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      •  COVID-19 Diaries, Sunday Edition
      •  Sunday Mailbag

COVID-19 Diaries, Sunday Edition

For the top 10 states where COVID-19 cases may be increasing, I looked at (hereafter "RT") for their R0 calculations to get a sense of where there may be trouble. As I wrote in the post published Friday, I take their estimates with a grain of salt, but this is a good place to start. Keep in mind that in the bad old days of March 2020, the case numbers doubled every 2-3 days (and increased by a factor of 10 every 10 days). The following table summarizes my assessment of all 10 states with a calculated R0 of 1.03 or higher as of June 4, 2020. Only North Carolina had an R0 calculation that was reported by RT as being clearly greater (statistically significant) than 1.0. I found the hospitalization data on the CDC website and I used the RT statistics for the new case data:

State Calculated R0 Hospitalizations New cases
North Carolina 1.38 Creeping up 50% in 3 weeks Up 50% in 10 days. Not looking good.
Georgia 1.14 Slow decrease over the last few weeks. Nothing going on. Looks like it is going down. Deaths are going down.
Montana 1.09 Looks negligible. Really scary spikes starting 2 weeks ago, but the numbers are so small, we have to wait and see.
Washington 1.07 Consistently dropping. Seems to be getting much better. Lots of random noise, no obvious trend.
Utah 1.04 Flat A couple of recent spikes; too early to tell.
Texas 1.03 Creeping up 20% in 2 weeks Some big spikes. April 15- May 15 looked bad...then random. We will know soon.
South Carolina 1.03 Down consistently Since May 1. Lots of noise, but it doesn't look good.
Maine 1.03 Decreasing over the last month. Lots of noise, but it doesn't look good.
Alabama 1.03 Decreasing over the last few weeks. Up 50% in 10 days. Not looking good.

With the exception of North Carolina and maybe Texas, no state's data seemed particularly alarming. I performed a "formal, scientific analysis of customer compliance with social distance" by visiting Home Depot to replace my dead hot water heater. I was surprised by the high level of compliance with social distancing. Even the greeter at the door reminded everyone to make sure that their masks were in place. Granted, this was in New Jersey. We have more reason to respect and fear COVID-19 than most. If this sort of behavior is the norm across the country, I am not at all surprised by the way that COVID-19 seems to be well under control at the moment.

There is no evidence anywhere that we seem to be jumping back on the March bandwagon of rapid exponential growth. If some level of social distancing can be the "new normal" (at least in the short run), we can probably feel optimistic for a few months.

I don't suspect that the recent demonstrations will cause a large spike in COVID cases. Catching COVID-19 requires some amount of "viral load." The reasons for my optimism include:

  • Many participants wear masks.
  • The demonstrations are outside.
  • People are milling around so are not in prolonged, direct contact with each other.

Our next big test will be the work environments as we reopen places of business. But that will be mitigated by work-from-home continuing where possible (including my own company) and attempts to maintain social distancing where possible. I conclude that we are probably okay for now. However, the real test will happen in the fall when the kids all (hopefully) go back to school and college (an experience notorious for violating social distancing). (PD)

Sunday Mailbag

An unusual assortment of letters, as is usually the case.

COVID-19, Life and Times

J.L. in Chicago, IL writes: Thanks to other readers for writing in support of my previous letter.

For M.E. in Greenbelt, MD, and others who likely had the same concerns, I totally get it. My specific numbers were made up, of course, but may actually have been pretty appropriate to my point. They were supposed to represent a huge blow to one's finances that might permanently derail ability to provide for one's children, retire on schedule, or similar. Avoiding that hit might push people to vote for candidates they would never otherwise support. Others may be doing the same, except that the single issue is not a tax that would upend their lives but COVID-19 shutdowns that do the same.

To be clear, the shutdowns were (and still are to reduced degrees) largely necessary. Pushing the burden largely on people whose jobs were sensitive to those shutdowns while leaving many of the rest of us mostly untouched financially was not necessary, fair, or probably even wise if we want to avoid empowering demagogues—including the president.

S.Z. in New Haven, CT writes: After examining China's recent COVID-19 reported death statistics, I have reached the startling conclusion that China's overpopulation problem stems not from too many births but rather from the apparent fact that nobody ever dies there.

The 2020 Election, General

J.G. in Medicine Park, OK, writes: I found your comment "Enlisted servicemen and women are probably Democrats and military officers are probably Republicans, but really, there is no way to find out for sure" most interesting.

In my experience with the military (20 years as a commissioned officer and 10 more split between senior civil servant and contractor time), I found a surprisingly large number of my fellow officers and senior civil servants (GS-13s and above) skew Democratic, and almost uniformly the NCOs and Warrant Officers (WOs) whom I commanded, and now work with, probably vote Republican. So while I'd concur that most officers are indeed conservatives, there are liberals, and maybe even a few progressives, among the officer and senior civil service cadre (pardon the pun). Of course, almost without exception, no one states directly his/her voting preference, but discussions over meals, standing around the water cooler, or murdering time waiting to catch a flight can reveal a lot. I never heard the junior-enlisted troops talk politics (that's not something they would do in front of an officer, and frankly I suspected most times they wanted me to "just go away"), but NCOs of all races and creeds were not shy about expressing their conservative views.

Just as important, by the time a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine becomes a NCO (E-4 and above, depending on the service and the rank), they are thoroughly institutionalized and have accepted the services' cultural norms, which on the whole are far more conservative than those of the cultures from which they came. It's really difficult to escape the military subculture's influences if you choose to make military service both your profession and your way of life, as NCOs and WOs do.

V & Z respond: A number of polls and studies also indicate that some branches are more conservative than others, with the Marine Corps generally the most right-leaning and the Air Force generally the most left-leaning.

M.H. in Whakatane, New Zealand, writes: On the 5-7% of 'undecided' voters, while it seems unimaginable to many of us that someone might feel they have insufficient evidence to form an opinion on Donald Trump, I'm reminded of advice I received from my advisor the first time I got the results of my student evaluation surveys after my first semester of teaching (something I'm sure Z will be familiar with). After years running an intro biology course, my advisor observed that no matter how he presented the topics or evaluated the students, 20-30% of the class loved his course (he was quite personable), 10-20% hated it ("Red ink isn't fair!" "Too much homework!"), and the rest just wanted to get finished filling in the darn evaluation so they could go enjoy their break (evaluations were given immediately after finals—perhaps not the best timing if you're looking for an unbiased poll!).

In that polling example, I would characterize the 50-70% of students in the middle as "don't know/don't care" rather than "undecided." Pollsters must encounter disengagement or the "not now, I'm busy" response frequently. I'm struck more by the fact that Donald Trump's undecided response is as low as it is. That 90-95% of Americans have an opinion on any topic that they would take the time to express to a cold-caller actually seems pretty remarkable to me. Can anyone think of anything else that would have such a high response rate?

V & Z respond: Pollsters say that response rates are below 10%. But of the people willing to talk to the pollsters, 95% have made up their minds. All the pollsters can do is assume the same holds for the 90% who hang up.

