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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

This week's mailbag is a little lighter than last week's, though there are a few heavy-duty letters mixed in.

The 2020 Election

E.S. in Arlington, MA, writes: You wrote that you received more mail about the Newsweek article on how Donald Trump could steal the election than anything else this week. I have noticed that article and similar ones all appealing to frantic Democrats afraid of a repeat of 2016.

We need to recognize that those are formulaic clickbait articles. Democrats should be aware that if they see headlines like "Why the polls might be all wrong" or "How Trump will steal the election," they are being manipulated just as surely as Republicans are with headlines like "How Biden will steal your guns" or "Hillary's Child Porn operation moves to new pizzeria."

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: I just hope once Democrats take control of the White House and Congress they don't forget to pass all the meaningful legislation that's come out of the House the last two years. It's easy to be bold and forward thinking when you know it's only symbolic and isn't going anywhere. Bold and forward thinking are not two traits I think of when I think of the current Democratic leadership.

G.W. in Jacksonville, FL, writes: I am starting to think that Donald Trump is to the Republican Party what Jimmy Carter was to the Democratic party. As we get closer to the election, I suspect that many of the Republicans will start to distance themselves. They would rather be in the Senate with Biden in the White House than have Trump in the White House without them in the Senate.

I am also waiting for a FDR "this elects me moment" where something that Trump does seals the election for Biden. In the Hoover/Roosevelt election it was the burning of the veteran camp.

J.N. in Summit, NJ, writes: It has been said over and over that Donald Trump is immune to every scandal because he never appears to pay a price for any of the myriad scandals to date. This is not accurate, however. He is immune to every scandal that an educated, fact-based, civic-minded person might consider a scandal, because all of these people have already made up their minds to oppose Trump. For a new scandal to cause significant damage to Trump, it must be something that his base would find scandalous, not something that his detractors and opponents would. Bountygate, superimposed on the botched COVID-19 response, the anti-racism movement, the recession, and (sadly) the Fox News polls showing that Trump is getting crushed by Biden, may be that scandal, and it may set off that abrupt loss of support from his base that happened to Richard Nixon and that you have alluded to many times.

I would not be so quick to dismiss the impact of Bountygate. The only people who might understand if this is the final straw are those who still believe in Trump. I myself am not qualified to judge the potential of this scandal; my outrage has been turned up to 11 for years already.

J.F. in Radnor, PA, writes: As re-election seems to get more and more improbable for Trump, doesn't it makes sense for the Russians to throw their support behind Joe Biden in a very transparent and discoverable manner? Doing so would taint Biden's victory, enrage the right, put the left in a bind, and generally further erode Americans' confidence in the democratic process.

S.J.S. in Durham, NC, writes: I read about the cease and desist order requested by Tom Petty's estate against the use of the song "I Won't Back Down" by the Trump campaign. Though I think that title is apt to describe some of Trump's behavior, my partner suggested they might let him use "Free Falling", which I like even better given the state of his campaign.

V & Z respond: Or "Even the Losers (Get Lucky Sometimes)"?

S.K. in Chappaqua, NY, writes: Political gurus, yourselves included, say much about the obvious futility of Trump's single-minded focus on his base, the less than 40% of the American electorate that trusts no political information that they do not get from him or from his slavish media like Faux News and Breitbart. But I think you omit mention of Trump's worldview that drives him.

Trump sees all controversy as two-sided, like the conflict between the Eloi and the Morlocks in H. G. Wells' "The Time Machine" (which, like all other worthwhile literature, Trump has neither read nor learned about). He sees the American electorate as divided between caucasians on one side and dark-skinned voters on the other side, the descendants of Asians and indigenous peoples being insufficiently numerous to matter. In his world, he need only get caucasians, who are more numerous than their adversaries, to understand that he represents them and his opponents represent their enemies. Once the caucasian voters understand (t)his truth, he wins.

No one will ever dissuade him from his simplistic view; he cannot do nuance. Once people understand that, his (doomed) strategies lose their mystery.

J.A. in Dripping Springs, TX, writes: As a computer scientist who has been following a fellow computer scientist since the beginning of this website (thanks for Minix!), I'm not so sure it's reasonable to characterize data as an area of expertise of Brad Parscale's. I'm one of the 45 million voters they have reached out to (cold) and I even joined when I was selected as "1 of only 100 patriots nationwide" (sure 'nuff!). I gave them a dollar to keep them on my radar. Now I am inundated with spam. But in Texas, voting history is a public record. I have an unblemished Democratic primary voting record going back as far as records are kept, I ran for office on the Democratic ticket and have an extensive public record where my ideology is clear.

If they can't figure that out, how good is their data operation? Is spamming/fishing a sign of over confidence or panic?

C.J. in Honolulu, HI, writes: You pondered if there was some pocket of conservative Latino voters in Texas who were withholding their support for Donald Trump, and whether this would explain why Trump is facing a bigger struggle in the Lone Star State relative to Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). This piqued my curiosity, and I decided to dive into the polling to try to find out what exactly is going on.

