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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  SCOTUS to Texas: Mind Your Own Business
      •  Trump Orders Hahn to Approve Vaccine, Hahn Complies
      •  Saturday Q&A

SCOTUS to Texas: Mind Your Own Business

Yesterday evening, the Supreme Court rejected Texas' bid to invalidate the presidential election in four states, none of them Texas. The four states are Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Here is the exact wording of the rejection:

The State of Texas's motion for leave to file a bill of complaint is denied for lack of standing under Article III of the Constitution. Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections. All other pending motions are dismissed as moot.

Statement of Justice Alito, with whom Justice Thomas joins: In my view, we do not have discretion to deny the filing of a bill of complaint in a case that falls within our original jurisdiction. See Arizona v. California, 589 U. S. ___ (Feb. 24, 2020) (Thomas, J., dissenting). I would therefore grant the motion to file the bill of complaint but would not grant other relief, and I express no view on any other issue.

So basically, Texas has not been harmed by how the other states run their elections and therefore has no standing to sue. On the other hand, Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, the two most conservative members of the Court, felt that in any dispute between the states, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction and cannot refuse to take the case. That remark could come back to haunt them later as it opens the door for one state to ask the Supreme Court to force another state to obey its laws. We wonder how Alito and Thomas would react if Illinois adopted a very strict lockdown to try to beat down the coronavirus and it sued Indiana for not doing so, claiming that people in Illinois along the Indiana border are dying because Indiana has its head stuck in the sand. In a case like that, Illinois could definitely show it had been harmed by Indiana's actions.

Texas AG Ken Paxton said: "It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court decided not to take this case and determine the constitutionality of these four states' failure to follow federal and state election law." Donald Trump was a tad stronger in his reaction: "The Supreme Court really let us down. No Wisdom, No Courage!" WH Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was slightly milder: "There's no way to say it other than they dodged." Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is Trumpier than Trump, said: "Now all eyes are on January 6th." Apparently he is hoping that Congress rejects the electoral votes of the four states named in the Texas lawsuit. The chance of that happening is zero (more below).

Before it was known that the Supreme Court wouldn't take the Texas lawsuit, an additional 20 House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-CA), formally joined the amicus brief. They thus demonstrated that getting the result they prefer is more important to them than democracy. The number of Republicans who supported the Texas lawsuit is 126, about two-thirds of the House Republican caucus. If the goal of these 126 Republicans was to demonstrate fealty to Trump, they probably achieved their goal. If it was to uphold the Constitution, not so much. (V)

Trump Orders Hahn to Approve Vaccine, Hahn Complies

In a show of raw power, yesterday Donald Trump ordered FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to approve the Pfizer vaccine before midnight or be fired. In an act of submission that could have far-reaching repercussions, Hahn obeyed his master and approved the vaccine Friday evening. As a consequence, the process of distributing the vaccine can begin immediately.

Is this a good thing? It depends on the meaning of "this." Getting people vaccinated against a deadly disease is obviously a good thing. However, having a big bully bypass the normal approval process and override the normal testing procedure is surely going to make a lot of people skeptical about the vaccine's safety. Until now, the FDA was always very thorough about the approval process for new medicines and made decisions based on the views of scientists, not politicians. That changed last night. The result could be that millions of people who could be vaccinated will hesitate, thus making it longer before herd immunity is achieved. So did Trump's threatening Hahn help public health? Very likely not. The number of people who would die if the decision had been delayed a week or two is probably smaller than the number who will die as a result of people not trusting the approval process and then skipping the vaccine. But Trump cares nothing about how many people die from COVID-19. What he cares about is being able to brag in 2024 that he invented the vaccine and how it saved millions of lives.

The rushed approval doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with the vaccine, of course. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) in Amsterdam is also reviewing Pfizer's data and will come to an independent conclusion about its safety without the kind of political pressure exerted on Hahn. Hahn is the wrong person for the FDA job since he is an oncologist by training with a specialty in treating cancer by radiation. He knows nothing about regulating medicines and is widely regarded as a weak person who gives in to pressure easily, as he just demonstrated. In contrast, the head of the EMA, Emer Cooke, is an Irishwoman who has a degree in pharmacy and who has worked for nearly 20 years in international regulatory matters for the World Health Organization and the European Union. She said that a decision by the EMA will be forthcoming by Dec. 29. If she approves the Pfizer vaccine, that means it is really safe to take. (V)

Saturday Q&A

The questions we got this week were, in our view, particularly intriguing, on the whole.

