Tuesday, July 20, 2021

We Sure Get His Opinion

The Star Tribune loves to print letters from the same people, over and over and over.

One example is James Brandt of New Brighton, who had a letter in today about "critical race theory." He was responding to a recent op-ed by an AP social studies teacher named Bill Boegeman who explained how he teaches about race (and racism) in his classes.

This was the paragraph of Brandt's that got my attention and sent me down this James Brandt rabbit hole:

Another claim that Boegeman makes is that the United States is a country that is "literally founded on the idea of white supremacy." That is false. Our country was founded on two main ideas — freedom of enterprise and freedom of religion. The foundation of the country was freedom, not slavery. Slavery is an ugly scar on the nation's history, but it is not the whole history, as some proponents of critical race theory would have us believe. It is important to acknowledge historical injustices, but equally important to put them in the context of the whole picture, both good and bad.

Of course, this is the crux of the Right's disagreement with (or hatred of) the 1619 Project, rather than anything to do with Critical Race Theory, since the former is grounded in history specifically and the latter is mostly about law and policy and their implications for outcomes. Brandt is wrong or at least blinkered, since how can a country's foundation be in freedom while also enslaving a large number of people within its boundaries? It's illogical.

And of course the idea that our country's foundation is based on only two main ideas, one of which is not even mentioned in the Constitution, is interesting. (And I wonder how much Brandt supports freedom of religion for Muslims and other religious minorities and freedom from religion for everyone.)

Finally, when it comes to the "context of the whole picture, both good and bad," I want him to name what parts of slavery (and later Jim Crow and the Klan) were good. And for who.

Brandt's past letters will give an idea of his world view, if that didn't give enough of it:

  • Just a few weeks ago, he had a letter advocating a law prohibiting protests at private residences
  • He was published in January 2021 after the Strib's excellent long story on who George Floyd was as a person, complaining that it was biased. As this writer points out, he doesn't mention all of the other pieces that were written delving into the lives of Derek Chauvin or the other cops involved in killing George Floyd.
  • In August 2020, he had a "reverse discrimination" letter about an article on tenure issues at the University of Minnesota. "I'm curious to know what exactly [U students] mean by 'prioritize.' The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlaws discrimination based on race. Prioritizing hiring people based on their race could violate the law... If less-qualified candidates are hired because of their race, it would violate the law; however, if race is used as a tiebreaker to decide between equally qualified candidates, that would be legal. My question for the students would be: Do they want to end discrimination, or change it in their favor?"
  • In June 2020 (June 2020!), he posited that maybe the reason cops kills so many people every year is because those people deserved it (oh, okay, the way he put it is "most of the killings were justified").
  • From late May 2020 (right after George Floyd was murdered, and the day after the 3rd Precinct burned): "Until the judicial process is complete, we can’t be certain that what happened was a crime. Meanwhile, innocent people are being hurt by this reprehensible behavior. The riots need to stop and we need to wait for the process to complete."
  • April 2020: "Helping someone to steal classified information is espionage, not free speech." Responding to an op-ed about Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and others.
  • November 2019: A defense of Francis Fukuyama's book The End of History, and this: "Private enterprise and private property have done more to alleviate poverty than has any other economic system. It’s unfortunate that so many people have come to revile the system that has brought us so much prosperity."
  • May 2019: Essentially, Brandt argued that the $20 million settlement payment from Minneapolis to the family of Justine Ruszczyk Damond was too much, since the city was not at fault because one of its cops killed her for no reason.
  • March 2019: Brandt wrote in response to a review of Jonathan Metzl's book Dying of Whiteness. "To state that conservative policies are intended to hurt minorities and support systemic racism is ignorant and bigoted, and it serves only to further alienate people from one another." He called the reviewer a bigot. The reviewer was essentially relaying what Metzl's book says.
  • February 2019: In response to an article about democratic socialism, he argued with the author's definitions and moves the goalposts around a bunch.
  • January 2019: Brandt disagreed with one of the Strib's business columnists about the brokenness of our country's privatized retirement "system." If people don't have enough money to retire, it's their own darn fault because they shouldn't have gone to so many sporting events or drunk so much coffee.
  • November 2018: Oh, this one is great. "[The Pope] believes that the rich got rich by taking money from the poor. That may happen in countries where the government is not properly functioning and warlords control everything, but it is not the norm in developed countries. It certainly doesn’t describe the situation in the U.S." And this: "The pope... tries to stir up envy of the rich."
  • September 2018: He claimed that an earlier op-ed was setting up libertarians and their ideas about free markets and growth as straw men.
  • June 2018: In which he tried to claim that the 1997 Flores settlement required the Trump administration to separate parents from their children at the border (rather than that Flores could have been used to require the government to release the parents and the children together to appear at a later date for their asylum hearing).
  • May 2018: He argued that Minnesota's Legacy Amendment, which funds the arts and environment, was not necessary and its preallocated money has misshapen the state budget.
  • December 2017: He argued for allowing concealed carry permits to cross state boundaries, and cited the questionable — some would say discredited — researcher James Lott, Jr.
  • May 2017: He gave examples of the times U.S. foreign policy could be seen to side with a Muslim country, in response to an op-ed that outlined the many more times when that was not the case.
  • January 2017: Once again he made the argument that it's false to say "the rich are making money at the expense of the poor." And that the best way to end poverty is to "further the spread of the private-property, free-enterprise system that has worked well in the U.S. and other developed nations."

There may have been other letters in 2017 (and earlier), but the Star Tribune's search engine gave up on me at this point. So that's four or five per year, probably.

Does the Star Tribune letters editor realize how often Brandt's letters are run? Do they not care? What makes his repetitious arguments so great? Or doesn't anyone else write in to say this is a free country and the rich deserve all their wealth?

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