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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

The number of letters about the possibility of Donald Trump subverting the democratic process is shrinking. We will take that as a good sign.

The 2020 Election

T.K. in Lansing, MI, writes: If someone told you on January 1, 2020, that Donald Trump would receive 8 million more votes in 2020 than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, you would be certain Trump would get re-elected. Instead, he lost by over 5 million votes.

Persuasion is important, but turnout is key.

T.B.S.S. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: I really expected to come away from the 2020 elections with a tidy narrative—preferably one that meshed perfectly with my own preexisting worldview—but here we are.

I've seen lots of explanatory fragments that make sense but don't fully account for the view from 10,000 feet: stuff like Democrats misunderstanding what constitutes "the Latino vote," Trump voters hanging up on pollsters, high turnout (somewhat unexpectedly) working to Republicans' benefit, the perceived threats of socialism and defunding the police getting weaponized effectively, and so on. But I also think there's a big-picture view that's largely been missed in the analysis I've seen so far.

You can, it seems to me, split right-of-center voters into three generalized camps, listed here from biggest to smallest: those who like Trump, those who don't like Trump, and those who only like Trump. The third camp—the one best described as cultists, the one likeliest to hang up on pollsters, and the one that draws most heavily from the large pool of what would ordinarily be non-voters—doesn't (or at least hasn't) shown up much in races that don't include Donald Trump's name on the ballot. This goes a long way toward explaining both the Democrats' strong showing in 2018 and the Democrats' weaker-than-expected showing in 2020: All three right-leaning camps voted for Republicans down-ballot in 2020 (Lincoln Project be damned), but only the first two camps showed up in 2018, while many from the second camp held their nose for Biden and split their ticket in 2020.

This raises a serious conundrum for 2024 that hasn't been talked about enough: If you're a Republican running in 2024, don't you kind of want (for your own electoral sake, anyway) to have Donald Trump on the ballot with you? He doesn't make governing easier, he uses up a ton of oxygen, he holds your party hostage, he might ensure another four years of a Democrat in the White House, and he poses a threat to democracy in America—you know, the little stuff—but when all three Republican wings are activated, good things happen for right-leaning candidates down-ballot. There may be more institutional Republican support for a 2024 Trump candidacy than we currently think.

L.L. in Houston, TX, writes: Bravo to Politico. Finally, someone is mentioning Tejanos as a group of Americans that didn't even immigrate to the United States. I would take it a step further and say that many Tejanos are more anti-immigrant than most white Texas conservatives. I have lived in Houston most of my life and I've always been amazed that this distinction is not noted. Progressives would do a lot better not making assumptions about people's values based on the color of their skin.

A.C. in London, UK, writes: Seeing the comment from M.G of Newton reminded me that this phenomenon of ethnic groups becoming more conservative as they immigrated isn't exactly unique to the US. There is significant support for the Conservative Party in the U.K. from the children of Indian immigrants, with one of the biggest anti-immigration officials in government being Priti Patel.

G.A. in Santa Cruz, CA, writes: I liked your post-election analysis of the polls and final results for the White House and Senate. It does look like the small number of undecided split heavily for the GOP. Of the possible reasons that you gave, I would like to add another: COVID fatigue. The undecided do not pay close attention to the news or daily COVID death counts. They only know that the shutdowns have hurt many people economically. So the candidate that preaches "back to normal" with public rallies will appeal to those that are not following the health risks of the pandemic.

M.D. in Location Withheld, writes: I know some of your readers are concerned about the possibility of a military revolt against the 2020 election results. I'd like to give my limited perspective as an officer currently deployed to a large Middle East base.

There has been surprisingly little display of partisanship here. I haven't seen a MAGA hat once, nor any liberal-leaning T-shirts. I have seen a few Blue Lives Matter flag patches (they sell them at the Exchange). But there was very little noise in favor of either candidate before the election, and very little noise afterwards. Everyone I have spoken with (from E-5 through O-5) have expressed an acceptance of the outcome and the upcoming Biden presidency. There is the usual amount of "voter fraud" talk among the vocal conservatives I serve with, but it goes no further than that.

I cannot speak to the situation on every base or in every branch. Perhaps things are more conflicted state-side. However, as a long-serving (20+ years) prior-enlisted officer who has served in multiple branches, I will argue that our military is fairly unlikely to revolt against anything short of a brash display of tyranny. It is populated by mostly young people who are fairly apathetic about national politics. Though many of my superiors over the years have been conservative (with a few in the "legitimate crank" category), these people have a strong personal interest (i.e., their pension and retirement benefits) in not engaging in insurrection. Do not underestimate the power of self interest.

Finally, consider my subjective perspective. Being openly (but not aggressively) liberal or progressive is no longer "politically incorrect" as it was when I first entered the service. The military, much like the Hispanic/Latino bloc, is no longer as monolithic as it might once have been. All of this is to say that, in my view, our military remains faithful to the principles of civilian leadership and the peaceful transfer of power as dictated by our Constitution, which are the founding principles we all swore to support and defend.

