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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

Thoe hornet's nest that P.M. stirred up has not calmed. We not only got scores of responses, but many of them were quite long and impassioned. Add it up, and it was close to 150,000 words of response, which is enough for a good-sized novel. Or a list of all the people suing Donald Trump. Anyhow, we picked one of the long ones, from reader favorite D.E. in Pennsylvania, along with several of the shorter ones, to start today's post.

24 Hours of P.M.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I don't wish to perpetuate the discussion with P.M. in Currituck, NC. beyond what should be a reasonable shelf life. Nor do I want for P.M. to feel attacked, but I do believe a response to the post on 12/6/20 is justified. P.M. expresses a desire to have the rural population's feelings understood. In my desire to understand where P.M. is coming from I can only rely on their words, and frankly, I am left feeling confused and perplexed.

In P.M.'s comments, it is expressed how the Democrats have promised, election after election, to return jobs to Wyoming Valley and then have done nothing about their promises. This has led rural voters to feel disappointed and betrayed. That, I think, is a legitimate concern and one I feel is an inherent flaw in democracy of politicians over-promising results they can't accomplish, or having to say the thing they know is not possible so as to not alienate voters. P.M. then goes on to note how Donad Trump came on the scene making the same promises that the Democrats made to return the lost manufacturing jobs. I point this out not to make a quibble but to try and understand. If both Trump and the Democrats are making promises that they can't keep, then what is it about Trump that makes him so special that you're willing to take a chance on him? Certainly Trump is not the first Republican politician to promise to return manufacturing jobs but who did not do so. Nor is he the only politician who has been a job creator; there are plenty on both sides of the aisle. I would put forth that maybe the reality of the situation can best be expressed by a Springsteen lyric: "Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back to your hometown."

This, I feel, is the crux of what separates Republican and Democratic messaging that so many complain about. The easy appeal is to invoke the glory days of the past. Who among us doesn't look back and long for a period in our lives when, with hindsight, things made perfect sense. I smile with empathy at P.M. saying that when they grew up in the 1960s, everything made sense. Most people would consider the 60s a decade of political strife, assassinations, and societal upheaval and few who lived through it at the time would have been able to make sense of it. Me, I like to look back at the 80s with a warm glow. But, in reality, they were an equally horrible decade with the onset of AIDS, the start of the "Greedy Me" way of living, a president who we look back on as wanting to tear down that wall but at the time seemed hellbent and determined to launch a nuclear World War.

But I want to return to trying to understand the appeal of Trump to P.M. and other rural voters. I understand P.M.'s appeal for understanding but I think any call for understanding requires a willingness to do likewise. Understanding has to be a two-way street or else it's meaningless. For the past four years Democrats have read countless articles and watched untold numbers of news segments where a reporter goes to a small diner in a rural community to try to understand the appeal of Donald Trump. To say that rural voters' issues are being ignored and that no one on the left is concerned about how they feel is really disingenuous. When we Democrats look at Trump we see a populist Republican, but one of the traits that makes him different from other similar populist Republicans is that he is more pronounced in making statements that are racist and/or discriminatory, whether he is talking about Blacks, Mexicans, Women, Trans, etc. Now, I want to be clear that outside of Donald Trump, I am not calling anyone a racist or other label. Most people react strongly against such accusations.

First let me digress and tell a personal story. I grew up in Virginia Beach, VA, a city whose growth can be attributed to middle class and affluent whites escaping school integration through busing that was taking place in neighboring Norfolk. Virginia Beach went from a small resort to one of the largest cities in Virginia because of busing. And yes, I as a Democrat will admit that busing was a solution to a very real problem that caused as many problems as it tried unsuccessfully to solve. Growing up in Virginia Beach I saw many pickup trucks with Confederate flags and gun racks. Despite its name, Virginia Beach's number one source of income did not come from the resort itself or from the military, which has many bases from all branches in its limits, but was rather from farming. Virginia Beach is the home of Pat Robertson's 700 Club and Regent University and at the time also the home to Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's ministries before he fell from grace. Virginia Beach was also the site of numerous race riots in the 90's.

After college I moved to Washington, DC, and began a professional career in a cosmopolitan city. Unfortunately, we are all still products of our hometowns whether we realize it or not. One day my boss, an incredibly intelligent and professional Black woman who I admired, took me into her office and opened my eyes about a joke I had just told. Like many in my hometown, we would sometimes effect a voice that can best be described as a combination of "Amos and Andy" and "In Living Color." My boss said to me "I know you are not a bigoted person. I know your heart is good and your intentions are the best. I also believe that you are completely unaware of what you are doing, but when you make a joke using that voice you are being deeply offensive. I tell you this not to shame you but because I like you, I care about you and I think you would want to know." She was right, I was grateful to know, but I was also horrified and ashamed. Looking back I can't believe I was so stupid as to not see that voice as being offensive and racist but without making excuses it was typical of the area and time I grew up in. And there is the crux of the left's problem with Trump. His numerous statements have been pointed out as racist (or otherwise discriminatory). Not only does Trump not apologize, he doesn't even try a fake apology. Indeed, he doubles down by saying something even more offensive. These are not the actions of a person who does not take delight in offending.

I tell that story to make a point. As I look at P.M.'s words to try to better understand their point of view I see things that cause me concern. Again, I am not calling anyone besides Trump a racist and I admit to having perpetuated racists tropes myself. With that in mind, I note that P.M. moved from rural northwestern Pennsylvania to Currituck, NC (maybe there were other locations in between). I've been to Currituck many times and one could never call it a metropolis of teeming diversity. While some of the problems between Luzerne County and Currituck might superficially be different, at the root they share more in common. P.M. states that they went to a school without a single person of color. It also seems that one of P.M.'s problems with Democrats is that they focus too much on "identity politics, sexual orientation/preference, (and) free stuff for people"—again not to call people names but when we Democrats hear "free stuff for people" coming from Republicans, what we know is that they rarely mean white people. I'm going to assume that those connotations were not intentional on P.M.'s part; but yet they still remain. I would like to suggest a possibility to P.M. that racism can exist even where there is no intention. Could perhaps the good people of Luzerne County are responding to racist tropes without consciously realizing it, in part because of a lack of familiarity with diverse populations? It seems reasonable to me while at the same time not condemning.

