Needed 1990
Biden 0
Bloomberg 0
Buttigieg 0
Gabbard 0
Klobuchar 0
Sanders 0
Steyer 0
Warren 0
Yang 0
Political Wire logo Sanders and Warren Have Different Closing Pitches
Trump Campaign Promotes Bernie’s Rise
New Poll Shows Sanders Leading In Iowa
Rivals Warn Sanders Plans to Game Iowa Results
Trump’s Sense of Invincibility
John Kerry Overheard Discussing 2020 Bid
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Drip, Drip, Drip...
      •  Sunday Mailbag

Drip, Drip, Drip...

In our piece on the (effective) end of the impeachment trial, we proposed that information about the Ukraine fiasco would continue to come out, keeping the subject in the headlines (and in voters' minds), and serving to make the senatorial whitewash look all the worse.

Less than 24 hours later, that has already come to pass. As it turns out, there are at least two dozen e-mails that speak to Donald Trump's involvement in freezing aid to Ukraine, and that cover a period of time going back to at least June of 2019 (or possibly May). It is still more proof that the President lied about both his participation in the scheme and the timeline on which it unfolded. That, in turn, implies that he and the other members of his administration knew full well they were doing wrong. At the same time, it confirms that former NSA John Bolton's book is right on target, and that anyone who says Bolton is lying or misinformed is themselves either lying or misinformed.

This is a very bad look for the administration (and the GOP senators), and we're not the only ones who think so. The Department of Justice thinks so, as well. How do we know? Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request, Justice made the legal filing that acknowledged the existence of the e-mails (and that asserted that they should remain classified) at the oh-so-normal time of midnight on Friday. You could not pick a better time to try to bury a story unless Friday night also happened to be Christmas Eve. The other upside to Friday, at least from the administration's perspective, is that it was the very last moment they could file and yet still meet the deadline set by the judge who is overseeing the matter. We may end up seeing some, all, or none of the e-mails, but in any event, it is already clear this is far from over. (Z)

Sunday Mailbag

Our general view is that the impeachment trial has not been a bright and shining moment for the democracy. It would seem that many readers agree.

A Lot of Pessimism...

V & Z: I think, at this point, it's safe to say that so many of the Trump administration's actions that seemed short-sighted at the time weren't actually short-sighted. They only seemed so because we were biased to believe that the administration expected American democracy to survive. The impeachment may hurt Trump politically, but that only matters if we have a real vote. P.N., Austin, TX

V & Z: The U.S. seems to be becoming more and more a kind of Christian Iran with a powerful minority (more or less based on religious beliefs) who is dedicated to doing whatever is needed to stay in power. I do believe that in November, it will not only be a choice between the Democratic or the Republican Party but also a choice between democracy or a Banana Republic. I cross my fingers... A.B., Brussels, Belgium

V & Z: From Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr: "It was perhaps the most practical demonstration of National Socialism I'd ever heard and I realized with sudden clarity that Nazism was nothing more than the will of the Leader, and that Bormann was his bellowing mouthpiece." Never more appropriate. L.K., Los Angeles, CA

V & Z: Is Trump's Super Bowl ad a new script or a cover of the commercial used by the successors to the Weimar Republic? S.Z., New Haven, CT

Note: We know a Leni Riefenstahl reference when we see one. And one can't help noticing that you need only remove two letters to turn "Triumph of the Will" into "Trump of the Will."

V & Z: It seems to me that through the actions of Donald Trump, he can appoint his own "acting" cabinet members. Why have the Senate approval at all?

Since the "team" is now all on the same page, is there any reason a judge will not be approved? There is no reason to continue to have a bicameral system. One house is fine. At least then it would be apportioned by population and the tyranny of the few wouldn't rule. It just seems silly to have a Senate. It's pointless at this point in our government. If there was no Senate, we'd actually have separation of powers. With it, we've none. M.B., Dayton, OH

V & Z: Your warnings about the next presidential transition are chilling. Even if given full assistance, the challenges of the next administration will be daunting. So much of the cabinet has been thinned out, replaced with foxes (and their kits) in the hen house, that the process of staffing will be exceedingly laborious. I often wish candidates could talk about how they will govern and administer the executive branch, rather than—or, at least, in addition to—their likely unachievable policy goals. The best recent presidents have delegated much of their responsibility to qualified cabinet departments, and accomplished significant amounts behind the scenes.

