"Let us admit what all the idealists admit: the hallucinatory character of the world."
—Jorge Luis Borges
Last month, I wrote an election response piece expressing shock at Trump's (narrow) triumph. (Is there such a thing as a narrow triumph?) These cri de coeurs were thick on the ground for a few weeks, with many of us gnashing our teeth in rage, frustration, and fear. As is no doubt clearly evident, my personal conviction is that our country has made a grave collective mistake by voting in an intellectually unequipped reality TV star with an untrammeled id. (I could go on about this, we all could go on about this, we will go on.) Despite these grave misgivings about the direction we're headed in, I suggested that those of us who feel that our set of values (tolerance, empathy, probity) lost the election should seek out people we disagree with and talk to them. To quote myself: "It starts by listening, methinks. What if we started to have informed and honest conversations about what's most important to us? What if we found out that what we had in common was more powerful than our differences?"
This desire for substantive dialogue was echoed in many other quarters, including Eric Utne's column in Utne Reader: "Right now there's a great deal of talk in the world and very little real conversation. The 2016 election season and its aftermath often feels like an assault—a war of words rather than a national conversation about the kind of world we want to live in.... If we give each other the gift of listening with an open heart, we may have some real conversations that begin to heal our divided world."
My sentiments exactly.
Once the December issue was published, I started getting letters from readers suggesting that engaging with Trump supporters might prove impossible. That attempts in this direction have been made, and it's rarely worked out. Some pointed to the dissemination of misinformation and outright fake news that is warping people's understanding of reality and undermining what we had once known as a fact-based consensus (While You Were Sleeping, page 14). Others suggested that as there was no respectful dialogue possible with those who think that an argument is won by the person who speaks loudest or who can talk over people. (Trump's good at that—what's his Twitter account but an example of such a bully pulpit? It's a trick many of us from Queens know very well.)
I remained (and remain) optimistic that paving a road toward conversation among citizens is possible. Forget Trump and his cronies. This ain't about them. That there will be some speed bumps along the way, however, became clear to me on December 3, when I was bcc'd on an e-mail sent by Ed Fertik to an unknown group, presumably of like-minded folks with the subject line: "Chronogram—local liberal trash publication." (Say what you want about this guy, he's helping market us to a constituency we don't normally reach.)
Now, before I share Fertik's remarks, a bit of history here. Ed Fertik, a Columbia County-based conservative gadfly, is a long-time reader of this magazine, and perhaps the only person other than myself and our proofreader who analyzes our every utterance so closely. A quick search on his name in my e-mail archive reveals letters from him dating back from 2010. Stuff like: "Your magazine is as biased toward the left wing radical agenda (Obamunism) as it could possibly be." And: "It's time to think about saving the country you grew up in for your children. That's far more important than keeping your dream of a successful Obama alive." And: "You should be ashamed about being intellectually dishonest to your readers." And: "In regard to your so-called magazine. I'm asking that non liberals pick up as many copies of your rag as possible. They make fine mats for mud rooms."
Fertik and I have communicated cordially via e-mail for years, and we've dutifully printed all his letters laying out the case against our leftist agenda. Here's the latest, the aforementioned December 3rd e-mail:
"Dear Patriots of the Hudson Valley:
Many of you are aware of the Kingston-based free glossy publication in our area known as Chronogram which seems to do quite well financially with advertisers that cater to the affluent. For those of you unfamiliar with the contents of this publication and its Editorial Director Brian Mahoney, let me explain that Chronogram makes the New York Times look like middle of the road fair reporting! Chronogram is so far to the left and so out of touch with reality and the average American that one read will explain how the highly paid left wing pundits, journalists, analysts had every single prediction and analysis wrong during this election cycle. Chronogram has even broken new ground in corrupt journalism by connecting certain of their astrological commentary to the evil of conservatism / Americanism. Simply put, Chronogram hates everyone getting this message and all of us ignorant working people and they still don't know how they lost. They like to say that Clinton won the popular vote although that is almost entirely due to four of the five boroughs of New York City and to the state of California. And yes, they would love all presidential elections to be controlled and decided by New York City. The fact that Clinton won the popular vote in only 19 of the 50 states has not registered with them. The why behind why Democrats have only four of our 50 states with a Democrat governor and legislature is lost to them. What they have for regular people is contempt and condescension and now we fight back.
You'll find this Marxist rag in your neighborhood. By all means pick up a copy or five and deposit them in the nearest garbage can where publications promoting blatantly biased phony journalism belong and please make a note of the advertisers first so that they do not benefit from our hard-earned labor."
Now, I like a good bit of ranting, even when (perhaps especially when) it's about a project I've spent the last 20 years working on. And Fertik never fails to disappoint on that front. And while I don't self-identify as a Marxist, it's a fair point in a reductivist rhetorical sense, if, by Marxist, you mean caring about the exploited rather than the despoilers. Oh, but wait, I thought Chronogram was supposed to be a mouthpiece of the affluent elite?
It's difficult, after receiving a letter like this, not to give in to grudge harboring and score settling. I don't know who Fertik's "regular people" are, or how the values of pluralism, curiosity, justice, and beauty we've promoted in this magazine may have held them in contempt or condescended to them. I know that Chronogram isn't for everyone, but I never imagined it was against anyone either.
Regardless. I thank Ed Fertik for his loyal opposition to this magazine and the boogeyman he perceives us to be. You shall know yourself through the mirror of the eyes of others, as the Bible does not say. This conversation thing is going to be harder than I thought. It seems that losing the election was the easy part.