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: Regarding Biden enthusiasm, my personal cohort of California leftists mostly supported Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in the primaries, which you could easily guess because we're mostly white and have more degrees than there are people in the cohort. We're not at all enthusiastic about Joe Biden, who would have been low on our candidate list owing to some terrible policy issues in his past: his treatment of Anita Hill, votes for the Iraq War and the Clinton-era crime and welfare reform legislation, etc. However, we will also all walk barefoot over broken glass to donate to him, work for him, and vote for him in our enthusiasm to remove the proto-fascist from the White House.

Also, Mark Kelly isn't just a veteran and astronaut. He's married to Gabrielle Giffords, the former member of the House who nearly died after being shot in the head. His devotion to her and her recovery speak well for his character, and it would be interesting to know what impact that devotion has had on his candidacy.

S.B. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: Regarding your Monday item "Biden Has a Double-Digit Lead over Trump Nationally," the Washington Post/ABC News poll's wording asks the wrong question to capture the race's enthusiasm. For Biden voters, the question shouldn't be how enthusiastic the person is about supporting him. As is well known, most Democrats are very committed to preventing Trump from being re-elected, and only enthusiastic about Biden to the degree he fits that purpose. They should ask "Would you say you are very enthusiastic about defeating Trump?"

J.S. in York, PA, writes: I write this in response to D.M. of Highland Park. Yes, yes, yes, you are right! While some revolutions in history may have been successful, the French Revolution brought upon Napoleon, the Arab Spring in many countries has not borne the fruits of freedom in the long term, and I bet few who participated in the Russian Revolution would have been happy in the long run with Joseph Stalin.

The problem with revolutionaries is that they often forget one key fact: governing is hard. We have over 300 million people in this country, and I bet 300 million different beliefs and viewpoints. Politics exists to distribute resources and policies, and it's hard enough to get five people in a room who are all members of the same party to agree to where they should go, let alone a massive nation state.

Incremental change, with some larger bumps from events such as the killing of George Floyd, is typically the best way to go. To truly change the world, you have to change people's beliefs, and that doesn't happen well at the pointy end of a gun. Compliance doesn't breed support.

Also, don't forget the judges. If Donald Trump wins, he will continue to pack courts with often unqualified conservatives. Thus, even if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were to win, and would somehow win enough senate support to get his policies through, they will likely be tied up in courts for years, and will possibly get thrown out. Remind your daughter that a lot of what DJT initially supported has been thrown out in court, and that to truly build up change, the structure must be rebuilt. Again, governing is hard, messy, sordid.

K.F. in Framingham, MA writes: This November, Democrats are looking to finish what they started in 2018, by tossing Trump out once and for all and hopefully flipping the Senate in the process. If Joe Biden wins, however, it is not enough to say good riddance to Trump and go on with our day. A Biden victory means the hard work for Democrats will have just begun. To truly relegate the GOP into the great trash heap of history, Democrats will need to make an example of those Republicans who broke the law, play offense in the battle to control state legislatures and corner offices, continue to expand their coalition and unify its factions, and boldly stand on its principles rather than getting fooled into doing the GOP's bidding under the guise of "compromise".

R.D. in Austin, TX, writes: To respond to S.S.L. in Norman, OK, think of all the Republicans in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin who went out and voted even though everyone was sure that Hillary Clinton was going to take those three states. Imagine how happy they were when they woke up the next morning to find out that they'd won! They could have written that election off and gone to work outfitting their bunkers for the upcoming 4 years but they put on their big-boy and big-girl pants and did their civic duty. Maybe it's true that Democrats in Oklahoma lose because there aren't enough of them, or maybe they lose because they don't bother to show up. Go vote. Encourage the people around you to vote, paying special attention to the ones who agree with you.

S.B. in Berkshire, UK, writes: I'm a US expat originally from Kansas; we have lived here for a number of years but maintain our voting rights there. Your observation that "trepidation about the possibility that Kris Kobach will be their candidate" has more behind it than you might suspect. I was once a Republican, although was more or less driven out as a RINO. As an independent, we are forced to choose a party for the primary. I will be choosing Republican and casting a vote for Kobach on the gamble that he will lose again in a larger Kansas election and tilt the U.S. Senate that much more out of Republican control. Enough is enough of this s***show. George Will has it right—they need to be punished (and in a merciless manner). It's a gamble, but what have we got to lose at this point?

P.S. in Memphis, TN, writes: I enjoyed your piece on the suburbs and I think that the suburbs will be what brings it home for Biden in 2020. The GOP has lost touch with how the suburbs think. In 2016 I defected from the Party because I despised the blatantly racist and nationalist views of Donald Trump, not to mention his "base." The exact thought that went through my mind was, "If he's the head of the Republican Party then I'm something else."

The suburbs usually move outward as cities grow. In the South, areas that once were suburbs become part of the city and many move out to new suburbs to raise families because they generally have better schools. In my suburb, there is a black family two doors down and a Muslim family down the street. Houses aren't cheap in my neighborhood. It doesn't seem like the exclusively-white suburb I grew up in back in the Dallas area during the 80s and early 90s. Personally, I very much like having diversity in my neighborhood.

I can remember my great grandfather speaking to me in a Russian accent when I was a child because he was born in Russia. I've worked with Muslims all my life in the military. I have a college education and understand that the realities of the country's problems in no way rest on the shoulders of "immigrants" who are "anti-American." Xenophobia is something that I personally despise. My last name was changed from a "Russian-sounding name" to an "English" name in the 1950s so that my grandfather could operate as a lawyer in New York City.

Despite these realities, the GOP has sent me two mailings that look like this:

Postcard that shows Ilhan Omar with her head 
covering and a frown, and talks about how much she hates Americans

I don't understand how they even got my new address as it's been years since I've donated. It's insulting to me that they think that this sort of behavior is acceptable and I doubt I'll be voting for a Republican anytime in the next decade because of it. I don't think these mailings are doing anything to impress most of my new neighbors, and to me it's as if a bunch of amateurs are running the party because...well...they are.

J.C. in Mullinville, KS, writes: Regarding the possibilities for the Republican National Convention, you might want to add option 5. That would be to verbally agree to the conditions by Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC), and thoroughly disregard them once the convention begins. We had a much smaller representation of that in our neck of the woods a few weeks ago. A rodeo organization promised to follow social distancing guidelines for an upcoming rodeo, but during the weekend of the actual event, they followed basically no guidelines and social distancing rarely, if ever, occurred. Multiple people have started showing symptoms in the area, and as the rodeo was open to competitors from across state lines, it was no surprise that tracing has become exponentially more difficult for new cases.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: You missed an important point with regard to the Republican Convention in Charlotte. The death of George Floyd and the federal response to the protests will certainly motivate additional protests wherever the convention is held. This will certainly increase the security costs and aggravate the impact to normal business. Further, the potential for rioting, looting, and arson may be high. Roy Cooper should be relieved if the RNC national convention goes to another state and it is clear that it was Trump's/the RNC's choice to relocate.

C.S. in Newport, Wales, writes: In my view, the three main political issues this year have been impeachment, COVID-19 and the current protests/riots. You have already noted how very much impeachment is an event in the past, and unlikely to be a hot issue that determines many votes in November. Personally, I think the effect of the current social unrest will be equally limited, and for the same reason—they will be over soon, and then be old news. COVID-19, on the other hand, looks very likely to still be with us in the fall, and very visibly so, and thus much more likely to influence votes.