When I think about the daily challenges of the presidency: meetings to coordinate the departments, hosting foreign visitors, and working out effective means to interact with (and compromise with) Congress, it bears little resemblance to the promises and political guff that makes up presidential campaigns. I wonder if, like the current occupant, some of the current candidates, most popular for their strongly-stated policies, are up to the task. D.S., Palo Alto, CA

V & Z: Here at the end of the American republic, I wonder if there is any more reason for you to continue writing this site...with the exception of recording for history the downfall of the United States of America. After the wholly expected outcome of acquittal of this president (I refuse to name him, nor capitalize his office), I no longer need to read your site, as it is all over.

Today is a very sad day for me...losing one's country is having more of an impact on me than I thought—very emotional. Perhaps you need to burn things down to generate regrowth and renewal. I cannot even speculate on what is next, but given the asshole in charge I cannot venture a wholesome thought. M.M., Seattle, WA

V & Z: Now that it is undeniable that we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis, isn't it time that we face up to the problems caused by the U.S. Constitution itself? Notwithstanding the veneration inculcated in generations of high schoolers, the Constitution has serious defects that have contributed to the current crisis. In the first case, it is poorly drafted. The Framers clearly expected that the Senate would indeed advise and consent (or withhold consent) on judicial appointments and that, the House having impeached the president, the Senate would certainly exercise its "sole power to try impeachments" and carry out a trial of the president. However, in neither case does the text oblige the Senate to do so, Noah Feldman notwithstanding. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took advantage of the first textual lacuna to rob for the first time the President of his prerogative to appoint a justice of the Supreme Court. In the second instance, McConnell did not refuse to try President Trump on the Articles of Impeachment, if only because he knew that he had the certain votes for acquittal. So, these are cases of poor drafting since the actual text fails to achieve the presumed objective of the Framers.

Then there are the deeper defects in the Constitution beyond the technical. The most basic structures of the US government were designed to protect the South from any future threat of expropriation of their property rights in enslaved persons. The only option was to give an inordinate and anti-democratic share of power to the less populous slave-holding region. To which end James Madison proposed the Three-Fifths Compromise that would assure over-representation of the slave-holding states in the House of Representatives on the pretext of representing the interests of the slaves while simultaneously denying them as chattel any human or political rights at all. In addition, the Senate was structured with two senators for each state regardless of the size of the population. It didn't have to be so then and it doesn't have to so now. Seats in the German Bundesrat, for example, are allotted proportionally according the population of each state. So then, having assured the over-representation of the slave states in both houses of Congress, it only remained to transmit that same advantage to the election of the president for which the Framers came up with the inspired gimcrackery of the Electoral College, an institution for which no other democracy has then or now seen any need, and which gives rise to the uniquely American electoral glossary that distinguishes between the "popular vote," otherwise "the vote," and the "Electoral College vote." The whole system achieved its purpose wonderfully: until Lincoln, all the U.S. presidents were slaveholders except for the two Adamses from Massachusetts. Madison's warning that the South would refuse to join the Union without the guarantee of excessive power was proven right when, after Lincoln's election as the first president without any Southern support, the Confederate States seceded so promptly that Jefferson Davis took office before Lincoln himself.

But even the anti-democratic remnants of slavery that encumber the structure of government set out in the Constitution are not its greatest defect, which is that it effectively cannot be changed. Leaving aside the Bill of Rights, the ten amendments passed en masse in 1789, in the subsequent 231 years only seventeen amendments have been ratified, the reason being the requirement of no less than three super-majorities to do so: two-thirds of the House, two-thirds of the Senate, and three-fourths of the states. It seems that the elite American separatists, having seized power from the British monarchy, were intent that power should not be similarly seized from them or their posterity. How else to explain that the Framers adopted the English system of common law, whose vaunted advantage over a code system is its ability to evolve through succeeding case law rather than only by legislative amendment, while at the same time declining to adopt the similarly flexible British Constitutional system which relied then as now on a collection of documents and traditions rather than codification in a written constitution with a high barrier to change?

The trivial 27th amendment to the Constitution took over two hundred years to be ratified. We can be quite sure that we will never see another amendment within the lifetime of any American adult, given the extreme political polarization which now prevails.

