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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We hope you are interested in at least one of the following: (1) responses to P.M. in Currituck, (2) thoughts on women readers, or (3) historically significant films, because we got at least 100 letters on each subject.

A Final 24 Hours of P.M.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: There were several statements in PM's most recent rebuttal that compel me to reluctantly mount this weary steed and ride towards the glue factory. Before I do so, I would like to preface by saying that I feel that P.M. is a decent, well meaning person. For me, political discourse is not about scoring points or convincing others of your opinion but rather a willingness to understand both sides of the subject matter. I have to salute anyone willing to engage in a political discourse in which they are open to self-reflection. I hope that during their time in Hampton Roads P.M. and I somehow crossed paths because I read in their words a genuineness, despite opposing political views, that would have enthralled me.

That being said there were statements in P.M.'s last letter that reflect a glaring inconsistency. One that perplexed me is their explanation that the major appeal of Donald Trump is his willingness "to tell it like it is" and to speak his mind regardless of what people might think. For one thing, Trump can never claim the title of telling it like it is, given the fact that huge portions of his statements are easily proven lies. The fact that Trump knew how deadly COVID-19 as was evidenced by his recorded conversation with Bob Woodward, which took place at the same time he was telling the American people that "the China Flu" was a hoax and no worse than pneumonia. That's not a man speaking truth to power. Instead that is the sign of a con man telling you what he thinks you want to hear.

Let's look at the reality of Trump's willingness to speak his mind. Can anyone point out an instance where American Life has been made better by his outbursts? Can anyone really say that American discourse has been enriched by Trump's Charlottesville "good Nazis" speech, his making fun of a reporter's physical disabilities, blood coming out of Megyn Kelly's whatever, his disrespect of veterans and war heroes, "sh**hole countries" and "grabbing 'em by the pu**y"? Let's call it like it is; these statements by Trump are not telling it like it is, but rather they are mean, vicious and nasty statements that really only reflect his point of view, and a horribly distorted point of view at that. Yet his supporters cheer these insults as the most profound examples of his brilliance. And can anyone point to one example of where Trump has used his plain manner of speaking to explain a complicated matter to the American people? Again, we just have to look to his response to COVID-19, which was full of lies and disinformation as a sign that he failed his duty as a leader. While the seeming doublespeak and equivocal nature of political talk can be frustrating, it is unfortunately a necessary evil. One time, during a period of my life when I faced hard decisions based on my personal life, my very wise next door neighbor after seeing me beat myself up said to me "If there was an easy answer, you would have thought it up and implemented it by now." The same wisdom holds for every problem facing America today and anyone who tells you that there are simple solutions, usually relying on some mythical past behavior, is lying to your face and you must be extremely suspicious of their motives.

In several of P.M.'s letters they decry the media as being snobbish and talking down to rural inhabitants. I really do wish they had included some examples of this because I truly find myself unable to come up with an example. Perhaps P.M. is referring to instances where media, more likely of the entertainment branch than the informative, pointed out inconsistencies between what a person says and reality. A prime example from this past election is Republicans squawking about the creeping terrors of socialism on one hand, and on the other becoming enraged at calls to defund the police (a socialist organization, as in a true capitalist society police forces would be run by private individuals and not the government). You might consider this being talked down to; it makes some people uncomfortable, but this is how an aware and engaged society should examine all their assumptions. Believe you me, the left has their inconsistencies as well.

P.M. also makes the statement that they wish the media would talk directly to them about why certain issues should be of concern to them. Partly the problem is that your average American has the attention span of a squirrel! Also, because stories have to reach so many people, information is given out with the assumption that you will extrapolate into your personal experience. One of those issues P.M. pointed out was climate change. Let me try to address that: P.M., you live in Currituck, NC, whose elevation is an average of 3 feet above sea level. Scientists are predicting that the sea levels will rise up to 8 feet by 2100. Please walk outside your front door and tell me how being 5 feet below sea level might affect your lifestyle, your property and your community's prime industries of tourism, fishing and farming? Is that direct enough? But the thing I find so incongruous in P.M.'s bashing on the media is how so much of their statements are direct lifts from Fox News and right-wing talk radio.

Nowhere is this more true than with PM's very real aggravation at political correctness. This is one hobby horse that Republicans like to flail that I find stupifying. The definition of political correctness is finding words that are not disrespectful of others, especially minorities. In other words, political correctness is treating others with respect (what in past times would be labeled "manners"). Manners are nothing but social constructs that make living with others civilized and bearable. Yes, manners and being polite can restrict "our freedoms" but would you really want to show up at a friend's wedding wearing your bathrobe and your underwear? Would you audibly fart while eating in a restaurant or pick your nose while public speaking? Would you call your boss the sarcastic or insulting name that circulates among the employees directly to his/her face? I am going to guess the answers to all of these are "no." So clearly we, as a society, have agreed to forgo expressing some of our free choices of actions in lieu of better interacting with others. One of the first things that salespersons and politicians learn is that while a rose by any other name might smell as sweet, a person's name is something sacred to their being and to call someone the wrong name is a good way to insult them. Speaking for myself, there are two diminutives of my first name, one which I use equally with my proper name and one which infuriates me no end. And yet the only difference is just one letter, a distinction that some might see as arbitrary or petty. But that is the way it is. Plus, my decision in my teenage years to accept the one diminutive where I hadn't before might seem nonsensical to some but such is human nature.

The reason I point this out is that P.M., on several occasions, expresses frustration at having to refer to minorities by new names instead of previously used names. I will agree with P.M. that sometimes it can be confusing and daunting to keep up with the correct term that minority groups prefer, particularly when those terms change every decade or so, but that's their decision and frankly their right. What they prefer to be called is their choice, what they might call each other of their minority is only their right, and if they should decide to change their minds on what to be called again that is their right and no one else's. Such are the mysteries of identity, but those mysteries need to be respected for others as equally as we respect them for ourselves. P.M. expresses great annoyance at being made to say "Persons of the Year" instead of "Man of the Year." When I measure that against the many annoyances of modern life, it is the smallest of motes compared to the many beams in my eyes. To be brutally honest, it seems to me the height of pettiness to find this act of being more inclusive, i.e. more polite, so intolerable. How has changing one word in a marketing ploy taken away one ounce of freedom? How has it diminished your stature? It is at worst a small loss, one that we "suffer through" daily as we try to make living with others manageable. So when I hear P.M. and the talking heads of Republican Party railing against political correctness, then I have to ask "Why is being respectful and polite towards others become so dreadful and burdensome?" Again looking to Trump and his supporters, who for some unfathomable reason see nastiness, incivility, rudeness and flagrant disrespect as signs of virtue, I would ask how has this improved anyone's life? Has any insult by Trump and his MAGA Hatters brought back any manufacturing job? Have they improved the lives of our rural neighbors? Has one person been raised out of poverty by calling them rude names and insults? Has the past four years of nastiness and invective produced anything at all of worthwhile substance?

I will say this again, freedom does not mean freedom from inconveniences. And what I find the most infuriating about Republican wailing against political correctness is that usually in the same breath they thump their Bibles and puff themselves up as "better" than others. Whether you look at Jesus as religious leader or philosopher, the main tenet he stressed over and over again was the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do into you!" P.M. dislikes being labeled a racist and yet in the same breath finds it annoying to not be able to refer to Native Americans as Indians, to give just one example. Political correctness is nothing but treating others with the same respect you wish yourself to be treated.

P.M. then states that they and other rural inhabitants find it hard to be that concerned about others with whom they have no direct experience. I would ask you to consider the words of two great thinkers. The first comes from a story you might have seen once or twice this holiday season: "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!" And lastly the words of Him whose birthday some of us most recently celebrated: "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Again whether you see Him as a religious figure or a philosopher, these are profound thoughts that a lot of people on the Right would be greatly enriched by heeding. Please just stop with the constant dissension for dissension's sake, the insults, the rudeness and the thinking of yourselves as the center of existence.

Here's hoping for a safer and saner coming New Year for us all!