Q: Now that the Supreme Court has denied the overthrowing of the election, what do you think is next for Trump and his enablers? I think he's gone too far down this road to now stop, so something has to come next.

Additionally, when does soothing Trump's fee-fees start to become sedition? In my opinion, there's a difference in a point of political views and an attempt to undermine our democracy. If trying to overthrow our elections isn't sedition then what is?
D.E., Lancaster, PA

Q: You wondered whether Republican House members (federalists, of course, until they're not) who signed on to the amicus brief in Texas AG Paxton's lawsuit/PR stunt would "ever pay a price" for spray-painting graffiti on the foundation of the Republic.

The House can vote to expel a member—or members—and at least in theory and on a straight party line vote, the Democrats could do it (or censure them). It would be, as Joni Mitchell sang, dirty for dirty, and maybe not the best thing for an already fractured country. Do you think that there might be an attempt at it? Personally, I think censure would be in order and could have a chance of passing, where expulsion probably would not.
R.S., Tonawanda, NY

A: Honestly, Team Trump has exhausted just about every trick in the bag. Twisting the arms of elections officials, bellyaching on TV and social media, deploying loyal allies in Congress and in state governments and, of course, the lawsuits. In three days, the electors will cast their votes, and at that point the only step remaining in the process will be Congressional certification of the result. The only things left to Trump are even more public bellyaching, openly plotting and scheming to somehow hijack the Congressional certification, and then actually trying to hijack the Congressional certification.

As to sedition, those Republicans traveled further down that road than any members of Congress since...maybe the 1850s? When it comes to holding those members accountable for their misdeeds, there are three entities with the power to do so: the voters who elected them, the courts, and their colleagues in Congress. The voters who elected them clearly have no interest, and while the signatories to that brief may be sedition-adjacent, there's no way they get convicted in a court of law. The leaves the other members of the House. R.S. is right, censure is much more likely than expulsion. And it's more likely that such an action would be targeted at ringleader Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) than at the 125 signatories he recruited. It is plausible that the Democrats might censure Johnson, perhaps even with some Republican support (Chip Roy, R-TX?), just to send a message that there have to be some limits. Much less plausible is an expulsion of Johnson or a mass censure. Impossible is a mass expulsion—the Democrats have no stomach for something like that.

Q: With the number of Republicans in Congress jumping on the Trump train to nowhere, I despair that there is now even less chance of a Republican Senate working in any meaningful way with the Biden administration. On the other hand, it seems some Republican governors still have both feet in reality and might work with Biden. My question: What options are there for a president to work in a meaningful way with the states that can bypass congressional obstruction? And how likely is it that Republican governors can put pressure on their state's senators to work with the President Biden? E.V., Derry, NH

A: If Joe Biden thinks creatively, there's some potential here. Here's a hypothetical example: Biden administration officials negotiate an agreement for infrastructure improvement where the federal government will put in two dollars for every one that the state agrees to put up. Then, when Team Biden knows which governors will play ball, and roughly how much they will put into the pot, the President announces the Infrastructure and Jobs Act of 2021, which will put the plan into effect, as soon as it is passed by Congress. The House will get right on board, and it will be awfully hard for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bury it, or to keep his caucus unified against it. Would, say, Sens. Ben Sasse (R-NE) or Tim Scott (R-RC) or Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) really say "no, thanks!" to, say, $10 billion in federal money? A lot depends on how much pressure the Republican governors of those states put on the senators, privately and publicly. No senator wants to vote "no" on a bill when the governor of his or her state is loudly proclaiming how important it is.

Q: Where can we get the names of the 126 House Republicans that signed on to the latest coup attempt, aka the Texas amicus brief? I want to be able to reference those names in 2 years. Their actions should not be forgotten. J.A., South Salem, NY

A: A list can be found here. Any of their 2022 general-election opponents who do not make this the centerpiece of the campaign is guilty of political malpractice. Of course, in a Republican primary, openly saying: "If the only way to put Donald Trump back in power is to destroy democracy first, I'm all for it" might be a winner with a substantial group of voters. Needs some polling and focus group testing first.

