Part 4—"Who cares what Trump voters think?" Last Thursday morning—one week ago—the New York Times took a big chance.
The newspaper published fifteen letters from people who still support Donald J. Trump—letters the Times had solicited. These letters consumed the whole editorial page that day. In their letters, fifteen Times readers explained why they still support Trump.
In publishing those fifteen letters, the editors had taken a chance. And sure enough! According to the next day's Times, publication of those letters had touched off a furor!
What kind of furor had occurred? The editors didn't explain. But on this day, they published seven (7) letters in response to the Trump supporters. The seven letters appeared beneath this eye-catching heading:
The Furor Over a Forum for Trump FansWhat kind of "furor" had the forum touched off? The editors didn't say. They simply published seven letters which had emerged from the furor.
Let's repeat an earlier point. The seven letters which appeared that day can't be seen as a "scientific sample" of the letters the Times received as part of this uproar.
As far as anyone can tell, those seven letters are simply the letters the New York Times chose to print. There's no way to know what kinds of letters the editors threw down the drain.
Those seven letters can't speak for the liberal, progressive or anti-Trump world as a whole. That said, those letters may seem familiar to anyone who has read comment threads at online liberal "news sites."
All in all, those letters made us think of the late Gene Brabender, the former major league pitcher. Way back when, in a famous book, Brabender voiced his view of the world, especially his loathing of discourse.
Out in the bullpen on a long, lazy day, Brabender's teammates were trying to hold a discussion. Its abstruse nature made the ptcher's gorge rise. Finally, the rawboned righthander erupted, as quoted below, or so Jim Bouton said:
"Where I come from, we just talk for a little while. After that we start to hit."
The big guy could tolerate some discussion. But soon, it was time for a brawl!
We thought of Brabender's famous remark when we read the seven letters which emerged from the anti-Trump furor. In fairness, one of the letters, from distant Corvallis, reflected no "furor" at all:
To the Editor:No fury or furor was visible there, just a great deal of sweetness and light.
I wanted to express my appreciation for these letters, and in particular to the people who came forward to express their views. I hope that these thoughtful voices can be the seed for real dialogue in what has too often become a vicious shouting match in which both sides fling invectives at each other.
This woman actually thanked the Times for printing the letters from Trump supporters. She claimed the Trump supporters were "thoughtful." She even suggested that we fling invective over here, on the left, just like they do on the right!
There's one in every crowd! On thia day, in fact, there may have been two. A second letter said this:
To the Editor:This letter writer, also a woman, also applauded the Times. Unlike a certain major league pitcher, she said she valued the Times' attempt to create "fair discourse"—though she also said she disagreed with the Trump supporters' views.
I value your effort for fair discourse by printing letters from readers who do not agree with your viewpoint. Though I could delineate a point-by-point rebuttal to each of these letters, I will simply sum up my takeaway: The majority of writers note the positive impact of President Trump’s policies on their lives. My question for them: Did you ever consider the impact of Mr. Trump’s policies on others’ lives?
J— M— T—
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OHIO
Disagreement is good! That said, might we express two skeptical points concerning this courteous letter?
This writer made a bold claim. She said she could "delineate a point-by-point rebuttal to each of these letters" from the previous day. We find that hard to believe.
The fifteen letters from Trump supporters praised Trump on all sorts of points. Could this writer really rebut the imprecise claim that Trump had done away with "wasteful regulations?" That Trump had removed this country from "bad international agreements?" That Trump has "reined in a number of out-of-control agencies?"
Could she knowledgeably discuss all those claims? Is she able to discuss the claim that Trump has instituted "policies and programs that are stimulating the private sector?" The claim that Trump had "destroyed ISIS" by "letting the generals crush" it?
Those fifteen letters had praised Donald J. Trump on a wide array of fronts. Could any one person really speak, with actual knowledge, to so wide an array of points? Self-confidence is often refreshing, but we think this courteous writer may perhaps have been getting a bit out over her skis.
In fact, none of the seven letters the Times chose to publish made an attempt to rebut any specific policy claim from the day before. Consider one claim by several Trump supporters:
Have Donald J. Trump's economic policies really produced a "roaring economy?" Or are the economic gains in question really a welcome extension of trends which existed under Obama?
We've seen several posts by Kevin Drum which seem to support the latter view. But no one in any of those seven letters tried to rebut any particular pro-Trump claim. This writer said she could lick every claim in the house, but none of the letters the Times chose to publish specifically addressed even one.
Our discourse tends to be like that. In last week's inherently limited, forum-to-furor format, the fault may lie with the New York Times more than with any of the people who submitted letters. That said, it would be extremely hard to delineate so many rebuttals! With the overweening self-confidence with may appear within either tribe, this courteous letter writer seemed to think she could do it.
She also may have directed a bit of unfair snark at to those Trump supporters. Is it true that "the majority of [the Trump supporters] noted the positive impact of President Trump’s policies on their lives," as opposed to Donald J. Trump's effects on anyone else?
We can't say that's really the case, though it does fit tribal stereotype.
We've focused today on the two letters which thanked the Times for printing letters from Trump supporters. Truth to tell, though, these courteous letters were the outliers this day.
The other five letters the Times chose to publish tended to drop payloads of bombs on Trump supporters. "Who cares what they think?" one writer directly asked, expressing a sentiment which is on wide display wherever liberal views are sold.
Did the Times get a lot of letters like that? Is that the "furor" to which what the editors referred? We aren't able to answer that. But given our many other furors, would anyone be surprised?
"Who cares what they think?" That sentiment struck us as amazingly dumb. It made us think of thelate Brabender, and of the instinct to hit.
Is our species wired for discourse, or are we wired for tribal war? Quite often, we liberals seem to be wired for lack of sound. We don't want to hear what The Others may think. Why should we care about them?
Brabender railed against all that discussin'. Are we perhaps wired like him?
Tomorrow: Deplorable flat-earthers