The most recent poll with crosstabs available which tests both the Presidential race and the Senate race in Texas is this Fox News poll published on June 25. This poll showed Joe Biden with a lead of a single point over Donald Trump, 45% to 44%, while Senator Cornyn held a more comfortable 10-point lead over Democratic challenger MJ Hegar, 46% to 36%. With a margin of error of +/- 3%, the Presidential race is essentially a tie, while Cornyn has a statistically significant lead in his bid for reelection.

So what about the subcategories? Is there a significant difference in the levels of Latino support between Trump and Cornyn, for instance? Not really. Among Latinos, 25% would vote for Trump, while 27% say they would vote for Cornyn. As the margin of error among that subcategory (+/- 6%) is even greater than that of the overall poll, these results are essentially indistinguishable. As you examine each of the subcategories of the poll in turn, you find that the results are remarkably consistent, with only a point or two or three separating Trump from Cornyn usually, but not always in favor of Cornyn. For instance, Black voters go 6% for Trump and 9% for Cornyn, white voters go 60% Trump, 62% Cornyn, Baby Boomers go 52% Trump and 49% Cornyn, and so on.

Interestingly, the only subcategory in the poll which shows a statistically significant difference in support for Donald Trump relative to John Cornyn is...people who disapprove of Donald Trump (48% of respondents). Only 3% of such voters would hold their nose and vote for Trump, while 13% of these same voters say they would vote for John Cornyn. In a sense, it could be said that the key to John Cornyn's advantage in Texas is that he's not Donald Trump. Well, that and the fact that his opponent MJ Hegar is not as well-known as Joe Biden and voters have not yet made up their minds about her. This suggests that, given a few more months of campaigning, Hegar may yet be able to close the gap between her and the not-too-popular Cornyn as she increases her name-recognition. If Biden continues to poll even with Trump in Texas, and if all the stars align, his coattails might be just enough to pull himself and Hegar over the finish line.

T.W. in Chicago, IL, writes: One thing that I think you may be overlooking in your analysis of the Texas Senate polling, when comparing it to the Presidential polling, is that MJ Hegar is not officially the Democratic candidate yet. She is currently in the middle of a runoff with Royce West. I have to assume that is part of the reason her polling support is lagging behind that of Biden while the number of undecideds remains relatively high. While she is very likely to come out as the candidate, I would assume the supporters of West aren't willing to concede that just yet, and aren't willing to support her for polling purposes, leading to higher "undecided" numbers.

D.T.T. in Keene Valley, NY, writes: As a resident of her congressional district, NY-21, I take exception to your characterizing Rep. Elise Stefanik (R) as a moderate.

Last winter, toward the end of the impeachment process, she mounted a full-throated, nationally televised defense of Donald Trump, combined with a full-bore attack on Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and the Democrats; she then went on to fundraise for her campaign on Fox News. On health care and environmental policy, Stefanik has voted numerous times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to allow corporate polluters to dump their toxic waste in our waterways, and to strip EPA funding by $328M. Maybe this is moderation by the current Republican standards, but I don't buy it.

J.F. in Pasadena, CA, writes: In your answer about whether one should contribute to a congressional candidate in a deeply red Wisconsin district, I would argue you omitted one salient consideration. Contributions to candidates in tough districts help their party overall by increasing turnout and building infrastructure. It's important to have vibrant candidates and campaigns even in tough areas. Much of the success seen in Wisconsin's Supreme Court race last April came from "losing by less" in red areas—losing, but cutting into the GOP margins. Any gains in that direction help the Presidential race and U.S. Senate races (although Wisconsin doesn't have a Senate seat up this year) and also can help in state legislative races. In Virginia, for example, GOP legislators for years coasted by when they were unopposed. In 2017, the Democrats had a concerted effort to run candidates in all those seats, and suddenly started winning in all sorts of strange places. You can't win if you don't show up, and the better you do even in tough places, the better you do in the state overall.

So send money to good candidates who will run credible races, even in hopeless districts. These candidates know they're not likely to win, but they are fighting the good fight, so help them out.

P.S. in New York, NY, writes: I was a student of Helmut Norpoth at SUNY Stony Brook for 2 semesters, including his class "American Election Campaigns" during the 2008 election, in which he shared his model.

If my memory serves, his model is based on comparing how a candidate performs in the NH primary along with certain polling data. Yes, his model predicts "wins," but I can assure you he himself often said the models are really just for fun. I believe he even admitted that, despite predicting Trump's win, his model failed because it predicted a popular vote win.

Also, in his defense, I wouldn't call him "on the fringe." He's slightly conservative, but was always willing to spar with a progressive like me amicably. I learned more about foreign policy from him than any other source.