Q: Various reports ares saying Trump is 1 win for 50 some losses. What is the one win? E.S., Maine, NY

A: The campaign won a case in Philadelphia in which a federal appellate court said that the pro-Trump election observers had to be allowed to stand closer to the vote counters. This ruling changed/voided zero votes.

Q: Why aren't Democrats challenging election results in some/every state or county where Trump narrowly won? Without that there is no optics counter balance. Saying Republican suits are baseless is bringing a pen to a gun fight. R.L., LaCrosse, WI

A: Because doing so would suggest, to many people, that the suits have some legitimacy, and that this is an appropriate way to behave after an election. The Democrats most certainly don't wish to send those messages. Trump's abysmal won-loss record, and the fact that his suits are often kicked without even being heard, speaks loudly and clearly.

Q: During the certification of electoral votes, if one representative and one senator challenge the votes of a state, my understanding is that the House and Senate separate, debate, and vote on whether or not to accept the votes. If the two chambers don't agree, what happens next? I have heard that the decision is sent back to the governor of that state. J.J., Des Moines, IA

A: You're in the ballpark. First of all, this is not really an issue, because House Democrats will reject any disputes, and Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski(R-AK) have already made clear they won't be a part of any such shenanigans. Those two, plus the 48 Senate Democrats/Independents, make a majority because the two Georgia seats will be vacant.

However, if it did become an issue, 3 U.S.C. 15 makes clear what happens: "if the two Houses shall disagree in respect of the counting of such votes, then, and in that case, the votes of the electors whose appointment shall have been certified by the executive of the State, under the seal thereof, shall be counted." So, the governor is the tiebreaker, not the person to whom the matter is referred.

Q: Is there an objective way to evaluate how much Trump is responsible for the deaths from the coronavirus? D.K., Iowa City, IA

A: There are a few techniques, but the most useful is to compare the U.S. to how other countries did. If Americans had locked down as aggressively as South Korea did, then the death toll would be about 3,000 instead of 303,000. If you find that unrealistic because of the many and varied cultural differences, then a bit more apples-to-apples comparison can be made to Canada or to Germany. If the American response had mirrored those nations', then about 40,000 Americans would have died so far.

It's not fair to put the blood of all of those 263,000 (or 300,000) extra dead on Trump's hands, since American culture has an individualistic streak that even he could not have tamed completely. Still, you would certainly be justified in laying some sizable portion at his feet.

Q: When was the last time you posted a synopsis of the day's news without having to mention Donald Trump? When do you guess will be the first time you can post the news without having to mention him? My guess is sometime around April. That will be a refreshing day. J.F., Fort Worth, TX

A: Our last Trump-free day was October 11, 2015. That was just two weeks after (Z) joined the site, and so he's been around for a grand total of three Trump-free days (October 6 and 10 were also sans-Donald).

We think the next Trump-free day will come sooner than you think. He's not going to be able to make much news himself, since raging against the machine isn't newsworthy anymore even now, much less once he's no longer in power. There will be various legal proceedings against him, but those won't be every day. There could very well be a Trump-free post within a week of the inaugural, and certainly there will be one within a month.

Incidentally, the first time we expressed Trump fatigue was September 2, 2015. If only we knew...

Q: My blue dot friends and I have been sitting around our local brew pub trying to figure out why Trump has such a mesmerizing effect on tens of millions of people. We decided that the comparisons to Hitler don't ring true for quite a few reasons, and that a closer historical equivalent might be Fidel Castro's hypnotic hold over the 10 million or so Cubans who remained loyal to him throughout this entire life. As fellow armchair historians, would you agree with this assessment? And also, do you know of any good books that delve into Trump's ability to sway the masses to his will? A.K.P., Huntsville, AL

A: First of all, please be clear that (Z) is not just an armchair historian, he's an actual historian. In any event, putting political agendas aside, and focusing solely on rhetorical and performative strategies, we will say that the gap between Hitler the person and Hitler the public figure was a fair bit larger than the gap between public Castro/real Castro and public Trump/real Trump. Of course, all three men carefully cultivated their public image. But Hitler's was a fair bit more manufactured, and the strictness with which it was maintained is paralleled only, in recent memory, by the Kim family in North Korea. Some readers will be aware, for example, that there are literally hundreds of recordings of Hitler speeches, but there exists just one recording of him speaking in his normal speaking voice (and that one was captured surreptitiously).