A.B. in Reston, VA, writes: Your response to the question about discrepancies between hand and machine counts neglected to mention two important causes of differences.

First, voters (shockingly!) do not always follow instructions, and may circle, underline or write a candidate's name instead of filling in an oval. An optical scan tabulator will treat these ballots as undervotes, but humans can count them when the voter's intent is clear.

The number of oddly marked ballots is too small to affect the outcome in all but the closest races, but they can cause the totals to vary between a hand and machine count. It is important to establish standards about how to count hand marked ballots in advance. Virginia has a particularly clear set of standards that have eliminated much of the drama in our recounts.

The second reason that a hand recount can differ is simply due to normal human error. Most recounts involve teams of people counting and double-checking in front of observers, so human error can be minimized, but can't be completely eliminated.

Given this, it is natural to ask why should we prefer hand recounts to machine recounts?

Hand counts are critical because they are the only safeguard that can detect errors in voting machine operation. Hand audits of voter-verified paper ballots can protect us from the nightmare scenario of a hostile state-actor, corrupt insider, or an error-prone programmer causing the machines to report incorrect totals. Corrupt software could systematically affect many or all machines in a race, and could easily push results outside the allowable recount margin so that the problem would be otherwise undetectable.

That is why several states have introduced risk-limiting audits (RLAs) into their post election procedures to check that the machines are operating as designed. By properly sampling races and machines, post-election audits can economically increase our confidence that the elections reported the correct outcome by examining the evidence of voter-verified paper ballots. It will take time to integrate risk limiting audits well and to update state laws accordingly, but the (unacceptable) alternative to audits of voter-verified paper ballots is to rest our democracy on blind trust in the infallibility and integrity of the people who design and operate our election equipment. Much better to trust but verify.

V & Z respond: Thanks for rounding out our answer!

Georgia Senate Elections

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I think it's worth noting that Donald Trump and Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) polled almost exactly the same number of votes (Perdue led Trump by about 700, with each getting 2.458 million otherwise). Jon Ossoff, by contrast, under-performed Joe Biden by 100,000 votes. The Libertarian candidates polled 115,000 for Senate, and only 62,000 for President. There were 47,000 fewer votes in the Senate race overall, compared to the presidential contest. That all suggests that there was some substantial number of Biden-Shane Hazell voters, which seems weird. My only guess as to what they might be thinking is that they don't like Perdue or Ossoff, but they really hate Trump. The question is where those Hazell voters go—to the Democrat they don't like, to the Republican they don't like, or do they just stay home? (Incidentally, in the special election, Republican candidates out-polled Democratic/Green candidates by 61,000 votes.)

So the issues are: Will Black voters turn out again? Will depressed Trump voters stay home? Will Libertarians break for one of the parties—or for the couch? Will educated white suburbanites continue to vote Democratic, or do they stay home or go Republican because the threat of Trump is gone?

S.F. in Braunschweig, Germany, writes: You wrote that "In any event, the current situation is that Georgia is scheduled for 1½ Senate debates. Our guess, however, is that [Sen. David] Perdue will eventually think better of his decision, and will choose to debate [Jon] Ossoff after all."

Given how Ossof ripping into Perdue in October went viral, I would strongly disagree with that assessment:

The Senator already skipped the last debate before the election. Why risk another such moment? It would be asking for more. Alpharetta, GA, writes: I see you're showing new polling out of Georgia. Given what we've seen out of polling the last several years, let me quote that sage philosopher, Han Solo, who said "Never tell me the odds."

What's Next?

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: Thank you for linking to the conversation Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) had with Politico's Tim Alberta, and it gratifies me to know that a member of the House Democratic caucus speaks for us folks who were "Obama-Trump" voters.

As a native blue-collar Pennsylvanian, I highly resent many in the Democratic Party who display this elitist, snobbish mentality. They speak to us like we are idiots, and are extremely condescending. (Due to this, I have found NPR—probably the only intelligent radio broadcast outlet in the country—almost unlistenable.) We're not stupid; we are proud of the life we built for ourselves, and are thoughtful individuals. We aren't racist, ignorant, or yokels. We just think differently, and never think we're better than someone else.

Trump never talks down to people like us, and that is why so many people from my part of Pennsylvania (Luzerne County) voted for him in 2016 (and did so again in 2020). If the Democrats want our votes back, they should start talking to us like we are human beings, and listen to us—like Slotkin does. I am sorry I am not a constituent of hers. If I were, I would wholeheartedly support her, because she "gets" people like us.

A.B. in Denver, CO, writes: The model for "Republican" right now seems to be "dim, assh**e 13-year-old." And what would a dim assh**e 13-year-old do? They would love all of Trump's craziness, believe all the lies, etc. Seems pretty accurate. Sadly, it means those Republican people you know are, well, just assh**es. On the flip side, Democrats need to be careful not to come off as "Mom and Dad wagging their finger," as that will lose them support. (Especially if the assh**e 13-year-old is the kid next door, over whom they have no power.) I hope Democrats start selling, er, "micro-targeting," their policies as "Look how cool this is!" rather than "Eat your vegetables!" For example, talk about how electric cars like Teslas are amazingly fun to drive, and forget talking about saving the planet (a non-starter for 13yo assh**e brains).

