Thursday, December 14, 2023


    I tend to share emails that are laughably hateful or oblivious, out of hey-look-at-this amazement more than anything else. A typical specimen is:

Neil. Fascinating In the same article that you referred to the “Staff of 100 fact fixated news hounds["], you also engage in ridiculous hyperbole, to wit: “Did I mention the real chance of democracy dying in America next year?” Makes it difficult to buy the whole “fact” assertion.  Bob Johnson.

    It probably deserved no answer, but I answered anyway:

     You do know that Donald Trump is running for president? I hate to be the one to tell you. His election could mean the death of democracy in this country. That isn't an opinion. It's just a fact, one that remains true whether you realize it or not. Thanks for writing.     NS

     That said, I don't want to give the impression that ALL my correspondence consists of trolls sniping. I do receive deeply thoughtful letters, such as this:

Dear Neil Steinberg:
     Last August, you wrote a column about how you are prohibited from making political endorsements, under the Sun-Times new legal status as a not-for-profit financial entity. You finished by saying that your column, in any case, was no more than, “…a twig snapping in a bonfire the size of a barn. The entirety of responsible professional journalism has been blazing away at Donald Trump.”
     Your modesty is endearing, but it obscures the fact that your column actually is a mighty big twig in the regional and syndicated news bonfire. I’m saying this now, because I’m convinced that we each need to do whatever we can, and as often as we can, to keep a would-be dictator from becoming President.  There will be plenty of time for fatalism later
     What prompted me to write you today, is that I have just read Robert Kagan’s two recent opinion pieces in the Washington Post about the likelihood of a second Trump term. Kagan counters the current arguments used to assuage fears, and focuses on the enormous political and financial power that will accrue to Trump after he wins the Super Tuesday Republican primary on March 5. I trust that you have read Kagan’s piece.
     As for the possible fate of my beloved Sun-Times, what is at stake If Trump wins the presidency is not only its nonprofit status, but its Constitutional freedom of speech. The mainstream media, in Trump’s own words (as borrowed from Stalin) is “the Enemy of the People.” And he has announced his plans to use the justice department to go after his critics in the media.
     Now, I’m not na├»ve enough to think that you and your colleagues already haven’t had conversations about how far you might push the envelope in order to prevent this catastrophe. I only write today to lend encouragement to you and your coworkers to take whatever risks you think you can to stop Trump, before it’s too late.
     Finally, I want you to know that I am incredibly impressed and encouraged by how the Sun-Times has become a great paper again. And I trust you will do all you can to rouse us readers from our complacency and so prevent our democracy from becoming yet another dictatorship.
     Respectfully yours,
     Tom Golz

     An honest concern deserves an honest reply, and I thought hard, and did my best to respond as candidly as I could:

Dear Tom Golz:
     Thank you for your thoughtful letter. I too read Robert Kagan's columns, and felt they were spot-on, if lengthy, summations of the peril our nation is facing right now. The really scary part is that his proposed solution — newfound courage among Republicans — is exactly the quality whose general lack has brought us to this crisis. GOP timidity isn't a bug, but a feature, as the techies say, and I can't see that changing, certainly not before March 5. To me, the whole game is Biden winning re-election; alas, and as Kagan points out, that can be easily torpedoed by a third-party candidate like Jill Stein. Or a stroke.
     To address your thoughts on the Sun-Times leading the charge to save democracy, I brought up that very subject at an open meeting last Thursday, explaining to the powers-that-be that this is a moment of grave national peril, and did they really want to look back at it, years from now, and know they sat on the sidelines because they're worried about their 501(c)3 status? I wish I could say their answer was encouraging, but it wasn't really an answer at all. More of a we'll-get-back-to-you-on-that murmur. I'm not holding my breath.
     My plan is, as always, to say what I think needs to be said, when it needs to be said, and if the paper won't print it, despite my best arguments, well, then that is their right. As I sometimes tell readers who demand to know how I can permit some top level misstep or another: I just work there; I don't run the place. I do have my blog, which draws a respectable number of eyeballs. I've already been writing columns about the Israel-Hamas war there, not bothering to turn them into the paper because doing so causes such a quivering bolus of alarm, hand-wringing and nit-picking that it's hardly worth it. Were the Middle East waiting breathlessly for insight from me, I might feel worse about that, but — spoiler alert — they're not. That might be one reason I'm writing a two-part series on baking bread this week.
     Recognizing that I am not the greased hub on which politics twirls is not humility, it's just true. In 2016, I knew Trump was going to win, after Brexit, and said so, repeatedly. No matter. I do take comfort in knowing that Illinois went for Biden by 17 points over Trump in 2020. They don't need me telling them what to do.
     I hope that isn't timidity. I've turned in my resignation in the past, and will do so again, if need be. While you don't rack up 36 years on staff by stalking off in a huff over editorial disagreements, no writer worth his salt flaps in the wind of whoever is signing the checks. If I get sacked in the process of fighting for democracy, then I couldn't hope for a better exit. "I would not lose so great an honor," as Henry V says.
     Finally, I thank you for your closing observation about the Sun-Times ascendancy. That is, to me, very encouraging. Even with our fraught charitable status, there is much to be optimistic about. We are bringing on fresh, enthusiastic talent faster than I ever remember it being hired, and they're writing excellent stuff, covering Chicago as it deserves to be covered. As for me, I am confident that I'll be able to provide assistance to the good guys when the time comes. There are many ways to skin a cat — I suppose I'll have to write a chain of historical columns about the rise of Hitler and count on my audience to read between the lines. One aspect that Kagan dismisses that I think about a lot lately: America has always had extraordinary luck. Not at all times in all things — were that true, Trump wouldn't be the front-runner. But at key moments we caught a lucky break — we elected FDR in 1932 while Germany elected Hitler. It could have just as easily been the other way around. I like to think fate won't desert us now.
      Don't get me wrong — I don't intend to count on chance. I plan to oppose Trump with every fibre of my being up to and — if need be — after his re-election. Terrifying as our time is, it is also the rarest of things — a moment of true historic importance. I compliment you for the letter you sent — nobody else has written anything close — and hope you continue to do what you can, when you can. As will I.
     Neil Steinberg


  1. I can’t even come up with some smarmy comment. The thought of a radical transformation of this nation is terrifying, and quite likely. I can’t leave my mom, and she won’t learn Portuguese. Even my feeble attempts at humor falls flat. For the first time in my life, I really fear for this country. I never thought I’d experience something like this. I don’t see these divisions healing any time soon.

  2. What a thoughtful way to start the day. And a rallying cry—which I, for one, will not ignore. Thank you.

  3. Bueno! So much better to be inspired than to chuckle ruefully over a bunch of trolls' screed. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for this Neil. Really great stuff and it's heartening to know that you have readers who can express such poignant feelings so eloquently. I think you draw a pretty good crowd in general.

    I would like to say that we may not have to wait until the November election to find out if the country's going down the tubes with the special prosecutors request of the supreme Court to have an expedited decision on the executive privilege issue and immunity from prosecution. We should know pretty soon, at least by those super Tuesday primaries whether the justices that Trump chose are going to side with him and let him off the hook and end some of these prosecutions that are taking place on the federal level or if he's going to get his pee pee wacked and find out that this isn't all just politics. He broke the law and he's going to go to jail

    One can only hope that the members of the supreme Court are not going to turn out to be people of low character who are beholding to the person that put them forward to be confirmed and that they're going to have integrity and go by the rule of law

    1. your lips to god's ears FME, but i'm afraid i have no hope that the supremes won't tank for that vile little man.

  5. Thanks for sharing, Mr. S. Enjoyed the 2nd letter , especially and your response.

  6. What could be more frightening and instill less confidence than having to rely on THIS Supreme Court to bail us out?

  7. While I don’t always agree with you, we are united in our contempt of Trump and the incalculable damage another term would bring. As it is, the animosities he has previously ginned up will take decades to mitigate, if they ever can.
    Please continue

  8. Bravo, Mr. S. What an excellent...and your reply was magnificent. Thirty-six years...half a lifetime...on staff at the Sun-Times. That is no small achievement. As Dr. King said, just before he died, longevity has its place...and if you do get the boot because of your opposition to our wanna-be Caesar, Orange Julius, you can walk away proudly, knowing you did the right thing. If it's any comfort, you will probably not be the only one. Far from it.