Having lived in suburban Virginia, urban DC and rural PA, I would like to offer some insights into problems I see for our rural population that I personally find distressing. I see more Confederate flags and Nazi symbols in rural Pennsylvania than I ever did in living in the ex-Confederate state of Virginia. Where I work, so many of my customers come from the pharmacy in our store with huge plastic bags of a dozen or more medicines and their first purchase is as much alcohol as the state will allow. And no wonder as so many people are clearly in physical pain and distress, caused from working menial but important jobs. Additionally I see more people with autism, mental retardation and mental illness per population than I ever did living in a urban city—and I worked for a company that provided services for that population in DC. Clearly, rural life is not as healthy and hale for rural people and a huge majority are dealing with physical and emotional pain. A sizable portion of the population not only smokes but chain smokes, which of course causes another whole set of physical problems and drains the poor of money to better their lives. Added to the legal prescription drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, there is rampant illegal drug use. I have seen as many ODs in rural PA as I did in urban DC.

Equally concerning is the mental outlook of the rural inhabitants. For the most part, the elderly shuffle around disinterested and disengaged. Those of middle age are incredibly bitter, resentful and cynical. The youth, with rare exceptions, have eyes dazed with boredom and a lack of options for a future. Education is not seen as an aspiration but as something unobtainable. In some ways the modern world has been cruel to the rural heartland in that it shows them the diversity, excitement and challenge of life but at a distance just beyond their fingertips. Please do not take away from this that I look down on the people of rural Pennsylvania. For the most part, they are some of the kindest, most goodhearted people I know. There is a virtue and a nobility to them that is undeniable. So it is not with scorn that I list the many challenges they face. In fact, I will go one step further and suggest something truly radical: rural life and urban life in the projects have more in common than either would like to admit.

At the end of Springsteen's song, "My Hometown," after describing the racial violence, the joblessness and the despair, the Boss ends the song with "Last night me and Kate we laid in bed/talked about getting out/Packing up our bags maybe heading south/I'm thirty-five we got a boy of our own now/Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said son take a good look around/This is your hometown." I have always felt that the hero of the song is saying this is the way it is. We can romanticize it, we can feel pride in it but we have to face our very real problems that our nation faces.

S.W. in Jupiter, FL, writes: The discussions prompted by P.M. in Currituck are mind-numbing to me, as if I should accept that people want to "view life as It was in 1960." We, as a society and world, have so moved on from the 1960s that to live that way would relegate the U.S. to second-class status, with no hope of solving any of today's issues, including the development of new 21st century jobs, climate change remediation, income and wealth inequality, or the unique problems that exist today in urban or rural America.

I received an advanced degree in the late 1970s and worked in California and Florida in my career. From 1980 to 1989, my salary increased by 150%, meaning my 1989 salary was 2.5 times higher than my 1980 salary! From 1990-1999, my salary increases totaled 25%, followed by 33% from 2000-2009, which included a layoff in 2009. From 2010 to my retirement in 2018, my salary increased by 22%. I was like millions of other Americans who saw their salary increases reduced, frozen, or worse, which was primarily caused by globalization and the off-shoring of American jobs for less expensive foreign labor.

I believe many folks, mostly in rural areas, have been hoodwinked by a steady diet of propaganda, revisionist history, and hatred of progressive ideas from right-wing news outlets since the mid-1990s. Right wing sources blame NAFTA, deep-state government, and Democrats. All are false memes. It was corporate CEOs that off-shored millions of American jobs, with a wink and nod from congressional Republicans. And by the way, what party voted for NAFTA? It was Republicans that were 75-77% in favor of NAFTA while Democrats were at just 40-50%. What party then refused to take actions to assist the fallout from these policies when it became clear they were costing American jobs? The Republican party did nothing to help those people, many in rural areas, as the executive class claimed the vast share of profits rather than their highly productive labor force.

Long term, I fear we are broken as a country because we can't solve today's problems by trying to get back to 1960, 1980, or, for that matter, 2000. Information now travels across the world in seconds, not days. We require new solutions for today's world that cover rural, suburban, and urban issues and with one party trying to resurrect the 1960s and obstruct all progress, we're just not going to get there.

A.J. in Baltimore, MD, writes: I appreciated that P.M. was given a good amount of page space to address all the responses that his comment fostered. Hearing about politicians coming to Luzerne County and repeatedly making pie-in-the-sky promises to return a post-industrial country back to an industrial one, promises they never intended to keep, certainly sounds demoralizing.

Nonetheless, I think that parts of the comment were lacking in introspection. The oft-repeated refrain of "there is no white privilege where I live" reflects an all-too-common refusal to understand the meaning of the term "white privilege." As I've commented on this site before, it doesn't mean that every single white person is old money or that whiteness automatically makes someone successful. It just means that race isn't one of the challenges that a person has faced, because being white is beneficial compared to being another race. If P.M. really believes that Luzerne County is the only post-racial area of the country where there is no white privilege, then that would suggest that a black person living there (in a place where P.M.'s graduating class was entirely white) would fare just as well as a white person in every respect. Somehow I doubt this is the case.

