Why I had a change of heart on encouraging non-voters
... & Twitter talk, letters to the editor (me) and more
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Eric Zorn is a former opinion columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Find a longer bio and contact information here. This issue exceeds in size the maximum length for a standard email. To read the entire issue in your browser, click on the headline link above.
I used to be an “if you don’t care, don’t vote” guy, one who sneered at the exhortations to head to the polls aimed at people who were ostensibly too lazy or checked out or otherwise uninformed to exercise a franchise that people have fought and died to preserve.
But I converted to a “get in the habit of voting, Bunky, so that maybe next time you’ll pay attention to the candidates and the issues,” guy.
When you think of yourself as a voter, you are more likely to engage with your government in a way that leads to intelligent, informed choices at the ballot box. In that sense, voting is not just a thing you do a couple of times a year, but a habit of mind you exercise daily.
Of course I would rather you not vote today if you don’t appreciate the gravity of the threat to democracy itself posed by so many Republican candidates, but either way, traditional non-voters should get out there while they still have the chance, as we see in the following item.
Bill Maher: Enjoy Democracy while you can
HBO host Bill Maher is held in contempt by many of my fellow liberals for his failures to follow the party line in all things — and I certainly have some issues with him myself. But his closing monologue Friday night was so spot on I had to share it:
And finally, new rule: Well, we had a good run.
I know that's not really a rule. But since everything in America is about to change in a very fundamental way, what the fuck.
Rules are about to go out the window. Tuesday's Election Day and I know I should probably tell you to vote in what honest to God is really the most important election ever. So, OK, yes, you should vote.
And it should be for the one party that still stands for democracy preservation.
But it's also a waste of breath because anyone who believes that is already voting, and anyone who needs to learn that isn't watching, and no one in America can be persuaded of anything anymore anyway.
The January 6th hearings, it turns out, changed nobody's mind. Democrat Jamie Raskin said the hearings would tell a story that will really blow the roof off the house.
No, that was Hurricane Ian. …
he committee did a masterful job laying out the case. But we live in partisan America now. So it's a little like doing stand up when half the crowd only speaks Mandarin. No matter how good the material is, it's not going to go over.
After all the hearings, the percentage of Americans who thought Trump did nothing wrong went up three points. That's American now. It's like trying to win an argument in a marriage. Even when you're right, it still gets you nothing.
Ben Franklin said our country was “a republic, if you can keep it.” Well, we can't. And unless a miracle happens on Tuesday, we didn't. Democracy is on the ballot, and unfortunately, it's going to lose. And once it's gone, it's gone. It's not something you can change your mind about and reverse. That's gender.
So here's what's going to happen. Republicans will take control of Congress, and next year, they'll begin impeaching Biden and never stop. They'll impeach him for getting out of Afghanistan and getting into Ukraine, for inflation, for recession, for falling off his bike. It won't matter and it won't make sense. But Biden will be a crippled duck when he goes up against the 2024 Trump-Kari Lake ticket. And even if Trump loses, it doesn't matter. On Inauguration Day 2025, he's going to show up whether he's on the list or not.
And this time he's not going to take “no” for an answer. Because this time he will have behind him the army of election deniers that is being elected in four days.
There are almost 300 candidates on the ballot this year who don't believe in ballots, and they'll be the ones writing the rules and monitoring how votes are counted in ‘24. The facts, the policies, the behavior don't matter anymore. Trump could be filmed throwing a baby off a bridge and still win.
Not to give Herschel Walker any ideas.
This really is the Crossing the Rubicon moment when the election deniers are elected, which is often how countries slide into authoritarianism. Not with tanks in the streets, but by electing the people who then have no intention of ever giving it back.
The Republican up for Wisconsin governor just said, if he's elected, “Republicans will never lose another election.”
This is how it happens. Hitler was elected. So it was Mussolini, Putin, Erdogan, Viktor Orban. This is the “it can't happen to us” moment that's happening to us right now. We just don't feel it yet. We're the Titanic right after the iceberg hit.
And honestly, too many Americans just don't care, and won't even care after it happens. Because they never followed politics to begin with. And were never taught in school what democratic government was supposed to look like. So how sad can they be about losing something they never knew they had? You can try and tell them that we will no longer have a system of checks and balances but they will have an answer for that: “What's checks and balances?”