J.A. in Washington, DC, writes: As someone who once worked in the ad-buy business, I want to just chime in to say your answer about Donald Trump ads in Santa Ana is exactly right. The campaigns buy them on individual stations, but those stations are part of a Nielsen DMA map which, if it's at the border of two states, will result in you getting ads in a market that the candidate has no chance of winning. So it's absolutely not unusual to see campaigns buy advertising slots in states they have no chance of winning (or have no chance of losing) if they're on the border of marginal states. You'll also see this in Kentucky (buying ads for the Cincinnati area), Iowa (buying ads in Missouri), Chicago (Southern Wisconsin), and other areas around the country.

The Veepstakes

R.M. in Pensacola, FL, writes: I agree with your response to the question from Julián Castro from San Antonio, Texas (did I guess right?!) about Barack Obama's eligibility for the vice presidency.

However, I think the way the Supreme Court decides if Barack Obama can serve as Vice President would likely hinge on how Obama's relationship with John Roberts was overall. Certainly there were times where they did not see eye-to-eye, but I'm sure there were plenty of good moments as well. Roberts could be the swing vote, assuming the liberals think yes and conservatives say no.

That said, if people thought conservatives were losing their minds for the eight years that Obama was president, can you imagine the collective outrage they would have if Obama was just one step away from being president again?

J.E. in Bellevue, WA, writes: In answering yesterday's question from R.M. of Pensacola, you omitted one significant way that Joe Biden could still blow the election. To your credit, the response to F.S. of Cologne corrected this oversight: If he were to choose a certain former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State as his running mate (which as you point out, he is unlikely to do) he would probably lose.

C.S. in Newport, Wales, writes: You say Hillary Clinton would be the most qualified woman for the vice-presidency, but Biden definitely won't nominate her.

But what about as next UN Secretary General? There has never been a woman UNSG, and is there anyone better qualified?

V & Z respond: You do know that any of the five permanent members of the Security Council, including Russia, can veto a UNSG nomination, right? She would be a good pick for U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., though.

H.M. in Detroit, MI, writes: I really like Susan Rice. Among all of the candidates Biden is vetting, I think that she is truly the one who would be able to hit the ground running on day #1, were Biden to die on the spot (Benghazi be damned).

The Great Escape

A.V. in Oak Ridge, TN, writes: In response to D.K., you posited that Donald Trump might decide to flee the country, rather than lose an election. (This was also part of the basis of J.B.C.'s question immediately afterward.) While I could see him doing it, it would be most unwise. This past Monday, Iran issued an arrest warrant for Trump. I suspect that if Trump were to go flying into the arms of Vladimir Putin for shelter from U.S. law enforcement, under the pretense of Putin owing him one for all the favors done for Russia by the Trump White House, then Vladimir would happily turn Trump over to the Iranians rather than being constantly hounded for more and more favors to repay this debt.

While the U.S. prison system is pretty heinous to its occupants, I can't imagine that the Iranian prison system is any better, nor that an Iranian court is at all likely to provide very good odds of acquittal.

R.G. in Seattle, WA, writes: On the question of Donald Trump fleeing the jurisdiction on Air Force One, as Paul Harvey world say, there is a rest of the story: AF1, of course, is the call sign of whatever USAF operated aircraft the President is on; not any specific plane. This is the case for the other services as well, and I presume that the first POTUS to reach 50 miles will then have their craft referred to as "Space Force One."

I am not exactly certain, but the B747-200 most often used as AF1 likely does not have the range capability to fly direct to Abu Dhabi or Moscow from Andrews AFB. So, unless others beyond the flight crew are in on the fugitive President's plan to flee the jurisdiction, I'm not sure it is even possible. "Fly me to Havana" might be possible, and then a whole plethora of options open up, perhaps some that have appeared in spy novels (published or planned).

V & Z respond: Actually, the plane(s) generally used as Air Force One are Boeing VC-25s. That is the military version of the 747, and the model has a range of about 8,000 miles. So, it's possible to reach Moscow (4,857 miles from Washington) or Dubai (7,037 miles) without refueling. That said, you are right that it would not be easy for Trump to try a stunt like this without at least tacit assistance from some co-conspirators.

Legal Matters

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: My comment is regarding Chief Justice John Roberts' opinions. With the DACA, June Medical (abortion rights) and citizenship question cases, Roberts just sounds so exasperated. The subtext is, "C'mon people, help me help you. All I'm asking is for you to just go through the motions and at least pretend to care about process and the rule of law. Then, I can take care of the rest!" In June Medical, he repeats several times that the challenged law is identical to the Texas law the Court struck down just 4 years earlier. In other words: "Bring me something, anything, that's even the slightest bit different and I can help you!" In the DACA case, it was the same: "Just write down some contemporaneous reason, any reason, to justify your decision to cancel the program and I can help you!" The administration's arrogance and incompetence is bound to frustrate any Chief Justice who wants to advance conservatives' agenda but needs at least one fig leaf to cover the naked partisanship.

