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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

P.M. has checked in with another response, so we'll start there, along with some other comments in response to this discussion, or on the Tim Alberta "understanding the voters" article. Next week, if there are more responses to P.M., we'll run some of them, but then we will consider that horse to be beaten and will close the thread. Also, there were hundreds of comments on women readers (and the lack thereof); we've selected a bunch and tried to craft them into something cohesive.

24 More Hours of P.M.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: I agree with D.E. (formerly of Lititz, a charming little town) that this discussion should not be perpetuated beyond its reasonable shelf life, so these will be my final comments on it. And, as an aside—D.E., when I left Northeastern Pennsylvania looking for work (as a teacher), I ended up moving to Hampton Roads, so I also know that area quite well.

Part of why people in Luzerne County turned to vote for Donald Trump has to do with his personality. The idea of him having created jobs, yes, that was a piece of it—but I would argue his disdain for political correctness spoke to us. He says whatever he wants, and doesn't care what people think. We like that. He "tells it as it is." I should note that when the primaries were underway in 2016, several members of my family also liked Chris Christie and John Kasich; Christie because of that same trait, and Kasich because he seemed to be the most sensible choice of those running. I will confess I voted for one of those three in the primary, but will not say which.

On that point, the careful reader will note I never once revealed who I personally voted for, in either 2016 or 2020. I believe in the sanctity of the secret ballot, since I know the cost many had to pay to achieve that. I always keep who I vote for to be between myself, the ballot, and God. But the fact others jumped to the conclusion of who I voted for—without noticing the details of what I said—speaks to my point about how those in the media can be snobbish and out of touch. They make assumptions, come to conclusions that are erroneous, and then proceed with the idea that those assumptions and erroneous conclusions are reality—all of which add up to a recipe for being incorrect. This very site did that on October 29, 2016, with this line: "Donald Trump's path to the White House goes through the Rust Belt; the key to the Rust Belt is Pennsylvania, and the key to Pennsylvania lies in the Philadelphia suburbs." The first two statements were correct; the third was not—2016 proved that, when Luzerne County was the tipping point of Pennsylvania. But that was the conventional wisdom going in, it became reality to those who thought it, and was proven wrong. The same can be said many times when it comes to election forecasting; as has been stated here before, it is an inexact science.

One thing D.E. mentioned, which I think is very valid, is the story about the joke they made that they didn't think was offensive—until someone opened up their eyes about it. It is very possible that folks in Luzerne County are responding to racist tropes and are not realizing it, due to lack of familiarly. But again, that bolsters my point about where the media misses the mark; they talk down to us, and tell us we're wrong. That is an incorrect approach. Be patient with us (as D.E.'s coworker was) and explain why—we are reasonable people. Don't blast us, call us ignorant, stupid—that will not win us over. I admit that things we say or views we have may be racist, and we don't realize it. If that's the case, gently tell us...don't attack us, as the intellectual snobs in the media are prone to do.

Connecting to the above, I can say with confidence that many in Luzerne County don't care about issues which minorities face, because they don't affect us. Does that make us racist, since it's non-applicable to us? Is that fair to say? On a similar topic, once, months ago, I wrote in and said much the same about our views toward transgendered individuals and associated issues, and A.B. in Wendell responded with outrage. Again, does our lack of concern about that issue that make us "wrong"? These are philosophical questions worth exploring, much as the salons of the Enlightenment did (and the spirit of which V and Z aim to recreate here).

I agree with A.J. that Trump tapped into the cultural identity of the region. I, too, having been reared there, can understand when Trump points out that it is now "Person" of the year instead of "Man" of the year, and how we find that annoying. We view that as political correctness run amok, and are sick of it. And—again, back to my point about the snobbish media types—we become upset when we're told we are wrong if we say "man" instead of "person," "black" instead of ."lack", "Indian" instead of "Native American", and so on. We view it as people making a big deal out of something minor...let it go.

I would disagree with M.B.'s characterization of Luzerne County voters being Republicans who voted Democratic for years. After the Civil War, the Democrats looked to the new immigrants from Europe as a source of votes—as they still do, today, with people who are new to America. Our families were immigrants who went to work in the anthracite mines and factories, and were dyed-in-the-wool Democrats for generations who voted for them because they were the working man's party. The parties changed character; so, our votes did. I tell my students how the freed slaves voted solidly Republican in 1868, and how both parties have essentially flipped views since then. The political parties have greatly changed over time with the various party systems; I am sure (Z) can elaborate on this in some future series.

I agree completely with B.K.—the Democrats need to talk to ordinary people, and make issues relatable to them. Climate change is a problem; but don't speak of it in existential terms that don't apply to me personally, because I'm not going to care. Make it apply to me; tell me how my life will be affected because of it, or maybe already is now. Make that effort. One thing about Trump is that we perceive he talks directly to folks in Luzerne County; he doesn't talk above us, or make us feel like we're being spoken down to. As I said before, if the Democrats can do that, they can win Luzerne County votes back.

I said at the beginning that these would be my final comments as part of this back-and-forth, and I wish that to be so. The holidays are upon us; and, no matter what your religious affiliation (or none at all), let us join together in a spirit of the season, and remember that far more unites us than what divides us. Hopefully, Joe Biden can begin the process of making that occur on a national scale in 2021.

E.H. in Stevens Point, WI, writes: Last week I was going to write a response to P.M.'s letter from Currituck, but held off. After reading the printed responses on December 13, all I can say is wow. So many words spent criticizing P.M. and lecturing them on how they are wrong or ignorant, and so incredibly few invested in actually trying to understand or even accept P.M.'s point of view.

I won't speak for P.M.—my experiences are quite different, having grown up in a liberal part of Oregon and become a professional academic—but I think I can summarize the basic problem with all this: The United States is not a liberal country. It just isn't. It's not a conservative country either. I think most liberals and conservatives simply cannot understand this—maybe they live in a bubble surrounded by like-minded people, or maybe they are just so sure of their own world view that they cannot grasp the basic concept that there are lots of other people who are real, intelligent people who are just...not like them.

As a liberal in my fifties, I have seen how both sides work over the decades. Conservatives have been methodically purifying their ranks—a scary process for a democratic country. Liberals, on the other hand, have been doing what liberals do—push for social change, over and over. Liberals lecture. They tell you what you are doing wrong and why you are bad for doing it. I could give details but it would make this letter so much longer—suffice it to say that each year or two I get to be educated on what is suddenly the newest idea on how I am a bad person (do not weep for me, I chose my profession with eyes open).

Neither liberals nor conservatives seem to have any interest in tolerating people who do not think like them. Conservatives want to censure them; liberals want to convert them. As long as they live in insular political bubbles, I think this will continue. Maybe it's lucky for me that I relocated to Wisconsin, a state where I bump into people across the whole political spectrum—and get to know them as people. People are worthy of respect, even if they don't agree with me politically. And if I respect those people, I have to respect their right to have political views that aren't identical to mine. I just wish other people could embrace this basic democratic principle as well.

J.G.D. in Bellevue, WA, writes: Reading the back and forth generated by the comments from P.M. in Currituck over the past couple of weekends, I now have this image in my head of two groups of people arguing against the wall that separates them while each side leans on it to prevent it from falling.

Sadly, I found going through the summaries of why 20 Americans voted the way they did more depressing than informative. Who they supported does not matter much. Their reasoning left me sitting there for who knows how long wishing I could unread it all.

Neither the P.M. thread nor the Alberta article offer anything encouraging for the country as a whole. Things will not improve unless someone or something can convince a larger number of Americans that we live in a society of 330,000,000 people, not 330,000,000 societies of one.

That may not happen in the time I have left on Earth.

D.L. in Cary, NC, writes: Your item "Twenty Americans Who Explain the Election" should carry a trigger warning. If these are representative voters, things are way worse than I could ever imagine. Facts, logic, and intelligence are sorely lacking from either side. Reading them feels like tying my brain into a Gordian knot. Hopefully, I'm in recovery now. That said, the urge to come up with one of my own may help with my therapy:

D.L. (60), Biden voter in Cary, NC: Child of communist parents, D.L. has maintained their progressive outlook, albeit with a keen disregard for "woke" cancel culture. They identify most with the philosophy of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), but were willing to vote for Joe Biden, as they believe modern-day American Republicans are mostly headed towards fascism. And Biden, while hardly progressive, is at least in the mold of long-ago Republicans, where the last one who could've earned some of D.L.'s respect would've been Eisenhower.

