MINOT, N.D. — A very early Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.
Early because next week, I'm taking some vacation time to spend with friends and family. That means no columns from me, and no podcasts either (though nothing is stopping you from catching up on old episodes).
Our Thanksgiving routine is eating (and eating, and eating) and then, over the holiday weekend, putting up our Christmas decorations, at the conclusion of which we watch the movie "A Christmas Story."
It might be my favorite tradition.
Yes, I know. An atheist who likes putting up Christmas decorations. What can I say? It makes my kids happy, and that makes me happy.
I had a metric ton of feedback from you readers this week, so let's get to it. As always, correspondence can be sent to email@example.com. Your submissions may be edited for clarity and brevity. I read every message you send, and I respond to most of them, even if they're not included in the column.
"It was a very disappointing read," Rose writes of my column about anti-vaxxers losing the debate one dose at a time. "However, as I usually enjoy your articles. This time I might as well have read the leftist liberal article next to yours and called it good! I was astonished at how you completely contradicted yourself in the article. You close by saying “What the pro-vaccine side of this debate needs to focus on is choice. You further reiterate that statement by saying 'Employers need a choice when it comes to vaccine policies. Individuals need a choice.' You say that, while all through the article you make a mockery and a villain of the so-called “anti-vaxxers” who are essentially, in your words, losers who get their info by 'reading memes on Facebook.' What an arrogant statement! So you too, apparently, intend to divide people and pit them against one another. Heaven forbid that some do want freedom of choice to make decisions about their health!! Oh yes, but those people are weird with 'shadowy ties to right-wing interests.' Please. My guess is that most people just want the freedom to decide for themselves what is best for them and their loved ones, without a single thought about being 'right-wing' or involved in any kind of 'debate'! This article was a condescending piece of rubbish! I wonder to whom or what do you have 'shadowy ties'? Certainly not to constitutional freedom!
The truth hurts, Rose.
On one side of this debate are rational empiricists and scientists who recognize the efficacy and safety of the vaccine based on the research and data available to us.
On the other are cynical cranks who base their arguments on information from quacks and memes.
The vaccines aren't perfect, and the scientists aren't infallible, but I'm not sure how anyone can look at how widespread vaccination has impacted the trajectory of COVID-19 and conclude that the vaccines aren't a boon to humanity.
Many people who are anti-vaccine like to hide their opposition behind a more righteous opposition to vaccine mandates. I understand why they're doing it. The anti-vax movement is not a credible one. One of the more persuasive arguments against vaccine mandates is that it allows anti-vaxxers the cover of a legitimate argument.
I'm not trying to divide people, but I'm also not going to stand idle while a coalition of the deranged and the duped pollute the debate over vaccines with nonsense.
The First Amendment gives every American the right to make any argument they want, yet that right doesn't oblige any of the rest of us to respect that argument.
Cash writes, in response to my column headlined, "Can someone explain to me what conservatives stand for these days?": "Thanks for writing it Rob - you should be applauded by all sides. Instead - seeing hatred and anger in the comments from right and left. It’s Scary. But my rational well-balanced friends - both liberal and conservative - are agreeing with you. They just don’t comment on Facebook."
Gregg adds: "Spot on Rob. The GOP is a disaster because of Trump and his cronies."
Kay adds: "I've been sitting and wondering for MONTHS what the honest hell is happening to the conservatives - and I blame Trump. I'm so glad to see that I'm not the only one who is watching the conservative movement deteriorate and become everything 'they' hated about liberals. Please, keep up the great work, you're not alone.."
Larry adds: "For the life of me, I cannot fathom how anyone can support Donald Trump if you are a conservative? Your article today is exactly what I have been preaching for years. I have young daughters and there is no way I can respect a man who treats women the way he does. I am a Pentecostal Christian and there is no way I can support a man with his ethics. I spent 31 years in the military and the way he attacks Gold Star Families is appalling. There is no way I could ever support him. I have been a teacher of Economics for 27 years, and the way his administration spent money, once again there is no way I could ever support him."
Neil adds: "Thank you for constantly being the voice of reason and a public face of what the conservative movement used to be about. Today’s Republican Party is an embarrassment, and I feel like the Party left me, not the reverse. I hold out hope sanity will return someday, but the Trump cult is going to be tough to destroy sadly. Keep fighting the good fight - I’ll be reading.