R.G. in Seattle, WA, writes: I would not jump to the conclusion that Simon and Schuster will be free of consequences for publishing Mary Trump's book. You are correct that enforcement of an NDA/CDA is generally a civil matter, but such contracts are difficult and interesting beasts (as one Stormy Daniels can affirm) and nearly all have cooperation clauses and usually contain agreements not to limit a party's remedies, including injunctive relief. Thus, if A Certain Someone claims that the book contains a "Trade Secret," (and it might, as the author's entire family is populated with individuals clearly involved in business schemes that no one else is willing to perpetrate), that is a term of art in Intellectual Property law, and it can be controlled as such even in the hands of a publisher. IP law does have criminal provisions as well, and if Simon & Schuster has actual knowledge of such property rights...well...their counsel might be wise to advise them to beware.

Media Matters

A.B. in Chesapeake, CA, writes: I have been thinking about your recent posts on cognitive dissonance. During the 2012 election, a Mormon colleague was desperate for me to vote for Mitt Romney. He said he would read any book I suggested to convince him to vote Democratic if I would read a book he suggested to not vote for Obama. I asked him to read "What's the Matter with Kansas" by Thomas Frank. His book was "The Roots of Obama's Rage" by Dinesh D'Souza. After two pages of "Rage," I could not accept the premise that Obama was a neocolonialist Socialist because of his father, who he met twice. After 50 pages, I gave up and returned the book, but, at least I tried.

In the 2016 election, I had political discussions with professional colleagues who are well educated and intelligent. I am not a Fox News watcher, and was shocked when I heard their version of Hilary's transgressions and lies, taken directly from Fox with no independent thought. Well-established facts could not be used to counter their arguments and they became irrationally furious that I even tried to defend "that murderous liar." I offered to let them read the Republican-led Benghazi report (after 8 previous House committee investigations) that cleared Clinton of any wrongdoing, to no avail.

A good example of the problem is revealed in a Daily Show segment with Trump Supporters. As you've noted previously on this site, it is not so much what the other person thinks, but what they feel. By understanding how they feel, we may be able to affect their conclusions. It makes you wonder what caused the scales to finally tip in 1930's Germany. Much has been written about the role of the bystander who does not intervene. We must intervene at this perilous time. For most of us, that means voting to rid ourselves of those elected officials who are complicit in the alternate reality that is Trump. Vote and get 10 others to vote with you.

L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, writes: When I began working at my current employer years ago, 'Jim' and I became fast friends. Even though I was liberal and he was conservative, we had many lively, and congenial, political discussions ending with us respectfully agreeing to disagree. I attended many weekend poker games at Jim's house where politics were never mentioned.

Over the years, Jim's views drifted rightward, aided by the likes of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Jim tried the patience of his coworkers by claiming, among other things, that Kenyan-born Barack Obama would appoint himself President-for-Life and the socialist Democrats were going to take the guns of patriotic Americans and put them in prison camps. It is not hyperbolic to describe Jim as "radicalized." By the time Jim retired a few years ago, he was telling coworkers, including me, who disagreed with him that we "Hate America." By that time, few at work were willing to speak to him anymore.

Jim had been quite distressed lately by several developments that were "destroying America": the "evil Black Lives Matter anarchists taking over Seattle," the "activist Supreme Court telling us we have to treat sexual deviants just like God fearing Republican Christian patriotic Americans" and "we must allow those baby killing factories to remain open," the "obvious staging of the recent deaths at the hands of the police," and other machinations of the "evil libs."

On June 30, Jim took his own life. Thanks, Fox News.

V & Z respond: This is very sad. Clearly, Jim had underlying issues that Fox News, et al. are happy to exploit, consequences be damned.

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: J.A., Raleigh, NC, asked about the Fairness Doctrine and whether its demise has contributed to polarization.

I wonder if the opposite is true, and the "fair and balanced" standard has led to ongoing normalization of more extreme political positions, which in turn have shifted and distorted the Overton Window and have increased polarization.

NBC's Chuck Todd is the standard-bearer of this phenomenon. Regardless of the absurdity of a specific argument or position, Todd's role is to center the "debate," so left and right are presented as equally valid and reasonable positions, with himself set squarely in the middle. Those on the extreme are thus provided implicit approval for their positions and a massive platform to drag followers further to the edges.

Is this unfortunate media tendency (exemplified by the "Sunday news shows," which I can no longer watch) not a direct descendant of the Fairness Doctrine and thus a cause of our polarization?

V & Z respond: We have often been critical of people who perform "balance," and behave as if all viewpoints are valid. CNN, the network that launched the career of Kayleigh McEnany, is particularly guilty of this.

Religious Matters

D.R. in Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, writes: I chuckled at your reference to Mark 22:12 (Mark actually ends at Mark 16:20) and your reference to Romans 3:19: "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God."

I suspect not many evangelicals caught your dig "every mouth may be stopped" and "whole world may be held accountable to God."

Thumbs up. This white evangelical is not a Trump fan.

