On the November issue:
Biden and Bias
To the Editor:
Christine Rosen’s “Joe Biden’s Big Lie” is full of truth (November). When the history of this period is written, it will be shown that the mainstream media and social-media platforms were largely responsible for the polarization we now witness. They are clearly biased in favor of Joe Biden. In particular, what social media has done in the last few months is tantamount to ideological and partisan censorship.
North York, Ontario
To the Editor:
I appreciate Christine Rosen’s argument that we need to hold Joe Biden accountable. It’s a crucial point that is often overlooked. For if the election was about Donald Trump or Not-Trump, we quickly forgot about what a Biden presidency might mean. We need to apply scrutiny to both sides; indeed, our future depends on it. But who is to judge whether this scrutiny is being conducted fairly? The effect of the media has largely been reduced and delegitimized as propaganda on both sides. The problem seems to be that we’ve destroyed any opportunity for finding an objective judge. Every opinion becomes reduced to partisanship. In such a polarizing context, it’s impossible to reconcile Biden and Trump. Even though I’ve done much research into the candidates of both parties, my vote was, for the first time in my life, ultimately a leap of faith.
San Francisco, California
Christine Rosen writes:
I appreciate Steven Warsh’s highlighting the issue of censorship online and how it impacted our understanding of the recent election. Although the Hunter Biden story was the most egregious example of this (with platforms such as Twitter locking the accounts of reputable news organizations and even congressional committees that posted news about the alleged scandal), I fear such censorship efforts will continue. Some of it will be blatant, as it was with the Hunter Biden story, but some of it will be more subtle: overzealous placement of “misinformation” warnings or “lacks context” warnings that, due to the bias of those deploying the warnings, will unfairly punish conservative ideas and arguments. We have already seen this happen with many mainstream media “fact-checking” operations. There’s also the suspension of accounts for the sin of going against the acceptable liberal “woke” prescriptions about race or sex. Conservatives should remain vigilant about such censorship and push back when platforms practice it.
I share Rob McQueen’s frustration with the narratives that developed around this election and the way those narratives’ relentless focus on Donald Trump left voters with an incomplete portrait of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. All elections are in some sense a referendum on the incumbent, but this one was notably devoid of analysis of Biden’s record. There was little reporting on his many decades of work as a senator (and any changes of heart he might have had along the way on issues such as criminal-justice reform, for example); the allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct made against him; the potentially questionable ways in which his immediate family members have enriched themselves due to their proximity to power; and legitimate concerns about his age and health, to name just a few.
Similar questions were raised again and again about Trump when he ran for president (as they should have been). But in the case of Biden, the media meekly accepted his campaign’s canned responses and never challenged his unwillingness to answer to the press and, by implication, to the American people. Day after day of “calling a lid” won him the election, but it has also made him something of a cipher. Whatever the challenges posed by partisan media on both sides (including its encouragement of polarization), there is a far greater risk to open debate when no one bothers to question leaders at all. The media should be adversarial with every president they cover. With Biden thus far they have simply been AWOL.
To the Editor:
I found Jonathan S. Tobin’s “The Cult of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” informative, enlightening, and balanced (November). It shed new light not only on Ginsburg’s life and career but also on the role she played in the women’s-rights movement, the rise of social media, and the enduring value of Jewish tradition. I already knew Ginsburg was a close friend of Antonin Scalia’s and a reliably liberal vote on the Supreme Court. Tobin’s article showed that she also was a more complex figure than the creators of “RBG” would have us believe.
To the Editor:
Jonathan S. Tobin’s article on Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an excellent, insightful, and thoughtful treatment. It should be read and discussed by people of all political views. Indeed, it would contribute to a more profound legacy for Justice Ginsburg than what passes for her current notoriety.
Santa Cruz, California
The Big Boys
To the Editor:
Joseph Epstein is old enough to be my father and, still, reading “My Commentary” (November), I felt that we could be brothers. I first subscribed to the magazine while living in the relative intellectual desert of a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip—about as far away from the University of Chicago as one can get—but for me, too, Commentary “elevated my spirits and widened my intellectual horizons.” It was a major event when a new edition arrived in the mailbox. Over the years, I realized that my real education came from the lone magazine to which I subscribed. I agree with Epstein that the more visual format is a necessity of the age, but here something has been lost. How invigorating it was to turn page after page and encounter nothing but the words of a particular article. No distractions, just reader and article. Just me and the “Big Boys.”
