Over the years, I’ve written a number of “letters to the editor,” to papers here in Minnesota and in Iowa where I lived for a time. Not all of them were published, of course, but a fair number were. The letters column in newspapers is one of the few public forums left to citizens where ideas can be exchanged and outrages vented. It’s not really a dialogue, and there always seems to be a contrived balance of pros and cons on every issue, but at least you get to say your piece and stamp your name on your convictions, which is something.
On those occasions when I’ve had letters published, I usually get several positive comments from friends and coworkers and that’s about all there is to it. A few times I’ve received positive letters from readers’ in agreement with my position. But I’ve also gotten my share of letters from the opposition, conservative Republicans I can only assume, railing at me with religious screeds or copies of articles from Right Wing rags. You see, there’s the rub. I can only assume things about them because they never sign their letters.
I’m not talking about hate mail here, but envelopes crammed to bursting with Christian Fundamentalist dogma designed to rescue me from Satan’s clutches and lead me from the dark secular world into the netherworld of superstition. I’ve gotten written retorts, some legible others not, and lots and lots of copies of politically related magazine and newspaper articles. Diverse materials, to be sure, but what they all have in common is the lack of any identification—no signature, no return address, nothing to identify the sender. Why? Well, I’m glad I asked.
Let’s pretend for a minute that I’ve just read a letter from John Andreini in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and boy, I’m torqued. Why that little…. Okay, this spawn of Fonda needs to be set aright, and I’m gonna do it! Here’s this tract, this article, a letter for good measure. There. Sealed. Done. “What about your name?” whispers a little voice, “Your return address?” CUT. I’m sorry. I forgot my lines. Okay, I’m supposed to say, “Drat, that’s right. I need to sign it so that liberal Yo Yo knows that there are real people out there who believe just as strongly as he does about…about… What’s the matter? Why do you hesitate? Dunno…. I believe some pretty wild stuff, don’t I? Delivered direct to your brain on the La La land Express. Not a lot of people think like I do. Nope. I don’t want him to think I’m nuts. Why would he think that? You’re on God’s side for Pete’s sake, fighting for truth, justice and the American way. The real problem is that people just don’t understand you. They can’t see the truth like you do. The fact that most people are ignorant doesn’t make me crazy does it? Look, I’m gonna send the letter without my name on it, so he doesn’t think I’m nuts, which I’m not. It could create a lot of misunderstanding if he knows I sent this to him. We can avoid all of that by simply leaving off my name. It’s not because I don’t believe in what I’m doing, it’s just to avoid any misunderstandings.
It all reeks of fear, doubt, Gollum-like sneakishness. We hides in the darkness and sends letters to nasty Hobbitses. But of what exactly, are they afraid?
Everything. I wish it was me, but it’s not. They fear the world and everything in it because they hold beliefs that are in direct contradiction to the reality that presents itself to us on a day to day basis. They cling to a reality that is only in their minds, and at some level, obviously not a conscious one, they know their ideas are loony or hateful or aberrant, but they feel stuck with them and, even more strangely, feel a need to share them with others, like intentionally spreading a disease.
When you truly believe something is right and just, you stand up for it, you fight for it, you sacrifice for it. You put yourself on the line for it, even if that’s as small as writing your name on a letter to the editor. Martin Luther King walked into the middle of a tornado with every civil rights march he led. Hitler hid in his bunker and killed himself when the war turned bad. I’m no Martin Luther King, but I do understand the difference between fighting for what’s right and a sucker punch.