Finally, the current constitutional crisis which explicitly threatens both the balance of power between three equal branches and the integrity of elections, without which representational democracy can hardly be possible, has defeated the redress available in the Constitution, because the Framers imagined that future power struggles would arise, like the English Civil War, as conflicts between the branches of government rather than between politial parties which spanned all of the Presidency, the Congress, and the Judiciary. So, the remedy of impeachment can now be seen to be impotent against the biggest power grab in the history of the republic after the impending success of which it is difficult to forsee a restoration of democratic norms.

We might forgive the Framers their failure to imagine the political realities of the future had then not so tightly bound us to their vision of the past. The past is indeed not dead; it is not even past. H.E., New York, New York

Note: We don't usually run letters this long, but we thought your assessment was unusually thoughtful.

Some Folks Are Still Looking Forward, However...

V & Z: After watching the travesty that passed for an impeachment trial, we need to remember this: The Republicans may have won the battle, but if everyone who is upset by this outcome unites and works to defeat the Republicans both in Congress, as well as at the state and local levels, the Republicans can lose the war. We will remember in November. Pass it on. D.G., Silver Spring, MD

V & Z: Assuming Donald Trump will be acquitted by the Senate in the next week or so, we Democrats need to turn our attention to the general election as soon as possible. I think a strategy we might employ, regardless of the eventual nominee, would be to send Hillary Clinton out on the road, giving her own version of the Trump rallies. She could point out that she won the popular vote by nearly three million, that Trump hasn't fulfilled his promises, and—most important—that HER rallies are getting better "ratings" than his are. He would be unable to resist competing with her, like a bear with a bee in his ear. Meanwhile, the actual nominee could spend weeks quietly putting forth policy positions that appeal to a wide range of voters, staying out of the mud-slinging as much as possible. I can imagine Hillary enjoying the irony of this sort of revenge. D.M., Highland Park, IL

Other Impeachment Thoughts

V & Z: One of the most frustrating parts of the impeachment trial for me was that Donald Trump's lawyers were able to keep the focus on "investigations," and whether the president can investigate someone he believes has engaged in wrongdoing. Putting aside the fact that no, he alone doesn't get to decide that, the evidence showed that Trump wasn't interested in an investigation. All he cared about was a public announcement to smear Biden's reputation. I didn't hear any of Trump's lawyers or Senate Republicans defend that behavior. And maybe I missed it, but none of the House managers made them answer for that.

The abuse of power was pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation into Trump's political rival. Trump didn't care if there was an actual investigation. As Sondland said, "Zelensky had to go to a microphone and make the announcement and he had to want to do it."

I was also surprised that no one reminded the public that Trump's campaign was under investigation during 2016 for possibly conspiring with Russia, but the public didn't know. There was no public announcement precisely because it could effect the election. (Apparently the rules were different for HRC, but don't get me started on that.)

It was frustrating to watch the Democrats constantly conflating those two things—it played right into the Republicans' hands. It probably still wouldn't have made a difference, but at least the focus would have been where it should.. A.R., Los Angeles, CA

V & Z: A New York Times podcast called "The Argument" talked about the impeachment decision this week. On the podcast, Ross Douthat pointed out that some conservative legal scholars are saying that what the President has done is no different than what presidents commonly did before Watergate, e.g. Lyndon B. Johnson ordering the FBI to wiretap Barry Goldwater's campaign. There was a consensus, post-Watergate, that presidents would not behave this way anymore. So this soon-to-be acquittal, politically, takes us back to pre-Watergate times in regards to elections.

And thinking about this on my own, what the President has done is consistent with other Republican actions around elections for some time: Tom DeLay's efforts at redistricting Texas post census; then Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp's voter suppression; etc. It's even consistent with their ideas around governing, e.g. Speaker Newt Gingrich's revamping of the House to remove institutional expertise, the over-the-top investigative efforts into Secretary Clinton's e-mail server and Benghazi, etc. That is, using the reins of power for their narrow ends rather than good governance. And even the misinformation that is presented by Fox News commentators and their ilk is consistent with the President's behavior. So, Trump's actions are not out of line with the way many Republicans are thinking about elections and politics right now. Trump is just not as 'graceful' at it as some. So, for Republicans, Trump's actions do not endanger their view of our country. E.G., Montpelier, VT

V & Z: When I heard that John Bolton had sent a draft of his book to the White House, my first instinct was to find out when that happened relative to the attack on Soleimani. The New York Times indicates Bolton sent the book draft on Dec 30th. The Soleimani attack occurred out of the blue on Jan. 3rd. We have been told that Trump authorized the attack on Soleimani several months before the attack, but the timing seems incredibly coincidental. R.H., San Francisco, CA