I also hope the Democrats go after Trump full-throttle once Biden is sworn in (assuming, fingers crossed, he is), as they need to show there are consequences for these bad actions, to prevent others doing likewise in the future. Letting Trump and his cronies get away with everything would open the floodgates in the future. (Thinking back, we probably should have punished the leaders of the Confederacy for warfare against the country. Trump, et al., are simply doing similarly, figuring they won't get punished either.)

G.D. in Jurupa Valley, CA, writes: Despite winning more popular votes for President than ever, the Democratic Party needs to reexamine its policies and especially the means it is using for messaging. White voters without a college education represent some 41% of the electorate and they have been turning away from the Party because they don't believe the Party cares for them. Trying to put together winning coalitions without 41% of the voting population is tremendously difficult. They must be assured that they are valued citizens whose needs and concerns are important to the Democratic Party, not "deplorables" who don't have a place at the table.

This doesn't mean turning away from the people of color and the other key members of the coalition that powered Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to victory. All these groups share many common concerns and needs, and the Party needs not only to develop sound policies but also make sure the messaging about the true benefits of the policies being offered reaches everyone. For example, making health care affordable saves lives, it doesn't lead to a dictatorship.

Joe Biden won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Is there anyone else who was running as a Democrat who could have? They must continue to be treated as battleground states, not parts of a "Blue Wall." The right policies and messaging will be vital. Otherwise, future elections will continue to be just as tenuous and the Democratic Party's hold on power fragile.

M.M. in Upland, CA, writes: I hope that Democrats find the courage to act in the same manner Republicans have acted since Barack Obama's election; to wield power ruthlessly and play hardball. To not do so invites being trampled on in the future the exact same way. Far right figures like AG Bill Barr should be countered with far left figures, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). As Democrats have heard so often in the last 4 years, elections have consequences. If Democrats don't deliver these same consequences to the Republican Party for their prior actions, then they deserve to lose 4 years from now. Democrats need to be done with turning the other cheek.

J.F. in Pasadena, CA, writes: Watch for Preet Bharara, if not AG then Deputy AG or some other senior position. I think Joe Biden wants to depoliticize the Department of Justice, and Bharara would be a great morale booster for professional DOJ personnel.

J.B. in Pinckney, MI, writes: The first question in the first 2024 GOP primary debate needs to be: "Was George W. Bush or Donald Trump a better president? Please explain your answer."

T.A.L.G. in Birdsboro, PA, writes: As you pointed out, Donald Trump's inexperience and lack of understanding makes any rule changes (or federal permits) extremely hazardous for those willing to take him up on the offer. I doubt a federal permit is the end of the line for oil drilling in the Arctic. Who knows if state/local permits also need to be secured and what type of tribal consultation process has been bypassed?

Another issue is the cost and time needed to get drilling started in this harsh environment. It's winter, so in all likelihood nothing can happen until May or June of 2021. Any oil company worth their salt has the exact point of profitability worked out. If you haven't noticed, oil prices are depressed right now. So if the oil in the lease costs $80 a barrel to extract and the market price is $45 a barrel, nothing is going to happen.

Oil companies are not the financial juggernauts they used to be. They're going to have to tap billions of dollars in financing to get these projects off the ground. Only very large banks or other large financial institutions are going to be able to finance these fields. Those institutions may hesitate given how much the oil and gas industry has lost over the last decade. Do you want to lend lots of your money to someone who has a history of not paying and has no real collateral to back up the loans?

I think you are making a mistake by believing politicians can help you with some big legislative bill (like the Green New Deal). Better to invest your 401k in funds in companies that support sustainability. Consider banking with a local credit union or small bank who will probably not finance big projects like oil, gas or coal extraction. Better yet, limit your driving or learn to use the instantaneous gas mileage gauge on your vehicle to get rid of lead foot fuel wastage. The best way to keep more fossil fuels in the ground is to make them more expensive to extract than they are worth. This can actually happen if we all do our best to increase efficiencies and conserve to keep a damper on demand.

G.B. in Munich, Germany, writes: Regarding the challenge of getting people to allow themselves to be vaccinated, I have a modest proposal: pass the Vaccine Freedom Law. The law will have three parts:

  1. Covid-19 vaccines are to be made available for free to everyone in the United States.
  2. Everyone will be free to refuse vaccination.
  3. After some reasonable date, like September 1, 2021, health insurance companies will be free to refuse to cover costs due to new Covid-19 infections of unvaccinated people (with a few exceptions).

Freedom: that's something that both sides can agree upon, right?

