Saturday, June 6, 2020

Why Tom Cotton's Fascist NYT op-ed was totally inappropriate

The following letter, by Shawn Conway, was published in an e-newsletter I received today from Charlie Sykes at The Bulwark. A month or two ago, I started following The Bulwark because I sensed it had a more balanced perspective than some left leaning publications. Shawn Conway is a common enough name that without a geographic location, it's impossible to say which Shawn Conway wrote this piece. Nevertheless, it's worth a read.
So I've seen a lot of debate about the civil war at the times, of furious liberals on twitter fighting furious conservatives, and honestly, I think they're all wrong because no one seems to be debating the actual reason it should or should not have been published.
Unlike the debates about Twitter being a publisher or a platform or whatever, the Times is a publisher. And the opinion section is a place for opinions. However, the question that arises is 'why should the Times have published Senator Cotton's opinion?' [Michelle Goldberg's column (linked and excerpted further down on this post) is titled, Tom Cotton's Fascist Op-ed]
Because he's a senator? Him being in government makes his word no more valuable than anyone else's on the matter he's talking about. Because it's a situation that requires views from both sides? On the issue at hand, there really isn't a both sides debate; just about everyone agrees that police brutality is wrong. Even the people trying to defend the cops as Senator Cotton did frame everything as being about the looters and violent protesters and not the peaceful ones. Is it because the writing is particularly good or insightful? Having read it, I would say that it's not.
But most importantly, I think the question has to be asked, 'does this opinion piece add or subtract from the discourse?' And I think it's fair to say that it subtracts from it.
We can come to this conclusion based on a number of factors. First, Senator Cotton is not arguing in good faith. He says that peaceful protest should be allowed, but has been just as harsh and demeaning towards similar peaceful protests. We can see this sort of bait and switch everywhere, though the recent contrast between how the right treats views from white people on race versus black people on race makes this clear. The truth is, there is no such 'peaceful' way to protest that Senator Cotton or his boosters would agree with; they were just as aghast and violent sounding towards the protests in the NFL as they are now. In truth, what they aim to do is shut down the debate; if you're in the streets you're violent, if you're protesting at a sporting event you should stick to sports.
I generally prefer not to make such a blanket statement at the outset (though my readers may disagree with me). But Conway does make a solid argument to support this claim about Cotton's lack of good faith.
Secondly, we must ask what the purpose of the published opinion is. Senator Cotton can put out press statements, he can publish videos online, he can tweet just like everyone else. So why is he publishing his work in the New York Times? Surely there is no end to the conservative publications that would run his articles.
It's not as though publishing in the Times gives him some gigantic new base of readers. No matter where he published his work, people likely would be talking about it based on how incendiary it is. So we must ask if publishing it there serves some other purpose.
And to that effect, we can establish that yes, yes it does. His opinion is not really about the protest, because as I've mentioned, he's arguing in bad faith. Like others in the conservative news sphere, the idea is to link two ideas together: peaceful protesters and violent looters. To Cotton, these are the same. And because they are the same, this then justifies the use of overwhelming force.
But even that isn't really the point. Senator Cotton knows that by publishing in the Times, that people will be outraged by it. That it would create a backlash, where he can claim to be a martyr for his views, that the left is against other opinions, that the elites are trying to bring him down. Which is exactly what happened. Senator Cotton could have written nearly anything, and it wouldn't have mattered to him, because he was seeking to shift the discussion from separating protesters and looters to a discussion about how the left is all about mob violence to force their beliefs on people. It's an old and tired argument, one with racial undertones about masses of minorities forcing their strange ways upon good white folk. That's the world Senator Cotton lives in, and thus framing it that way serves his purposes.
But this brings us to the third point, which is that the Times has no business publishing obviously disingenuous articles or opinions. We would not accept them publishing the opinion that the Holocaust didn't happen. We would not accept them publishing the opinion that, actually, racism is good. We would not accept them publishing the opinion that women's natural place is that they're subservient to men. We would not accept this because there are some views that do not deserve to be boosted in a platform.
I do understand that de-platforming and shutting down speech is a slippery slope. However, if one does not have at least some standards, then the people who will be there are the people with no standards, the people who cannot go anywhere else.
