Opinion: About that page of pro-Trump letters...
On Nov. 7, I walked through downtown Los Angeles to see and hear the kind of jubilation one would associate with liberation from a foreign occupying force. The trauma inflicted by the Trump administration’s four long years — the Muslim ban, the border separations, the assault on democratic norms and institutions, the politicization of just about everything and, now, the crazed effort to overturn the results of this election — will take many years to heal, if it ever does.
I think the trauma helps explain the strong reaction to the page we devoted last week to letters from Trump supporters. Their critiques fell into six categories:
First, The Times is giving a platform to racists, extremists or fascists, and thereby granting them legitimacy they do not deserve.
Second, The Times is practicing “false equivalence” — treating each side as if it were equally valid.
Third, mainstream media have already devoted far too much attention to Trump supporters. That time would be better spent listening to communities of color, victims of police violence and people who have lost work because of COVID-19, among others.
Fourth, what Trump supporters believe is already well known, and there is nothing more to say.
Fifth, by running letters from moderate-seeming Trump voters, we are not giving an accurate and complete portrayal of the extremism, disinformation and white supremacy that are at the heart of Trumpism.
And sixth, by giving a full letters page to Trump supporters, we are treating them like exotic “zoo animals,” revealing our own blind spots as liberals.
The criticisms have given me a lot to think about. I stand by our decision, but I wish to address these objections.
First, we ran letters from ordinary voters, not political figures. The letters page is supposed to be a forum for public discussion. And while I agree that Trump has produced lies and distortions nonstop for four years, I think it’s reductive and unhelpful to argue that every one of his 73.7 million voters are deluded, selfish, racist or extremist, or all of the above.
Second, we do not practice “both sides” journalism. We know that climate change is real, that hyperpolarization is largely fueled by the Republicans, and that economic inequality and racial injustice demand action. The vast majority of our space goes to sober discussion of those, and other, critical problems.
Third, journalistic attention is not zero-sum. Listening to white voters in rural California need not — in fact, must not — come at the expense of talking to younger, urban voters, most of them in this state people of color.
Fourth, I disagree that everything to say about Trump has already been said. We will be trying to understand the forces that produced Trumpism for a very long time.
Fifth is a hard one. As a journalist who also happens to be gay, Asian American, a first-generation college graduate and the son of immigrants, I understand the climate of fear, anxiety, even despair that Trump has generated. And I do get hate mail.
But I believe our letters page needs to be limited to civil and reasoned discourse reflecting multiple viewpoints — especially ones with which we disagree
Finally, perhaps we are guilty as charged. But I am old-fashioned in believing that only empathy can drive out hate, that only understanding can drive out ignorance, and that, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us, only light can drive out darkness.
I welcome additional dialogue with all our readers.
To the editor: We were dismayed by letters editor Paul Thornton’s uneven framing of the Trump supporters’ responses. He wrote, “Trumpism is not going away on Jan. 20. For the foreseeable future, in a Biden presidency and beyond, his supporters and the rest of us will share a country; in Los Angeles, they will share a newspaper and, yes, the same letters page.”
We are sociolinguists, so when reading this introduction, we asked: What is the objective of publishing these letters? Who is the intended readership?
What was perceived by The Times as an act of journalistic balance was considered by many others — particularly scholars and journalists of color — as journalistic appeasement.
The letters were portrayed as conveying the ideas and feelings of Trump supporters, but the editorial curation was unintentionally dangerous. The curation presented mild versions of the Trump campaign’s violent, oppressive messaging. Such presentations are how white supremacy and other forms of government-led hatred function — by tempering hatred as a set of reasonable policies while ignoring the dangerous resulting practices.
Times readers have been reading Trump supporters’ underdeveloped arguments for years. Many of us have had to be aware of them for our own safety and survival. The published letters did not center those arguments, which demonstrates that many Trump supporters understand the president’s messaging is problematic, but they choose to ignore his violent rhetoric and his actions. Featuring these letters elevates the opinions of those who have accepted the hate as a byproduct of what they gain from a Trump presidency.