Similarly, anyone decrying the "identity politics" of the Democrats has to realize that Donald Trump tapped into identity politics much more effectively than the blue team. The only difference was in what identities each side targeted. There are countless examples of Trump exploiting identity politics, but one that sticks out in my mind is a rally shortly after he was named Time Magazine's Person of the Year, when he pointed out that it used to be Man of the Year, that the new title is more "politically correct," that his rally crowd seemed to prefer the "Man of the Year" title, and that must be why the magazine industry is struggling. Sure, it's a pretty frivolous topic, but it highlights how effectively Trump was able to turn even something meaningless into a wedge issue for his base. And it's just as much "identity politics" as anything the Democrats do, since the message is clear: "Remember the good old days before political correctness when everyone just accepted that men are the ones who are important?" Leading this back to P.M.'s comment, why is it that Luzerne County always voted for Democrats who were promising to bring back jobs, until they switched to Trump who was promising to bring back jobs—even though, by P.M.'s own acknowledgment, they didn't believe he could actually do it? Could it be that Trump was simply better at tapping into the cultural identity of the region?

Finally, I asked Trump voters to provide examples of Democratic politicians' condescending remarks, and P.M. cited: (1) a statement by Barack Obama that has been taken far out of context by conservatives, and (2) an Internet comment. The message is clear: for many voters, voting decisions are determined not based on policy, but on political theater...and the whole world is onstage. I frankly find all this to be a deeply disturbing state of affairs.

H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: P.M. writes "there is no white privilege in Northeastern Pennsylvania." To my mind, this is a misunderstanding of what "white privilege" means. To take one example, didn't whites in Northeastern Pennsylvania benefit from FHA and VA loans to buy real estate? The book The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap shows that this was an opportunity that was only extended to whites. But perhaps a broader, and maybe more unifying, point is the following: White supremacy is used to separate white and Blacks where they have common interests. Addressing income inequality, equal educational opportunity, food security and a host of other issues will benefit the white people of Northeastern Pennsylvania as well as black folks and other people of color around the country. Let's focus on a fair distribution of resources for all Americans. As I heard a black woman say recently, "if black people have housing, all Americans will have housing; if black people have health care, all Americans will have health care." Dismantling white supremacy and building a country based on racial equity and justice will benefit 99% of Americans. Let's figure out how to unite and imagine how we build back better for all of us.

Z.C. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I appreciate P.M.'s explanation and insight on voters mindsets in Northeastern Pennsylvania. But i wanted to point out the contrast between P.M.'s declaration that "there is no white privilege" in Northeastern Pennsylvania with the fact that people "have had little contact with anyone who is not white".

There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding about what white privilege is, and the system that makes people so quick to deny they have that privilege. P.M. offered a book recommendation, and I'd like to offer one of my own: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo.

J.K. in Washington, D.C., writes: In response to P.M in Currituck, NC, it is my hope that I never feel so righteously victimized and entitled that I regard my right to vote for a known madman as being superior to my responsibility not to. P.M., was it worth it?

A.L. in New York, NY, writes: No one who supports Trump and the modern GOP has standing to lecture others on condescension and snobbery.

M.B. in Bath, Maine, writes: I appreciate the candor and insights of P.M. in Currituck in helping explain the mindset of a Trump voter, however something they said jumped right out at me (and I'm sure other readers). After explaining clearly how the residents of their county had been traditional Democratic voters for generations, they said: "as the years went on, the Democrats became mired in identity politics, sexual orientation/preference, free stuff for people..."

P.M. was trying to paint the shift as a failure in the Democratic party, but they exposed something else entirely.

These are standard Republican straw men, and it would have been entirely at home if P.M. had added "socialist agendas" and "take away our cars/guns" to the list. That the residents of Luzerne County felt betrayed or ignored by Democrats who "promised to make their lives better, but did not" underscores that Luzerne County had actually been Republicans voting Democrat for years, as the hallmark of Republican voters is their desire/need to make their lives better at the expense of (or with disregard for) others'. Trump gave them permission to vote this way, as he was a man with a long history of making choices for personal gain at the expense (or under the false guise) of public benefit. And with him, they found someone who allowed them to make a similar selfish choice. While Obama allowed them to vote their social conscience, Trump allowed them to vote their selfishness. And when people of that mindset cry "you're talking down to me," they are just trying to deflect blame for their selfish attitude.

B.K. in Dallas, TX, writes: Democrats don't seem to be able to talk to ordinary folks. They talk about global warming, but they never talk about the jobs that would be created from fixing it.

While we are moving to renewable energy, windmills, and solar cells and Tesla electric cars are being made in China. Many of these ideas came from us, but the jobs are going overseas.

Many coal-fired plants are shutting down. The federal government can't do much to stop this, but they could provide training for the new jobs being created. The federal government could also make it difficult for companies who wish to import windmills and solar cells and Tesla electric cars from other countries.

Also, increasing the number and quality of the jobs in this country, through payroll taxes, will help pay down the national debt (including the COVID stimulus increases).

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: The made-up (and, in Spanish, unpronounceable) Latinx, is an excellent example of liberals' obsession with sanitizing the language. This is an area that Bill Maher (a self-proclaimed liberal) hammers his fellow liberals on over and over again, and I completely agree with him. Liberals get hung up on what language is ok and what is not. It feeds the perception from the middle of the country that liberal, coastal elites are acting as "thought police," telling them how to speak, and focusing on irrelevant words rather than actual issues and policies that could improve people's lives. It gives Republicans easily weaponizable talking points to beat us over the head with. It's probably yet another reason why people in the flyover states and rural areas don't feel listened to by Democrats (perhaps readers from these areas can confirm or deny this).

My take on any label is to use the label preferred by the people it refers to. Michael Steele has said that Black people are fine with and prefer "Black" over "African American" (which, he said, was made up by white people). I heard an interview after Election Day with a Latino politician (I don't recall who) where, when asked how Democrats could do a better job of messaging to Latinos, his immediate response was, "they could start by not using the word "Latinx."

