- The New York Times is showing a new conservative sheen
- In reacting against Trumpism, many 'liberal' outlets are beginning to long for a mythologized American past
- By doing this, they are mirroring Trumpist politics
- Instead of championing new voices in U.S. politics, many liberal outlets are backing conservatism
By Ty Joplin
“There used to be no doubt that American leaders could be counted on to defend the interests of the United States and the democratic alliance it led. President Ronald Reagan did so in 1987 when he exhorted the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to ‘tear down’ the Berlin Wall.” This is not a quotation from a conservative pundit decrying the Obama years or an angry comment in the depths of a local news article posted on Facebook.
It’s straight from the New York Times Editorial Board, a paper and staff that has passed itself off as a bastion of liberal thought. Not anymore.
In responding to Trump’s presidency, the New York Times and indeed many other liberal-leaning journalists have folded in on themselves, sacrificing the values that made them reputable as ‘progressive.’
Rather than pushing national dialogues forward, demanding a compelling counter-narrative to combat Trumpism, they are harkening to the past, mythologizing former times of ‘American Greatness’ and dangerously fibbing American history and empire in the process.
The op-ed sections of publications like The New York Times and Politico are calling for war against Russia and more American hard power without flinching or reflecting on why they have given up on progressive causes and begun to rely on a hawkish and deeply conservative worldview. That such propositions would, if taken seriously, kill thousands and threaten national security do not seem important. America is under threat, and it needs to go to war.
The end result of this shift in covering Trump will likely just be appeasement towards his political brand, all but ensuring that he remains in power as his critics write themselves into utter isolation from their audiences and into the abyss of “MAGA” nostalgia.
(The New York Times)
In the wake of Trump’s joint summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, columnists throughout the U.S. collectively experienced a shock that was seen in their coverage. One headline rang through nearly every major American publication: Trump’s meeting with Putin was betrayal.
Despite the fact that Trump has consistently defended and embraced Putin as a friend for years, somehow his stance during the summit came as a surprise.
“This week has been nominated as the most remarkable” of Trump’s presidency, Brian Williams said on his MSNBC Show, The 11th Hour.
“Trump’s actions in Helsinki don’t have to be treasonous to be impeachable,” reads one opinion piece in The Washington Post “It might not be treason, but it’s certainly treachery,” the first line clarifies.
In the article comparing Trump’s friendship with Putin to Pearl Harbor, the author also managed to argue that it was like 9/11 in that they all were “earth-shaking events that forced a forward leap in our strategic thinking about the defense of the American homeland and the projection of American power.” In other words: 9/11 and Pearl Harbor jumpstarted America’s military, so the Helsinki summit should too.
The article continues, describing Russia’s attempts at influencing the American election as an act of war: “Trump may think of the European Union as America’s primary foe, but the Kremlin identifies the United States as its primary adversary. It is using asymmetric means to attack our society and our alliances, and to attack the citizens of the West.”
It then patriotically calls for America to go to war with Russia: to physically and militarily confront Russia.
To be sure, Americans do not want to go to war with Russia. A June 2018 Gallup Poll showed that virtually no voter thought ‘the situation with Russia’ was the most important issue. But if you read the claims of ‘treason’ in major news outlets, you would be forgiven if you thought Americans were gearing up for a massive, glorious and just war against a powerful foe.
Rather than reveal that Trump is in the pocket of Russia, the summit showed how deeply reactionary and yes, conservative, many U.S. outlets have become in trying to cover Trump effectively. The reaction to Trump’s coziness with Putin? War.
The inconvenient fact that America meddles in dozens of countries’ elections to far greater extent than Russia is capable of, or that countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel are far more successful at influencing foreign policy than Russia—these do not matter. That many members of the U.S. political establishment back an extremist cult in Iran in an effort to mount regime change in the country; that’s fair game, because America is an exceptional place with whom the rules of engagement flow one way only.