Sadly, D.L. believes what we're witnessing is humanity's inability to process trauma...other than with delusion. And believes this mass imitation of the myth that involves lemmings and a cliff, along with the brazen, craven disregard of decency displayed by the modern-day robber barons, is a sign of how we behave when the reality of the coming climate disaster creeps ever closer into our everyday life. That America has shown exceptionalism to be like excellence...if excellence was a palindrome of excrement and entirely disheartening to D.L.. The fear-based fanatical obsession with guns, the greed of the healthcare industry, insurance-based or otherwise, and most of all, being 4% of the worlds population and using 24% of its resources, has soured D.L. completely on their native country. And, in fact, on hope for humanity. Unless some new world power or alliance saves the day, we're left with America still running the show. That country which is both the main cause of our climate nightmare and the main stumbling block towards any solution.

D.L. thanks you profusely for allowing the use of the third person. It's indeed flattering, if not narcissistic.

Hey, you do it...

B.C. in Hertfordshire, U.K., writes: Forgive the intrusion from across the pond, but exactly the same "discussion" has been occurring here in the U.K. ever since (and indeed before) we had our own Trumpy moment of madness by voting (very narrowly) to leave the European Union. A favorite insult that Leavers direct towards Remainers (such as me) is "liberal metropolitan elites." In the U.S., the self-styled downtrodden working man chose a self-proclaimed billionaire (who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth) as their unlikely champion. Here in the U.K. (where we have our very own rust belt, in the north of England), the "left behind" (as they like to style themselves) settled on unlikely champions of the working man such as Boris Alexander de Pfeffel Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, both born to immense privilege, both beneficiaries of the finest elite education money can buy, and neither of whom has ever done a real day's work in his life. To add to the irony, as well as being unquestionably a member of the elite, Johnson (a former mayor of London) is very metropolitan indeed. He was also something of a liberal not so long ago (when he was London mayor) thereby demonstrating that, just as for Trump, his actual politics are entirely malleable in the service of the most important thing: his personal ambition. And the ultimate irony is that Johnson, Rees-Mogg, and various others of their ilk represent the Conservative Party which, beginning with Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s, systematically destroyed manufacturing industry and thus created the very "left behind" who now look to Thatcher's successors as their saviors.

So how did Johnson and his cronies pull off this spectacularly successful confidence trick? In exactly the same way Trump did: they identified a scapegoat and they lied and lied and lied. In Trump's case it was Mexicans and Muslims and Black people yada yada yada. In Johnson's case it was the European Union that became a convenient proxy for all the same "others" that Trump demonized. Not for nothing did Johnson claim (completely untruthfully) that Turkey was about to join the European Union and 77 million Turks (i.e. Muslims) were poised to arrive on our shores unless we left the Union. Did people, as P.M. in Currituck implies, vote for these unlikely champions because they really though their lives might get better? Nope, sorry P.M., I'm not buying it. Many voted for Trump, and for Leave, and for Johnson, because they are, deep down, xenophobes who hate "others," and the likes of Trump and Johnson and Vote Leave not only gave them permission to express this ugliness but also incited it.

Doubtless P.M. (and those here in the U.K. who bandy the "liberal metropolitan elites" insult) will, as usual, accuse me of patronizing the working man—but this would merely demonstrate exactly the kind of lazy stereotyping on their part of which they accuse me. Late in life, I possess the comfortable trappings of the "liberal metropolitan elites" (except I don't live in a metropolis and never have) but I spent the first six years of my life living in caravan (a trailer, as you say in the U.S.) and the rest of my upbringing in a family of four crammed into a two-room apartment. The first time I ever had so much as a room to call my own was when I left home to begin my graduate studies (which in itself was something of a miracle in the days when a university education was the province of the well-heeled who had attended good-quality high schools, not impecunious state-educated oiks like me). So I know the working people, probably better than many of the inverted snobs who insult me. Indeed my father, were he still with us, would undoubtedly have voted both to leave the EU and for Johnson. He would also have admired Trump, for he (my father) was exactly the kind of working-class xenophobe of whom I write.

Furthermore, in the U.K., it is not the "rust belt" of northern England which decides referendums and elections anyway. These things are actually decided by comfortable, conservative (small "c"), aging, 99% white, rural southern England, as a glance at an electoral map will immediately reveal. The "rust belt" cities of northern England (and indeed south Wales) remain largely Labour, but from the Midlands south to the channel, England is a sea of Conservative blue with teeming, diverse London being the only significant exception.

I don't think there is an answer to this deeply-ingrained xenophobia in what's left of my father's generation, or indeed in my own generation. I do believe, however, that there is considerable hope for the future because young people inspire me over and over with their openness to all races and creeds, their willingness to see themselves as citizens of the entire world, and their ambition to improve the planet. Just as new, browner, better-educated generations will eventually marginalise Republicans and xenophobes in the U.S.A., the same will happen with Conservatives and xenophobes in the U.K. (or, more accurately, in rUK, because Scotland will very likely be independent soon, and Ireland will be re-united). Indeed you can see the clues in the U.K. in the same anti-democratic rearguard actions as in the U.S.: the Conservatives are proposing to introduce voter ID laws, despite there being not a shred of evidence of significant fraud, they are proposing to hobble the courts, and they have already shut down the elected Parliament once because it got in their way (until that particular stunt was overturned by our Supreme Court)!

D.T. in Hillsboro, OR, writes: B.K. in Dallas writes: "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."

I'm sure I won't be the only one to tell you that all the Teslas you see on the roads here in the U.S. were made in Fremont, California. Not a single one came from China. The Tesla Shanghai plant mainly produces cars for the Chinese market. As soon as the Tesla Berlin plant is up, it'll produce cars for the European market, so they don't have to import cars to Europe from the U.S. or China. You see, Tesla, like all car manufacturers, knows that it's stupid to transport large, heavy objects like cars half way around the world. In the meantime, Tesla is building an even bigger plant in B.K.'s home state to produce electric trucks. It'll employ thousands of Americans.

As for windmills, that is largely a matter of us shooting ourselves in the foot. Way back in the 1970s, when finding alternative energy sources was in vogue, the government built two experimental wind turbines in the Columbia Gorge east of Portland. These turbines aided in the discovery of a number of basic principles of wind energy. Then along came the 80s and a new administration. The wind turbine project was dumped and nothing came of it in the U.S. (probably seen as too likely to compete with fossil fuels). But some Europeans took what had been discovered there and ran with it, which meant that European companies (not Chinese) dominated the wind turbine market for a generation or more.

G.W. in Avon, CT, writes: 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...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."

I would point out that in the 2016 Presidential race, one candidate proposed exactly that. The other major party candidate promised we could hold onto coal indefinitely. The coal mining communities overwhelmingly choose option B. From the anecdotal evidence of my own conversations since then, as recently as this week, they still do.

A.V. in Cedar Falls, IA, writes: I base this idea on a bit from comedian Louis C.K. but it shuts down every white privilege discussion I have ever had with another white person:

Imagine that the world is going to end tomorrow and the only means of escaping destruction is that you are to be sent through a time machine and you must go back in history to a time, picked at random between the founding of our country (U.S.) and 1970. You will live the rest of your life in that place and time and be given the average job, wages, cost of living and opportunities that you would have there. During this trip, you must choose your racial background and gender that you will keep for the rest of your life.

Most who don't choose white and male are lying.

B.M. in Indianapolis, IN, writes: I grew up in the 90s as a staunch Republican, I recorded Rush Limbaugh's show, was vice chairman of my conservative Christian college's College Republicans group, volunteered at the county GOP headquarters, attended George W. Bush's inauguration and even had elephant figurines at my wedding reception. So to say that I was a Republican is really sort of an understatement.

With that said, by the end of W's second term and the beginning of Barack Obama's first, I realized that the GOP's talk of small government was just that, talk. They were fine with government regulating things as long as they were the ones doing the regulation. Everything was a means to the end of getting power. As a result I am now as much a D as I was ever an R, even though it has jeopardized my position as an elder in my church. There is real danger to the Republicans in sacrificing their principles for short term power. Converts to a movement are often the most zealous. I hope Rs see my story as a cautionary tale and Ds see it as a reason to hope for the future.

Women Readers

A.S. in Hanover, NH, writes: There was a question today about why there aren't more female readers. I'm cringing at the responses people will send about this. We all think this site is pretty great, so I'm expecting some pretty sexist explanations about why women aren't interested in something so amazing. Please focus on data-driven responses because everything else is just drivel.

