There was quite a number of responses to the letter from P.M. in Currituck last week. We selected half a dozen of them, and that is where we will begin.
B.S. in Tucson, AZ, writes: P.M. in Currituck wrote: "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."
I could not disagree more. Trump talks down to everyone all the time. Every time he tells one of his baldfaced lies, which he does many times a day, he is talking down to people. He is telling everyone that he thinks they are so dumb they will believe anything he says despite what is plainly visible. I don't know what could be more insulting.
Furthermore, I think this whole thing about liberals and progressives talking down to people is more perception than reality cultivated by those within conservative media. It is more a reflection of the anti-science and knowledge culture we have cultivated in this country. When people hear something they do not like, such as fossil fuels are harmful pollutants and are warming the earth, it can discarded as someone talking down to them. Those damn liberals acting like they know it all.
R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: As a "coastal elite"—over 50 years and 90% of my life spent on the coast between Boston and Washington, with a college and a law degree—I was surprised and heartened to find common ground with P.M. in Currituck—specifically, our mutual respect for and admiration of Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI). However, it may be that the sources of that regard differ slightly. Slotkin is Jewish and was born in New York City (already a connection I feel!). She attended the elite Cranbrook-Kingswood School, one of the best college-prep schools in the country (my roommate at MIT went there; so did Mitt Romney). She went to college at Cornell, and then obtained a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia. Double Ivys! She then studied Arabic at the American University of Cairo, and also became fluent in Swahili. Elissa Slotkin is brilliant, highly educated and open to understanding people, cultures and languages far different from her own experience of being the granddaughter of a wealthy meat company owner.
I'm having a little fun with P.M., of course, but I really do admire Rep. Slotkin, and I think the Democrats would be well-advised to listen to her and her messaging. She obviously gets something that I do not. Speaking now in all seriousness, I truly cannot understand P.M.'s thinking as an Obama-Trump voter, and I would like to. The policies of the two cannot be reconciled in any way. What political thread connects the two? Alternatively, what character thread connects the two? As in policy, the two are polar opposites in character.
Moreover, let's consider a supporter of Republican policies, such as tax cuts for corporations and the very wealthy, and banning abortion except for people in blue states and those in red states wealthy enough to send their girlfriends and daughters to blue states, and separating children from parents and caging them to deter asylum seekers. If Trump is the chosen mechanism to make those things happen, it means at least that the Trump voter is ok with racism, misogyny, religious bigotry, mockery of the disabled, and that's before we get to the pathological lying, subversion of the rule of law and extortion of a foreign nation for domestic political gain. Is it simply that character is irrelevant to the Trump voter? Policy means everything? If so, I'd like to understand why they voted for Obama, too. John McCain was a man of great character and fortitude, with all those same Republican policies. Why Obama and not McCain?
To take one example of Trump's character, he famously referred to the white supremacists at Charlottesville as having "good people." These people were chanting, "Jews will not replace us." Elissa Slotkin is a Jewish woman who replaced a white, Christian man in Congress. I'd ask P.M.: "If you admire Rep. Slotkin, how can you support someone who coddles white supremacists who despise her?" Why are Trump's character flaw not disqualifying? Again, in all seriousness, I'd really like to understand the thinking.
G.B. in Manchester, UK, writes: P.M. in Currituck states that the Democrats "speak to us like we are idiots, and are extremely condescending" while "Trump never talks down to people like us." I would like to understand what people like P.M. are talking about when they say that Democrats are condescending while Trump or other Republicans are not. I have read comments like this in the past, and I don't understand, which could just be because I currently live outside the United States and don't see any American politicians in person or could be because I get most of my news in written rather than video form. If P.M. or other people could give some specific examples, that would help me.
J.S. in Springboro, OH, writes: When I hear people like P.M. in Currituck complain that they are tired of liberal elites talking down to them, I suspect they are just tired of hearing things they don't want to hear, or of being reminded of uncomfortable truths. P.M.'s statement that, "we are proud of the life we built for ourselves," is the oldest of barely-coded racist dog whistles, which translates to, "the poor and people of color who are struggling are too lazy to build anything for themselves and just want government handouts." It's the ongoing Republican lament about (black) welfare mothers who are stealing all the wealth that should be going to hard working-class whites.
I understand that folks like P.M. are sick of hearing that white privilege exists and that they have what they have because of a system of institutional racism but if we, as a nation, keep sticking our heads in the sand over this issue, it will be the end of us. It is one of the two truly existential threats to our existence which make Donald Trump seem like a walk in the park. The other is, of course, climate change. Either of these alone will be hard to solve but are still arguing whether or not they even exist.
A.J. in Baltimore, MD, writes: I'd like to encourage people like P.M. in Currituck, or anyone else who voted for Trump because they think the Democratic Party is condescending to blue-collar workers in Middle America, to write in with specifics. I have heard this comment so many times over the course of the last four years as thinkpieces try to analyze why Trump won, and I've never understood what exactly these people were referring to. Elissa Slotkin extends this phenomenon into her comments on the policies Biden should pursue, but it's not clear to me whether this is about policy at all or if it's just about rhetoric and virtue-signaling.