A.M. in Brookhaven, PA, writes: I wanted to share my experience voting in the primary election this past Tuesday.

I requested a mail-in ballot on May 6 and my wife requested one a few days later. A week or two later I received an e-mail that my request had been approved and then on May 27 I received a notice that my ballot had been mailed. This worried me a bit since it meant that there were only 6 days for me to receive the ballot and have it returned by Election Day. My wife never received either of these confirmations.

I checked the mail eagerly the next few days but we did not receive anything related to the election until the night before, when my wife received a postcard telling her that her polling place was not going to be open with instructions as to where to go instead. I did not receive a similar notice.

On Election Day, my wife decided to vote before her work day started. Since I start work before she does, I decided to wait until after work to vote. When she came home, my wife told me that when they looked her up she was listed as not having registered to vote by mail whereas I was. She then went and cast her ballot as she normally would. She mentioned that they were wiping the voting area down between each person voting.

Given that one of the confirmations I received had a number to call if there were any issues with my ballot, I decided to call it. It was my county election office. I was told that my alternatives were to submit a provisional ballot or to not vote. When I pointed out that submitting a provisional ballot defeated the whole purpose of voting by mail I was told that there was nothing they could do. I asked why it took so long for me to receive the ballot and they said they had been overwhelmed by the number of requests and that the mail had to go through Philadelphia, about 20 miles away, even though the county seat where it was mailed from is less than 5 miles from my house. I live in Delaware county, immediately to the Southwest of Philadelphia.

I waited to vote until after the mail arrived in case my ballot was there. Lo and behold there was a ballot in the mail. Unfortunately, it was my wife's ballot and not mine, so I was going to have to vote in person. When I arrived, it was somewhat pandemonium, as all six precincts for the town were all in one gymnasium. Instead of being in a room with fewer than 15 people like I would be in a normal election, I was in a room with about 50 people. Of course, my precinct was in the rear so I had to walk by a bunch of other people, increasing my chances of exposure to germs.

Once I arrived at the correct table, I was informed that I would need to fill out a provisional ballot and to get instructions from the woman who was running that process. I waited about 6 feet away until she finished with the person in front of me. She then explained the process to me. Unfortunately, she was less than a foot away while doing this. I am especially worried about this, given that she had probably been in contact with 50-100 people already. She then directed me to a special table to fill out my ballot. This table was shared by two precincts for the provisional ballots and was not being wiped down between people. I also needed to remove my mask in order to lick the envelopes to seal my provisional ballot. Finally, I had to go back to the woman giving instructions so she could witness me signing my ballot.

The upshot of this is that registering to vote by mail increased my risk of exposure to COVID-19 rather than decreasing it. I'll probably know in a few days whether or not I have contracted the disease. Of course, my ballot arrived in the mail the next day.

V & Z respond: We don't normally run such long letters, but we do like "person on the street" reports, and we think this makes an important point about how the kinks in the system need to be worked out now, and not on November 3.

The 2020 Election, Veepstakes

P.S. in Marion, IA , writes: Regarding Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) as a potential VP, you suggested that "it is also possible that Duckworth's "disability is, well, a liability." I just don't see that, especially when everyone who doesn't know of how she got into the wheelchair in the first place will learn how she got there. I can't think of any poll or focus group that would actually uncover people who would admit they are less likely to vote for a physically disabled person who lost limbs in war. Perhaps I'm giving humanity too much credit, but to the extent there is any negative of Duckworth's disability, the positive would seem to far outweigh it.

V & Z respond: We hope you are right. As we said, we have no evidence, only the fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to hide his disability as much as is possible, because he felt it damaged him politically. It could be that FDR, one of the savviest politicians in American history, was wrong. It could be that "disabled by polio" is perceived differently by Americans than "disabled by war injuries." It could be that the American people (or, at least, the ones who would vote for Biden/Duckworth ticket) have evolved beyond the attitudes of the 1930s. But we doubt that proposition #1 is correct, and we don't have enough confidence in #2 or #3 to dismiss the possibility entirely.

K.C. in Levittown, NY, writes: Last weekend, you ran a number of letters in support of Elizabeth Warren being Joe Biden's choice for a running mate. I have to admit, I just don't understand it. To me, her selection would be a net negative.

Besides being one half of a 150 year old ticket, many voters are viewing this election as one where they're actually voting for Biden's running mate. Whether because he's old and may only choose to serve one term or because of some other, more macabre reason—he may not live through his term, for example—voters are going to look at the running mate a little more closely than they normally would.

It's important, especially in this election, to remember that restoring normalcy to Washington is priority number one and we may have to abandon some of our own personal beliefs in order to rally behind Biden. Bernie Sanders' voters, in particular, need to realize that and so do Elizabeth Warren's. We have to think about electability and a candidate like Warren, no matter her positions, doesn't project that. She did poorly in the primaries, even in her own state, she comes off as a bookish know-it-all (which will turn off far more voters in the swing states than she'll attract), and she's been a fairly easy target for Trump. We need to think, not necessarily about who we would vote for in an ideal world, but who most swing voters would vote for in the real world.

Instead, I would argue that Tammy Duckworth is the best choice. A war veteran, wounded in action no less, and a true fighter who will be virtually impossible for Trump or Pence to go after without facing a mountain of backlash. She can appeal to voters across the spectrum, which is something I knew Hillary couldn't do in 2016 and something I'm confident Warren won't be able to do in 2020.

S.K. in Chappaqua, NY, writes: Wednesday night, Rachel Maddow introduced her interview of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) by referring to her as a leading candidate for Vice President in 2020. That frightened the bejeebers out of me.

Here's why. I fear that this year, the Russians might run their 2016 playbook, and weaponize Harris' effort as California's attorney general to prevent a black man convicted of murder from securing a DNA test that, in fact, eventually exculpated him. Similarly, they could focus on Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (DFL-MN) failure to secure indictments of several white police for crimes against unarmed black citizens (though at least Klobuchar has apologized).

The bottom line is that either of these picks might be the sort of "error" that you have said a candidate must avoid. Biden can no more afford to lose votes in the urban areas of the Rust Belt than Hillary Clinton could four years ago.

Something in the Air

L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, writes: It saddens me to hear the President's National Security Advisor say "I don't think there's systemic racism" in our police forces, despite clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.

I have always been saddened to hear the words "There is no racism in America." My usual retort is "Live in the South for a week," but this retort really applies (to a lesser degree) almost anywhere in this country. Most people cannot understand, much less internalize, the utter humiliation of being thought of as less than human (often worse), and the added racist epithet has far-reaching effects both personally and culturally, while the pent-up rage it engenders cannot be dismissed. Describing the effect of such hateful behavior cannot be adequately described by words such as "visceral." Words are woefully inadequate. No one can really understand this who has not experienced it. Empathy is not understanding.

J.S. in Pemaquid, ME, writes: It hardly needs to be said that protests are an essential part of democracy. Few would debate that, and those that would are autocrats, or their supporters.

Riots are much more fraught, because they involve violence—primarily against property, but certainly also against people. While 'violence is bad' is also a fairly uncontested perspective, I struggle to process what is happening in our cities now.

I'm white, and I cannot in good faith say that I understand what it's like to be black in America. While I react to the horrific murders committed by law enforcement against the likes of George Floyd and other black citizens in America for their inhumanity and injustice, I surely don't experience it the same way a black person would.