V & Z respond: We did our best while selecting responses.

K.H. in Corning, NY, writes: Some possible reasons for the dearth of female readers at this site: some of these are based on "tend to" and "lean toward" statistics, which doesn't preclude the female reader, it just explains the lower numbers.

  1. Less Time: Studies show that women, including those in two-income households, tend to do the lion's share of home and child care, leaving them less leisure time for political junkyship.

  2. Conflict: It's said that women are more likely to seek consensus than engage in conflict. So perhaps they are less likely to find reading politics to be productive toward their goals, and instead spend time reading other sites.

  3. Historical Demographics: If it is more likely for a reader here to be college educated, and over 50, then historical trends make fewer of this group female, by up to 40%.

  4. Representation: People are less likely, perhaps, to follow issues that are filled with characters who do not resemble themselves. Politics is very often about what white men are doing. Many non-white-men may find this lacking in appeal for leisure time activity.

These don't necessarily depend on each other and may contribute a few percent here and a few percent there—adding up to the dramatic total that we saw in the data.

L.M. in Laramie, WY, writes: Mythical female reader here. Been a fan since Bush/Kerry. The only good thing about the Trump administration has been getting to read you guys every day rather than just at the buildup to elections.

I teach linguistic anthropology and a classic distinction between male and female roles is that men traditionally speak in public, and are involved in public events and affairs such as politics, while women speak in the home. Deborah Tannen refers to this as rapport-talk (home speech) and report-talk (public speech). This thinking has long roots in American history. In Colonial New England, boys were taught to read, write, and do arithmetic in preparation for running their own businesses and being involved in public affairs, while many girls were taught just how to read and sew—only girls from wealthier families got to learn how to write and do math. This distinction often justified the disenfranchisement of women, until the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in the 1920s.

While more women than ever are involved in public affairs and politics—for example Joe Biden's cabinet has many highly qualified women in it—it is still a swim against a strong stream for women to take an interest in politics including running for business or working for government. The Trump administration has shown how basic rights women assumed were safe can be taken away, leading to many women entering the political field that never participated before. I do wonder, however, what the overlap is between Women's March participants and traditional political junkies. I come from a political family and have been an election junkie for years, but your site's low number of women perhaps reflects that the current women's political movement focuses on different things than your site does, creating different networks that don't lead to

M.B. in Pittsboro, NC, writes: In answer to A.L. in Osaka as to why Electoral-Vote has few female readers, my only idea centers around the general objectivity of the site, along with a high technical level of data, historical fact, and political detail. In other words, perhaps many women—and indeed many men—find it too academic and data-driven for their taste. Suits this avid female reader just fine, though!

N.F. in San Francisco, CA, writes: I am a math teacher, and I love quantitative analysis. Are more men than women into the numbers? I am not saying that men are better at math than women, because of course I don't think that! But women have been historically less represented in STEM education and work, and have often internalized messaging that they are not cut out for math. Some of that has been changing recently, as more women enter STEM fields. But among the older readership you tend to get, this difference may be stronger. Compared to some other politics-oriented websites and news sources, you have a larger focus on the numbers. Maybe that attracts more men.

Maybe more men than women are interested in Electoral Politics? My quick Google search found this:

Female respondents were 50 percent more likely than male respondents to say that working for a charity is the best way to bring about change. Men, on the other hand, were nearly twice as likely as women to see running for elective office as the best way to bring about change (see Figure 8). Women and men both aspire to work to improve the world around them. But women are much less likely than men to see political leadership as a means to that end. Our findings, in essence, highlight the importance of deepening our understanding of the manner in which young women and men in contemporary society are still socialized about politics, the acquisition of political power, and the characteristics that qualify individuals to seek it.

I will say that I don't think I've ever found anything on your site offensive as a woman. So I don't see anything that would be especially a turn-off to women in that way.

E.H. in Westford, MA, writes: I am a woman who reads a small number of politics websites, but avidly. The really short answers why there are so few women are: (1) women have better things to do than argue all day, and (2) politics seems, to many, to be mostly arguing.

May I repeat that? Politics seems, to many, to be mostly arguing.

Now, you know and I know that laws affect our lives, and policy can be made wisely, and that it matters who our leaders are. Lots of women know that. But at electoral-vote, our primary underlying interest is the horse race. Who has time for that, beyond the nightly news? The women I know who are most like me politically, are spending their political time watching Rachel Maddow. Among them I'm the anomaly in that I get my political news from websites.

I also know lots of women who are activists, phone banking for candidates or talking with their representatives about legislation. They are not sitting around reading the Internet. I'm rare in that I have the time to do both. I'm also rare in that while I was raised in a mostly female environment, I later went on to graduate work in a male dominated field. I've got a lot of logical skills and familiarity with male environment BS. My underlying reason to read these websites is that I'm looking for hope—hope that my team will win elections, hope that Trump's crimes will be brought to justice, hope that we can, through policy or messaging, repair some of the divides in the U.S.

G.A. in Carnation, WA, writes: I am a male reader who sees politics as a competition (war?) central to our lives. I want to know everything. My wife sees politics as unfair and corrupt and knowing everything takes too much of an emotional toll for something she has no control over. She listens when I read something uniquely interesting out loud.

V.H. in Lexington, MA, writes: I am one of your (apparently) few female readers. I like your mix of politics, history, technology, but I particularly like your calm analysis. I recommended your site to my daughter (now another one of your few female readers) because I thought your facts-based approach would help her with her pre-election anxiety. She tells me that it did. I find your site refreshingly old-fashioned. No crowds of maniacs screaming in the comments section. No (or not much) name calling. Occasional misses, but a lot more hits. What's not to like?

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: As one of your female readers (and it was my sister who introduced me to your website), I can't really say why so few of us follow political sites, unless women generally perceive politics as too adversarial. Or (channeling my inner Mean Girl) they're too busy reading/watching true crime crap, or obversely, Hallmark movies, in their limited spare time. Incidentally, both those genres speak to a sense of powerlessness, so draw your own conclusions.

M.G., Indianapolis, IN, writes: You lack female readership because you don't have stories about "sex, children or pets." That is what I was taught in broadcast journalism courses.

Other than that the site really needs a makeover. The front page graphic is OK, but not sexy. The font for the words is pretty boring. Needs more color. After all that, you get a sense the site is no-frills by the looks.

V & Z respond: We keep it low-tech so that it loads smoothly and quickly across all platforms (hardware, operating systems, and browsers, including older ones), and all types of connections. And we keep the color palette simple so that it's properly visible to everyone, including those who may have color blindness.

L.B. in Friendswood, TX, writes: I am one of your female readers. I have voted in every election since I turned 18, and have twice been a delegate to my Democratic County Convention back when Texas had caucuses at each precinct after the polls closed. I started reading your site prior to Obama's election in 2008. (I don't remember how I came across it.)

My guess is that women still have most of the household and childcare responsibilities, and after a long day of work (in an office or at home), some sort of light entertainment of the fictional type is preferred over political reading. When my son reached high school age, I did not need to spend as much time on his direct care, so I had more time and energy for other pursuits.

Now that I am retired (a year earlier than I had planned due to fear of teaching during COVID-19), I read your site and several others every day to keep informed (and occasionally comment).

D.C.W. in Fredericksburg, Texas, writes: I truly do not know why you do not have more readers who are women. I have recommended your site to every woman I know who is politically interested.

My situation is that I am a very young 70 year old, retired from managing a finance company. I live in the country now and we manage our property for wildlife and grow organic veggies. By choice, we do not have network nor cable TV, just satellite radio. Most of my day is outside, but I start each day reading your site on my laptop at my breakfast bar, as does my husband on his own laptop (I also subscribe to Political Wire). We often comment to each other about the day's offerings. I just find your site to be the most concise, reliable, reasonable, and witty resource. It is fun to read. I respect your intelligence, good writing, wit, humor, and lack of malice. And I like the sports references and the history lessons.

I suspect that many women of the age of most of your readers just do not have the luxury of taking the time to enjoy the site like I do. Most women still have more demands on their time than men do, sorry to say. Men, please don't take issue. It is just true. Maybe male readers could take time to share the site with the women in their lives and encourage them to engage and enjoy.

M.S. in Manhattan Beach, CA, writes: You wrote: "Truth be told, we have absolutely no idea"—and that's the problem. From the perspective of an occasional female reader, as brilliant and insightful as you both are, the fact that you do not have the lived experience or the scope of interests of a woman makes all the difference.