TrumpWatch 2020

A.J. in Baltimore, MD, writes: Last week's comment by K.J. in Roanoke could not be more off-base. K.J. pushes a red herring argument made by the likes of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), which is that Donald Trump has the right to investigate the results of the election. This isn't the point. Of course he has the right. But the reason why Trump hasn't conceded has absolutely nothing to do with a desire to determine the legitimacy of fraud concerns. People who are trying to determine the truth do not go on weeks-long, dangerously irresponsible rants about how there was massive fraud, and how the election was rigged, on the basis of minimal existing evidence. At best, Trump has already reached his conclusion and is hoping that some evidence will justify it, but at worst (and more likely), Trump knows that there's no proof of fraud and is just trying to save face among his supporters, at the expense of all faith in American democracy.

K.J. says that it would be bad if tens of millions of people viewed Biden as an illegitimate president. I have news for K.J.: those people will view Biden as an illegitimate president regardless of the evidence, because Trump has already been recklessly and baselessly expressing his outrage over the election being stolen for weeks, just as he has spent his entire presidency spreading falsehoods (well over 22,000, by the latest count). Did I have any expectation that Trump would respond to an electoral loss with dignity, presidential behavior, or even accurate statements? Of course not, but we should still recognize the game he is playing.

Finally, as to the statement that Trump promised to leave the White House if he lost a fair election and that an unbiased observer would believe Trump kept "nearly all" of his campaign promises, here is Politifact's analysis of that. Note that 49% of campaign promises were broken and only 24% were kept in their entirety.

J.P. in York, PA, writes: I wrote last week about a Trump home in my neighborhood that removed most of the signs in their yard except for a Keep America Great sign on their barn with an eagle on it. I complimented him on his realism and his good citizenship. It looks like I must rescind my compliment. This week, the 4 more years part of the sign reappeared. Apparently, his brief flirtation with sanity is over.

A.F. in Hamburg, Germany, writes: Having listened to the fraud claims concerning the election within the last weeks, and most lately Rudy Giuliani's press conference, I'm speechless. Even more so that there is no outcry, no demonstrations on the streets....when and where do you defend your democracy? It's not enough to explain that there is a right-wing conspiracy network reaching out to voters. Where is the mainstream citizen? The damage will last. America will have lost a leadership role justified by its values, economic power and military power.

A.W. in Keyser, WV, writes: I can't help but feel that there are some members of Al-Qaeda smiling as they watch America's mayor do more damage to this country than they could have ever hoped to.

M.S. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I went to high school with Marc Scaringi, the attorney that took over Donald Trump's legal case in Pennsylvania. He also ran for Senate here in 2012. I guess Trump is hoping he's a better attorney than he was a Senate candidate.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: There is a lot of discussion of Donald Trump's lawyers leaving or being fired and replaced in the effort to overturn the presidential election. I've read and heard presumptions that lawyers are leaving or getting fired because they are unwilling to go to court with the embarrassingly flawed arguments that the client demands. I think there is a simpler explanation that is consistent with Trump's legal history: Trump isn't paying his lawyers.

Lawyers submit briefs and go to court and present whatever argument the client wants. They have to present the client with options and advice, but they have an ethical obligation to go to court with complete garbage, if that is what the client wants, even if a sound argument is available. On the other hand, the lawyer also has an obligation to the firm to abandon the case if the client is unwilling or unable to pay.

L.J. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I believe you are falling into the near-universal trap of thinking of Trump's post-election actions as primarily political. I believe they are, instead, largely about money. Reading closely into the allocation of contributions to his "legal challenges," it becomes clear that most of the money will go indirectly to Trump's pockets. Behind the scenes, he is arranging sweetheart no-bid contracts to those who will kick back a share. He does not have another source of income, so he is determined to steal or con every penny he can from the suckers before he leaves DC. What he is doing should be reported as looting, not politics.

S.V.E. in Renton, WA, writes: In higher-level math (basically calculus and beyond), my favorite concept is that of Epsilon (ε). Epsilon is used to represent a number that is not actually zero, but is small enough to treat it as zero for the purposes of the problem at hand. It is most commonly used to simplify complex problems by constructing them in such a way that some of the components of the answer scale with epsilon, which lets you effectively ignore them. They're still there, they just don't matter enough to change the outcome.

Reading your site over the past few days on the varying ways that Trump could still steal this election, I realized that Epsilon is a perfect way to think about Trump's chances.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: It has been supposed that Donald Trump would like to take over Rush Limbaugh's show, or perhaps have a standing gig on Newsmax or OAN.

The first supposition is absolute balderdash; there is no way Trump would agree to work three hours a day, even if only four days a week. The second two suffer from the same drawback; he'd have to actually be in the studio (or in front of a green screen at home) several days a week, for several hours at a time.

That's way more work than Trump has ever done. He spent the last four years (when he was supposed to be presidenting) playing golf, watching TV and rage-tweeting during the commercial breaks.