S.S. in Toronto, ON, Canada, writes: Just one comment about the long and very interesting conversation with P.M. in Currituck. I can certainly see where they are coming from, but P.M. raises a point that I think is the crux not only of this issue, but of much of the divide among Americans at this time. I don't think this is about party affiliation; it's about how we variously look at the world and develop our values. P.M. writes "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."

It's the part about "don't affect us" that bothers me. I have come to see and believe that what affects one affects all. That is, to me, the heart of the matter. Unless we all begin to see others as part of our own family—no matter where they live, what they think, what color they are, and so on—we will remain divided and alienated and ever unable to achieve a peaceful civilization. I think human beings need to grow past the illusion of separateness; the maturity of the human race, which we are approaching but have not yet reached, depends on finding unity. I am not poor, but your poverty affects me. I am not Black, but discrimination against you affects me. I am healthy, but your illness affects me. My child is safe and secure, but that child who is abused or damaged affects me and mine. It simply cannot be otherwise when we all share this small blue planet.

A.J. in Baltimore, MD, writes: A response to P.M. in Currituck: Thank you for continuing to respond to our collective condescension with enlightening comments, even if I disagree with them. I'm glad to hear you acknowledge the impact of Donald Trump's brand of identity politics and how it struck a cultural chord with areas like Luzerne County. And I completely hear getting frustrated about the language policing. I, for one, don't like the neologism "Black" as opposed to "black" because I feel like it's placing far too much weight on the meaning of capitalization; capitalization connotes the name of a person or place, nothing more significant than that. But I've never seen a Democrat on any ballot rebuke someone else for saying "black" or "Indian." And you can imagine how frustrating it is for an entire political party's goals be reframed by conservatives in terms of what is demanded by college students and Internet commenters who aren't up for election.

To Luzerne County and places like it: I hear that you all want Democrats and other liberals to make an effort to understand your points of view. I only hope that you would, similarly, do some non-biased research to consider the rationales of each side before jumping to conclusions. Maybe "white privilege" isn't that radical a concept if you take the time to understand what it means. Maybe "Person of the Year" is just a more accurate title for Time Magazine's annual article, considering that women have been winning it since 1936. Maybe "free stuff for people" is good policy because it ensures that everyone is able to meet certain basic needs even when they are unemployed due to economic pressures beyond their control.

To my fellow liberals: It's clear that many people are voting based not on what the candidates are saying but based on the assumed political affiliations of what everyone in the world is saying. Let's all keep that in mind. And let's remember that the virtue signaling of purely symbolic changes: (1) are no substitute for essential substantive change, and (2) clearly draw cultural backlash among voters who might otherwise be on board. I know it's harder to get poor communities the support they could desperately use than it is to, say, convince people to stop using the phrase "master bedroom," but it's so much more beneficial.

M.B. in Melrose, MA, writes: Thank you for posting the letters from P.M. from Currituck, the associated comments, and the summaries from 20 Americans. It helps me to understand how 74 million could support Trump. I also applaud P.M. for having the courage to share insight into the Obama-Trump voter's mind.

So many of the responding letters to P.M. echoed the same questions I had: What are Democrats doing that comes off as elitist? This has caused me to do some self reflection. I believe a person's view of education may be a major factor. While there is not racial diversity in the seaside town I grew up in, there is significant income diversity, from wealthy oceanfront property owners to blue collar fisherman, where the "farmers of the sea" have as much use for a college education as a farmer of the land or coal miners.

While a freshman in high school, through an odd twist of circumstances, I became very good friends with some girls who were very different from me (eventually they dropped out of high school). Until I got to know them, I had considered them tough and was afraid of them. After becoming good friends, I was shocked when one said, "You are the sweetest person. I can't believe I had always thought you (and several of my honors classmates) were a snob." I was shocked. It had never occurred to me that simply taking honors classes would automatically label me a snob, even if I hadn't done anything to earn the title. I was too afraid of them to even interact, although I'm sure that fear only contributed to the perception. It is too easy to make negative assumptions about people you don't know, and they had to get to know me to realize it wasn't true. Considering I got this in liberal Massachusetts, one of the most well-educated states in the country, this assumption is probably common elsewhere, especially with those who place less value in education. Perhaps they assume they are judged, or they resent white collar workers, or something else. Add Tucker Carlson telling his audience every night, "They look down on you. They think they know better than you." and that preconceived notion becomes cemented.

Well-educated people should be more cognizant that they are fighting this preconceived notion and be more sensitive in phrasing, word choices, and messaging. I also think P.M. makes an excellent point about having patience, and that Democrats need to make messaging more personal and relatable. At the same time, I recommend that rather than judging people as "making a big deal out of something minor," consider extending patience to understand why the other person considers it a big deal.

In general, I think Democrats need to fully embrace what Stacey Abrams has done, focus on community outreach, and actually talk to people to understand their concerns so that messaging can be personalized to them. Without interaction, it is too easy for people to assume the worst in others, especially if they seem different than themselves and with Fox News putting a negative spin on anything Democrats do.

R.S. in Milan, OH, writes: I want to thank P.M. from Currituck, N.C., for offering their assessment of why people have voted for and supported Donald Trump in their area. I have read with interest P.M.'s comments and others' responses, and I have spent what I think is a reasonable amount of time over the past four years reading about and reflecting on why people have voted for and supported Donald Trump. As someone who teaches about diversity, cultural pluralism, political rhetoric, etc., I see this as a professional responsibility. At the same time, I see this as a personal responsibility as someone who wishes to be an engaged citizen.

Unfortunately, what P.M. wrote saddens me in the same way other things I have read about support for Donald Trump have. I am saddened because of the lack of concern for others conveyed in what P.M. wrote in their latest comment. Those comments include the following: "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?"; "we become upset when we're told we are wrong if we say 'man' instead of 'person,' 'black' instead of 'Black,' 'Indian' instead of 'Native American,' and so on. We view it as people making a big deal out of something minor...let it go;" and "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."

These comments reflect what tends to be the major sticking point for me. I feel I am doing my part to understand support for Donald Trump, and I know others who are doing so, but I'm consistently being told I need to do more, and I don't see that consideration being reciprocated. P.M.'s latest comments have fallen right back into that pattern.

I can promise that I will still do my part, but for us all to work together effectively, Trump supporters must do their parts to understand and sympathize with other folks as well.

J.T. in Marietta, GA, writes: I would just say that from where I stand, P.M. in Currituck is completely correct in their interpretation of the problems with Democratic messaging in the Trump-supporting population. The barrage of dismissive name-calling P.M. received in response is a perfect example. Pete Buttigieg has become the Fox News Whisperer because he's able to avoid these simplistic, reactionary responses, and speak with empathy. That, of course, is also what's made him the object of great scorn by the extreme left.

R.C. in Eagleville, PA, writes: The P.M. in Currituck discussion has been wide ranging; let me focus on "they talk down to us." Today, liberals are talking mostly to liberals, just as conservatives talk mostly to conservatives. J.G.D. in Bellevue writes, "two groups of people arguing against the wall that separates them while each side leans on it to prevent it from falling."

So where do we get the "talk down" perception. We are afflicted with professional dividers who pick up the opposing talk. They distort and amplify the talk, and it is this distorted talk that many of the good people of Luzerne County hear. The professional dividers have discovered there is money to be had in fostering division with perpetual outrage. The wall belongs to the professional dividers. Before talk radio, cable TV, and social media conservatives had their champions like William F. Buckley and liberals had champions like Norman Mailer. They would debate, but unlike today, they would speak to the entire audience with facts and logic. Can you imagine Buckley and Mailer debating the correctness of the lyrics to "Baby It's Cold Outside"?

N.F. in Arvada, CO, writes: I am one of those rare over 50-year-old woman readers of your website. I have never written to an editorial page until now but I felt compelled to respond to the comments from P.M. in Currituck. I am tired of hearing the same old argument that we (scientists, liberals, you name the group...) do not know how to communicate with folks that live in places like Luzerne County, PA.

