MINOT, N.D. — I missed last week's mailbag column because I was busy fighting off the side effects of my first shot of the Moderna vaccine. It was rough, but worth it for protection it will afford me, my family, and my community.
If you want to reach me with feedback, send me an email at email@example.com or find me at @robport on Twitter. If used in the column your messages may be edited for clarity and brevity.
Now, to your feedback!
Mel writes, in response to my column about Jane Fonda visiting the Line 3 pipeline protest: "Thanks for speaking out about [Jane] Fonda. My father worked 39 years for Lakehead Pipeline (which eventually became Enbridge). It was an extraordinarily generous company to its workers and we took for granted our economic security as we grew up, even in an area with few other job opportunities in the private sector. As we have apparently all gone insane it is refreshing to see that the MSM still, on occasion, allows those of us who still understand and value logic & reason a brief ray of hope. Well done and very brave of you to put this out there."
Celebrity activism fascinates me. Not that the celebrities have points of view they want to share — that doesn't make them all that different from the rest of us — but how much clout we give those views.
Why, exactly, do we care what Jane Fonda has to say about a pipeline in Minnesota?
What's even newsworthy about her showing up at a pipeline protest? She's good at acting, and she has a political opinion. So what?
Our fascination with politically active celebrities, both in support and opposition, not to mention our propensity to turn service in public office into its own form of celebrity, is a symptom of the tribalism which plagues American politics. The American system of government is organized around the idea of the consent of the governed. That gives us a lot of freedom, but also a lot of responsibilities, chief among them the responsibility to well informed.
Since that takes work and diligence, we have a tendency to outsource our thinking politicians and pundits and, yes, even celebrities, as inane as their political machinations typically are. Instead of discerning for ourselves what the facts are, instead of staking out our own point of view on a topic, we look to what the people we think of as on our side believe, and then we line up behind them.
It's one thing to watch a movie or television show because it features an actor you like. It's another thing to take a political position because a celebrity you admire has endorsed it.
Our society desperately needs more independent thinkers.
Douglas writes, in response to a column in which I referred to former President Donald Trump as a "disgrace": "I take issue with your line that former President Trump is disgraced. That is a characterization that you hold not a proven fact. I suppose from your point of view this Biden dude with dementia is a better choice, but not from mine."
I'm not sure how you make a fact out of something that is subjective, though a lot of people like to treat their subjective feelings like facts.
I think Donald Trump disgraced the office of the presidency, and that's really saying something given some of the ninnies we've elected in the past. Your mileage may vary, of course. Neither of us is necessarily wrong, from a factual standpoint. These are perspectives.
Many Trumpists struggle with this concept, and it's why the Trump movement will likely be a relative flash in the pan of American history. Political movements win through addition, not subtraction. They succeed when they persuade people, but Trumpists aren't interested in that. Like their leader, they believe they can bully everyone into submission. It's a binary choice for them. You either agree, or you're "fake news" or a "soy boy" or, perhaps worst of all, a "liberal."
Seeing Trump as the disgrace that he is does not necessarily make one a supporter of President Joe Biden (or a liberal, etc.). You can be conservative while simultaneously seeing Trump and his supporters as a cancer in the movement.
Polly writes: "I am not getting the vaccine and never will. Besides being healthy and no secondary conditions, I got the phone call that my friend of 43 years who is as healthy as a horse, suffered a stroke after receiving the vaccine. Though this is uncommon, this is beginning to show up as contraindications. I know this because of what the physician said to my friend and my husband who is a retired surgeon backed up. The women my age who have had Covid did not like it ofcourse, but were not sick much longer or more so than the ordinary flu. I will not get the vaccine. You are a young man and I will chalk your logic up to innocent youth. We may be older women but we still think for ourselves. You get the vaccine if you want. I will not and I should not be judged by you or anyone else for making a personal decision about how I handle my life and body."
The challenging part of debating something like vaccines is that it's simultaneously very public and very personal.
Personal because it deals with your health.
Public because vaccines help fight illnesses that spread from person to person in our communities. Many people, generally, and Americans, specifically, don't like to be told how to handle their personal business, especially something as intimate as their health care, even if it is in the public interest.
We need people to get vaccinated, not just for COVID-19 but for other diseases as well. In recent years there has been a campaign against vaccines led by everyone from high-profile celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy down to strident Facebook activists. These campaigns spread ignorance and fear and paranoia, and they're not easily combated. Persuasion is the way to go — efforts to force vaccinations on people inspire more backlash — but it's asymmetrical warfare. Experts and institutions we should trust can speak with loud voices, sure, but then so can any random crank with a Twitter account.
I got the COVID-19 vaccination because our nation's top health experts have endorsed it, our state's top health officials have encouraged it, and my doctor, who knows more about my health than anyone else, told me I should.
Who else should I be listening to, really?
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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.