In my mind, inventing this non-word is a solution for a problem that didn't exist. Liberals need to stop telling people what language to use and instead focus their energy on learning how to actually speak with and send effective messages to people who are less engaged in politics than we are.

TrumpWatch 2020

W.M.T. in Vienna, Austria, writes: With reference to yesterday's question from A.K.P. of Huntsville, I want to mention the documentary "This Land is my Land," produced by Austro-American filmmaker Susanne Brandstätter. This documentary was presented and praised at the Viennale (Vienna International Filmfestival) at the end of October and tries to fathom the motives of people voting for Trump over a period of several years, in a serious and non-ironic fashion.

R.M. in Pensacola, FL, writes: While I find it not entirely surprising that Donald Trump has continued his stranglehold on the Republican Party, I think that a lot of people are overestimating the power that he will wield once his presidency is over in five weeks.

First, with the possible indictments that are currently under seal, it will be interesting to not only see what they are but what it shows that Trump has kept hidden from the public for the last five-plus years. If the major media narrative becomes all about the financial shenanigans that Trump and family have been up to for years, it's going to be tough for Trump to kick that to the side as he was successfully able to do in years past.

Second, look at how support for politicians in years past has melted away once they were in legal trouble. It didn't take long for people such as Jim Traficant, Bob Ney and Anthony Weiner to go from the House to the Big House.

Finally, fame and power is always a fleeting thing. One minute, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were all presidents. The next minute, they disappeared into the background. Sure, they all went that way voluntarily, but it's generally rare to hear from them other than the occasional appearance or when they do something of note. Even Trump's popularity is waning, as his tweets are largely ignored and even his Twitter followers are down significantly since the election.

With the potential legal issues around the corner for Trump, what are most mainstream Republicans going to want to do? Support and fight for a former president, or fight whatever the Biden administration in advance of the 2022 and 2024 elections?

As a result, don't be surprised to see most Republicans turn their backs on Trump not long after Biden is inaugurated.

L.M.W. in McKinleyville, CA, writes: (I, too, am one of your mythical female readers). Are we surprised that the GOP is cravenly beholden to Donald Trump, while he is amassing a mailing list of the country's most gullible and dwindling GOP voters, through fundraising for this futile and purposely drawn out election challenge?

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Concerning those informal surveys of the number and location of election lawn signs: I've noticed that the Trump-Pence signs have been taken down, but lots of Biden-Harris signs are still in place. Perhaps the people who put them up intend to keep the signs there until Biden is inaugurated, or until Trump concedes his loss. (I predict Trump will concede on February 30th, or maybe he'll wait until the 31st of April, June, September, or November.)

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: Alarmist Alert!

We who live outside of the bubble are not taking the threats to American democracy seriously enough. When two-thirds of the House Republican delegation signs on to an attempt to overturn the vote of the people, the problem is not with the legislators (only) but with the people they represent. Politicians still act in their reelection self-interest. The latest action shows these legislators are confident that a majority of their constituents are willing to throw out a democratic election to keep from being led by any Democrat, even one as bland and centrist as Joe Biden.

We should not let these representatives off with "we know it won't work, so it is only for show." The Ken Paxton lawsuit was dumb and legally pointless, but it was also a call to arms for those 80 million or so Americans that dislike Democrats so much that they seek to win at all costs, including their own future freedom. Such a large number of people with such strong beliefs should be feared. For now, they rationalize this as "upholding fair elections," but "fair" is what their own pundits tell them is fair. It is only one small step to refusing to accept the "rule of law" when it disagrees with what they want. Two weeks ago, the latest news would have been unthinkable. If judicial appointments continue on the current trajectory, it won't be long until the unthinkable possibility of a politicized court picking our leaders becomes reality.

A.R.S. in West Chester, PA, writes: By my count, 17 of the 126 Republicans who signed onto the ill-fated Ken Paxton lawsuit claiming four states violated the Constitution with election law changes actually represent those four states (Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). Seems only logical that their election to the House is equally tainted and they should stand down and insist a "clean" election be held.

C.W. in Carlsbad, CA, writes: Honestly, I feel shot through the heart to see 126 Congresspersons from across the country signing on to Texas's ill-fated suit. These people took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and here they are wasting their reputations in an attempt to bypass that very same document, just so that they can put their man back in the White House. How are we supposed to trust these representatives to do what is best for their constituents? I know there are good people in each of the states that signed on to this, but I'm getting a sinking feeling like the damage is irreparable—that we are better off as two distinct nations. If the 18 states that are in on this suit want to leave, form their own country and install the Trumps as dictators for life, then I really don't care. They can lie to their citizens about how dangerous COVID is. They can build walls. They can kick out immigrants (we will take them). They can abuse their working class, deny birth control, whatever! Just stop taking the rest of the country down with them.

R.R. in Santa Fe, NM, writes: So we have Mo in the House and Ron in the Senate threatening to dispute the electoral votes. Team them up and we get:


The Biden Administration

P.M in Albany, CA, writes: You write that "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." The President-elect has already selected one Arab American to his administration: Reema Dodin as deputy director of the White House office of legislative affairs. She is the daughter of Palestinian-Jordanian immigrants. A web search on her name will indeed turn up evidence of busted gaskets from the sites that you would expect.

I.H. in Washington, DC (formerly in Iowa), writes: For those wondering if former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack—the only Obama cabinet member to serve two full terms (Secretary of Agriculture)—will set a record when he begins his third Ag Sec term in January, the answer is "yes," but it won't be as the longest-serving Cabinet member, the longest-serving Secretary of Agriculture, the longest-serving Cabinet member from Iowa, or even the longest-serving Secretary of Agriculture from Iowa. All those records belong to James Wilson, a former Iowa State University professor who served as Secretary of Agriculture for Presidents McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Taft from 1897 to 1913. Vilsack will, however, become the first Cabinet Secretary to serve three non-consecutive terms in the same position.

