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Political Wire logo Trump Doubles-Down on Racial Grievance
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How Trump Reacted to Empty Seats In Tulsa
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Rallies...
      •  ...and Berman Yields
      •  COVID-19 Diaries, Sunday Edition
      •  Sunday Mailbag

Trump Rallies...

Donald Trump, who has spent the last several months largely cooped up in the White House, wanted an in-person rally so badly he could taste it. So, despite vast pressure to call it off, the President moved forward. Given the incubation time involved with COVID-19, this is a story whose end has presumably not been written. However, a few significant things can already be said:

  • Few masks...and few people: Oklahoma is a ruby red state, there was theoretically pent-up demand for an event like this, and the Trump campaign bragged that it received over a million requests for tickets. When the rubber hit the road, however, the arena was two-thirds-empty and the area set aside for overflow was a ghost town. Right up until start time, the campaign was sending out text messages to supporters encouraging them to show up and telling them plenty of seats were available.

    What happened? Well, the one million figure was presumably a gross exaggeration, one based on a number that was already distorted by anti-Trump activists who signed up for tickets they had no intention of using. In addition, many folks clearly did not buy into the "COVID-19 is all gone" line the administration had been peddling, and did not much feel like taking their lives into their hands, especially since few attendees were masked. And finally, one has to wonder if the Trump act is wearing thin. He was a not-many-tricks pony when he was a reality TV star, and he's a not-many-tricks pony as president. Is there anything to be seen at a Trump rally that can't be seen on TV every day, or in YouTube clips of past rallies?

    In any case, in an effort to save face, the campaign blamed protesters for the poor turnout. That was pretty much the only option, as the President surely isn't going to admit COVID-19 is still major concern, nor that people are growing bored with him, nor that his campaign was duped. Of course, this will also send the message to protesters that their efforts are paying dividends, and are putting a burr under Trump's saddle.

  • A little casual racism (or more than a little): Though there weren't that many people there to see it, Trump was in mid-campaign form, with his rapid fire litany of complaints and bugaboos and barely encoded dog whistles. He defended Confederate statuary (which many would consider a racist viewpoint) and he described COVID-19 as "kung flu" (which is definitely racist, and consistent with the President's program of trying to scapegoat the Chinese for the virus). The president also attacked several Democratic politicians by name: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN), and Mayor Muriel Bowser (D-Washington, D.C.). Hmmm. Besides being members of the opposition party, what do these three folks have in common?

  • It Made People Sick: Literally. At least six campaign workers who helped do setup for the rally have already been diagnosed with COVID-19. Of course, as Trump explained during the rally, we wouldn't know about all these persnickety COVID-19 diagnoses if we didn't insist on testing people. Hard to argue with that logic, though even the adoring crowd seemed nonplussed that their candidate just admitted he prefers ignorance to knowledge. In any event, with people already getting sick, the odds that this does not turn into a superspreader event just got worse.

That's the story for now, but check back in a couple of weeks to see what the COVID-19 situation is. One also wonders when Team Trump will attempt another rally, given that this one went so poorly (and things are likely to get worse). (Z)

...and Berman Yields

Also on Saturday, a rather confusing sequence of events came to an end. Here is how things unfolded, as far as anyone knows:

  • Friday evening, AG Bill Barr announced that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), Geoffrey Berman, had decided to step down.

  • Berman quickly responded, saying that he most certainly had not made that decision, and that Barr was trying to push him out the door.

  • Saturday, Barr announced that he had asked Donald Trump to fire Berman, and the President agreed, so Berman is out.

  • Trump said he didn't know anything about it, declaring "That's [Barr's] department, not my department." and "I'm not involved."

  • Berman decided the writing was on the wall, and decided to step down.

In the short term, this is something of a win for Berman, as his interim successor—had he gone quietly, on Friday—was set to be U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Craig Carpenito, who is a well-known Barr toady. By making a stink, Berman at least made certain that his interim replacement will instead be his deputy, Audrey Strauss. Her first day on the job at SDNY was in 1976, when Barr was in his twenties, so it's rather more likely that she is a committed prosecutor and rather less likely that she is a Trump toady. Further, given the difficulties that may come from trying to get Jay Clayton confirmed, there is an above-average chance that Strauss will remain on the job for the rest of the year, at very least.

In the long term, it is very hard to see how Barr and/or Trump thought they were helping themselves here. Berman was definitely investigating Rudy Giuliani, and there's every chance he was also investigating Trump, either for campaign finance violations (Stormy Daniels), tax shenanigans, or both. If there is one thing that U.S. Attorneys are known for, it's keeping good notes, so this changing of the guard is likely to affect the ongoing investigations/cases pretty much not at all. Meanwhile, if this does not constitute obstruction of justice, either by Barr, or by Trump, or by both, then we're not clear why that statute is even on the book. In any case, like the Tulsa rally, this is a story whose final chapter surely has not been written. (Z)

COVID-19 Diaries, Sunday Edition

Nothing is happening terribly fast with COVID in the last few days (last night's rally may well change that, all by itself). The good news is that we are not jumping back into the March exponential nightmare scenario (doubling every 2-3 days). The really bad news is that we are not killing off COVID-19. It is still here. Even in states where cases are decreasing, outside of New Jersey and New York City, they are not decreasing fast enough that we can call this pandemic beaten. In the states with increasing hospitalizations, there is a risk of losing control as we continue to pretend that it is all over, or was never a big deal in the first place. Basically, we are standing in the middle of a forest fire with a slow burn that is spreading faster in some places, slower in others.

The best-case scenario for the United States is that we hold it together until school starts in September. At that point, everything will depend upon what we do with the 80 million students scheduled to return to school. There was one study indicating that children are far less likely to catch COVID-19 than adults, but I would be surprised if that will be enough to avoid a huge jump in R0.

I look forward to analyzing the data from the "world's first massive social distancing violation experiment" in Tulsa last night. If it results in a huge spike and hundreds of deaths, maybe people will stop calling the threat "overblown." Of course, proving that may be difficult.

The more studies I review, the more I am convinced that the best and the brightest are working extremely hard to figure out how this disease operates. New information is released literally every day. On the other hand, I continue to be frustrated by the response of the CDC and WHO to COVID-19. Understanding how this disease spreads and its effect on the population are key to making good policy decisions. We need a study that identifies several large, representative population samples, tests them repeatedly, and does careful tracking of those individuals. It would be expensive, but that is exactly what we need to know the answers to the big questions. Why aren't we doing such a study? I guess we know the answer to that question.

The following are some results gleaned from current research:

  1. There has been some debate over the effectiveness of masks. There was a study during the H1N1 outbreak indicating that masks were of no value at all. Now there is a lot of research on masks and COVID-19 and the conclusion is that masks definitely help stop the spread. N95 masks do not show a significant difference in protection over basic paper masks. Homemade masks reduce risk of infection as well. If someone in your household is infected, masks can even reduce the risk of transmission there. The evidence is strong: Wear your mask!

