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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

An interesting mix of stuff this week, we think.

Campaigning in the 21st Century

V & Z: I'm not sure ratfu**ing is even effective. For some reason, I regularly (more often than once a day) get e-mails from an organization called that are often accompanied by outrageous claims. Last week, I got one whose subject line was "Trump arrests Adam Schiff." I now delete their posts without reading. I even wonder if it is false flag operation. It is, in any case, totally ineffectual. M.B., Montreal, Canada

Note: When we've written about that in the past few weeks, we have thought about pointing that out. How many times does Jacob Wohl have to cry "wolf" before the media stop paying attention to him?

V & Z: The LGBTQ forum was perhaps the best exposure to the actual Democratic candidates to date. They were unable to attack each other, and yet you saw them thinking on their feet and got a better sense their personalities. I think this format allows viewers (and actual voters) draw better conclusions.

I would encourage further use of this format. J.H., Richland, WA

Covering Trump

V & Z: I think the media need to spell out for a frequently gas-lighted public WHY soliciting foreign interference in an election is such a big deal. It's not just the letter of some election law, it's that when foreign governments (Ukraine...Russia...) help you get elected, you owe them. That's why it's a security no longer are putting our country first in your decision making, because if they ask you for a favor, you need to deliver (or risk being exposed as owing that foreign government).

The same confusion seems to surround emoluments ("What the hell are they anyway?" Joe Public asks.) If you have business dealings with the Saudis, or say, a hotel in Istanbul, then when they ask you to send ground troops to assist them in their fight against Iran or they ask you to precipitously withdraw from northern Syria, you personally owe them and will "await further instructions," even if taking actions such as sending troops to Yemen or abandoning the Kurds are not in our country's interest! M.B., Pittsboro, NC

Note: This is one of the trickiest things about writing the sort of material we write on this site. If you spend too much time on exposition, then the main thrust of the items gets bogged down. If you don't spend enough, then people aren't 100% clear on what's going on. To take one example, every time we mention PVI (Partisan Voting Index, the underlying Republican/Democratic slant of a congressional district or a state), we think about whether or not we should pause and explain what it is. Sometimes we do, usually we don't. Anyhow, this issue is part of the reason we started the Q&A section, so as to catch things we should have explained but didn't. And, as to outlets that are not us, we agree with your general point, but we're also sympathetic to them. Truth be told, it's probably the politicians who should really be hammering on this, if the American people don't understand.

V & Z: You wrote:

Sometimes Trump's behavior is so bizarre that people speculate that he is playing a game of 3-D chess that mere mortals cannot understand. But cases like this look more like a 5-year-old learning to play checkers.

My concern is that when anyone, especially the media, try to attribute a reason to Trump's unreasonable behavior, it only "normalizes" him. That endangers all of us. What they should be doing is saying that it is not normal to behave this way. I am not a professional, but having read Dr. Robert Hare's book on Psychopaths, Without Conscience, Trump certainly exhibits the characteristics of a psychopath:

[C]ompulsive liar, con man, manipulative, self-serving predator, has no conscience, blames others for own actions, feels no guilt or remorse, cares for no one but himself, unable to feel normal human emotions but is able to mimic them to fool his victims, considers all others as potential victims, superficially charming in order to manipulate others, callous, cold, calculating, inconsiderate, tactless, narcissist, hostile, cruel, domineering, grandiose sense of self, believes he is the smartest person in the world despite evidence to the contrary, victimizes his own family, authoritarian, secretive, paranoid, is a predator who targets the weak, incapable of love, has a history of behavioral problems beginning in childhood, promiscuous, unfaithful, has no behavioral or impulse control, abusive, angry, has no personal boundaries, exploits others for own gain, seeks out situations where his tyrannical behavior is condoned or admired, despotic authoritarian, favors totalitarian rule, makes impulsive decisions and blames others for the aftermath.

I realize that, due to the American Psychiatric Association's "Goldwater Rule," mental health professionals cannot remain in good standing if they volunteer a public diagnosis without having treated the mentally ill individual and obtained their permission first. However, under the APA's "duty to warn" rule, 27 brave mental health professionals did write the book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. Perhaps if more mental health professionals came forward publicly and if the media reported it, DJT could be removed, if not via impeachment, then under the 25th Amendment. C.Z., Sacramento, CA

How Does it End?