V & Z respond: Assuming he goes wire-to-wire, of course.

COVID Developments

J.K. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: In your item "McConnell Proposes Leaving Two Thorny Issues out of the Coronavirus Relief Bill," you wrote: "Democrats and Republicans have been at loggerheads for weeks on a possible coronavirus relief bill."

Let me fix that for you. "Democrats and Republicans have been at loggerheads for months on a possible coronavirus relief bill." Specifically, it has been 206 days since the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, and 68 days since the House passed their compromise $2.2 trillion bill. Both of which have been blocked—ignored by Republicans.

C.K. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: Your item "Trump Orders Hahn to Approve Vaccine, Hahn Complies" makes the unnecessary assumption that the White House threat to fire the FDA Commissioner, Stephen Hahn, caused a rush to approve. From the reports I've seen there is no such correlation established. In fact, it is quite possible that the FDA first informed the White House of the pending approval and then the White House comment was made to the effect of "That's good, because otherwise Hahn would be fired."

I submit that no matter when the FDA approval would have happened, the White House would have tried to take credit in this way. This is what the Trump supporters want to see, after all. I ask you to please not fall for this likely tactic.

J.K. in Short Hills, NJ, writes: Applying your logic in trying to assess how many pandemic related deaths we should hang on Donald Trump, Governors Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Phil Murphy (D-NJ) should be held culpable for their responses in New York and New Jersey, respectively, for each state has a much higher mortality rate than the average for the rest of the country. This is partly as a consequence of their placing COVID-19 patients in nursing homes, despite the prevailing assumption at the time that the elderly were extremely vulnerable to the virus.

On a somewhat related note, the FDA was poised to grant emergency approval to the Pfizer vaccine by this weekend, at the latest, so I doubt the President's putting pressure on Commissioner Hahn will dissuade many Americans from getting "stabbed," especially with the United Kingdom giving the green light more than one week earlier. If anything, some of the Democrats questioning the safety of a vaccine as an apparent campaign and political tactic did far more damage. For example, the aforementioned Mr. Cuomo irresponsibly remarked that New York State would perform an independent review before administering the drug to its residents.

Foreign Affairs

P.M. in Albany, CA, writes: Your take on the Trump administration's brokering an agreement between Morocco and Israel is: "On one side, a fellow who is willing to toss anyone or anything under the bus if he sees benefits for himself. And on the other side, Morocco, a foreign actor that saw an opportunity to take advantage of the situation and to achieve something it had failed to achieve for half a century."

But there are three sides here, not two. The third side is another foreign actor that saw an opportunity to take advantage of the situation and to achieve something it had failed to achieve for more than half a century, namely having normalized relations with another Arab country. From moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, to closing the PLO office in Washington, to withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, to increasing military aid to Israel, to recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, to the Kushner "peace" plan supporting Israeli annexation of occupied Palestinian territories, the Trump administration has shown that it is all in for Israel, without any evidence of Israeli concessions to the United States in return.

Trans Position

T.B. in Tallahassee, FL, writes: Twenty-five years ago, an athletic member of my church came out as transgender. Politically, we were very supportive; the marriage ended but both remained active members and their children grew up being well-supported by our "village." In practice, I'll note two incidences:

  • A couple of years later, around the time of her surgical procedures, there was discussion of forming a Men's Group in our community. An otherwise progressive woman confided to me that she was jealous because they didn't dare resurrect a Women's Group because "She" might want to participate.

  • A dozen years after my longtime friend's coming out, a "new" church member took me aside and asked, "Why do some people call her 'he/him'?" This generally insightful fellow was genuinely puzzled. I, on the other hand, could barely see past the rather macho man I had known all those years ago. It was an eye-opener to realize that, "If at first she's a woman, then that's what I see; if at first a man, then that's what I hold on to." (Yup, I too still occasionally slip with a "he/him", despite my quarter-century of effort and my coming to understand how life-saving and psyche-healing her transition was.)

As with all of our politics, it is hard to fully change and it is even harder to see in ourselves the not-so-nice things others may see in us when we let down our guard.

D.J in Denver, CO, writes: I have a question for A.B. in Wendell. I've been struggling with terminology. As a person who attempts precision in language, while also attempting to be inclusive, I've run across a gap where I have no word to use in discussing some gender issues.

When I want to talk about the commonalities and common interests of cis-females and trans-females, we have a word we use for that, namely "women," and likewise, the word we use for cis-males and trans-males is "men." When doing the same for trans-women and trans-men, we say "transgendered." Likewise, for cis-females and cis-males, we say "cisgendered."

Where I struggle to find a word is when discussing the commonalities of cis-males and trans-females, and of cis-females and trans-males. To pick an example, cis-males and trans-females both have significant lifetime risks for prostate cancer, cis-females and trans-males do not. There are similar risks in a reversal for breast cancer. Some other examples are hair loss or color blindness.

What I struggle with is, we have no words for these pairings that are not also considered to be trans-hostile. What do you recommend? I've flirted with Heterozygous and Homozygous referring to the XY or XX chromosome pairings, as that is also clinical and gender-expression neutral.

J.E. in San Jose, CA, writes: Although I would never deign to call myself "woke," I generally possess the self awareness to understand what really goes on in the world.

But if I've learned anything in my 44 years on this planet, it's that I have no understanding of trans anything. And it is a challenge for me to objectively read or watch anything familiar on the topic because the mainstream media has no incentive to teach me. I try with what is available, sure, but all I've figured out is I don't understand, and I want to be a good fellow citizen and advocate, somehow.