V & Z: We have now heard from the President's lawyers, and from the President himself. This, evidently, is his full defense:

  1. Everything I did was perfect.
  2. There was no attempt to extort dirt on a political opponent in return for vital aid in Ukraine's war with Russia.
  3. If Gordon Sondland, the big donor I appointed ambassador to the E.U. and gave my private phone number, says there was, he is just guessing.
  4. I don't know Gordon Sondland.
  5. My attempt to extort dirt wasn't an abuse of power.
  6. My abuse of power isn't impeachable, unlike Bill Clinton's—the lawyer who defended Jeffrey Epstein and O.J. Simpson says so.
  7. Impeachments are terrible things, except Clinton's—Kenneth Starr says so.
  8. Kenneth Starr used to be a lunatic, but not now.
  9. Democrats steamrolling the House are partisans and traitors; Republicans steamrolling the Senate are patriots.
  10. Ukraine tried to manipulate the 2016 election; Putin told me. The CIA, FBI, NSA, and DIA say it was Russia, but they are all Trump-haters and I know more than they do.

A.B., Tucson, AZ

V & Z: I'm not sure if anyone noticed (haven't seen/heard), when the Democrats were in opening statements, Fox split the screen and had their commentators doing all the talking 'on air' instead of the proceedings. Now that Republicans are on, all eyes and ears! No commentators! So much for objective journalism! K.H.S., Lanoka Harbor, NJ

Note: Yes, Fox News has shown again that it is hardly a bastion of fair and balanced reporting.

V & Z: While I was listening to Team Trump defend the President by putting rotting flesh on the skeleton of the soundly debunked Hunter Biden-Burisma conspiracy theory, I literally laughed out loud when Jane Raskin made a couple of points:

  1. Citing Carl Sandburg's famous quote against Team Blue: "If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell" along with Rudy Guiliani being described as a "shiny object" distraction. Laugh-out-loud-bold on her part. They felt like lines from Intolerable Cruelty.

  2. Hammering the "nepotism" and "inexperienced" elements of Hunter Biden's role with Burisma when in this very White House, we literally have Trump family members with zero government policy experience as "top advisors" to the President. I was also gobsmacked at the accusations of profiting from the Biden name, when Ivanka Trump managed 16 new trademarks from China in the midst of a trade war and that the President routinely uses Trump property for events and fundraisers and apparently back-room "take her out" meetings for inconvenient ambassadors...and they don't mean "take her out to dinner."

And yet, so many of my co-workers who will go to their graves believing #45 is the GOAT President. Consequently, so many U.S. Senators will vote to acquit. How the latter sleep at night is beyond me. S.B., New Castle, DE

V & Z: I noticed that Pam Bondi chose her outfit so she disappeared into the background:

Pam Bondi in a dark gray and ivory
ensemble that looks like it's studded in gravel, up against a light black, marbled background

I can't blame her for wanting to disappear when apparently, she drew the short straw and got stuck with job of presenting the debunked conspiracy theories about the Bidens. G.W., Oxnard, CA

He's Donald Trump. It's What He Does.

V & Z: You wrote:

So, maybe this will linger. On the other hand, in contrast to the Ukraine situation, there aren't likely to be new revelations that keep returning this story to the headlines. So, it could fade out. We just can't say at the moment.

Of course this will linger! If Joe Biden is the nominee, Trump and the GOP are going to bash him over the head with this every day. The GOP is amazing at this; and they will turn Biden into the next Hillary Clinton—distraction extraordinaire. Plan to hear about Biden's dirty, corrupt, impeachable connections to Ukraine every freaking day. A.L., Cambridge, MA

V & Z: In your item about Democrats being scared of Sanders, you noted that "The President would slur the Senator as a nut case, and a socialist, a Communist, someone who is un-American, and so forth. It doesn't matter if these things are true, only that some people would believe them."