As to a book, consider The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control. Steve Hassan knows what he's talking about.

Q: Are 'militia groups' really a thing in 21st century America? Do we refer to the Oath Keepers and similar groups as militias simply because that's the identity they chose for themselves or is a militia an actual legal entity? Modern militia groups are certainly not what the writers of the Bill of Rights were referring to when they mentioned 'well armed militias'. Why don't we call them something more appropriate, like 'domestic terrorist groups'? J.S., Dayton, NJ

A: There are, of course, many words that we use because they're the best word available and not because they're the perfect word. A militia is a group of private citizens, trained in military technique, who might plausibly be deployed in time of war. The militias of the 21st century check two of those three boxes and they, at least, think they check the third as well. "Domestic terrorist groups" is awfully judgmental, without being especially illuminating. Perhaps the word "partisan" (the military meaning) comes closer than "militia"?

Q: Has there ever been a president in the past who has pardoned any of his family members, especially for unspecified crimes? G.L., Ovideo, FL

A: Bill Clinton pardoned his half-brother Roger for cocaine possession and drug-trafficking conviction. And Abraham Lincoln pardoned his brother Frank for destruction of property (unauthorized log splitting) and, ironically, for disrupting a theatrical performance.

Ok, that second one isn't real, especially since Lincoln had no brothers (just a sister). We don't believe there is any other case of a president pardoning a family member, which means there is no case of pardoning a family member for unspecified crimes.

Q: Tax evasion is a federal crime (just ask Al Capone). If the president, whose tax returns have been famously under audit for 4+ years, were to pardon himself (or be pardoned), presumably he could not be convicted of federal tax evasion. However, if the IRS audit concluded that he vastly underpaid his taxes or took deductions that were not allowable (or illegal), would Trump still be on the hook to pay the back taxes and associated interest and penalties, or would those be "forgiven" as part of the pardon? H.F., Queens, NY

A: A president can pardon the crime, and waive the penalties for that crime, but they cannot erase the crime itself. And so, Trump would still have to pay those taxes, along with penalties and interest (since those aren't punishments imposed as the result of a conviction).

Q: It seems that Senators Romney/Murkowski/Collins may be the GOP Senators least in throes to the Trump Wing of the GOP. Furthermore all 3 could probably turn Independent (eg. like Angus King or Bernie Sanders) and still be able to win in their home states (and Collins need not worry until 2026). And as members of the GOP Senate Majority, they really don't have all that much power. In the Senate GOP, there is Mitch McConnell and there is everyone else.

If the Republicans and Democrats split the Georgia runoff, so you have a 51/49 GOP Senate, and these three walked in to see Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to say, "we will go independent and caucus with you and make Schumer majority leader," clearly the Democrats would take that in a New York minute. But (a) is that a realistic thing for them to do? and (b) what would be the price for them to switch? (i.e., veto power over Supreme Court justices, no D.C. Statehood, ranking member on any Senate Committee they want, etc.) And is that one the Democratic Party would be willing to pay?
S.T., Glen Rock, NJ

A: First of all, there is virtually no deal that Schumer would not make if it would give the Democrats a majority, either outright or with VP Kamala Harris' vote. It is not too likely that all three would go apostate, but it's possible one of them could—particularly Romney, we would say. That person would probably negotiate a couple of boons for themselves, like a plum committee chair, and probably some nice pork for the folks back home. They probably wouldn't ask for most of the other stuff you suggest, since they (or they plus Joe Manchin, WV; or they plus the filibuster) would be able to kill just about anything odious by virtue of being the swing vote. They would also have the threat to switch back to the other side in their back pocket.

Q: Could you elaborate in more detail, please, the controversy about Neera Tanden, Joe Biden's pick for the Office of Management and Budget? W.M.T., Vienna, Austria

A: Conservatives don't like her because she's an outspoken progressive. Progressives who like Bernie Sanders don't like her because she is close with the Clintons and because she's criticized his key policy proposals, namely the $15/hour minimum wage and single-payer healthcare, in addition to criticizing the Senator himself.