K.A. has used the example of trans women in sports as a way to explain what the transition is really like, and now it makes perfect sense to me. I would like to thank her for getting me one step closer to being the person I would like to be.

Oddly, this is an example of getting through to someone with cognitive dissonance. Perhaps this is a lesson that could be applied elsewhere?

A.S. in Renton, WA, writes: I am writing in response to J.B. in Findlay, who cited four Bible verses that they consider to be anti-trans. I disagree.

First, it is common linguistically to list the two ends of a spectrum as a binary, even though we all know that the two ends are not the only reality. Day/Night, High/Low, Fast/Slow. Exact accuracy is unwieldy. So in regard to the Genesis quotes, the point of those passages is not to offer an exhaustive list of types of humans. The point is that humans are made in the image of God. (Which, by the way, was a radical idea in a deeply patriarchal time, because it pointed out that women are on equal ground spiritually.) And in any case, God does not have a physical body (John 4:24). So being made "in the image of God" must apply to something other than our flesh. My takeaway is that the nature of God encompasses the entire gender spectrum.

Second, even if we concede current Evangelical interpretations of the Bible as correct, we see significant examples of God changing the rules in light of changing circumstances. The most obvious case is dietary restrictions. Before the flood we were all vegetarians. Afterward, God allowed the eating of meat (Genesis 9:3). When the Israelites left Egypt, God set up detailed dietary laws that allowed them to thrive as nomads in a desert with poor sanitation (Leviticus). Finally, in dramatic fashion, God revealed to the apostle Paul that everything edible is back on the menu (Acts 10). Similarly, when one puts together a spreadsheet showing all the sex and gender morés of the Bible from Genesis through Revelation, the result can be dizzying. Especially in comparison to which parts of the rules Evangelicals have decided to keep, versus which ones they reject. For an example of the rejections, we're okay now with sex during menstruation (strictly taboo per Leviticus) but there's no way I'm making babies with my husband's brother if I'm left widowed and childless (Deuteronomy 25 says I should). My point is that God's rules are based on underlying principles, and therefore can change due to circumstance. And what principles might those be? Jesus states them plainly in Matthew 22:40, when a lawyer angling for a "gotcha" asks him what is the greatest commandment. Jesus replies: "Love God, love your neighbor. Upon these two commandments hang the whole law and the prophets."

Third, it is not clear that we can take the verses J.B cited from Jesus as being all-inclusive on the topic of sex and gender. The context is a question about divorce. Jesus' response is essentially: "Don't divorce cavalierly." (Which I see as once again supportive of women, who were next to nothing in society at that time without a spouse.) But then, even though types of humans was not the original point, in Matthew 19 Jesus goes on to speak about "eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb." Did you know that about 1% of the population is naturally intersexed? Jesus sees them! And he also sees the ones who were made that way "by people" and the ones who "made themselves eunuchs [trans?] for the kingdom of Heaven." What better way to embody the principle of Love than to embrace your true self? As I have seen in my own life, the more I allow grace for myself, the more freely I can extend it to others. Thus also with truth and love.

Finally, Paul says in Galatians 3, capping his explanation that we no longer live by law but by faith, that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Our race, our class, our sex—all those things that matter so much to humans—they neither recommend us nor diminish us in the eyes of God. As it says in 1 Samuel 16:7b, "God does not see as man sees, since man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

Over and over again, when we take the whole Bible into consideration, we see God's overwhelming love for us coupled with God's overwhelming hatred of injustice. Our stances on sex and gender should rest on that foundation. And this is where J.B. and I do agree; we ought to act with "love and patience." It is the only way we will find common ground.

M.G.F. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: Biblical interpretation is rarely simple. We all read different takeaways in scripture. J.B. in Findlay cites several passages that they read to indicate God's intention to create humanity with binary genders only. I read those same passages to validate that humans of all gender identities, not simply men, are made in the image of God. For me, these same passages widen the image of God beyond gender preconceptions and stereotypes.

I caution readers to never assume that what they see as the obvious interpretation is universal—or correct. The Gospels are littered with examples of Jesus telling the learned religious leaders they had it wrong.

A.N. in Memphis, TN, writes: J.B. from Findlay cited "four very direct references as to the binary nature of mankind as created by God." Two from Genesis, and two references to Genesis in the Gospels. The crux of all four is the declaration that God made humanity "male and female." Genesis also says that God created night and day. It does not mention twilight. It says God created sea and land without mentioning shore. It says God created them male and female, not male or female. The gospel passages cite Genesis to make a point about divorce. In neither Genesis nor the Gospels does the context have anything to do with trans people. These, in J.B.'s estimation, are the strongest biblical arguments against trans people.

J.B.'s Biblical interpretation seems to be mainly about confining God's Creation to J.B.'s own ideas about what should have been made. I'm glad I don't live in J.B.'s Creation.

L.E. in Putnam County, NY, writes: Your correspondent H.R. of Jamaica Plain alleges there to be "no evidence that trans women housed with other women" committing sexual assaults. How about a guilty plea and life sentence?

The more people insist "trans women are women" the more this will happen.

P.S. in Plano, TX, writes: H.R. in Jamaica Plain writes "there is no evidence that trans women housed with other women commit any such acts." That statement is untrue: "Transgender prisoners are five times more likely to carry out sex attacks on inmates at women's jails than other prisoners are, official figures show."

