Friday Mailbag: Silver Alerts, religion, media credibility, and is Trumpism compatible with patriotism?
If you'd like to send feedback for this column, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MINOT, N.D. — I shouldn't say this, as it's no doubt tempting the fates to bring down a blizzard on my head, but I kind of like shoveling snow. I like the cold, and the opportunity to listen to some music or a podcast on my earbuds without being interrupted by my adorable but persistent kids, and lord knows I need the exercise.
But it's not a consistent attitude. I think this about shoveling snow every year until about mid-January. By then, I'm over it.
This is the last Friday mailbag of 2021. Next Friday is Christmas Eve, and as much as I love you folks, I'm going to be spending that day with my family.
If you want to send me feedback for future mailbag columns - in the year 2022! - fire it off to email@example.com . Remember that submissions used in the column may be edited for brevity and clarity.
"I totally agree with you on the silver alerts," Karen writes in response to this column . "I almost had a heart attack when the last one woke me out of a sound sleep. And the thing is that I’m so focused on turning off that horrible noise that I don’t see the message, and as soon as the sound is turned off, the message disappears. So I had no idea what the alert was all about. If it’s between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., I can imagine law enforcement personnel and possibly people out on the road would be appropriate people to notify. But I can’t imagine anyone else getting out of bed to go and search for someone in the dark—if they actually see what the alert is all about—and especially if the missing person is most likely hundreds of miles away. A localized tornado warning may be a legitimate reason to sound an alert in the middle of the night."
Silver Alerts, which law enforcement and emergency management officials can send to our cellphones when an elderly person has gone missing, are a good idea that haven't been implemented very well, for all the reasons I described in the column Karen is responding to, as well as the points she brought up.
If you get a Silver Alert in the middle of the night on the other side of the state from the person who has gone missing, what exactly are you supposed to do? Go drive around your neighborhood? Start calling friends and family? There's nothing you really can do.
If we're going to send loud alerts to tens of thousands of North Dakotans all at once, they should be relevant to the people receiving the alerts, and actionable. I got some grief from people who didn't like my argument against the way we're doing Silver Alerts now, but I worry that the status quo is going to undermine their efficacy. The more people are annoyed by loud, disruptive alerts that aren't all that relevant to them, the more likely they are to disable the alerts so that they won't get them when something more relevant - say, a weather emergency - comes along.
I don't think we should stop the Silver Alerts, but we do need to spend some time thinking about how they're being used.
"Since you genuinely seem interested in understanding faith, I thought I'd tell you about where I fall on this," Dan writes, responding to my podcast with religion columnists Roxanne Salonen and Devlyn Brooks. "I was raised Catholic, and still nominally am. But that's not where my head and mind are these days. I'm not strictly speaking an atheist. I believe we have souls, and I believe that there is...something...out there, call it a Higher Power, call it The Force, whatever, it's there. But while we may be connected to this something, I don't believe it has any role in life here are on Earth. You could call me a Deist, but for all practical purposes, secular humanist is probably closest. I think we as a species are on our own here. But like you I respect believers because I think religion is just another means to try to understand the world. I don't believe any of us know enough to say definitively that anyone else is wrong."
Here's the podcast Dan is responding to, if you want to give it a listen. I thought it was a really good conversation, and it has turned out to be one of the most downloaded episodes of the Plain Talk podcast this year. That surprised me, because I'm a politics guy, and not someone who spends a lot of time talking about spiritual matters.
(You can also subscribe to the podcast at this link .)
Religion is a complicated thing for me. As I said in the podcast, it's not something I talk about a lot. I do bring it up in my public work, when I'm writing about topics that intersect with religion, because I think it's important for me to be transparent with my audience about what's behind my point of view.
I'm an atheist, but not the sort that harbors animus toward organized religion. I understand the appeal of faith when it's an exercise in creating a community to do charitable works and urge one another toward traits like humility and kindness. Where I get turned off is when religious people become so convinced of the infallibility of their beliefs that they feel vindicated in trying to force those beliefs on others.
I read religious literature. I listen, with great interest, to religious leaders and scholars. I don't think I'll ever stop being an atheist - I don't need any mythologies to fill in the gaps of human knowledge, I'm fine with their being question marks in the universe - but I'll always have respect for people with religious convictions who aren't organizing themselves around forcing those convictions on others.
Joe writes: "Your column in the Grand Forks Herald about credibility in the media proves why there is such mistrust of the media. Talking about mistrust of media you mention CNN and MSNBC by name, but conveniently don't mention the biggest purveyor of misinformation, Fox "News". That column alone is reason for people not to take your columns seriously."
Ironically enough, this email from Joe arrived in my inbox at the precise moment I was writing a column about the Jan. 6 riots in which I lambasted Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham for their duplicity in sending desperate texts to then-President Donald Trump, imploring him to stop the riot, even as they downplayed the idea that Trump instigated the violence on their shows.
The attitude on display from Joe is at the center of what's wrong in America's politics and culture today. Criticize a left-leaning politician or media outlet, and it's assumed you must be a blind devotee of their right-leaning counterparts. Express concern about sports league policies that allow transgendered athletes to dominate female athletes, and it's assumed you have to be transphobic. Criticize Donald Trump, and it must mean you think Joe Biden deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.
I do opinion journalism for a living, which means I'm always taking a position on something, which further means that I get inundated by reactions from people who assume they know everything there is to know about me because of the one position they're reacting to.
We need to stop doing this to one another.
"I commend you on your column," Don writes, referring to the one in which I argue that continued support for Donald Trump is un-American . "First, hypocrisy has no place in American politics. We need and deserve the truth. Second, we do not need a President who so lusts for power at any cost that he would undermine the Constitution and break the law. We deserve people who run for the office regardless of party who will follow the duties mandated in the Constitution."
Mike responds to the same column: "Never thought I would see the day, but you give me great hope for the survival of our democracy. Your most recent expose on the crimes of Trump was exactly what is needed to bring reality back to the Republican Party. There has never been a time when the country needed rational Republicans more. If Trump is allowed to continue to destroy the Republican Party we will all be in a hopeless mess. It is time for Hoeven, Cramer, and Armstrong to read what you have written and come clean. The country needs an Eisenhower Republican."
We are never going to reach a point of consensus on politics. It just doesn't work that way. There are no permanent victories in politics. That's why there's always another election on the horizon so that our leaders and their governing philosophies can be changed out with regularity.
But there is a certain degree of integrity, and fidelity to our nation's system of governance, that we should all expect from our leaders. Donald Trump fell well short of those expectations. He wasn't fit for office the day he was elected in 2016, and that's only become more true as we watched careen through four years in the White House, culminating in an attempt to overturn the results of the national election he lost.
The only good thing I have to say about Donald Trump, at this point, is I'm glad he wasn't more competent.
But this standard shouldn't just apply to Trump. I look at the way certain Democrats treated honorable leaders like George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain (at least while he was running for president against Barack Obama), and I see the same sort of ugliness our friends on the left revile in Trump.
The appeal of Trump, for many on the right, is that he dished back to the American left some of what they'd been dishing out to the right for years.
Trump was a terrible leader for our country. So is every other politician who behaves like Trump, left or right.