Q: I am finding your summaries of the roles and responsibilities of the various cabinet secretaries to be very enlightening. Which is why, since the Biden transition team has once again gotten ahead of you, I'd like to ask you to offer the description you would have given for the job of Secretary of Veterans Affairs, before Denis McDonough got the nod. S.W., Orland Park, IL

A: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs is responsible for administering benefits to the nation's veterans, from the remaining survivors of World War II to those who are in the service today. The most important of those benefits is healthcare, which is delivered at more than 1,700 VA facilities across the nation, and is overseen by the Veterans Health Administration. Also important are things like education benefits, home/business loan guarantees, rehabilitation, and vocational training; those programs are managed by the Veterans Benefits Administration. Veterans Affairs also includes the National Cemetery Administration, which maintains 131 national cemeteries.

Veterans Affairs is one of the messiest and controversy-prone of cabinet departments. In part, that is because of the sheer size of the system, which includes not only the thousands of facilities outlined above, but also 377,805 employees as of 2020. In part, it is because there is much potential for corruption (for example, bribes from drug suppliers). And in part, it is because Congress has historically had much more interest in paying for the tools of war, and for the waging of war, than in paying back those who served. The current annual budget for the department is $200 billion, with which it must provide for the needs of approximately 17.5 million veterans.

Q: Where are the Arab-American components in the Biden Administration, knowing that they have heavily voted for him and may have won him Michigan State? M.T., Troy, NY

A: Well, the nominations are still a work in progress. And since an Arab (particularly a Muslim) will cause Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh to bust a gasket, Biden is likely to announce them over the holidays, or at least after there's already been a long parade of other nominees. We doubt an Arab American will get a Cabinet seat, but surely Biden will find room for a few Arab Americans in his administration. Arif Alikhan, a veteran of the Obama-era DHS, is a likely choice.

Q: Your answer about the five books with greatest influence on American history included the reveal that you've thought about songs, films, etc. So can you share your thoughts about the top 10 most important songs, and how you determine what makes a song important? I'm waiting with bated ears. D.G., Palo Alto, CA

A: Broadly speaking, (Z) defines influence in terms of impact on Americans' behavior. In the case of songs, that means songs that influenced peoples' votes, or unified them more tightly in war or in activism or in national spirit, or prompted them to take some action.

This is not an assessment of quality/merit, only impact. Consequently, songs that are great musical achievements ("Rhapsody in Blue," "Minnie the Moocher," "In the Mood," "God Only Knows," "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," etc. are not likely to make the Top 50. Similarly, songs that capture the spirit of their era, but that don't seem to have caused any particular action to be taken ("Old Folks at Home," "Begin the Beguine," "The Times They Are a-Changin'," "Fu** tha Police," "Smells Like Teen Spirit," etc.) are not really candidates, either.

And with that said, here are (Z)'s top 10, in reverse order (the title links to a recording of the song):

  1. This Land is Your Land (1940), written by Woody Guthrie: This song is the counterpoint to "The Star Spangled Banner" (which is coming up), providing a very different vision of what America is all about. Undoubtedly the tune helped create millions of future pinko commie liberals.

  2. The Farmer is the Man (1879), written by Knowles Shaw: The rallying cry of the original Populist movement, providing them with an identity and a means of communicating their message efficiently and effectively.

  3. Battle Cry of Freedom (1862), written by George Root, and Give Us a Flag (1863), written by Anonymous: The former song (which also had a version with Southern lyrics) provided a much-needed morale boost, on many occasions, for millions of white soldiers during the Civil War, the latter song did the same for hundreds of thousands of Black soldiers.

  4. Battle Hymn of the Republic (1861), written by Julia Ward Howe, and Dixie (1859), written by Daniel Decatur Emmett: These songs filled much the same role that "Battle Cry of Freedom"/"Give Us a Flag" did for Northern and Southerm soldiers, respectively. However, they additionally lifted the spirits of millions of civilians on each side, giving them a sense of purpose in a war where their support was much needed.

  5. Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too (1840), written by G. E. Blake: The first great campaign song, and in a campaign where there wasn't a heck of a lot of substance beyond songs and slogans. One historian has written that this tune "sang William Henry Harrison into the White House."

