Deplorable Washington Post Letters

It has been very hard not to notice that the press coverage of Donald Trump, from the beginning of his candidacy right up to the present moment has been nothing short of malicious.  One would have thought that out of respect for the presidency and for our democratic system the constant drip of vitriol would have lessened at least a little bit after his resounding electoral victory in November, but, at least at The Washington Post, the toxic stream has grown even larger, and I really didn’t think that that was possible.


The Post didn’t accept his candidacy, and then they didn’t accept his election.  As I wrote back on December 8, 2016, before the electoral college had gone through what has always been a formality, the certifying of the victory of the electoral vote winner, The Post gathered three letters that collectively painted the president-elect as Hitler reincarnated, gave them the heading on their editorial page, “The new breed of dangerous know-nothings,” and had a columnist join them in calling for electoral nullification.


But like an increasing number of their readers and other Americans, the electoral college paid The Post no mind, proceeded to do its job in an almost routine fashion and went ahead and certified Trump’s victory without incident. 


An Illegitimate President

On February 3, though, with Trump solidly established in the White House The Post went back to the letter-writer ploy to try to resist his presidency by calling it illegitimate.  As in the previous incident, it was down at the bottom of Saturday’s editorial page.  This time the headline was “Legitimizing Mr. Trump’s victory validates the undermining of democracy.  Here is the letter in its entirety as it appears on the newspaper’s web site, with all the links compliments of The Post:

The Jan. 31 editorial “A pick for the Supreme Court” said that Senate Democrats should not filibuster President Trump’s Supreme Court pick because the president’s victory was “legitimate.”

I wonder what it would take to make a president illegitimate. In the election, we likely witnessed the effect of a raft of voting laws enacted by Republicans nationwide since the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. These laws suppressed turnout in critical swing states by requiring state-issued identification, cutting back early voting and reducing the number of polling places. These laws corrode democracy by making it harder for poor people to vote. Russia interfered by hacking and dumping the internal emails of only one party at a critical time in the election. This interference by a hostile foreign government was encouraged by Mr. Trump. The head of the FBI, James B. Comey, who had refused to tell the Senate whether the FBI was investigating Mr. Trump’s connections to Russia, told the nation shortly before Election Day that he was looking afresh at Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Legitimizing Mr. Trump’s electoral college victory validates and normalizes power gained by undermining democracy.


Tracy Zorpette, Washington


Yes, there really is a “Tracy Zorpette” in Washington, DC.  She is the leading abortion defender at Washington’s All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church and a big-time gun grabber, which certainly makes her a plausible person to have written such a letter.  But the newspaper gets lots of letters every day and prints only a tiny fraction.  They didn’t have to print this one, and certainly they didn’t have to showcase it as they did.  Its purpose is certainly to declare that the man occupying the Oval Office is, in effect, a usurper, with everything that that implies.  This is a very strong charge.


It would not be difficult to rebut everything she says in the letter, but that is not our purpose here.  It’s really something of a reach even to connect the argument of the letter to The Post’s editorial.  Here is the passage against which she postures in indignation:


Yes, Mr. Trump seeks to fill the court’s vacancy to his liking, on the basis of a thin electoral college-only victory. Still, however narrow, his victory was legitimate and he does have the clear constitutional prerogative to make the choice.


As a sports fan and something of a history buff as well, I wouldn’t call 306-232 or 304-225, depending on whether you go by what the voters called for or the count after the “faithless electors” had had their say, as exactly a thin margin or a narrow victory.  Looking at the electoral map it’s even more impressive, and that’s how our system works.  If we want to compare it to some alternative way for picking the president, we could perhaps do it by counties.  That way, the Trump margin is 2,600 to 50, and the win looks even more impressive on the map. 


So, yes, it was nice of The Post to concede ever so grudgingly that Trump’s victory was legitimate, but we can see that there was a lot more in those two sentences that a person could have legitimately taken exception to.  And then The Post even, in effect, takes back its concession by giving Zorpette a showcase for her “illegitimate-president” shriek a few days later.


I have not heard Zorpette speak, but I don’t find it hard to believe that in person she would come across as every bit as reasonable as Sunsara Taylor, the leader of something called the “Refuse Fascism” movement.  Here she is interviewed by Tucker Carlson of Fox News.  In fact, I would very much like to see Carlson interview Zorpette to see how well she defends her “Trump-Is-Illegitimate” argument. 


The comments on Carlson’s interview of Taylor on YouTube make interesting reading.  One commentator does a good, succinct job of tying Taylor to the theme of this essay:

I don't think she is normal. Try to talk sense to such people. And I put the blame on CNN, MSNBC and other such liars who presented POTUS as fascist HITLER - then kept repeating it, and see the results. That's why these FAKE NEWS OUTLETS act against our country and American people.

I don’t doubt that many of the so-called protestors are put up to it, but at the same time the thoroughly irresponsible reporting of the mainstream press has certainly had a very bad effect on a lot of weak-minded, pseudo-educated, ill-informed, and emotional and impressionable people.  Which is to say, the steady stream of poison that The Post and the rest of the mainstream media have been pouring out is having its intended effect in some quarters. 