Let's be honest, aren't we pretty sure he'd do the same to Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) or Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) if they somehow found their way to the nomination? Arguably one of the keys to Sanders' emergence over the past 5 years into the national spotlight has been that pretty much every prominent Democrat since John Kerry has been painted as a "far-left, radical, un-American, card carrying communist!", such that the word "socialist" has pretty much lost it's effective stigma. P.S., Marion, IA

Note: There is no doubt that Donald Trump is already prepping his lines of attack against all of the Democratic frontrunners, including Joe Biden (corrupt), Bernie Sanders (socialist), Elizabeth Warren (Pocahontas), Pete Buttigieg (gay/not a real man), Amy Klobuchar (nasty woman), Michael Bloomberg (failed mayor), and Andrew Yang (nerd). Once he finds a winner, as he sees it, the President will repeat it ad infinitum. As to Biden, our comment was in reference to the Democratic primaries/caucuses. As to Sanders, we'll have an item on this very subject later this week.

Expert Legal Opinions

V & Z: Your analysis of the ABA Rules of Professional Conduct misses Rule 3.9, which specifically refers to work before legislative bodies and incorporates Rules 3.3(a) through (c), 3.4(a) through (c). J.B., Bloomington, IN

V & Z: The question is not the setting, it is what the person calls themselves while they are doing it. For example, if an attorney replaces a lightbulb in the courtroom, that is not likely subject to an ethics review, even if he or she lies about it. On the other hand, if an attorney tells a client to lie on the stand, then that is likely a violation, even if done in a bar. B.B., Panama City Beach, FL

V & Z: As regards the ERA, you wrote:

It's possible that any lawsuit could be kicked for lack of standing, of course. However, it's hard to imagine that state AGs don't have standing to ask what is or is not part of the Constitution, nor that women and women's groups don't have standing to ask whether they are or are not afforded the special protections of the ERA.

This is basically true. It could get kicked out for lack of standing. I think more likely it will get kicked out for lack of ripeness. The plaintiffs need a woman who has been discriminated against in a manner that only the ERA would not permit. Two rules are in play. Case and controversy and never make a ruling on constitutional grounds that could be decided on non-constitutional grounds.

Courts avoid constitutional grounds if other adequate grounds exist for the ruling. So, first we need a case that is allowed under existing anti-gender-discrimination laws, but would be prohibited by the ERA. Second, we need a real controversy, not a theoretical one. I am no Allan Tribe...but I think ripeness may be a problem. G.W., Boca Raton, FL

Note: As we note often, we are not lawyers. We appreciate your sharing your expertise.

Alternate Perspectives on Israel, Dershowitz

V & Z: There is an expression, credited to diplomat Abba Eban, that the "Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Curiously, while the left-leaning media outlets you quoted (and the Palestinians, most notably) dismissed Donald Trump's Middle East peace proposal out of hand, most of the more moderate Arab states have not and hope that Mahmoud Abbas & Co. use it as a starting point for negotiations. To be sure, the mutual hatred of Iran played a role in that acquiescence, but so too did the weight of Eban's quote from above. Ostensibly, the Trump plan is ludicrous considering what he has proposed as compared to that of his predecessors. What he has done, however, is send a message to the Palestinians that they must quickly give up the fantasy that they will control all of Israel (either through a deal or attrition by demanding the Right of Return for 4 million people), or the world will pass them by. I agreed with the President's decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Not only did it move to the capital of an ally, but the act also sent the same message, even if the U.N. coddles the Palestinians (they are they only group of refugees whose progeny are also considered refugees.)

On another note, I question your conclusion that Alan Dershowitz has flip flopped on impeachment from 20+ years ago mostly because he loves the camera. The professor is more likely going through a political transformation that many Jews above the age of 30 are going though. His Jewish identity defines him in many ways. He is therefore a big supporter of Israel, and currently, one party is a much bigger advocate for the Israelis than the other. This is a flip-flop from the George H.W. Bush years, when he turned his back on the country despite their staying out of the first Persian Gulf War (his son was much friendlier). Moreover, antisemitism is a much bigger problem from the left than the right in that it is far more accepted among left-leaning and mainstream circles (inadvertently, you once quoted Mondoweiss—a known hate site— and STILL could not call Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib anti-Semites and bigots when their actions clearly justified it). Reps. Omar and Tlaib appear on the Sunday talk shows and are lauded by MSNBC, yet Rep. Steve King (R-IA) could never appear on even Fox News. Hence, many of those who identify as Jewish are indeed turning Republican, but assuaging their guilt by still calling themselves Democrats (Dershowitz) or Independent, or by happily voting for Biden (most Jews). Is there a Jexedous movement? Of course not. Certainly not enough to move the electorate in any meaningful way except, possibly, in a toss-up state like Florida (thank you, Electoral College; why minorities want that eradicated makes no sense, but that's an argument for another time). So, Prof. Dershowitz, in my opinion, is truly "calling balls and strikes" just like you believe you are. J.K., Short Hills, NJ

Note: We will note that opinion on Mondoweiss is mixed, that we went forward with that link based on positive comments from some mainstream sources, and that we struck the link within a few hours once we learned there is so much criticism of the site.