V & Z: You suggested that if Donald Trump wanted to resign in order to protect himself and his family, he would have to negotiate with Democrats on the Hill. I think he could avoid that by calling VP Pence into the Oval Office and asking "Hypothetically, if I were to resign for the good of the country, would you give me and my family pardons for the good of the country?" This would protect him from federal (but not state) prosecution, it would make Pence president with a lock on the Republican nomination (he'd have the Trump base because of the pardons, the evangelicals because they know Pence is one of them and the advantages of incumbency). Pence would have a decent chance in the general election. Trump could spend his time doing the rallies he loves, and would never again have to make a phone call to the president of Ukraine or Turkey. T.C., Stone Mountain, GA

Note: Yes, but overlooking the state exposure is kind of like the old line: "Besides that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" It's New York state, specifically AG Letitia James, that is lining up all the ducks to go after Trump as soon as he leaves office. And so, you may be right that Trump could cut Democratic leadership in Washington out of the negotiations. However, he's still got to deal with Democrats in New York and, at that point, it likely works best for all involved if this appears to be a group, bipartisan effort.

V & Z: In college I was fortunate enough to take a course with J.G.A. Pocock, a professor of early modern political science. In a paper I wrote something like "perhaps this action above all others doomed the king's reign" and in the margin the good professor wrote "or perhaps not."

So it is with the conclusions drawn in many items. The facts are great; the analysis is fantastic; but then in summing up there are many, many variations on "the end could be nigh." In this age of the teflon presidency that keeps turning out not to be the case.

I trust there will be a tipping point eventually—but we really don't know whether it will come tomorrow, or two years from now, or never. And I realize it's part of the fantastic service you provide not only to report news events but also to explain their importance. Still, I'd prefer fewer "this could be the end" wrapups, especially since we haven't reached the end. D.N., Conejo Valley, CA

Note: We noted above that one of the challenges of writing what we write is deciding what needs to be explained and what doesn't. Another big challenge is writing the final sentence of each item, which is always the toughest one. We try to avoid overuse of clichés, like "Time will tell..." or "We shall see if..." and we also try not to predict Trump's demise too often since, as you point out, he's got so much teflon he makes Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan seem like they were made of cast iron. However, we also think we would be remiss if something comes up that could be the tipping point, and we don't point it out.

Sexism, Yesterday and Today

V & Z: I had similar experiences to Elizabeth Warren in the early 70s. As a young female college grad looking for a job, I interviewed with multiple large companies, and one of them—Pennzoil—asked about my marital status. At the time I was engaged, and said so. They wanted me to sign a contract saying I wouldn't get pregnant for X years if I hired on. ( I don't remember the exact number.) I was appalled.

Ultimately, I took a job with an electronics company trying to compete with IBM. They gave it up about 18 months later and laid me off, several weeks before they laid off my male colleague Andy. When I asked why, I was told it was because he was married and he was the principal breadwinner, while I was single [and a woman.]

It wasn't illegal then to ask about marital status or family planning. And in my mother's time, women who worked were expected to quit work when they got married.

So I believe Elizabeth Warren. E.K.H., San Antonio, TX

V & Z: You wrote (of Chelsea Clinton):

Plus, she's got three kids under the age of five, including one who is only two months old. Is this really the right time for her?

Would you ever even think about writing this about a male potential politician?

Until folks can readily raise this point regarding men, it is really grossly unfair to women to have this point raised.

(Besides, in this case, there are vast resources, including a doting Grandma, that could ease the "problem".) D.A., New York

Note: Actually, we almost did write that about a male potential politician, namely Chelsea Clinton's husband Marc Mezvinsky, who is also the scion of a political family, and who has also been mentioned as a possibility for that seat. We cut that sidebar because we thought the Q&A was getting over-long. We would also note that, when (Z) wrote that, the thing that was foremost in his mind was the recovery time from having given birth. Naturally, (Z) cannot know exactly what that is like, but he did have a fairly significant operation a couple of years ago, and he would not have been up to the rigors of a political campaign for many, many months thereafter.