Democracy’s hard. Athens didn't have to deal with Fox News or the smartphone that made everybody stupid. And they only lasted 200 years. So our 246 doesn't look that bad. But before we do go, I'd like to say a little farewell to some of the things that really did make America great — that, now, we're going to lose forever
Like the peaceful transfer of power. The jewel in our crown that thing that so many other nations couldn't pull off that we always did. Oh well.
The Bill of Rights. When there is no accountability at the ballot box, there are no actual rights.
Look, Generalissimo Trump is not going to bring back child labor or end Social Security or resegregate the water fountains. He doesn't hate Jews. Ivanka is a Jew and he loves her. Now that she's 40, only as a friend, but still…
But make no mistake, it will be an entirely different way of life for many, because our elections will just be for show, like in China and Russia and all the other places Trump says are “very strong.”
Free speech? Well, he's a man who has always taken criticism well.
But I wouldn't count on that one lasting. I wouldn't count on freedom of religion lasting. QAnon and the other shock troops of the Trump takeover of the Republican Party are all quasi religious entities who want a Christian government. Oh, and the FBI might be replaced by an army of Proud Boys under the leadership of Michael Flynn.
Even something like pot. Will it stay legal? It probably depends on whether Snoop Dogg calls Trump “brilliant” one day. That's how things will be decided. Not by the rule of law.
Ah! The rule of law, that one was a real jewel. Yeah. Maybe our finest hour as Americans was after World War II when we gave even the defeated Nazis a fair trial. Justice Robert Jackson said that voluntarily submitting our captive, defeated enemies to the rule of law was one of the most significant tributes that power had ever paid to reason.
Well, power will very soon not be paying any more tributes to reason. Not in America anyway. So yeah, I urge you to vote but I've always been a realist.
I'm afraid democracy is like the McRib. It's here now. It'll be around for a little bit longer. So enjoy it while you can.
My most evolved friends on the left will reject the entire monologue above because of Maher’s quip about trans people or something else we said at some point. But I’m glad he said it and said it so well. I’m also glad for former President Barack Obama’s closing argument at a Democratic campaign rally in Philadelphia on Saturday:
The kind of slash and burn politics that we’re seeing right now? That doesn’t have to be who we are. We can be better. And it has nothing to do, by the way, with political correctness or being too woke.
It’s about fundamental values that my grandparents from Kansas taught me. Values I grew up with.Values you grew up with. Values we try to teach our kids. Values we learn in churches and and mosques and synagogues and temples: Honesty. Fairness. Opportunity. Hard work … Values that were enshrined in our founding documents a few miles from here. A clarion call for freedom and equality that Philly’s own Liberty Bell represents. That’s what American stands for.
They’ll be okay if we make the effort … not just on Election Day but every day in between.
Elon Musk’s bumpy takeover of Twitter has brought out the best in the commentariat. Here are just a few choice quotes:
The standard modes of conversation and conflict on Twitter aren’t direct engagement, but rather take the forms of broadcast, promotion, dogpiling, mutual surveillance, and eavesdropping. It’s a place that is able to create the sense of having enemies, and of being someone’s enemy, without the need for any sort of actual interaction, which can obviously be personally unhealthy and collectively corrosive …
Twitter is a pretty good tool for discovering people you’d like to keep up with. It’s an even better tool for discovering people you’ll despise, but otherwise wouldn’t know, and making sure you never forget about them. Twitter’s house rhetorical style is: Look at this fucking asshole. By the way, he thinks you’re a piece of shit.
As much as this sounds like a reason Twitter should be destroyed, this little rod of behavioral plutonium probably helped keep it alive, or at least relevant …. Maybe Twitter has mined this little flaw in human nature for all it was worth to the platform. The rod is depleted, and I’m not sure anybody knows how to dispose of it.
Twitter offers depth of information, as well as speed. It’s how I access everything from technical discussions about inflation to disputes over how history should be written. And it’s where I locate experts, and discover who is arguing with whom, over what.
I also came to use Twitter as a kind of notebook: a place to test ideas, or sometimes tell jokes. The enforced concision of Twitter can be good discipline for a writer.
And, as one of its more ambiguous gifts, Twitter offers a virtual community: often rancorous, but also surprisingly open and egalitarian. I’ve heard more original ideas from people I didn’t previously know in a single day on Twitter than in many a month of Washington conferences….
So if Musk adapts Twitter in ways that serve the interests of antidemocratic forces, that implicates those of us who post on his site. We could end up as collaborators in the subversion of our highest ideals of self-government, individual dignity and truth.
