Special edition: Tangle readers react.

Tangle readers write in about "confessing my sins."
Isaac Saul Feb 22, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and you’re reading Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone forwarded you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 12 minutes.

Today’s newsletter was originally going to be about the Iran nuclear deal. But I’ve decided to push that back to tomorrow because I got so much fascinating and compelling feedback from Friday’s post, “Confessing my sins.” I felt I should share it. The Friday edition (which is normally for subscribers only) was sent to all Tangle readers and provoked more responses than any newsletter I’ve ever written. We’ve also got a reader question about censorship online and an important story about America’s vaccine push.


Correction.

I have two half corrections to report (I’m being nice to myself): One is that I referred to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis both by his correct name (Ron) and once by a name my brain made up (Rick) at some point in Thursday’s newsletter. The other is that I called Andrew Cuomo’s mother his grandmother in the newsletter version of Thursday’s edition but had corrected it for the web version (it was his 89-year-old mother he invited over for dinner during the pandemic, not his grandmother). Surprisingly, more Tangle readers pointed out the mistake about Cuomo’s mother/grandmother than calling Ron DeSantis “Rick.”

This is the 31st Tangle correction in its 78-week existence and the first since February 18th. I track corrections in an effort to be transparent and blame the Rick/Ron mistake on my editors.


Quick hits.

  1. Merrick Garland will face questioning today at his Senate confirmation hearing to determine if he will be the next attorney general of the United States. Garland is expected to be confirmed with bipartisan support. (The Washington Post, subscription)
  2. Former President Trump is expected to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) next month, and advisors say he plans to stake out ownership over the future of the Republican party. (Axios)
  3. The Texas blackout points to a coast-to-coast crisis that’s waiting to happen. Increasingly extreme weather will wreak havoc on America’s aging infrastructure, setting up domino-effect failures across the country. (The New York Times, subscription)
  4. More than 500,000 Americans have now died from or with COVID-19. The grim milestone comes as the virus appears to be receding across the U.S. (NBC News)
  5. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) said they won’t vote to confirm Neera Tanden, Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the White House Budget Office. Tanden has made enemies amongst both progressives and Republicans with her antagonistic personality on social media. (Politico)
  6. BONUS: The Supreme Court cleared the way for a New York prosecutor to obtain former President Trump’s tax records (CNN), refused to hear a case challenging the election results in Pennsylvania (Politico) and said it will hear challenges to a regulation that cuts funding to medical providers who refer patients for abortions (USA Today).

What happened.

On Friday, I wrote a piece about the language I used to use as a teenager and how I grew out of it. Ironically, given my job summarizing other people’s opinions in Tangle every day, I don’t think I can give an accurate summary of the story here. But you can read it here if you’d like.

The story was part confessional, part reflection, and part commentary about my belief in the need for redemption and empathy in today’s political landscape. There was quite a bit of feedback to the story, most of it positive, but in the interest of Tangle (and broadening my readers’ perspectives), I want to share some critical feedback I got from across the political spectrum. I’ll also share some positive feedback.

I thought about doing the typical “reader feedback” section and linking out to this feedback in a Google doc, but I decided at the last minute that this was worthy of an edition on its own. A lot of readers also wrote in saying they were interested in seeing the feedback to the piece. I’ve decided to keep all of this feedback anonymous, though I’ve done my best to assign some faithful political views to the readers who wrote in based on what they’ve written previously.


Critics from the right…

One reader said that “I really enjoy reading your newsletter and usually find you to be a very reasonable, non-partisan voice in a sea of tribalism. Perhaps for that reason I had a very negative reaction to your ‘confession.’ Intent matters. Killing someone by driving irresponsibly, and killing someone in cold blood are two very different things.

“Nowhere in your article did you express harboring prejudice or having ill-intent behind any of the words you used as a child,” they added. “In fact, when you discovered the words could be hurtful you ceased using them. I would feel very proud of my son in the same situation and wouldn't allow him to feel bad for having behaved innocently, especially amongst peers behaving the same. I can understand feeling regret for behaving irresponsibly in a situation where you should have known better. But to feel not only regret but *shame* for irresponsible behavior as a kid? That's beyond the pale. Likewise, Mimi Groves has no reason to regret any of her childhood behavior, especially with ample evidence of her current views and no evidence suggesting ill-intent in her youth.”