M.L. in Charlotte, NC, writes: On the topic of Trump-inspired songs, the best one, in my opinion, is Kenny Loggins' "The Art of the Deal":

It's written from the perspective of a 1980s Trump for the film "Donald Trump's 'The Art of the Deal': The Movie." It's hilarious! Some choice lyrics include:

  • "Some losers paint paintings...I don't get it? That kinda crap ain't me"
  • "[The art of the deal] is all the beauty I need in my life—That and a big-tittied Eastern-bloc wife!"
  • "I'm on my own. I shall overcomb!"
Fasces or Feces?

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I must take issue with your response to M.A. from Arlington and their query about whether Donald Trump is a "fascist." Your first point is well taken with respect to how the term "fascist" has evolved over the past decades into an emotional panic button. However, when you actually take on the merits you overlook some pretty salient points.

First, while the president is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the American Presidency does not provide for an actual military uniform for the president. George Washington was the only president to actually lead troops into battle and presumably wore the uniform of the new army, or maybe his old Continental Army uniform. Other than that, there is no military dress sanctioned for the American presidency. Also, Trump is a draft dodger. Were he to try to don a military uniform to parade around, it would create no end of ridicule. But his fawning over military figures and his conception of a martial viewpoint sure puts him in the fascist camp.

Second, in regard to paramilitary organizations, you guys completely overlooked the Boogaloo Bois, Proud Boys, and QAnon movement among all the other groups that he has consistently fostered. Thankfully, for the moment, this country is still democratic and centrist enough that an American president couldn't openly start or support such an organization but Trump's actions with respect to these far right extremists and his glorification of violence against perceived enemies, again, put him in the fascist camp.

Third, in regard to a youth movement, those large rallies he's been having, and by all signs will continue to have, seem to cultivate, support and provide to his people a, "beacon of hope for the future, and that is subjected to constant propaganda designed to indoctrinate them into support for the fascist leader and his movement." Along with his glorification of violence against perceived enemies, this likewise puts him in the fascist camp.

I used to be gravely concerned that Trump was shaping up to be an "American Hitler." But upon following his ongoing incompetence and buffoonery, I came to the realization he is more of an aspiring tin-pot dictator/despot like Idi Amin Dada of Uganda. Perhaps not very intelligent or sophisticated but still fascist nonetheless. (And yes, so very thankfully not so violent at this point.)

Trump is an aspiring fascist but perhaps at present is only a weak or wannabe fascist...but still a fascist nonetheless!

J.K. in Portland, OR, writes: I use the famous Lawrence Britt article on the 14 characteristics of fascism as my reference point:

  1. Powerful and continuing nationalism: check.
  2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights: check.
  3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause: check.
  4. Supremacy of the military: qualified check. He does glorify the military (think about tanks on parade down Pennsylvania Avenue), but more importantly, he has used military force against American citizens (yes, I am a Portlander).
  5. Rampant sexism: check.
  6. Controlled mass media: qualified check. He's certainly tried as hard as he can to do this. Moreover, when Britt wrote his article, social media didn't have the influence it now has.
  7. Obsession with national security: check.
  8. Religion and government are intertwined: check. Think Pence, abortion, LGBTQ, SCOTUS.
  9. Corporate power is protected: check.
  10. Labor power is suppressed: check.
  11. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts: check.
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment: check.
  13. Rampant cronyism and corruption: check.
  14. Fraudulent elections: check.

So Trumpism scores 14 out of 14 (or 12 and two halves if you insist) on concept. The only possible saving grace is that there is a lot of incompetence there. But incompetent fascists are still fascists.

J.G. in Albany, CA, writes: You correctly argue that Donald Trump is not a fascist. Cold comfort, and feels a little like smart-assery.

Yes, fascists always use violence. No, we do not have a Trump Youth, a Trump Paramilitary, or a president who struts about in military garb. But Trump has no guiding principles other than his own self-promotion, and all that is required at this point to turn America into Trumpist fascism is for Trump to toss the lit match in his hand onto the pile of dry powder that the right wing propaganda network (Fox, OANN, Newsmax, Limbaugh, Alex Jones) have piled up over the past 5 years.

72 million people believe anything he has to say, even if it clearly defies observable reality. They are extremely angry, believe their "freedom" is being threatened, believe that it is "patriotic" to blindly follow Trump, and they own most of America's 400 million guns. They populate the hundreds of militia groups who are "standing back and standing by," just waiting to leap into service like Kyle Rittenhouse or to murder treasonous governors, and they contain millions more who aren't currently militia who could easily be drawn into violent opposition movements if called upon. The rhetoric of the right routinely involves the threat of violence, and a physicality that mocks their opponents as weak; most of those 72 million folks wouldn't be violent themselves but they turn a blind eye to the rhetoric since they empathize with it. It's patriotic to run a Biden bus off the road—just a Texas welcome, eh?