  2. The evidence of immunity acquired from having been infected with COVID-19 continues to mount. One of the aspects that will make study of this difficult is the suggestion that immunity may be limited to the lower respiratory system. This means you may still be able to be infected but will probably experience less serious symptoms the second time around.

  3. Some people seem be much more infectious than others (super-spreaders). People around them are very likely to catch COVID-19. It is not yet known what characterizes these people. Last week, I listened to a study report indicating that the viral load in symptomatic patients was the same as non-symptomatic patients. Put these two studies together and it is possible that a super-spreader may not even show symptoms.

In the next entry, I will look closely at Florida as a case study. (PD)

Sunday Mailbag

A week like this one raises the question of whether the apocryphal Chinese aphorism "may you live in interesting times" is a blessing or a curse.

2020 Election, General

A.M. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Why do you, and others, insist on calling Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania swing states?

They have been reliably Blue since 2000, with the exception of the unique election of 2016 (a deeply unpopular Democratic candidate and a Republican who lied to the voters in these states and said he would bring their jobs back). I am not at all surprised to see Biden leading in these states.

In 2008, normally solid Red Indiana voted for Obama (probably because it's next door to Illinois), but no one calls Indiana a swing state.

One thing all four of these states have in common are unique circumstances that can explain why they voted other than usual. In the absence of unique circumstances, there is no reason to suppose that these states will vote any different than they usually do this year.

V & Z respond: Because "swing states" does not actually mean "close states." It means "states most likely to decide the outcome of the election." Usually those things are one and the same, but in any event, the three states you list will almost certainly be determinative. If Biden wins them, he basically cannot lose. If he loses them, he basically cannot win. So they are going to swing the election, one way or the other.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: In response to G.K. in Chicago, another way to help in swing states is to adopt one through Vote Save America. The folks at Crooked Media are training people all over the country to become virtual organizers in the 6 swing states of Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. You can adopt a state and do voter outreach through phone and text banking from home!

V & Z respond: Great suggestion!

K.F. in Framingham, MA, writes: Years ago, as a kid, I used to play a computer-based election simulation game called President Elect. I credit that game for teaching me a lot about the Electoral College, if not about presidential campaigns in general. At one point, I even had every state's electoral vote count memorized. It was a great way to learn U.S. geography, too.

In any event, when I read the news this week about Donald Trump calling for more debates against Joe Biden, I had to laugh. The game had a debate element, which I loved. Each week, candidates had an option to debate. One candidate could call for a debate and the other would either have to agree to debate or not. This is where I first learned that the challenger is often the one who most wants to debate. The incumbent, especially if they are sitting pretty in the polls, has no reason to risk debating. The same can, of course, hold true though if the incumbent is actually way behind in the polls and the challenger is in the catbird seat. In that case, the incumbent may eagerly want to debate and the challenger may be just fine avoiding any more debates than necessary. Last year, when Trump was feeling a bit more confident about re-election, he had no problem being dismissive of the fall debates. But now, with the tables turned and so much on the line for him, he may be getting desperate.

Or maybe not. It would not surprise me in the least if Trump is just pulling another Trump—saying one thing, but not following through, just to keep up appearances. He calls Joe Biden "sleepy," but Trump knows he is just as prone to screwing up himself. And if Trump can make it "look" like he wants to debate (even though he doesn't want to), then he may hope that it makes Biden "look" as though he is scared to debate.

J.W. in Indianapolis, IN, writes: In response to C.M. of Belfast's question about the effect of a video emerging of Trump using the n-word, you said that you didn't think it would move the needle much because the people who have a problem with his racism already won't vote for him and the people who are going to vote for him don't have a problem with his racism or would use whataboutism or denialism to excuse it.

I mostly agree with your premise, but even if we assume that literally nobody changed their opinion of Trump because of it, I would still argue that the needle would move. If that video were to come out, especially at this historic moment, I think black turnout would skyrocket, probably beyond even Obama being on the ticket. If black voters make up 14 or 15 percent of the electorate instead of 2016's 12 percent, that would be enormously consequential, especially in Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. Trump cannot win without those states (Thom Tillis, David Perdue, and Kelly Loeffler/ Doug Collins probably wouldn't appreciate it either).

B.B. in San Jose, CA, writes: On Friday, (Z) made a snarky comment that Juneteenth it is a "basic part of U.S. history" and implies that everyone in the country should have already known about it. I like to consider myself well-educated and generally curious about information. My parents were also well-educated, with each earning a Masters degree and both having been teachers. However, I had never heard so much as a whisper of Juneteenth until now. It certainly wasn't a part of the curriculum in Illinois where I had all of my education (at least, in the 80s and 90s).

I think you are vastly overestimating the knowledge the average American citizen has on this topic. I'm guessing I'm in the majority, having never been taught anything about it. It seems very likely to me that Donald Trump is in fact responsible for exposing much of the country to this holiday, even if it was unintentional on his part.

V & Z respond: That comment was mostly to set up the joke about Finland. That said, Juneteenth is primarily a Southern holiday, so it's not surprising that many folks in the Midwest, the Southwest, New England, etc. aren't familiar. Trump, however, is currently a "resident" of the South, and has spent plenty of time in Florida, where Juneteenth is most certainly commemorated. Further, when most folks learn of a gap in their knowledge, they don't immediately try to turn it into an accomplishment, as Trump did.

K.F.W. in El Dorado Hills, CA writes: People keep asking "Why did it take Twitter and Facebook so long to react to Trump and his trolls? Why now?" The answer is clearly "Because it looks like, with some confidence, he is going to lose in November" and Twitter and Facebook (and Zuckerberg) are scrambling to get on the right side of history.

S.Z. in New Haven, CT, writes: I just noticed this pop-up ad:

An animated scene, reminiscent of
a 1990s-style martial arts game, in which Trump and Biden square off against one another. Trump is flying through the air, about
to deliver a kick to the face of Biden.

I think that they are getting desperate. As usual, they are clueless about pop culture. "Finish him!" is a line from the movie "The Karate Kid." It was delivered by the evil coach to one of the evil bullies. In the movie, the bully jumps at the hero, and the hero, though injured, disables the bully and wins the match. In this metaphor, apparently Trump is the jumping evil bully and Biden is the movie's hero who stands his ground and wins the match in spite of his previous disadvantage.

Further, the real-life Trump had trouble walking down a 10-degree ramp. An actual karate master would have been useful against the Viet Cong...too bad about the bone spur thing.

V & Z respond: "Finish him!" is also used in the video game Mortal Kombat. Whether the Trump campaign is taking its pop culture cues from 1980s movies or 1990s video games is anyone's guess.