V & Z respond: In the original iteration, we deliberately named a Biblical passage that we know full well does not exist; a snarky comment on the number of Bible thumpers we've met who don't seem to know their scripture very well. However, so many people thought it was an error, we switched it to Mark 10:22.

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: As I am renowned among my friends for my Gift of Scriptural Distortion, I spent far too much time analyzing the verses that you facetiously attributed to Donald Trump's supporters, and probably randomly picked. Here's my take on how Trump might give the sermon indicating "that Jesus was a big supporter of gay Muslim abortionists."

Mark 10:22 is the story of the Rich Young Ruler. Specifically, he walks away sad, because he has great wealth and therefore can't follow Jesus. Romans 3:19 is a bit more pedantic, arguing that the law is spoken to those under the law, so that everyone is accountable.

It kind of jumps right out at you, actually. We have to follow the law so that we can be accountable, and the law of the land is clear that abortion and homosexuality are legal. As far as Muslims are concerned, there is that 1st Amendment thing. The Rich Young Ruler represents giving up everything we hold dear, like the evangelical identity, pro-life positions, etc. If you want to follow Jesus, you really have to give up your most dearly held positions, and follow the law. Thanks for the insight, Rev. Trump!

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: The word "homophobia" does not only mean fear of gays and lesbians; it also can mean bias against them or aversion towards them. As a public school teacher, K.J. in Roanoke, VA should know this, and I believe is being deliberately obtuse.

I came out of the closet as a teenager and I had my share of run-ins with homophobic adults. In fact, one of the men in my childhood community was very Catholic and complained to other parents about me attending a class trip where students had to share hotel rooms with others of the same gender. Unfortunately for him, our state has banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation since the early 90s.

When I saw him at a school event, he glared at me. I confronted him and told him if he had a problem with my identity I dared him to try to change it. He accused me of being disrespectful, so I replied that my respect for others is earned. He left me alone after that.

There is a disturbing trend, which has accelerated in the Trump era, in which religious activists try to justify any prejudice or action by citing religious beliefs. That's the problem with believing in supernatural beings—it is impossible to know for sure what they want so they can be used as a justification for anything the believer wants.

G.A. in Berkeley, CA, writes: In the sophisticated Germany of the 1930s and 1940s, well-educated politicians, lawyers, psychologists, judges, and doctors found themselves enthusiastically advocating and participating in some of the most amazing things, notably mass murder on an industrial scale. In the U.S. of 2020, we're certainly not there now, but it's instructive how readily Republican legislators, commentators, lawyers, and judges abandon any principles they may proclaim, in order to kowtow to the Leader. How willingly they credit lies, venerate corruption, betray our allies, embrace our adversaries, undermine elections, and suppress resisting voters.

Even more instructive is how amenable nearly half the American population is to demagogic rallies, blatant racism, anti-Semitism, and misogyny—often in the name of religion. This smaller half, the "family values" crowd, doesn't seem to mind the caging of children after forcible separation from their parents, the vilification of immigrants, the denial of reproductive rights, the bullying and packing of our courts, the fatal heating of our planet, the perversion of law and justice, purges for disloyalty to the Leader, or the Dickensian delivery of tax benefits to the rich while lecturing the poor.

How fragile and voluntary our Constitution, laws, and ethics turn out to be. In the words of Thoreau ("Slavery in Massachusetts"), "Who can be serene in a country where both the rulers and the ruled are without principle?"


C.S. in Stoneville, NC, writes: Frederick Douglass "is being recognized more and more," according to our President. In honor of Independence Day, please consider watching this excellent and encouraging video.

R.I. in Chapel Hill, NC, writes: In response to the letters from L.A. in TX and D.P. in CA on the toppling of statues, Silent Sam was an extremely racist statue on the grounds of North Carolina's flagship public university until 2018, and over half a century of protests and decades of trying the democratic process only had the effect of explicitly protecting Confederate statues from removal. In the years before the toppling, there were a number of protests at the site, and two clear sides at every protest: locals, students and faculty protesting, and on the other side armed white men with Confederate flags, swastikas and guns (including uniformed, on-duty police). I do not blame the people who were harassed, threatened and arrested for peacefully protesting for eventually resorting to removing the inanimate racist symbol when all other options had failed. The toppling was by no measure justice. The state university system settled by paying Confederate groups $2.5 million for its preservation, and paid an additional half million per year to law enforcement during the protests, and fired the chancellor for allowing the statue to fall.

In my opinion, discussions of statues that involve phrases like "preservation of history", "destruction of property" or "mobs" unfortunately really just mean you believe that the statutes of the (mostly) white men accurately represent the people that built this country, you are happy for your tax dollars to have paid to maintain these statues and what they represent, and pulling down a racist symbol is violent and bad because the group of people who it distressed enough (and were willing to face the consequences) did not seek your opinion first. If there are folks interested in preserving the history of North Carolina, please look to protecting our vulnerable mountains, rivers and coast and their million of years of rich history rather than squabbling over the ideal way to remove these (legislatively protected) symbols of oppression. Let them fall and be forgotten.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: I had a great idea to resolve the mask issue: Provide free masks with "Make America Great Again" or the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. That way, the people who have been going around without a mask because they want to offend people can continue offending people while responsibly reducing the spread of the virus.