Dave adds: "I just wanted to let you know that I used to dislike pretty much everything you wrote, now you have become one of my favorite writers. One of your lines recently has really stuck with me: 'Democrats are not evil, they're just wrong most of the time.' Do you have any idea how refreshing that is to hear? Thank you for bringing the much needed sanity to the conversation. I look forward to reading your future work."
As you can see, that column elicited a lot of feedback, much of it coming from people I know to be conservatives and Republicans.
I have spent my adult life using my skills as a communicator to advocate for conservative ideas. It's hard to describe how disappointing it is to see what's happened to the conservative movement. I won't rehash that here when you can go read the original column, but the response I received to that column was gratifying to see.
The reactionary populists who now lay claim to the term "conservative," and who are eager to cast out of the movement anyone who is not in lock-step with them, are noisy and aggressive. Bullying, even. And, in the here and now, it can seem at times like they're winning.
What gives me hope is something Sen. Kevin Cramer said to me in an interview years ago, which is that political movements win through addition, not subtraction. The animosity on display from the Trumpist milieu, while perhaps invigorating in the short term, is going to hurt them in the end.
Conservatism, like any political movement, succeeds when it inspires.
Simply being against whatever Democrats are for is not inspiring. It's divisive. It's ugly. Ultimately, it's doomed to failure.
Ryan writes, in response to my column about Rep. Cole Christensen, R-Rogers, taking a call from a talk radio listener about whether it's time to pick up a gun: "Imagine how chilling it is for someone considered that caller’s political 'enemy'. I cannot describe the sadness I feel regarding the inability for conservatives to police their own. I do appreciate you calling out the clown caucus at least. It is real hard for me to guess where libertarians and actual conservatives will draw the line with the far-right. It does not feel like the answer would be anything other than after it’s too late. Be nice if the GOP’s state-wide representation and so-called leaders would call out stuff like this. We know national leaders will not."
I don't have to imagine how chilling it is. I've never been a Trump supporter, and since the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, D.C., I've been particularly critical of Trumpist populism. That has earned me no small amount of scorn and derision from that crowd, who these days consider me an enemy.
It's chilling to me. Personally.
To be clear, Rep. Christensen didn't tell anyone to pick up a gun. What he did wrong in that radio segment, which you can listen to at the link, was choosing to pander to someone who was talking about picking up a gun.
That speaks to the point Ryan is making.
When are Republicans going to stop pandering to these people?
I've spoken to many Republican elected officials about this. They tell me, privately, how uncomfortable Trumpism makes them. When I ask why they won't express that publicly, they tell me it's because they feel obligated to take their cues from the Republican base which, clearly, is enamored with Trumpism.
In their minds, they're following the will of the people.
That's not leadership.
We Americans, because this "we the people" concept is foundational to our system of government, tend to fetishize populism. If the masses are for something, it must be the right thing, or so the logic goes. But the masses can be wrong, and we should know better. The American Revolution begat the French Revolution. Both movements were motivated by the same ideas, and sometimes the same people, but the outcomes were very different.
The American Revolution resulted in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the scrupulously principled leadership of George Washington.
The French Revolution gave us the Reign of Terror and ultimately the autocracy of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
The government must be rooted in the will of the people, but we must also have leaders willing to stay rooted in principle, even when the howling winds of popular opinion are shrieking.
Ardys writes: "Please speak to the fact that women are retiring because of the toxic atmosphere in the ND legislature. ND needs female voices."
Ardys is writing about the retirements of state Sens. Erin Oban, a Democrat, and Nicole Poolman, a Republican, each of whom, in their retirement statements, were critical of the toxic political environment which has permeated even the usually tranquil environs of North Dakota's Legislature.
I am not comfortable with advocating for the election of any person because of something like race or gender. A lot of people do care about that stuff, and I get why. The history of Black Americans is a fraught one. I completely understand why it's cathartic to see a Black man, Barack Obama, be elected president.
Still, what should matter to us are the ideas and philosophies and competency of candidates. Not their skin color or gender or sexual orientation.
What troubles me about Oban and Poolman leaving is not that they're women, but that they're both competent lawmakers who cared about their jobs, about the state of North Dakota, and about the seriousness of policymaking. Those are things we're going to miss at a time when politics, both local and national, trends toward the reactionary.
In terms of policy, I liked Sen. Poolman's record a lot more than Sen. Oban's. If I were a constituent of theirs, I'd vote for the former and not the latter. Still, each was a fine public servant who won't be serving the public anymore, and that's a loss for all of us.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.