Out of Left Field: An encounter with epistolary rage

Out of Left Field: An encounter with epistolary rage
Prof. Michael D'Innocenzo

My goal was to expand Part 2 of Epistolary Joys, featuring extraordinary relationships that have been cultivated by written correspondence. I am delaying that until my next column, because since the first one was published I had a more negative epistolary experience. I believe you will find it of interest.

My publisher, Steve Blank, sent a packet of hand-addressed letters to me that had been mailed care of the Blank publications office. Seven unsigned letters had arrived at the newspaper from April 16 through May 15, 2021. Also included in the packet were two letters from October 2020.

To be clear, I began reading the letters only a week ago after the packet arrived and I followed the date sequences of the mailings. In addition to being strongly critical of my column’s views, the letter writer warns that my writings are causing dangers for American society.

I will refer to the unnamed writer as “Critic.” Some of the mailings were political statements rather than letters; all appeared in a very neat, print/script mode. All took a very conservative view, supporting Trump and castigating “liberal, socialistic Democrats.” The critic’s writings did not attack me personally, although they differed profoundly from my views. Should I resent harsh criticism from an anonymous writer (one envelope had a return address that said: “Just A Guy”)? Does this writer warrant attention? My answers are “No” and “Yes.” But I would contend we need to find better ways to address the extreme partisanship in our society and the levels of mistrust and disrespect.

Here is a sampling of Critic’s rage: “I am for Devin Nunes, Jim Jordan and Nikki Haley, but I loathe Elizabeth Warren, Stacey Abrams, and Adam Schiff.” Critic “grew to loathe Obama and his presidency; Trump has been the antidote to Obama, praise Lord.”

Critic is voting for Trump because Democratic Liberals “seek complete power” (like USSR, Hitler, Mao, Castro). Critic says media is unfair to Trump and Conservatives – misrepresents crime, ignores violence of Antifa.

Critic emphasizes “the Radical Left is the powerful enemy within. They are totalitarian with one goal to silence every single conservative. If we allow the radical Left to silence us, they will continue to brainwash our children with anti-Christian, anti-American, and pro-Islamic messages.”

Citing book “The Enemy Within” and polls, Critic warns that “America will be destroyed as young Americans are taught to be ashamed of America – and worse – ashamed to be an American.”

From my studies of American history (with specializations in newspapers) I am keenly aware of the widespread use of pseudonyms for a variety of reasons: 1) privacy 2) legal protection and 3) contending that data is more important than the writer and should be judged on its own merits. The last point was particularly emphasized during The American Enlightenment.

Benjamin Franklin, founder and editor of newspapers, was also masterful in printing anonymous views. Probably no one exceeded Sam Adams (appropriately described in a book entitled “Pioneer in Propaganda”). Adams has been documented using 27 pseudonyms (sometimes he would create a new one to elaborate or respond to one of his previous writings).

Those of us who champion a First Amendment “marketplace of ideas” (as do I and publisher Steve Blank) welcome the widest range of views. Better to have them in the open where they might be addressed than hidden and festering.

So, letter writer Critic, who is very angry about my columns, directed his rage anonymously and only to me. As a reader of Blank newspapers, you will not be surprised that many of Critic’s objections and warnings have been expressed by other writers who get published by Steve Blank.

In our diverse, polarized, complex society, I believe it is important to understand the concerns of others and why they hold views so strongly. This is a continuing issue for the 70 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump and who stick with him, notwithstanding that he is documented as the most flagrant, profligate liar among all American presidents in history.

Are there ways to engage all Trump supporters so that close attention is paid to finding reliable knowledge as the basis for informed public judgments?

Critic “loathes” Biden as a “puppet of the Radical Left.” But, in fact, Biden, working with Obama has proposed ways to foster better understandings. The two Democratic presidents harken to the town meeting spirit of early America.

They propose having volunteer community corps that will bring people together in many small groups around the nation. The gatherings will be civil and not partisan. The key beginning point will be “Concern Gathering.” After individuals express what matters to them, the next step is to explore steps to deal with those concerns.

That is not an easy task, but the Biden-Obama approach can draw on recent social change leadership.

Regardless of differences, a key is to meet often enough to build personal bonds of respect so that differences can be examined in a more civil and caring manner. Would Critic participate?

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