    More and more folks seem to be saying that Agolf Twitler's re-election is already a foregone conclusion. A self-fulfilling prophecy...and one that's too horrible to contemplate. I'm not among them. I still think, perhaps foolishly, that there are enough decent Americans to stop him...once again...on November 5. Just as I did in 2016.

    But if I'm wrong again, and if America's luck finally runs out, and if the wheels come off the train and it plunges into the abyss, I know you'll still be fighting the good fight and doing whatever it takes, by any means necessary. As will I....too old to shoulder a musket, and too poor to seek asylum in Ontario, which would only send me back to await my fate. But I'm not going to wait for the jackboots on the doorstep, either. And from the sound of it, neither will you.

    See you in the trenches, Mr. S. I'll bring your book, and you can finally sign it. Who knows? Just like in the Hollywood of the Forties, it might even stop a slug. Life imitating art. If this is how it finally ends...not with a whimper, but with a be it. I've had a good run. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now.

    1. Charles Blow, in a somewhat muted — I almost said "defeated" — column in the NYT today said "democracy is hanging by a thread" in this country, and it's hard to argue with him. As with people who are for prayer in school, never imaging that it wouldn't be THEIR prayer, so people ready to scrap our nation of laws somehow never see that the totalitarianism they shrug in might someday come for THEM. The good news about Biden cratering is he's doing it NOW — there's a chance for recovery. Though there's also a chance it'll get worse and worse. To support Trump now reflects such a disconnect with reality that I have a hard time imagining anything happening to dissuade his base. Or as I've said before, many times, once you get in the habit of ignoring reality, the details of the reality being ignored hardly matter.

    2. I've read your reply three times, Mr. S, and I'm still confoozed about what you mean when you say "The good news about Biden cratering is he's doing it NOW — there's a chance for recovery." I'm not at all sure about what that meant.

      I've been distaught for a long time about Biden's popularity....or lack of it. That's not good news to me...I had very high hopes for him, as I've backed Joe for almost a decade..and still do By "a chance for recovery" you mean there's still a chance for him to be replaced by somebody else? It's too late for that. And by whom? Or did you mean there's still a chance for him to rebound and pull off a 1948 Truman and win another term?

      The closer we get to the new year, and to the circus tent, the more nervous I'm feeling. It got so bad the last time around, and I had such disturbing and violent thoughts, that I even had to find myself a shrink. Of course, I had to phone it in, because of the Plague. The guy was very good. We bonded because he'd been at Kent on May Fourth, as was my wife. But tele-shrinks and Zoom calls don't do the trick. Ask the man who learned that, first-hand.

    3. It's fairly simple. If the election is now, he'd probably lose. In 11 months, he might be doing better. That's all.

  9. One of the most annoying tendencies of today's conservatives is the way they couch everything in apocalyptic rhetoric. Every time a Democrat runs for office who might raise taxes on extremely rich people by a percentage point or two, it immediately becomes the very future of America hanging in the balance, the whole nation in jeopardy, the biggest threat since etc. Remember Ronald Reagan sobbing in a speech, which was actually sold as a record, that implementing Medicare meant that freedom would evaporate in two generations?

    So now, when the future of the nation really IS at stake, pointing that out just sounds like more of the same old political rhetoric. This is what "poisoning the discourse" means.

    1. The most annoying tendency of everyone is to couch things in apocalyptic rhetoric.

      This end of democracy crap is tiresome. . trumps already been president. Democracy didn't end. It sucked but bush 2 was worse.
      Hell Carter was worse as far as being unprepared to govern.
      Dial it down people. We live in a great nation . There are problems. We are not teetering on the brink of destruction. Look out the window more and doom scroll less .

    2. Steve: It's tiresome to Trump fans minimizing the tremendous risks that a second Trump administration would pose. Democracy didn't end ... yet, and no thanks to your guy. Bush 2 wasn't worse. And in a great nation, Trump would already be in prison. In the not-at-all-great nation we've got, guys like you offer up lame ass rationals like yours. Should he win — and he might — after the rule of law is made into a joke, you'll be first in line to claim you had no idea what was going on. Which at least will be the truth.