2020 Election, Veepstakes

D.N. in Panama City, FL, writes: I write in response to J.L. in Wanamingo, MN, who opined that the VP pick is never determinative. Although you referred to 1960, as is often done, J.L. framed his question differently. He asserted that no one could identify a recent race where a presidential candidate could have achieved a different outcome with a different running mate.

How about the election of 2000? That summer, it felt like the stars were aligning for Al Gore to select my fellow Floridian, Bob Graham, as his running mate. At the crucial moment, however, Time magazine ran a profile piece which made Graham seem a little obsessive-compulsive. Gore instead selected Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, and wound up losing Florida by a vote of, I mean, by 537 votes. Surely, we can all agree that as a Florida senator and two-term former governor, Graham would have easily pulled Gore across the finish line in Florida? That would have given Vice President Gore an Electoral College victory, to go along with his popular vote win.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I actually think that Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-CA) stock went up as a result of the protests. Republicans now know that Biden is going to pick a woman of color, so they won't have Warren to hang around Democrats' neck, so they can hammer away at the socialist bugaboo. And of the women of color who are at the top of the list, the one they're most afraid of is Harris. She is the perfect general election Veep candidate, as she's experienced at the state and federal level and is the most qualified to assume the office of President. She's also a former prosecutor, but one who has always recognized the inherent racial bias in the system. And while some groups decry her anti-racism efforts as window dressing and accuse her of being part of a corrupt system, that's precisely why Republicans fear her. Because they will not be able to demonize her as a radical leftist who wants to abolish the police. Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of African-Americans support her, so her presence on the ticket will drive up turnout, not depress it. She's also tough and will use her prosecutorial skills to go after Trump. She hits the sweet spot and could be exactly what Biden needs to help him over the finish line.

K.C. in Levittown, NY, writes: In the Sunday mailbag last week, P.D.T. and B.R.D. certainly made a valiant effort to counter my argument that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) would be a poor choice as a running mate for Joe Biden. I believe both readers missed my point. I count myself among the many individuals in America who are "vote blue, no matter who" and in fact I would vote for a three legged cat before I ever considered voting for Donald Trump. I'm not the type of voter I was talking about in my comment from the previous week.

I would vote for a Joe Biden/Elizabeth Warren ticket in a second. I would vote for a Biden/Anyone ticket in a second—even Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D?-HI), who may as well be a Republican—because this election is that important for the future of America (my children, my students, the Supreme Court, you name it). It's the pressing importance of this year's election which leads me to the conclusion that we can ill afford Vice President Biden picking the wrong person. Let's be clear—Elizabeth Warren is intelligent, would probably be able to help get things done and would certainly be a tremendous upgrade on our current president/vice president team.

My argument, however, was not about securing the vote of people who are voting for Joe Biden no matter who he selects—these people would include myself and, I reckon, P.D.T. and B.R.D. My issue is swing voters who come from regions where bookishness isn't a selling point. Donald Trump certainly didn't knock down a decent chunk of the supposed "Blue Wall" by being bookish. What are some of the attributes which helped some of our more recent presidents win election? Bill Clinton appealing to young voters by playing saxophone on TV, and George W. Bush being the guy you'd want to have a beer with come to mind. Then, take a look at folks like Pete Buttigieg and Warren, who are both extremely intelligent, but who both failed to either build on, or gain momentum during the primaries. People cited electability as a reason for voting for Biden and ultimately rejected arguably the two smartest people on the stage. While it's a sad commentary on the mindset of many Americans, they just don't want a book-smart person talking over their heads and making them feel dumb. I know this first hand as a teacher. You can't expect the kids to care about what you have to say if you act like a know-it-all and talk in a way that makes them feel stupid. The smartest person in the school doesn't necessarily make the best teacher unless they have the interpersonal skills necessary to relate to their students.

I stated in my original comment that we need to not look at who we agree with necessarily, but who we think most voters would agree with because it's about winning this election, not about making a statement, even though we may come up short when the votes are all counted. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is no less intelligent than Elizabeth Warren, but additionally she doesn't carry the baggage of failing in the primaries, being the subject of personal attacks by Donald Trump, stumbling over her handling of her DNA test, and generally not being the type of person many Obama-to-Trump voters would want to have a proverbial beer with. Duckworth is, however, a decorated veteran, severely wounded in action and despite serving in a war which never should have happened, still serves her country proudly in the U.S. Senate. Again, the backlash Trump and Pence would both face if they attacked her would be enormous. If we want to take back the White House and take back America, we have to consider who people outside our own social circles would vote for and not focus so intensely on who our personal preference may be.

J.P. in Horsham, PA, writes: I'd like to add in one more observation about Tammy Duckworth as a potential running mate for Joe Biden. We are definitely somewhere in the middle of a fairly lengthy trend in which voters do not seem to be favoring those with military service, at least at the presidential level. 2020 will mark the third consecutive presidential election where neither the Democratic nor the Republican nominee had any military service at all, and in each of the five elections prior to that, the victorious candidate had demonstrably less military experience than the loser.

While that certainly could be a function of the demographics of the people who did and didn't serve during Vietnam and subsequent American military engagements, and/or public perception of those military engagements as a whole, Biden should only consider choosing Sen. Baldwin if he feels as though this trend is either over or nearly over.

J.D. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I know it should not matter, but the possible selection of Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms would lead to the unfortunate bumper sticker/lawn sign of Biden/Bottoms. Neither the innocent interpretation of the candidate "bottoming out" or the sexual connotation make for the best advertising. Just saying.

V & Z respond: You seem to forget that, within recent memory, a ticket comprised of Bush and Dick won twice.

Tri-ump of the Will?

I.K. in Olympia, WA, writes: I just finished watching the Steven Spielberg series Why We Hate, which looks both at hate and how it can fester and grow into genocide and destruction, but also at how we can work against hate to keep it from spreading. The series examines infamous examples of genocide or mass ethnic violence (Rwanda, South Africa, Cambodia, Nazi Germany, Colombia, lynchings, and others).

Today, just out of curiosity I watched Trump's rally in Tulsa and it felt like I was listening to the same words from the instigators of past genocide and violence. The common themes are:

  • Dehumanizing the victims by calling them thugs, killers, rapists, animals or vermin (in Rwanda, it was calling the ethnic Tutsi "cockroaches")

  • Stoking fear by claiming that the victims are out to destroy you, your family, and your way of life (taking away your guns, your jobs, and killing babies)

  • Most importantly, an authority figure or leader telling the people that they have to use violence against the victims (telling them to not be gentle or to "rough them up")

But the important message is that we cannot stop hate with more hate. Hate must be fought with understanding. There was so much good information and so many ideas in this show, coming from amazing experts who have spent their lives fighting and successfully overcoming hate. I hope we learn how to stop what is going on before it is too late for us.

