How do Americans decide what to be outraged about? It seems like ancient history now, but that was one of the questions The New York Times inadvertently raised in June when it appended an editor’s note to an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton—a piece that some on the Times staff saw as presenting a physical danger not only to the country but to themselves.
The op-ed called for American troops to be sent to “restore order” to cities experiencing violent protests. Outside and inside the Times, it was widely condemned as “fascist” or fascist-adjacent. More recently, though, the Times published an op-ed of a similar vein, except this time readers had the opportunity to glimpse what actual fascism looks like. Fascism, in today’s context, isn’t mere authoritarianism, but the attempt to suppress all dissent, public or private, in the name of the nation; it is the expression of a regimented society that elevates order as both the means and end of all political life.
The October 1 op-ed, by Regina Ip, a member of Hong Kong’s Executive Council, captured such sentiments well. Ip laid out the case for a new Chinese-backed security law that would effectively criminalize anything that might be perceived as “subversion.” Included was one of the most disturbing passages I have read in an American publication:
To some, the new national security law is especially chilling because it seems simultaneously vague and very severe. But many laws are vague, constructively so. And this one only seems severe precisely because it fills longstanding loopholes—about subversion, secession, local terrorism, collusion with external forces. One person’s “severe” is someone else’s intended effect.
This time, though, no staff revolt occurred, even though Ip’s article was an elaborate, if refreshingly frank, endorsement of real fascism.