  6. Over There (1917), written by George M. Cohan: Cohan's composition persuaded tens of thousands of young men to take the plunge and sign up to fight in World War I, and then persuaded additional tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) to do the same during World War II.

  7. Rocket 88 (1951), written by Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner and Rock Around the Clock (1954), written by Max C. Freedman and James E. Myers and performed by Bill Haley and His Comets: Rock and Roll has had a profound impact on American culture, politics, economy, and emotional health, more so than any other musical genre. These are the two songs that have the strongest claim as the one that started it all.

  8. Yankee Doodle Dandy (ca. 1780s), written by Anonymous: After nearly 200 years as Britons, and with a feeble national government, Americans had relatively little sense of identity and relatively little that tied them together. The country's first important patriotic song provided those things when they were much needed.

  9. We Shall Overcome (1947), written by Zilphia Horton and others: The anthem of the Civil Rights Movement was sung at rallies and marches, during sit-ins, and by those who had been wrongfully imprisoned as a giant middle finger to their captors. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "We Shall Overcome" speech acknowledged the importance of the song to the Movement.

  10. The Star Spangled Banner (1814), written by Francis Scott Key: It's not a great song, and is a very bad choice as one that millions of untrained singers will be performing, since most people cannot easily shift their voice by a full octave. Still, for two centuries, it's served the unifying purpose that all important patriotic songs serve. It's also encouraged the martial spirit, for better or for worse. And finally, it's been a focal point for protest (think the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics, Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, or Colin Kaepernick and the kneeling athletes).

We welcome suggestions for songs we overlooked. Note that the near-misses for the Top 10 were "Respect," written by Otis Redding and performed by Aretha Franklin, "The Washington Post," written by John Philip Sousa, "Happy Days Are Here Again," written by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen, and "Head First" (the first song downloaded from the Internet), written and performed by Aerosmith.

Q: Regarding the 1960 stolen election, which was mentioned this week, the Republicans got their revenge 40 years later, against Al Gore. My question is, which election was more consequential? Each party held the presidency for 8 years, and significant events happened in those years that shaped America. I suspect the answer is 1960, since arguably, America changed more in that decade than any other in the 20th century. And what might have happened, had the rightful winners governed? I know this is impossible to answer, but do give it a shot, I would love to know your thoughts. N.H.R., London, UK

A: This sort of speculation is always very tricky, but we'll try. First, if Nixon won the election of 1960, and avoided assassination, he might well have kept the Vietnam War from happening. He saw first-hand the political and geopolitical downsides to a quagmire-type war when he was running for VP and the Korean War was unfolding. Further, as a skilled diplomat and a Republican, he had the credibility to resolve the matter with tools other than violence. Remember, "only Nixon could go to China."

That said, we'd guess that the extent to which he actually would have changed the course of history is less than you might think. The U.S. probably needed a Vietnam to finally learn the lesson that proxy wars (and perhaps the Cold War as a whole) were a bad idea. So if Nixon wins in '60, maybe the U.S. ends up in the Cuban War or the Nicaraguan War or some other mess 5-10 years later. Meanwhile, the cultural change of the mid- to late-1960s was, we think, largely inevitable even absent the war because the 1950s were so stultifying, and because the Baby Boomers were primed to lash out. Recall that the Civil Rights Movement began in earnest in 1954, Lenny Bruce was working as a stand-up by 1955, Jack Kerouac wrote "On the Road" in 1957, The Beatles were formed in 1958, Andy Warhol was exhibiting his art nationally by 1960, and Bob Dylan made his first record in 1962. All of these things predate the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The times they were a-changin', war or not.

Meanwhile, an Al Gore presidency, assuming it lasted two terms, would have allowed him to choose William Rehnquist's replacement when the Chief Justice died. Gore might also have chosen Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement, too, though she might have hung on for a while if a Democrat was in the White House, so maybe not. Either way, that's at least five liberals, and maybe six, plus the fairly moderate Anthony Kennedy.

We also have to assume that Gore would have fought the good fight on global warming. Maybe he would have beaten the Kochs to the punch, kept the issue from becoming politicized, and the process of confronting the problem in a serious way could have gotten underway. We can only speculate how much (or how little) he might have been able to accomplish.

