Historians will point to Election Day 2016 as the dénouement of the Great American Sanity – that midnight hour when the unthinkable, for everyone, happened.
The historians, as can sometimes happen, will be wrong. They won’t address why Americans became more loyal to political parties than to, say, neighbors or churches. They won’t spend enough time on the impact of constant, unfiltered streams of thought that became mainstream rivers of finality.
One thing is certain: The amount of information available about this period of our nation’s history will fill libraries with superficial details about the era that split a nation.
You know what won’t fill any libraries? The solidification of the Heights as the most well-rounded community in all of Houston. You won’t find any books on the stabilization of the Oak Forest and Garden Oaks communities as the best neighborhoods in a metropolis of about 6 million people. There won’t be books on Timbergrove’s battle against a flooding issue that pits homeowners versus developers.
Over the course of the past few weeks, two readers have sent me letters that have stuck with me long after I’ve left the office for the evening. I’d like to share them with you.
The first letter (actually just a question) came from a longtime resident of this community who was once a journalist.
“Jonathan, loyal reader of The Leader,” he wrote. “Are you of the conservative persuasion?”
The second letter came from a fellow who doesn’t live in our community and only recently discovered our paper.
“Recently picked up a copy of your newspaper… Was pleasantly surprised by the small, hometown feel of the newspaper, was good to see Lynn Ashby and the Police Blotter. However, it was short lived by seeing The Reader [letters to the editor] and ‘opinions’ of President Trump. So I tossed the newspaper in the trash bin.”
He continued: “In a time when newspapers are failing right and left, and subscriptions and readers [are] leaving them behind like I did, why put crap like that in your own newspaper? Yes, everyone has opinions, but they can express that online or at the bar or wherever…” (You can read the entire letter in our “The Reader” section below.)
If you don’t understand why those letters were so meaningful to me, let me try to explain: Wherever I go around this community – whether it’s a meeting with a customer or a conversation with a stranger – there’s one thing about The Leader that makes me prouder than just about anything we do.
In an era of spite, in an era of unfiltered hate and useless dialogue, in an era of information that comes at us through every device in our homes and cars and flat-screen monitors, there is but one source of information left that does not stoop into the news of national politics.
When you pick up the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, when you turn on Fox News or MSNBC, when you listen to NPR or even Michael Berry, the onslaught of discord punches you square in the nose. Then again, we kind of expect to get national politics from those places.
So we turn to local TV and metro newspapers, and there it is again. Our network affiliates in the Houston market all make sure to include the national politics of the day. The Houston Chronicle sticks close to its liberal core of national journalism with news and opinion suited for one base of readers. For example, one of the paper’s top editorials at the time of this writing was, “Forget law and order at the border. Trump wants pain.”
We’ve kind of come to expect that sort of slant from the major media branches of this market, but the onslaught doesn’t end there.
We turn to our “friends,” our social media pages, in hopes of finding information about the people who matter most to us. Punch. Social media, be it Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, is yet another stronghold for the personal opinions on national politics, truth be damned on both sides of the story.
When I got a note from a long-time reader who asked if I was of the “conservative persuasion,” I enjoyed sending my response: “If you’re a loyal reader of The Leader, and you’ve read my columns and this paper for the past six years, and you don’t know my political persuasion, I’d say we’re doing a pretty good job, huh? My political persuasion usually lines up with what I believe is right based on the law. Simple as that.”
Remember when that was the creed for every medium in this country? Remember when journalists boasted from the ink barrels when they were the best at keeping rhetoric out of writing?
And that’s why the second letter got to me so much. This week marks the 6-year anniversary of our company buying The Leader, and for six straight years, I have worked hard to make this newspaper about the community it serves. We have purposefully and blatantly avoided being a medium that does anything except report on issues important to our neighborhoods.
I talked to Lynn Ashby earlier this week about the dilemma, because his column does touch national issues from his left-leaning perspective. Lynn writes for publications all over the state. He is not an employee of The Leader, and the same column you read here can be read in Dallas.
It’s a struggle when someone picks up our paper and trashes it because we allow the national debate to seep into our local pages.
Lynn said I should let it go, but it’s not so easy for me.
To the reader who threw away our paper, you were right. To those who write to us as an avenue to reach a national audience, maybe those letters are best left at the bottom of national websites, where bots and Russians and an angry public goes to play.