Historical Matters

D.F. in Norcross, GA, writes: Wanted to chime in my two cents on a couple of answers to questions from Saturday. First, with regard to N.R.H. of London's question about which among the disputed elections of 1960 and 2000 was more consequential, I think you're forgetting one possible event that, in my mind, makes the 1960 election more consequential. Imagine if Richard Nixon had been President during the Bay of Pigs invasion and/or the Cuban Missile Crisis. I find him far more likely to have listened to hawks like Gen. Curtis LeMay, who called for far more aggressive responses to the Soviet presence in Cuba, especially in the latter situation. And given the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the world at the time, it might've rendered the whole 2000 debacle moot if things got out of control. I'd be interested in hearing (Z)'s take on this.

My other comment involves F.S. of Cologne, Germany's question about the most and least charismatic Presidents. While I won't argue (Z)'s top 5 among least charismatic, I do think "Silent" Calvin Coolidge should've at least garnered a mention among the near misses.

Z responds: It is hard to think of a Cold War-era leader more hawkish than Nikita Khrushchev, and even he didn't want the CMC to turn into World War III. JFK fumbled a bit with the diplomacy, and yet still managed to work things out. Nixon, already a skilled diplomat by 1960, would surely have been able to do the same.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I question your listing of Franklin Pierce as "uncharismatic" based on being perpetually drunk. When I'm blitzed, I'm full of charisma!

J.M.P. in Asheville, NC, writes: You wrote: "There is no such thing as a cabinet that remains intact wire-to-wire..."

I seem to recall my high school U.S. History teacher stating that Franklin Pierce's cabinet stayed the same for all four years of his administration. He followed that up by saying that fact should tell us all we need to know about how interesting that administration was.

V & Z respond: True enough, although there were only seven seats that could possibly come vacant back then.

T.W. in Wellsville, OH, writes: Your recent unfairness to John Adams really annoys me. First of all, Adams's greatest accomplishment was keeping us from an unnecessary war with France. Yes, the XYZ affair made him furious and he got caught up with the jingoism for war, but when push came to shove, he bucked Alexander Hamilton, his party and cabinet, and pushed for peace while sending another envoy to France. He also watched Talleyrand (who later took down Napoleon) make a mess in France with the XYZ affair and reaped the benefits. He demanded France treat American envoys with respect and not demands for bribes. France backed down and Adams saved his country from what could have been a devastating war. He also halted the efforts of Hamilton, through the prestige of George Washington, to wrestle the army from civilian control and, as Father of the Navy, further developed American military capabilities. Finally, the "Midnight Judges" matter has been overblown. Adams put a check on the Democratic-Republicans gaining total control of the country and picked one of the greatest Chief Justices, John Marshall.

Yes, Adams kept Washington's cabinet, which was not the best and was mostly loyal to Hamilton. And, of course, he signed The Alien and Sedition Acts. He also always not a good judge of character, alienated people easily, and had a nasty temper. But he also pardoned those involved in the Fries Rebellion of 1800. And he turned over the government peacefully to the opposing party in 1801, even though he didn't stay to see Jefferson sworn in.

So Adams wasn't, in spite of his faults, a disaster as president—though perhaps not well suited for the presidency, most historians view him as a near-great president. Whatever people view him, he remains a refreshing contrast to Donald Trump, in the sense of not being out for himself and putting his country first.

M.O. in Arlington, VA, writes: My hat is off to the both of you for remembering Pearl Harbor Day. I read many news feeds on a daily basis and your site is the only one to acknowledge what to me is the most profound event in the past century. This is the first year that I remember the event not being recognized in one media source or another. I lived through the Global War on Terror for the last 10 years of my Federal career. As much as anything this was a self-inflicted wound that just continued to fester. The World Trade Center attack was a great tragedy and senseless act of terror. What followed in terms of the U.S. government response was equally senseless on so many levels. But even the Global War on Terror does not equal Pearl Harbor, in my mind.

The Sound of Music

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA , writes: Your review of the top ten American historical songs was a fascinating journey through our wars, politics and social struggles. I played them all but what really threw me was reviewing the comments on each of the YouTube links. For nearly every song, there are current posts that still follow the historical sentiments or show how divided we are currently. It was disconcerting to see people deploying "Battle Cry of Freedom" against protesters in Portland or particularly people championing "Dixie." Really..."Dixie"? Or the Neo-nazi German/European themed commenters signaling unity with "Dixie"? We've got a long hard road in front of us.

A.W. in Keyser, WV, writes: I would have been very surprised if you left out "This Land is Your Land," so I am writing to add my observations on the song. I definitely agree that the song is inspirational for progressives, but for me it was a little different than most. In middle school in West Virginia, we sang the Woody Guthrie version of the song. Today I love that version, but twelve year old me thought it was cheesy. A few years later, I got into punk music and I heard M.D.C. and Mojo Nixon cover the song, and I really understood what it meant. Middle school music class in small town West Virginia didn't quite get the message across, but I think if they did maybe some of the other people in my state would be a little more open minded.

A.S.W. in Melrose, MA, writes: Love the historical lists! As always, there's a ton to argue about, which is half the fun. I would suggest that, rather than choosing "Rocket 88"/"Rock Around The Clock" as avatars for all of the politically meaningful songs of the rock era, one should actually choose the most important protest songs of the era. My humble suggestions would include "Fight The Power" (which turned hip hop into a political movement), "Get Up Stand Up" (the same for Reggae), "What's Goin' On," and either "Revolution" (for the Hippies) or "Imagine" (for their kids). There are many more, of course, but surely any of them could be said to have had more impact as individual songs—rather than as harbingers of the future—than "Rock Around The Clock."

J.R.B. in New York, NY, writes: I'm not sure if it would replace anything in your Top 10, but "We Are The World," written by Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson, came to mind.

F.C. in Simi Valley, CA, writes: Touring in 1999, Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles performed "We Shall Overcome" in Tchaikovsky Hall, Moscow, closing the concert. It was clear that the song is well known there and continues to resonate in more nations and contexts and hearts. Today, that concert would be illegal in Russia.