I have spent nearly 30 years of my career in renewable energy research and development. I and my co-workers have been told over and over how we need to explain our science in easy-to-understand language (but do not talk down), make it relatable, have patience and listen to the other viewpoint in order to change minds and adopt a new way of doing things. After 30 years, I can say that it does not matter what you say or how compelling you try to make your arguments. There is a part of our population that resists change and simply will not accept new ideas. This issue was played out for all to see this year. I was both horrified and dumbfounded by the behavior of folks like those in Luzerne, or my farming relatives in Brule County, S.D., during the pandemic. Despite doctors and nurses' pleas to simply wear a mask in order to save lives in their own communities, those folks chose to ignore the science and the common sense presented to them.

P.M.'s argument that we need to communicate better is disingenuous, based on the behaviors we have seen from these communities. I do not know how much more relatable or easy to understand information needs to be before one gives up entirely. Going forward, I plan to stop worrying about the part of our population that lacks the capacity to think critically, change and adapt. We will keep on our path to improve the human condition, whether it is providing vaccines to fight a pandemic, providing universal healthcare or free tuition, reforming our justice system, or adopting renewable energy, with or without the folks in Brule or Luzerne County. It is up to those folks to decide their fates.

F.R. in Virginia Beach, VA, writes: Maybe you will let this one through, as the final flog of the Luzerne Horse. First, let me dispense with any sweeping generalizations about my background; I am a white female from the sticks, grew up shooting, have venison in my freezer, and drive trucks pulling livestock. I also have an MS in Engineering, speak multiple languages, support NPR and the arts, and have an urban domicile as well.

The picture P.M. has painted has not been flattering for the folks of Luzerne, or for P.M. It comes across as cynical and hypocritical. So I will practice "telling it like it is," from my rural heritage.

What has been described are folks who do not like having to consider words or actions, so long as those words and actions are theirs and it's what they feel like saying. Yet they are easily offended or wounded when someone treats them that way; "Don't talk down to us, or call us ignorant or stupid." Everyone else is supposed to be "gentle" while they sling mud. This is hypocritical. It is also hypocritical to complain your locality's issues are ignored and then state, "many in Luzerne County don't care about issues which minorities face, because they don't affect us." In plain English, this is self-centered and entitled.

Finally, the idea that Democrats stopped being about the working man's party is simply not borne out by the programs the Democrats put forth. What the Democrats have done—albeit poorly at times—is start including the other working (wo)man demographics who have the same challenges as Luzerne County.

P.M. is describing a monoculture that struggles to share their interests with other demographics or communicating across cultural boundaries. Trump is an excuse for them to remain where they are comfortable.

Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart once wrote, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand...But I know it when I see it..."

This country girl knows what she is seeing. Lazy.

E.C. in Tallahassee, FL, writes: I am not normally one for debating strangers on the internet, but something P.M. said caught my attention and it has been something I have been ruminating on for I guess the better part of four years now. P.M. posed the question of whether or not it was "wrong" for the people of their home county (and by extension those places like it) to dislike "political correctness." When people ask to have specific words used to describe them, what they are really asking for is to be treated with respect. And whenever people bring up the "Tell it like it is" or "against political correctness" arguments, what I hear is "I do not want to be expected to respect others." This is obviously wrong and if I am being honest, I think P.M. knows that too.

M.S. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: P.M. writes:

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 make us "wrong"?

In a word, yes. Not racist, but wrong. The fact that many people cannot empathize with the "other" or cannot be bothered to care about something that is causing others pain is, well, wrong. For a nation "under God," we cannot and should not ignore the Golden Rule. Out of simple decency, we should understand that others' lives are different and do the best we can to understand and help. It is this very self-centeredness that makes Trump so despicable in my eyes, and the fact that it has been embraced by so many is the root cause of our polarization.

P.M. continues:

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.

Again, I would vehemently disagree. If you need to wait until Luzerne County feels more like Louisiana, it will be too late. And if you can't see that the melting of the polar ice caps and the consequent rise in sea levels will fundamentally alter thousands, if not millions, of lives, there is something terribly amiss. Put another way, by the time it directly impacts you—say in the form of buying beachfront property in the next county over—it will be way too late. Trump doesn't talk to you; he tells you what you want to hear, which is "me first." "E pluribus unum" is exactly the opposite, and is predicated on being able to put yourself in the shoes of the other. Because one day, you will need the other to put themselves in yours.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: Okay, since P.M. in Currituck singled me out...I think it is fair my response be printed.

No, P.M. not caring about the issues that affect my life and my ability to live...does not make you transphobic. What makes you transphobic are the numerous offensive things you have said about my community which, as far as I know, has never harmed you. If our very existence in some way subjectively harms you, you are the one with the problem, and you have no right to try and make it mine.

What makes you transphobic is supporting, voting for, or defending a person who has done his level best to hurt my community, and who has done everything possible to make our already-difficult lives as impossible as it is possible to make them.

Let me just ask you this: How would you feel if you had to live in fear during this pandemic because the President tried to make it legal to deny healthcare to people like you, just because of the group you represent...and worded it so vaguely as to make it possible to deny even lifesaving care! How would you feel?

I have a 74-year-old mom who lives in my home. She took me in after I was ruined by Hurricane Katrina. Later, when she lost her home I took her in and I promised her a home for life. Now, if I get COVID and die because I am denied treatment for COVID because of my transgender status (and if Donald Trump had his way it would be legal to do so) my mom ends up homeless, because this house is not paid for, and there is not enough insurance to cover it. One of the lovely side-effects of the discrimination my community faces is severe economic hardship.

I do not care, P.M., if you do not care about the issues that impact my life and my ability to live, or even if you don't care about how this strips me of my most basic right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. But when you support or defend a President or politician who seeks to take away my rights, causing me extreme hardship and/or death, which then also causes my 74-year-old mom to end up homeless, you bet I've got a problem with that....and you are a transphobe.

C.L. in Durham, UK, writes: In last week's comments, P.M. in Currituck says "many in Luzerne County don't care about issues which minorities face, because they don't affect us." How terribly "Christian" of them.

S.O.C. in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, writes: I hope the irony is not lost upon anyone else that both of these following statements were written by P.M. in Currituck, about the same group of people in separate weeks:

"I can say with confidence that many in Luzerne County don't care about issues which minorities face, because they don't affect us."

"...there is no white privilege in Northeastern Pennsylvania."

K.H. in Kerrville, TX, writes: I continue to find it ironic that individuals with P.M.'s worldview don't see the hypocrisy in a statement like: "If that's the case, gently tell us...don't attack us, as the intellectual snobs in the media are prone to do."

T.M. in Richland, WA, writes: This conversation would have been appropriate and enlightening in 2017, when we could still pretend that a President Donald Trump might do an acceptable job. Since then, we have watched him fill his cabinet with corrupt grifters, tear immigrant children from their families (over 500 of whom have not been returned), cheer on white supremacist terrorism, extort our allies to promote his political future, and line his pockets by requiring government/military personnel to use his hotels at our expense. He has insulted our military, mocked Gold Star families, and turned a blind eye to the bounties placed on our troops by Russia. He has damaged our relationships with our allies and weakened NATO; he has undermined our intelligence community and harmed its role in our national security. His failure to deal with COVID-19 is a twisted mix of incompetence and malfeasance, vastly increasing the number of lost lives, lost businesses, and general suffering it has caused. As I type this, Trump is in his sixth week of actively trying to overthrow the presidential election, still producing a steady stream of lies and inciting his followers to violence while his co-conspirators like newly-pardoned Michael Flynn call for martial law. And speaking of pardons, he has now come through on those he dangled to his partners in crime, in the manner of a third-world dictator. This barely scratches the surface of his offenses against this nation and its people. All of the above and more has been documented on this very site; does P.M. actually read it, or are these letters merely trolling? Or perhaps these transgressions simply do not rise to the level of, say, Time magazine choosing a Person of the Year?