Twitter is crack cocaine for journalists. It’s a quick, inexpensive way to engage with a community, and cultivate sources, but also to draw attention to yourself, including spreading the word about your work. Los Angeles Times arts reporter Jessica Gelt writes, “For arts and culture writers, whose stories often don’t garner the broad readership enjoyed by big-tent entertainment news about Hollywood and pop music, Twitter has been an especially useful tool of dissemination.”
Its ascension came amid the decline of traditional media, notably newspapers. Flailing for answers, publishers and editors bought into the perilous notion of the utility of their journalists becoming “brands” to boost the product. The personal craving of their reporters melded with what was deemed a larger commercial self-interest.
But it was naïve, given the reflexive craving of too many journalists to voice their two cents on every topic under the sun. But early adopters at new online sites such as BuzzFeed had seen their profiles rise. Old-line managers gave at times reluctant approval to unshackle their minions—and then saw how mistrust of the media only grew.
If it does nothing except punch a hole in the enormous, expanding gasbag of toxic ego that is Elon Musk, then the death of Twitter will not have been in vain.
With the platform that was once considered a “digital town square” now the private domain of the cartoon-villain, richest-man-alive, loser-ass, stale-meme-hawking, gross-little-scarf-wearing billionaire, its interface seems unlikely to improve. …Luckily, with most of (Musk’s) wealth tied up in plummeting Tesla stock and Twitter’s $13 billion in debt, the whole company might just go bankrupt before it has time to end democracy.
Notes and comments from readers —lightly edited —- along with my responses
Some of these messages are in reference to items in last week’s issues of the Picayune Sentinel.
Joshua P. — Re. voice-to-text fails, I once dictated an email to and about a professional organization whose initials are “LFMP,” but my iPhone sent it out as “Elephant Penis.”
Sounds like an in-joke for the ages!
Don McL. — Until somebody digs deeper, I will continue to see the story about the Hideout as a story about the devastating impact of social media. A fired, disgruntled employee has undone a quarter-century of communal support and goodwill with a single post, months after he was let go.
His posting implied that these owners were shady hypocrites and money-grabbing opportunists. Maybe they were and are. Let's report the story and let the chips fall where they may.
What we've got at this point is one small nightclub taking the heat for the institutional racism throughout Chicago's culture. And the club had hired this guy specifically to redress their lack of diversity.
The lights are out at the Hideout, jobs have been lost and a vital performing space and community gathering place is shuttered. Why? Because the club delivered an unsatisfying response in a social-media war it had no hopes of winning?
I'd hoped the Reader could be the place to read a deep dive into what actually happened.
The Reader coverage was dismaying on many levels.
I object mostly here to the administration of Queen of Hearts social justice — sentence first, verdict afterwards — before a broad factual inquiry that might ultimately support the urgency of shutting the club down. But might not.
I will be on Ben Joravsky’s podcast Tuesday afternoon to discuss the controversy. Ben, a Reader columnist and longtime pal, decided with his on-stage co-host Maya Dukmasova, a reporter for Injustice Watch, to move their “First Tuesdays” performances from the Hideout to Nighthawk in Albany Park because they were “upset to hear about this workplace abuse” and are “no longer comfortable bringing people to the Hideout.”
Ben has billed my appearance as a debate, though I am seeing it as more of an inquiry. Here’s the email I sent him that prompted his invitation:
I trust you as a journalist and a voice of reason and fairness, so I'm wondering about your take on the Hideout situation and your decision to boycott the venue based on a couple of somewhat vague Instagram posts. The owners -- and you know them way better than I do -- have done a lot for the music community and the alt. scene in Chicago over the years, and forcing them to shut down because of friction with one ex employee seems way over the top, a form of mob "justice" administered without a fair inquiry into the facts, the other sides to the story.
Your name has come up in a number of conversations I've had with people who are concerned about whether this outcome was fair and necessary, and since you evidently think that it was, I thought I'd ask for your thoughts.
Bruce L. — You're making the biggest mistake of your life by rationalizing your use of Twitter in “Let the trolls, haters and kooks do their worst. I’m still not leaving Twitter. At least not yet.”
Good people need to leave that platform and never look back. You can find good reads and honest information elsewhere without supporting what is and will be State broadcasting for MAGA. Get out now and show yourself to be the leader and the thinker that you are! You will never live this down if you don't. The platform is heading for total self destruction after this loony, autistic billionaire blows it to Kingdom Come. There will be a new platform that takes its place in no time. You're going to quit Twitter on your own once you see what it becomes.