These violent acts are just the worst parts of systematic, brutal racism that continues to fester in America even while all of us celebrate "progress" in the form of better representation for people of color in the media and in government. Eric Garner died in shockingly similar circumstances to George Floyd, and that was six years ago. His murderer walks free, and it feels like nothing has changed.

So if some black people set fire to police stations and start spray painting things and breaking windows in reaction to this, how can I judge them? I think there are some who feel like they have no agency, and feel desperate. If I felt like my existence, and the existence of my family were in constant threat, would I just carry a sign and chant? I can't say. Who could?

V & Z respond: Kimberley Jones makes a very similar point, from her vantage point as a black woman, in this video, which is well worth watching.

M.S. in Van Nuys, CA, writes: As a second generation Angelino, I was disappointed that you chose to reference damaged buildings along Wilshire Blvd. while you failed to mention the more recent peaceful, violence-free marches, rallies and sit-ins in downtown Los Angeles, Orange County, and the San Fernando Valley. Feel free to report the good as well as the bad news.

R.G. in Portland, OR, writes: Your item about protestors vs. rioters missed a critical component in all of this, the behavior of police. I'm not referring to the targeting of people of color, though that is the major factor in this whole event. I'm talking about the response from police to this situation. I have seen police this past week: destroy a triage tent set up by nurses, push a 75-year-old man to the ground and walk away (later to claim he fell), a police horse trample a citizen, reporters shot at and gassed or arrested, and beatings so severe that one feels the need to turn away.

These images and videos are everywhere for all to see. It started with George Floyd but has become so much more than that at this point. Indeed, people like me—who quietly supports the protest but do not generally get involved—are actually encouraged to take to the streets. I am a peaceful, non-violent person, but someone else out there in America seeing the behavior of police may not be.

N.M. in West Chester, PA, writes: I read your site every morning, and it is rare that a piece makes me angry. The piece on protesters vs. rioters makes me unfathomably angry. At this point, it is journalistic malpractice to make no reference to the constant beating and tear gassing of unarmed, peaceful protesters by the police. Are there some bad actors in the protests? Most definitely. Are police nationwide beating unarmed people who are doing nothing wrong every night? Most definitely.

I live near Philadelphia, where the police have been rioting in much the same way as most major cities. They have kettled peaceful protestors on an embankment and tear gassed them They have walked up to peaceful protesters, pulled down their face masks and tear gassed them, too. I sincerely hope you address this in a future piece, as you will be doing your readers a disservice otherwise. Good day.

V & Z respond: While we are happy to print your letter and to share your viewpoint, we must point out that we are not reporters or journalists, and do not promise or presume to provide comprehensive coverage of news events. That is the province of outlets with vastly greater resources than we have, not to mention different missions. What we do is discuss the political dimensions of news events, as best we can. Whether or not police have behaved badly this week (they have) does not change the fact that Donald Trump will frame these events in one way and Joe Biden will frame them in another. Similarly, to the point made by M.S. above, the description of Wilshire Blvd. was not intended or presented as "the" story, it was offered as an exemplar of the potential blurry lines between "protest" and "riot."

R.W. in Seattle, WA, writes: All of the evidence publicly available makes it unambiguously clear that George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin. So do you avoid the term "murder," and instead use language such as "responsible for his death" or "death of George Floyd at the hands of the police." That language suggests that there is some ambiguity or doubt about whether the death was a murder.

V & Z respond: Murder is a finding of fact that, in modern America, is made by a court and a jury. Yes, the evidence appears overwhelming that Chauvin is guilty of that crime. However, as you yourself note, it is possible that there is information that is not publicly available. So, to use the term "murder" right now, before a conviction, would be both inaccurate and potentially a signal of bias. That is why no mainstream outlet is using that term right now.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: The attempt to nationalize the response to protesters is what Trump has meant by MAGA all along. The use of law enforcement to suppress minority rights, just like he remembers it from his childhood. We shall see if our political system can stop a tyrant now.

M.C. in Perth, Scotland, writes: Joe Biden could declare that he would be the president of law and order, ensuring that there are consequences for shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters, and committing to a system where enforcement is the same regardless of if one is black or white, civilian or police officer. In a democracy, law and order is delivered with the common consent of the public. That some groups of police officers are so afraid of being held accountable for their use of force that they cover badge numbers and prevent filming suggests that under Donald Trump those officers are delivering fascism instead.

A Trump Coup?

D.E. in Lititz, PA, writes: I have to disagree with your conclusion that Jim Mattis' anti-Trump statement and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper's pushback are sure signs that Trump could not use the military to keep himself in office. I may just be channeling the general zeitgeist of despair, but I think Trump will view this from his fortified bunker compound that used to be the White House as an accidental consequence of his actions.

First off let's dispense with the notion that Esper, Milley, Mattis, and now John Kelly are somehow heroic figures in this administration. Both Mattis and Kelly served the Trump administration for two years each. They both accepted their positions knowing full well Trump's propensity for authoritarianism and racism. They both served without raising objections to his incompetence and unsuitability to lead, in essence giving their reputations to the veneer of Trump's abilities. They both left office without substantially raising these issues but now we're supposed to greet them as heroes for announcing the obvious after the barn has burnt down? Sorry, but no!

Second, consider Trump. What consequences has he suffered since this proto coup attempt took place? Oh yes, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has voiced objections, but then she has always been the most likely candidate to do so. Despite the fact that the Senator spoke in plural about reevaluating support for Trump, and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) still has her permanent furrowed brow, the sound from the rest of the Republican Party has been that of silence. Even the Democrats are much more subdued in their response than I am comfortable with. Trump has not paid a single penny in price for his failed coup. Like all bullies, unless they experience a strong resistance, he will continue seeing approval in the silence. And that's where Trump's own Goebbels in the form of AG William Barr steps in. Ever the sly and backhanded Machiavellian, Barr is in the process of planning his next attack for Trump that learns from the mistakes of the first attempt—and he won't stop trying even if the second, third or fifteenth attempt fails. Droopy Dawg is the epitome of persistence over morals.

This brings me to my third and final point, which can best be summed up with this horrifying photo:

At least 70 men in camouflage
and black masks guard the Lincoln Memorial

These men are all masked with dark sunglasses shielding any possible identification, they have no name badges, no insignia to even identify who they are operating for. How can these men be held accountable for their actions, since they appear to be faceless jackbooted thugs? I know this is a cultural cliché, but I have to ask, "Who watches the Watchers?" I look at this photo and see the Nuremberg Rallies, I see the Empire's Stormtroopers, and I see 1984's Big Brother—and in the most sacrilegious of all places! If freedom and democracy are aspirational values, then the Lincoln Memorial is our nation's temple to those beliefs. These "military guards" are not just antithetical to this sacred place but defame and deface its very purpose.

