On Thursday afternoon, prior to the final night of the Democratic convention, four New York Times opinion columnists gathered to discuss the political landscape. Of course, millions of people do that every single day. The special conceit of the Times opinion staff is that it believes its discussions are worth broadcasting to the world. The special curse for the rest of us is that many find them worth listening to.
The theme of Thursday’s discussion was the awful, terrifying, unspeakable, unthinkable idea that a major presidential candidate might delegitimize an election outcome. With histrionics once relegated to soap operas airing after The Price is Right, the four Times writers described the unprecedented danger posed to America’s republican experiment by somebody disputing an election. Some sample quotes:
Frank Bruni: ‘We have this very clear evidence that Trump is cheating, is preparing to cheat yet more… We have various other things the president has said and done to convince people that if the result of this election is not what they want, they can consider it illegitimate.’
Michelle Cottle: ‘I think that they’ve made clear they have no problem with doing whatever is necessary to undermine the process. I also worry about what happens if it is a remotely close election because all of President Trump’s efforts to delegitimize this become that much more of an issue.’
Jamelle Bouie: ‘I think there needs to be plans for protests and demonstrations. This is going to sound very hyperbolic, but I think that we have to think of the task of getting Trump out as less of a traditional democratic transition and more of something akin to pushing an authoritarian regime out… Because I think Trump is going to contest regardless. Regardless of the outcome, Trump is going to say, this was rigged. This is fake, whatever.’
The fourth participant in the podcast was Michelle Goldberg, who last week made the same claim as Bouie, that a transition from President Trump to President Biden will be like ‘the experience of countries around the world that have transitioned to democracy from authoritarianism.’ How Goldberg held her prominent job at America’s most prestigious newspaper throughout America’s ‘authoritarian’ moment is unclear. Even less clear is how Goldberg’s big idea, which is having the Biden administration ‘extirpate’ its predecessor with a vast criminal investigation, will make American less authoritarian.
By now, Cockburn has observed several times that progressives seem very committed to attributing to Donald Trump sinister plans to do precisely what they have spent four years doing. Delegitimize an election? Not only did Democrats do that after 2016, but they spent $32 million of taxpayer money on it. The Times won a Pulitzer for delegitimizing an election! Just in the past month, the Times has put out more than 20 articles stemming from the insane Russian collusion conspiracy theory, and the next election is barely two months away. Yet now, Times writers shriek that Donald Trump is definitely, maybe, possibly planning to copy their tactics.
It’s easy to mock this level of hysteria and psychological projection, but it could be a frightful harbinger as well. Four years ago, Democratic partisans were willing to subvert the Electoral College to prevent a Trump presidency (‘The effort alone gives you hope,’ Goldberg wrote at the time). Now, to stop a second go-round, the Times is openly spouting the language of revolution. No matter how much of a mess the November election is (and with the massive, last-minute expansion of mail-in ballots, a mess seems almost certain), Donald Trump will not be allowed to contest any oddities in the November vote. If he does, the process will not be left to the courts, but to riot- er, ‘mostly peaceful protesters’ in the streets. Reread Bouie’s language up above: removing Trump isn’t a democratic process, but an anti-authoritarian one. Authoritarians are not voted out. They do not have disputes resolved by a neutral court system. They are only overthrown by force.
For the writers of the New York Times, democracy increasingly resembles a South Vietnamese village: It must be destroyed in order to save it.
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