If it wasn’t, then the logic of many pundits would turn against the U.S: they would be forced to remain consistent with their values and call on the countries whose elections were rigged by the U.S. to declare war against it.
Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman lamented that Trump is causing the “Fall of the American Empire.” In his opinion, the American Empire has been historically generous, caring and democratic despite millions of bodies and dozens of destabilized countries showing the contrary.
“What we mainly did instead was help defeated enemies get back on their feet, establishing democratic regimes that shared our core values and became allies in protecting those values,” Krugman states, apparently missing the irony in utilizing the phrase “establishing democratic regimes,” three words that contradict each other. He is also conveniently misremembering that many former puppets of U.S. foreign policy have gone on to become avowed enemies, such as Iran.
Let’s look at The New York Times’ Editorial Boards’ Newfound hero, Ronald Reagan, as an example of the so-called ‘generous’ and democratic empire. His administration supported Nicaraguan death squads to oust a government, while smuggling arms to the same autocratic regime in Iran against which so many in Washington are pushing to go war now.
“We need our empire back,” these pieces argue, glorifying American history in ways conservatives have done for decades. Those who are against Trump and empire are losing powerful allies to the allure of shortsighted anti-Trump outrage.
(The New York Times)
The New York Times even went as far as to rely on homophobic gay jokes to depict Trump and Putin’s relationship as a sexual one, making sure to show how gross it is when two men kiss. Many supposedly ‘liberal’ voices are guilty of using queerness as a punchline to make fun of Trump and Putin, including beloved late night host Stephen Colbert.
Apparently, pushing for equality now plays second fiddle to using conservative orthodoxy’s disgust for gay love as a political tool.
(The New York Times)
The horrific failure of many ‘progressive’ outlets to effectively cover Trump shows how they have fallen victim to his politics, trailing behind him with their own version of ‘Make America Great Again’ Trumpism from which they are also struggling so desperately to rid American discourse.
They don’t know it, but they are providing an ample chorus to elevate his political worldview: one that is reactionary and old-school, quick to depend on military power and a false history of America to make it seem like a paradise of opportunity rather than full of horrifically un-democratic violence.
Still from New York Times Cartoon (New York Times)
The move towards mythologizing an empire whose golden lining has since faded and become vulgar now aligns the New York Times and other influential outlets with Fox News when it was covering politics under Obama.
And in moving towards a conservative, nostalgic anti-Trumpism, these outlets are failing to adapt to Trump in horrific ways. They are growing out of touch with the contemporary political landscape, sacrificing their supposedly cherished values in the process and diminishing their influential positions as meaningful opponents to his politics.
They are then helping him and his brand, while giving a powerful boost to conservatism.
By unquestionably backing American hard power, entrusting conflict resolution to the military-industrial complex, and by drawing idealism from the past rather than new ideas and politicians, these outlets are showing how far their worldview has strayed from the American electorate.
And by ham-fistedly tethering their political clout to a fundamentally conservative worldview, they are giving Republicans an ally in the press, abandoning a rising democratic tide of young stars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, Beto O’Rourke in Texas and Kaniela Ing in Hawaii.
These young politicians’ issues, such as strengthening the U.S.’ social safety net, providing more equitable wages, and guaranteeing free education, are far more compelling to American voters yet do not receive the same level of urgency by many in the press as the rallying cry to American empire against foreign ghosts and boogeymen like Putin.
Rather than provide a platform for progressive and fresh voices as guiding lights to shepard America away from toxic Trumpism, media outlets are in effect shuttering their doors to them, hoping someone with a similar love of war will take the helm and Make America Great Again.
Whether they know it or not, the New York Times’ slide into nihilism is giving Trump one less enemy to deal with.
As long as nominally ‘liberal’ outlets continue to wish longingly to ‘Make America Great Again’ by their terms, they are helping to validate Trump and the Republican party’s worldview, making sure Trump and his team get to stay in power.
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