V & Z: In your item about the "Deal of the Century," I realize that you meant to criticize Trump's peace plan rather than Israel itself, but what you ended up doing is calling Israel a colonial project. With colonialism, Europeans took over land and indigenous populations in Africa, South America, and other parts of the world. The Europeans had no connection those places other than wanting to exploit the people and plunder their resources. But despite what Mahmoud Abbas would have you believe, the Jews have had a strong attachment to and a continuous presence in Israel for millennia. Arabs who live there also have an attachment to the land, and the ones who stayed after 1948 are citizens of Israel. Unfortunately, the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians refused so many offers for their own sovereign state that Jared Kushner is correct when he says they should take what they can get, even though the plan will go nowhere. The original Palestine was drawn up from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, and included what is now, roughly, Jordan, Israel, and what Arabs call the West Bank.

At that time (1917), the Balfour Declaration said that the land should be used for sovereign states for the Jews and Arabs of the region. However, in 1921, Palestine was divided into the Emirate of Transjordan and Palestine, with Transjordan getting a much bigger piece than Palestine. Yet somehow, Transjordan wasn't the Arab state envisioned by Lord Balfour, and the Arabs wanted Palestine for themselves. Led by the warmonger and ally of Hitler, Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini, the Arabs staged years of violent riots against the Jews and turned down what would be their first ever sovereign state several times in the 1930s, including the Peel Commission's plan which would have given the Jews a tiny sliver of a small state and giving the Arabs the rest. In 1947, the UN Partition Plan would have created sovereign states for both the Arabs and the Jews, but again, the Arabs turned it down. In 1967, in a defensive war against multiple Arab armies, Israel took the Gaza strip from Egypt, what is known as the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. After the shooting stopped, Israel offered to trade land for peace, and the Arabs, by then calling themselves Palestinians, refused to even attend the Arab League meeting at which the Arab response to Israel's offer was discussed. The Arab countries decided for the Palestinians that there would be no peace, no negotiations, and no recognition of Israel. In 2000 and 2008, the Palestinians again turned down great offers, responding with violence every time. And they walked away from negotiations led by other U.S. administrations. So telling them they've blown many chances and should take what they can get is vastly different than what occurred with European colonialism. It is clear from the aforementioned, and from much other evidence, that the Palestinians will never agree to any "peace" offer that doesn't result in the destruction of Israel.

I further object to your assertion that the Trump team never spoke with the Palestinians. There were meetings between the White House and the Palestinians about the plan, but it was again the Palestinians who cut off all contacts with the U.S. after the U.S. moved the embassy to (West) Jerusalem. Since they refused for the rest of the time to participate in the forming of the plan, they can hardly complain about its contents. Yet they persist.

All that said, you are otherwise correct about the "Deal of the Century." J.R., Pittsburgh, PA

Taking Matters Into His Own Hands

V & Z: I always have mixed emotions when you write something about Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), as you did about his inevitable run for the U.S. Senate. On one hand, his policy positions/votes hurt millions of people and uncountable life on the planet, and his violations of his Oath of Office (particularly as regards impeachment) threaten Democracy itself. So, it's upsetting. On the other hand, he is "my" representative, so it's nice to see Georgia, the nation's 10th most populous state, getting some attention on your site.

It was because published in late 2017 that a Democrat would have to be crazy to run in a +31 red district in 2018, and because I decided that such a bad representative should not be allowed to retain his seat unchallenged, that I ended up running for Collins' seat in 2018. So, thanks to you two, I spent a bunch of money that I didn't have and met hundreds of wonderful people. It makes for a great story.

Just so you know, I'm running this time for a portion of Collins' district, the Georgia House District 8 (the counties that border NC). Having traveled out of state to volunteer for 11 races in 8 states over 14 years, your "boot" into candidacy further changed my activist life.

I hope to read future stories about the collapse of Collins' Senate campaign. D.C., Gainesville, GA

Note: We are gratified to learn of this, and appreciate your writing to us. Good luck in your campaign.