G.C. in South Pasadena, CA, writes: In last week's Q&A, you talked about the statues that were torn down in San Francisco, but there were some important issues that could/should have been mentioned about both Francis Scott Key and Junípero Serra.

For Francis Scott Key, the third stanza of "The Star Spangled Banner" kind of spells it out:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

A song that speaks approvingly of the death of slaves seems a poor choice for the 21st century. For what it's worth, I strongly place my vote for "This Land is Your Land." The simplicity and beauty of the words surrounding the lifting and flowing melodies. It is only surpassed by "La Marseillaise."

As for Junípero Serra, as you wrote, it gets complicated. The dividing line between the church and the military in Spain was as slight as the dividing line between a Donald Trump speech and lying. And much of what was done for Spain was as much for the church as it was for the military. The church was out to "save" souls and the military was out to take care of those who wanted their souls "saved." As the missions continued up the coast, Serra had a deal for the natives: We'll help save your soul while you work for us as slaves. I guess that seemed fair to the Spanish at the time. So yes, tear that sucker down (except perhaps at the missions).

...and Appropriation

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: The Washington Redskins have officially decreed that they will reconsider their nickname. I was thinking about when/if this issue would resurface, in light of recent social developments. Of course, the big question is, what will the new name be? Considering that there might not even be an NFL season this year, they might have plenty of time to decide.

Originally (1932), they were the Boston Braves. One year later, they became the Boston Redksins. Later, they shared a stadium with a baseball team, the Washington Senators, who moved and became the Minnesota Twins in '61. The name "Senators" is currently available, although they might want to change their colors to a more appropriate red, white, and blue. Hopefully, they will fare better than the original Senators who, to paraphrase Tom Clancy, were "First in war, first in peace, and last in the [National Conference]." Unless they're playing the Lions.

V & Z respond: The remarkable thing is that Donald Trump apparently has not yet waded into this debate. Surely, that is coming soon.

M.S. in Austin, TX, writes: I grew up in a country where we revered the bravery and fighting ability of the American Indian (now the Native American). But our ancestors also stole his land and more recently stole his name to identify some of our sports teams. The PC crowd says these names should be dropped immediately. I suggest that a better solution is to pay a royalty for the use of these names, such as 5% of all receipts of these teams (tickets, refreshments, branded items, etc.). This should universally apply to pro teams as well as high schools and colleges.

The Great Emancipator, from the Great Beyond

K.H. in Corning, NY, writes: When I read the foreshadowing in the intro to Saturday's Q & A, I assumed I would not be able to pick out the salting of the mine and would have to wait for a future report to get my reveal. Luckily, you had mercy on me, and added the "honest question" and the "especially the one on the right" to trigger the double-take.

Thanks for the fun puzzler today.

W.S. in Auburn, NY, writes: For a moment there I thought you had resurrected the dead, but the real Abraham Lincoln was a master of the English language and would have never written "If there was going to be a fifth face added to Mount Rushmore..." but rather "If a fifth face were to be added to Mount Rushmore..." So I assume that your correspondent was Artemis Lokshen, from Springfield, Illinois. Sorry for the doxing, Artie.

V & Z respond: Sorry, Mr. Secretary. We must be a little forgiving of Abe; after all, when he died, e-mail was still 100 years in the future.

K.D. in San Jose, CA, writes: Being locked in for so long, it's clear those stuck in the Political Question Answering Factory™ have used their time to master Star Trek-level time travel abilities. One must caution (Z) to be mindful of the Temporal Prime Directive.

Lef-tea Party

D.N. in Thousand Oaks, CA, writes: Much as I admire the abolitionists, I hope no one takes you up on your suggestion to name a progressive movement after John Brown. The man took up arms not only against slaveholders but also against the US government. In contrast, there are many other progressive heroes—Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr.—who effected change through nonviolent means. Let's honor their memories instead.

V & Z respond: Fair enough, though our thinking is that anyone associated with the civil rights movement is too recent to be apropos. We were also somewhat concerned about appropriation.

M.H. in Whakatane, New Zealand, writes: The 'progressive left' can't very well take the name 'John Brown Society' as it's already taken by the leftist but sometimes violent John Brown Gun Club, and I suspect many pacifist lefties would have trouble fitting in with them. Although the Puget Sound chapter seems to have been active in the Seattle Capitol Hill Organized Protest before its closure last week, so maybe. Reminds me a lot of the tea party movement, now that I think of it. I suspect that if the left did adopt the mantle of John Brown, the optics wouldn't do much to galvanize wider support for the cause. While his ends may have been laudable, his means got him executed and more than a few others killed along the way. Instead, how about the William T. Sherman Worker's Trust or simply the Sherman Party. Two big differences between Sherman and Brown are: (1) the violence done by Sherman was part of a recognized state of war and (2) Sherman won; Brown lost.

