For five years, Joyce and John Good silently tolerated angry partisan e-mails forwarded by family and friends. They even ignored the steady vitriol flowing from the husband and wife they’d known for 40 years.
“We’d raised our children together,” Joyce said of the couple. “We never talked politics. We’d just say, ‘We’re bipartisan.’ But they started sending us these awful e-mails, and it was clear they assumed we agreed with them.”
The Goods, who live in a small town east of Cleveland, cherished the friendship, so they just hit delete. Over and over.
Then Barack Obama ran for president.
“This past election brought out such an anger,” Joyce said. “It’s as if our country hit a boiling point.”
The subject line of their friends’ e-mail read, “VP of Procter & Gamble Speaks Out.”
I know this e-mail practically by heart. As a columnist, I’m on the receiving end of a lot of partisan junk mail, and this one has been a running hit with many conservatives ever since Obama’s election.
“An Open Letter to President Obama” is attributed to Lou Pritchett, who retired from P&G more than 20 years ago. Pritchett confirmed via e-mail that he was the author, proudly adding, “Although I never heard from (The
New York Times)
or Obama the letter has had over 6 million hits on the internet.”
The letter begins:
Dear President Obama:
You are the thirteenth President
under whom I have lived and unlike
any of the others, you truly
You scare me because after
months of exposure, I know nothing
You scare me because I do not
know how you paid for your expensive
Ivy League education and your
upscale lifestyle and housing with
no visible signs of support.
You scare me because you did
not spend the formative years of
youth growing up in America and
culturally you are not an American.
On and on it goes. For the Goods, it went too far. They stewed for five days and then sent a simple request: “Please do not send us any more political emails. Joyce and John.”
Their friends cut off communication for months. Finally, the Goods called them to hash it out.
“The wife said she was very hurt,” Joyce said. “I said to her, ‘How do you think it made me feel?’”
Joyce reached out to me with a question: “How do we stop friends and family members from sending these e-mails? They’re so divisive for the country, and they hurt a lot of people.”
The Goods are not alone in their distaste for partisan e-mail that traffics in rants and rage. In the nearly eight years that I’ve been a columnist, I’ve received countless messages from readers despairing over relationships that have splintered and exploded because someone thought it’d be funny to hit “send.” And I’ve received enough snarky e-mails about George W. Bush — most questioning his mental acuity — to know that uncivil discourse is a bipartisan hobby.
So many of us wrestle with unsolicited hate mail. It likely will amuse some of my conservative critics to know I get far-right missives from relatives who are apoplectic over the immutable reality of our shared gene pool. One even unfriended me on Facebook. That hurt.
Some are hard-wired to rebut these e-mails, responding with links to fact-checking sites — such as Snopes.com and PolitiFact — and engaging in tit for tat until their fingers catch fire.
Some, such as the Goods, send earnest pleas for it to end. A lot, I suspect, do the grr-and-grind: They click on the delete button but still churn long after the e-mail has evaporated.
Most of us would like to lose the e-mails but keep the people who send them. So here’s a thought. Next time someone you like sends an e-mail you hate, just send this column to them.
I’ll take it from here: Hey.
That awful e-mail you sent?
Please don’t do that again.
A fellow American.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the author of two books from Random House, “Life Happens” and “… and His Lovely Wife.”