Spokesman Endorsement

The Manchester Union Leader (aka the New Hampshire Union Leader) is among the most conservative of U.S. newspapers. The Union Leader hadn’t endorsed a Democrat for President in more than a hundred years, when, this week, they published an endorsement of Joe Biden. The rumbling was heard all the way to Spokane. The Biden endorsement by the Union Leader was made even more remarkable, when, last Sunday, Stacey Cowles, in his position as the publisher and sole member of the “Editorial Board” of the Spokesman Review, endorsed Donald Trump for President

To read Mr. Cowles’ endorsement of Trump is to see the nose-holding a staunch fiscal conservative must do before making this recommendation:

The list of Trump’s offenses is long. He panders to racists and prevents sensible immigration reform in a nation built on immigrant labor and intellect. He tweets conspiracy theories. He’s cavalier about COVID-19 and has led poorly through the pandemic. He seeks to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without proposing a replacement. He denies climate change.

Voters knew his character in 2016 and elected him anyway. Four years later, the nation is still standing. Indeed, in many ways it flourished until the pandemic upended everything.

As my friend Bill Siems wrote in a proposed letter to the editor, “Since the country isn’t dead yet, should we take another dose of the same poison?”

The rest of the Mr. Cowles’ endorsement is a remarkable stew of Trumpian talking points and conservative economic angst that runs back all the way to mid-twentieth century opposition to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Cowles repeats the Trump campaign standards, “Unemployment among communities of color reached record lows…He provided historically high support for traditionally Black colleges.” This, apparently, is supposed to outweigh Trump’s repeated dogwhistles to the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, and the marchers in Charlottesville. Cowles writes, “He rolled back extreme environmental regulations and led the way for U.S. energy independence,” just a couple paragraphs away from casually mentioning that Trump “denies climate change.” The cognitive dissonance peals like cracked bells. One of Trump’s first proud moves of de-regulation was to strike down rules around release of methane (a major greenhouse gas) at well heads. For Cowles, energy independence and de-regulation beats any concern over the existential threat of climate change. (Stacey needs to watch this video on youtube.)

For Mr. Cowles, Trump’s strongman tactics and divisive, inflammatory rhetoric are somehow justified by Trump’s “policies and instincts for helping America,” by which Mr. Cowles is reaching back to the laissez-faire economics of the Gilded Age or the 1920s. I have no doubt Cowles’ mind-twisting endorsement of Trump is sincere and well-thought-out within his own mindset. He comes by his opinions honestly as a member of a family that very likely opposed Roosevelt’s programs of the New Deal in the 1930s as corrosive to economic progress. The programs the New Deal spawned, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, were considered “socialist” by many at the time, especially members of the wealthy class–something we tend to forget, since most current politicians (for fear of backlash) only dare peck at these programs by couching their positions in talk of “reform.”

Should we cancel subscriptions to The Spokesman Review in protest? Many at the Spokesman were truly appalled by Cowles’ endorsement of Trump. If you are a subscriber I urge you to read Shawn Vestal’s column posted on Monday, October 26th and to peruse the letters to the editor over the next week before further consideration. For all that I often perceive a rightward lean in Spokesman coverage, it is a damn sight more diverse in opinion than many local papers–and I think its continued existence is a service to the community. At the same time, be sure to read and support The Inlander. Pay attention to the names and general stances of the reporters and writers at both papers. Even if Cowles’ fervent wish for a Trump victory is not fulfilled, there will be much to do in the coming years to shore up our democracy–and a lot of that work will need to start locally.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. As an example of the rewards of paying attention to the names and work of individual writers, read Gary Crooks’ comment on Cowles’ endorsement of Trump. Gary Crooks offers perspective as a former employee and writer of endorsements at the Spokesman. His column just appeared, not in the Spokesman (from which he retired), but in The Inlander: “Now Would be a Good Time to Acknowledge the Pandemic.”