IN 2016 at a venue in Sioux Center, Iowa, Donald trump famously said: “I have the most loyal people – did you ever see that? I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?”

We know it’s true. On Tuesday, a New York jury ruled that Trump had sexually abused the advice columnist E Jean Carroll in an upmarket New York department store changing room 27 years ago. It also awarded about $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages, about $2m on the sexual abuse count and close to $3m for defamation, for branding her a liar.

The following day, CNN gave him a live TV platform at a “town hall” meeting where crowds laughed and cheered as he lied and lied. The Guardian reported: “Afterwards, Trump allies joked that the event in their eyes amounted to an hour of Trump infomercials and should be recorded as an in-kind campaign contribution.”

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The hapless moderator Kaitlan Collins tried to fact-check Trump live but the speed at which he delivered his stream of lies made this impossible. He repeated his lie that the 2020 elections were rigged – a claim that Fox News has had to pay out millions for propagating (the voting equipment company Dominion successfully sued Fox News for $1.6bn in damages for knowingly broadcasting false information about the company after the election).

He claimed the judge was “horrible” in his trial – a trial he failed to call any witnesses for and did not testify at. He rewrote history denying he had asked Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” 11,780 votes. We’ve all heard the audio. Then he claimed that foreign countries were sending millions of migrants from prisons and mental institutions into the US.

Why does any of this matter? We know Trump is a liar and we know that US TV networks are a travesty of journalism. So what? Who cares?

Well, there are three different reasons why this matters.

The first is the idea that “when America sneezes, Britain catches a cold”. In a globalised world, American culture, mannerisms and trends cross the Atlantic (and beyond) in a heartbeat. Trump – and Trumpism – contaminates the body politic not just in the US with his modes and memes of reactionary populism. The British right is riddled with “Atlanticists” and cheerleaders for Trump who can barely wait to amplify his toxic politics on a domestic stage.

The second is the general impact such a grotesque figure serves. The idea that a figure can be prosecuted for sexual abuse and this can have no impact on his running for president is extraordinary.

We knew Trump was a misogynist. He told us. But the effect of having such a figure given such an incredible platform with those views and actions is a degradation of our social and cultural life.

The message it sends to men everywhere is, “you can abuse women, be prosecuted and then be celebrated and given the highest office in the land”. The implicit acceptance of this sort of behaviour leaves a sort of psychic oose on all of us.

The third reason that it’s still worth charting Trump and America’s dire TV media is that he might win.

Trump’s prosecution in court didn’t weaken him at all. His supporters are so immersed in the crazy Trump narrative that when he was indicted – also in New York – over hush money paid to the former porn star Stormy Daniels, his approval numbers among Republicans went up.

For the true believers, the indictment merely vindicated Trump’s claim that he is the martyred victim of a liberal deep state. Believe in the rule of law – or due process has effectively collapsed in America.

The polls don’t look good. Incredibly, after all he has said and done, a Washington Post/ABC survey showed President Biden six points behind Trump. Trump’s supporters operate in information silos – algorithms send them the stuff they want – and none of the previous realities that would unseat a normal candidate, like a moral compass, critical thinking or shame, have any impact at all. Facts don’t matter. Truth is irrelevant. His opponents (Republican or Democrat) are useless.

“Sleepy” Joe Biden has some wins he can sell – like on jobs and the environment – but he will be 86 by the end of his next term and voters are (understandably) not convinced he has the mental capacity for the job.

Republican member of Congress and Trump supporter George Santos is a liar and a fantasist who seems like something out of an improbable 70s political satire. He stands accused of a bizarre range of charges including inventing a fake pet charity and lying about his professional background, such as the claim he made during his most recent congressional campaign that he used to work for Goldman Sach. There is also his weird fabrication about having been a college volleyball star.

But if post-truth is pre-fascism, and this is the greatest threat to democracy that the Trump phenomenon presents, there is another one. The reality is that the liberal hegemony that the Democrats represent is deeply distrusted by millions of Americans. The failure to face the origins of Trumpism – widespread disaffection and the myths of the Rust Belt – is a problem for any progressive alternative.

The power and dark hypocrisy of the religious right in supporting such a man is a moral stain, but also a political reality.

America stands once again on a threshold of a very fragile democracy. The fact that there is much crossover – as ever – between Democrat and Republican policy will not prevent Trump framing a Biden candidacy as either dangerously radical, “woke” or part of a liberal deep state.

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The reality that Trump supporters include armed militia and a hefty brew of America’s far-right is deeply worrying. But so too is the fact that the deeply reactionary policies around immigration, race, crime and gender have become completely normalised. Issues and ideas that would have been unthinkable a few years ago – hard-fought rights and democratic ideals, such as a woman’s right to have control over her own body – have been abandoned. And if you think this can be contained within America, you’re not paying attention.

Finally, this is about the media in western democracy. CNN’s disastrous decision to host Trump in this way is a marker of what’s to come. It was a terrible editorial decision in desperate search of ratings and connection with the Trump camp.

It speaks to a wider malaise in broadcast and print media about how you deal with toxic and fascist populism as it sweeps across broken societies, coughing up simplistic stories to the disaffected. Truth matters, facts matter, behaviour matters. To abandon all is to enter a new zone of politics that could have appalling consequences for us all.