T.C. in New York, NY, writes: Could it be because the site is written by two men? Something about the style and voice just screams "male" to me, not that that's inherently bad. I guarantee if you had one female staff writer, you would have more female readers.

B.P. in Salt Lake City, UT, writes: I wonder if female readers visit sites or read op-ed posts of female writers? Or if female readership on political sites might grow when the vice-president is a woman?

J.D. in Greensboro, NC, writes: My opinion about why more males read your site than females is that politics is a game with winners and losers and the accompanied feeling of victory and loss. While many women also enjoy games, for the most part most men seem to have it woven into their DNA.

The advent of the Internet makes it easier for most people to become involved in politics and the behind the scenes results of every election. So for me, as a woman, I am avidly interested in politics now because more and more women are gaining access to positions of power. This has been long overdue and the implications of how it will affect the governing of this country now and in the future are exciting to see.

Women have been gaining acclaim in the world of sports as well and it benefits all of us to allow future generations to realize that they have a great deal to contribute with their talents and leadership abilities.

I do not enjoy game playing, but I do enjoy reading about the field becoming a bit more level for women.

J.B. in Seattle, WA, writes: I am a women in her 50s who was educated at a small liberal arts college followed by law school. I'm an independent voter who gravitates towards common-sense, non-biased news sources. I found your website through a link from The Bulwark a few months ago and instantly became a daily reader. I'd suggest that the next time you run a survey you should ask readers what Myers-Briggs group they are in. I'd bet that we're clustered in a few categories that also have a strong male correlation. You are a wonky site, and more men are interested marinating in such political wonkiness. Many of my politically-engaged women friends are writing letters to voters in Georgia because they feel so passionately about those races. Readers of your site will know how poorly that type of activity played out in Maine, but my friends feel very strongly that what they are doing is necessary. I'm sure they don't read your site, but why wouldn't they appreciate logical analysis that might support their feelings? I'd suggest that naming your site puts up a barrier to discovery by the feelings group!

More interesting to me than the barriers is the fact that women should want to read your site. As a professional woman I enjoy the complete absence of mansplaining. I appreciate that you are trying to call balls and strikes—that you present facts, context and analysis that isn't trying to steer us to a politicized conclusion. I enjoy that you present your views and analyses with humbleness and humor. You have smart, respectful readers who have thoughtful, honest questions and who are genuinely looking for thoughtful, honest explanations. You consistently call out jerky male behavior and appreciate the challenges for women in the public sphere. Frankly, the lack of male ego exhibited on this site makes me sometimes wonder if you aren't secretly women...The content you produce is fun, informative and refreshing for this female reader. Thank you for what you do!

V & Z respond: Hm. Is taken? (We kid, we kid.)

N.K. in Ithaca, NY, writes: I'm a woman. Both my husband and I regularly read—and appreciate—your site, its insights, perspectives, and snarkiness. He responded to your survey; I read through it, considered my responses, and ultimately did not submit them. To me, answering felt more performative than informative. If a disproportionate number of other women also held back in this way, the overwhelmingly male response rate might reflect a degree of sampling bias. For what it's worth, I also intentionally forego a social media presence.

R.R. in Westborough, MA, writes: For the record, I am a female reader who did not take the survey because I did not want to make predictions about the election. As a result, I was not included in the demographic data.

J.C. in New York, NY, writes: I was amazed at the gender breakdown of the your readers. May I suggest a possible theory...ADHD? No, hear me out. I am 44-year-old male, Masters degree, midwest U.S. resident blessed (really) with childhood and adult ADHD. The layout of your site is fantastic from my viewing perspective. The red to black color distinction between the question and response is user friendly. The articles are concise, fact-driven, and witty...hallmarks of reading formats enjoyed by people with ADHD...a diagnosis that heavily favors the male portion of the population.

K.C. in Arlington, VA, writes: I'm one of your few female readers. I'm an old white gal. Ohio born and raised in farm country. College education. Current Federal employee (but don't narc me out, ok?). I'm very low level. Oh, and a Warren voter, if that helps you get an idea. I found your site via a gay male friend who knew my interest in politics and history (not necessarily political history).

I started reading around 2015 or so and liked the tone of your site so I keep coming back. I don't have time to wade through a mountain of garbage to find a gem. You don't make your readers wade through endless garbage trying to find the gem. You just straight up hand us the gems and I appreciate that very much.

This is my "morning paper" that I read eating breakfast. You don't fluff and puff to fill space. You give insightful commentary with a historical perspective and always have some interesting links.

It's sort of like eavesdropping in a D.C. coffeeshop as a pundit and a historian discuss politics. They don't know I'm listening so they just talk.

Please just keep talking and pretend I'm not here.

V & Z respond: Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful responses!

Dr. Jill Biden

P.K. in Marshalltown, Iowa, writes: As the possessor of a doctorate in American History from the University of Illinois (I met Hillary Clinton, our graduation speaker, while being hooded), I remain appalled but not surprised at the "controversy" involving Jill Biden. While I am willing to poke bears with friends who have Ed.D. degrees about the difference between that and the Ph.D., they still rightfully may call themselves "Doctor."

Having labored in the groves of academia for nearly 40 years now, the academic doctorate provides considerable standing on campus. If I were to meet Jill Biden, I would call her what she asks to be called. She is a doctor and, Lord knows, she earned it. If this is the best the right can do, it's going to be a long presidency for them.

S.M. in Baltimore, MD, writes: I am a public school teacher currently working on my M.Ed and wishing I was never born, so I don't even want to contemplate getting a Ph.D. or an Ed.D. And while the entire culture of "I insist you call me a Dr." is a little amusing to me, I have a measure of respect for those who have done the necessary work in pursuit of the degree. I think the entire "Doctor-gate," as contrived and stupid as this "controversy" is, might be a bit less about misogyny than it is about the conservatives' deep-seated hatred of educators, especially university professors and public school teachers. I was born and raised in a different country, and, while the teaching profession isn't highly paid anywhere, it's quite astounding to me how little respect and how much derision teachers get in America.

In the minds of so many conservatives, we are just parasitic vermin who suck on the teat of the American taxpayer to stuff their Christian children's brains full of communism and evolution. Donald Trump Jr. articulated this quite directly, calling us "loser socialist teachers" and imploring American kids not to listen to us (thanks, Don, I am having enough trouble teaching my students the distributive property of equality without associating it with Marx, but now that you mention it...)

The fact is, American teachers are basically highly-educated, terribly overworked professionals working under constant scrutiny, incessant demands for professional development, in a highly responsible position, for a pittance and with zero respect from society, especially its right part.

Even the "good" Republicans are all in on the anti-teacher madness. Here in Maryland, the fabled Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who got elected easily in our deep blue state, has never met a public school he didn't want to defund and has sworn to never approve additional money for public schools while he was governor. Maryland voters don't mind, because this is a state where public schools carry a terrible stigma, and even the most liberal suburban moms won't hear of anything other than a Catholic prep school for their kids.

I dare say that if Jill Biden had a doctorate in law or in physics, the right would have found something else to get worked up about. But a teacher was too perfect a target to pass up.

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: During my time at UC Berkeley, I had many male professors that used the title "doctor." None of them had ever practiced medicine. I myself have a Masters degree, but because I am female, Tucker Carlson would probably prefer to have it called a Mistress degree.

A.S. in Hanover, NH, writes: I was surprised that (V) and (Z) were so flippant about not using their "Dr." titles, but I think that may have to do with them both being male. As a woman with a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, I use the "Dr." title to encourage people to take me seriously. I consider it to be a (small but significant) power move and a way to counteract the common experience of being underestimated as a woman. I appreciate Dr. Jill Biden using her title, and I hope it inspires other women to assert their power.

K.C. in El Cajon, CA, writes: I can add a "legal" sidelight to the Dr. question. Law school graduates (such as myself) get a Juris Doctorate, or J.D. Seemingly, only those who don't go on to pass a Bar Exam use the J.D., but I'm not aware of anyone who uses the "Dr." In the mid-1960s my father hired a new attorney, who had one of the then-new J.D. degrees. He jokingly attached a "Dr." on the new hire's office placard. However the joke was on him when the University of Illinois (where they both matriculated) retired Dad's 1936 L.L.B. degree and granted all their graduates J.D.s.

As a side note, the use of "Esq." as an attorney designation was unknown, at least in Illinois. To me, it is both too nebulous and too pompous; I use "Attorney at Law" when needed.