Donald Trump is a monster. The only appropriate statement from someone who voted for him in 2016 is "I made a mistake. I'm sorry. I'll try to do better." To try to justify or rationalize a vote for him this year is nothing short of obscene.

A.L. in Cambridge, MA, writes: I really enjoy this back and forth between P.M. of Currituck with the others. I hope this type of conversation between opposing viewpoints (political, cultural, etc) becomes a regular feature on your site, as these sorts of discussions only facilitate understanding and bring us all closer together.

V & Z respond: We hope so, too, and have some ideas on that front. Stay tuned.

The Feminine Mystique

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I'll take a stab at the question from A.L. in Osaka regarding the small female following. As other readers have pointed out, it's likely that many of your female readers simply didn't take the survey. If you did a stand-alone survey with just the demographic question, you'll probably get very different results. I also agree that time (or lack thereof) plays a large role in women's ability to participate in wonky political discourse.

But in addition to those things, it also boils down to the simple fact that politics is still dominated by men, and women have to be persuaded to take an active role in it—and there's a lot of sexism to contend with when we do. That seems to be slowly changing, but it's definitely a work in progress. I appreciate sites like this one, that try to make space for women and also eliminate the usual nastiness by carefully curating the comments. And using initials to keep it gender neutral also helps.

Obviously, the more women we see in positions of power, the more women will be accepted in those roles. I continue to encourage my female friends to engage more in politics, but it also requires a certain willingness to assertively state views that others may disagree with, and both men and women are still taught that by and large that's not "ladylike" behavior. Just look at the recent suit against Pinterest—the COO dared to disagree with her colleague and she was subsequently sidelined and told to learn to be more "collaborative."

Politics can feel like a battle on the gridiron—heavily geared toward the male of the species with not much of an obvious upside for women.

P.S.: thanks for the thoughtful selection of last week's comments—I, too, was nervous about the responses we'd see.

V & Z respond: We did our best to reflect the range of comments we got, while trying to avoid stereotyping. Not everyone thinks we did so great, though—see the next letter.

R.M. in St. Petersburg, FL, writes: I am one of your female readers and I read your page first thing every single morning. If I am being honest, I do not get nearly as excited to read Saturday's Q&A and Sunday's mailbag, but I still read it.

I cannot remember when I first started reading but I know that I fell in love with your electoral map and I study it every single day as we approach elections.

I found the responses as to why people thought female readership was low were mostly offensive. I love the simplicity of the site. I love that it is updated only once a day so that I know that what is being written is truly worth reading. I don't need fancy layouts or colors. I certainly don't need articles about sex. Your site is absolutely perfect and I tell everyone I know about it.

As an avid reader of your site, I completely missed your survey. I am not sure how or why. Was it buried somewhere? Did I look at it and just figure I would respond later? I am always trying to read as I am getting my kids up and ready for school, so maybe it was published 10 minutes later that morning and I did not get a chance to digest the information before being distracted for the day. Was that particular day published later than normal? I cannot imagine that your female readership is actually that low.

Please don't change a thing to attract more female readers. I am quite confident you have more female readers than the survey suggested.

W.C. in Irvine, CA, writes: I suggest that your polling result showing 84% male v. 14% female readership is the result of a huge sampling error. I am a 58-year-old female political junkie who has been an avid daily reader of your site for the past 12 years. I read it every single morning as I am walking my dog before work. However, between working long hours and other career and home responsibilities and schedules, I simply don't have time to take surveys and send e-mails. In fact, I saw your invitation in the Q&A last Saturday morning inviting female readers to submit comments and I determined to do so, but this is my first opportunity, two days later, to even send this brief comment. My husband, on the other hand, seems to have plenty of time to take surveys and write letters. Hmmm. I'm a progressive and he's a conservative, by the way. It's been a wild ride but we've managed to work out "ground rules" that keep us together and happy. Anyway, I really appreciate your concise, thoughtful analyses of political issues. You are my "go-to" site for a daily overview of the most important political happenings, and I never miss a day's read. Keep up the good work!

C.B. in Atlanta, GA, writes: I am another one of your mythical female (and gay) readers. I discovered this site back in 2008 and it is the first thing I read every morning over coffee. I can't speak for other women but there are reasons this is my go-to political news source. Your pieces are well sourced and put into a digest version. Your analysis is heavy on fact-checking and critical thinking. Your polling data consolidation is put in an easy to consume format. And best of all the snark is priceless!! So I don't understand why there aren't more women readers but here's something to think about: Amy Klobouchar or Elizabeth Warren? Birkenstocks or Rothy's? Rachel Maddow or For me, there's no contest. I'll take the second choice in each of those categories every time.

M.J. in Miami, FL, writes: Regarding women readers on your site, I think it's simply a reflection of women's attitudes toward politics in general. I don't believe that time has anything to do with it. People make time for what they value and find important. As already noted, politics come from a long tradition of being a male's domain. After dinner, males and females often separated into two different groups and had completely different conversations. To a certain degree, this still happens today. From a young age females are simply not exposed to the political world. I happened to grow up in a household in which my parents watched the 6 o'clock news every night with religious devotion, which actually irritated me as a child, but nevertheless I developed an ear for it. I also learned to listen to talk radio in the car, a habit picked up from my father. That helped me maintain a reasonable awareness of political events that kept me more in tune than some of my peers.

When trying to talk to my female friends about politics, most of them are simply not interested. But they will often say, "my husband is the one who keeps track of the news," basically letting me know that it's "covered." Perhaps this comes from traditionally having the female care for the home sphere, and letting the man care for external issues? Most of my friends don't find the news relevant to them, and seem more absorbed with the influence they can exert over their more immediate concerns and domain: children, school, work, friends, family.

I later married a news junkie who watches the news incessantly. If it hadn't been for him, I would not have the awareness I do now. He was actually the one who introduced me to this site. I now read it as part of my morning ritual. One of the key reasons I read this site, and only skim others, is because you provide context to help me understand what is happening. I think for many people, being introduced to political news is similar to looking at a board with drawings of physics formulas. Politics make no sense unless someone explains the history and relation of events. And if none of your female friends discuss politics, then the chances of your familiarity with political history narrows.

I do follow female politicians with greater interest, as I am keen to see what qualities they displayed to help them achieve their success, especially so I can become a better manager in the workplace. I suspect there to be a strong correlation between women in higher level jobs and their interest in politics and power dynamics.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: First off, I am a WASP male. I apologize in advance for any sexist or misogynistic comments I might make and will welcome friendly and sincere corrections.

I am/was a cabinet maker. About 30 years ago I was asked to build some storage cabinets in a garage for a woman. I made an appointment, drove the 15 miles to discuss with the woman her requirements. When I got there she had brewed a fresh pot of coffee and had cookies for my visit. She and her husband were Iranian refugees. They were probably in their late 50's and comfortably well-off. Her husband was a tenured instructor in mathematics at a local university. We chatted a bit and she told me what she wanted. I went on my merry way and drew up some sketches of my impressions of what she wanted and figured out the price. I called to make an appointment to give her the plans and explain the cost. She said I had to come after 3 p.m., when her husband would be home. When I showed up, there was fresh coffee and cookies again. I explained the drawings and showed her the price. She said she needed to wait for her husband to get home for his approval. We sat and chatted and had coffee until he got home. When he got there, I explained the plans and the price to him. He looked at his wife and asked, "Is this what you want". She said yes, and he gave the approval. That was it, done deal. He wrote a check for a 50% deposit (which I hadn't asked for), and we had some more coffee.

I love my wife, she has me housebroken, and she has put up with me for 52-1/2 years. When she goes to the grocery store, she just goes and gets what she wants. However, if she wants a new widget for her kitchen, or a new TV or a new printer for her computer or something, she asks if she can do it. Geez, when have I ever told you "no"? If you want it, and we have the money, just go buy (or order) the damn thing. My wife has strong opinions on politics but unless I get her wound up, they are always below the surface. She reads her voter pamphlet, she makes up her own mind, she doesn't ask me what I think, she votes, and she doesn't tell me. You are probably getting a pretty good idea of my age and station in life by now.