Certainly developments in the past week haven’t increased my confidence that Twitter will remain useful and entertaining for me. It’s quite possible that enough people will quit — including news organizations — that the site will lose its utility even for those who follow my five tips for having a pleasant experience on Twitter.
I doubt very much that a new platform will take its place and do the job better. That would require a far more robust (and therefore expensive) form of content moderation.
John L. — Really? Your housemate at fiddle camp felt so overwhelmed by the news in 1982 that he all but checked out? Before mobile, before cable, before blogs, before social media? Just too much of it, even back then? He couldn't stop himself from reading Time and Newsweek so he had to just swear off both?
I know people who have tuned out. They are the people who come up to me last week -- true example -- to say, "Have you heard that Colin Powell died?" They are the people who get their news from friends, some of those friends passing along what Hillary does at pizza shops or that ISIS set the Eiffel Tower on fire. They are the people who decide how to vote based on yard signs and direct mail and attack ads or the gender, ethnicity or warmth of the names they see on the ballot. That is, if they vote at all, and if they're uninformed, I prefer that they don't.
Balance. A healthy diet is not one of starvation. It's one of balance. There's more to life than news. You don't need to swim in it 24/7. You need to learn balance. Exercise discipline with your devices and require that your kids do too. But this is self-government. The body politic needs protein. Balance. Pick up a couple of newspapers. Scan Apple or Google News. Occasionally drive while listening WBBM-AM Newsradio 780. Work in a few varied blogs or newsletters (like The Picayune Sentinel) or podcasts that challenge you to think. If you don't read the New York Times every day, at least read it on Sunday. Balance.
And yes, avoid programming that's design to make you click or get angry. Stop watching the cable panels that preach to your choir only. Stay away from toxic people and stay away from toxic news.
But the obligation of citizenry is more than just the obligation to helping out at the homeless shelter.
That item drew a lot of comment traffic, mostly from people who have found themselves overwhelmed and saddened by the rising tide of alarming news that they feel powerless to stop. This seemed particularly true as we approached today’s election.
Lesley W. — In last week’s Land of Linkin’ (third item) you added an FYI to a link from the previous week in which you recommended The Girl I Guess Progressive Voters Guide. You wrote that “others have flagged this information about Stephanie Skora, the author of that page,” and that link takes readers to a page on Canary Mission an anonymous website whose goal is to defame and intimidate Palestinian activists, especially students, by accusing them of antisemitism. There are also a lot of Jewish anti Zionists on the list, (including Stephanie). Canary Mission has been called out by the Middle East Studies Association, Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestine Legal, the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and The Guardian . Please don't give Canary Mission a platform by treating it as a credible source.
Well, so much for my nearly 43-year effort to stay as far away as possible from the evidently unsolvable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have thoughts about it but no opinion strong enough to share or that I’d be interested in trying to defend against those who are deeply versed in it. There are enough domestic issues to occupy me.
The Girl I Guess voters guide is fairly open about Skora’s strongly progressive political views so readers can take that into account. Has she gone overboard in some cases? That was evidently the contention of those who wrote to ask that I provide the Canary Mission link for balance. Is Canary Mission unfair in its relentless attacks on critics of Israel and on supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement designed to promote Palestinian rights?
I encourage readers who care about this topic to do their own research, starting with the links toward the end of Lesley W.’s letter.
SAFE-T act fact check
Fussing and finger pointing about the changes to the criminal justice in the massive Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act passed and signed into law by Illinois Democrats seems to have left voters with a lot of questions and misapprehensions. The Daily Herald has a useful analysis of the bill for your Election Day reading pleasure. The summary:
Claim: Violent felonies, including second-degree murder, arson, kidnapping, aggravated battery and threatening a public official, will become "non-detainable" offenses, and those charged will be released after arrest.
Our verdict: False. …
Claim: The SAFE-T Act is an unfunded mandate that will cost local governments and taxpayers millions.
Our verdict: True. …
Claim: Dangerous criminals currently incarcerated on cash bail will go free Jan. 1.
Verdict: Probably false.
Claim: If someone is trespassing at your home or business, police can only write a ticket, not force the person to leave.
Ya gotta see these tweets!
I often run across tweets that rely on visual humor and so can’t be included in the Tweet of the Week contest (the template I use for the poll does not allow me to include images). Here are a few good ones I’ve come across recently:
Vote for your favorite. I’ll share the winner in Thursday’s main edition.
There’s still time to vote in the conventional Tweet of the Week poll!
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