And finally, Gore is unlikely to have made the two biggest mistakes of the Bush years. Since he (Gore) was a front-row witness to the fallout from the first World Trade Center bombing, he probably would not have overlooked warnings about a second World Trade Center bombing. And even if Gore fumbled that one, he certainly wouldn't have cooked up a war in Iraq in response.

For all of these reasons, we would say the 2000 result is more consequential than the 1960 result.

Q: I was stunned to read your post "How to be Cheated and Take it Gracefully." While I am certain it wasn't your intention, you essentially saying that both Nixon and Trump were cheated out the election. I appreciate the very first which states there is no evidence that Trump was cheated but I can only imagine how Trump cultists will choose to interpret this post. Furthermore, if it's not an apples-to-apples comparison then what is the point? O.Z.H., Dubai

A: We think you took the wrong message from that piece. The point was that Nixon had a stronger case than Trump has for challenging the results, and chose not to do so, because eventually you have to put the needs of the many above the needs of the one. Trump has not reached that point, and presumably never will. And so, even the famously shady Nixon showed vastly more integrity than the current president.

In short, it was not an assertion that Nixon or Trump were cheated, because we don't think either of them was. It was, instead, an indictment of Donald Trump, and a reminder of how outside-the-bounds his behavior has been.

Q: Which 5 U.S. presidents were the most charismatic, and which 5 U.S. presidents were the least charismatic? F.S., Cologne, Germany

A: Charisma is expressed in different ways, and often varies depending on context. For example, Benjamin Harrison was a very fine public speaker, but was repeatedly described as a "cold fish" by those who met him in person. William Howard Taft was charming in person, but a terrible public speaker. Anyhow, here's our best shot, starting with the uncharismatic (from more to less charismatic, such that the least charismatic president ever comes last):

  1. Woodrow Wilson: A stuffy college professor. He wanted people to call him Woody, and they refused.

  2. Franklin Pierce: It did not help that he was drunk for pretty much his whole term.

  3. Rutherford Hayes: It says something that he's best remembered for serving lemonade in the White House.

  4. James Madison: His contemporaries joked constantly about how small and unimpressive he was.

  5. Richard Nixon: Five-o-clock shadow, jowls, and a gravelly voice are not a politician's friends

The near-misses here are John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

And now the charismatic ones (from less to more charismatic, such that the most charismatic president ever comes last):

  1. Barack Obama: The man was smooth.

  2. Ronald Reagan: The greatest TV president thus far

  3. John F. Kennedy: Between him and the most charismatic First Lady ever, no wonder they called it "Camelot"

  4. Franklin D. Roosevelt: He didn't use them for evil, but he probably had more cultists than any president save Donald Trump.

  5. Abraham Lincoln: The greatest public speaker among presidents, and everyone said he was mesmerizing in private

The near misses for this group are George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton.

Q: Per the Mountain Dew commercial you posted this week, is it true that Abraham Lincoln's favorite sport was wrestling? S.R., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

A: Yes. He was even (sorta) inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992. It should be noted that there weren't all that many sports when and where he grew up, so his list of options for "favorite" was pretty short.

Q: You wrote "there are a number of presidents who blew it big-time (Hoover, Bush 43, second-term Cleveland, Buchanan again, J. Adams, etc."

Having just watched Paul Giamatti's portrayal of John Adams, which was a multi-part series made in 2012, I am curious why you believe John Adams was such a terrible president.

The portrayal was hardly devastating, and actually seemed even-handed. Adams is portrayed as a dyspeptic and rather unlovable and unpopular man, but not as a terrible president.
E.A.K., San Francisco, CA

A: Well, we must first of all point out that when evaluating presidents, the non-presidential parts of their lives don't count. This is a particularly common problem with evaluations of the presidencies of Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, and Jimmy Carter.

Beyond that, Adams' foreign policy was a mixed bag, he didn't have any idea what to do in terms of domestic economy, and his support for the Alien and Sedition Acts was an affront to civil liberties worthy of Donald Trump, and wholly unacceptable for a Founding Father.

Q: I may have missed it, did you plan to post the results of the survey you had asking respondents about their predictions for the election and it's aftermath? S.A., Seattle, WA

A: We did indeed post it, right here. The most popular Biden EV total chosen by readers was 300-309. The most popular choice for popular vote total was Biden by 5-9%. Not bad!

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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