We have three sons and a daughter. The daughter is in the Air Force. We had to formally give permission for her to enlist, but it was not like she was giving us any options. She is totally different from her mother. Very independent and outspoken. Do not ask her what she thinks of her commander-in-chief. She is very proud of what she does, very supportive of the Airmen she works with, supportive of most of her chain of command. But if female airmen swore like sailors or ground pounders, she would turn the smoke blue. She has deployed 5 times to Qatar, 3 times to Okinawa, once each into Greece, The Netherlands and Bulgaria. She has been airborne over Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and off the coast of North Korea. She doesn't take crap off of anyone and usually doesn't ask permission.

I think you probably have more female readers than you realize. I think the seeming lack of response is more a generational fact than a lack of interest. I have encouraged our children and grandchildren to be politically active, and they have been. My daughter has helped me knock on doors, and one granddaughter has helped me put up yard signs, and phone banked on her own. Women have been repressed for many years, (barefoot and pregnant) but some of us old farts are starting to see the light and hopefully more will, and encouraging our wives and lovers, our daughters and granddaughters to step up and make their voices heard.

P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: O.K. I'll bite. I, a female reader, have been following your site since 2004. As to the other demographic questions, I live in "U.S. other," I am 60-69 years old, my highest education level is Ph.D. Not asked, but I will state: my degree is in Physical Chemistry and I am biracial. But enough about me. I have no hard data as to why there are so few women on your site. Here are my best guesses based on personal experience:

  1. Although is a blessed oasis of civility, the Internet as a whole can be an unpleasant and threatening place for women. This is especially true on sites pertaining to things that are traditionally "male spaces." Most examples of egregious behavior that I have seen have been related to so-called nerd fandoms (video games, comic books, the Stars - Trek and Wars). National politics is also widely seen as a male purview. Women may choose to steer clear of political sites in general, as some are unwelcoming to women (Note: Not all political sites!)

  2. Anecdotally, the women I know who are interested in politics are activists. They demonstrate, write letters, work on local issues. The nuts and bolts of national politics and congressional sausage-making are of less interest to them.

  3.'s main focus is on numbers. There is little that I can add to the metric ton that has been written about why most women are less interested in mathematics than most men and disinclined to pursue careers in technical fields. My views are in there somewhere.

S.K. in Chappaqua, NY, writes: Engaging in one of my favorite avocations, namely belaboring the obvious, I'd like to point out that the males of most animals, including humans, are the descendants of males who most successfully competed for mating opportunities, and so today's males inherited their genes from such male ancestors. That being so, one should not be surprised to find males more apt to compete, and to take an interest in competitive things like politics, than females are.

The classic book on the subject is Men in Groups, recommended by my son, himself a leader in the field of evolutionary psychology, and written by Lionel Tiger, an author much favored by us wordplay nerds.

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: I'd like to add an observation and some thoughts to the discussion on why there are more men than women reading this site.

On Facebook, I'm a member of many groups that share my support of the Blue Team. I've long noticed how many more women than men are in these groups. When I post something, about 80% of the "Likes" and comments come from women. I suspect this supports the theory that women are more apt to be activists for change while men are more apt to be studying the issues remotely.

I think it's more likely that there are not more men here, it's just that men are more likely to answer the survey and submit comments because we have a socially conditioned inflated ego. Our views are so important that they must be shared. As a guy, that makes the most sense to me and I now feel obligated to share how insightful and valuable this conclusion is. (Or our egos are so frail we need the constant affirmation of seeing our opinions in print. That's probably closer to the truth than I'd like to admit.)

D.R. in Omaha, NE, writes: A comment from the minority contingent here. I've been on various online fora for some time. Many of these track the gender balance of their users, either with a checkbox at sign-up time, or with occasional user surveys, with the accompanying gender balance reports.

There is one trend I've noticed among those fora who report on gender balance. Those dominated by men appear to be far more likely to recognize the gender imbalance, and then spin off into very predictable and sometimes endless-loop discussions.

Such threads almost always speculate on the reasons why there are fewer women, with cliches and stereotypical reasons often being cited, everything from site design, to "not being nurturing enough" to the topics of the forum being more of interest to men. This will often devolve into a "What can we do to attract more women?" spinoff, with ideas ranging from the sincere to the ridiculous.

I'm having a difficult time trying to remember a forum which is dominated by women ever trying to analyze why there are fewer men, or what the admins and user base could do to attract more men. My big burning question is along the line of is there a need (for this site or for any site or forum) to attract and maintain close to a 50/50 gender balance?

S.H. in Rochester, NY, writes: Rare female reader under 30 here. Adding to the responses from last week, my theory for the lack of women readers has to do with how humans socialize. I suspect this site has gained much of its audience from word-of-mouth spread (I learned about it from my dad, who learned about it from his male friend). Based solely on my experiences, the types of conversations that would include a recommendation to this site would rarely occur between a man and a woman, unless the relationships are very close (family, significant others, parents to children, etc). Those conversations would more easily take place between two people of the same gender. So if your site's audience started with mostly male readers, it was apt to grow in the same way. This may just be one factor among many.

Separately, J.C. in New York could be on to something with the theory that people with ADHD are attracted to this site due to the simple layout with few distractions and concise, entertaining material. I have ADHD, and I read this site every day. However, I doubt that this contributes to the gender distribution of readers. Women are just as likely to have ADHD as men, but they are far more likely to go undiagnosed, because ADHD was considered something only experienced by young boys until recently.

M.S. in Scarsdale, NY, writes: Evidently, I am one of your few women readers. I'm also a political junkie, activist and part of your graduate school alumni contingent (lawyer). Your blog is excellent; I've been a reader since the pre-Obama days. One minor complaint that is indicative of an unintended male-oriented bias: sports analogies. Nothing smells like a boys club as much as those 'inside' jokes. I'm sure there is something that you can come up with as a substitute.

V & Z respond: We think you would be surprised how many approving e-mails we get from female readers about those jokes.

C.R. in Washington, DC, writes: I just wanted to let you know that is indeed available and it can be yours for the bargain-basement price of $1/month from

V & Z respond: What better place to purchase a sexist domain name than

M.G.F in Minneapolis, MN, writes: You wrote: "[W]e keep the color palette simple so that it's properly visible to everyone, including those who may have color blindness."

There you have it, women are responding to your pandering on core site design to a gender-associated condition. Sexists.

V & Z respond: The cat is out of the bag now.

TrumpWatch 2020

J.U. in Newport, WA, writes: I believe you were off the mark when you wrote: "Or is [Trump] honestly so uninformed/deluded that he doesn't realize what the implications of killing Section 230 would be? We don't know which one it is."

I think you had the right of it when you argued that we should think of Trump's actions only in terms of what's good for Trump. By killing Section 230, he is in effect burning down the bridge he crossed. By doing so, nobody else can emulate what he did, using Twitter and social media to promote BS. On top of that, killing section 230 would also ruin Twitter and Facebook. Social media companies would have no choice but to vet everything that's posted, a task that may run them out of business. That is what's known as a "2 for 1," because then Trump can create a site where he can charge his rubes—I mean, his supporters—a few bucks a month to read about whatever crazy thought comes into his head. That's quite the opposite of "uninformed/deluded." Now, the same can't be said of the rubes...

J.T.M. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: I have to disagree with your take on the question from D.H. in Boulder about Trump after the inauguration. The media has made hay from Trump's bomb-throwing for at least five years now. Some outlets practically base their entire programming around drumming up outrage and virtue-signalling about Trump's statements and tweets. By all accounts, it has been good for business. I have a hard time seeing how the media just slips back into covering Biden in a traditional manner and ignoring what has been their bread and butter for the last five plus years.

V & Z respond: Maybe you are right, but Trump has another problem beyond the fact that he'll be out of power. Speaking as people who write a blog every day, it is very hard to come up with new ways to talk about the same old, same old. This is why we rarely write about his tweets anymore, for example, because there's really nothing left to add. It is hard to see how many stories CNN or The Washington Post can plausibly squeeze out of "the ex-president said something outrageous today," even if they want to.