    3. I don't know how you come to the conclusion I am a trump fan? What did I say to indicate such a thing?
      Ok worst president ever!!!!
      Is that what you think?

      Bush and his handlers were responsible for the war on terror killing untold people torture, extra judicial killing , the great recession,
      Damaged the world
      Trumps an idiot but beyond bloviating couldn't accomplish any of his stupid ideas.
      I don't want him to be reelected and I honestly don't think he will be. I have more faith in our fellow citizens than you do. Stop acting like anyone can predict the future.
      But we can affect it and that's where are efforts should be focused.
      Talk about the good job the Biden administration is doing once in awhile.

      He's got the country on the right course and deserves another term .
      Needs to choose a different running mate. Kamala is not fit to govern keeping her shows a blind spot

      Maybe he will rebound in the polls but with her it's less likely

    4. Walks like a duck, quacks like duck ... being blind to the current peril is distracting. If you show up at the ER with a broken leg, you don't want the doctor staring off into space and talking about a patient he had in 2003 who was WORSE.... I'm not predicting the future. I'm saying there's a real risk Donald Trump will win in 2024, and that would be very, very bad. Biden's doing a fine job, but saying so doesn't seem to move the needle.

    5. Context and perspective are important.

      If trump does get reelected it means a significant portion of people want him as president, rejecting progressive ideas and liberal notions. Lets work together to make sure that doesn't happen. If we are sniping at each other and constantly talking about trump to people who would never vote for him we're at cross purposes. im not blind or stupid. im suggesting a different tac.

      thank you for your time

    6. At 9:31 yesterday, you said: "Democracy didn't end."

      Perhaps you have a different way of looking at it, but Jan. 6, 2021 and 3 years of the Biggest Loser refusing to concede that the election he lost by 7 million votes was fair represent him and his followers attempting to end "democracy" as we practice it in this benighted nation. The fact that it didn't end is not for lack of their trying to end it and there's no telling what would happen should he win again.

      "Carter was worse as far as being unprepared to govern." Sure, Jan -- uh, I mean Steve. Carter had been a state senator and the governor of Georgia before being elected. Whatever his flaws, he knew quite a bit more about governing than the reality TV "celebrity" whose primary accomplishments had been filing for bankruptcy a half-dozen times, swindling charities and agreeing to a $25 million settlement for fraud with regard to "Trump University" to celebrate being elected. Try googling to see how many of the "best people" he said he'd bring on if elected have been indicted for crimes. I'm having a hard time coming up with an exact number, but you'll need more than two hands to count them.

      As far as the orange charlatan "being unprepared to govern" is concerned, however, I've long considered the nonpareil remark of his to be: "Nobody knew health care could be so complicated." Carter knew. Bill Clinton knew. Obama knew. Hillary Clinton knew. And ... spoiler alert ... they weren't the only ones.

      I appreciate your trying to offer more context for your remarks, but preceding "let's work together" with "Kamala is not fit to govern keeping her shows a blind spot" looks a little odd to me. One thing that's worse than "talking about trump to people who would never vote for him" is NOT talking about the guy and pretending his wish to be an autocrat running a government of crusading toadies who will pardon Jan. 6 felons and punish opponents is no big deal.

  10. Way back when, I felt the same way about Nixon, who after resigning, indicated that he his big mistake was being too soft to his enemies. That seemed ludicrous to me at the time, but having witnessed all that Trump has gotten away with, I tend to agree with Nixon. He was just too nice a guy after all is said and done. Not exactly of course, but he possibly could have steamrolled a lot of his opposition the way Trump has and gotten away with it. And if Nixon had stuck around, we wouldn't have had Gerald Ford excoriated for the Nixon pardon ; and without Ford, we wouldn't have gotten Jimmy Carter; and most important, without Carter, there's no Ronald Reagan normalizing vicious right wing behavior and the Bushes and Dick Cheney glorifying it.The way things are right now, pre-election, Trump's killing democracy would be a mercy killing. How more dysfunctional could Trump make it? Congress is in the hands of a tiny cabal of fascist nutcases. Our President is being assailed for being too old (he's actually a few months younger than me), so I take that personally. And he's not helping things by committing the USA to what looks like unconditional support for Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel without any idea of how to end the conflicts. Should Trump win, he could play the crazy-man card, I suppose. Putin might believe him; Xi no, as he already has a crazy man (North Korea) on his team Netanyahu, no, as it's unthinkable that the US would bomb Jerusalem or the like, and Hamas is already the crazy man who pays no mind to negative consequences. If Trump loses, which I devoutly hope he does, we're stuck with today's situation: a questionable democracy at war with itself, which gets worse if Biden dies in office. Vice President Harris hasn't garnered any strong support as his potential successor and God only knows what dirt the right can toss at her, as if her parentage weren't enough in and of itself a potent disqualifying factor. I started this comment with the notion of stating, "We survived Nixon; we'll survive Trump." Now I'm not so sure.