Another reader said that I buried the most important part of the story.

“The lede isn't who you were when you were younger,” they said. “The lede is INTENTION.  When I hold the young black man whose intention was to save a tiny video in order to ruin someone's life up against a white girl's intention of having fun/acting stupid for a few seconds, he loses big time. Your intention to try to sound cool by sounding idiotic is not the same as the intention of someone yelling the n-word at a woman and telling her to get out of the restaurant.”

Another reader wrote in pushing back on the idea that what I published was anything new. “This is just more white apologist crap, in my opinion,” they said. “The heart of the story you told is that you feel an overwhelming shame about being a dumb kid, which you shouldn’t. And you feel that shame because of the culture we all live in. A culture you seem to praise (you say it’s a “very, very good thing” that we’re enforcing these new societal norms). That you feel the need to apologize for who you were, despite, at least as you put it, not actually harboring malice toward others and trying to correct your behavior into adulthood… is actually kind of scary. Someone like you doesn’t owe us an apology.”

Another reader said the left refuses to recognize how their own language demonizes conservatives and added that cancel culture is a distraction from all issues that could actually improve communities.

“Instead, we single out individuals who say things that many people, like your 14-year old self, say in ignorance, or without malice (even if the effect hurts, just like being called a fascist racist for not wanting to vote for people who operate, ironically, like a fascist, angry mob),” they wrote. “As if we are all perfect robots, who never make a mistake, while the infallible people typing behind their computer will stop at nothing to get one hit of self-righteousness and control while destroying another American's life. I've moved to a point where I'm training myself to be completely indifferent. To try and pretend like I'm watching this from above, without investment, care, judgment or emotion. To bring objectivity to these events, because no one in politics or media will do that anymore. My only desire is to make as much money as I can to shield myself from whatever cruelty and madness that is growing out there.”


Critics from the left…

One reader said they have “zero sympathies for the cheerleader” Mimi Groves.

“Her intentions, what she thought she was doing, are irrelevant to the actual hurt she caused, and the actual hurt she perpetuated at that moment, after that moment, and continues to perpetuate,” they wrote. “This is not an issue of ‘racial animosity.’ The issue at hand is: We White Folks Are Raised in a Culture of Racism. By default, we are racist. This is our original sin... The reason this cheerleader is suffering is because We White Folks refuse to address this problem.

“If you don't want more people like her to suffer the consequences of their actions—then We White Folks better start fixing this problem,” they added. “We don't get to claim both sides: ‘We refuse to punish people's racist actions because they were raised in a culture of white supremacy’ and ‘We refuse to interrogate and change our white supremacist society.’”

Another reader said the story felt like more of the same.

“I’m sympathetic to an empathy-driven dialogue, but to me this story sounds a lot like all the other white people who just frame their bad behavior as part of their evolution,” one reader said. “Where is that empathy and space to evolve for people of color who grow up in crime-ridden neighborhoods? You seem genuinely remorseful, but a lot of people use your language to skirt their own responsibility and it’s honestly hard to tell the difference sometimes. There’s part of me that feels like this piece just gives a roadmap for anyone who is not genuinely remorseful but wants to say they have grown up and changed and now they can move on.”

Another reader pushed back on the idea that a 15-year-old didn’t know better.

“I used to use the same language you did, but I’m not going to pretend I was just ignorant,” they said. “You said you occasionally referred your Black friends as ‘n*gga’ in an attempt at camaraderie, but you also said you were operating in a predominantly white space. I doubt you ever spoke like that in Black spaces because you knew not to. I doubt you ever called gay people ‘faggot’ because you knew not to. Even at 14. The fact is you (and I) used that language around straight white people because we knew those spaces were safe to use that language, which is the cycle we need to break. I believe in your story of redemption, and I was moved by it, but I’m not buying that you didn’t know better at that age. Which seems important.”

Another reader accused me of being self-serving, writing that “you're telling us in advance that you used repulsive language when you were younger (to be cool presumably) so that you won't end up in the same situation as Mimi Groves some time in the future if someone has proof of such behavior? So that you can say, ‘yes, I did it, but remember I've already confessed.’ Rather self-serving if I do say so myself. Was there an apology in there?