I think there are three possibilities to explain my confusion:
- When people talk about this, they are referring to liberal media commentators, college students sharing memes/Tweets, Black Lives Matter protestors' signs, comments by tenured academics or Hollywood celebrities, etc. And absolutely, these groups of people say things that would probably be viewed as condescending by the white working class all the time. But none of them are on the ballot. Are Trump supporters deciding who to vote for based on their millennial Facebook friend sharing memes about them not being woke enough? If so, that takes some of the pressure off of the progressive and conservative wings of the party to try to find policies they agree on, but it's bad news in that this behavior is impossible for the Democrats to control. What's more, even if a protestor says 100 respectful things and 1 demeaning thing, Tucker Carlson and his ilk are going to seize on the demeaning comment as a way of generating outrage against the Democrats. This is not something that can ever be fixed.
- They are referring to comments by Democratic politicians that I'm not aware of because I consume different media. I haven't observed Joe Biden, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), or even AOC typically saying things that are insulting to blue-collar Pennsylvanians or trying to be "woker than thou," but maybe that's because conservative media tends to highlight such comments and I don't consume conservative media. The one condescending comment I can think of is Hillary Clinton's "deplorables" comment from 2016, a huge blunder on her part that she tried to walk back. (If that comment has come to define the only major left-of-center party that America has, God help us all.) If Biden has made condescending comments that I didn't hear about, though, I'd love it if people wrote in to explain what they found insulting.
- They have different viewpoints on what counts as condescending. I would also love to hear if this is the case. Do you find it demeaning when politicians say that black lives matter? How about when they talk about the importance of addressing systemic racism against black people, or how white people are statistically treated differently by the justice system than minorities? What about calling it inappropriate to describe Mexicans or Muslims with broad generalizations? Does it seem condescending when Democrats try to prevent discrimination against gay and trans people? Do you think it's insulting to you personally when Democrats criticize Trump for being racist or sexist? Alternatively, is this really about hard policy after all? Do you find it condescending when Democrats talk about a woman's right to choose? How about when Democrats seek to impose environmental regulations and talk about the potential impacts of climate disaster?
This might sound like I work for the DNC and am trying to workshop some ideas, but in reality I've never actually worked in politics. I'm just genuinely curious, because I clearly don't understand this perspective.
J.A. in New York, NY, writes: I am very exhausted of this narrative that the Democrats constantly need to reach out to these Trump voters—who spent the better part of 4 years mocking the Democrats for losing, calling them names, telling them to keep crying, etc.—to understand what they're talking about or where they're coming from. Why do the Republicans never have to reach out to the Democrats to figure these things out? Even when they lose the popular vote, they make no concerted effort. Trump voters want Democrats to understand them? Why not try the same when the shoe is on the other foot? Maybe there needs to be some introspection on the right for a minute. Why do people think you are racist, ignorant yokels (P.M.'s description)? It makes this reader wonder if they have ever even tried to understand their political opponents.
I am sick of having to cater to right leaning "snowflakes," who insist on having their voices heard, but refuse to extend the same courtesy to the other side. I guess it's a good thing winter is coming, lest they melt.
The 2020 Election
S.P. in Foster, RI, writes: There's been lot of speculation about how Joe Biden was able to defeat Donald Trump. According to Juan Gonzalez at Democracy Now!, it wasn't by drawing in white voters who had previously voted for Trump. Rather, it was because of significant increases in turnout among people of color, even if (as has received much more press attention) the percentages of votes Trump received from people of color were in some cases a little bigger than in 2016. You can read about it here or watch it here.
Jodi Archambault and Allie Young, on the same show, also detail how organizing in the Native American communities raised voter turnout significantly, almost entirely in support of Biden, in a number of swing states.
M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Frank Luntz recently opined that pollsters had not yet learned how to poll Trump voters and consequently missed troves of them. I believe they were overlooked because they were previously unregistered or low-propensity voters, all 9.9 million of them, whom the Trump campaign were able to identify via intensive data mining of social media.
Trump's rallies weren't just for testing nasty new slogans and raising Trump's morale. The contact information provided allowed the digital operation to scour social media for attendees' family, friends and associates who might also fall into the Trump camp. Comparing voter registration rolls, the campaign could identify low propensity voters and those who weren't registered (FiveThirtyEight's socially isolated demographic), bombarding them with targeted ads and messages.
The Obama campaign determined that a newly registered voter required a minimum of eleven direct contacts from the campaign to actually get the newbie to the polls to cast a ballot. Another reason many people give for not voting for a specific candidate is that the candidate never "asked them for their vote", hence the upsurge in canvassing door to door, targeting likely voters. Both of these considerations were thoroughly embraced and executed by Trump's campaign management.
So, how are pollsters supposed weight nonvoters and low-propensity voters? I suppose, now that this year's crop have voted, they're on the radar for the midterm polls.
And that database! What will Trump charge GOP candidates for a taste of that?
J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: I disagree with your criticism of Nate Silver as "intellectually dishonest" just because he gives probabilities in percentages, rather than a simple yes-or-no. Percentages are often more informative. To take a mundane example, I hate bicycling in the rain. If the forecast says 40% chance of rain, I'll stay home, but if it's 5%, I'll take the risk.
