Thursday, November 9, 2023

Don't ignore the real threat of authoritarianism

The New York Times and the Washington Post each recently published news articles describing how Donald Trump intends in his second term to select political appointees who will unquestioningly follow his orders and turn the prosecutorial power of the Justice Department against his political adversaries, reported Press Watch.

What they were basically describing was a dictatorship, where one person makes all the rules, unchecked, and political opposition is considered a crime.

It is important, terrifying stuff.

But as the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Will Bunch argued in a standout column on Sunday, the tone the reporters and editors chose was understated to the point of cowardice and apathy.

At the Times, he wrote, the editors “made sure to present this major report in the blandest, most inoffensive way possible — staying true to the mantra in the nation’s most influential newsroom that the 2024 election shouldn’t be covered any differently, even when U.S. democracy is on the line.”

(By contrast, Bunch called on journalists to use “the keyboard as a weapon to fight for democracy instead of dispassionately reporting, evenhandedly, on its slow death.” Amen!)

The Post’s word choices were similarly pusillanimous. After describing Trump’s plans to prosecute critics and have the military put down protests, the authors arrived at this whingey conclusion: “Critics have called such ideas dangerous and unconstitutional.”

That’s insufficient. The essential, missing context is: This is how democracies die.

Let me rewrite that for you.

The New York Times

The article by Jonathan Swan, Charlie Savage and Maggie Haberman was eventually headlined: “If Trump Wins, His Allies Want Lawyers Who Will Bless a More Radical Agenda”. (Gift link.)

That’s way better than the original headline: “Trump’s Allies Want a New Style of Lawyer if He Returns to Power.” I guess we should be grateful for that.

But neither comes close to telegraphing the truth. Let me rewrite that headline for you: “If Trump Wins, His Allies Want No Obstacles to Dictatorship”.

The Times subhead was “Politically appointed lawyers sometimes frustrated Donald J. Trump’s ambitions. His allies are planning to install more aggressive legal gatekeepers if he regains the White House.”

Let me rewrite that, too: “Politically appointed lawyers sometimes frustrated Donald J. Trump’s ambitions. His allies are planning to install enablers instead.”

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