As a past resident of Washington, DC, for over 20 years who thought I knew well the cacophany of competing police jurisdictions, I found myself shocked when reading this excellent Politico article about the numerous governmental armed forces. It seems that most of these nameless and faceless guards were from the Crossing and Border Patrol, certainly the governmental force most politically in step with Trump's brand of nationalism and racism, and from the Bureau of Prisons Riot Police, surely not subject to much oversight. Maybe my thoughts are turned too much towards the darkness but I have to wonder, what with Trump already officially questioning the loyalty of government bureaucrats, and the ouster of accountability in the firings of Inspector Generals: What is to keep Trump and Barr from installing their own version of a Praetorian Guard, and from seeding this force with military that is loyal solely to Trump or, given its faceless nature, seeding it with white supremacists and neo-Nazi militias who would protect Trump over our Constitution? Remember, the Legions of Rome greatly outnumbered the Praetorian Guard, but it was the Praetorians who called the shots.

M.L. in San Diego, CA, writes: While we stay awake at night worrying about the possibility that Donald Trump might rig or postpone the election, another possibility emerges. Maybe we should pay increased attention to the issue of habeas corpus and its possible suspension. It's not farfetched to assume William Barr and/or other legal henchmen in and around the White House already have thought about this. Let's remember the "Great Writ" has been formally suspended once before—by a guy named Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. And while it was used fairly broadly during that conflict, it is worth remembering it was suspended only in a time of maximum mortal danger to the republic.

Who would man the ramparts in opposition? Heroic Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and a Republican senate that wouldn't remove Trump even if, in fact, he shot somebody on 5th Avenue? Not likely. Or a Supreme Court dominated by right-wing justices who love the idea of maximum (conservative) presidential power? Nope. So what would follow would be the nightmare end of our uneven-but-always-interesting experiment with democracy and the rule of law: a canceled election, arrests of those deemed a danger to the state (read: Democrats, journalists, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, etc.) and ultimately an open-ended "national emergency."

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: The possibility that the military writ large supports Donald Trump after an electoral loss does not worry me. What worries me is the possibility of some smaller elements of the military going rogue, absconding with war materiel, and doing something along the lines of storming Congress during its opening session.

J.L. in Glastonbury, CT, writes: The reality is that we are a nation coming apart, with military and police forces that have sworn to obey their orders. We have seen that where the rubber meets the road, Trump and his senior henchmen have been willing to order violent repression of American citizens, and that these orders have been largely obeyed even when plainly unconstitutional. All over the country, and in Washington in particular, authority has treated American citizens as enemies to be dealt with through force.

Our system depends upon authority that respects traditional norms and civil rights. Many of us recognized four years ago that, in nominating Trump, the Republican party has concluded that it must be willing to abandon those norms because the alternative of a government led by a woman or a black man is too horrifying to accept. Enough Americans agreed with this notion to put Trump into office. There has been no sign of an institutional Republican check on Trump's authoritarian impulses. And he will be the lawful President until Jan 20, 2021 at the earliest, so even if there is a putative transition period he will be President, and issuing orders as Commander in Chief, throughout it. Will the military and police forces of America remove their Commander in Chief from office, against his orders? I am increasingly pessimistic.

R.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I cannot help but think that Donald Trump's foray into maybe using the military against peaceful U.S. citizens is an effort to move the Overton Window toward normalizing the invocation of the Insurrection Act, with a view to trying a military coup in the wake of an election loss. I realize that sounds crazy, like a reverse "Seven Days in May." But think: What wouldn't Trump do to stay in power? Accept help from Russia? Check. Extort Ukraine for false claims against Joe Biden? Check. Suppress Democratic turnout? Check. Let the deadly COVID-19 run unchecked through communities of color? Check. In light of all that, is it beyond belief to worry that Trump might invent a post-election crisis (Reichstag fire, anyone?), invoke the Insurrection Act, declare martial law, arrest Democratic leaders and declare he has to remain President to protect the nation during this time of emergency?

On the positive side, I agree with you that the pushback from Esper and the Defense establishment is a good sign. On the negative side, the Joint Chiefs Chairman was wandering around Lafayette Park in his fatigues. The current operations may be designed to smoke out and replace the "Jiggs Caseys" and replace them with "James Matoon Scotts," who will support the coup. I never in my life imagined I might actually have to worry about a fascist takeover of the American government, but here we are.

Oh, and the last time a president invoked the Insurrection Act—George H.W. Bush during the post-Rodney King trial unrest in California—the U.S. Attorney General was...William Barr.

R.D. in Austin, TX, writes: I've said that I trust that members of the military will take seriously their oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that very soon we're going to put that trust to the test.

I would like to remind my brothers and sisters in uniform that the oath we swore was first, to support and defend the Constitution, second to bear faith and allegiance to the same, and only then to follow orders. And even then, you are bound to follow orders in accordance with the UCMJ, which not only allows but requires you to refuse to obey illegal orders. I am not giving you legal advice, but I am reminding you of the things taught in your initial training.

To my fellow veterans, though we are no longer legally bound by these oaths, I'm thinking very seriously about my moral and ethical obligations to the republic and my fellow citizens in these times. Every American should be doing the same, but especially so those of us who raised our right hands and swore to do so. In my day we would stand in school every morning and pledge allegiance to the flag and to the republic for which it stands. They did not make us swear allegiance to any politician or office. We need to show those in power and most especially those in power in the so-called Republican Party that we are one nation and we are indivisible, and that we are committed to liberty and justice for all.

K.S. in Harrisburg, PA, writes: Did anyone notice we had a military coup on Wednesday? The military basically told the President they were limiting his power and would not follow certain orders. There is certainly a good chance we'll have a counter-coup and Mark Esper and other top military leaders will be purged, but for now, it appears the military is on the side of the Constitution.

A Trump Tipping Point?

R.M. in Baltimore, MD, writes: You had an item about how some current Donald Trump supporters (e.g. Lisa Murkowski) may turn on the President. In my experience, when loyalty is based on fear, the tipping is often late but very large. Lots of people hate dictators, but openly they are supportive until given a chance to express their feelings without fear. My guess is that when (not if) people turn on Trump, it will be incredibly swift and very powerful. My other guess is that it will be when his power stops.

It is already clear that Trump's power is fading in some ways. His ability to boost support for a candidate seems minimal, especially in a general election (as we found out in 2018). Also, his tweets get less news coverage and do not seem to damage many politicians or outsiders nowadays. On the other hand, he can still fire people in his administration and the Senate needs him to approve their candidates and bills.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: In an interview with Rachel Maddow on Tuesday in which he was asked, "Are people afraid for where things are going right now (given Trump's threats to use the military on American soil)?", the Rev. Michael Curry responded with this: "If people of goodwill and human decency come together... we'll be worthy of the name "American." If we...the Silent Majority, will stand up, speak up and join hands together across...all of our differences and make this nation a loving, decent, freedom-loving, justice-reigning nation...then there will be peace in our streets."

It seems doubtful that he used the term "silent majority" by accident to describe those who believe that Trump is the one who is creating chaos and exacerbating the problems our country faces. He is aware of the history also, probably all too well and, I would posit, deliberately invoked that phrase to cast doubt on the current occupant's fitness to continue in office. You have pointed to several pieces that compared Trump not to Richard Nixon but to Lyndon Johnson, who was widely viewed as being unable to handle the crises of the time. That comparison is apt, but doesn't go quite far enough: the "silent majority" not only view Trump as incompetent but as inciting the very violence he claims to want to quell with military action - he is seen as the real threat to public health and safety. So, it's no surprise the public may not be anxious to give him another 4 years in the top job.