D.E. in Lititz, PA, writes: I know I've thought this before, but maybe this time finally there is a chip in the Trump Teflon. Looking at the crowd at his Kovid Klan Klown Rally, I'll be generous and call it underwhelming. If Trump can't even halfway fill up a very small arena in the reddest of red states, then maybe some of the states you have surprisingly listed as toss-ups or closer than thought might actually be. Maybe the electoral map is going to have more white and pink than red this time around. As you guys have said, when Trump's support starts to crumble, it's going to do so fast. This half-empty arena is not a good look that says winner, and the people who are clinging so desperately to the Trump bandwagon are doing so because they want to be associated with what they see as being a winner. When tonight's rally participants start showing up in hospital beds, that aura of winning will look even more tarnished. I expect this might be the last rally in while and that Trump will run back to the safety of his bunker and nonstop Fox News for validation.

D.R. in Harrodsburg, KY, writes: If Democrats in Oklahoma wear face masks and stay home for a few weeks, they may be in the majority by November. President Trump, please have a rally in Kentucky.

D.C. in Myersville, MD, writes: Some wag online called it Coronapalooza. I think you should run with it.

A Dose of Healthy Skepticism

K.A. in Key Largo, FL, writes: I had agreed with you that analyzing Donald Trump's physical condition at West Point last weekend was perhaps going to be a cheap shot that we really didn't need to take, and that it's just a step too far for decent people to go. Having said that, you've convinced me that it is worth looking at, considering the things you've mentioned: his hiding of medical reports, his mysterious visit to Walter Reed, his advanced age, not to mention the fact that he is up for reelection to be president.

Because I am a physician, I have been asked to give my diagnosis based on the videos, and I just can't come up with one with such limited information. But I do have a hunch. Perhaps he has fallen recently and sustained a minor injury to his right arm. Hence, he needed his left arm to support bringing a glass of water to his lips. The walk down the ramp to me looked like someone being extra cautious due to fear of falling (again). He did look like he regained his confidence, perhaps even exaggerated, once he got to the bottom. If this is the case (big if) one wonders why he might have fallen recently. Did he trip over a pair of shoes, or was there a medical reason?

T.C. in Tokyo, Japan, writes: It seems to me from viewing the photos at West Point that the President is suffering from Parkinson's Disease. I don't say this as any kind of medical expertise but as someone who also suffers from Parkinson's. The disease attacks the person's motor skills, notably during things like the long walk down the ramp. Parkinson's sufferers tend to have poor depth perception, and they fear stumbling. The water glass thing is another clue. The first time it was suggested I had Parkinson's was when I had difficulty holding a large glass of water. Finally, there was the strange visit to Bethesda last year. Was it maybe for an MRI?

R.M. in Tucson, AZ, writes: First, let me say I am not a doctor. I am, however, someone who is 6 years younger than the President. I have also, since turning 60, dealt with several medical conditions that have affected my life. At 60, in addition to having diabetes, I suffered a stroke. I had symptoms at work, but kept working. Two days later, my paramedic firefighting son-in-law took me to the emergency room, but I still did not think I had a stroke until a PT had me stand on one foot and I nearly fell over. My stroke was not caused by a bleed or clot but by very high blood pressure with restriction of blood to the brain.

Since that time, I have had physical therapy, open-heart bypass surgery, and a seizure. To look at me one would not know I have had these problems, except for one thing. If I stand for any length of time, or sit, when I get up to walk I am affected on my left side and my walk is the same as Donald Trump, as recorded on camera. When I get dressed, I have to steady myself or I will fall towards my left side.

We will probably not learn the truth about the President's medical condition, but evidence seems to support some type of underlying issue. I am taking care of myself with common sense and six daily medications.

A.D. in Charleston, WV, writes: I think everyone is over-analyzing Trump's stumble down the ramp. In fact, I am willing to bet a farm or four that the entire incident had nothing to do with his physical health at all. Rather, it was simply that the risers he wears in his shoes (which make him that coveted 6'3" tall, instead of a measly, emasculating 5'11") made the grade of the ramp much steeper than it was. It's not too hard to imagine the President suffering from a complex of the Napoleon variety, after all.

S.K. in Holyoke, MA, writes: In your item "Trump Makes a Mountain out of a Molehill," you mention that you did not initially want to engage with the criticism and mocking that the president has been receiving over perceived issues with his physical coordination or health. The reason stated for your hesitation was that it seemed like a cheap shot, but I wanted to point out an additional perspective. While I am not disabled, I do follow online writing of some prominent members of the disability community, and many of them have pointed out that such attacks on Trump are extremely ableist, and that they likely won't harm Trump, but almost certainly have a detrimental effect on disabled people. A good commentary in this vein is a piece in the Washington Post by Rebecca Cokley.

Your item was certainly not advocating for people to use this line of attack against the president, but while it may be true that many voters do feel strongly about a president's perceived health and strength, there is obviously enormous consequence to that type of public discourse.

Johnny B. Bad

Name withheld writes: I've written before on national security issues as I work for the State Department. I appreciate what you wrote about John Bolton and would add a few things that reflect my own personal views and the views of many in the foreign policy apparatus.

We in the national security apparatus often think of ourselves as policy folks, but we're really more process folks. Someone good at process can drive policy, as Bolton often did as U.S. Ambassador at the UN, but for mid-level grunts like me, I push Bush's/Obama's/Trump's policies, and only attempt to change it through reporting and working the very long chain of command back to the White House/Congress.

But while we implement the president's policies, we swear an oath to the Constitution. It's our duty to "bear truth faith and allegiance to the same," because truthful reporting matters. Good process matters; without due consideration of all the pitfalls of a decision, we get bad decisions with bad outcomes for our country. I was proud of my State colleagues Ambassador Masha Yovanovitch, Political Officer David Holmes (among others, some of whose names remain private) and other career folks in the National Security apparatus like Fiona Hill and Lt. Col Vindman who gave evidence about what they felt were inappropriate foreign policy processes.

John Bolton, as the National Security Advisor, a position created to run this process, should have, like our colleagues, testified to what he knew and when he knew it. It disgusts me and my colleagues that while our brave co-workers risked their careers, he chose instead to conceal what he felt was a broken process in order to sell books later. Shame. Shame also on him for sharing classified details of meetings the President had. Anyone at his level knows that discussions between state leaders are secrets. Hillary Clinton tried to explain away her home e-mail server containing classified info saying she "didn't know this or that was classified." Pretty much everything she did outside of public fora as Secretary of State was classified because she was Secretary of State. Same rule applies to POTUS. The Trump administration suing to stop publication will likely fail, and while I'm no first amendment lawyer able to discern who should win in court, it doesn't change the fact that the details in Bolton's book are another shameful act by a man more desperate to take your money than serve his country. Shame.

V & Z respond: Thanks for the benefit of your insider experience. We do not often allow unsigned letters, but in the case that a person could be damaged by their identity being uncovered, we make occasional exceptions. Also, this was sent to us before the book-blocking lawsuit did indeed officially fail.

