Is the New York Times Editorial Board being informative, or manipulative?
In this essay, I wanted to analyze the piece “R.I.P., G.O.P,” which was published this past October by the New York Times Editorial Board. The NYT Editorial Board is composed of journalists and writers from all different styles and topics of reporting, with experience ranging from the Boston Globe to the Daily Beast, to Rolling Stone magazine. Their aim is “to provide a consistent, independent view of the world based on time-tested institutional values” (“The New York Times”). The piece “R.I.P., G.O.P.” discusses why the editorial board believes that the Republican Party has reached its end, highlighting key elements. Although I position that the opinion piece effectively condemns Trump and his contribution to undermining the Republican party, it does not fully substantiate why there has been a long-time decay of the G.O.P. This piece insinuates that Republican politicians before Trump were just as unacceptable as him, which I argue is not only false but also is not effectively argued in the examples and context given in the opinion piece.
The first element of the Editorial Board’s argument is that Republicans are essentially not optimizing their party’s position to create a more relatable and successful party platform. “R.I.P., G.O.P.” mentions in the paragraph concerning healthy democracies that “center-right parties have long been crucial to the health of modern liberal democracies.” This analysis stemming from a major study published from Harvard contributes to their argument that in the modern-day, the definition of democracy is often designed by liberals and those who are perhaps more center and left-leaning. This matters to the G.O.P. because if Republicans were to align themselves more towards the center than the far right, the piece claims, people could more easily palate “aspects of the far-right,” in turn creating less unity among right-wing extremists and removing those “more radical elements that threaten to destabilize the system.” This modern reality for the Republican party this piece argues is being ignored by the Trump-era G.O.P.
“R.I.P., G.O.P.” positions the modern G.O.P. as instead being power-hungry and obsessed with “owning the libs.” This has created a philosophical issue within the conservatives, as their values are no longer focused on conservatism, but rather power and domination among Republicans. One example this piece uses is the recent filling of a Supreme Court seat by Amy Coney Barrett so close to the election, pushed for solely by Republicans. This is a clear point of hypocrisy the piece explains, as the same Senate Republicans that pushed for this Supreme Court seat filling were also the ones that denied Obama electing his high court pick in 2016, which was only eight months from the next election. Incidents like these have almost come to define the G.O.P., and “R.I.P., G.O.P.” even elaborates, discussing the common conservative principles of “character” and “family values,” yet many Republicans looked the other way when it came to Trump’s sexual assault allegations.
Obedience has almost become synonymous with the G.O.P., as “Trump has appointed around 200 judges to the federal bench.” This has created a hostile state within Republicans that if they do not follow Trump’s orders, they can forget about re-election or even their current job state as can be noted by the frequent change in Trump’s cabinet members. This disruption of checks and balances is argued to be the root cause of many of Trump’s epic diversions. Some examples the piece gives are the government shutdown in 2018 and 2019 and the declaration of a national emergency on the southern border that ultimately siphoned “money from the Pentagon for his border wall.” Occasions in politics like these are claimed to be signs of the demise of the Republican party, and ultimately the NYT Editorial Board claims these problems have been dormant in the G.O.P. until Trump’s presidency.
While I do not deny the presence of many of the hypocrisies and internal issues of the G.O.P. that the piece highlights, I do not agree with the main claim of the piece that the Republican Party and everything within it is “hollowed-out” and “devoid of ideas.” In fact, I think one of the areas in which the piece really fails is the lack of a coherent definition and idea of what the Republican Party really is. Sure, Republican politicians in general within the Senate and the House are almost entirely obedient to Trump’s tyrannical thumb. However, there are also inactive but nonetheless influential Republicans who refuse to support him and his policies, such as Cindy McCain and Colin Powell.
There are also Republican cohorts and spokesperson groups such as the Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump. The piece mentions the Lincoln Project, but completely downplays the role they actually play in keeping traditional Republican values and ideas alive. The Lincoln Project has worked since Trump’s inauguration to create propaganda-like newsreels on Twitter that utilize the same dirty tools Trump used in 2016, except they’re attacking Trump and creating viral content for Democrats and Republicans alike (Kafka). Groups like the Lincoln Project are trying to dismantle the idea that every Republican likes or shares the same values as Trump, and they indicate a strong self-awareness among some Republicans.
The real trouble with how this piece presents the “demise of the Republican party” is what I would note as misconstruing the participation of past Republican Presidents in creating a so-called “rot” that “has been eating at its core for decades.” This mainly takes place when discussing the viewpoints of Peter Wehner, a well-known speechwriter for three past Republican Presidents and a famous conservative critic of Trump (“Peter Wehner”). While discussing Wehner’s background, the piece notes his involvement with three Republican presidents and then proceeds to mention “Republicans, from beginning to end, sought not to ensure that justice be done or truth be revealed.” I found this misleading as it could not possibly be referring to past and present Republican Presidents if they are quoting Wehner.