J.W., Newton, MA, writes: From a legal perspective, I agree with your answer to B.B. in Panama City Beach: Trump is unlikely to face (federal) legal trouble because of subpoenaed testimony from the gang of thieves he has recently pardoned. However, much of the battle for America's soul is in the court of opinion. Surely, congressional Democrats will compel sworn testimony that will shock the 10-20% of the public that is persuadable. Such testimony won't kill Trumpism, but along with the coming prosecutions in New York and D.C., it should help end the political career of this truly awful man.

J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: I agree with you that ex-President Trump will face a host of legal troubles. Nevertheless, I don't expect a perjury prosecution to be one of them. For better or worse, it's just very rare for a district attorney (such as Cyrus Vance Jr., the DA for New York County) to bring a criminal case based on alleged perjury committed in a purely civil case, such as E. Jean Carroll's defamation suit.

I'm conflicted here. As a Democrat, I would love to see Trump indicted. On the other hand, as an attorney, I believe in equal justice under law. Given that a typical perjurious New York businessman in such a situation wouldn't be criminally prosecuted, then arguably Trump should not be. On the other other hand, there's a colorable argument that a current or former elected official, especially the president, should be held to a higher standard.

On top of that, of course, there's the difference in the burden of proof. Carroll, to prevail, must show that her allegations are more likely than not to be true. A prosecutor, to convict Trump of perjury, would have to show that the charges are true beyond a reasonable doubt—a heavier lift (although made easier because a Manhattan jury would be largely anti-Trump). This is on top of the political and ethical considerations.

G.W. in Oxnard CA, writes: It is instructive to recall that whenever Democrats have done anything that might possibly cause a delay in approval of the Defense Authorization Act many Republicans have been quick to call it "treason." Yet, Trump vetoed the bill.

J.N. in Freeland, WA, writes: Almost all news sources speculate that come January 20, while still insisting the election was stolen from him, Trump will ultimately leave the White House reluctantly but peacefully. However, as reports increase of erratic behavior and discussion of extreme measures (such as martial law, impounding voting machines, etc.), it seems that being forcefully removed from the White House would be more consistent with the message Trump wants to convey to his hard-core base. What better to fire up his supporters than videos and photos of the "deep state" federal marshals forcibly extricating the "real" President from his rightful residence? Sure, it will reinforce the "sore loser" image held by his opposition, but they're going to hang on to that image in any event and certainly aren't likely to suddenly look kindly on him just because he (seemed) to exit gracefully.

J.C. in Tulsa, OK, writes: You wrote: "We remain perplexed at Barr's 180-degree turnaround."

I try to avoid conspiratorial thinking, but the thought runs through my mind that Barr's "client" as attorney general wasn't President Trump, but the Federalist Society. In the end, the main (and perhaps only) legacy of the Trump presidency will be the remaking of the federal judiciary. Perhaps Barr was at Justice to protect Trump long enough to substantially finish that project. Once done, I would assume that true conservatives would have no further use for such a destabilizing figure like Trump, particularly since he lost the election in such a resounding fashion.

I try to avoid the idea that the lack of proof of a conspiracy is proof of the conspiracy. And there clearly isn't proof of this notion. But, it is a means of seeing Barr's behavior as rational and consistent.

S.S. in Detroit, MI, writes: I don't think Republicans need to hate godless commie Russians anymore. OK, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) needs to hate godless commie Cubans, but the Russians are no longer:

  • Godless: Churches are no longer forbidden. In fact, Vladimir Putin helped out by grabbing Pussy Riot from that church they were desecrating. And the Russians hate Muslims, too!

  • Communist: Plenty of capital flowing into the pockets of aspiring oligarchs. Aspiring American oligarchs, take a lesson.

  • Undemocratic: Putin was recently elected by a landslide. These guys know how to conduct a fair election! They even reached out to help us with ours.

Plus, they make awesome vodka. Za nashu druzhbu!

Hack Attack

M.C. in Santa Clara, CA, writes: I think people are looking at the Russian cyberattacks backward.

We should be thanking whoever those actors were who did this, because they—effectively—did our work for us. We need to know in which ways those networks are vulnerable; now we know.

I'm aware this is by no means a majority view. However, the fact remains: the software in question had security holes a mile wide. The people writing, maintaining, and distributing that software are the ones ultimately responsible for its failure.

Blaming the Russians for doing our Software Quality Control testing? Really? Very Trumpy of them, pointing the finger elsewhere, instead of looking into the mirror.

As to Joe Biden's response: He should do nothing (publically). He should not even warn Vladimir Putin. What he should do is: Dismantle the Space Farce, err, Force, and use the funds to create a Network Reliability Bureau up there with other Government Bureaus. And part of this bureau's work should be to discover new ways to disrupt Russian (and other) computer networks, while keeping U.S. networks hack-free. Think of the NRB as the digital equivalent of the FBI.

If people outside computer science knew how rickety the entire computer-based economy is, they would switch off all computers and figure out a better way.

Note that a former CIA agent agrees with some of my sentiments.

A.G. in Santa Clarita, CA, writes: It's a little abhorrent to suggest that Joe Biden direct the CIA to murder thousands of people in Moscow to get Vladimir Putin's attention. Shutting off electricity to Moscow in the middle of a major snow storm would probably be on the level of a war crime. What were you thinking writing that? Why not just suggest to nuke a few countries to get their attention? I expected better from you.

V & Z respond: That was a hypothetical example, not a specific action that we advocated for. And in the hypothetical, the presumption is surely that the Russians would get their power grid back online very quickly, but with the United States' message to Putin having been received.


A.C. in Santa Cruz, CA, writes: S.P. in Foster opened my eyes about OMB Director-designate Neera Tanden not being actually a progressive, much less an "outspoken" progressive.

It is disingenuous for you to decide what "outspoken progressive" actually means. Almost every person reading your blog or news would think "outspoken progressive" means "near or about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) positions," not your definition of Theodore Roosevelt. Progressivism, if you insist on a 100-year-old definition, would be more in line with Eugene Debs or William Jennings Bryan, who certainly did support wealth distribution. It would absolutely have found a huge audience among Progressives of 100 years ago. Really, you tarnish your reputation by moves like this. Just say, "right, not really the right definition, sorry." The definition is the one that's in use today, that's what linguists and dictionary editors would say.

V & Z respond: We were specifically asked how we define the term, and we (specifically Z) gave a historian's answer. You are blending together progressivism, populism (Bryan), and socialism (Debs) into one large interchangeable mass, which does not aid in understanding of these people and their political programs. We also stand by our view that it is not correct to treat "what Bernie Sanders thinks" and "progressivism" as synonyms. Progressivism is, and always has been, much too diverse to be reduced down to one politician's take on the ideology.

D.B. in Keedysville, MD, writes: You said "The actual meaning [of 'progressive'] is "reminiscent of the Progressive Movement of the early 20th century." The problem is that you don't actually get to define that. In diversity training, we learn that the person who says they didn't intend to hurt the other person's feelings doesn't get to deny those hurt feelings. Rather, the person whose feelings were hurt gets to report how bad the hurt was, just as the injured party needs to reconcile themselves to the other person's stated non-harmful intent. So, just because "progressivism" used to mean one thing decades ago doesn't mean you or anyone else get to decide what it means today. After all, the meanings of "Democrats" and "Republicans" have completely shifted over the decades. And so, the term "progressive" should be defined by the people who call themselves progressive! And, I wouldn't call someone, including Neera Tanden, who opposes single-payer healthcare and a reasonable minimum wage (which should now be more like $24, much less $15) a "progressive."

V & Z respond: Note that Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) both call themselves Democratic Socialists. Tanden not only calls herself a progressive, she currently leads the Center for American Progress.