We'll Revisit This One Last Time

V & Z: Regarding your comments on what to call the current followers of the Republican Party: I do computer software support, and frequently I must explain to someone the difference between a slash character (/) and a back-slash (\). Ignoring the Latin origin of the virgule (/) and its association with penises (another of your recent topics), here is what I say: A slash or forward slash leans to the right, while a back-slash leans to the left, but politics is backwards. Oddly, this seldom gets a laugh. G.L., Memphis, TN

Note: That's a nerd-humor formulation of a joke that exists in many forms. The version we are most familiar with: "American politics is like a car. Choose 'D' if you want to move forward, and 'R' if you want to go backward."

V & Z: In light of their spineless servile boot-licking antics, how about the Banana Republican Party? I.W., Palm Springs, CA

V & Z: I just have to jump in with...MAGAts. S.S., Detroit, MI

V & Z: Rather than try to come up with the wittiest pejorative, Democrats should just call it what it is: the Trump party. T.B., Detroit, MI

V & Z: Trumpublican it is. That is all. J.R., Westminster, CO

V & Z: I am a long-time moderate Republican (who, however, is ashamed that the Republicans have become the party of Trump). I have followed your website for many years (back to near the beginning). While I have always read your posts with the lens that they typically come from a different political view than mine, I appreciate the work you do and consider the news you report a good source of political reporting. You typically post in a way that, while snarky to those you disagree with, at least are based in fact and, usually, not overly hostile. It was, then, very surprising and saddening to read your mailbag on Sunday when you chose to publish letters that allowed your readers to "rename" the Republican Party. Some of these letters look like they came straight from the depths of Fox News/CNN/MSNBC comments sections. They added no value to your pages, but were just written to promote a hated of the opposing party. I hope this is not indicative of where your site is headed. In the future, I hope you consider whether letters you post are meant to inform or incite. In today's climate, we don't need more inciting. R.B., Bartlett, IL

Note: Given the nature and purposes of a mailbag, we give pretty vast latitude, and we print many things that we would never write ourselves. We felt this particular discussion addressed some important issues in an interesting way. That said, as the headline says, we're going to cut it off now, because it's run its course.

Word Choices

V & Z: I am sensitive for any who feel hurt by use of words, having experienced intentional or unintentional gender based "insults" over the years due to the inherent bias that is common still in our language. However, I was surprised there was not a historical comment from you in response to the criticism around the use of a definition of "chink," meaning "a crack or gap," dating back to around 1400. Meanwhile, the phrase "chink in one's armor" has been used idiomatically since the mid-17th century if not before. All that is obviously not relevant when the phrase is used specifically to link, as was done in the infamous ESPN headline, to an American of Asian descent, but just like I wouldn't argue to find another phrase for gender that similarly dates before current times (for example "she" as a boat), I wouldn't argue against "chink in armor" when it is used without a specific insulting aspersion, such as when Shakespeare says "chink in the wall" in A Midsummer Night's Dream. E.S., San Francisco, CA

V & Z: I'm entirely with you on "chink in the armor." I once posted an ad seeking adoption of a Maine coon cat and was promptly chastised by a colleague who called me a racist. An outrageous response, in my opinion. S.G., Newark, NJ

V & Z: For all the journalistic efforts to present "both sides" when there aren't necessarily two legitimately defensible views, the false equivalency that drives me most crazy, and that I think is most damaging right now, is the trope that "half the country thinks one thing while the other half thinks the opposite." A 53/43 divide in terms of Donald Trump's approval ratings, or whether or not he should be removed from office (it always amazes me that there is still 4% that can't decide...) is significantly different from 50-50, particularly given that the 53-43 is based on so many polls over such a long time and has been so stable. In addition, that 43 includes people who are saying they approve of Trump primarily because of the economy, which means that on any particular issue, they may well not be in his corner. Representing this as 50-50 is malpractice and implies an evenly divided country, when that is not at all what we have right now. We have a divided country for sure, but it is not evenly divided, and representing it as such colors the discussion misleadingly. Please make this go away. S.K., Bethesda, MD

V & Z: Joni Ernst (R-IA) sure got to be a veteran senator in a hurry. Just six years ago she was castrating pigs. D.S., Palo Alto, CA

Note: Good point; our assessment was based on the fact that she's risen to become the #4 Republican in the Senate, suggesting she's a fast learner.

