My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Heller, told me that I needed to grow an “elephant skin.” She advised toughening up if I wanted to survive elementary school trash talk. The problem was that I cried whenever anyone said something mean.
I did survive, and I suppose I toughened up, because here I am, writing a column that draws fire on a weekly basis. Some of it gets down and dirty, but I feel grateful for all letters because they speak to my philosophy of a free press as the best forum for public opinion.
This past year has seen an uptick in mail, which runs the spectrum from loony to literate, from savvy to sublimely uninformed. Of course I love the “attagirl” notes. But I’ve come to realize that I also greatly value letters from folks who disagree. The caveat being that they strike a civil tone.
To that end, I thought I’d give some examples of letters I’ve received in recent weeks about my views on President Trump and his new administration. We don’t get to publish all letters in the paper, so here goes. I have omitted names to protect the privacy of the writers.
When I wrote about Trump rescinding President Obama’s order to allow transgender access to bathrooms in public schools, a reader wrote: “Donald Trump is an amazing president pushing back all this anything-goes crap … So our young children now should be subjected to the possibility now in a bathroom a grown man dressed as a woman and he offends the little girl and her mom…”
I wrote back, suggesting he get educated on the subject. He wrote back, “No need. Your article is one sided and doesn’t list the horrible outcome of this liberal agenda. You get educated … You must be a transgender which is why your response is so stupid…”
I didn’t cry. I’m actually gratified that this guy took the time to write. He outed himself more effectively than I ever could.
Then I received this: “I used to really enjoy your articles in the Herald. They were often funny, smart, touching and relatable and very entertaining! Ever since the fall election season … your columns have … become ‘how to say I dislike Trump 50 different ways.’ It is exhausting and annoying … I miss the old days … Hoping to see an old Randi gem of a column soon!”
I wrote back explaining that I wish I could be funny, too. But it’s hard to laugh when the ship of state is sinking. I respect her point of view, and I hope my funny bones heal ASAP.
Another reader wrote, “You see our president as foolish and insulting. I see him as wise and sensitive. You see him as caring about himself and his kids. I see him as loving this country and everyone in it. … You said President Trump doesn’t read. If that is true (and not fake news) then please let him tell us how he became a billionaire and the president of the United States … If this email has opened your eyes even only for a split second it was worth writing.”
My eyes are wide open, and I believe she’s wrong, but I respect her right to her opinion and I told her so. I also told her that I hope she’s right, because that would mean the world, as we know it, is not coming to an end.
Finally, one of those letter writers who love to hate my column. He wrote, “Boy-Oh-Boy! I try so hard to read the Herald and skip the last page, but curiosity and the need for a laugh always gets the best of me. The hypocrisy of liberals never ceases to amaze me. … You should just be honest and admit that you are miserable and will not be happy until you can find a way to have President Trump impeached … You would rather repeat any fake news to attain your goal and that is sad!”
I pointed out to him that no one is forcing him to read my column.
So, folks, don’t feel bad for me. I get plenty of supportive mail. I chose these as examples of publishable pro-Trump letters. I can’t imagine a higher goal for citizens than to exchange heated remarks with civility and mutual respect.
I don’t do fake news, and neither do my colleagues. I work for a real newspaper that does its best to report the true facts of any story. I get to write my opinion about the facts, and others may respond with their opinions via letters to the editor.
It’s a beautiful thing, one of the pillars of our democracy.
Copyright © 2017 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.