Something Is Trickling Down

J.K. in Portland OR, writes: John Kenneth Galbraith knew all about trickle-down tax cuts for the rich. He called it "horse and sparrow" theory, because if you stuff enough oats down a horse, shortly thereafter, there'll be something on the ground for the sparrows. And that is not a "no sh*t" theory.

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: This is probably not printable, but I want to say it anyway. Since the Reagan years, when it was being called "voodoo economics," I've been saying that "trickle-down economics" is how the rich piss on the poor.

Celluloid Heroes

D.D. in Portland, OR, writes: Thank you for your influential films list. As always, you give great food for thought, which is both enlightening and entertaining. Considering the sheer volume of possible candidates, I'm sure your "near misses" list can extend for miles. That said, two films come to mind that, dare I say, you missed? They are:

  1. Reefer Madness (1936): perhaps you've heard about the War on Drugs? It was a big deal once upon a time.

  2. Daisy (1964): You include "Willie Horton" among the "near misses" but not the granddaddy of propaganda political ads?

W.V. in Andover, MN, writes: I find that the 1964 Johnson ad "Daisy" was the most significant political ad of all time. It not only had an oversized impact on the 1964 framing of Barry Goldwater, but it served as a model for political ads for the next five decades. This fall's series of impactful Lincoln Project ads have their foundation in that 1964 ad.

V & Z respond: We considered "Daisy," as well as "Morning in America" (1984), but dropped them on the list because those elections were blowouts, and Johnson/Reagan would presumably have won even without the commercials. On the other hand, "Willie Horton" (1988) may well have changed the trajectory of a race that, when the ad aired, Michael Dukakis was leading.

J.F. in Houston, TX, writes: I come from Oklahoma, where "Duck and Cover" (1951) was taught for protection from tornado, and, by the way, nuclear holocaust.

Not saying it was more important generally, but for me a far more terrifying bit of film was a propaganda film I saw at about age 8 during Sunday morning FCC public service time in the post-Sputnik era. It showed aerial footage of what must have been Dresden in flames with the voice-over, "this is what a second-rate power looks like" (that's an exact quote; I was totally transfixed by the words). I almost immediately went outside to ask my father (a physicist who, as a pacifist, refused an invitation to work on the Manhattan Project, though I was too young to be aware that he knew anything about "bombs") what would happen if the Russians attacked. He said, "Well, you'll see a green flash in the northeast (pointing towards Tinker Air Force Base, the logical local target), and you'll have about 15 minutes to gather everything you want and go down into the storm cellar for two weeks." But Dad, what if I'm asleep? "Then it won't matter."

E.L. in Dallas, TX, writes: Modern popular music and video/film are inextricably intertwined now, but it was not the case when the Beatles made "A Hard Days Night" (1964). It is often considered a good-to-great movie by critics. It definitely influenced television, film, and music culture and eventually led to music videos.

K.C. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Your film list is filled with worthy choices, but I was truly stunned that Walter Cronkite's withering commentary regarding the Vietnam War on February 27, 1968 was omitted. I understand your prohibition of "episodic television" from eligibility, but Cronkite's words on that CBS broadcast were, in fact, not just another "episode" of the network news. His very intentional departure from strictly objective reporting was a true standalone moment in his career and in the medium of television news at the time.

There can be no arguing about the impact of that singular broadcast; though some dispute it, there are credible accounts that LBJ himself acknowledged it as a death knell for his presidency ("If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America"). But whether President Johnson actually said those words or not, "The Most Trusted Man in America" clearly played an enormous role in crystallizing public opinion against the war, hastening LBJ's withdrawal from the 1968 presidential race, which likely altered American history in too many ways to count. Moreover, Cronkite's introduction of his own opinion into a news broadcast is, by itself, a seminal moment in the evolution of American culture and politics—although we all surely bear our regrets over the pervasiveness of that practice today and its costs in terms of shared truth and public trust in journalism.

J.C. in Alexandria VA, writes: You neglected to consider "One Flew Over the Cuckoos's Nest" (1975), which had a great impact on mental health facilities and their power and led to the emptying of our insane asylums, and the growth in our homeless population.

R.J.J. in San Francisco, CA, writes: I would argue that "Jaws" (1975), and not "Star Wars" (1977), was the first summer blockbuster. It came out in the actual summer (June of 1975) and ushered in a new way for movies to be released and promoted as summer events. Certainly, "Star Wars" made significant advancements in moviemaking and has had a lasting impact on the national consciousness, but "Jaws" did as well both in terms of showing how short-sighted government response can make a situation worse. Not that that has any relevance in 2020.

I agree that the televised moon landing (1969) was a significant achievement with many scientific advances folded into it, but it was the greatest modern engineering achievement moreso than scientific. Imagine planning, creating, testing, assembling all of the myriad things needed to ensure the complete success of the mission to land humans on the moon and return them safely to Earth? The success in executing that task remains unprecedented. I also would suggest it is the last moment in the United States where there was anything close to universal optimism and hope throughout the country.

P.A. in Redwood City, CA, writes: I agree that "Star Wars" was highly influential, but it is not really correct to say that it "demonstrated the potential for computers to reinvent the medium." John Dykstra did invent a computer-controlled camera motion system that gave smoother tracking when filming physical models and, because it enabled reproducible camera motion, allowed more models to be included in a shot. The only computer-generated graphic in the film was the wire-frame model of the Death Star. All other effects were practical; shot with models, puppets, and physical props. Even the lightsaber effects were done with film filters. All blue-screen effects and layer compositing were done optically, not digitally. "Return of the Jedi" (1983) was the first film in the series to use computer graphics in a significant way.

D.S. in Winnetka, CA, writes: The original "Star Wars" had no CGI scenes and no impact on the use of computers in film. Its success did allow Lucas to expand Industrial Light and Magic to a point that allowed it to develop into a CGI powerhouse later on.

From an industry standpoint, the two groundbreaking uses of CGI were the Genesis effect scenes in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and the movie "TRON" (both 1982).

Also, Red Dawn (1984) seems to have had a very influential effect on those who would become part of the current militia movement.

P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: I was surprised to see a major miss on your list of influential movies: "The Day After" (1983). Ronald Reagan wrote that it was quite depressing, and changed his mind on nuclear war. It was even shown a few years later in the Soviet Bloc. It's quite possible we'd all be dead or scavenging for irradiated potatoes without that film.

P.D. in Leamington, Ontario, Canada, writes: I applaud all the chosen films and media. I also agree with the honorable mentions. I would add a few to the list, though. In addition to the Rodney King beating (1991), I would suggest that the 1992 helicopter footage of the beating of Reginald Denny (during the riots that occurred after the acquittal of the officers responsible for the King beating) was also something that caught the nation. My other choice would be the film "The War at Home" (1979) which perfectly captures the protests of the Vietnam War from the city of Madison, WI which was a focal point of protest in the Midwest (and indeed sparked a bombing on US soil when such a thing was not as common as today). I feel this film is a must see for anyone unfamiliar with the era and the motivations of the youth at that time. One of the main protesters in Madison, Paul Soglin, ended up being Alderman, Mayor and Gubernatorial candidate. The film may not meet the criteria as it is certainly not as heavily viewed as others but is certainly impactful.

T.B. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: I would have to include the Challenger disaster (1986)—which schoolchildren across the country watched live—as being on a par with the Zapruder film in terms of its emotional impact on a generation. It also marked the beginning of the transition away from manned space flight outside of Earth's orbit.

The production of both "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" (1971) and "Deep Throat" (1973) featured the sexual exploitation and coercion of actors—Linda Lovelace and the underage Mario Van Peebles. Somewhat tarnishes their cultural significance, in my book.

M.P. in San Francisco, CA, writes: I understand your reasoning for excluding 9/11 but I do not agree with it. The televised images were massively influential. And even though there were clips from several sources, the shot of the plane slamming into the second tower, and the dust storm enveloping NYC streets, were both indelible images that impacted many.

