The New York Times got a lot of heat after it published online on June 3, 2020, a column by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. For those who are not in tune, The New York Times has a strong liberal leaning. If it writes about President Trump, a columnist may call him “mad and decomposing.” Senator Cotton is one of the ardent supporters of President Trump who often confer with the president and who, rumor has it, is considering running for the top office in 2024.
One may say that there is nothing special about an influential politician writing a column for that major newspaper. Not in America in 2020.
The title of his column, written by The Times, proclaims: “Send In the Troops.” The subtitle adds: “The nation must restore order. The military stands ready.” In the column itself, Senator Cotton lists instances showing that “These rioters, if not subdued, not only will destroy the livelihoods of law-abiding citizens but will also take more innocent lives.” Then, he brings historical precedents supporting his opinion that using the military complies with our laws and traditions. Rich Lowry from the National Review talked with the staffers in Senator Cotton’s office, finding out that The New York Times editors painstakingly checked all the facts. They requested links in all cases where Senator Cotton’s statements could be controversial. They posted the column on The New York Times website around 2 pm Eastern time. President Trump retweeted it a few minutes later.
In an editorial note, added on June 5th but not signed by anyone, we can read that “this essay met strong criticism from many readers (and many Times colleagues).” That note is at least confusing. It lights one candle in the church of political correctness by stating “that the essay fell short of our standards and should not have been published,” and another candle for the concept of objectivity because: “The basic arguments advanced by Senator Cotton — however objectionable people may find them — represent a newsworthy part of the current debate.” There was no debate at The New York Times.
On June 4th, The New York Times published a column by Michelle Goldberg, who is a junior op-ed columnist. None of the renowned columnists there touched this subject. Ms. Goldberg dismisses Senator Tom Cotton’s column as a “screed” and unveils that its publication “has caused a rebellion inside The New York Times.” She is the one calling President Trump “mad and decomposing.” More important is that neither her column nor the editorial note had a critique of the merit of Senator Tom Cotton’s idea of using the military.
The purpose of the military is to kill as many enemies as possible in resolving problems that cannot be resolved peacefully. Hence, before being considered seriously, Senator Tom Cotton needs to answer a few essential questions. Can we stop riots peacefully? Instead of jumping into using “an overwhelming show of force to disperse” the riots, would it not be worth finding out why people are rioting in the first place? After all, the people looting stores are our countrymen, not declared enemies of the state. Would it not be interesting to find out from Senator Cotton his opinion as to why American citizens burn American buildings in American cities? No one in The New York Times thought about asking Senator Tom Cotton these questions in response to his column.
Then, let us say that Senator Cotton has his way, and we deploy the military. How many Americans will need to be killed by their fellow citizens wearing uniforms to stop the riots? I would ask Senator Tom Cotton for a number; is it 10, 100, 1,000, or more? What if bringing the military on the streets would anger peaceful people now watching the protests on TV only? What if, instead of thousands, millions of Americans would join the protests? What if those who still have their AK47s would join the protests with a simple message that they would start shooting at soldiers as soon as the first shot is fired? It is not a rhetorical question; I want Senator Tom Cotton to tell me what his strategic plan is in case of citizens’ resistance.
I can understand that The New Your Times editors did not think about this possibility because this would invalidate the arguments for more restrictive gun control. American citizens need their military-grade arms solely to stop people like Senator Tom Cotton and President Trump from using American soldiers against American people. We are finding out that we barely missed it, thanks to a few courageous people within the Trump administration.
Senator Tom Cotton needs to tell us as well what his plan is if many of the soldiers put on the street to stop the “orgy of violence” would cross the line and join the protesters. Why would they shoot at their fathers, brothers, or neighbors? What would Senator Tom Cotton do then?
Those are legitimate questions in the context of how politicians used our military after 9/11. Between Afghanistan and Iraq, we have about 6,700 Americans killed and 52,000 wounded, at the cost of about $6.4 trillion to our economy. What did we achieve? We negotiate with the Taliban now, instead of doing that in 2001. In 2003, Iraq was the most secular Arab country with a robust pro-American sentiment. The Saddam regime was on its last legs. If we had ended sanctions, Iraq would have had a fair shot in expedited economic advancement, which would have weakened the anti-American faction in Iran. Many countries in the region could have been more prosperous, enriching us in the process. In the meantime, China, free from the ballast of wars, advanced much faster than we did. Politicians, like Senator Tom Cotton, learned nothing from this painful experience. Where is an error in my reasoning, Senator Cotton?
For the sake of argument, let us assume that Senator Cotton knows something that we do not and that the deployment of the military would end the unrest quickly. Would it eliminate the reasons the violence exploded? What if the grievances that caused the uproar were only suppressed, and then they would start popping up again across the country? Would we need to send soldiers every weekend to a different place? What if we reach the level that to have peace, we would need two soldiers 24/7 behind half of all Americans?
Also, Senator Cotton brings a valid argument that some media pundits justify riots; he provides a link to Chris Cuomo on CNN. I agree that we should remind the public that rioters looted and burned stores that they need. Eventually, they will suffer inconveniences and the costs of rebuilding. But Senator Cotton did not write a column with this kind of message. For him, brute force is the only way of resolving problems. Hence, an attentive reader can conclude from his column that it would not take long before Senator Tom Cotton would argue for the military taking over CNN. One needs to be blindly naïve to believe that he is not advocating for martial law, which he denies. If given a chance, he will put the United States on the same path that Argentina took about one hundred years ago.
Reading the editorial note and the column by Michelle Goldberg, one can sense that James Bennet, now the former editorial page editor, realized that the column by Senator Tom Cotton would unmask his mindset as a tyrant. It backfired because the journalistic standards of The New York Times do not allow presenting ideas supporting despotism.
The New York Times editors formed an echo chamber where only lofty ideas are allowed; the questionable ideas might be at best mentioned with disgust, as not being worth a dignified response. In this tone, Ms. Goldberg wrote her response to Senator Cotton’s column. As a result, on one side, we have well-documented coherent reasoning for the wrong cause. On the other side, we have dismissive tone and petty arguments avoiding the core issues. Senator Tom Cotton appears as a statesman whereas The Times editors and writers sound like exalted high schoolers not yet living in the real world.
Explaining standards in The New York Times, Michelle Goldberg cites as an example that “a piece by the senior Trump aide Stephen Miller about the necessity of curbing nonwhite immigration” unlikely would be published because “the liberal inclination to hear all sides would have smacked up against sheer moral abhorrence.” It means that for ivory tower editors at The New York Times, if something morally abhorrent is not printed there, it does not exist.
They did not notice yet that about half of Americans support Trump’s immigration policy, shaped by Stephen Miller. His anti-immigration stance helped Donald Trump to win in 2016 and gives him a fair shot at winning again in 2020. It is the editors’ fault, including those at The New York Times, that we have the current president. The only way of stopping the moral abhorrence of getting popular support is by engaging its advocates in a debate. It is by allowing the backers of evil to tell what they think. Then, one needs to have the intellectual potential to crush the opponents’ arguments. The New York Times appears as well qualified to do that as Donald Trump is qualified to be president. It takes those two to tango, to bring our country where it is now.