M.R. in Oakland, CA, writes: Early this morning, I was reading in bed, got to the punch line "Thoreau's Hammer," laughed out loud and almost woke up my wife. Besides an election-season reporting website, I see you also have a side business of breaking up marriages.

V & Z respond: We try to be a full-service website.

Fifty Nifty United States?

A.B. in Wendel, NC, writes: J.L in Glastonbury suggested a few things that make sense and a few that don't when it comes to reorganizing the states.

For starters, the folks in DC have no interest in being part of Maryland. It should be its own state. Also, so should Puerto Rico. Given the response to them after Hurricane Maria, they would be far better off being an actual state. The Jones Act, among other things, hindered the response to Puerto Rico, which would not be a problem were Puerto Rico an actual state.

Texas still retains the right, without prior Congressional approval, to split into as many as five states. Part of northern California and part of southeastern Oregon attempted to split off into the State Of Jefferson, going so far as to name a Governor of Jefferson, but then Pearl Harbor happened. But you can still see signs of Jefferson everywhere.

J.L. also suggests merging some low-population states, as well as splitting larger ones...and there could be something to this. Much of New England is small states today because of religious differences among early settlers. In New England, one could make an argument for Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire to be merged, and for Rhode Island and Connecticut to be merged with Massachusetts, making two states instead of six.

After adding Puerto Rico and DC, reorganizing New England, splitting Texas, and splitting off Jefferson, annex Delaware into Maryland, combine North and South Dakota, and combine Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Thus you end up still with 50 states, and, if you do the math, the balance of power between Republican and Democratic Senators likely remains unchanged.

J.L. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Last Sunday, J.L. in Glastonbury, CT, suggested merging "ridiculously" underpopulated states like MT/WY/ID, ND/SD/NE, VT/NH/ME, CT/RI, and DE/MD. I thought about this, and the possibility for a little consolidation (not constrained to shared borders) presents some opportunities for a little naming fun:

  1. New Hampshire + New Mexico + New Jersey + New York = All The News
  2. Missouri + Mississippi = The Misses
  3. North Dakota plus North Carolina plus West Virginia = North by Northwest
  4. South Dakota plus South Carolina plus West Virginia = South by Southwest
  5. Maine + Rhode Island = Main Road
  6. Hawaii + Rhode Island = HI Road
  7. Colorado + Pennsylvania = Color Pens
  8. Texas + Connecticut = Tex Cut (Get it? Maybe? Bueller? Bueller?)
  9. Arkansas + Utah + Delaware = Ar U Aware?
  10. Arkansas + Utah + Oregon = Ar U Gone?
  11. Arkansas + Utah + Illinois = Ar U Illin'?
  12. Ohio + Iowa + Tennessee = OH, I See!
  13. Idaho + Alaska + California = I'd Ask Ya
  14. Mississippi + Virginia = Miss Ya
  15. Mississippi + Maine = Miss ME
  16. Wyoming + Maine = Why ME?
  17. Maryland + Maine = Marry ME
  18. Minnesota + Maine = Minne-ME
  19. Alabama + Indiana = All IN
  20. Iowa + Kansas + Mississippi = I Kan Pee
  21. Oklahoma + Mississippi = OK, Pee
  22. Washington + Delaware + Florida = Washing De Floor

And then there are states whose names just kinda flow together when you combine them...

  1. Hawaiidaho
  2. Wissouri
  3. Massissippi
  4. Ohiowa
  5. Alabraska
  6. Vermontana
  7. Connsas
  8. Washingtenn
  9. New Mexas
  10. Califlorida
  11. Georgiana
  12. Arkansas (oh, wait...)
  13. Michigon or Oregan?
  14. Kantucky or Conntucky or Pentucky or Tentucky
  15. Pennessee or Kennsylvania
  16. Or for that matter, Tennsylvania or Kennesee (way too many of those combos!)
  17. Nevaland
  18. And the best for last (say it out loud)...Indizona

All right, I think I got all fifty!


J.E. in San Jose, CA, writes: I just wanted to say I enjoyed your linking of the phrase "another think coming" to proactively keep people from e-mailing you about it. Granted, it resulted in this e-mail being sent, but I imagine it is still a net positive.

V & Z respond: Now if we could just figure out a way to communicate that while Harry Truman's middle name was indeed "S," he signed it with a period, such that "Harry S. Truman" is the correct rendering.

A.P. in Hamburg, Germany, writes: Regarding the answer you gave to the question from D.M. in Massapequa Park, NY, where you included the picture of the old Whig Ballot: It sure is nice to know that a Josiah Bartlett was actually once elected in real life. Maybe the planet isn't doomed yet.

