It’s an approach that allows Cohn to cite example after example involving Republicans, and then turn around and say that the broader problem is just as applicable to Democrats. Take the opening paragraph: “American democracy faces many challenges: New limits on voting rights.” (Republicans.) “The corrosive effect of misinformation.” (Overwhelmingly Republicans.) “The rise of domestic terrorism.” (Predominantly coming from right-wing extremists generally associated with Republicans.) “Foreign interference in elections.“ (On behalf of Republicans.) “Efforts to subvert the peaceful transition of power.” (Republicans.) “And,” drum roll, please … “making matters worse on all of these issues is a fundamental truth: The two political parties see the other as an enemy.”
Oh, so Republicans have worked to limit voting, tried to subvert the peaceful transition of power, not had a problem with benefiting from foreign interference in elections, spread misinformation, and been largely silent as their supporters have become the chief domestic terrorist threat in the country, but the fundamental truth making things worse is that the two political parties see the other as the enemy.
I mean, seriously.
Even where Cohn brings in actual examples involving Democrats, he falls flat, as with statistics like “More than half of Republicans and more than 40 percent of Democrats tend to think of the other party as ‘enemies,’ rather than ‘political opponents,’” according to a CBS News poll conducted in January” or “One-third of Republicans say they would support secession in a recent poll, along with one-fifth of Democrats.” Do you notice a theme here?
Cohn’s take is essentially that the last 20 or so years of Republican politics don’t matter as much as the snapshot of a moment in which, after decades of being treated as enemies and as less than fully American or even less than fully human (especially because, let’s face it, even though Cohn refuses to do so, a lot of Republican animus against Democrats is based on bigotry toward Black and brown people and LGBTQ people), Democrats are starting to return the feeling. How dare they!
Faced with observations that he was both-sidesing an issue that was, by his own writing, pretty clearly one-sided, Cohn took to Twitter to earnestly explain that the problem was it could become fully both-sided at some point. Why, if Republicans persist in treating Democrats as the enemy—including violently—Democrats might embrace sectarianism. At some point. And the observation that he’s engaging in a stupidly both-siderist argument became evidence for its truth:
So basically, if one group of people commit enough atrocities against another group of people that the offended-against group decides the atrocity-committers are really terrible people, then—snaps fingers—both sides are at fault. All you have to do to evade judgment is to do a bad thing for long enough that the people you’re doing it to decide that your bad acts make you a bad person.
Sure, it would be bad in the long run if Republicans decided to back down from their ruthless pursuit of partisan power above all other objectives and cracked down on the conspiracy theorists and domestic terrorists in their party and embraced policy objectives beyond “own the libs” and acknowledged voting rights as a worthy goal even if it meant they had to try to broaden their appeal, and if they did all that in a sincere way that they acted on and then—after all that—Democrats said Republicans were an immoral, alien enemy and wouldn’t work with them. But there’s no sign of that. Either part of it. Instead, President Biden has repeatedly emphasized his commitment to unity, to reaching out to Republican voters even where Republican politicians refuse to engage, which they do, on every major issue. Biden is not alone in that. Many Democratic lawmakers take that stance, even when Republicans use it to kick them repeatedly in the face.
Cohn acknowledges that Biden “did not attempt to arouse the passions of one sect against the other during his campaign” and that he “does not seem to elicit much outrage from the conservative news media or rank-and-file—perhaps because of his welcoming message or his identity as a 78-year-old white man from Scranton, Pa.” But! “sectarianism is not just about the conduct of the leader of a party—it’s about the conflict between two groups. Nearly anyone’s conduct can worsen hostility between the two sides, even if it is not endorsed by the leadership of a national political party. Mr. Carlson and the congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene are only the latest examples.” Yet again, mysteriously, the examples are all on one side. And Cohn holds out a danger for Biden himself, that he is “pursuing an ambitious policy agenda, which may eventually refocus partisan debate on the issues or just further alienate one side on matters like immigration or the filibuster.” So literally sectarianism is about “the antagonistic feelings between the groups, more than differences over ideas,” yet Biden having a policy agenda that is based on ideas could inflame sectarian conflict, because … of the Republican response.
Again and again Cohn sets up standards for sectarian behavior that his own writing makes clear are met by Republicans but not in any significant way by Democrats, and then finds a way to signal danger from both sides. It’s 1800 words of , followed by a string of tweets making the same case without improving upon it or acknowledging that perhaps it has weaknesses. It’s kind of spectacular in its intellectual vacuity, but it’s also dangerous in ways that Cohn’s own thinking on sectarianism would lead him to if he wasn’t so committed to his take that, sure, right now the problem is mostly on one side but eventually it could become a problem on both sides. But Cohn has no incentive to stop digging in, since this kind of tripe is clearly what the politics editors at the Times like to see.
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