If it served his impulses (for example, to overturn an election, or depose a duly sworn president in the near future), do you think the Donald would hesitate to 'don' a military uniform, and call upon the armed citizens of America to rise up against the coastal elites, the academics and politicians? His followers know he is smarter than the generals, aren't bothered that he has weakened the military command structure by placing his toadies at the top, turned a blind eye when he sent little green men into Portland and other cities, and didn't care about using tear gas on civilians to occupy a church since it allowed them to "own the libs." After this erosion in civic values and so many successful trial balloons, a wider transition to open violence could happen in the blink of an eye.

It would be less the Night of the Long Knives, and more the Hutu genocide against the Tutsis, in scenarios played out in thousands of towns around the country, but it is far less improbable than you seem to think.

J.W. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: To extend your metaphor, a fascist has big shoes and Trump has little feet.

Maybe the System Actually Works...

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Donald Trump is putting our democracy through the ultimate stress test and is exposing (and exploiting) many cracks in the foundation. While there will be plenty of work to do to repair the damage and prevent future attempts to overthrow a legitimately elected government, including consequences for those who aided and abetted this attempted coup, the good news is that our institutions for the most part have held firm and have come through when we needed them most. First and foremost is our independent judiciary. Despite the filing of uniformly baseless and frivolous lawsuits (which supposedly are anathema to Republicans) in a naked effort to have the voters' decision overturned and Trump declared the winner, judges across the board, whether appointed by Democrats or Republicans, rejected them all. They filed lawsuits in state and federal courts across the country just trying to find that one partisan hack that would swing the election for Trump just because and they failed. And belatedly, the lawyers themselves realized they were putting their own professional standing at risk by engaging in this unlawful and unethical action.

Next are the thousands of poll workers and other election officials who have done their jobs in the face of enormous pressure and operated one of the smoothest and safest elections and are continuing to follow the law and carry out their duties to certify the election results. Just yesterday, Maricopa county canvassers, which are dominated by Republicans, certified their results and Arizona is on track to certify statewide results by the deadline. These heroes recognize that our country's election goes beyond partisan politics and they take pride in doing their jobs with integrity.

Next are political appointees like Chris Krebs, who risked his job and probably his personal safety, to do the right thing and attest to the integrity and security of the election. Krebs and everyone who works for him worked tirelessly to combat misinformation and security threats to ensure this election was decided by the voters. He should also be congratulated and celebrated along with his entire team. Working without all the resources they needed thanks to Republicans who refused to fund election security, they pulled off an amazing feat.

We're not out of the woods yet. But I'm more confident than ever that patriots outnumber traitors like Trump and his followers. Once Biden takes office, I hope we have the political will to codify those aspects of our democracy that currently rely solely on the conscience of those in power not to abuse their offices.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I think the most underappreciated story of this week would have to be that there are Republicans who put country before party and who believe in doing the right thing. Sadly, none of them are prominent national Republican leaders who continue to grovel to the whims of Donald Trump. Instead it seems that the only source of moral certitude and fiber in the GOP resides entirely at the local and state levels. Unlike national Republican "leaders," who either run like frightened geese so as to avoid answering straightforward questions; who furrow their worried brows and threaten to write sternly worded letters; or who craft finely nuanced statements that require Truth, Justice, Patriotism and Morals to dance on a head of a pin, these local leaders faced with bullying and intimidation to do the wrong thing "planted themselves like a tree, looked them in the eye and said 'No, you move'."

I am thinking of Brad Raffensperger (GA Secretary of State), Mike Shirkey (MI Senate Majority Leader) and Lee Chatfield (MI House Speaker), among others. These individuals, under intense pressure, told America's most authoritarian leader that the principles of Democracy are not his playthings. These true leaders on the local and state level are one of the few things in these past few years that have given me hope that the American system of democracy can survive anything! Hope springs eternal even at the beginning of our darkest winter. I know if I were to have a conversation with these individuals, there would be much we would disagree on, but still I would view them as heroes. If only Mitch McConnell, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Reps. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), et al., could find the same courage...but I guess it is awfully hard to find your spine once you sold your soul to the devil.

...Or Maybe It Doesn't

J.K. in Portland, OR, writes: Elections are about as fair as possible in my home state of Oregon, but the American system is seriously flawed. Most importantly, I don't believe in one dollar=one vote, and that's what we have here. Elsewhere, in the civilized world, free-floating purchased lies on television are not permitted. The Electoral College is a poster child for unfairness. The patent disenfranchisement in Florida, Texas, and throughout the Greedy Old Plutocrat-controlled world is another issue. And we haven't gotten to gerrymandering yet, so let's put that on the list. That Joe Biden eked out a substantial popular vote win and even an Electoral College win (and hey, that doesn't happen every time) in spite of American elections being a banana republic bastion of unfairness is just amazing.

Are there possible reforms? Of course. Ranked Choice Voting (a.k.a. Instant Runoff Voting) isn't perfect, but is better than anything we have now. Getting rid of district representation in favor of proportional representation would get rid of the duo-monopoly of the Far Right and Center-Right parties and allow for some genuine coalitional behavior. And there are other possibilities as well. Yes, social media makes everything harder, but some enforcement of reality there could alleviate some of that problem.