C.M. in Menlo Park, CA, writes: Tex Ritter's version of "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling," a song in the voice of a brave, modest, and morally courageous Western sheriff that expressed and romanticized these qualities. It's a hymn to the American ideal and for a while, most of us were unified by believing in it. Some still do believe it.

On the other hand, Fess Parker singing "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" inspired 5,000 people a day to buy coonskin caps in the 1950s, so maybe it was one of the most successful marketing ploys ever to capitalize on the myth of the West.

G.M. in Salt Lake City, UT, writes: I found myself in full agreement with Kurt Vonnegut, and never cared for the Star Spangled Banner, for various reasons. When the 9/11 attacks happened, I noticed that people, from the members of Congress on the steps of the Capitol, to church groups and likely even neighbors sharing grief, were not singing the national anthem. They were singing "America the Beautiful", and that is the song I seemed to hear on TV every single day, from some group or another. As I became aware of that, I made of point of noticing how long it was before I heard the Star Spangled Banner. I believe it was ten days.

In retrospect, I think that America, and perhaps the entire world, at that moment had no stomach for a song that glorified war. We were shattered and shocked and in deep grief, and we wanted to sing about what was dear and sweet and beautiful, not how good we were at kicking butt.

A desire for revenge reared its head soon enough, but for a few weeks at least, and perhaps longer, "America the Beautiful" was the glue that held our shattered hearts together and gave them a chance to start to heal.

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: Since you asked, here is my list of the 10 historically significant songs most important to the LGBT+ communities' fight for pride and equality.

  1. "Y.M.C.A.," by the Village People
  2. "Somewhere," from "West Side Story"
  3. "I Am What I Am," from "La Cage Aux Folles"
  4. "Express Yourself," by Madonna
  5. "Freedom! '90," by George Michael
  6. "Vogue," by Madonna
  7. "Over The Rainbow," from "The Wizard Of Oz"
  8. "True Colors," by Cyndi Lauper
  9. "I'm Coming Out," by Diana Ross
  10. "I Will Survive," by Gloria Gaynor

Near-misses: "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera and "It's Raining Men" by The Weather Girls

D.G. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: Thanks for your great list of most impactful songs, and for spelling out your criteria and near-misses. Rather than songs you might have overlooked, I'll take this opportunity to mention a few that came to mind within the frame you created. Reading item 4 about rock and roll, I thought of "Johnny B. Goode" for its having been selected to be sent to outer space in 1977 by NASA as representative of the diversity of life on earth. The conjunction of "This Land Is Your Land" and "The Farmer is the Man" brought to mind "Which Side Are You On?" for its role in the labor movement. And I wonder about the impact of "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?" on folks during the Depression.

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Major Omission: "John Brown's Body" should be in the top 5, without question.

Minor Omission: "Hold The Fort Ye Knights Of Labor" An old joke among leftists, when referring to some historical labor struggle: "They won all the battles, but we had all the good songs."

V & Z respond: "John Brown's Body" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" are basically the same song, and the lyrics of the two were often intermixed when sung.

P.J.T. in Raton, NM, writes: Seems to me you fellas missed some very obvious potential inclusions on your list of the 10 most important American songs. Among them:

"Indian Reservation," by Paul Revere and The Raiders, reminded us of the real cost of our Republic, genocide, and the pride remaining in that vanquished and mostly invisible sector of our population.

"Masters of War," by Bob Dylan, may not have had the social impact as the other songs on my list, yet redefined the cause of war on non-ideological principles, as being the military-industrial complex that profits from the waging of mass violence and the dealing of death.

"Where Have All the Flowers Gone?", by Pete Seeger, is a simple round that charts the loss of innocence that happens during times of war, so that the 2nd iteration of the title verse becomes truly menacing.

T.P. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I think one candidate you should consider is James Brown's "Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud," which was an anthem of the Black Power movement of the 1960s.

D.R. in Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, writes: I would also suggest the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." by J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson.

K.C. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: (Z)'s list of songs is remarkably well-rounded and comprehensive, but there is, in my estimation, one glaring omission: "God Bless America" played an enormous role in shaping the American patriotic consciousness throughout much of the 20th century, particularly during World War II. Moreover, the song became a rallying cry to protest for the Ku Klux Klan and other anti-immigrant groups in the 1920s because it had been composed by a Jewish immigrant, Irving Berlin. If "This Land Is Your Land" made your list at #10, then surely the song that inspired Woody Guthrie to compose his polemic response (which was initially entitled, "God Blessed America for Me") warrants at least an honorable mention.

S.K. in Chappaqua NY, writes: I wish I could make a case for "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught," but alas, it is too little known. In my opinion, however, its lyrics are the most important of all for Americans to heed.

C.M. in Belfast, Northern Ireland, writes: Frantic as I was today and without wishing to add fuel to the fire, I for one was pleased to see "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" named as a great musical achievement. As the thing that should not be (in the White House) struggles in an attempt to seek and destroy Joe Biden's transition, I feel like I'm wasting my hate on the unforgiven; especially when the memory remains of such talented musicianship.

And with that, I disappear.

V & Z respond: To understand this letter, you really have to be a pretty serious Metallica fan. Sad but true.


J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: I spent way too much time trying to find information about Frank Lincoln being arrested for rail splitting before I read your second paragraph. Thanks for that.

V & Z respond: Good thing we didn't mention George Washington's sister Olympia, who explored the west and had a capital time.

K.C. in Roseville, CA, writes: I was amused by B.B. In Kassel's declaration, as the translated message sounded much like a blue version of Dr Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham." B.B will not read your site here or there, they will not read it anywhere. They will not read it, you see, they will not read it Z and V!

V & Z respond: Second week in a row that we've ended with a pork reference.

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