Legal Matters

K.Y. in Seattle, WA, writes: On Wednesday, you wrote:

In other words, the court not only explicitly addressed the LGB and Q of LGBTQ, but the T as well. And what they did, in so many words, was make very clear that, when it comes to federal statutes, the word "sex" covers not only biological gender, but also gender identity and sexual orientation. There are hundreds of statutes that use that word, which means that a broad swath of federal law is now permanently altered.


That's particularly the case for [Trump's LGBT] healthcare rollbacks, which were based on the definition of "sex" that the Court just invalidated.

I'm going to go on at length here, because I think it's important to be clear about what happened.

First, a minor point. In the opinion, Justice Gorsuch doesn't use the phrase "gender identity" but rather "transgender status." The latter is easier to objectively define.

Second, it is true that Gorsuch finds that employment discrimination against gay and trans people is sex discrimination. Many people are taking this to mean that Gorsuch "redefines" the word "sex" (or, as you put it, "invalidates" the common meaning). But Gorsuch explicitly does not do this. On page 5 of the decision, Gorsuch writes that "sex" means what it has always traditionally meant: reproductive potential. What Gorsuch does do is argue that it is impossible to define the terms "homosexual" or "transgender" without using the words "man," "woman," or "sex" (see page 19); and as a consequence, if an employer makes a hiring decision based on an employee's being gay or trans, that decision is necessarily based on "sex" and thereby violates Title VII. His analysis doesn't work if "sex" means anything other than "sex."

Third, it is true that there are hundreds of statutes that use the word "sex." But Gorsuch is careful to emphasize that he is analyzing only one aspect of one statute: hiring and employment discrimination under Title VII. He specifically states (see pages 31-33) that the opinion does not address sex-segregated spaces or possible religious-freedom exceptions, and that those and other questions will have to be decided in separate cases. Why might that matter? Well, as one example, there's currently a district court case, Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools, where three female teenage sprinters are suing a school athletic organization because natal male trans sprinters continue to win girls' track events. I won't pretend to be able to read Gorsuch's or Chief Justice Roberts' minds, but I will go on record here predicting that there is no way on this earth that either of them will rule in favor of the school athletic organization in the Soule case. And SCOTUS is certain to hear that case or one like it.

I just think it's important to understand what this opinion says and doesn't say.

J.T.B. in Brookline, MA, writes: I've really appreciated your Supreme Court analysis this week, but I do disagree with you about how the Bostock opinion probably got written. At oral argument, the Chief showed no sympathy whatsoever for the LGBTQ position. Based on that, my hunch is that Roberts was actually in the minority on the first vote, and therefore Ginsburg assigned the opinion to Gorsuch. Doing so would have kept Gorsuch in the majority and allowed him to use legal reasoning with which he was comfortable. If any of the liberals had written the opinion, their analysis likely would have been much different and Gorsuch might have jumped ship. Then finally, with Gorsuch's textualist opinion written and in hand, his fellow textualist Roberts probably thought "Why rock the boat about something that: (1) uses textualism, (2) I don't care too much about, (3) most of the country supports, and (4) is going to win anyway?" and joined the majority opinion at some later stage.

I'm just hypothesizing about this particular case, of course, but these sorts of maneuvers have been well documented in books such as The Oath: The Obama White House and The Supreme Court, The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court, and The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, all of which I highly recommend.

S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes: I am a transgender activist for the greater LGBTQ+ community. My social media feed exploded with awe and excitement when SCOTUS issued their 6-3 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, affirming our fundamental right of equality in the workplace. Hooray for a huge victory in the midst of so much sorrow this year!

I want to make a couple of observations related to your item "We're Here, We're Queer, Live With It." The first regards how well progressives are focused on SCOTUS in contrast to conservatives. I defer to your greater awareness of that issue, but I will say that our rainbow radiant LGBTQ+ community is laser-focused on the Supreme Court with perpetual anxiety that our judicial and cultural hero, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, remains alive and able to serve until at very least 1/20/21. I know many people who would sacrifice both lungs and kidneys if they thought RBG needed them.

The second is that while this ruling is absolutely a big win for the gay (LGB) majority of our rainbow minority, it's my belief that the "wedge issue" this administration will continue to hammer is the TQ+, with a specific target on transgender people, since Queer/Questioning is not yet a well understood term by the majority of Americans.

The Trump administration has systematically erased and altered information in various places in order to distort both science (e.g., climate change, COVID-19) and erase transgender people (e.g, CDC, military). Meanwhile, the greater gay community now has such widespread cultural acceptance that most traditionally gay bars and hangouts are nearly extinct.

Transgender people have yet to reach such mainstream acceptance. We are the bogeypersons who lurk in bathrooms, parade around in dresses, are mentally ill, warp children's minds and/or molest them, are pregnant with beards, and so on. We are easily vilified.

The LGBTQ+ community has a powerful desire to vote this year. We are not all on-board with Uncle Joe as our first and favorite choice, but how do you so often put it? "We'd vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket."

K.J. in Roanoke, VA, writes: Please consider using words that are accurate descriptions of people and beliefs. Like many in the media, I have noticed you using false labels such as "homophobic" and "transphobic" several times within the last week or two. A significant number of people sincerely believe that such lifestyles are immoral and potentially harmful, for reasons based in religion, science, and medicine. But you would be hard-pressed to find a single person who is afraid of such people, which is what the suffix "phobia" actually means. All people are worthy of respect, from homosexual activists to religious conservatives. As a public school teacher, I have had no problem respecting LGBT students in my classroom over the years. Are you willing to return that same respect to those with whom you disagree?

V & Z respond: We are running your letter because we like to reflect the variety of responses we get for the mailbag. However, we are also going to add two things. First, there are vast numbers of words whose current meaning does not align precisely with their Greek or Latin roots, and a word like "homophobia" or "transphobia" does not necessarily refer to fear anymore. Second, most prejudiced folks manage to find "reasonable" justifications for their prejudices. Slave owners justified their "peculiar institution" based on...wait for it...religion, science, and medicine. That doesn't mean that all religious, scientific, and medical justifications for a particular belief exist solely to provide cover for prejudice or bigotry, but it does mean that religious, scientific, and medical justifications are not automatically neutral or valid.

V.L. in Grand Rapids, MI, writes: I disagree with your read of the ruling in the DACA case. I think Chief Justice John Roberts handed Donald Trump an early Christmas gift in the form of a strategic victory.

Even in a vacuum, anytime Trump bemoans the evil liberal courts, it energizes the base. If he's going to play the victim, he has to name a villain. And then consider that this is an election year, so the situation becomes a proxy election for the Supreme Court. Many Republicans (and not-Republicans, such as myself) will see the lifetime appointment(s) to the SC as crucially relevant to the next 50 years. So, if Republicans and not-Republicans feel this way, is it a zero sum game for Trump to make it a central issue? No; Joe Biden isn't going to steal any of Trump's base by promising to appoint RBG 2.0, but Trump, by promising Scalia 3.0 (I think Alito is the 2.0 version; I read somewhere his nickname is "Scalito"), could reclaim conservatives who are leaning towards holding their nose and voting for Biden.

