Part 1—Our mental and moral powers: We live in a very challenging time.
In part for that reason, we were struck by a letter we read in Saturday morning’s Washington Post.
The letter was written by a man who “was an appellate immigration judge on the Board of Immigration Appeals from 1995 to 2003.” He said that he’d been “deeply offended” by a front-page report in the Post.
The letter writer still works for the Justice Department. We include the headline over his letter. We assume the headline was prepared by the Post:
A profile of an extremistOn line, the letter included a link to that front-page report. In referring to Kobach as “an extremist,” some editor went beyond the charges made by the offended reader.
I was deeply offended that The Post would devote a front-page article to Kris Kobach [“From Kansas, a challenge to the powers of a president,” Nov. 23]. Before he became Kansas secretary of state, Kobach directed legal strategies for groups nurtured by anti-immigration crusader John Tanton, who hopes to preserve white supremacy, and worked on initiatives such as Arizona’s and Pennsylvania’s statutes targeting undocumented immigrants; both were ruled unconstitutional by federal courts. In Kansas, he has undertaken many attempts to disenfranchise minority voters.
What’s next? Portraits of Himmler and Pol Pot as German and Cambodian conservative legal experts? After all, they, too, were attempting to remove “foreign” influences from their nations, albeit by extreme measures we fortunately do not tolerate in the United States.
As a general matter, we don’t share Kobach’s views, to the extent that we understand them. We wouldn’t vote for him if we lived in Kansas.
On the other hand, we found nothing especially strange about the Post’s front-page report. It concerned an elected official who has been a significant figure in the news for the past several years.
Especially given his station in life, we found it strange that the letter writer was “deeply offended” by that front-page report. We found it even stranger that the Post printed his letter in the form it did, with its fiery comparison to Himmler and Pol Pot.
By now, pretty much everyone has agreed—it doesn’t make a lot of sense to compare people to Hitler. But so what? Replace the “t” with a double-m and you’re good to go in the Post!
Given the norms of our journalism, the publication of that letter struck us as very strange. But then, such fiery statements are becoming the norm in our fraying discourse.
In a separate clump of letters that day, the Post let five readers state their reactions to the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri.
You can review those letters yourself; they state different reactions to the events of the case. For ourselves, we were struck by the certainty with which the various readers announced what they had found as they groped their own part of the elephant, by the way they sometimes filtered facts to make their storylines stronger.
Can the media “get the Ferguson storyline correct?” One reader seemed to feel that they could—and that he knew what that correct “storyline” was.
Another reader felt she knew where “the focus” should be in the case. The focus shouldn’t be on the justice system, she said:
“The focus belongs on the parents of young men such as Michael Brown who failed to teach their son not to steal, not to walk in the street, not to disrespect the reasonable order of a police officer and not to reach for a police officer’s weapon.”
We don’t agree with that at all. In a larger sense, is there only one storyline, only one focus, in a matter like this? So those readers implied.
A third reader had a very different reaction to the case. She seemed to refer to the case as a “murder.” She then voiced a sad lament:
“The sad thing is that, even if the grand jury had indicted this officer, it has been proved over and over again that juries rarely convict police officers. The U.S. public has repeatedly declared that police can gun down anyone, regardless of guilt or race or anything else, and, if the police are brought to trial, they almost always walk. And anyone who guns down a young black man seems to be considered justified as long as he claims he felt threatened.”
Should Darren Wilson have been indicted, then convicted, for “gunning down” Michael Brown? This reader voiced no doubts.
All around the discourse in the past week, we’ve seen a world in which various people are “full of passionate intensity.”
Various players are hunting, and sometimes creating, their Himmlers. Doubts and complexities tend not to get expressed.
So far, we’ve talked about letter writers. Yesterday, the certainty spread to the professional writers in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.
For our money, Nicholas Kristof’s latest column was most instructive of all. Kristof was full of certainty, as he often is, and he offered some silly statistics.
We’re increasingly struck by Kristof’s work, which strikes us as lazy and poor. Tomorrow, we’ll start to look at his claims and suggestions—and at the predictable barrel of comments his latest effort engendered.
Increasingly, Kristof’s work strikes us as lazy, type-by-the-numbers, poor. We aren’t sure it provides the best model for these challenging times.
Tomorrow: Concerning those NBA refs!