T.I. in Regina, Saskatchewan, writes: In your item on Jill Biden's use of the term "Doctor," you write that "'doctor' actually means 'teacher,' and not 'practitioner of medicine.'"

Now as academics, you know that a word in English can have more than one meaning. The original meaning of "doctor" was "highly respected Christian theologian," a "doctor of the Church." That meaning dates back to the 1200s. According to, the more general meaning of a person with an advanced university degree who teaches dates back to the late 1300s, while the meaning of "medical practitioner" first appears around 1400, although it didn't really take off until the late 1500s.

The honorific "Doctor" thus has three different meanings, all of them dating back several centuries.

J.M. in Portland, OR, writes: I had a friend who was a Ph.D. He told me the only time he used the title "Dr." was when calling the police. Their attention and response time greatly improved.

V & Z respond: It also helps with landlords, and when trying to get onto an airplane.

The 2020 Election

M.G. in Springfield, PA, writes: A unique (I think) contribution to the yard sign polling thread, post-election edition: A few of my neighbors still have their Trump signs out, and some are paired with Trump flags, "Blue Lives Matter" paraphernalia, and the like. One yard features a homemade "Stop the Steal" sign. Walking my dog recently, however, I noticed the "e" was gone, so that it now reads, "Stop the Stal." Perhaps it just fell off—we have had a few windy days of late. I think it more likely, though, that someone else—maybe a fellow neighbor who has had enough of this insanity—surreptitiously removed the "e" in order to convey a more reality-based message. I generally don't condone defacing property, but in this case, I'm okay with it.

M.M. in El Paso, TX, writes: The bookmakers may have made a fortune raising the stakes on Trump on election night, but it also provided the relatively rare opportunity for the bettor's dream of a "middle" where you could bet both sides at numbers which meant you could not lose. Going into election night, my "weekend investment broker" had Biden favored (no doubt due to the polls) and Trump at anywhere from +200 to +250. which means a $100 bet on Trump would bring $200 to $250 if he won. On election night the numbers swung wildly to favor Trump with Biden +300 to +350. As a consequence, a person who had followed the articles preceding the election, the ones predicting a "red wave" on election night followed by a "blue tsunami" of later absentee votes, could have bet $100 each way, on Trump at +200/250 on November 2 and Biden at +300/350 on the evening of November 3, and been assured of winning no matter who actually won the election, pocketing $100/150 if Trump won or $200/250 when Biden did, even after absorbing the loss on the other. Several of my friends did this. I did not as I superstitiously did not want to jinx the outcome.

V & Z respond: Ah yes, successful arbitrage betting is the bettor's holy grail.

J.C. in Oxford, England, writes: The sportsbooks are a good story, but the exchanges are even funnier.

Betfair had a market on the projected winner of the Electoral College, something clearly stated in the terms, but carelessly called it "next president." They settled the market after the Electoral College met, with Trump still pulling in bets at 20-1 from gullible Trump supporters (I made over £100 since November 10).

Now they are facing Trump-style lawsuits from those Trump supporters who want the market settled on the basis of dueling electors, or open until January 20, or voided for "Electoral College" and "Next President" not being the same thing.

What's Next?

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I think we've learned where Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) stands on the possibility of a place in the Biden administration. Given that he's intent on inserting a poison pill into the COVID relief bill in the form of a provision that knee-caps the Fed's emergency powers to keep the economy afloat and workers employed, he's sending a clear message that he's not interested.

Which brings me to my next point: Why do Democrats have such trouble putting together a coherent, compelling message on their priorities for this bill? When it comes to aid for state and local governments, why isn't anyone talking about these entities as employers? Why do big businesses, whose sole goal is profits and who employ far fewer people, get our taxpayer dollars while the employers whose mission is providing critical services like police, fire, education, and healthcare get bupkis? Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is out there pushing for direct payments, which as we all know is the least effective and most wasteful approach. I'm sure those recipients would much rather stay employed, particularly if their job involves keeping people safe and healthy. It's just lazy and short-sighted, and I was embarrassed to see so-called progressives crowing that they got this "concession" from Republicans. They must know that Republicans love direct payments because it's like throwing loaves of bread to the Romans—the crowd cheers but it doesn't actually lift anyone's prospects and keeps the masses angry and volatile and looking for scapegoats for their declining quality of life.

J.G., Cushing, Maine, writes: I am aware of two states that are not getting the allotment of vaccines that they were promised. I live in one (Maine), while the other is Michigan. There has not been much national concern, though it does get mentioned regularly on our local news stations. The interesting thing about these two states is that their governors are both women and Democrats who were roundly criticized by their right-wing constituents for their insistence on shutting down and mask-wearing.

Pfizer has stated that they have the vaccine available and are waiting for direction from Operation Warp Speed where to ship them. Having watched tRump for 4 years, I think it's very probable that he is busy getting even with two democratic governors who wouldn't go along with his fairy tale about COVID. I haven't seen any news comments that this is the case, but reducing the number of vaccines we are getting is troubling, and appears punitive. Last night I heard that a third state was also not getting its allotment of vaccines: New Jersey. While their governor is not a woman, he too has been critical of tRump and his incompetence. Is there another explanation of this failure to follow through by Operation Warp Speed?

J.B. in Hutto, TX, writes: I read with interest your item regarding legislation intended to limit the powers of the President. I agree with everything the legislation hopes to achieve, but one issue of presidential power above all stands out to me that is not addressed in the proposal: the power of the President of the United States to unilaterally order a nuclear strike. During the last four years, I have lived in terror that Donald Trump—given his recklessness, thoughtlessness, thin-skinned self-obsession, and disregard for human life—would get caught up in a showdown with a foreign leader akin to the Cuban Missile Crisis and flippantly order a nuclear attack. The whole world could have been turned into a radioactive parking lot all because of a weak man's fragile ego.

There are no real controls on a president's ability to order a nuclear strike. In the summer of 2017, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift, was asked at a press conference if he would launch nuclear weapons against China if ordered by the President to do so; he unhesitatingly said "yes." The various rules in place, such as the "two-man rule," are only to establish the President's identity when he is giving the order to launch, not actual limits on his authority. If the President didn't like the soufflé he had during a state visit to France, there is nothing in the law preventing the President from nuking Paris. Setting aside the question of character, what if the President is drunk? What if someone is holding a gun to his head, or his child's head? What if the President has lost his mind? The dangerous possibilities are endless and the consequences could literally be the end of human civilization on Earth.

In the last two sessions of Congress, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act has been introduced to address this problem. It would establish in law that, given that the constitutional authority to declare war lies with Congress rather than the executive branch, the President cannot launch a nuclear strike without a declaration of war or unless the enemy has launched a nuclear strike against the United States or one of its allies. If you ask me, this legislation should be a top priority in the next session of Congress.

T.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: In response to the question about the ability of Donald Trump to rig the vote on electors, besides the political problems, there are also the legal problems.

To legally arrest somebody, an officer either needs an arrest warrant or probable cause. I can't see any judge signing off on an arrest warrant, and there is no probable cause to arrest a member of Congress. If a federal or state law enforcement officer were to arrest a person without probable cause, they would, at the very least, face a civil rights suit for violating the Fourth Amendment. And, in rare cases, they could actually face some form of kidnapping/false imprisonment charge. Given that, in the case of these members of Congress, the officers would know that they lacked probable cause and were doing it for an improper motive, criminal charges would be a real probability.

Federal law enforcement agencies tend to be rather selective in recruiting new agents and have very thorough training programs. So any federal agents recruited to participate in such a scheme are going to be aware of the risks of very serious consequences if they fail. And that's going to make it difficult to find willing agents, even if they generally support Trump. Additionally, it probably will require going outside the normal chains of command within the agencies which will make the agents even more aware that they are being asked to do something that is improper and illegal. To succeed, the conspiracy would have to guess right on each agent that it attempted to recruit. If one agent reports the conspiracy to a proper person or the news media, it will fail before it even begins.

Finally, where would these agents take the arrested members of Congress? The missing members of Congress would quickly become a news item. If the members were being detained at home, the neighbors would notice the presence of federal vehicles at the home, and that news would be quickly shared. It would not take long to get a district judge to issue a writ of habeas corpus and law-abiding federal agents would quickly go to serve it. Likewise, if the members of Congress were transported to a real holding facility, that information would become public rather quickly. It is hard to hide twenty or thirty members of Congress suddenly arriving at a federal detention facility (and again you would need every employee of that facility to be in on the conspiracy to keep it a secret).