So American elections suck, badly. And I say that even though every candidate save one who I voted for actually won and I had a 90% success rate on ballot measures.

T.F. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I am in California and a Democrat. But nearly the entirety of my extended family is Republican and live in Utah, Arizona, and Idaho. I've seen them slide farther into the disinformation echo chamber since the June protests. They have dug in on not believing racism exists, gun ownership, hate of "liberals," hate of BLM. They use the racist words of the Trump administration without any education about what they mean, like "thugs," "law and order," etc. They completely believe the disinformation campaigns and conspiracies about "The Great Reset," socialism as an evil overlord, that the election was stolen, and that every Democratic representative is evil. Many of them in recent days have gone from Facebook to Parler. They quote hyper-conservative websites that have alternative facts.

There is no dialogue to be had with them. I have tried. I am deeply concerned about how many of them are slipping into denial of facts, deep ignorance, and the service of propaganda. I have very little hope for unity with people like them. There are possibilities of coming together with some on matters of basic health and economy. However, because Donald Trump and the Republican machinations are twisting every part of society into a political propaganda tool, even topics that were once bridge-making are rapidly disappearing. I am interested in seeing how this can possibly unfold now and in the future years without a complete implosion of our democracy.

D.M. in Fulton, MO, writes: Like the majority of your readers, I am a white, Democratic, middle-aged man. And I would bet that like most of your readers, almost everyone I voluntarily associate with is in the general vicinity of my political outlook. I have about 600 friends on Facebook and as far as I can tell, only about 10 of them are outspoken Donald Trump supporters.

But, being a musician and kind of young at heart, I do have friends in their twenties. And I have noticed something. Two of my young friends, who would not identify as conservatives, have expressed opinions that surprised me. One is concerned about the election having been stolen by Democrats. The other is skeptical of global warming. These are people who I think are generally liberal in their temperament. Both times, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

I'm very cautious about pressing them about these issues, because I don't want to alienate them. But what I have discovered is that they are both dependent on social media for their information. Neither of them reads major newspapers or magazines. They just click on memes and links and glance at headlines.

I think this is a very bad sign. This shallowness of information-gathering and lack of discernment in terms of evaluating sources and claims is probably one of the main reasons we got Trump. And I think there will be more demagogues in the future, whipping the impressionable into a frenzy and dismantling our institutions from, as Frank Zappa memorably put it, "the cesspools of excitement."

What we need is expertise, steady hands, thoughtfulness, ethics. I fear that what we are going to get is more showmanship.

S.M. in Tampa, FL, writes: Let me say that I am a Democrat and voted Biden/Harris. However, the future looks bleak.

On one side you have Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell; if it was their choice women would still be barefoot and pregnant. On the other end you have Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, where everyone gets everything for free. (I'm generalizing on both sides.) Most of America lives in the middle. While I love the Biden-Harris ticket, it seems like nothing will get done and 2024 will appear and we will be exactly where we are now. Politicians are not talking about what is good for people but how to circumvent, work around, embellish and on and on and we are witness to this lunacy. Yes, I am feeling helpless. The only senators that are talking are worried about 2022 and frankly, I don't think they care at all about their constituents, just about re-election. The Trump administration has ruined the idea of working together. How can the U.S. look so mixed in color, ethnicity, gender, ideas and philosophies, and yet let these pathetic soulless people determine our future? I'm sad, disillusioned and feeling very pessimistic. I see longer food lines in the future.

Term limits must happen in some generation!

Historical Matters

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: For H.F. in Pittsburgh, who is anticipating a new $20 bill, this Harriet Tubman stamp is designed to be used on $20s to convert that Romantic, windswept portrait of Andy to a staunch and stoic Harriet.

D.L. in Somerville, MA, writes: Thank you for your appraisal of John C. Calhoun as the most conservative major politician in American History. I graduated from Yale in 1977, and even then many of us were trying to get Calhoun's name removed from his residential college, as we viewed him as the ideologue of slavery and the author of the secession movement. It took a long time, but his name is finally gone. Many opponents of the removal fail to understand that Calhoun was not just different in degree from others who held slaves and had Yale colleges named after them, but was also different in kind.

S.S. in Clayton, CA, writes: I'm writing with regards to the questions on Saturday about Secret Service protection of the First Family, and specifically as to whether or not they turn a "blind eye" to the actions of the people they are protecting.

When Gerald Ford was President his son Jack attended college in Utah. Just prior to his graduation, Jack threw a massive party in a remote mountain meadow, which featured a band, beer, etc. Because it was the 1970s, a strong herbal essence was also conspicuously noticeable in the air. The local sheriff apparently caught wind of this, and decided to raid the party. He, along with several other police cars, came racing into the meadow with lights and sirens blaring.

At the same time that the sheriff arrived, a handful of black vehicles emerged from a nearby grove of trees where they had been parked out of sight up until this point. One of the black cars drove up to the sheriff, and a conversation ensued, at the end of which the sheriff and other police cars turned around and drove away. The black vehicles pulled back into the grove of trees, and the party continued as if nothing had happened.