Further, John Roberts used his authority as Chief Justice to select himself to write the majority opinion. What a surprise it was the most narrow of options available and said to Trump "what I will do is write you a dissertation that details how to guarantee yourself a 5-4 victory on your next DACA repeal case. See you in 12 months, after the election... maybe. XoXo J.R." Federal authority over "interstate commerce" is a great non-racist mechanism to achieve racist goals— it would be easy to argue immigrants negatively impact commerce by virtue of being inexpensive labor which gives unfair advantages to construction/hospitality industries.

I am surprised how few are seeing the obvious tactical victory for team Trump—Roberts *not* enabling the President is a reality too shocking to be real, so impossible it is actually impossible. Maybe Roberts saw a chance to balance the court's reputation? Or perhaps Roberts is also playing the long game and he sees Trump as a necessary part to add Roberts 2.0 to the bench.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: A couple of things about Geoffrey Berman. He's an interesting case study, refuting some conservatives' claim that there is no such thing as nonpartisan. To start, he's a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and was a major donor to Trump's 2016 campaign, which is why he got the job in the first place. He also worked with Rudy Giuliani at his law firm. Berman's admirable defense of the rule of law and the independence of his office shows that it is possible to put aside partisan politics when stepping into a role that calls for pursuing justice without "fear or favor."

The second point is that, no doubt, Berman has been preparing for this eventuality for some time. In fact, he's probably wondering why it took this long. (Maybe Bolton's book put Berman back on Trump's radar—"hey, weren't we supposed to get rid of this guy??") He probably knows he's on solid legal ground, but whatever the outcome, I'm sure he and his staff have taken every precaution to safeguard their investigations and the evidence they have uncovered. They are under no illusion that the law means anything to Barr or Trump, who will stop at nothing to save himself and his re-election chances.

V & Z respond: As readers might guess, this letter was submitted before Berman announced that he was bowing to his termination (see above).

I Ain't No Fortunate Son

Name withheld writes: I've worked for five years as a patrol officer in a predominantly black city, a city that has seen unrest numerous times in recent years due to the in-custody death of an unarmed black man. Everything I say is my own personal viewpoint and not representative of the agency or its public positions. As such, while I think your item "Police Officer Shoots and Kills Unarmed Black Man Trying to Flee" was generally fair and objective, the title is misleading from a critical legal standpoint.

This is not to condemn Brooks or declare the officers guiltless: such rulings will be made by lawyers and local, court-approved experts in police tactics and procedures. I don't know anything more than any other news-follower and have never lived or worked in Atlanta. Still, I think a police officer's perspective may be instructive, even if it doesn't alter any opinions or feelings. As you rightly pointed out, it was less blatant than the George Floyd case as far as police misconduct and involves several dilemmas in law enforcement rather than haughty abuse of authority and disregard for human life.

To an officer trying to make sense of the Rayshard Brooks incident, three questions are germane: was there probable cause that the subject was guilty of a crime? Was an arrest necessary? And was deadly force justified?

From watching the body-worn camera footage, Brooks' demeanor and the initial call make it clear that he not only had been drinking, but was beyond the limit to be driving and at least necessitated the use of a breathalyzer. Had he been parked legally there would be no need for a DUI investigation, but the fact that he was in the drive-through obstructing traffic makes it clear to a reasonable person that he had been driving while intoxicated rather than parked prior to intoxication or driven by someone else.

From this point in the investigation, the officers could not allow him to drive away and might've been penalized for ordering him to move his car when they arrived. Certainly, he seemed willing to work with the officers by offering to walk away. But it is still unclear what sort of discretion the officers had remaining; drunk driving causes 40% of American road fatalities, and with the incident on body-worn camera, they could've been charged by their agency for not arresting Mr. Brooks (I'm unsure of Atlanta's exact policies but DUI is generally something an officer doesn't have much leeway on).

While DUIs don't always have to result in being taken to jail, the subject at least needs to be detained long enough to have their Advice of Rights read at an indoor location, which does mean charges and handcuffs. And even beyond departmental policies, leniency to a person in this situation is something of a slap in the face to anyone who has lost a loved one to a drunk driver.

There are few things that get an officer's heart racing—or compromise judgment—like someone resisting arrest. Had Brooks simply been fleeing, or even if he'd seized the taser and then thrown it out of reach, it would be a clear-cut case of a fleeing felon, and any police academy student knows such a person cannot be fired upon per Tennessee v. Garner. Or if Brooks had retained the taser but not attempted to use it, the officers would've been undeniably in the wrong. But pointing or deploying a non-lethal yet incapacitating weapon significantly alters the legal dynamics.

In most police academies (including mine), officers are tased and pepper sprayed. The spray, while excruciating, does not incapacitate and an officer cannot use deadly force to counter it. If someone takes an officer's collapsible baton, it may be used to incapacitate but only with precise strikes so that, too, would not usually justify police using a firearm against it. But a taser is different because it will incapacitate in a matter of a few seconds. So as long as that person is holding the trigger, someone with taser prongs in them cannot fight back or even call for help. The officer's body armor would have mitigated its effects somewhat, but that's only if he had been tased in the torso at a distance too close for the prongs to spread apart a few feet as they are designed. While we'll never know what would have occurred in this specific situation, a suspect tasing a police officer would be able to then seize the officer's firearm and turn it on him.

It's very sad what happened in this situation. I, like the majority of officers I've spoken to, believe that systemic reform is needed to counter racial biases in policing and society in general. I've never met or even heard of an officer saying anything to defend Derek Chauvin or his accomplices, or to characterize George's Floyd's unjustifiable murder as anything different. However, the George Floyd case this is not. It will be difficult to find a consensus among officers that a fleeing suspect should have the right to take and use police tasers, and a consensus among the public that this should be procedure for law enforcement raises considerable questions about an officer's right to defend himself or an innocent civilian.

V & Z respond: As with the State Dept. official above, we thank you for the benefit of your insider experience, and we're going to honor your request for anonymity.

D.E. in Lititz, PA, writes: In recent discussions of defunding the police, it seems that everyone is tiptoeing around a main issue for this discussion. Without a doubt, racism plays a huge role in how the police treat black Americans. Understandably, black Americans fear the police, not only because of how they are treated but because the police roll in with multiple cars and police tanks with their hands, gripping their guns and assault rifles. One year I had pneumonia and called 911 for an ambulance. When I came out of the house, from two different directions came the police, hands hovering over their pistols. It scared the living tar out of me and I'm a white guy. I can't even begin to imagine what goes through a black man's mind when he sees that familiar sight of a swarm of cops ready for battle coming at him.

