaffordable higher education, the Democrats might just find out what it’s like to win big again.