The America the New York Times Wants

From the very beginning of the country, there has been disagreement about the meaning of America, but not until fairly recently in our history have there been outright calls for actually changing the American narrative. That sort of message only became popular with Progressivism in the early part of the 20th century.

More specifically, it came with Woodrow Wilson’s call to replace an earlier Jeffersonian liberalism with a new kind of liberalism, one that would explicitly recognize the role of the expert in government to navigate society through the complexities of modern life. The older ways of reading the U.S. Constitution, Wilson very explicitly articulated, had to give way to intelligent administration.

In the classic history of that era, The Age of Reform, Richard Hofstadter argued that Wilson had tapped into a deep-seated anxiety prevalent among middle-class professionals at a time when they felt robbed of their rightful place in society by the increasing specialization and massification of American life. Professionalism, expertise, and management have been the essential leitmotifs of Progressivism ever since.

It is interesting, though, that most present-day progressives cannot run fast enough away from President Wilson, even though they too call for expert management, and like him are bold to assert the need to change the American narrative. This is certainly the case with the New York Times which endorsed Wilson both in 1912 and 1916, but decries his legacy these days. The Times can no longer invoke its own venerable progressive past because it no longer fits the current narrative.

You see, Wilson was a racist of a very systematic, “expert” sort, and so too were the “experts” of his day which progressives (like the Times) sought to empower. Rather than question the problematic nature of tying expertise to power, however, our modern-day progressives simply airbrush their forebear out of history. It’s what one does when changing narratives. You remove the uncouth from the family album. But you keep the power, keep the enthronement of expertise as you like it, and march forward at double-time, never looking back.

The first object of any would-be purveyor of power is to shut down all scrutiny of itself.

In their April 9 editorial, “The America We Need,” the Times editorial board fails to reckon with their own progressive history, even as the article remains progressivist to the core. Like Wilson’s “New Democracy,” the Times seeks to reorder American life along certain lines supposedly more in keeping with modern democracy and material equality, using the coronavirus crisis as a useful wedge. But the article takes a very peculiar turn. The board asserts that the current fragility of American life and institutions is “the product of deliberate decisions” that have “perpetuated the nation’s defining racial inequalities,” without any acknowledgment that the present welfare system is the product of the progressive tradition the Times itself has long championed.

Following a brief but vitriolic indictment of the housing and transportation policies of the 60s, for instance, one would never know that these were the hallmark programs, not of the founding narrative of individual liberty and constitutional constraint, but of the later progressive narrative of the Great Society! “The America We Need,” however, spares no effort to sling verbal effluent on the advocates of limited government and personal freedom as the champions of “wealth and privilege,” and “racial inequalities,” who deliberately trap “children and their children’s children” in poverty. If they weren’t so sanctimoniously earnest, you would think this was the beginning of the new tales of Scrooge. But they are deadly serious and deeply wrong.

Not only do they airbrush progressive history, but they also pass over the mountains of conservative and classical liberal scholarship on the problems of our institutional life that have been the hallmark of solid economic and political analysis of the progressivist state. They have set aside the explicit attacks on institutional racism, the hammering critiques of distortionary regulations, and the entire body of evidence indicting “crony capitalism.”

This very valuable and essential voice needs to be part of the current conversation. Only a vetting from a tradition that has been consistently holding government authority to account (and sorting through the mess of our current policy responses) can keep political power honest.

But rather than keep the channels of communication and debate open, the members of the Times editorial board seek to shut it down. Instead of bringing us together, something they frequently complain the administration in Washington fails to do, they are themselves promulgating division.

In addition to airbrushing out portions of the progressive past which they once supported, they airbrush out all memory of the genuinely leftist roots of much of the limited government tradition. The very idea of crony capitalism, for instance, can be traced back to such left-wing works as Bertram Gross’ Friendly Fascism and Gabriel Kolko’s Triumph of Conservatism

Both writers had noticed an inescapable fact of the modern national bureaucratic state: It invariably serves entrenched well-heeled economic interests. Many an old-left advocate of genuine equality and freedom was drawn to the limited government fold from following the leads of these writers. Recognizing the inherent tension in the progressivist claim that society could be restructured by experts yet remain egalitarian, their point was to limit the coercion that organized interests could wield in society. The Times editorial board members acknowledge none of this diversity in the lineage of their imagined opponents.

The first object of any would-be purveyor of power is to shut down all scrutiny of itself. Rather than foster a debate, as one ideally should expect of a daily worthy of the appellation of “newspaper,” the Times has rather retarded and hindered it, raising the natural question of the editorial board’s motives. Deliberate distortion weakens us as a country, and that is a sad additional cost we now must overcome in a crisis that has already cost everyone too much.