E-V Bias

V & Z: There are a lot of questions, increasingly so, about the slant of the views on this site. I just wanted to add my 2 cents as I have been reading since I think about 2004, if not before (when did you start?).

In the early days it was very much data driven and really all about the electoral vote map. (And as an immigrant I have learned a huge amount about the political processes and history of my adopted country, by the way). I think over time there has been an increasing trend where I have felt a "judgment" about certain people and items in the news.

But here's the point. It is almost impossible today not to. These are not normal times. We have stepped through the looking glass and the red queen (orange king?) has lost her head. In my view it is not possible for a thoughtful, educated, political analyst to *not* be beyond horrified.

I think you try to hide it. But it ain't easy these days, perhaps not even desirable, to fully disguise our outrage in the name of calling it straight. G.O., New York, NY

Note: We've noted this before, but something we sometimes think about is the civil rights movement. It eventually became clear that one side in that struggle was right, one wasn't, and that acting otherwise was itself a form of bias. Can you imagine an academic in, say, 1965, writing that George Wallace has a pretty good argument, or that there are pros and cons to literacy tests? We may be at that point with Donald Trump.

V & Z: In response to the Echo Chamber question which asked "where you fit on the political spectrum" I have found this old baseball line from Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem useful:

1st Umpire: "Some are balls and some are strikes, and I call them as I see them."

2nd Umpire: "Some are balls and some are strikes, and I call them as they are."

3rd Umpire: "Some are balls and some are strikes, but they ain't nothing till I call 'em."

The only question is which kind of umpire you aspire to be. D.R., Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska

Note: Bill Klem certainly knew how to turn a phrase. Naturally, we assiduously try to avoid the Umpire 3 way of doing things, and we aspire to be Umpire 2, but we recognize that sometimes we come up short and end up like Umpire 1.

E-V Criticism

V & Z: An elected U.S. Senator has different viewpoints than Zenger on the impeachment of fairly elected U.S. President Donald Trump. Zenger calls for Graham to be arrested. The left sounds more and more like Joe Stalin's Soviet Union every day. Don't like the enforcement of existing border laws, Trump is illegal. Don't like Trump's election, Russia gave it to him. Don't like Trump's foreign policy, Trump is insane and needs the 25th amendment to be enacted. Please stop the nonsense. Have a constructive conversation about issues. We are the U.S.A., the greatest country ever, because we debate and compromise to get the best deals done for the citizens of the U.S.A. Let's get back to working together for the good of our country. Like it or not, Barack Obama was elected twice. Like it or not, Donald Trump was elected once and is running again for a second term. Let the American citizens vote for their choice of President. S.F., Pompano Beach, FL

Note: We removed the word "arrested," since it wasn't germane to the joke we were making, but in any case, the "crime" we accused him of was solicitation. This was not a serious call for him to be prosecuted criminally, it was a snarky way of implying that Graham is a prostitute. Actually, the word we had in mind wasn't exactly "prostitute," but we can't print the actual word on a family-friendly site. Here's a hint, though: It rhymes with what a lion does.

V & Z: I noticed that, without comment or explanation, on October 10 you changed Wyoming and Louisiana from March 31 and March 7, respectively, to April 4 and April 4, respectively.

You don't explain if this is because those states changed the dates themselves, or because you were correcting an error you had, or an error corrected in the source you use.

My pet peeve with your site (and I otherwise love your site; I read it every day, and have done so since it first came to my attention sometime in 2004) is that you rarely acknowledge the corrections you make. Having just finished re-reading "1984", this strikes me as a little bit Orwellian ("Oceania was at war with Eurasia; Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia"). You are both published academics. You know that journals publish errata, and even most of the media you follow (New York Times, Washington Post, etc.) acknowledge their errors with corrective notes.