Trump's isolation became even more pronounced this week when Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who let himself be used as a prop for Trump's photo-op, finally pushed back and said no, the military will not be used against Americans, and a cascade of retired military officers broke their silence to remind everyone that military personnel take an oath to the Constitution, not to Trump. And now we are seeing at least one Senator dip her baby toe in the waters of dissent, though I'm not convinced she or any of her colleagues will actually jump in. Perhaps more significant is Roger Goodell and the NFL breaking with Trump and stating unequivocally that they were wrong and that they support the right of any player to peacefully protest, followed by Drew Brees' apology and his rebuke of Trump in declaring that protesting during the anthem does not disrespect the American flag. More than Mattis or the military, I would say Brees is the canary in the coalmine that could signal an erosion of that seemingly unmovable 42%.

G.O. in New York, NY, writes: You quoted Lisa Murkowski as saying: "I felt like perhaps we are getting to a point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up."

You didn't linger on the quote, as that wasn't the point you were making. But let's linger. So she is saying that, for the past 3 years, she has not felt the need to be honest, has just kept her concerns internal and has not had the courage of her convictions to speak up? A senator of the United States of America? And not only has she so far preferred cowardice and dishonesty, she wants to also caution that she hasn't quite yet reached a time when she can switch to acting courageously and honestly but just that she sees a time approaching, maybe, when she might feel that is something she would do.

J.G. in Dallas, TX, writes: If the President continues to display even more unhinged behavior, could we see cabinet members start to jump ship in order to save face and be able to say they got out before Trump lost the election? I certainly don't see Mike Pence or William Barr doing this, but maybe Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or Chief of Staff Mark Meadows might start considering other options. Or maybe Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross or Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin hedge their bets so they can transition back to the private sector. And if a few start doing it, I could see that movement building momentum.

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: As I read your item on the G-7, it struck me that the notion of Donald Trump ever hosting world leaders again, after every humiliation we've suffered in his hands, now seems utterly absurd.

There is surely no longer any doubt that the U.S., under Trump, is a hindrance to international relations and progress. And it seems we've reached a point where world leaders are prepared to say enough is enough, and no longer maintain the pretense of normalcy.

Whither the Right-Wing Media?

J.V.S in Los Alamos, NM, writes: You discussed how the right wing media, specifically Fox News, will begin to curb its right-wing extremist messaging when it becomes less profitable to do so. I would argue that we already were starting to see this behavior during the final months of the 2016 Presidential Election. There were news reports of the network attempting to clean house post-Roger Ailes and it indicated a desire over bringing in a younger audience. The median age of a Fox News viewer is currently 66 years old. Trump and some of his campaign backers even discussed the idea of creating their own conservative news channel to help get the "real news" out to the public.

However, Trump's electoral victory in November put a stop to any plans to create that Trump News Network. Fox News doubled down on the conservative rhetoric and used it to infuse their viewing audience with younger (40s & 50s?) Trump supporters. They also benefited from free promotion by President Trump himself as a reward for keeping their conservative message strong.

I would argue that we are seeing those same cracks form once again in the Fox/Trump relationship. And, as Arnold Schwarzenegger said about climate change, "I don't want to be like the last horse and buggy salesman who was holding out as cars took over the roads." I think Fox News is slowly coming to a similar conclusion as Donald Trump's Presidency comes to an end. A number of "real conservatives" already see Fox News as selling out and are tuning in to OANN. I do not have any rock solid evidence beyond what I perceive to be very tiny but crumbling in the "Fox News Loves Trump!" wall.

K.C. in Louisville, KY, writes: Your comments on what it would take to make the right-wing media turn on Donald Trump were on-point, but incomplete.

It's not just the aging and shrinking audience that will make these programs unattractive to advertisers. It's also that the content itself is considered too toxic for many advertisers to touch. For example, Media Matters launched a highly successful campaign in 2012 against Rush Limbaugh, following his derogatory comments about a young woman named Sandra Fluke. Limbaugh referred to her as a "slut" and a "prostitute."

Media Matters organized protests against Rush's advertisers, both on the national and local levels. As a result, most mainstream, "blue chip" advertisers fled the show and never returned. By and large, advertisers don't like controversy. That's why, if you listen to Rush today, you'll hear lots of ads for erectile dysfunction treatments, wacky herbal supplements, and get-rich-quick investment schemes.

If these conservative media conduits ever want to get back in the good graces of major advertisers, they'll have to offer content that's not considered radioactive. Otherwise, their top-line revenue will simply wither away.

Legal Matters

N.T. in Dallas, TX, writes: You wrote: "[I]f Joe Biden 'nominated' [John] Roberts as an associate justice, and Congress approved that, then in theory Roberts would not be chief justice anymore."

Doesn't the nominee have to assent to the nomination? Chief Justice Robert could refuse the 'new' nomination and still retain his job as Chief Justice.

If not, then one might as well nominate and confirm him as Inspector General of the Railroad Retirement Board (yes, that is Senate-confirmed). Since one cannot serve in two branches of the government at the same time, then Roberts would have to resign from his old job.

V & Z respond: We said that it seems dubious to us, but since we're not law professors at one of the nation's top law schools and Aziz Huq is, we passed it along. That said, it's a shame that there is no Dogcatcher General that is confirmed by the Senate.

G.A. in Berkeley, CA, writes: Chief Justice of the United States Roberts says, "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges." He says that he is just "calling balls and strikes." Maybe someone will strike him in the balls for being so dishonest. Roberts knows better than anyone that if Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, rather than Trump's appointee, Neil Gorsuch, were sitting on the court, the current 5 to 4 right-wing decisions on controversial social and political issues would go the other way.

L.O.R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Thank you for your response to T.B. in Pinecrest reaffirming that you intentionally called John Roberts a toady. He made one decision on Obamacare that led everyone think he might be a moderating influence or swing vote on the court, and then followed that with scores of decisions reinterpreting the Constitution on gun ownership, saying that free and fair elections are not the purview of the Supreme Court, and on and on that prove your point. No one calls out Roberts on the record he's established for himself, which is far removed from his rhetoric.

S.S.L. in Norman, OK, writes: Regarding John Roberts' neutrality, I refer you to his vitriolic dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges. Then there were his decisions during the Trump impeachment. If that's not a hyper-partisan toady, I'm not sure what is.

B.R. in Union, NJ, writes: I absolutely agree with your assessment of John Roberts "that he's either living in a bubble or being willfully dishonest." And I have held that view ever since his nomination hearings. And to take it to the next level, I do not believe for a second he lives in a bubble—he is way too intelligent, and way too politically astute. He knows precisely what he's doing.

My problems with the Chief Justice's statements started with his opening statement during his Senate hearing. Specifically when he said "Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules, they apply them." And then, a short while later, he said "it's my job to call balls and strikes..." As a lawyer who has always had an strong interest in constitutional law and has participated in several cases involving significant constitutional issues, and also as a big baseball fan, that is about as stupid an analogy as can be imagined. It either shows a complete lack of understanding of what it is an umpire does and what a judge does, or it shows he came up with that in order to ensure confirmation without regard to its legitimacy. And I absolutely don't think it's the first.