V & Z respond: Two of them, in fact. Josiah Sr. signed the Declaration of Independence and was governor of New Hampshire, and Josiah Jr. (who was on the ballot) was in the New Hampshire state legislature and in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the show "The West Wing," it is made clear that President Jed Bartlet, who also hails from New Hampshire, is a descendant of these men, even if he changed the spelling of the name a bit.

B.B. in Panama City Beach, FL, writes: The good news for historians is that this administration will provide tons of work, for a hundred years.

V & Z respond: You're not kidding. We can envision endowed chairs in the study of Trumpism.

R.M. in Aberdeen, WA, writes: You criticized for its amateurish website. Physician, heal thyself. Your font also defaults to sans-serif (Arial), overriding my settings that say I prefer a serif font.

On top of that, because you are in academia, you refuse to use free grammar-checkers to correct errors on your pages. I was in academia, and I forced my superiors to load Microsoft-only products on my PC because I had worked in industry and knew how much time they saved. My PC was in constant use by other professors because they figured out how much time it saved them. You are like typical academics: Stuck on using inferior products because you have cheap labor to look over your work, because your superiors have no incentive to provide you with time-savings products, and because you have a head-in-the sand knee-jerk typical academia-related bias against Microsoft.

V & Z respond: To quote Luke Skywalker in "The Last Jedi": "Amazing, every word of what you just said...was wrong." To wit: (1) The issue with is not a sans-serif font, per se, it's combining sans-serif with full justification and short lines, which is a bad look because sans-serif fonts are almost always wider and airier than serif fonts; (2) grammar checkers, free or not, do not work well for this type of writing, producing far more false positives than proper corrections; (3) Office 365 is freely available through our universities and we both have it; (4) That said, MS products are not useful for this task because we need completely unformatted text; and (5) We do not employ an army of unpaid graduate student drones to do our busywork, something we've noted before.

In any event, the reason we print this is it affords us an opportunity to remind readers, once again, that imperfect spelling and grammar are a part of the deal if we are to post by the time people awaken in the eastern time zone. We could wait until noon ET, and feature prose that is 2% more perfect, but we do not imagine that tradeoff is worth it. We point this out because a fair number of people seem to take imperfect grammar as a personal insult. It is not.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul04 Saturday Q&A
Jul03 Ghislaine Maxwell Arrested in New Hampshire
Jul03 June Jobs Report Is Stellar...or Is It?
Jul03 Reasons for Trump to Be Optimistic...
Jul03 ...and Reasons for Him to Be Pessimistic
Jul03 When It Comes to Money, Trump Is Doing Great, but Biden Is Doing Better
Jul03 Trump's (Advertising) Achilles' Heel
Jul03 Nowhere to Hyde
Jul03 Texas, Florida Take Divergent Paths
Jul03 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul03 Today's Senate Polls
Jul02 Eighty percent of Evangelicals Will Vote for Trump
Jul02 Trump's Approval Drops Below 40%
Jul02 Hundreds of Bush Officials Support Biden
Jul02 Trump Will Be Intensely Jealous Today
Jul02 Massive Wave of Bankruptcies Is Expected
Jul02 Cheney Criticizes Trump
Jul02 Eleventh Circuit Will Take Up Florida Felon Reenfranchisement Case En Banc
Jul02 Well, That Was Fast
Jul02 Do the Democrats Have Their Own Tea Party?
Jul02 Trump May Be Meddling with the Census Again
Jul02 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul02 Today's Senate Polls
Jul01 Hickenlooper Advances...
Jul01 ...and So Does McGrath
Jul01 COVID-19 Looks to Be Headed from Bad to Worse in the United States
Jul01 Democrats Stake Out Their Positions
Jul01 Trump Campaign Recalibrates
Jul01 Anti-Trump Book Blocked, at Least Temporarily
Jul01 Some Gettysburg Distress for Trump
Jul01 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul01 Today's Senate Polls
Jun30 Russian Chicanery Gives Trump Another Self-Made Disaster
Jun30 Donald Trump, Threat to National Security
Jun30 SCOTUS Gives Pro-Choice Forces an Apparent Victory
Jun30 Social Media Ain't Switzerland
Jun30 House Passes Obamacare Update
Jun30 Jacksonville (Un)Masked?
Jun30 Three More States' Voters Head to the Polls Today
Jun30 Today's Presidential Polls
Jun29 COVID-19 Hits Grim Milestones
Jun29 Trump's Next Problem: Superspreading Superchurches
Jun29 Fox News Kept Millions in the Dark about COVID-19
Jun29 Republican State Legislatures Are Trying to Reduce Absentee Voting during a Pandemic
Jun29 GRU Paid Taliban Bounties for Killing American Soldiers
Jun29 Trump Retweets "White Power" Video
Jun29 Can Trump Beat the Florida Convention Jinx?
Jun29 Another Take on 2024
Jun29 The 2020 Census Will Change the Distribution of Electoral Votes for 2024
Jun29 Don't Forget What Is Going on Downballot