MINOT, N.D. — I haven't written a mailbag column in quite a while. Interacting with you readers is one of my favorite parts of this job. I spend, on average, probably an hour or two a day just responding to emails from you folks.
Over the summer, though, I fell out of the habit of writing this column, but it's time for that to change. There's a nip in the air, and the leaves are turning, and it's time to get back to business.
If you'd like to correspond with me, the best way is to email email@example.com. All feedback included in the column may be lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Erik writes: "It’s getting a little old hearing people equate all of us having to stop at a stop sign or laws against drunk driving or baking a cake for gays to forced vaccination. Like they’re equally for the public good with little difference between them. The government, or anyone forcing a drug into someone’s body is slightly different. Not sure why that’s so hard to figure out."
Erik is responding to my column about Fargo-based conservative television personality Chris Berg's vaccine status. There is, reportedly, a dispute between Berg and his employers at Gray Television over the company's vaccine status. My column was about Berg's posturing on the issue, in which he described his position as pro-freedom.
My argument is that freedom is a two-way street. You have freedoms, yes, but so do I, and so do our neighbors down the street, and how we exercise those freedoms can impede the freedoms of others.
"If drunk driving posed no risk to larger society I think we could be OK with letting the inebriated put themselves at risk," I wrote. "But it does, so we don't."
That's the passage Erik objects to, but I think he's missing the point. I'm not saying that drunk driving policy is exactly the same as vaccine policy. I'm saying that we live in a society. Our lives intersect one another in trillions of ways every day. At those intersections, we need laws and customs.
That's what politics is. "If men were angels, no government would be necessary," James Madison wrote in Federalist 51.
We aren't angels, and so the government is necessary.
Problem is, we disagree over how much say society, collectively, should have over how an individual comports themselves. In fact, the question "who gets to choose?" is the only debate we really have in politics. Every other issue and policy debate flows from that one.
For people such as Erik and Berg, a private-sector vaccine mandate is apparently too far. It's not for me, though a government vaccine mandate is. For President Joe Biden and many of his supporters, it's not.
Our only choice, if we value living in the sort of society we do, is to find a way to reconcile our differences on these issues. An uncomfortable and deeply imperfect proposition, I know, but what's the alternative?
Harlan writes: "I read your column today about upgrading the turbines. When you talked about all the red lights, I can certainly relate to that as we live in Texas in the winter, and if you go west of Abilene to Sweetwater, TX, you will see the largest concentration of towers in the country, and if you go through there at night, it is solid red. It never hit me until that trip how these towers have destroyed our landscape. That is about all you can see in some areas of the country."
I find wind turbines visually offensive, as I noted in the column Harlan is responding to. That said, we shouldn't refrain from building wind turbines because they're ugly. We need power, just like we need food and other commodities, and the process of creating that stuff isn't always pretty. North Dakotans know all too well about the people who pick up that neat package of meat in the supermarket but have no idea what the slaughterhouse looks like.
The problem with wind power is that its market share is built on political favoritism (massive subsidies, rigorous use mandates), and that's led us to treat electrons produced by wind turbines as if they were equivalent to those produced by coal or nuclear plants.
That's folly. Wind turbines cannot replace baseload power. Not without some significant technological advancements that aren't yet in the offing.
You've heard all that before, and yet it remains true, even as the politicians and the activists push to close down baseload power plants and force us to dependency on the wind as buttressed by price-volatile natural gas.
It's a terrible mistake that's going to cost us dearly, and you have no idea how much I hope I'm wrong about that.
Jimmy writes: "I am an advocate of a free, but fair, press. I have to agree with your point on government funding of newspaper operations. And especially squeezing it into a communist/socialist driven bill to curry favor with the publishers and editors of America's newspapers. Giving a temporary lift to the newsgathering organizations doesn't bother me as long as the Democrats also give the same lift to the gun industry, the coal industry, and the fossil fuels industry. Do you think Nancy Pelosi, the Squad, Chuck-you Schumer, Kamala (Kamala in Finnish means "horrible"), Harris, and Senile Old Uncle Joe Biden would agree to that amendment being added in their giveaway bill? Thanks for drawing the distinction."