One of “Those” People

Whereas Tracy Zorpette is clearly a real person, and a very convenient type, indeed, for The Post’s purposes, I am not at all sure that is the case with a letter that advice columnist Carolyn Hax responded to three days later.  It fits entirely too neatly into the war of identity politics that The Post and its ilk have been whipping up and the “basket of deplorables” portrait of Trump-supporting types that Hillary Clinton publicly painted:

I am a white girl with a brown boyfriend whose parents are Muslim and legally immigrated to America many years ago. Accordingly, I am especially disturbed by the xenophobia circulating around the recent election.

I have one of “those” older relatives who thinks very differently than I do about the world. She recently posted something on Facebook that was not quite a direct insult to my boyfriend, but is enough for me to decide that I am done with this person. I’ve never much liked her, and we are not close with that part of the family.

However, I’m not interested in causing family drama, so I’m taking subtle steps to avoid this person.

But — this relative still sends my brother and me cash gifts. In years past, I have thanked her dutifully in writing. At this point, I don’t want her money and definitely don’t want to communicate with her. But I also don’t want to start drama by telling her not to send me anything.


The best solution I can think of is to donate the money to a charity that promotes cultural understanding, not thank her, and continue until she notices she’s not being thanked. Good plan? Bad plan?  -- Civil Excommunication?


Certainly there are enough Tracy Zorpettes and Sunsara Taylors out there that this letter could be the real thing, but, in the first place, there is no good civil reason for Hax to choose this controversial and divisive letter to respond to publicly.  It fits The Post’s own divisive agenda so well, though, that it’s easy to see why it would go to the head of the line. 


In fact, it fits their agenda too well, which is a very good reason to suspect its authenticity.  We wrote about something similar last June in the case of a Trump-smearing letter to advice columnist Amy Dickinson.  We noted at that time that the making up of such letters was not without precedent:


Now perhaps you are among those who would be shocked, shocked that our Fourth Estate would engage in such a deceitful practice as to fabricate letters from readers for a calculated and nefarious purpose of their own.  But why wouldn’t they?  It’s very easy to get by with and it is effective.  Furthermore, we know it has been done before.  W.A. Swanberg, in his biography of the press powerhouse, Henry Luce, tells us that Luce used to do it all the time in his early Time magazine.  One can hardly find a more perfect exemplar of the American press than Luce.  Why would such an effective device not be common practice today?

In my series “Parade of Lies,” about the “Walter Scott” column in Parade Magazine, I give a number of examples of “readers’ questions” that look for all the world like fabricated set-ups. 


Assuming that the letter is authentic, there’s no good reason for Hax to rush in on the side of the letter writer based upon the information that she has provided.  This person could very well be one of the all-too-familiar touchy, humorless sorts that seem to be looking for any reason to take offense.  Hax was given no clue as to what it was the woman believed was an indirect insult to her boyfriend.  Perhaps this woman is a militant feminist, and the older relative made an observation about the status of women in Islam. It is quite easy to see how what might have been meant as a word to the wise might not have been taken that way by “Civil Excommunication?”


We have a pretty good tip-off as to how Hax is going to respond, though, with the title of her column for the day, “Put a bigot’s pot of gold at the end of your rainbow.” I don’t know about you, but it strikes me that speaking so disrespectfully of a family member as “one of ‘those’ older relatives” is about the most bigoted thing that a person could say?  So let’s see how Hax weighs in:


Civil Excommunication?:  If it helps, I thought of your solution before I even got to that part of your question: Donate the money to diversity-promoting causes.


Except I’d send a kind thank-you note indicating exactly where the money went. It’s polite and will convey the message with the minimum possible drama.


Bonus, if she’s not plugged-in enough to recognize, say, the Southern Poverty Law Center, then you get to keep giving her money to your cause in the broad light of day.


Now isn’t that just wonderful advice to a person who said she wasn’t “interested in causing family drama?”  For those who are not really “plugged in,” the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is the organization that is fond of putting the “hate-group” label on just about any organization in the country that it doesn’t like.   Here are a couple of things one group so characterized, Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR), had to say about them just yesterday:


The Baltimore Sun characterizes SPLC operations this way: “Its business is fundraising, and its success at raking in the cash is based on its ability to sell gullible people on the idea that present-day America is awash in white racism and anti-Semitism, which it will řght tooth-and-nail as the public interest law řrm it purports to be.”


Fear mongering and sliming little organizations like DYR is fake news. It is ridiculous disinformation to keep SPLC campaign money coming in. It foments hate and bigotry and intolerance by the very hypocrites who claim the opposite.


Well, yes, but isn’t that the perfect organization for the letter writer and Carolyn Hax and The Washington Post to support as they go about whipping up hatred toward the people who put Donald Trump in the White House?


David Martin

February 25, 2017





Home Page    Columns    Column 5 Archive    Contact