MINOT, N.D. — I haven't done a mailbag column in a while, and a reader named Olivia called me out on it in a recent email. She likes the format and wants more of it. "For me, comment sections feel too charged, and the element of debate is buried too quickly," she wrote. "Now more than ever, we need public displays of thoughtful discourse."
Your wish is my command, Olivia.
I have a lot of thoughtful (and sometimes not-so-thoughtful) correspondence with readers — I spend at least a couple of hours a day on it — and Olivia is right that we need more of that sort of thing out in public. Now more than ever, as so many have lost sense of what it means to disagree without being disagreeable.
As always, if you'd like to correspond with me, shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Facebook, or hit me up at @robport on Twitter. Your submissions may be edited for clarity and brevity.
John writes, in response to my column about Jeep's Super Bowl ad featuring Bruce Springsteen: What you are missing here is the losers are the ones that customarily call for unity. Now it’s the winners calling out. Usually, the victors simply stomp on the losers. Give the rocker Springsteen a break. (I’ve been to several of his concerts and I hate them. They last for hours. I want an hour of his best stuff, and he plays everything he has, and my bride won’t leave.) Anyway, he, sponsored by Jeep, was attempting to heal a country that is more separated than any time since the civil war. I just retired and clean several of my neighbor's sidewalks and driveways when it snows, but the cop who raised the Trump banner during the campaign, I pass his place by. I actually feel sh---y about it, but that’s the way things go. This blue/red hatred isn’t any good for anyone. I’d do your sidewalk, though, because you are right about 1/3 of the time!
This is probably a subjective thing, but Springsteen's ad didn't feel like a call for unity at all, though that was the explicit point of the corporate messaging. Coming from Springsteen — who was threatening to leave the country if Donald Trump won and was referring to Republicans as "demons" not that long ago — it sounded like a demand for conformity.
Like it or not, Trump won the election in 2016, yet many of our liberal friends were dead-set against letting him govern. We saw violent left-wing protests during Trump's inauguration. Just months into his term, we had Democrats agitating for impeachment.
I've never been a Trump supporter — the decision Republicans made to embrace him, and his angry populist pretensions will be one they regret for a long time — but I can empathize with the frustration Trump supporters felt when so many on the left refused to accept the outcome of the election.
That angst undoubtedly contributed to (but does not in any way excuse) the Trump riot at the capitol.
To review, when a Democrat wins, we have very-left-wing figures such as Springsteen teaming up with corporate America to tell us to unite. When a Republican wins, Democrats vow resistance.
You can't say "resist" when the other side wins and "unite" when your side comes out on top.
Nothing is unifying about that.
A Twitter user responds to my column about the transition in North Dakota's U.S. Attorney's Office:
Wrigley wasn't even nominated till August 16th of 2018. His nomination wasn't sent to the senate till the 27th. Which would have been shortly before the election. It took trump a year and a half to nominate him. But it is Heidi's fault.— Always Socially Distant (@DistantAlways) February 6, 2021
Indeed, outgoing North Dakota U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley's nomination came unusually late in Trump's term, and some blame for that lies with Trump, who was lackadaisical in his duty to appoint. But a lot of the delays were due to partisan politics, too.
Rank partisanship certainly contributed to the situation with Wrigley. He was well qualified for the job — he held it before under President George W. Bush — but his confirmation took forever. The reason behind that was former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who wanted to keep interim U.S. Attorney Chris Meyer (he took over after Obama appointee Tim Purdon decamped from the office early for a gig in the private sector) in the job. Meyer worked for Heitkamp in the past, and Wrigley is a Republican who will likely run for elected office in the future.
So Heitkamp used her influence as a senator to slow-walk Wrigley's appointment. She refused to turn in her blue slip on his nomination. As far as I know, she was still holding onto it when voters fired her in the 2018 election.
If Heitkamp had valid reservations about Wrigley's appointment, she should have made them public. She didn't because she was motivated by partisan pettiness.
My column was urging Republicans not to emulate Heitkamp's childishness. It seems like former state Sen. Mac Schneider of Grand Forks will be President Joe Biden's nominee for the office to replace Wrigley (who has been gracious about the transition). By all appearances, he's well-qualified and should be confirmed. If any Republicans have a problem with him, they should make that argument to the public.
That's how the process is supposed to work.
Bart writes, in response to my many recent columns critical of Trump and his supporters: "Do you or do you not agree with the majority of the four-year accomplishments of the Trump administration? Did you not realize all the seats gained by the Republicans in the United States Congress this last election? Trump gained a minimum of 74,223,775 votes. He was the face of the GOP because he generated more energy than any of the GOP presidents or candidates ever before him since Ron Reagan. He also delivered on his campaign promises like no other because he wasn’t a politician. He won the 2016 election because he tweeted corrections to the fake news media, and put them in their place. Twitter soon realized that and then started censoring his tweets, and now banned him because of their ultra-liberal left-leaning elitist management and ownership."
The mistake many Trump supporters make when they criticize conservatives and Republicans who don't like the man is assuming we only have a binary choice between Trump and his movement or liberalism.
That may be a useful premise when urging people to gloss over Trump's many, many shortcomings, but it's not grounded in reality. We can choose other leaders for the GOP, and those leaders could inspire enthusiasm and, more importantly, drive real progress toward conservative policy wins.
Yes, Trump earned over 74 million votes in 2020, but Biden got over 81 million. His roughly 7 million vote advantage over Trump was multiples of Hillary Clinton's in 2016. Trump has inspired a very loyal political base, sure, but that base is really the only place he has appeal, and it's not large enough to build a governing consensus on.
And what is the point of any of this if it isn't to govern?
Despite the impression you may get from national media coverage, Republicans aren't doing that bad. Their House minority grew significantly in the 2020 election, and Democrats managed to win only the narrowest of majorities in the Senate, despite Biden's victory at the top of the ballot. The GOP has some momentum heading into the first midterm of the Biden era, an election that typically doesn't go well for the president's party.
The biggest pitfall facing Republicans is the fallout from the Trump era. Remember that the riot at the Capitol, and the subsequent defense of Trump by congressional Republicans, all happened after the election. We don't know yet what ramifications that has for the political fortunes of the GOP.
They probably aren't going to be good, though. And that's the problem with clinging to Trump now that he's out of office. It's not just that he's an authoritarian monster who will gleefully encourage violent extremists to get his way (though that should be enough on its own) but that he very often, with his erratic behavior, obstructs his own policy agenda.
Again, the point here is to govern, and Trump makes that harder for Republicans.
It's time for him to fade away.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.