We logically should oppose those standards being decided based on things such as gender, sex, race, or age. But standards of speech must apply. Standards of decency must apply. And as adults, we must be willing to draw the line somewhere, or else there is no line at all. It's not a matter of criminalizing speech. It's a matter of whether or not the speech warrants being placed on a platform for others to see.
The fundamental flaw in the argument of 'bad speech should be fought with good speech' is that it gives a moral and academic balance between the two, as though not gassing protesters is of equal weight to having the military gun down Americans. In most places, we understand that bad speech is not equal to good speech. Flat Earthers are not the equals of people who believe in science. There is no equivalency between saying the holocaust didn't happen and that nazis are evil people.
What Senator Cotton is trying to do is create this equivalency, to say that yes, sending the troops into American cities to violate constitutional rights is equivalent to the opinion that we have rights in the first place. In the aim of being 'fair and balanced' we are instead boosting views that have no business being boosted at all. If we are fair, and balanced, then not all things are equal. Not all speech is equal. Not all views deserve the same weight being given to them.
If we were being fair, and thus evaluating all speech based on the merits, and balanced, in that we are viewing all speech through the same lens, then it is plain to see that not all speech is equal. To claim it as such, and to claim that not publishing bad faith arguments meant to boost false moral and intellectual equivalences is somehow akin to censorship, is to completely jettison the notion that there is good speech at all.
Senator Cotton is not a fool. He knows this, and he knows how to get what he wants. His article is not anything different than would have been seen or written by any number of pro-trump individuals. But he leverages his status as a Senator to give his opinion more weight, and thus muddy the waters so that he can justify his bad faith arguments. We wouldn't have let the now primaried Steve King run opinion pieces saying that black Americans are inferior to whites, just because he was in congress.
It's a shell game, a Trojan horse, effective against those that prefer facts and reason to emotional arguments. It's meant to draw you into a fight over things that have nothing to do with the real issue. It's a distraction, to take advantage of your desire to fight over each issue and miss the real one. Meanwhile, men like Senator Cotton will say 'the American people support the use of the military to stop violence' without mentioning that this does not mean the American people support designating other Americans as enemy combatants.
In the case of his op-ed, liberals have spent time trying to refute what he says rather than what he means. Lost in his false equivalency about using the troops during desegregation and the demand to protect people's property is the assertion that, according to Senator Cotton, peaceful protesters using their constitutional rights is an act of insurrection, warranting the use of force on par with a rebellion against the United States. Hidden by his omission that the California governor was the one to ask for federal help in the 1992 riots, is the notion that protesting brutality is akin to armed uprisings against constitutional government.
While people spend time arguing why he's reading the Insurrection Act wrong or willfully omitting details from his examples, we're missing the point that Cotton's reasoning doesn't matter. The act of designating Americans as enemies is wrong. It will always be wrong. There is no moment where it would be acceptable to use the American military as an occupying force on American soil. We do not need to hear Senator Cotton's reasoning, because it is based on a false assumption that we can refute.
To publish his op-ed, the New York Times did not endorse him. It did however, place his assertions on par with those made by civil rights activists. We would refute on its face the notion that Cotton's asserted beliefs are equal in moral or academic weight to Martin Luther King's belief in civil rights. Yet the NYT is placing such things side by side, as though the point and counterpoint are both valid points of view, as though believing that it's okay to deprive people of civil rights is just a logical counterpoint that deserves to be treated with respect.
As we saw in Charlottesville, the goal of men like Cotton is to legitimize their views. They wish to rehabilitate their image, so that we no longer see them as being men in Klan hoods. Instead, they wear polo shirts and look acceptable in public. But this attempt to seem legitimate and benign is a con and a lie. It's an attempt to make racism, police brutality, authoritarianism, and white nationalism just another point of view, as though these things are of equal weight morally or ethically to the thoughts of men like Martin Luther King Jr.
We would not show people his 'I Have a Dream' speech and then show them a speech from George Wallace and ask them to compare and contrast the pros and cons of each argument, and the New York Times shouldn't either.
Shawn Conway

Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming, about the rise of Dominionism, or Christian Nationalism, now writes opinion columns for the New York Times. Kingdom Coming was published in 2007. It demands attention now because of how an obviously anti-Christ (as a description, if not necessarily "the" one) Trump has co-opted the Christian Nationalist movement. I have (formerly close) friends who in 2016 explicitly articulated their believe that Trump would bring about God's Kingdom on Earth.
Clemson University sociologist Andrew Whitehead and his colleagues Samuel Perry of the University of Oklahoma and Joseph Baker of East Tennessee State University say that religious support for Trump is driven by Christian nationalism, which is not so much about moral purity as it is about power––the kind of power to defend and to deliver the Christian nation that never was.

Those friends still embrace that cultic magical thinking.

Goldberg rebukes Cotton and NYTimes editors in a column published on Thursday, Tom Cotton's Fascist op-ed.
Before Donald Trump became president, most newspaper op-ed pages sought to present a spectrum of politically significant opinion and argument, which they could largely do while walling off extremist propaganda and incitement. The Trump presidency has undermined that model, because there’s generally no way to defend the administration without being either bigoted or dishonest.
Opinion sections, eager to maintain ideological diversity without publishing lies or stuff that belongs in Breitbart, have therefore filled up with anti-Trump conservatives. As a result, newspapers like this one have often been criticized for elevating an intellectual clique that has little mass base or political influence.
So I can sort of appreciate my bosses’ decision on Wednesday to run Senator Tom Cotton’s screed arguing that the military should be sent to American cities to “restore order,” which has caused a rebellion inside The New York Times. The Times Opinion section wants to include the views of people who support Trump, and the very qualities that make Cotton’s Op-Ed revolting — his strongman pretensions, his sneering apocalypticism — make him an important figure in Trump’s Republican Party. (He might someday come to lead it.)
Readers should grasp what people like Cotton are arguing, not because it’s worth taking seriously but because it is being taken seriously, particularly by our mad and decomposing president. Cotton has made an even more extreme version of the case for military occupation of American cities on Twitter, but most Americans aren’t on Twitter. The paper could convey his views by reporting on them, but for the Opinion section, letting him express them himself is more direct. [...]
A similar case could be made for hearing from Cotton, an enemy of liberal democracy who has the president’s ear. He is relevant, whether we like it or not. (Soon after his piece was published, Trump retweeted it.)
Thus when I first saw the Cotton Op-Ed I wasn’t as horrified as perhaps I should have been; I figured he’d helpfully revealed himself as a dangerous authoritarian. But as I’ve seen my colleagues’ anguished reaction, I’ve started to doubt my debating-club approach to the question of when to air proto-fascist opinions. [...]
In a racist inversion, he equates his fantasy of soldiers putting down an uprising triggered by police brutality against black people with previous presidents using the military to enforce desegregation.
His argument is frequently slippery and dishonest. The claim that police officers “bore the brunt of the violence” is hard to square with countless videos of police instigation. (So far, more civilians than police officers have been reported killed during the uprising.)
Cotton notes that President George H.W. Bush sent federal troops into Los Angeles in 1992 to quell the riots that broke out after the police who beat Rodney King were acquitted. But he doesn’t tell readers that Bush did so at the invitation of California’s governor.
That’s very different from the federal government overriding local elected authorities and occupying their states and cities, which seems to be what Cotton is proposing. It’s an idea that appalls many military leaders.
How ANY believer in the 10th Amendment can stomach any of this is beyond me.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

This amendment to the US Constitution is, by the way, the reason our Tinpot Dictator has tried to get away with militarizing the District of Columbia, and only THREATENED to do so in any of the States in the Union. And at the request (demand) of the Mayor of DC, Muriel Bowser, Trump backed down and sent home National Guard troops days ago deployed to DC from states governed by Republicans. Bowser also designated an area of DC as Black Lives Matter Plaza.

No comments:

Post a Comment