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Perhaps Donald Trump thinks that after he leaves the presidency, he can begin building Trump Tower Moscow, and maybe even move there to avoid New York prosecutors or potential civil lawsuits. He doesn't realize, however, that once he's out of office he won't be of any use to Vladimir Putin. At that time, Putin could encourage his corrupt banker associates to demand payment on the loans they made to Trump. In order to cause further damage to Americans' faith in democracy, Putin could release the compromising material he holds over Trump.

Aside from Putin, Trump might turn to his other favorite world leaders, hoping they'd welcome him to their countries to build condos, hotels, or golf courses where there's available land and cheap labor. The places that come to mind are Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, India (hey, another Trump Taj Mahal!), Israel, North Korea, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Trump doesn't understand that after he's out of office, associating with him will be more trouble than it's worth to Jair Bolsonaro, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Viktor Orban, Narendra Modi, Benjamin Netanyahu, Kim Jong-un, Rodrigo Duterte, Mohammed bin Salman, or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

B.H. in Westborough, MA, writes: Now that the fat turtle has sung, one cannot conclude anything other than Trump's antics threaten the Republican party now and in the future. As you have pointed out, Trump's messaging and fundraising are hurting the Republican senators in Georgia—it's all about turnout and Trump is saying that elections are unfair, so why bother? If Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler (both R-GA) lose, the Democrats get the trifecta. Yes, there are "lanes," but there's already divisive hatred within the Party for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—the traitor who is frightened to say what is painfully obvious, yet is blasphemous to the faithful. And make no mistake, McConnell rules over the Republicans in the Senate. Trump won't go away—the money in his PAC assures that. So, some big chunk of Republicans go with Trump, the rest move on with McConnell and other Republicans in the House/Senate, and does the split party ever have a chance to regain power? Methinks not, as long as Trump or a derivation thereof is part of the picture. All this would be entertaining to watch if it weren't so undermining to the basic tenets of free elections that we have, until now, taken for granted.

J.M. in Norco, CA, writes: If we Democrats were half as smart as we think we are; if Trump voters are half as angry and gullible as we believe them to be; if we'd be just half as duplicitous as they've shown themselves to be, there would be a glitzy, catchy, organized, sophisticated, and large scale campaign across Georgia to encourage voters to write-in Trump's name—TWO TIMES. Picture this: "prove to the world that your hero got far more votes in Georgia than Biden did!

Seriously, could The Donald resist endorsing such a plan?

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: (V) commented on a recent unpleasant Georgia poll: "Emerson has a slight Republican bias, so don't put too much stock in the small difference between the candidates. In the end, it is all about which party is better at turning out the faithful."

Of course, when you say "bias" you are talking about their model, and not implying intentional Rasmussen/Trafalgar style bias. The only trouble is that Emerson, I believe, did better than any other pollster at calling the downballot races. So maybe their "bias" is something to worry about. Dammit, I was all set to enjoy our snowstorm and you ruined my breakfast.

V & Z respond: Yes, we meant that in the sense of "house effect," and did not intend to imply any dishonesty.

P.S. in Marion, IA , writes: It's certainly that the general trend is that midterm elections don't tend to be terribly good for the sitting president. However, what most don't usually consider is that most of the time when a new president is elected, they're doing so riding a wave. So, most of the time in a midterm election, the party out of the White House will have the benefit of "the only way to go is up," and vice-versa. This time the blue wave ended up being a puddle.

We only have to go back to 1998 and 2002 to find the last time the party with the White House made some gains (albeit modest ones). In 2002, coincidentally enough, Republicans were working from a starting point of...wait for it...222 House seats (if you count Virgil Goode, an independent who ran in subsequent elections as a Republican), and 50 Senate Seats.

K.F. in Framingham, MA, writes: R.S. from NV asked if rather than promoting Puerto Rico and D.C. to statehood, the least populous current states, such as Wyoming, could be demoted to mere territories. You pointed out that the Constitution explicitly states that the federal government cannot deprive any existing state of its representation in the Senate without its consent.

However, another approach would be to get Montana and Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota, as well as New Hampshire and Vermont to come together to form three larger states. Perhaps you can convince Delaware to join with Pennsylvania. How about the states of Wytana and Dakota? Maybe Mount Hampshire? Pennsylvania is big enough to keep its original name after annexing Delaware. And Canada's Mounties could probably overtake and subsume Alaska. Sorry, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both R-AK). Then we may as well go ahead and add PR and DC as states. Following this, if California broke up into three states, there may be a chance to get the Senate more balanced proportionately. And Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) probably wouldn't need to fear a recall as governor of the state of San Franmento. The likelihood of any of those changes happening: yeah, pretty much zero.

L.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: I understand the frustration and anger of C.W. in Carlsbad, who would just as soon let the 18 states that signed on to the Texas lawsuit leave the United States and form their own country. I've seen similar sentiments around the web, in different forums and from different people.

I can't agree with this. We talk about red and blue states, but the fact is that more people voted for Joe Biden in Texas than in New York, and a third of California's votes went to Donald Trump. There are Democrats and Republicans in every state. Splitting up the country would be a disaster in so many ways: in the money that wouldn't flow from richer states to poorer states, in the laws and treaties that would have to implemented to handle commerce among the resulting countries, in the new country's relations with, say, the European Union and with countries generally considered to be adversaries of the United States. All you need to do is look at what has come out of the Brexit vote, which was supposedly advisory only.

I just can't imagine abandoning the citizens who live in those 18 states, and I hope it never comes to that.


V.B.G. in Decatur, GA, writes: In reply to D.J. in Denver's question about how to identify cisgender men and transgender women, or cisgender women and transgender men, when discussing issues relevant to each: the terms D.J. is looking for are "Assigned Male At Birth" (AMAB) and "Assigned Female At Birth" (AFAB).

I am a transgender woman. So, while I'm not a man, I was AMAB, which means I may require regular prostate exams. Transgender men, as D.J. implied, may be at risk for ovarian cancer, like women who were also AFAB.

I hope this clarifies the matter, and I thank D.J. for asking.

C.K. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: I wanted to respond to the question from D.J. in Denver, CO, who asked for the appropriate terminology when speaking of the group that includes trans women and cis men, or the group that includes trans men and cis women. I believe the terms that D.J. is looking for are AMAB or AFAB (Assigned Male/Female At Birth.) I've also sometimes seen MAAB/FAAB (same thing, but different word order) and DMAB/DFAB ("Designated" instead of "Assigned"), but it appears that AMAB/AFAB have won out and are the de facto standard, at least for now.

Also, some unrelated advice: "men" and "women" (as in "the group that includes trans women and cis men," like how I put it in this response) is generally seen as warmer, more humanizing, and less objectifying than "males" and "females" (as in "the commonalities of cis-males and trans-females," to quote the phrasing D.J. used in their original question.)

M.R. in Boston, MA, writes: In response to D.J. in Denver, CO, who struggles to find a word "when discussing the commonalities of cis-males and trans-females, and of cis-females and trans-males." It may be this feels like a struggle because you sense it is asking a marginalized group to navigate whether the word you chose is applicable to them. However, for what you want to say, that isn't necessary. Use phrasing that is specific to the need at hand, and allow your reader to decide for themselves whether it applies to them. "People who currently have a cervix should get pap smears." "People who currently have a prostate should get screened for prostate cancer." This will feel respectful to trans folks and unobjectionable to all but the most radical of everyone else.

C.C. in Saint Paul, MN, writes: Two readers sent in stories about a rapist in a women's prison in the U.K., who happens to be a transgender woman, as an argument against integrating trans-women and women. Cis-gender woman here. Men have never needed elaborate schemes to find opportunities to rape women in the past, and they don't need them now.

If you wish to remove easy opportunities to rape women in prison, start with the male guards. And before an avalanche of cisgender men "Not-All-Men" me, save it. The argument against trans women seems predicated on it giving them an opportunity to easily rape, so let's talk about opportunities. It's far less work to get a job as a prison guard than changing (or pretending to change) genders.

Trans women are women and they are our natural allies. Their liberation is not at odds with feminism. Our liberation is intertwined.

J.M. in Montpelier, VT, writes: L.E. in NY wrote in about a case of a trans prisoner who was convicted of assault against other prisoners. While awful, this case is not representative of a general trend. Trans people are far more likely to be the victims of violence in prison than the perpetrators. Moreover, even if we generously assume that L.E. did not know this, their assertion that "the more people insist trans women are women, the more this will happen" would still be a completely unsupported leap of logic. When cisgender women commit violent crimes, we do not say this proves they must be men and incarcerate them in men's prisons. Women who commit acts of violence are obviously still women, so L.E.'s conclusion is a non sequitur.