This story was shared with me a number of times over the years, verbatim, by someone who was working at the party that night.

E.P. in Gunma, Japan, writes: I thought I should speak up in response to J.F. in Ft. Worth, in defense of Thomas R. Marshall, who was elected and re-elected VP with Woodrow Wilson. He and Wilson may have despised each other, but they at least stayed together, making Marshall the only two-term Indiana VP.


R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: Interestingly, the Dodgers' last two World Series titles have come in the final year for a president named Ronald and another named Donald; two divorced men who were celebrities before entering politics, and who were once Democrats before turning Republican. Also of note, these presidents were succeeded by someone whose last name began with a B, who had a long history of public service, who were vice president for 8 years under a popular president, and who weren't charismatic, but were seen as decent and calming figures who put the country first.

V & Z respond: This is very reminiscent of those Lincoln-Kennedy coincidence lists.

S.S.L. in Norman, OK, writes: I burst out laughing when you said Chicago Bears are the real enemy. Trust me: We all know you're Cubs fans.

V & Z respond: We would respond to that, but we fear we might be cursed by a goat.

D.R. in Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, writes: You stated that if Ron Klain, the newly named Chief of Staff for President-Elect Joe Biden, stepped down, the Deputy Chief of Staff, Jen O'Malley Dillon, would likely become Chief of Staff, "making her the first ever woman to serve as chief of staff."

I thought C.J. Cragg served as chief of staff for President Jeb Bartlet for a few years.

V & Z respond: True enough.

A.P. in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, writes: It's shocking that Sean Hannity is the only American news personality talking about Canada's successful annexation of parts of Michigan:

V & Z respond: Finally! Someone who has been paying attention to our warnings. First it's "Saturday Night Live" and parts of Michigan, and the next thing you know it's "The Today Show" and parts of Montana.

D.R. in Koh Tao, Thailand, writes: I have noticed that your published weekend questioners and commenters are disproportionately international. Is this a reflection on the diaspora, or your bias? Publishing this will, of course, confirm my suspicions!

V & Z respond: We're just trying to prepare our American readers for life under our soon-to-be Canadian overlords, eh.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov21 Saturday Q&A
Nov20 Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures
Nov20 Biden Manages the Best Transition He Can
Nov20 The "Deep State" Strikes Back
Nov20 Trump Plotting a Senate Run
Nov20 Senate Republicans Also Overperformed the Polls
Nov20 COVID-19 Diaries: Dark Days
Nov20 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of the Interior
Nov19 Seventeen Percent of Republicans Think Trump Should Concede the Election Now
Nov19 Biden Assembles a Team to Handle Senate Confirmation Battles
Nov19 The 2020 Election Was Closer Than the 2016 Election
Nov19 Cheapskate Trump Wants a Partial Recount of Wisconsin
Nov19 Will Trump Hamper Vaccine Distribution so Biden Won't Be Able to Deliver?
Nov19 Biden Has His Work Cut Out for Him Dealing with COVID-19
Nov19 The 2024 Presidential Race Has Started
Nov19 Chasing the Latino Vote Was Not a Good Idea
Nov19 House Democrats Have Chosen Their Leadership Team
Nov18 The Walls Continue to Close In on Trump
Nov18 Biden Unveils More of His White House Team
Nov18 Trump's Golden Fed Pick Turns to Lead
Nov18 Loeffler Will Debate Warnock
Nov18 Obama Makes It Official
Nov18 The Biden Cabinet: Attorney General
Nov18 Today's Senate Polls
Nov17 Trump's Legal "Strategy" Continues to Implode
Nov17 Trump Administration Announce Troop Drawdown
Nov17 We Have a (Second) Vaccine
Nov17 Democrats Headed Back to the Drawing Board on Messaging
Nov17 The Right-Wing Media Bubble Is about to Get More Complicated
Nov17 Nudity Less of a Problem in Philadelphia than Feared
Nov17 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Defense
Nov16 Trump Tweeted that Biden Won
Nov16 Trump Is Doubling Down on Legal Action
Nov16 Trump is Setting Booby Traps for Biden
Nov16 Why Didn't Biden Do Better in Cities?
Nov16 Georgia's Recount Is 30% Done and Nothing Has Changed
Nov16 The Battle for the Georgia Suburbs Is On
Nov16 Democrats Are about to Have a Civil War
Nov16 What about 2022?
Nov16 COVID-19 Could Help Biden
Nov16 Trump Overperformed the Polls
Nov15 Sunday Mailbag
Nov14 Saturday Q&A
Nov13 What Is Trump's Endgame?
Nov13 Stealing the Election Is Not Plausible
Nov13 Don't Count on a "Normal" Inauguration
Nov13 What Happened with Latino Voters?
Nov13 McDaniel Likely to Keep Her Job
Nov13 The Pandemic Rages, Unchecked
Nov13 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of the Treasury