Wrote the Editorial Board of the NYT in "Donald Trump Is Not Above the Law," which went up last Friday. I didn't read it at the time because the headline is so banal, but I looked back at it because someone told me that the NYT editors were calling for the indictment of Trump.
That's not the case. They're only saying that "If Attorney General Merrick Garland and his staff conclude that there is sufficient evidence to establish Mr. Trump’s guilt on a serious charge in a court of law, then they must seek an indictment too." That is, the editors reject the idea that there's room for discretion, for consideration of when and whether to prosecute a former President.
But I ran into that quote I put in the post title — it's in the first paragraph — and I've been thinking about the contradiction inherent in claiming to be protecting "democracy" and acting to deprive the people of the opportunity to vote for a particular political candidate.
The urgency to stop Trump feels like a mistrust of the people. The deplorable subsection of America shouldn't have elected him the first time — so goes the elite opinion — and we can't let those people have another chance to give this man power. That's anti-democratic, and yet isn't it why the oligarchy presents itself as serving democracy?
That's my question. Is it one of the NYT editors' "profound questions about American democracy"? I doubt it, but I will finally read this thing and let you know if — by off chance — the elite editors of the NYT notice the contradiction:
Mr. Trump’s unprecedented assault on the integrity of American democracy requires a criminal investigation....
Trump is framed as the attacker of democracy, rather than as a candidate in a forthcoming democratic election. He's going to wreck elections, not participate in them.
[D]oing nothing to hold him accountable for his actions in the months leading up to Jan. 6 could set an irresistible precedent for future presidents. Why not attempt to stay in power by any means necessary or use the power of the office to enrich oneself or punish one’s enemies, knowing that the law does not apply to presidents in or out of office?...
Trump pursued available remedies and didn't get very far, then participated in a big demonstration, but do you want to criminalize seeking court remedies and delivering momentous speeches? That doesn't approach "by any means necessary." And it's odd to include on that list "us[ing] the power of the office to... punish one’s enemies," because that sounds like what is being done to Trump.
A week after the attack, the House impeached Mr. Trump for the second time. This editorial board supported his impeachment and removal from office; we also suggested that the former president and lawmakers who participated in the Jan. 6 plot could be permanently barred from holding office under a provision of the 14th Amendment that applies to any official who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or given “aid or comfort” to those who have done so....
Now, that would get into "by any means necessary" territory, stretching the legal text in an effort to prevent Trump from running for office again. Why can't you let the people vote for whomever we want? In the name of democracy, you mistrust democracy.
[T]he threat that Mr. Trump and his most ardent supporters pose to American democracy has metastasized.
Again, Trump is portrayed as the enemy of democracy.
Even now, the former president continues to spread lies about the 2020 election and denounce his vice president, Mike Pence, for not breaking the law on his behalf....
Part of democracy is critiquing democracy. Both sides do it, and both sides lie. The "Russia collusion" hoax dogged Trump throughout his presidency. We need to be able to debate about defects in the voting and vote counting process, even as we also need to be able to declare a winner within a practical timeframe. Would the NYT denounce things like "Not My President Day" or all the people who think Al Gore won in 2000?
No, there won't be any principled demand to suppress lies — and spin and exaggeration and strained legal arguments — about elections, and if there were, it would be a despicable attack on freedom of speech. The remedy for what they see as lies about the election is simply more speech. I understand their frustration: Why do people keep believing what the NYT believes it knows to be lies? But that's always the problem with freedom of speech. People tell and believe a lot of lies. If you want democracy, you can't let that flip you out into hysteria. Concentrate on the next election and defeat your opponent at the polls.
If your response is, no, because my opponent might win and we can't take that risk, then you don't believe in democracy.