“But as for Ms. Groves… I do agree that her punishment may have reached further than the crime warranted. I also agree that we shouldn't have to be any more tolerant than we already have been and are. I also know that I have to tell my kids that the internet is forever and that all things done in the dark come to light eventually. As an African American, I have to teach my children very differently than you were taught or will have to teach your kids because their lives may depend on it. Perhaps it’s time others take a different view of how we raise our children and realize that their lives may also depend on it, even if only in a less literal way.”

One reader said “perhaps you weren't afforded the space and time to grow and learn through your mistakes out of good fortune or chance, but because that's how the overwhelming majority of individuals who make such mistakes are treated when they are confronted with their consequences (if confronted at all). There is an implication (both in your writing and in our overall political discourse) that this isn't the case.”


Some praise…

“One of the hands-down best eye-opening pieces you have written,” one reader said. “While this is a political newsletter, what is making politics so hard in America today is lack of empathy. This makes you seem like a person they can relate to instead of whatever they have as a stereotype of a journalist, nips at cancel culture, etc. Well freaking done. Normally, I hit delete on these after I read them. This one gets saved.”

Another reader, who identified themselves as Black, said they really enjoyed the piece but asked that I put more emphasis on one particular section.

“When talking about interventions, you said, ‘Most often, they were delivered not by the marginalized kinds of people who may be tangibly impacted by my words, but by ‘allies' — typically straight white people who confronted me on behalf of gay people, people of color, or women to let me know that I was acting like an asshole and sounding like a bigot.’ I think you alluded to the point you are making here, but didn’t make it directly.

“It sounds to me like you are trying to highlight how this education is often more effective when it comes from people who have the same identity as the offender, and not from the people they are actually offending,” they wrote. “I’m guessing this is because when it comes from a marginalized person, it often gets perceived as that person having some personal stake in things, or being biased towards themselves, so they get taken less seriously. This is another thing that is definitely frustrating. Marginalized people aren’t believed when it comes to this stuff, and it has to come from someone already in the position of power for others to listen. Again, I think this is what you alluded to, but I think it would be good to state it more bluntly in this paragraph.”

Another reader said “This is by far the best thing I’ve ever read on this particular topic of redemption.”

“I’ve never felt so aligned to an article in my life. I’m half Spanish and Jewish. I was afraid of being called a ‘f*ggot,’ I was afraid of being called gay. I knew it was supposed to mean stupid, but I used it because people used it against me. It was almost a defensive mechanism for acceptance in the town I grew up in. It pains me to look at my past and consider being judged by it. It pains me because I would rightfully deserve said judgment even though I’m a minority. I don’t know what to say, but this article strikes home so hard that it made me stop work and understand how privileged I am. How lucky I was to escape the social media loop early, how lucky I was in high school to have a Nextel 2 way radio only. Thank you for this. Thank you for bringing to light my own ‘sins.’”

Another reader said “There are some parts of this where I wanted to stop reading because I didn't agree, but then I thought to myself ‘No, keep reading. Forgiveness is very hard, and it's time I start flexing that muscle.’ I find myself wanting to punish people on the left because I'm a lonely right of center person who works in Hollywood and I've heard some very horrible things from my co-workers, and have been on the receiving end of some horrible words because I am a Hispanic conservative and I used to work for REDACTED CONSERVATIVE PUNDIT, and yeah, I voted for Trump, but I need to be better. Reading this post was like a soothing balm for my soul.”

One person said “I can't overstate how much I like this piece you've written. I went through a similar transformation, and it's weird to look back and realize that I was circling a drain into an alt-right radicalism pipeline with every edgy 4chan post I saved and every slur I giggled into a friend's ear. The bitterness and cynicism of /b/tards (editor’s note: this is a reference to a self-identifier used by some people on the message board 4chan) is dovetailed neatly with my victim complex, and their promises of safe haven for all the disordered loners included an assurance that none of us needed to integrate into societies that held us in such low esteem.”

Another reader said they had never written in before. “However today, your letter brought me to tears because it so closely parallels my own human experience, and I know so many others of our generation. So thank you for inviting us ‘free readers’ into your heart today, and thank you for reminding America (and the world) that the nuanced experiences of our time calls for empathy, not further shame and punishment.