Jimmy is talking about the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. It would give print or digital newspapers a $12,500 per-quarter tax credit for hiring local journalists. It's a part of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill Democrats are pushing in Congress.
I work for the newspaper industry, so it won't surprise you that I'm sympathetic to the objective here, but I think this bill is a mistake.
Journalists are supposed to be objective chroniclers of current events. When writing about a spending bill that includes a subsidy worth, potentially, billions to our industry, can we be that?
Can the firearms industry be objective about gun control laws?
That conflict of interest would persist, too. Once our industry is dependent on those subsidies, they become a string the government can pull when we report things the powers-that-be don't like. Writing stories some congressional committee chair doesn't like? Maybe the journalism subsidies get tweaked, so your take is more diminutive.
That's not a situation journalists should want to be in.
There's a better approach that doesn't require subsidy payments. The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would allow media companies, both large and small, to organize themselves into associations and bargain collectively with the tech giants to use their content. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google make a lot of money from journalism content. Newspapers and other media companies pay the journalists and the editors, the producers, and the cameramen, to produce content. That content is then hoovered up by Google et al. and monetized. Not much of the revenues trickle back down to the people who make the content.
We can make changes to make the media market far more competitive that will also bolster revenues for news outlets without resorting to the government giving money away.
Matt writes: "I read the article about the release of Hinckley today. Seeing the ridiculous way the author characterized Reagan's injuries, I wanted to check exactly how old Reagan was at the time of the shooting. Attached is what a Bing search showed me. Note the 'did you know' section where they give me not some bland piece of data, but present their ridiculous interpretation of the INTENT of Reagan tax policy in one sentence, couched as a fact."
Here's the screen capture image Matt sent me of his Bing search, which I didn't even know was still a thing.
To find Bing, I searched for it on Google. No joke.
Yes, that's very annoying.
It's not even a remotely fair description of the Reagan-era tax cuts.
No, those tax cuts didn't pay for themselves. That's a bit of Republican myth-making. Federal revenues fell by about 9% in the years after the tax cut was implemented. The Reagan administration wanted to avoid that blow to the national debt by coupling the spending cuts with tax cuts but — surprise! — the spending cuts never really materialized.
Nobody in politics wants to admit this, but taxes and spending need to be coupled. Republicans like to pretend like we can cut taxes without impacting revenues, while Democrats think we can explode spending and pay for it by taxing only Jeff Bezos.
These people are living in a fantasyland.
All that said, the "intent" part of the Bing search result is the problem. Reagan didn't intend to take from the poor and give to the rich. He intended to reduce the burden of government so that more people could find prosperity. Even if you could argue that many people on the left side of politics agree that Reagan was some reverse-Robin Hood plutocrat, that's far from the only perspective on the legacy of the man's policies.
Why does any of this matter?
Because Americans are losing faith in their institutions, they don't feel like they can trust anyone. Nonsense like this is the reason why.
Michael writes: "OK, I get it, your a 'Never Trumper,' but I wish you would end your Trumpism phrase with 'just like the Democrats!' So we know that you're not one of them!!
I'm not sure it's fair to call me a "never Trumper." I opposed the man during the Republican primary in 2016. I didn't vote for him in the general election, either. Given the manifest problems with Trump, the candidate, I thought that President Hillary Clinton was a certainty.
I was wrong, and when Trump was elected, I tried my best to understand his appeal. In some ways, I do understand it. Had Clinton won in 2016, the Dakota Access Pipeline might not have been completed. Then where would North Dakota's economy be?
The problem with Trumpism is that it's not a political movement. It's a bullying, deeply populist cultural movement that has manifested itself in politics. When Trump supporters say they sent the man to Washington, D.C., to act as a wrecking ball for the status quo, what they were demanding was a culture change.
But politics is supposed to be about policy. Trumpism is only superficially about that, and the few times when Trump did engage on policy, he wasn't very conservative at all. Trump is a big-spending, big-government New York liberal who took on the trappings of conservatism, if not the convictions, because that was the appropriate costume to wear for the culture warrior part he cast himself as.
So, perhaps Michael is correct. When I write about Trump, I should more often point out how much he has in common with our liberal friends.
Though, beyond that, I'm looking forward to the day when we can all stop talking about Donald Trump.
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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.