For the past three weeks I have been sharing accounts of various proposals for civic action in reaction to last November’s presidential election. The premise of the columns was that those who opposed Donald Trump had lost their battle. Now they could either wring their hands in woe-is-me despair or they could plan some action to prepare for the next election and to preserve some of the institutions and values they believe the Trump administration may try to radically change.
Shortly after the last column was printed I received the following E-mail:
I guess it was to be expected but your liberal friends and you obviously aren’t taking the results of the recent presidential election very well. Trump was my fifth choice among the persons running for my party’s nomination but, the alternative to him being the detestable Clintons and all their nefarious friends and associates, I voted for him with maybe the smallest pang of guilt I ever felt.
I always liked U.S.1 for many reasons, including the fact that it steered clear of partisan politics. I’m sad to say that the newspaper is in danger of becoming just another newspaper with a liberal bias. I know your readership is generally left-of-center but it’s been able to get its hate-fixes from the NYT, etc. for 50 years and more and should be able to do so for years to come. I hope that U.S.1’s foray into politics is a passing thing to satisfy your temporary needs and not “the new normal.”
Over 60 million people — about half of all your fellow Americans who voted — despise the incessant whining that’s characterized the liberal/leftist/”progressive” response to the election. I was miserable for the last eight years that O & Co. held power but never once behaved liked a child dispossessed of a supposed entitlement. A part of me is disgusted by the behavior on your side of the political equation but another part of me welcomes this species of “cry babyism” as a great promotional tool for the other — which is to say my — side.
Your side may be too angry to care about the consequences of its anger. Well, let’s just say there’s bad sportsmanship and then there’s bad strategy. Take it from a long-suffering but quiet and well-behaved loser who’s starting to feel as if experiencing victory is a possibility again.
No one knows how the next few years will go for the country but they may go better than your side expects them to or will ever admit. If they don’t, well, your side can bring it on in 2020. I promise not to cry then, either.
With Gratitude for U.S. 1 (at least from its Inception until 2016) & All Good Wishes . . .
The letter hurt, but not because the writer disagreed with my implicit support for the Obama legacy or because the writer accused the paper of taking sides in a national political debate. I’m glad these objections were raised and I will respond to them shortly.
What really hurt was the last line — “gratitude for U.S. 1 at least from its inception until 2016.” Did that line mean that the national political divide had actually cost us a reader? If so it would be our loss. This letter writer has been a loyal reader, by the way, who not only reads but who has over the years sent any number of interesting news and feature items our way — a creator as well as a consumer of our content.
Fortunately, after 50-plus years in the news business, I have come to realize that the first words out of someone’s mouth are not necessarily the definitive words. Even though our correspondent gave us a pretty good lecture on the dangers of anger, he seemed to show a few flashes of ill-temper himself. Re-reading the letter I had to remind myself that this was from a person whose man had won the election. What would he have said if Trump had lost?
So, hoping that this letter was more a rant than a reasoned condemnation, I cheerfully replied, thanking him for the letter, offering to print it, and asking him how he wanted to be identified. Thanks, but no thanks, he replied, “my missive wasn’t for publication: I was just venting to you personally.”
The issues raised by our correspondent nevertheless deserve some response. First is it appropriate for a U.S. 1 columnist to spend so much space (three weeks’ worth) dealing with a national issue? Did we give equal space to disappointed Romney supporters in 2012 or McCain voters in 2008?
Of course not. But, like it or not, we live in a progressive part of a progressive state. Our readers were heavily invested in this election. The Bush-Gore election of 2000, as I recall, came down to a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court. But the disappointment was not as deep as what we experienced in 2016.
And like it or not, newspapers are shaped by their readers. Our readership is not only a group of disappointed Democratic voters (as well as a few Trump supporters). It also includes people involved in public policy and issues that are part of the ongoing debate: Climate change, cyber-security, health insurance, and Congressional re-districting. And that’s not to mention the great number of women (and some men and children) who took off last weekend for Washington, New York, or Trenton.
A more important issue for any news organization is whether it is mindlessly subscribing to the prevailing mindset of its audience or — worse yet — suppressing the opinions of those in the minority.
I searched back through my old E-mails (the ones I haven’t deleted) to remind myself of the various discussions I have enjoyed with the correspondent quoted above. One was a Fourth of July greeting, presenting a brief excerpt from “the Road to Serfdom,” written in 1944 by F.A. Hayek, the Austrian political philosopher who considered himself a “classical liberal,” what some today might call a libertarian:
“The word ‘truth’ itself ceases to have its old meaning . . . It becomes something to be laid down by authority, which has to be believed in the interest of unity of the organized effort and which may have to be altered as the exigencies of this organized effort require it.
“. . . Perhaps the most alarming fact is that contempt for intellectual liberty is not a thing which arises only once the totalitarian system is established, but one which can be found everywhere among intellectuals who have embraced a collectivist faith . . . The tragedy of collectivist thought is that while it starts out to make reason supreme, it ends by destroying reason because it misconceives the process on which the growth of reason depends.”
The question for me is whether this newspaper is falling into the abyss of “collectivist faith” and ignoring voices that don’t resonate with our own. I dug through our files and found some evidence of an open editorial mind: Letters voicing various conservative positions; a column I wrote on Scott Sipprelle, the Princeton-based Republican who had narrowly lost in his attempt to unseat Congressman Rush Holt; and an opinion column that took a wary view of the new healthcare plan being advanced by President Obama in the summer of 2009, before any of the bloom had worn off the newly elected administration.
Someone asked me the other day what the media can do to keep a guy like Trump honest. By his own admission he deals in what he calls “hyperbolic truth.” To more plain-spoken folks he simply lies. My answer is that — now more than ever — we in the media have to keep doing our job: Keeping others honest and keeping ourselves honest, as well.