Posted by: N.S. Palmer | August 19, 2018

Dear Bill Maher

Dear Bill,

Long-time fan, first-time fan letter. I was sure that I remembered seeing you in a funny detective show back in the 1980s, but I didn’t find it in your bio. I had also assumed that the late actor Joseph Maher was your father, but apparently that’s not true, either.

I disagree with a lot of your opinions, but you’re a smart guy and I think you’re pretty honest. For example:

  • You’ve defended the free speech of Alex Jones even though you think he’s an irresponsible loudmouth.
  • You’ve noted that there is more than one cake shop in Colorado.
  • You’ve said negative things about religion, but the details of your viewpoint are more nuanced than the sound bites suggest.

I realize that you’re a comedian who says provocative things for a living. You work in an industry where you can get denounced or blacklisted for even the slightest deviation from the party line.

But it bothers me that you so carelessly throw the T-word at the Trump administration:

“Why can’t we use that word ‘treason’? We’re under attack …”

Of course, by “we,” you probably mean identitarian Democrats and those who, like you, have at least $100 million in the bank. Most of us aren’t like that. And if you’re under attack, you seem to be doing pretty well in spite of it.

Let me tell you, Bill, “we” — that is, middle-class Americans — have been under attack for a long time. We’ve had our language policed, our institutions perverted, our history falsified, and our national symbols disdained. We’ve had our proudest achievements dismissed as ill-gotten results of “privilege.” We’ve been blamed for every misfortune that’s happened to anyone since the beginning of time. As a result, plenty of us have also started throwing the T-word at people who we think are destroying our country.

Justified or not, it’s unhelpful for any of us to start accusing other Americans of treason. That applies especially if it’s not justified, which it usually isn’t.

“Treason” is like a nuclear weapon of political rhetoric. It creates the same no-win scenario as real nuclear weapons: mutually assured destruction. As the military supercomputer W.O.P.R. warned in the 1983 movie “WarGames:”

“The only winning move is not to play.”

How can we ever cooperate or compromise with people who we’ve accused of treason? If we insist on such an extreme position, then either they must destroy us, or we must destroy them. There’s no middle ground. Some people want it that way, but I don’t believe you do. Neither do I.

Unless we want to burn America to ashes, all of us need to dial down the inflammatory accusations. Republican stalwart Pat Buchanan posed the key question this week:

“Can America ever come together again?”

I think that it can, but it will be difficult. Smart, honest people like you can take the lead. We can come together in a rational and peaceful society, but we have to be willing to do the work.

There’s a lot on which we already agree. There will also be points on which we can’t reach agreement. Just as nobody will ever convince the Hollywood crowd that abortion is wrong, nobody will ever convince mainstream Americans that people’s rights depend on the color of their skin. We all must learn how to live and let live, without trying to force our disputed beliefs on other people.

Here are two important points about which I’m sure we agree:

  • Human judgment is fallible. Mine is. Yours is. We’re not computers or passionless robots. Our emotions, peer groups, and preconceived ideas affect how we see the world. That applies no matter how intelligent or well-educated we are. Therefore, it behooves us to have some intellectual humility. Before we make grave judgments against other people, we should remember that we might be wrong. Let’s not blow up society based on nothing but prejudice and herd mentality.
  • Human emotions cloud our thinking. The more that we scream and call each other names, the harder it is for all of us to think clearly. If we want to solve our problems instead of making them worse, we need to calm down and try to calm other people down. Name-calling and inflammatory accusations do the opposite. They hurt instead of help.

I think that you’re mistaken about some things, but I don’t think you’re a bad person and I certainly don’t think you’re guilty of treason. That’s not tact, it’s just truth. And the same truth applies to most people.

Can you imagine that it applies to me, too, and to other people with whom you disagree? If so, then we can all work together to solve America’s problems.

Let’s give it a try. How about it?


  1. I am also a fan of Bill Maher, yes he is over the top but then again Trump is 1000 times worse. Unfortunately, Trump’s potty mouth needs to be filtered if you want liberals to do the same.

    • As Voltaire advised, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” We’ll never have a perfect president. President Trump is better than the available alternatives, which is admittedly not a high bar to clear. George Washington wasn’t running.

      Each of us is responsible for what we do. We don’t control what other people do. If I could persuade Bill Maher and President Trump to sit down for an amicable conversation about issues, I would. But all we can do for sure is try, ourselves, to be civil and reasonable. Because we’re not robots, we won’t always succeed, but at least we’ll try.

  2. Well said. I wonder why this attitude has become so rare? Treason, Nazi, racist, all of these are thrown around so freely now.

    • The root causes are in human nature. Our emotion too easily overwhelms our reason. In addition, most of us crave some great struggle to give meaning to our lives. If I may quote from my own book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things (available in November):

      “That’s why many people in prosperous countries react to trivial problems as if they were earth-shaking, life-or-death struggles. They have no real life-or-death struggles, but they need them: it’s part of being human. We need to feel that our lives have a significance beyond our span of years. We hope that we’ll achieve some great good to survive us and to remind the world that we were here. But when the worst social problems of which we have first-hand knowledge are who gets to use which bathroom or who used the wrong pronoun, we feel bereft. Where is the great challenge we can overcome, the invincible monster we can defeat, the intolerable wrong we can set right? Where is our chance to make a mark on the world: to be remembered, even if only by a few?”

      If we don’t have a real “invincible monster” to fight, we often invent one. For a lot of people, it’s President Trump. For other people, it’s Barack Obama or George Soros.

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