    1. Hmmm ... this is wrong on so many levels, I don't know where to begin. First, if you remember your history, Reagan almost stole the show in 1976. Two full terms might have gotten us Reagan sooner, not prevented him. And the Trump stuff is just nuts, a failure to imagine just how bad it can be.

    2. Reagan dies on the table--and is a mourned martyr like JFK...a 20th century Garfield. The Eighties are the Bush 41 Era instead, with who knows what consequences? Probably eight years of him, not just four. And then the Nineties...and beyond...are radically different. Maybe no Slick Bush Trump. Or maybe Trump a lot sooner. All just fantasy and speculation. Engaging in the what-ifs is always like going down a rabbit hole.

  11. Norman Lear said he wasn't afraid of dying - he was afraid of leaving. I'm an 82 yr old retired educator and I, too, am afraid of leaving - of leaving this country in the hands of that cult leader Trump. What happened to intelligence and critical thinking? Did education in this country fail that miserably?

  12. Yes, an excellent rallying cry, thank you as always!

  13. To those who don't see The Cowardly Liar as an existential threat but think the band of Congressional cowards are worse, I say the combination of the two is a force multiplier, putting us in greater peril than in January 2021. Drumpf has driven out the more honest Republicans, leaving the most craven hypocrites to do his bidding. The next coup attempt could succeed. In the 2020 election season I warned a good friend who had no fear of losing democracy. He didn't realize that laws were not enough, democracy relies on honest people of good will to function. I warned him that creating havoc in red states could short circuit the Electoral College which would lead to a win by Drumpf. That it almost happened as I predicted hasn't taught him a thing. He thinks we'll get through it no matter what. And he is not a rabid red hatted asshole. If Drumpf being ahead in the polls isn't scary enough, remember the long list of disqualifying reasons for choosing anyone other than 45. An essay by Keith Olberman "176 Reasons Donald Trump Shouldn't Be President" packs a punch, reminding us of all the bullshit we endured, before he actually attempted his coup. That he is still running and not in jail is an indictment of the American voter and it is incumbent on the sane among us to focus on the danger we face again, to insure we get at least a chance to close the loopholes the vermin can slither through. If the SunTimes can't take sides, can it at least print the worst of the Republican lies. When the new Speaker of the House was scraped off the bottom of the barrel, he responded to the Maine shootings by equating assault rifle deaths with auto accidents. This disgusting distraction should have been covered on Page 2. But the times didn't cover it at all. That is just one example. Too many national issues run after the comics, before the sports. While I read Neil for stories like part two of Dobra the baker on Wednesday, if the danger to democracy doesn't reach the people, newspapers could be in more peril than we have ever imagined.

    1. Well stated JP, but trump is not president. Are we to believe the polls? I remember promising not to fall for that again after the mid terms when democrats kept the senate and before that when trump got elected.

      Bidens candidacy was dead in the water at this time in 2019. I would be shocked to learn that more American voters support trump now than did in 2020.

      That means if we concentrate on winning Michigan , Pennsylvania , Wisconsin , Georgia , South Carolina and Nevada - no easy task- it won't matter what the polls say now.

      In our country people face trial and conviction before maybe going to jail and a president never has landed there. I dont think we should demand jail for political rivals without due process lest we lose that democratic system of which we are all so proud. Its a bad look.