“Most significantly, I thank you for using your platform today to normalize, encourage and celebrate self-evolution… Your newsletter today, Isaac, affirmed what I believe to be the greatest mission of our lives: to learn from each other and evolve from our past selves, so that we may ultimately support each other’s evolution into the kinds of friends, neighbors and community members we all deserve to have.”


Your questions, answered.

Q: What do you want to see as far as content policing and government regulations for Big Tech?

— Eric, Orlando, Florida

Tangle: Generally speaking, my position is that social media companies should police things like pornography, hate speech, calls for violence and doxxing. I don’t think we need Twitter or Facebook labeling things as misinformation or banning accounts when people try to spread what they have determined to be a lie. Throughout this debate, it seems to me like conservatives have often assumed freedom of speech means freedom from consequence, while liberals have leaned into regulating or eliminating voices they don’t agree with.

Obviously, like any policy, there are caveats here. One is that a social media company has the right to act however it wants. Twitter and Facebook have users who agree to their terms of service, and they can make those terms of service whatever they want. If totally unregulated competitors come up, they can choose to go use them. And if Amazon or Google or Apple or the private companies that platforms use to spread decide they don’t want those platforms in their stores or using their tools, they have the choice to do that too.

As far as content goes, I do not want the government involved in regulating these companies in any way (separately, there’s a lot to be said about how to regulate these companies in relation to whether they are monopolies or not — which could impact the ability of, say, Amazon from unilaterally removing Parler from the social media ecosystem).

I want users — that’s us — collectively demanding what we want from these companies. Some have argued that this is exactly what happened on Twitter and Facebook: users demanded the companies label “fake news” and ban people for spreading it. It’s a good argument, and I don’t really have a retort to it; except to say that I would not have chosen to ban some of the figures who were kicked off the platforms and that I think the “misleading information” labels did more to divide opinion than coalesce it around a common set of facts.

Ultimately, if we want something, we have to use the power of the purse. If there is a legitimate desire for a social media that is totally unregulated, then there will be users for that company and it will grow. If people like the changes being made at Twitter and Facebook, then we’ll see that and those platforms will continue to grow. This is “customer-driven regulation,” and I think it’s the kind of user-first experience that will make all of these places function better.


A story that matters.

America’s vaccine rollout has actually been one of the best in the world. For all the criticism publicly of both the Trump and Biden administrations, the U.S. has now carried out more vaccinations than any other country, and “given a first dose to a higher percentage of its population (12%) than all but five countries: Israel, the Seychelles, the UAE, the U.K. and Bahrain,” Axios reports. America is distributing vaccines three times faster than the European Union and five times faster than Canada when adjusted for population. (Axios)


Numbers.

  • 1,247. The number of new coronavirus deaths reported in the U.S. on Sunday.
  • 55,195. The number of new coronavirus cases reported in the U.S. on Sunday.
  • 1.7 million. The average number of daily coronavirus shots being administered in the U.S. right now.
  • 10%. The percentage of vaccine doses that California says it is going to set aside for teachers and school employees.
  • 128. The number of Boeing 777 jets that were grounded after a catastrophic engine failure occurred on a Denver to Honolulu flight this weekend.
  • 44. The weight, in pounds, of corn flakes that were covered in cocaine instead of sugar and seized by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in Cincinnati, Ohio.

You know it.

Today was a special edition of Tangle made up predominantly of reader feedback. It’s something I do occasionally but is crucial to the mission of Tangle: exposing readers to a diverse set of viewpoints from across the country. If you appreciate this work there are two things I’m asking you to do:

  • Share Tangle with friends. Forward them this email, post about Tangle on social media, share this link to our about page: https://www.readtangle.com/about
  • Become a subscriber. Some of you already are paying subscribers. But if you’re not, please consider becoming a subscriberby clicking here.

Have a nice day.

Hayley Arceneaux, 29, is a childhood cancer survivor and physician. Now, she’s about to become the youngest person to ever go to space. Arceneaux is joining the crew of the first all-civilian space mission being run by SpaceX, which will launch toward the heavens this year. The plan is for the civilian crew to orbit in space for a few days before returning to earth. The mission is also doubling as an effort to raise $200 million for St. Jude’s cancer research. (Today)

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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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