V & Z: You frequently refer to statements or events that should be discounted by saying they should be taken with some volume of "salt." The more dubious the item, the more salt you recommend its being "taken" with (for example, a "barrel of salt" in the item regarding future casualty figures from the Trump Administration).

But the original phrase, to "take with a grain of salt," reflects the lack of value. Roman soldiers were paid, in part, in salt, which was a valuable commodity. "Soldier," in fact, comes from the Latin "sal dare"—to give salt. Likewise, the word "salary" come from the Latin for "salt." So to take something with a "barrel" or other large volume of salt, is oxymoronic—that volume of salt would be very valuable indeed (at least in Roman times). A grain of salt is like a penny—a minuscule, near-worthless amount of a commodity of great value in large amounts. If you want to intensify the lack of value of something you're describing, you should go smaller, like milli-grain of salt, not bigger.

Of course, you should feel free to take all of the above pedantry with a single molecule of NaCl. R.M., Brooklyn, NY

Note: This is the trick about the origins of words, and in particular, the origins of idioms. You are, of course, correct about the value of salt in ancient Rome, and how that led to the development of the words "soldier" and "salary." However, we are persuaded that the origin "a grain of salt" is in Pliny the Elder's Natural History, specifically Book XXIII, where he counsels that a grain of salt will help treat poisoning. Ergo, the worse the "poison" is, the more salt that is needed.

If you have a question about politics, civics, history, etc. you would like us to answer on the site, please send it to, and include your initials and city of residence. If you have a comment about the site or one of the items therein, please send it to and include your initials and city of residence in case we decide to publish it. If you spot any typos or other errors on the site that we should fix, please let us know at
Email a link to a friend or share:

---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb01 Party First (and Second, and Third...)
Feb01 Delaney Is Out
Feb01 The UK Is Out, Too
Feb01 Saturday Q&A
Jan31 The End Appears to Be Nigh
Jan31 Sanders Campaign Prepping List of Executive Orders
Jan31 Today in Metaphors
Jan31 Time to Get Creative
Jan31 ERA, Now?
Jan31 Super Bowl Sunday Will Offer No Respite from Politics
Jan31 Abrams Has Her Senate Candidate
Jan30 Senators Finally Get to Ask Questions
Jan30 John Bolton's World Is Upside Down
Jan30 White House Wants to Block Publication of Bolton's Book
Jan30 Poll: Majority Opposes Use of Executive Privilege to Muzzle Witnesses
Jan30 Poll: Biden and Sanders Are in a Statistical Tie in Iowa
Jan30 Biden Gets 200 Endorsements in South Carolina
Jan30 Trump Appointees Will Flood Iowa on Caucus Day
Jan30 Team Trump Hands Out $25,000 to Black Voters
Jan30 Trump May Not Go Gentle into That Good Night
Jan29 Trump Defense Wraps Up
Jan29 Trump Unveils Middle East Peace Plan
Jan29 Casualty Figures for Iran Strike Revised Upward
Jan29 Deficit Officially Reaches $1 Trillion
Jan29 Democratic Senate PAC Raised $61M in 2019
Jan29 GOP Braces for Collins Run
Jan29 Republicans Nervous about House Fundraising
Jan28 Trump Defense Hit with a Lightning Bolton
Jan28 Democratic Muckety Mucks Are Scared Witless of Sanders
Jan28 Which Democratic Candidate Is Being Hurt Most by Having to Be in Washington?
Jan28 Supreme Court Gives Trump a Victory on Immigration
Jan28 Pompeo Situation Is Turning Ugly
Jan28 Collins Expected to Run for Senate
Jan27 John Bolton Is Complicating Things for Trump....
Jan27 ...And So Is Lev Parnas
Jan27 Nadler Will Miss Part of the Impeachment Trial Due to Wife's Cancer
Jan27 Pompeo Melts Down
Jan27 Sanders Is on a Roll
Jan27 Des Moines Register Endorses Warren
Jan27 Buttigieg Appears on Fox News
Jan26 Trump Team Begins to Lay Out Its Case
Jan26 Sunday Mailbag
Jan25 Democrats Conclude their Case
Jan25 Saturday Q&A
Jan24 And the Beat Goes On
Jan24 Next Week, Trump Will Try to Change the Narrative...
Jan24 ...This Week, on the Other Hand
Jan24 Who Are the Vulnerable GOP Senators?
Jan23 Democrats Begin to Lay out Their Case
Jan23 Democrats Nix Witness Trade