Question: What is the value of a “Letter to the Editor” in the age of Internet comments?
I ask because Internet comments share the worst of our collective discourse on important topics and issues. There are no standards for making or confronting an “argument” and most statements are colorful assertions or troll bait.
Letters to the Editor, on the other hand, are supposed to be something different. For as long as newspapers have been printed, they offer space for the “common person” to share ideas and thoughts. Usually, these are well-crafted missives that, while sometimes lacking in objectivity, provide the reader with a different perspective. These letters are vetted, edited, and presented as thoughtful essays bringing value to the broader discussion.
So, when I read a “letter” headlined, “A few questions for all you Democratic Socialists” I had to wonder if the line between Internet Troll and Concerned Citizen has faded a bit.
Local man Ron Keller had his letter posted in pennlive.com and I share it as an example of the kind of empty rhetoric that should not find the spotlight in a professional publication.
Here is the letter and my commentary.
Here’s [Here ARE, plural] a few questions for all of you Democratic Socialists who are blindly wishing for a socialist form of government in America.
Within the construct of “I’m just asking questions here,” the writer has conjured a group of people to address. The trouble is, he has described, labeled, and judged them in one sentence, negating any chance of a reader identifying with his “target audience.” No one reading this description would recognize themselves even if they hold values similar to what the writer is actually trying to describe.
First, we have “Democratic Socialists” qualified by the subset of those who are “wishing for a socialist form of government in America” further qualified by those who are “blindly” doing so. At this point, I bet there’s maybe one sight-impaired, self-described Democratic Socialist Extremist having this letter read to him by his buddy Carl who just wants to share how stupid this “letter” is. Otherwise, no one self-identifies as “blindly seeking” anything.
Second, the writer is creating a caricature and copy-pasting it into a group, assigning one driving thought behind it. Who are these people? One name? It helps the argument if you relate it to real people and ideas rather than some faceless boogeyman.
Third, it’s never a good idea to judge someone while identifying them. Using context clues, I can tell the writer is looking to address those with socialist-leaning values in order to warn them against the bad things he believes will result. Okay, fine. But in this format, you may want so simply address the audience as “Hey, idiots!”
Have you lost your collective radical minds?
“Collective”- Ha! I see whut u did dere.
Implying there’s a hive mind further pushes aside any kind of helpful content for invective. It’s also a rhetorical question. The writer expresses, hyperbolically, perhaps, his belief that people he has only vaguely identified are mentally ill. This is far from a reasoned, constructive approach to winning hearts and minds. From a structural standpoint, the writer blew his salty wad on an awkward first paragraph. This “question” is basically the payoff of “Hey, idiots! Are you CRAZY?!”
And let’s not forget our young millennials. Do you have even the slightest understanding of what socialism really is; much less a knowledge of its origin, history, and goals?
Here’s another faceless boogeyman, this ignorant and brash (latest) generation. They know nothing. Every younger generation knows nothing. Easy target to create and hit.
Because you are young, even if you are educated, you can’t possibly understand what you believe in the slightest. There’s no evidence here that the writer has done any research into why “our young millennials” believe what they do enough to set up even the slightest poor rationale for a knock-down. It’s another rhetorical question that assumes facts not in evidence. What is the value of asking questions in a letter? Is it the value of the insinuation? Is it the “snark” alleged in the wordplay?
Change the question to a statement. “Our young millennials do not have the slightest understanding of what socialism REALLY is. They have never studied it in history class.”
See what happened there? A statement can be challenged. A question can be answered, but this isn’t a conversation. Further, the writer isn’t interested in hearing an answer. He’s just not bold enough to make the statement.
I strongly suggest that you do a little research on socialism before you support politicians that want you to have a form of government that you will undoubtedly detest if you ever have to live under its tyrannical grasp. Are you really gullible enough to believe that all the “free stuff” your Socialist Democrats will offer you is really “free.” Truth is, as a taxpayer, you will fund every penny of your government’s benevolence.
SO much to unpack here without even trying to disagree with his blunted point.
So far in this “letter” has established the writer’s unsubstantiated belief in a nebulous group of people representing values he opposes. He has created this entity, assumed it to be of some size and scope, and challenged it, weakly.