As any of us who follow baseball (we know that includes Z) knows, Roberts is correct in describing baseball umpires. They do not make the rules, they simply enforce them. In baseball, the rules are established by the leaders of whatever league is involved. In contrast, while judges and justices are of course also limited by rules (namely the Constitution and statutes they are interpreting), those "rules" are frequently quite broad, and often allow almost unbridled discretion in how they should be interpreted. And while the lower court judges are also limited by the relevant rulings of the Supreme Court, that is not true of the justices of the Supreme Court.

If the baseball rules were written to define a strike as being a pitch that is "close" to being over the plate, then perhaps Roberts' analogy would have merit. But that is not how the baseball rules are written. And so the analogy fails. Indeed, it fails so completely that there can be no doubt that Roberts knew that. But he said it anyway. Why? Because he knew it was a way of avoiding questions he didn't want to answer, and that he knew would put his nomination in jeopardy. In other words, it is clear that he is at heart a politician who will be willfully dishonest when he thinks it appropriate.

With this in mind, I will say that I am not sure I would agree that he is a "hyper-partisan toady." Certainly, he is not as much of one as some of his colleagues, in particular the two recent appointees. And there is no question but that he is highly partisan. But every once in a while he bucks the party line. Now, I don't believe for a second that he does this on a principled basis. Rather, it has seemed to me that he does this for two reasons. The first is to maintain the veneer of fairness. The second, and most important in his mind, I suspect, is to preserve the Court from losing all credibility. He knows that if he and his conservative colleagues go too far, there is a high risk that the next Democratic administration, whenever that is, will be successful in expanding the Court's membership akin to FDR's 1937 court packing plan. That, of course, would be a disaster for him and the rest of the Federalist Society judges/justices.

Losing My Religion

K.J. in Roanoke, VA, writes: I want to thank you for publishing my letter two weeks ago. The number of responses was surprising, though the content of those letters was not. My main point, that it is difficult for a worldview to change, was certainly proven by the content of those responses, and their unwillingness to consider alternatives.

A.W. said: "Science helps you understand what the preponderance of the evidence suggests, assess how reliable that conclusion is likely to be, and predict the most likely consequences of your actions." That is absolutely how it should be. But in the real world, it doesn't always work that way, because we all approach things with our own biased worldviews. We must not be naive and assume that government research, supposed experts, or peer-reviewed journals are unbiased. We must think more deeply than that, because such bias clearly exists (and is presently most evident in the area of climate change).

Hopefully, a few people who read my letter were challenged to think outside the box, even though it is difficult. I could share much more evidence, but this isn't the place for that. In any case, though I seldom agree with your (V & Z's) political analysis, I appreciate the unique forum provided here and the opportunity to respectfully share different perspectives.

P.F. in Zurich, Switzerland, writes: I would like to add my perspective to the science vs religion debate. As a believer and follower of Jesus who also holds a degree in engineering, I believe the two things address different realms (or layers) of reality. Obviously, the Bible's main focus is not science, but there are many things most people believe in that are scientifically hard to prove. Let's look at love as an example:

  • It is impossible to prove that somebody loves somebody else (e.g., that my wife really, truly loves me)
  • It is hard to even define what love exactly is
  • Scientifically, one could argue love does not exist

Proving the existence of God is equally futile. Science is a very helpful tool to make sense of the natural order. However, observing the reality we live in (e.g. the way we place a high value on human life, fight racism, describe things as being "evil" or "good"), it seems reasonable to me to believe in more than what the laws of physics, biochemistry. etc. can describe. In all, we should remain humble and tolerant of all worldviews which do not infringe on other individuals' basic rights.

C.B. in South Bend, IN, writes: Like so many, including the Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, DC, I am outraged at Donald Trump's use of an Episcopal Church—part of the Church in which I serve as a deacon—as a prop for political campaigning and divisive rhetoric. He drove away peaceful protesters, threatened grave violence against them, and then he held up a Bible, a book which he has likely never read on purpose in his life. If anyone reads the Scriptures and thinks we are called to side with the powerful and rich against the poor and the oppressed, they are deceiving themselves. My hope is that Christians of good conscience will be equally angered by this idolatry of self and will abandon him in droves, but based on so much I have seen over the last four years, I rather doubt it.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Apparently, one of the toadies in the White House praised the Trump/bible/church photo as the "iconic" photo of the Trump presidency. Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, this unnamed person may very well have been right. It just may be that this photo is the final straw that pushes the nation to thoroughly reject this totally useless president.

E.V. in Derry, NH, writes: The photo of Melania and Donald Trump kneeling before the Lamb of God at the John Paul II shrine really got my mind thinking.

I am sure that the Catholics in his administration thought this was a great pairing—after all John Paul is most known for his conservative views on matters of faith and morals. In reality, however, the difference between the Trumpian view of society and John Paul's is stark. Most people would be surprised to find out that John Paul's philosophical studies and leanings are decidedly from modern thought. In a nutshell, it is based on the one hand in the universality of human nature, and on the other hand the uniqueness of each individual. And that individual must be free to act and be responsible.

John Paul knew a thing or two about how authoritarian action can turn the free individual into a mere object within a society. He spent his early adult life surviving and defying the Nazis before spending much of his life fighting the Communists. He used the idea of acting as a free individual to undermine the Communist governments. Though he recognized the free market as a positive economic system, his views of unregulated capitalism was not so rosy. He knew that it could also be oppressive for people. In fact, he saw regulation as an essential part of the free market, so that the common good can be served better.

Probably also lost on the President's team was that John Paul could apologize for past actions. Part of his reconciliation efforts were formal apologies in the name of the church to the Jews and to the Orthodox Church.

The final contrast is that John Paul visited many countries in South America, Africa and Asia that would not be on Trump's travel list. Imagine visiting a Muslim country and not having an arms deal on the agenda!

Perhaps the Archbishop of Washington had some of this in mind when he criticized the visit.

T.W. in Wellsville, OH, writes: Perhaps The Washington Post should change their motto to "Democracy Dies for a Photo Op."

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: As a cradle Catholic, I know to pray for the intercession of Saint Anthony (of Padua) when I have lost something. He is also known as the patron saint of lost causes (perhaps apropos for Dr. Fauci in working of this administration).

The Deep (Red) South

J.R. in Indianapolis, IN, writes: When it comes to red vs. purple Southern states, your second explanation, "a lack of urbanization," is most correct.

Purple-to-blue Confederate states:

  • Texas has Dallas, the 4th largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the U.S.
  • Virginia has Washington, D.C., the 6th largest MSA
  • Florida has Miami, the 7th largest MSA
  • Georgia has Atlanta, the 9th largest MSA
  • North Carolina has Charlotte, the 22nd largest MSA

Red Confederate states:

  • Tennessee's largest MSA is Nashville (36th)
  • Louisiana's largest MSA is New Orleans (45th)
  • Alabama's largest MSA is Birmingham (50th)
  • South Carolina's largest MSA is Greenville (60th)
  • Arkansas's largest MSA is Little Rock (80th)
  • Mississippi's largest MSA is Jackson (97th)

Outside of the Confederate states:

  • Arizona (purple-blue) has Phoenix (10th)
  • Missouri (red) has St. Louis (20th) and Kansas City (31st).
  • Ohio (purple-red) has Cincinnati (30th), Columbus (32nd), and Cleveland (34th).
  • Indiana (red) has Indianapolis (33rd).
  • Oklahoma (red) has Oklahoma City (41st).