The Times should engage Trump supporters to bear witness to their perspectives. But turning over an entire letters page to them for their unmitigated side of the story turns The Times into a platform for propaganda. We don’t just want to know that a Black Trump supporter made money during the Trump administration; we want to know how he as a Black person understands the racist messages that are a feature of the administration he supports.
The Times’ decision also influences who else has a voice on the letters page. Many on social media and elsewhere have been pointing out the lack of representation in these pages of people who are unhoused or incarcerated, among others.
The Times should dedicate itself to more fully representing the full range of opinions in California and why people hold them. From there, a more meaningful and inclusive dialogue might begin.
Anne H. Charity Hudley, Santa Barbara
Jamaal Muwwakkil, Los Angeles
Charity Hudley is a professor of linguistics at UC Santa Barbara. Muwwakkil, the UC student regent, is a doctoral candidate in linguistics at UC Santa Barbara.
To the editor: Shame on you, L.A. Times. Because their candidate, the worst president in U.S. history, lost this election, you decided to give his supporters a full section to spread their misinformation.
Why didn’t you feel it was necessary to do the same in 2016 for supporters of Hillary Clinton, who received more votes that Trump? Why the need to pacify Trump supporters?
Margret Donato, Alhambra
To the editor: I am surprised that The Times gave a full letters section over to Trump supporters. Does the paper plan on giving the entire section to the Ku Klux Klan next week?
For the last four years Trump has lied, mismanaged crises and spewed racist hate, so those who voted to reelect him can reasonably be assumed also to support racism. Those who continue to defend Trump after his unprecedented refusal to concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden evidently would also support a fascist dictator.
John Zavesky, Riverside
To the editor: It’s 1860. The party that largely seeks to end slavery has won after centuries of growing unhappiness with the institution. The losing side says: “Slavery is great for the economy. We’re not racists, we just feel enslavement of human beings who we believe are less than us helps our personal bottom line.”
While the issues are slightly different, the story is the same old one.
This white boomer Democrat just can’t find “common ground” with people who don’t care about their fellow humans, whether it’s in regard to the pandemic, children being taken from their parents, low-wage workers with no healthcare, or the Black, Native and other fellow Americans who have yet to get an even break in this country.
Maureen Milliken, Belgrade Lakes, Maine
To the editor: I get that it’s your job to listen and to understand. But I don’t think that extends to uncritical amplification of what is at best tacit approval for a regime of wall-to-wall cruelty.
I don’t see how this leads others to a deeper understanding of Trump voters or of this political moment more generally. And I do think it legitimizes, in the clearest possible way, a worldview that sees authoritarianism as an acceptable tradeoff for personal gain.
Scott Frazier, Silver Lake
The writer is a co-host of LA Podcast.
To the editor: On Saturday, The Times had a letters page full of Trump supporters. It was also the last day of my subscription after almost 40 years.
There are tens of millions of Trump supporters in this country. Instead of giving us 100% of one page after the election, if you had regularly given us just a tenth of the space, if you had more conservative opinion writers who were not anti-Trump, if you had not broadcast every flaw of this president, I would still be getting the paper.
But this bone was too little, too late. I hope one of my friends sends me a copy of this letter, if they are still my friends when they discover for whom I voted.
David Goodwin, Pasadena
To the editor: The Times’ magnanimous gesture toward Trump supporters enraged and baffled me.
For the past four years we have been bombarded in every form of media by Trump and the sycophants who rallied behind him like loyal serfs to the king, bolstered by constant conspiracy theories such as QAnon and supported by white supremacists.
Trump was legitimately impeached by the House of Representatives and would have been removed by the Senate if its members were not cowards.
The icing on the cake was the explosion of a pandemic this year, which was ignored by Trump for the first two months. COVID-19 has killed more than 250,000 people in this country and is spreading out of control.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were elected in a fair and legal election, yet Trump continues to spread lies and misinformation that there was widespread fraud. He refuses to concede or give our next duly elected president the transition support he was given by President Obama.