      Donald Trump should not be president. Americans should perform their duty and vote. If he winds up president again we have only the collective ourselves to blame. But we need to accept this IS democracy. Sometimes your guy loses. Why is that so hard for some people to understand. democracy doesn't mean one party control by Democrats. If someone unfit to govern gets elected , again, it probably won't be the last time.

      The Biden administration is doing a pretty good job. I trust our judicial system to function properly and to paraphrase a whitehouse operative." its the ballot box stupid"

    2. "Sometimes your guy loses." Tell that to the other side. A large part of why the orange guy is even an issue is because neither he, nor his minions at rallies and in the Congress have been willing to accept the proposition. Often, the losing candidate in a presidential election is finished, politically. You'll note that Hillary didn't spend 2 months fomenting a rebellion, nor 3 years denying that she lost and campaigning for the next time. The Biggest Loser refuses to even concede that he lost in 2020.

      "I trust our judicial system to function properly..." Good luck with that. If our judicial system functioned properly, he would have been indicted and convicted as part of the Russia probe like so many of his henchmen. All it will take is one MAGA person per jury to assure that it will not function properly with regard to any case he IS involved in. Because they are not playing by the rules that you assume everybody follows. Do you consider it proper for him to have pardoned as many cronies as he has? And what about his pledge to pardon Jan. 6 felons if reelected? In those cases, the system DID function properly and he is adamant that he will thwart it.

      Why is it so hard for some people to understand that these are not normal times, and he is not a normal threat?

    3. Jakash
      How do you think getting all hot under the collar will affect anything? While much of what you say is true I don't completely agree.

      He is not currently president nor even the Republican nominee not all Republicans are his minions.

      Hopefully he won't be.

      Right now. This very moment his ability to affect our lives is within our control.

      We Americans have shown ourselves to be intolerant of extremists and criminals.

      Populists have been in power and we've come together to boot them out.

      I'm sorry you don't share my faith in our countrymen and our system .

      I just can't be overwhelmed by things beyond my control. And dwell on the unknowable future.

      I got stuff that needs doing. I'm going to do it.
      I respectfully suggest we take care of ourselves. It's really all we are in control of

      God bless

    4. Justice delayed can be justice denied. When the threat is to the foundations of the republic, speed is of the essence. But The Cowardly Liar delays his day in court like it's a dispute over some trivial monetary detail. And he is abetted by his co-conspirators who stand to profit by his second ascendance to the seat of power. Were this a country like his heroes' Orban, Putin, or Kim, Herr Drumpf would have already been shot, defenestrated or disappeared. So I make no apology for believing he is living as a free man on time borrowed from those dead from his insurrection attempt. Had Tricky Dick faced a jury for his crimes we might have been spared Drumpf. Presidents do not deserve a special standard. Quite the contrary, they mist be held to a higher standard.

    5. Thanks for the gracious reply, Steve.

      I'm not hot under the collar, though. I'm concerned that many people as reasonable and intelligent as you are don't seem to think the orange guy's continued popularity, after 4 indictments, no less, is that big a deal.

      Sadly, there is no such thing, really, as "We Americans." I don't share your faith in our countrymen and system because I saw how feeble the vaunted "checks and balances" were when dealing with the extremists you think we Americans are intolerant of. For example, Mitch McConnell blatantly, openly and proudly stole a Supreme Court seat and nobody did a damn thing about it. He paid absolutely no price for it, but millions of women across the country are being affected by that treachery right now.

      Some Americans (very narrowly, given the starkness of the situation and the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College), did manage to boot the Biggest Loser out. However, I urge you to note that, after witnessing 4 years of a corrupt, extremist, and even criminal administration, 11 million more of us Americans voted for DT in 2020 than did in 2016. That's not very encouraging.

      Sorry for continuing my ongoing screed here with this additional comment. I wish you well as you do the things than need doing.

    6. That seat was given away by the Obama administration. He didn't fight the fight. He caved .there were ways of getting that justice through who would be? Merrick Garland who has it turned out Doesn't seem to be anything special, but certainly would have been better than the one Trump pushed through when Hillary s*** the bed
      There's plenty of blame to go around on that fiasco

    7. All righty, then. I'll simply disagree with all of that except the part about Garland being much better than Gorsuch.


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