To the Editor:
I want to express my appreciation for Joseph Epstein’s article “My Commentary.” Among other things, it made me recognize the role on my own intellectual growth and outlook played by certain of the magazines he mentions. Though I was not a subscriber or a regular reader, I would from time to time sit down with a pile of them in the journal section of my library. I always hoped to find suitable teaching material for my humanities and social-science classes at Ben-Gurion University. These articles were often a first choice as they were well written, topical, and interesting. Over the years, I assigned them to hundreds of students. They made for good classroom discussions.
Looking back to the 1970s and the decades that followed, I believe they must have shaped my thoughts on cultural, social, and political issues more than I realized.
Ramat Hasharon, Israel
To the Editor:
Barton Swaim’s “The Know-Nothing Elite” traffics in the silent bigotry of erasure (November). Swaim presents the elite conception of democracy as being dedicated to “increasing the reach of the system to marginalized groups,” with non-elites’ conception of democracy set up in opposition to this. Unexamined are the opinions and beliefs of the people to whom the elites are supposedly trying to extend democracy. This is part of a larger issue in the study of the “forgotten man and woman”; they’re nearly always white and rural. Pundits can be counted on to wring their hands about how a grandmother in Appalachia feels about watching her children and grandchildren succumb to despair and drug abuse (nearly always attributed to the loss of jobs and opportunity in their community). But a grandmother in Flint facing the same thing gets erased or, if she’s noticed, presented as the victim of a culture that is insufficiently concerned with hard work. The same forces operate on both grandmothers, but addressing them when they’re afflicting largely white populations is deemed noble, while addressing them in communities of color is pandering in an attempt to create a system that frees elites from accountability to “the masses.”
Ironically, Swaim’s desire to implicate the elites winds up infantilizing the non-elites that he esteems so highly. This is distressingly common; speaking as someone who lives in one of those small towns full of non-elites, I note that there is no shortage of people in elite positions who are eager to view us as the common clay of the new West; in short, as morons. Sometimes it’s because we’re dangerously bigoted. Sometimes it’s because we’re charmingly free of artifice. But no matter which way you go, the end result is the same: continued justification for whatever policy the elites in question want to pursue.
To the Editor:
Barton Swaim’s elite are those educated mainly in the social sciences and humanities. There is another group, educated in the exact sciences and engineering. This group is trained in innovation and technology, is details-oriented and solutions-driven, and less prone to emotional thinking. This group contributes much more to the economy and societal progress than the chattering class. Although much less involved in active politics, they form a significant part of the politically independent. Their vote may prove decisive.
To the Editor:
I want to thank you for publishing Barton Swaim’s article on the elite. It occurred to me that there may be a third component to the author’s dichotomy, namely the role of experts, usually scientists. When looking at the debate on COVID regulation strategies, for example, I see that the elite rely more on experts’ opinions than do the non-elites. Could it be that the complexity of scientific discourse appeals to the elites because they don’t trust their own perceptions?
Cape Town, South Africa
Barton Swaim writes:
I wrote “The Know-Nothing Elite” in large measure because the views and habits of people with limited education are routinely dismissed on the grounds that such people are racists. Ross Gearllach responds by claiming that the essay “traffics” in the “silent bigotry of erasure” and goes on to suggest that I am more concerned with white than with black non-elites. “Pundits,” moreover—I assume I am such a pundit—“can be regularly counted on” to exhibit this form of bigotry.
Rather than try to absolve myself of a vague charge of racism, I will let the essay speak for itself—other than to note that the town in which Mr. Gearllach resides, Poulsbo, Washington, has, according to the 2010 census, an African-American population of 1 percent. Having lived almost all my life in the American South, where the proportion is typically closer to 25 percent, I am not inclined to accept Mr. Gearllach’s authority on the subject of race relations.
Manny Kahana is probably right to draw a distinction between elites trained in the humanities and social sciences and those trained in the hard sciences, although the latter group appears to me awfully easily swayed by the opinions of the chattering classes.
Myke Scott’s suggestion—that elites often defer to the views of experts because they distrust their own perceptions—is valid. I wonder, though, if the problem is laziness rather than distrust. The whole point of expertise is that you can rely on it when you doubt your own impressions. But Western societies have now become so rife with experts of every kind—we have experts in gaming and leisure and hospitality and sexual identity—that you begin to suspect that the expert’s role is mainly to serve as an aide for allegedly smart people who can’t bother to think for themselves.