That said, we have to address the fact that the police's go-to position is "overkill and get ready for a shootout" because they are in fear for their lives due to the overabundance of guns in our nation. I'm not trying to justify the police behavior, but their biggest fear is that on a simple call someone is going to whip out a gun and start shooting. This fear is so pervasive that it's becoming the police who are most likely to draw first to let the bullets fly, especially among those officers who are guilty of racial prejudice.

In some ways, the situation reminds me of the Cold War between the US and the USSR. As one side escalates its firepower, the other overcompensates in order to falsely feel more secure. We need to make significant reductions in the number of guns out on the street and in our communities. Only by doing that can we convince the police forces to de-escalate their tactics, because if they still feel like their lives are threatened, all the police reform in the world won't change much. At the same time, the police forces need to confront their prejudices and to stop reflexively supporting members of the force that do not deserve their jobs. The cops in Atlanta who called in sick with the Blue Flu in protest of one of their members being arrested for murder disgusted me. I know there is loyalty within police forces, but perspective needs to be applied to who is deserving of that loyalty.

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: J.A. in New York, NY, asked about questionable police loyalties following the Buffalo incident with Martin Gugino, and the strange failure of the NYC police to anticipate looting in certain areas containing high-end retailers. He asked "Are these departments' loyalties to the cities, communities, and people they are supposed to be serving or are they to their "brotherhood" and department first?"

History is full of well-documented instances of institutions that protect themselves, rather than the people they are charged with explicitly or implicitly protecting. To mention just a few:

  • The police have closed ranks to stifle investigations of corruption in NYC and numerous other locations.

  • The Catholic Church in the United States and elsewhere spent decades protecting priests who'd sexually assaulted children or adult parishioners.

  • The Metropolitan Opera managed not to effectively investigate problematic rumors about its former music director, James Levine, that went back to the 1970s.

  • The University of Michigan hadn't fired a tenured professor for 60 years before firing David Daniels this year. (He'll be going on trial for rape at some point.) You certainly won't convince me that over a six-decade period, nobody at a huge school like Michigan had committed academic fraud, harassed a student, embezzled money, destroyed someone's academic career, or done something bad enough to be fired.

E.H. in Stevens Point, WI, writes: Last Sunday R.T. from Arlington, TX, wrote about disenfranchised whites in America, and the letter really resonated with me. I grew up middle class, but my wife grew up poor. She experienced harassment from the police firsthand. Her brothers often came home black and blue from police beatings, their house was raided for trivial reasons, and there was nothing they could do because the system was stacked against poor people. She learned at an early age to fear the police, because she knew they were there to punish and harm, not serve and protect. She worked her butt off to get out of that life, but the lessons of her youth never left her and she is still petrified of police officers.

She is not a big fan of Black Lives Matter—she sees the terrible injustice against black people but knows with an absolute certainty that the BLM movement doesn't care one bit about the injustices against people like her family (and she is probably right about that). She says the thing that bothers her most is when people accuse her of white privilege. She worked hard to escape poverty and faced sexual harassment and job discrimination without any advocate or court caring. It's true that the cops never killed anyone in her family, but they did look the other way when her cousin was murdered.

Now, there is no way she would ever vote for Trump—she has told me she would vote for a dead flea on a dog's a** before voting for him—but change a little in her story and you might find people who would vote for him. They have been picked on and put down their whole lives, told they are inferior, regularly threatened by the police and the courts and belittled by those with education or money, and now they are told that they lived privileged lives because of the color of their skin. Is it any wonder they are angry?

The system is broken, to be sure, but when we get around to dealing with the awful racial injustices in our system, we should put at least a little thought to how we treat poor white people as well.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: I think R.T. from Arlington, TX, hits the nail right on the head for a lot of the blue-collar folks in the Midwestern states and Pennsylvania. I am a native of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and a lot of my friends and family stated they were voting for Donald Trump in 2016 because of many of the same issues that R.T. brought up. We felt cheated by "the system," and for decades Democrats campaigned in Pennsylvania with promises to bring back jobs. That promise was never fulfilled, and a lot of us decided to take a chance on Trump—we were never naïve enough to believe that he would actually (re)create thousands of (lost) jobs, but we were willing to give him a chance. Joe Biden himself recognized after the October 2016 Wilkes-Barre Trump rally that the Democrats were in trouble; he said "we may lose this thing." We weren't racist and we weren't bigoted—we were angry at the economic injustice foisted upon us, and looked to Trump to be our voice. The concept of "white privilege" is foreign to us folks of Northeastern Pennsylvania, since we never felt we had a fair shake, economically.

D.E. in San Diego, CA, writes: In reference to letters from the mailbag about race relations in the South, I thought I would share two small experiences I took away from a visit there. Having lived the majority of my life in California, several years ago I visited Georgia for the first time to meet a woman for dating purposes. This involved her and her family driving me around to show me the sights. In doing so, I noticed (without anyone saying anything) that the majority of the low-education jobs like road work crews, janitors, restaurant food workers, etc., were black, whereas the management and supervisors nearly all the time were white. This started at the airport and continued to the suburbs. The letter from J.E.K. in Portland, OR, about caste systems seems to be accurate. J.L.J. in San Francisco also talked about how the n-word was not used face to face in public, and I can verify that too. The only time I heard the word was at a stop light, when a black driver in a vehicle next to ours threw a cigarette butt out of the window. Our windows were rolled up so no one outside our vehicle could hear my date's mother turn to her husband and say "Did you see what that n-word just did?" It was uncomfortable for me but none of them seemed to notice my reaction. Needless to say, that potential relationship went nowhere.

Ghosts of Presidents Past

D.R. in Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, writes: Kudos to you for the inclusion of Jimmy Carter as one of three underrated presidents. I would also point out that he was the first U.S. President elected after the horrors of the Vietnam War and the scandal of Watergate. Because of that, the trust of the public toward the office of president was at rock bottom.

C.J. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I feel like I have to stand up for James Monroe, whom I have at #6 in my own personal ranking of the Presidents (I think much more highly of all your overrated Presidents than you do, but especially him).

Obviously you're in the camp that argues Monroe happened to just be President in the right time—I've seen this view from others, too. They say the peace after the War of 1812, and Napoleon's defeat in Europe allowed the U.S. to finally work on itself without being drawn into European affairs, and that Monroe had a limited hand in all the positive stuff that actually happened. I understand the argument, but I think that massively discounts Monroe's genius. He seems more like an Eisenhower (who I also think very highly of), who steered things behind the scenes even if not playing an active role.

Besides, and this may be the most important thing, he was able to all but destroy the opposition party and he presided over an era where everyone more or less got along. Even with a huge recession and tension between slave vs. free states, it was the Era of Good Feelings. Whatever magic he had, we could use some of it now.

R.W. in Durham, NC, writes: You wrote that people who watched the debates on TV in 1960 thought JFK won, but those who listened on the radio thought Nixon won.