I appreciate (V) and (Z)'s willingness to give a platform to trans readers' perspectives (including my own, on multiple occasions), and I understand that as political analysts and educators they have an interest in investigating all sides of controversies, but I don't know how many more rounds I can keep this up. One of the many challenging aspects of combating marginalization is that the very people who are the most qualified to debunk bigoted arguments are the same people for whom engaging with those arguments is the most exhausting. Having to publicly debate the validity of one's own identity is a humiliating and dehumanizing experience—one that I sincerely hope L.E. will never have.

C.T. in Carrollton, TX, writes: I wanted to comment as one of your (probably very few) gay male readers. I've been reading your site every day since 2004 (when you didn't post every day). Regarding the gay discussions in yesterday's question and answer session: it should not matter to straight people who in history was or was not gay. "Gayness" has no impact on a person's ability to contribute to the country as a president, actor, political figure, celebrity, singer or what have you. We should accept the reality that each public figure chose to present to the world and leave their sex life out of public discussion of them. I, personally, am open and proud of being gay and my husband is as well. If I were a U.S. senator or president one day, I'd be happy to let people know, much the same as Mayor Pete. But, if I weren't of that opinion, I'd prefer people choose to respect my feelings and decisions. So maybe we stop obsessing over who was and who was not gay and instead discuss their contributions?

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: In your answer to the question of E.W. in Skaneateles, you should have included Oscar Wilde as a historical figure who belongs to the LGBTQ community. I think there's total consensus about that.

M.W.W. in Port Orchard, WA, writes: E.W. in Skaneateles asked about historical figures who may have been gay. Might I recommend Gay Men and Women Who Enriched the World, by historian Thomas Cowan? He provides a brief biography, and whatever evidence may exist, hard or circumstantial, that those people were gay or at least bisexual. Among the ones you left out of your list are Frederick the Great, T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), Tchaikovsky, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Francis Bacon, and Horatio Alger, Jr. It's an excellent read.

Also, B.B. in St. Louis asked about how "Rocky Horror Picture Show" is perceived in the gay community. I can only speak to my experience, but it is generally loved and celebrated in the cities I've lived in: Salt Lake City, UT; Seattle, WA; Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale, FL; and currently Port Orchard, WA. Music videos of "Time Warp" and "Sweet Transvestite" are still occasionally played in gay bars. I speculate that it became the camp cultural phenomenon it is, not only for the music and implied sexuality, but as an answer to the depressing "The Boys In The Band," and to Woody Allen's "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex* (but were afraid to ask)," which didn't touch on homosexuality at all.

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: Gaydar may not be an exact science, but I know gay and trust me, Richard Nixon was not. (Joking! I have never heard that he might be, and have no idea. Sexuality is fluid and we now understand that the majority of people are not 100% gay or 100% straight, regardless if it's acted on or not.)

I can also echo your answer that as a young gay man in the 80's, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was an eye-opening experience. It showed me for the first time that I was not alone and had value when few other places told me so. It gave me hope and an understanding that I was part of a larger community. One that I was just beginning to find. It also opened my mind and education to the many shades of sexuality and gender. That's when I learned the differences between transvestite, transsexual (both now outdated labels) and drag. It was my introduction to understanding and valuing the transgender community. An ongoing process for our country that sadly still has a ways to go.

Of course, this is just my experience and I can't speak for every LGBTQIA+ person who's seen "Rocky Horror." (FYI: LGBTQIA+ stands for: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Ally and the "+" is for everyone who doesn't neatly fit into any of these identities. I recommend A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities by Mady G. and J.R. Zuckerberg to learn more.)

And yes, the soundtrack deserves its own honorable mention on the list of anthems significant to my community.

T.V. in Sequim, WA, writes: As a gay man who was coming to terms with his sexuality when "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" came out, I am not unbiased in my views on this movie. Besides being a great homage to movie genres with a great soundtrack, the overt sexuality portrayed does a masterful job of pushing boundaries of sexuality in all its forms. Even today, while we are still grappling with acceptance of trans, binary and queer people and culture, this movie can still provide a viewpoint that everyone should be accepted for who they are. This does not just apply to the LGBTQ community but to the sexuality of all people. While I can understand that no particular song would make a top 10 list because of the relative obscurity of the soundtrack (possible exception of "Time Warp"), the soundtrack is exceptional. From "Over at the Frankenstein Place." as a song about the upcoming sexual awakening of our "normal" straight couple, to the in-your-face "Sweet Transvestite," the lyrics and music help guide the viewer on their journey. For this gay man this movie definitely still has an important place as a fun LGBTQ friendly movie with a strong statement about sexual acceptance.

J.M. in Seattle, WA, writes: I've been in the "RHPS" community on and off for thirty years now, seeing it over 300 times and performing over 200 times in shadow casts.

The main thing I noticed about the blog post you linked was that it focused heavily on the movie itself, and almost nothing on the audiences that see it. The movie is actually not very good, but the overall experience definitely is, with a live shadow cast, callback lines, and more importantly, being around a lot of similarly minded people. Once you get past the people who just come once in a while to see what's up (which is great, please do), each venue has a group of regulars.

The main engine driving any regular production of "Rocky" is youth. It's a place where teenagers can hang out until 2am doing something racy-but-not-bad, before they're old enough for things like bars. There are usually some older folks, too—I was a regular until about 31—often with an unstated purpose of keeping an eye on the kids and their safety. As those kids grow up and find other interests, new ones turn old enough to give it a try, and the show lives on.

You can see how that environment would attract LGBTQ youth, and how they would carry away positive memories from it. But I'm a boring cis-het guy, and we can feel just as welcome, as long as we're welcoming to others. The movie is only the starting point—indeed showing how sexuality can be fringe or fluid or flashy—but it's each theater's community that's the real show in the long run.

N.F. in San Francisco, CA, writes: I appreciate your sensitivity to LGBT concerns. In particular, when you addressed possible queerness in historical figures yesterday, you addressed it as "LGBT" rather than gay or lesbian. As a bisexual person, I appreciate that you include all the possibilities and recognize that sexuality can be more complex, and of course is seen very differently in different cultures and historical periods. It's just maddening when reporters or scholars or what have you call someone gay or lesbian who is actually bi or pansexual. For example, I recently learned about this book by a bi-identifying author, with a plot description that sounds rather complicated sexually, but the publisher classified it as "Gay and Lesbian" studies. Thanks for being more modern than them!

V & Z respond: Thanks for the kind words. We try!

Historical Matters

D.F. in Portland, OR, writes: I would add a third reason why Northerners contested secession: they did not want a rival expansionist power to the south of them. There was a lot of Southern support for extending the Anglo-Saxon imperium into Latin America, and given a free hand they might well have conquered a lot of territory, exploited it plantation-style, and become a world power in their own right. So there was some sense among Northerners that they could fight Dixie now or fight her later, when the odds might be worse. Manifest Destiny is only a comfortable notion when you have sole ownership of it.

E.N.A. in Olalla, WA, writes: N.H.R. in London asked whether the election of 1960 or that of 2000 was more consequential.

I have followed your website for many years now but this is the first time I've felt compelled to write you. In response to the question, you wrote in part, "First, if Nixon won the election of 1960, and avoided assassination, he might well have kept the Vietnam War from happening." Beyond that you essentially write, "...we'd guess that the extent to which he actually would have changed the course of history is less than you might think...Recall that the Civil Rights Movement began in earnest in 1954..." I believe that you have missed some consequential issues here.

I was living in Virginia at the time of the Kennedy assassination and witnessed monumental changes that came as a result. When Lyndon Johnson succeeded Kennedy, he was able to leverage the Kennedy assassination and his subsequent landslide election to muscle through the Civil Rights Act in 1964, followed by the Voting Rights Act in 1965. These two pieces of legislation were largely supported by Republican members of Congress and northern Democrats and monumentally changed the election politics in this country as well as race relations. There had been concern that the bill would divide and produce a long-term change in the demographic support of both parties, and President Johnson was concerned that supporting this bill would risk losing the South's overwhelming support of the Democratic Party. But he and the Democrats went ahead with it anyway.

The resulting adjustment was that the solid South did turn on the Democratic Party, giving Richard Nixon the wedge he needed to turn the South from a Democratic stronghold to a Republican stronghold. Dixiecrats over subsequent years realigned their party affiliation from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. And New England switched from a Republican to a Democratic stronghold. All of this generated much of the realignment we still see in evidence today.