He is a deeply flawed human being who revels in the chaos and division he has so successfully spread.
Catherine Babington-Plake, Long Beach
To the editor: Thank you very much for printing the letters from the Trump supporters among us. I welcomed reading their views and opinions.
I have always been a mainstream, moderate Republican. I have remained a Republican, especially in the last two elections, as I wanted my vote against Trump to show that not all of us vote only along party lines. The far-right wing of the Republican Party is often unrecognizable to me.
Moderation is too often fetishized in politics, but it can serve a purpose. Why must every opposing opinion be considered hateful? Where did this overblown righteousness come from?
When we become so divided and cannot even listen without extreme reactions, we have devolved into such a poor version of ourselves. Both Republicans and Democrats should be nothing less than appalled.
Margaret McVey Thomas, Pasadena
To the editor: I am a California Republican and I am in a quandary. The fact that more that 70 million people with whom I thought I shared a common belief system voted for Trump proves that I no longer know the Republican Party.
As a Reagan Republican, I am fiscally conservative and socially moderate. I am also an honest and a well-educated person who places character ahead of populist rhetoric and reason above bluster and tweet.
Trump’s attempted coup and his subsequent gutting of the GOP’s historic platform planks have confounded and disappointed many of us. That is why I now support the Lincoln Project, a group of prominent anti-Trump conservatives, and voted (while holding my nose) for Biden.
Where Republicans like me go from here is a mystery to be solved, but the GOP of Trump is not going anywhere.
Mike Post, Winnetka
To the editor: I commend your attempt to “bridge the divide” that currently exists in our polarized nation. However, the pro-Trump letters reveal what an insurmountable task this is.
In the first letter, from a Christian minister, the writer said that Trump defends religious liberty. Trump’s unjust ban of travelers from predominantly Muslim nations proves the inaccuracy of this statement.
As for his statement about Trump’s defense of unborn children, that ignores the sanctity of life for the children at our border traumatized by kidnapping and incarceration.
A few stated that they voted for him because of the financial benefits they received. Those of us on the left feel that human decency toward asylum seekers, women, minorities, people with disabilities and veterans is more important than policies that benefit millionaires and billionaires.
Finally, in response to the writer who lamented being labeled as a racist and misogynist, if one supports someone who blatantly shows such tendencies, then it’s reasonable to assume that person is also a racist and a misogynist.
With 70 million-plus Americans clinging to such ideologies, heaven help us.
Maryanne Rose, Laguna Niguel
To the editor: As a liberal and a hopeful bridge builder, I was moved by the editor’s note about keeping open lines of communication.
While I rarely read that many letters in one day, I read every one of these and reflected on their views. Thank you for helping me to pause long enough to really listen and consider the opinions of others.
I realized there were many points I had not considered. Also, thank you for not including the really nasty letters.
Eugenia Tracy Kirchner, Newport Beach
To the editor: I applaud your decision to turn over your Opinion page to letters from Trump supporters. As a staunch, lifelong Democrat, I was eager to learn how people can admire an individual who (to me) is so abhorrently dishonest, self-centered and ignorant.
Instead of reasoned arguments, however, what I found were fact-twisting rationalizations and mental contortions aimed at painting Trump as a defender of religious liberty (tell that to Muslims or other non-Christians); a godsend for investors (because he didn’t crash the vibrant Obama economy); a genius who “puts money in the pockets of working people” (in an era with the widest wealth gap ever); a mastermind of science (as COVID-19 surges and the climate careens toward apocalypse); and, jaw-droppingly, someone in possession of a “sense of humor” (evidenced, I suppose, by his mocking the disabled and spewing childish insults).
Rather than provide enlightenment, what these letters showed me was the extremes to which people will go to justify their biases and ideology.
Nick Duretta, Pasadena
To the editor: My takeaway from the letters from Trump supporters is that they disregard the president’s behavior but appreciate his views. They need to do the same with the left wing of the Democratic Party.
The far left may sound radical, but in the end, they have simple opinions that should widen your viewpoint, not make you run away.
Wayne Via, Dana Point
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