Reader Discussion

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on April 22, 2020 at 10:49:34 am

One of the most noxious untruths is that the Times was ever a paragon of honest reportage. It always reflected the biases of its owners--Ochs and through the marriage of Och's daughter to the first Arthur Sulzberger the Sulzberger dynasty. If the Times supported Wilson it was not because of its or Wilson's progressivism but because Ochs was a loyal Southern Democrat. As for its own progressivism, take its editorial upon the resignation of the historian Charles A. Beard from Columbia over the firing of anti-war faculty rejoicing at Columbia's "salvation." P.S. the widespread belief the time was that the secret author was Ochs' chum Columbia president Nicholas Murray Butler. And I would suggest that if one bothered to go through the pages of the Chattanooga newspaper owned for many years by the Ochs-Sulzberger clan ample evidence of racism. Or take the Times' longstanding anti-Israel bias, that goes back to the first Arthur Sulzberger's membership in the assimilationist yearning German-Jewish elite with its contempt for the ost Juden and Zionism--a yearning that has culminated in the current Sulzberger's Presbyterianism. It has been fully documented that the Times accordingly deliberately buried information information about the holocaust. What is badly needed id an honesty history of the Times.

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John Braeman
on April 22, 2020 at 12:15:47 pm

"The first object of any would-be purveyor of power is to shut down all scrutiny of itself."
See Vladimir Bukovsky, "Judgement in Moscow" to see the template for this type of "purposive" reportage in which Bukovsky a) demonstrates how the Central Committee employed tactics barely distinguishable than that evidenced by The Times in the suppression of competing voices AND b) provides evidence of the willing collusion of The Times in advancing the Central committee's narratives.
One may also want to recall Walter Duranty's Pulitzer Prize winning series on the glories of the soviet System in the 1930's, proven to be demonstrably false, and knowingly so. The Times has to this day failed to address or renounce the award.
I could also cite the Times efforts on behalf of Castro in the late 1950's but....why bother?

Odd that the Times (along with other media corporations) rails against crony capitalism not more than two weeks after advocating for stimulus funds to "save" journalism.
As for "wealth and privilege", one may wish to review the times corporate structure wherein the Times is controlled by the minority shareholders (the Family) privileged by ownership of a distinctively privileged class of stock and provides "unequal" financial benefits to the Family.

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on April 22, 2020 at 13:47:27 pm

Mr. Eicholz provides numerous, obscure details of the NYT's mountebankian history of peddling faux-journalism cum crypto-communism. Yet, at the end of the day, isn't that what we already know about the NYT? Isn't that a mere statement of the obvious? Isn't it an assertion of fact which is as empirically-verifiable as original sin? Isn't it the bottom line of the NYT's story, the only news that's fit to print, the true history since its 1851 founding of the NYT's long history as a seminal font of propaganda and co-conspiracy in anti-American causes?

The NYT was once merely Stalin's "useful idiot." Now it is the useful ally of every enemy of America.

It was once said truly of the honorable, curmudgeonly patriot, Barry Goldwater, "In your heart you know he's right.'' And, so, in our hearts we know that Eicholz is right and that what I say of the NYT's is right.

But if in our hearts we already know he's right and I'm right, why do people, like Mr. Eicholz, continue to devote time, talent and energy arguing about the groundless substance of what the NYT's prints? Those who read it are beyond convincing and those who doubt it need no convincing. The postmodern 1619 Project, for example, recognizes no historical reality beyond the destructive political purpose of the NYT's writer and what that arbitrary writer arbitrarily chooses to make of the past? Truth has no role in the 1619 Project.

Is anyone who reads and believes the ongoing fantasies of the 1619 Project amenable to persuasion by consideration of historical truth and context? Of course not.

So stop trying to bring sight to the blind who will not see. Aim hostility at the NYT's dishonest motives; attack its scurrilous tactics; fight its typists with ad hominem rhetoric and deploy all lawful means of political and cultural destruction against them. Organize an "1851 Project" and staff it with postmodern historians.

It is, after all, to cultural war, not rational debate, that we are called to the aid of our country.

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on April 23, 2020 at 10:47:16 am

The Road to Liberty (R2L)

Achieving and retaining our liberty requires that we continually Face Reality and Accept Responsibility for what we see. [R+R=L, or R2=L. Cutesy, but what do you expect from a retired engineer?] That is what our founding colonial forebears did, facing the reality of the (actually relatively modest) tyranny from the English Parliament and Crown, and accepting responsibility in declaring their political (but not social, economic, and historical) independence, “… with a firm reliance on protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Now that was commitment! They knew what they were getting themselves into.

As commenters here and elsewhere have amply remarked, the NYT has long tried to distort our perception of reality and deny that we are responsible for our own lives, preferring instead the guidance and consul of the experts and politicians with whom they want to share and expand power over us. They are clearly trying to side step the concept that “… Governments … [derive] their just powers from the consent of the governed, …”

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on April 24, 2020 at 01:02:09 am

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on September 03, 2020 at 07:32:31 am

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