It’s like a letter to the editor confronting “The Dragon on Third Street” without any context as to who the dragon is and what it believes, or even proof IT EXISTS, before saying it must be slain. Let’s work through this:
- “…do a little research on socialism…” – again, assumes people who support candidates and officials with certain beliefs haven’t heard of or read about socialism. What constitutes “research” in this case? A casual reading of the works of Marx? A history of the USSR and its military and economic implosion? A graduate class in economic studies?
- What is the writer’s own special knowledge on the subject that makes this opinion more than just words in a comment section? It says, “You disagree with me and, despite providing no evidence of my own, your opinion shows a lack of education on a subject.” This works both ways. “Someone this inarticulate or ignorant in his own opinion needs to open a book. He needs to learn the alphabet and words, how they string into sentences, and other fundamental parts of English rather than, I assume, have his buddy transcribe his idle conversation into a ‘letter to the editor.’” See how that works?
- Supporting policies, socialist or not, is not the same are supporting a “form of government.” The United States has policies that are socialist by definition. We collect taxes for the greater good. We build and maintain roads. We build schools and post offices, finance a military, protect the environment from abuse, and help pay for access to essential services so that the less fortunate can continue to live and function in society. We also subsidize corporations, farms, and other ventures to strengthen the republic. My money. Your money. We have no say in where it goes or even in how much we pay. That’s our “form of government” with elements of socialism in it. Here, the writer wraps another blind assumption about a nebulous group of people implying they want to change the Constitution and adopt a socialist form of government. How you get form “Hey, stupid! Are you crazy?!” to that conclusion is an exercise best left to stupid and crazy people.
- So these dumb, crazy people who are actively trying to overthrow the government with some socialist government are unaware of the tyranny that comes with such a construct. “You won’t like tyranny,” he says.
- And the old chestnut that government-provided services are “free” – assumes people believe this to be true. Anyone who gets a paycheck and looks at how much is being taken right away for Federal, State, and Municipal taxes knows that what they get in return isn’t “free” so that’s a stupid argument. I knew that when I opened my first paycheck in 1985 and it was about 35% smaller than my gross estimation. It also ignores the common, easily discoverable (for someone who has done so much “research” on socialism, anyway) argument that it isn’t about getting things for free but reallocating the collected wealth of the proletariat to human services and programs that benefit American people who are suffering. And if the Top One Percent were taxed somewhere around the same as they were during the great post-war expansion of our infrastructure, these things could be paid for without putting the pressure on middle and lower class taxpayers. Without so much as google, I’ve contributed more of an argument than the writer did in his “letter” to the editor.
- Again, he asks another question. There’s not even the pointed stick of an accusation. It’s a feckless question to an empty chair.
- If you’re keeping track, the writer’s “dumb” and “crazy” boogeyman is also “gullible.”
Have you been paying attention to what socialism has done for Venezuela and much of Europe? These countries have gone from the penthouse to the outhouse in a very short time. What a tragedy that your ultra-leftist comrades are setting up our great America for failure.
In what could be an astonishing closing argument, the final paragraph reads like the last idea of someone who runs out of time on a soapbox and throws out a few extra talking points. There’s nothing to tie the writer’s “better” ideas into a shot against the opposition. It ends with a dire message that reads more like paranoia and “old man yells at cloud” mentality. Not only did the writer fail to create a relatable target of his screed, but he also failed to identify a single, specific idea to confront with better ideas. Instead, we have someone who creates a caricature of the kind of person conservatives believe exists and taunts it with weak “questions” that could never be answered. There isn’t even the strength of a direct accusation to make this an ad hominem attack (“ARE you stupid, crazy, and gullible?”) The writer is always free to take any confrontation about this piece, hold up his palms and say, “Hey, I’m just ASKING here.”
In essence, this entire letter fails to rise to a level of satire or even humor. It is a letter without reasoned opinion, a comment under a more substantial editorial, little more than the old Simpsons headline “OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUD”. Yet, somehow, someone felt the writer’s words were worthy of more attention.
In conclusion, what makes this letter worthier of a showcase than any other newspaper comment under an article? I’ll offer an actual answer: There isn’t one.