P.M. in Makhanda, South Africa, writes: You may be interested, as a follow up to your impactful movie list, that there is an Australian production company called Zapruder's Other Films that makes a mix of comedy and thought-provoking documentaries. You can judge the Ozzie sense of humor from this rather macabre recycling of a slice of amateur movie history.

Other Historical Matters

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: How nice to have the luxury of trading arguments with (Z) over James K. Polk and the Mexican War instead of angst over the now-over presidential election of 2020.

Anyhow, I think your response to my question about Polk's support/initiation of the Mexican War and land theft was and is problematic.

First, you suggested that my criticism was tinged with "presentism." I was going to cite Henry David Thoreau as being guilty of premature presentism, but then realized there was a much more mainstream figure, namely a freshmen congressman from Illinois (widely seen on fivers and pennies nowadays) who also denounced it. Of course, Mr. Lincoln never had the opportunity to attend even one week of "history grad school" in the 21st Century so we can forgive him of this error.

The "won-the-election" argument is utterly irrelevant to the question of which president was worse. Hell, they all won their elections, didn't they? If you're assessing based on promises broken/kept, well then Millard Fillmore didn't break any promises, since he never ran for election. But he was consistent with Taylor's hands-off position.

V & Z respond: (Z) does an exercise, in his history of California class, centered on Father Junípero Serra, in which he tries to show students how he can be viewed in very different ways (Catholic hero vs. perpetrator of mass murder/enslavement). The point is to illustrate that people who have no professional obligations are free to view Serra (or Polk) as they see fit, but that historians are trained to see both sides and to (largely) withhold value judgments. And a historian who fails to do so will have a lot of trouble trying to rank presidents prior to 1960 or so, because then all of a sudden ineffectual presidents who largely did nothing (e.g., Fillmore) end up being "better" than presidents who did a lot, but who did things offensive to our moral standards (e.g., Polk).

P.S. in Gloucester, MA, writes: Our family has several members who are on the autism spectrum. My daughter's best friend in their high school years is bisexual. They lived several states apart, and as teenagers they used to spend oodles of time together via phone and online chat.

One time, they divvied up all the famous people they could think of who might have been LGBTQ and all the famous people they could think of who might have been on the autism spectrum. My daughter's friend claimed Tchaikovsky and Alexander the Great for the maybe-LGBTQ list, and my daughter claimed Einstein and Bill Gates for the maybe-autistic list.

I'm happy to report that they amicably agreed to share Alan Turing and Andy Warhol.

B.C. in Medina, OH, writes: I love you guys and your publication. I always enjoy your histories and enjoyed your Samuel Adams piece. However, I must say that placing it in context of Trump was more than a little off putting.

V & Z respond: Perhaps it will be less so once you see additional entries in the series, and have a better sense of where we're going with this. That said, when we compiled the list of folks who will be profiled, we wanted to cover the entire span of U.S. history, which meant at least one revolutionary era figure. That was far and away the hardest era; the choice eventually came down to Adams or Thomas Paine. And while Paine was a bomb-thrower who offended many, he was also a serious intellectual who actually wrote the works that bear his name. And so, we concluded that particular comparison just did not work.


P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: I wonder if one of the reasons why yogurt is the official state snack of New York is because of the giant Chobani plant in New Berlin. In one of my past lives, I was an over-the-road trucker, and spent way too many hours at that location. Chobani dates only to 2005, but the plant was a Kraft production location prior, and I am sure it was for production of yogurt. I wonder if some local legislator pushed for yogurt to be the official snack, to bring attention to a company in his district?

And on the Canadian invasion: a co-worker and I noticed a lot of Québec license plates along I-81 near Wilkes-Barre way back in 2002. We did that drive daily, and over the course of a single week, noticed over a hundred vehicles. I think this surreptitious invasion has been going on for far longer than anyone realizes.

V & Z respond: Yogurt earned that "honor" in 2014, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) signing the proclamation into law on October 15 of that year. And as to the Canadians, their plotting has clearly been going on for so long, we're left to wonder if there was even a pause at the end of the War of 1812. We could be talking about a two-plus century conspiracy here.

G.M in Denver, CO, writes: Thanks for publishing some trivia for the holiday. I just wanted to quickly point out that #6 was ridiculously easy. Without even applying any logic/reasoning, one can easily see that the signature has a letter that is "below grade." In this case, examining the possible answers, only one contained a letter in the last name that would qualify as such, namely "Coolidge." I don't know if that was your intention to let such an obvious giveaway exist, but nonetheless there it was.

V & Z respond: One of the principles of good game/trivia design is that you try to provide two routes of entry to the most challenging puzzles. If you watch "Jeopardy!" closely, for example, you'll note that a large portion of the questions (answers?) can actually be derived in two different ways. For the Coolidge question, we felt it effectively required a random guess, since few would plausibly know that particularly trivial bit of trivia off the top of their heads. The first route of entry thus being particularly narrow, we did indeed deliberately leave the not-that-blurry name in a state that allowed the question to be solved in that way.

B.R.J. in San Diego, CA, writes: Oh joy, a new front in the War on Christmas arrives...Fox News-sponsored, Holiday soap operas! Get ready for "Sgt. O'Reilly Saves Santa," "In(s)Hannity Holiday," and "Axis Sally's Yuletide," featuring Laura Ingraham in the title role.

V & Z respond: Santa wears a red suit, Rudolph has a red nose, Frosty the Snowman wears a red cap, and Scrooge hates paying taxes. Clearly, they are all Republicans.

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: As a Licensed Professional Engineer, I had to take umbrage at the remark by E.E.K. in Morgantown that "[Herbert Hoover] had the personality of an engineer, because he was one."

I will concede that some of the most important parts of government are usually the most boring; making sure that the sewer plants don't overflow (even if they are named for comedians), ensuring that levees will hold and bridges will stand, securing the power grid, etc. All of these are based on sound engineering.

Anyhow, I did some search on charismatic engineers and...I got nothing.

Well, ok, there was Hedy Lamarr and everyone reading this does so based on her work.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec26 Saturday Q&A
Dec25 Trump Creating Chaos in Washington...
Dec25 ...But He's Having Zero Luck with Overturning the Election Results
Dec25 Georgia Senate Candidates Are Awash in Cash
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Dec25 U.K., E.U. Have a Brexit Deal
Dec25 Holiday Quiz: The Sequel
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Dec24 Trump Repeats Demand for $2,000 Checks instead of $600 Checks
Dec24 Ted Cruz and AOC Agree on the Corona Relief Bill
Dec24 Meanwhile, Republicans Are Already at War--with Other Republicans
Dec24 White House Staff Told to Prepare to Leave and Then Told Not to Prepare to Leave
Dec24 E. Jean Carroll Wants to Personally Depose Trump in 2021
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Dec24 Today's Senate Polls
Dec23 A Tale of Two Pandemic Responses
Dec23 Trump Not Going Gentle into That Good Night
Dec23 Turns Out, Lawsuits Go Both Ways
Dec23 Twitter Has Bad News for #45, #46
Dec23 California Gets Its First Latino U.S. Senator
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Dec23 They Were Trump Before Trump, Part I: Samuel Adams
Dec23 Today's Senate Polls
Dec22 Stimulus Bill Just Needs Trump's Signature
Dec22 Biden Gets Vaccinated
Dec22 Miguel Cardona to Be Tapped for Education
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Dec22 Barr Continues His Apostasy on His Way Out the Door
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Dec22 Where Have All the Pollsters Gone?
Dec22 Today's Senate Polls
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Dec21 Trump Won't Announce a 2024 Run before Jan. 20
Dec21 Biden Vows to Punish Russia for Cyber Attack
Dec21 Poll: Trump Is One of the Worst Presidents Ever
Dec21 Early Voting Turnout Is High in Georgia
Dec21 Parties Have Different Strategies in Georgia
Dec20 Sunday Mailbag
Dec19 Saturday Q&A
Dec18 Biden Picks Haaland for Interior, Regan for EPA
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Dec18 Georgia on Everyone's Mind
Dec18 It's a Pardon Frenzy
Dec18 Mike Pence: MIA