YAMHILL, Ore. — This is an open letter to some of my old friends and neighbors who believe that Donald Trump won reelection, who think that face masks are for wimps and who fear that Democrats are plotting to seize their freedom.
Dear friends and neighbors,
Relax! We liberals aren’t plotting to round you up in “re-education camps.”
I was horrified when a couple of old friends here asked if they were in danger for having supported Donald Trump. I gently told them that they were in no peril — and I was stung that they felt greatly relieved to hear it.
Yes, I know that Fox News is peddling nonsense about Democrats setting up re-education camps, and that a Wall Street Journal column asked, “If you were an enthusiastic Donald Trump supporter, are you ready to enter a re-education program?”
Folks, you’re being played. Again.
These are some of the same charlatans who argued last year that, as Fox News put it, the coronavirus is “just like the flu” and that mask mandates are a step toward “tyranny.” More than 400,000 coronavirus deaths later, some people are dead because they believed that drivel.
Then there’s the rubbish about the election. This month, just days before Joe Biden’s inauguration, a childhood friend told me confidently that Trump would swoop in to serve a second term. When I told him he was wrong, he was astonished that I could be so poorly informed, and he helpfully advised, “Don’t pay attention to those liars in the mainstream media.”
You’ve been hoodwinked, exploited and manipulated by con artists waving flags, casting lies and monetizing bigotry. Steve Bannon, who suggested beheading Dr. Anthony Fauci, defrauded Trump supporters into donating to build a border wall and then used some of the money for himself, according to a federal indictment.
Here on our family farm, we received a direct mail appeal warning about “Islam in Yamhill Schools” and pleading for donations to protect Christianity. No, that isn’t about conservative values, but about spreading hate and hysteria while grabbing at your wallet.
So let’s give America a chance to heal. And, as I told my worried friends, don’t hesitate to stand up for your conservative values. We need Republicans! America benefits from a loyal opposition.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week called for trying harder to keep schools open. On that issue, Republicans have been more right than many Democrats.
But half a century ago we didn’t need the racist George Wallace wing of the Democratic Party, and today we don’t need the wing of the Republican Party that embraces conspiracy theories and winks at violence.
The grand question: Without that wing of today’s GOP, what’s left?
One glimpse of the conundrum: The GOP representation in Congress is losing Rob Portman, a widely respected senator who announced he will step down, and just gained Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, an extremist who in 2019 endorsed the idea of shooting Nancy Pelosi in the head. When a party loses a statesman and gains a kook, that’s a bad omen.
Meanwhile, the Hawaii GOP this week recommended the “high quality” commentary … of a Holocaust denier. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warned on Fox News that Democrats are trying to “exterminate the Republicans.” Sure, Democrats sometimes say and do dumb things, too, but there’s no symmetry.
As I see it, the last, best hope is twofold. First, Republican leaders must learn that extremism is a losing strategy. Only one GOP candidate for president has won the popular vote in the last three decades, and the loony Arizona Republican Party has lost about 10,000 members since the riot in the U.S. Capitol and its censure of party elders like Cindy McCain. If Trump is further discredited through prosecutions or scandals, it is possible (although far from certain) that his malign influence on the party will diminish.
Second, to dampen that extremism, advertisers should stop supporting networks that spread lies and hatred, and cable companies should drop channels that persist in doing so. As a start, don’t force people to subsidize Fox News by including it in basic packages.
Is this a slippery slope? Yes, and it makes me queasy. But we all recognize that there are red lines: Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan grand wizards have First Amendment rights, but we shouldn’t pay to give them microphones, nor should commentators on the left or the right get megaphones to promote violence. Extremists enjoy free speech but shouldn’t be buttressed by advertisers or our cable fees.
So, conservative friends, fear not: We’re not plotting to lock you up in detention camps. We need you to keep us honest. But you’ve been scammed in ways that have hurt the country we all love. Hold us accountable, but please do the same for the charlatans who deceive you, use you and cheat you.