If Nixon had won the election of 1960 and Kennedy had not been assassinated as President, it is highly unlikely that Nixon would have pursued Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation. But if it had been a Republican that pursued these changes, the realignment of the solid South would likely not have happened. We can speculate what actually would have followed in terms of civil unrest and minority rights legislation, but the political outcome would have been far different from what actually occurred and the political world that resulted would have been far different from what we see today.

E.E.K. in Morgantown, WV, writes: Knowing that charisma is, at best, a nebulous concept and largely in the eye of the beholder, wouldn't Herbert Hoover be a strong contender for least charismatic President? He had the personality of an engineer, because he was one, and his campaign was dedicated to his demonstrated competence as opposed to personal appeal. Perhaps it is just the comparison to his successor, but Hoover always came across in the histories I've read as very smart, but very dry. I'm also presuming that you focused on Presidents who won the office at the top of the ticket, even though you listed Tyler and Fillmore as "also boring," because Andrew Johnson had negative charisma and Chester A. Arthur was a career machine politician who never was elected to any office in his own name. I'm no fan of Nixon, but he had least won his party's nomination three times; he must have appealed to somebody.

As far as most charismatic, I know historians want to fight to impulse to treat Washington as an American Romulus or Augustus who is top-rated at every presidential attribute, but by all accounts I've read Washington owned every room he ever walked into, and the force of his personality dominated the early days of our country. I'd be really tempted to put him at the top of the list. And it will be interesting to see where future historians rank Donald Trump in charisma as our first (hopefully last, but I am not confident in that) reality-star president. The draw he has over his cult is lost on me, but it certainly can't be based on demonstrated ability, intelligence, empathy, or competence.

Solarwinds Blows

S.C. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: I work for a company that uses Solarwinds and have some expertise on computer and network security.

Solarwinds is a network and application monitor and is considered a critical piece of infrastructure. Depending on what privilege level Solarwinds was run at, the malware can potentially do considerable damage. Also, logins to Solarwinds are mostly administrators, who in some cases have elevated privilege levels. Sniffing user account names and passwords would have been possible depending on the nature of the installed malware. It is likely this was how it exploited other systems.

What made this attack vector so successful was it got installed as part of routine updates to the software. In effect, the malware rode on top of the Solarwinds standard update process to get inside a victim's network. Ironically, sites that did not update Solarwinds were not affected by the malware.

This attack demonstrates the need for having multiple layers of security in place, even inside a site's edge firewalls. There are ways to do this, but it adds a lot of complexity and makes system and network management less convenient.

So far, my employer has not been affected and has patched the software, but given the sophistication of the attack, it is unclear whether the malware has truly been eliminated.

Play Us a Song, You're the Piano Man

D.S. in Winnetka, CA, writes: I would argue that Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young's "Ohio" should be on the list of influential songs. It kept the Kent State massacre in the public consciousness for far longer than it would have been in the regular news cycle, and has resonated with every anti-war movement since.

T.C. in Denver, CO, writes: As to songs influencing America's evolution: I cannot help but to count among them Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," specifically the moving 2016 performance by Kate McKinnon on "Saturday Night Live," after she had portrayed candidate Hillary Clinton throughout election season. In a week that saw the songwriter's death, Clinton's electoral defeat, and the seeming diminishment of all things good in America, her message at the end: "I'm not giving up, and neither should you."

J.D. in Glendale, CA, writes: Your definition of an influential song puts any of Elvis' first tunes way ahead of either Bill Haley or "Rocket 88" or even Chuck Berry, in my view. I suppose you could say it was the person not the song, but "Hound Dog" probably caused more people to forsake their parents' view of society and morals, and had a stronger societal behavioral effect (including guitar purchases), than any other rock and roll song mentioned.

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: I believe, if only to recognize the struggles of the last four years, we should add OK Go's "This Too Shall Pass."

R.R. in Nashville, TN, writes: "White Christmas" is not only the best-selling song of all time, but one that gives too many folk a false sense of the holidays, except...listen closely and it's "Just like the ones I used to know." In others words it's gone, over, kaput. No one ever registers that part.

T.P.W. in Okemos, MI, writes: How did so much about important songs get written with no mention of "I Ain't Marching Any More" by Phil Ochs?

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: Our current national anthem isn't even about the country; it's about the flag, and its tune, based on the English drinking song "To Anacreon in Heaven," can't be performed properly by anyone who isn't a trained singer. And the later (unsung) verse that mentions "hireling and slave" is completely inappropriate.

While there may not be much demand for a song that mentions lynchings and illegal abortion, Jean Rohe's "Arise! Arise!" would be my choice for a new national anthem if we ever decide to change it.

S.H. in Raleigh, NC, writes: "Rapper's Delight," the first widely popular rap song, ushered in the beginning of the song form that has come to dominate American music for the past 40 years.


R.D. in Rochester, NY, writes: I, for one, have been greatly heartened by all of Donald Trump's lawsuits contesting the integrity of the election. As a lifelong suffering fan of the Buffalo Bills, I now realize my team was 4-0 in Super Bowls, not 0-4. Everything was rigged against the Bills. The other teams cheated, the refs were biased against my team, the NFL (the ultimate "deep state") wanted large market teams to win, and the TV networks distorted the presentation of the games. Scott Norwood's field goal was actually good, but the TV broadcast was purposely manipulated to make it look as if the kick was "wide right." Ask someone who was there, they will tell you it was a "beautiful" kick. Evidence of this continuing fraud is out there and I will be presenting it soon. I will be filing a lawsuit in federal court to get these fake results thrown out and declare the Bills to be Super Bowl champions. Just as soon as I can get Rudy Guiliani, Sidney Powell and Ken Paxton to represent me.

V & Z respond: We're sorry to burst your bubble but, in fact, the Green Bay Packers are the winners of every Super Bowl, from the first to the most recent. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing. Record-breaking. That's what everyone's telling us.

W.F. in Mol, Belgium, writes: You guys are clearly afraid of Canada, but you're mistaken. Everyone knows that there is a more important danger than only Canada, namely the Netherlands. For proof? See here and here.

V & Z respond: There's a reason that those of us "in the know" refer to the Netherlands as "Canada East."

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec19 Saturday Q&A
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Dec18 Republican Party: All Is Well
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Dec18 Mike Pence: MIA
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Dec18 About the Betting Markets
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Dec17 Congress Is Getting Close to a New COVID-19 Relief Bill
Dec17 Pelosi Greenlights Haaland
Dec17 McCarthy Still Silent about Biden's Win
Dec17 Democrats Are Thinking about Reining in the President
Dec17 Ron Johnson Is Betting the Farm on Trump
Dec17 Trump Is Not Welcome in Florida
Dec17 Three-Quarters of the States Will Elect Governors in 2021 or 2022
Dec17 Today's Senate Polls
Dec16 McConnell Concedes Presidential Race
Dec16 The Grift Is Getting on Republicans' Nerves
Dec16 It's a Matter of Economy
Dec16 Iran Nuclear Deal Looks Likely to Come Back to Life
Dec16 It's Buttigieg for Transportation...
Dec16 ...and Granholm for Energy
Dec16 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Education
Dec16 Today's Senate Polls
Dec15 Biden Is Elected President
Dec15 Dis-Barred
Dec15 Trump Is Already Waffling on 2024
Dec15 Over 1 Million Absentee Ballots Have Been Requested in Georgia
Dec15 Newsom May Get to Appoint Two Senators
Dec15 Curtain Pulled Back on The Federalist's Funding
Dec15 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Transportation
Dec14 Today Is Election Day
Dec14 Trump: Election Challenges Are Not over
Dec14 Trump Is Cementing His Control over the Republican Party
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Dec14 Trump Vows to Veto the Defense Spending Bill
Dec14 Democrats Have to Decide Who Their Nemesis Is
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Dec14 Twenty Americans Who Explain the Election
Dec13 Sunday Mailbag
Dec12 SCOTUS to Texas: Mind Your Own Business
Dec12 Trump Orders Hahn to Approve Vaccine, Hahn Complies
Dec12 Saturday Q&A
Dec11 Party Above Country
Dec11 Trump Announces Moroccan Recognition of Israel (But Check the Fine Print)
Dec11 Biden Picks McDonough to Lead the VA
Dec11 Biden, Harris Are Time's "Persons of the Year"
Dec11 Biden Might Ride the Rails to Inaugural