I’ve seldom been more annoyed with the New York Times.
On May 15, the New York Times printed (right below the paper’s editorial!), Roger Cohen’s Op Ed, “The Masked Against the Unmasked.” Cohen contrasts pro-Trump radical conservatives (the “unmasked live-free-or-die” crowd) with masked liberals who respect and follow the advice of our top COVID-19 scientists. More important, he argues both that the country is more radically divided than ever and also that America is rapidly moving toward dictatorship. The radical right is buying guns; the November 3 election may very well be canceled; and Ivanka Trump may become the 46th president with term limits abolished.
His solution? Liberals should “gun up, dude” just like the radical right. Cohen is certainly correct that radical right groups who are buying deadly weapons and plotting to overthrow the “liberal establishment” are flourishing. Cohen is right that Trump lies constantly, and frequently violates constitutional norms (witness recently his pushing his Attorney General to drop the charges against his former national security advisor Michael Flynn). Very dangerous things damaging our democracy are indeed happening under Donald Trump.
But are we about to descend into dictatorship? Is it true, as Cohen says, that “anything could happen in America between now and November”? “I mean anything,” he insists. Cohen quotes a friend: “You will see by June 2020. Civil War, or something like it is coming. Gun up, dude, before it’s too late. “
Is Cohen right that part of the solution is for liberals to buy guns like the radical right? That’s part of Cohen’s solution. He quotes a friend who says: “What the hell? Time to even things up. To save the country. Hopefully, guns will always be a deterrent, but they may be our last hope to save this country. Time to gun up, liberals! “
Cohen ends by softening this radical advice just a bit. “If you prefer, think of “gun up” as…get registered… and vote Trump out.” But Cohen’s final sentence is chilling: “Or you may just want to go down to the range. “
This is dangerous liberal hysteria. For a couple reasons. For one thing, our democratic institutions of free speech, free press, rule of law and the independence of the judicial system are under attack but stronger than Cohen suggests. Yes, Trump threatens them as no president ever has. But our institutions remain strong. Main stream media usually continue to get the facts basically right. Organizations like Protect Democracy thrive. Along with Independents and Democrats, most Republicans are genuinely committed to our historic constitutional freedoms. Cohen, however, implies that most Republicans are part of the gun-toting right wing conspiracy. Sadly it is true that many Republicans have submitted shamefully to a lying, racist demagogue. But most Republicans still believe in democracy.
A second problem with Cohen’s piece is that he exaggerates the division in the country. Yes, there are deep divisions and some of the reaction to COVID-19 illustrates that. But I think David Brooks is right that the response to COVID-19, on balance, has resulted in less division than before. In his New York Times Op Ed on the same day as Cohen’s piece, Brooks cites a Washington Post/Ipsos poll showing that only 16% of Americans think we are not opening up quickly enough. 75% insist we need to keep business closed if that is the way to slow the disease. Americans in red and blue states are staying home at about the same rates. Brooks also cites another survey which discovered that the number of Americans who feel we live in a divided society has fallen, since the onset of Covid-19, from 87% to 48%. 82% say we have more that unites us than divides us.
There is undoubtedly a dangerous radical right that is heavily armed. And there are many very genuine threats to our democracy.
But the solution is to : throw ourselves even more vigorously into protecting democratic procedures; register more voters; defend freedom of the press and the judiciary; fight efforts to suppress black and minority votes; etc., etc.
Liberal hysteria is not the solution. It makes things worse. And it is shocking that the New York Times prints such hysterical nonsense right below its own editorial.
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