M.S. in Knoxville, TN, writes: I am a southern boomer, so I have seen a lot of the political history of the former Confederate states happen firsthand. The politics of the old Confederacy were largely frozen for about a century. The children of the Confederates were Democrats, the children of the Union sympathizers and carpetbaggers were Republican, and voting by the children of the slaves was harshly suppressed.

The states of the old Confederacy have been on the cutting edge of voter suppression, figuratively and probably literally, since Reconstruction. I would expect the rubiest red of the Southern states to have among the lowest percentages of voter registration and actual voting. If those percentages were to rise, I would expect to see the states' coloration on the red-to-blue color spectrum begin to move.

E.R. in Colorado Springs, CO, writes: Your item today trying to explain South Carolina voting patterns was total nonsense. Suggesting that the percentage of slaves in a particular state over 150 years ago might correlate to Republican support today seemed illogical on its face, and the numbers you provided certainly didn't support the hypothesis at all. I took a moment to plot the percentage of the popular vote Trump received in 2016 vs the percentage of slaves in each state in 1861 from your table. Sure enough, there was no correlation:

As the writer says, there
is no clear pattern in the graph they put together

R-square is less than one percent! And, of course, the argument falls apart entirely when you try to include the "free" states that are red today (e.g., Iowa, Ohio, and Indiana). Please do better.

V & Z respond: We did not suggest that the legacy of slavery was the only explanation for the redness of the South. However, we stand by our assertion that the legacy of slavery is part of the explanation.

A.K. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: As a former resident of North Carolina, one of the sayings there is "it's a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit" (SC and VA). The further west you go in North Carolina, the less slavery-involved and the more pro union the state became. Virginia had so much of that demographic that West Virginia split from it during the Civil War. The leadership of the pro-slavery movement came from South Carolina (Calhoun) and its lowland little-pie shape has always made white dominance critical for its politics. To hold power, whites in South Carolina had to be very repressive regarding their large enslaved population. The same holds true for the Mississippi Delta country, southeast Arkansas, and central Alabama.

Louisiana is always a weird outlier, but that is a place for another comment.

B.S. in Raleigh, NC, writes: I'm a native millennial to the Carolinas. I was born in North Carolina, grew up outside of Charlotte in South Carolina, and graduated from Clemson University. Ultimately, the difference between the two states can be summed up in a single word: growth.

North Carolina has added over 3.6 million people since 1992, compared to about 1.6 million people for South Carolina. That growth has largely been centered in the Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham metro areas. South Carolina simply has no comparable centers of growth. It's a little bit unfortunate, but the second largest metro area is Greenville-Spartanburg. This location is almost exactly halfway between Charlotte and Atlanta, so it's unlikely that Greenville will ever get a regional airport hub, which limits its ability to attract larger companies in the same way that Charlotte or Atlanta can. Not only that, the types of industries growing in North Carolina have attracted a younger, more progressive workforce, especially in the Research Triangle Park area. For South Carolina, the state just isn't positioned appropriately to match that kind of development. Those companies, which also have settled in Raleigh-Durham, have really made North Carolina a sort of melting pot for the Southeast. I can remember growing up in Charlotte that the running joke was that nobody was actually "from" Charlotte. Everyone had moved there from somewhere else.

But one thing to keep in mind is that North Carolina has always had a pretty progressive streak to start with. North Carolina has flipped their Senators several times over the last 50 years or so. Richard Burr (who is very likely to get tossed out for his COVID shenanigans) and Jesse Helms are the only Senators to win re-election in that time, while the other seat has flipped every time. It was also one of the only Southern states where the Democrats remained in power at the state level all the way up until 2010.

None of these conditions really existed in South Carolina. If South Carolina were ever to trend purple, it would be similar to how it happened in Virginia, where the expansion in Northern Virginia slowly began to pull the whole state blue. For now, I don't see that happening.

S.D. in Orlando, FL, writes: I note the Naval Weapons Station, Joint Base Charleston is in South Carolina. This is the base for a massive nuclear force and is home to a huge contingency of American military. It is not an area that would readily vote for Biden. This might be 100,000 persons in a state of only 5 million.

C.M. in Myrtle Beach, SC, writes: I somewhat disagree with J.R. from Tucson's question and your response about South Carolina's ruby redness.

First of all, there is an outside shot that if Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) loses re-election, South Carolina will be the first state in American history to have 2 black Senators. It also has the highest-ranking black man in the house in Rep. Clyburn (D). It also elected a Democratic congressman other than Clyburn for the first time in a long time in 2018.

In general the state is around 55% to 45% in races for statewide electoral offices, and it could be even closer if the Democratic party in the state were better organized and run. I eventually gave up on the South Carolina Democratic Party because, despite the obvious trends and opportunities, they are just unwilling to do what is necessary to move the state further purple than it is. They are poorly organized and attached to outdated tactics and methodologies that don't work. They are also made up of older generations that just will not listen to voices for change.

D.H. in Lisbon Falls, ME, writes: James L. Petigru made the observation more than 150 years ago, but it still holds true: "South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum."

Fifty Nifty United States?

D.A. in Flatbush, NY, writes: I am not sure that Brooklyn should be its own state. I'd sooner go for the establishment of a separate country; the People's Democratic Republic of Flatbush. Let the hipsters in Greenpoint, the conservatives of Bay Ridge, and the posh set in Park Slope fend for themselves.

J.E. in San Jose, CA, writes: As part of becoming a state, Texas has a clause that lets itself become up to 5 different states. The blue team being who they are, I can see them working out a deal to split Texas in exchange for admitting D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico as states. They could make one state that has Austin in it, and then split the rest of Texas into 4 other states to keep the balance of 4 new red and 4 new blue states. (And someday those other states will turn blue as well.)

This would also result in there being 57 states, which is an homage to our nation's Heinz 57 diversity, as well as the former conservative talking point when Barack Obama misspoke about the number of states in the union.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: In California, a split into two is fact, today we might well have the States of California and Jefferson (which would by the way have included parts of Southern and Eastern Oregon), if not for Pearl Harbor. Jefferson was set to declare independence from California (and Oregon); they even went so far as to inaugurate a Governor Of Jefferson. Then Pearl Harbor happened, and the idea was dropped in favor of showing unity in the face of the Japanese attack and our entry into World War II.


K.H. in Maryville, TN, writes: I'll see your snake stick and raise you one alligator log!

A log lays across a hiking
trail, and looks like a small alligator

After a skipped heartbeat, I remembered that alligators are probably rare in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

J.F.K. in Green Bay, WI, writes: This week, I clicked back to see your post from June 4, 2016. Congratulations, as you nailed it with "Scholars Say Trump Could Threaten Rule of Law," which warns "In short, even conservative lawyers and law professors are worried that Trump would just trample the Constitution and the law to achieve his goals." And also with "There Is No Trump 2.0," which concludes "[E]xpect Trump to continue to act like he has been acting all along. There will not be a new, improved version."

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun06 Biden Clinches It
Jun06 Saturday Q&A
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Jun05 On Protests and Riots
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Jun04 Today's Senate Polls
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Jun01 The Riots Change the Veep Calculus
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