Peter Wehner stayed with the Bush Administration and two prior Republican Presidents having done a job that requires not only strong writing but some form of admiration for Republicans since he is essentially crafting the Republican image from a biased perspective all throughout speeches. No sane person, unless held against their will, would stay with three Republican administrations unless they believe to some extent that those politicians are effective and good at the job they do. Even if I was totally wrong about this piece’s misleading argument for the longtime decay within the G.O.P., the piece supports its claims almost solely using evidence of Republicans’ anti-establishment behavior during Trump’s presidency. The only piece of evidence that did not follow the pattern was the mention of Republicans during the Obama administration blocking his Supreme court nominee, which does predate Trump’s influence, but only by a year. There is no point in this piece where that claim of “decades of rot” is substantiated, and it is a central idea to the very argument that the author is trying to make.
Going back in time, he was not a Republican that opposed major positive government policies that got the US out of the Great Depression, like those instituted by FDR. He was not a Republican that opposed the Civil Rights Act; that was Barry Goldwater who was also endorsed by the KKK. He also was not Ronald Reagan, the one who started the War on Drugs that has created massive downfalls in majority-black and minority neighborhoods to this day. Not to say if he were a politician at those times, he would not have conformed to the G.O.P.
If a piece is going to claim that Trump single-handedly “destroyed” the Republican party, I would first stop echoing the examples of Russia, Michael Bolton, and impeachment, because we have all heard them, Trump has been impeached, and he is still President. The piece continues using the theme that the Republican party is “power-hungry” and “self-serving,” but is missing “effective” and “politically successful.” The G.O.P. may currently be subservient, and sexist, and morally reprehensible, but at the end of the day, it is very good at creating support in the communities they need it in and removing obstacles in their way. Though Trump has done an incredible amount of damage to the Republican party and his ideology has negatively impacted politics, not enough evidence is given in this piece for why he alone is the reason for the Republican party’s “demise.” If you were to make that argument you would have to brief over some history of the Republican party going back to how the Northern rich and powerful gradually became the Southern rich and powerful, all the way up to the 20th century detailing the policies of numerous Republican presidents.
If I were attacking the G.O.P. the way this piece is trying to, I would start looking at the United States’ history of G.O.P. decisions and how Republicans have positioned themselves in the U.S. ever since the Civil War. I would trace the timeline to see how conservative policy and values have evolved to create a far-right G.O.P. rather than the more moderate G.O.P. that some older Americans may recall. If it were up to me to better define what this piece is arguing for, I would say it is stating the case for how Trump pitted the G.O.P. against the entire United States and an insight into how that could have happened. Trump’s presidency still has a broken narrative that has yet to be fully understood and defined and it would have worked to this piece’s benefit to utilize the history of the G.O.P. combined with Trump’s policy and ideas to hone into why the G.O.P. is a “hollowed-out shell.”
I am no advocate for Trump and did not vote for him this election, but I think this piece fell into a trap of repeating the structure of many pieces before it that try to criticize the G.O.P. but only end up really condemning Trump. While Trump is responsible for many problems in the United States currently, he was not responsible for several G.O.P. related decisions that have contributed to fundamental problems within the party. The NYT Editorial Board’s succumbing to the common themes of Trump critiques was especially unexpected and disappointing given the diversity of those on the board as well as their differing perspectives. It was especially frustrating given this piece repeats the same examples that many people who have been paying attention to politics already know: the border wall, the Ukraine, Russia, Hunter Biden, the pandemic, etc.
I was anticipating a timeline that explains why this piece positions itself based on Stuart Stevens’ assertion that Trump “is the logical conclusion of what the Republican Party has become in the last fifty or so years.” If this piece was assuming readers already knew the history of the G.O.P. in the past fifty years, then why not also assume that readers were aware of the events of the past four. What is perhaps the greatest tragedy with “R.I.P., G.O.P.” is that the overwhelming majority of the NYT Editorial Board members are those who are older veterans of the NYT and can recall at least the past three or four decades of the G.O.P.. Was this piece trying to gather some last-minute support for the 2020 election and remind voters of the damage Trump has made? Maybe this is the case given the only recommended piece at the end of the reading on nytimes.com includes another piece by the Editorial Board titled “Elect Joe Biden, America.”
- Kafka, Peter. “What’s Really Going on with the Lincoln Project, the Anti-Trump, Republican-led PAC That’s Pissing off Lots of People.” Vox, Vox, 20 Aug. 2020, www.vox.com/recode/2020/8/20/21376571/lincoln-project-trump-twitter-tv-ads-strategy.
- “The New York Times Editorial Board.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Mar. 2018, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/opinion/editorialboard.html.
- “Peter Wehner, Author at Ethics & Public Policy Center.” Ethics & Public Policy Center, EPPC, eppc.org/author/peter_wehner/.