I have always contended that the reason the radio listeners favored Nixon was not because of policy, but because JFK sounded funny with his New England accent. I was 10 at the time, and had never heard that "strange" Boston accent. I think much of the country also was first introduced to it at the debates.

V & Z respond: Maybe so. It was also the case that the demographics of radio owners (poorer, more rural) skewed Republican and the demographics of TV owners (wealthier, more urban) skewed Democratic.


L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, writes: My thanks to G.B. from Manchester, U.K. for his perspective on the Hawaiian statuary dedicated to the 17th century explorer Captain James Cook. That said, there are actually at least two monuments in Hawaii dedicated to Captain Cook: One, on the Island of Hawaii, is a 27-foot white obelisk erected in 1878 at the site of his death in 1779, and the other, on the island of Kauai, is a (fully clothed) statue of the explorer near the site of his initial landing in Hawaii in 1778. I anticipate the eventual removal of this statue, as Cook's landing was the portent of the settling of the islands by foreign colonialists and the eventual near-eradication of the native population, just as Christopher Columbus' arrival portended a similar fate for the Americas.

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: In your discussions on the merit of historical statues, you've mentioned the role of museums in the equation. Expanding the concept, what if we were to treat statues as shared resources; objects of history and cultural significance, but in terms of public display, little more than works of art conveying some temporary aesthetic for the current time. With a little creativity could we move beyond the idea that statues represent sanctioned political messaging that everyone must agree on?

Just as an art gallery may display offensive works from time to time and rotate its exhibits to suit the mood and themes of the day, public spaces could—and, I would argue, should—do the same with statues. Switch them in and out periodically, give other historical figures a shot in the limelight, provide a schedule and narrative for the public exhibits that may itself encourage learning moments and discussion, while sidestepping the question of which one or other is the most worthy.

The statue itself may be permanent but its location need not be. Variety is the spice of life, as they say.

E.P. in Pasadena, CA, writes: On the question of having statues of George Washington, a slave owner, versus Confederate generals, I would think that a logical criteria would be that there should not be statues or monuments to anyone who committed treasonous acts against the United States, of which all the Confederate generals and politicians are guilty. Many may have been pardoned but they were still, in the end, traitors.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: Responding to D.E. in Lititz, PA, the Seabees have a real gift for awful sculptures. These sculptures are in Port Hueneme, CA. The "killer bee" used to have a cigar, but they cut it off years ago:

On the left, it looks like
a Seabee is touching the breasts of a teenage girl; on the right, a very large bee holding a gun

While we are on the subject of Seabees, the Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, CA, has a video of an old news reel of Rear Adm. Ben Moreell, "Father of the Seabees," where he invites people of every race, religion, or creed to join the ranks. I came away with the impression Moreell was far ahead of his time. The Seabees were an integrated service from the inception and I believe the first U.S. military service to be integrated. I think Moreell would make a worthy addition to the list of people to name a base after.

J.T. in Marietta, GA, writes: Leave it to someone from Connecticut to suggest naming a military base after Santa Anna (however tongue in cheek that might—or might not—have been). That's all it would take for Texas to secede again. People elsewhere don't understand how loyalty to Texas is bred into its long-term residents (particularly the white ones). What would be well received is re-naming bases after heroes of the Texas Revolution. Texans never tire of honoring Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, James Fannin, James Bowie, Davy Crockett, etc. Of course, some of them were probably slave-owners.


R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: I caught your comment about Susan Herbst working to overcome getting her PhD at USC in yesterday's mailbag. I'm guessing that (Z) allowed his UCLA prejudice to shine through there. Those of us over in Pasadena just laugh at the cross town rivalry between USC and UCLA, since everyone knows that Caltech is the best university in SoCal.

V & Z respond: We are reminded of The Great Rose Bowl Hoax:

Caltech students managed to 
rig things so that when UCLA students held up cards at the Rose Bowl that were supposed to say 'UCLA' they said 'Caltech'

That said, maybe it was in poor taste to make a USC joke at this particular moment. After all, they just had to disband their water polo team. What else could they do after all the horses drowned?

S.C. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: I watched all the episodes of "Have Gun—Will Travel" as they were streamed on one of the cable channels last year. I watched it as a child in the 50s and early 60s and oddly did not remember any of the episodes.

I found the tone to be somewhat of a mixed bag. It was a bit misogynous at times, with the usual pretty women hanging onto Paladin's bachelor persona. Also, the "Hey Boy" and "Hey Girl" characters were pretty much racist stereotypes.

On the other hand, some of the episodes were quite powerful and had powerful female characters. June Lockhart played a strong female doctor in several episodes.

I think the best episode was "The Hanging of Aaron Gibbs," which was about the hanging of a black man who had committed murder during a robbery and was denied the decency of having his body returned to his wife (played by the mononymous Odetta) for burial until Paladin intervened. I think that episode was pretty bold for 1961. The episode was written by Robert E. Thompson, Academy Award winner for "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"

V & Z respond: Most 1960s shows, even the ones that were somewhat forward-looking on race, were uncomfortably sexist by our standards. Star Trek which we mentioned last week, had a diverse cast and an interracial kiss. On the other hand, it also warmly embraced the Theiss Titillation Theory for its female characters.

S.S.L. in Norman, OK, writes: You wrote: "Meanwhile, a lot of white Americans...have tried to make themselves a little more exotic and a little less white by claiming some fraction of Native heritage (sometimes truthfully, sometimes not)."

In Oklahoma, being Native is a large part of many white/white-passing people's familial identities. I know about a dozen people who truly believed they were Native until learning from DNA tests that they have zero Native markers. They were shocked! I suspect an unreliable oral history accounts for at least some of the high-profile claims of Nativeness that later turn out to be false. Part hopeful exoticism, part genuine mistake.

V & Z respond: In addition, many tribes "adopted" some friendly outsiders, which gave someone Native status but not Native DNA, and so could lead to this sort of outcome.

J.F.N. in Bluefield, WV, writes: We need to add Puerto Rico, Washington D.C., and Guam as states. That will give us 53, a prime number. Then we can truly be one nation, indivisible.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Jun16 Today's Presidential Polls
Jun15 Police Officer Shoots and Kills Unarmed Black Man Trying to Flee
Jun15 Will the Battle of Lafayette Square Come to Define Trump's Presidency?
Jun15 Tulsa Health Director Would Like to Postpone Trump's Rally
Jun15 Democrats Are Worried about Voter Suppression
Jun15 The Gender Gap Is Larger than Ever
Jun15 Will Trumpism Survive Trump?
Jun15 CNN Has Published Its First Electoral College Map
Jun15 Cooper Signs Bill to Make Voting Easier
Jun15 Kentucky Democratic Primary May Be Heating Up
Jun15 GOP Congressman Dumped in a Parking Lot