I'm not asking that you acknowledge every typo you correct, but when you do correct a factual mistake, or update the map or the Senate page (the "last updated" comment on the bottom of that page is useless, because it always reflects the date of the page), it would really be nice if you mentioned that in a "Corrections" or other item on the front page. S.C., Mountain View, CA

Note: There is a philosophical and a practical issue here. Philosophically, we agree with the late, great Roger Ebert, who said his website was not meant to be an eternal, etched-in-stone monument to what he wrote at any particular time, but a living, breathing source of information that was as accurate as he could make it. So, he did not note corrections either, he just made them. The practical matter, meanwhile, is that we make a fair number of corrections each day. There would be a lot of difficulties in noting them; among those is where on the site we might do so, deciding which ones rise to the level of being noted, and the amount of time it would take to write up such notations. Often, we (and particularly Z) handle the corrections we've gotten while preparing for that day's lectures; there's barely time to make them, much less notate them. We do, however, post occasional follow-ups when we have made significant errors of fact. And we're working on a better way of making clear when updates have been made to the Senate page.

If you have a question about politics, civics, history, etc. you would like us to answer on the site, please send it to, and include your initials and city of residence. If you have a comment about the site or one of the items therein, please send it to and include your initials and city of residence in case we decide to publish it. If you spot any typos or other errors on the site that we should fix, please let us know at
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct12 Three-Judge Panel: Surrender the Tax Returns
Oct12 Yovanovitch Appears Before Congress
Oct12 Giuliani Won't Work on Ukraine-related Matters Anymore
Oct12 Trump Has a (Trade) Deal, Sort Of
Oct12 Kevin McAleenan Quits Team Trump
Oct12 Shephard Smith Quits Fox News
Oct12 Saturday Q&A
Oct11 Two of Giuliani's Buddies Are Arrested
Oct11 Rick Perry Gets Subpoenaed
Oct11 Fox News Poll: 51% of Voters Want Trump Impeached and Convicted
Oct11 Seventeen of the Watergate Prosecutors Want to See Trump Impeached
Oct11 Trump Lambastes Jeff Sessions
Oct11 Steyer Pulls in a $2 Million Haul in Q3
Oct11 Gabbard Goes Full Sour Grapes
Oct11 Shimkus Dumps Trump
Oct11 Rep. Nita Lowey Will Retire
Oct10 Turkey Invades Syria and Republicans Condemn Trump for Enabling It
Oct10 Graham Warns Pelosi that the Senate Won't Impeach Trump
Oct10 House Democrats Are Planning Subpoenas
Oct10 Biden Calls on House to Impeach Trump
Oct10 CBS Has Published a Memo the Whistleblower Wrote the Day after the Call
Oct10 Sanders Is Scaling Back His Campaigning
Oct10 Biden Leads Warren in North Carolina
Oct10 Impeachment Is Helping the Republicans
Oct10 Manufacturing Sector Is Officially in Recession
Oct10 Republicans Are Trying to Get the Amish to Vote
Oct09 Impeachment Battle Lines Harden
Oct09 U.S. to Pull Out of Another Treaty
Oct09 A Little Grift, Campaign-Style
Oct09 Let's Just Start Calling it the Trump National Committee
Oct09 Warren Learning About Life with a Big Target on Your Back
Oct09 Polling Update
Oct09 Almost Half the Country Wants Trump Removed from Office
Oct09 Fifth Debate Details Are Set
Oct08 Tail, Meet Dog
Oct08 China to Trump: Your 2020 Campaign Is None of Our Business
Oct08 Judge to Trump: Fork 'em Over
Oct08 Barbara Res Predicts Trump Will Resign
Oct08 Brace Yourself for 2020, Part I: Trump vs. Biden
Oct08 Brace Yourself for 2020, Part II: Ratfu**ing
Oct08 Warren Hires Texas State Campaign Director
Oct07 There Are Now Multiple Whistleblowers
Oct07 Trump Blames Perry for Call to Zelensky
Oct07 Most Republicans Still Back Trump
Oct07 The DNC Is Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Oct07 Is Dirt a Thing of Value?
Oct07 Will Trump Be Done in by a Lack of Toadies?
Oct07 Biden Donors Are Worried
Oct07 Democrats Are Worried about Who Tulsi Gabbard Will Attack Next
Oct07 Sanders Had a Heart Attack