Silver got his start as a sports analyst. For those of us who occasionally make reasonable investments in athletic events, the percentages matter. You bet the underdog, even if you think you'll probably lose, if the odds being offered justify it. A 40% chance of winning is more than enough if a win will pay me twice the amount I risk losing.
V & Z respond: It's not the percentages that make us a little squeamish, it's the tendency to claim "we nailed it!" no matter what happens.
C.M.W. in Myrtle Beach, SC, writes: This is the only site I have seen that makes a convincing case on how Biden stole the election: howbidenstoletheelection.com.
V & Z respond: Very hard to argue with evidence as compelling as that.
A.B. in Chesapeake, VA, writes: Concerning their extended family who is Republican, T.F. in Los Angeles writes "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 had similar experiences with highly educated, successful professional physician colleagues and have thought about this. This site has discussed cognitive dissonance and the inability to communicate, but I have concluded that the current situation is more closely analogous to the psychiatric condition known as Folie a deux. This condition, also known as shared psychotic disorder or induced delusional disorder, is a syndrome where symptoms of delusional belief and sometimes hallucinations are transmitted from one individual to another. The non-psychotic person is otherwise normal. Treatment includes physical separation, antipsychotic medication and psychotherapy along with neuroleptic medications to handle the treatment. Good luck with that, though. Interestingly, it is not in the current DSM (DSM-5).
K.C. in West Islip, NY, writes: While driving with my kids today, we encountered a Trump Train parade probably about two miles long on the opposite side of the road. Liberally mixed in with the hundreds of Trump flags were many anti-Biden flags and window paint bearing messages unpublishable on this family-friendly site.
It confirmed for me—though I already knew this—that the Trump base really is devoid of any sense of patriotism and would rather waste their Saturday afternoon holding up traffic on the turnpike to show off their ignorance in broad daylight. While I had hoped that the election would have encouraged these deplorables (Hillary was right on that one) to fold up their Trump flags and blow the dust off their American flags, the bottom line for me is that a more appropriate designation, given many of the messages they had painted on their windows, is "domestic terrorists."
S.K. in Chappaqua, NY, writes: As illogical as it may seem, I think that Donald Trump's coming to Georgia to campaign for GOP candidates in the runoff elections may ensure their defeat.
Joe Biden, despite lacking strong appeal to Georgia's voters, won the state, outperforming his party's senatorial candidates. He did so because of Democrats' and some Republican strong voters' opposition to Trump. That motivation will not be a factor in January unless Trump comes to Georgia now.
On the other hand, evangelical voters in Georgia supported GOP candidates for the Senate largely because of the votes those Republicans could provide to confirm Trump's judicial nominees. That motivation will be absent with Biden in the White House.
Add the two factors together—animosity toward Trump and lack of a need for votes for his judicial nominees—and the net impact must help drive Trump-haters to the polls and keep evangelicals at home, both phenomena working to the Democratic candidates' advantage!
V & Z respond: It works both ways. Georgia voters might turn out to help the Republicans keep the Senate so it can block all of Biden's judicial nomination, not only for any Supreme Court vacancies that might occur, but also for the lower courts. For voters whose main concern is banning abortion, the courts are always a top issue.
D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: You wrote that "...if Trump is convicted, Rikers Island could very well have a new celebrity inmate by mid-2023." Actually, Rikers is a jail holding prisoners awaiting trial. Most of them are there because they are too poor to make bail, but serious flight risks may also be held, in which case (according to your timeline) the new celebrity inmate might show up as early as 2021. But a conviction doesn't lead to Rikers; rather to one of the famous (Attica, Sing Sing) or obscure (Franklin, Mohawk) all-expenses-paid accommodations in lovely upstate New York. Personally, I'm hoping he ends up in Clinton Correctional Facility. The name has everything to do with DeWitt and nothing to do with Hillary, but the big doofus wouldn't know it, and the irony would be icing on the cake.
V & Z respond: Note that we knew that Rikers is a holding facility, but we liked the sound of the name better than the other options. However, enough people wrote in that we eventually changed the reference to Sing Sing.
L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I had to smile today at NPR's phrasing, when they said that President-Elect Biden will now "receive the intelligence briefings which are prepared for President Trump." Obviously saying that they are the briefings which President Trump receives, listens to, or reads would have been false statements!
G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: I figured out how to fix the whole problem of the election not turning out the way Trump wanted:
J.L. in Mountain View, CA and D.S. in Cleveland Heights, OH both write: Potential architectural renderings for the Donald J. Trump presidential library: djtrumplibrary.com.
S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: I think Time Magazine should split their People of the Year award between all the front-line folks working hard to keep the rest of us safe from the coronavirus, and the thousands of poll workers, election officials, canvassing boards, and secretaries of state that performed their duties with efficiency, integrity, and transparency in spite of the pandemic and political pressure.
V & Z respond: Excellent suggestion!
L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: My fellow Oakland P.F. wrote: "I don't know how Democrats should thread the needle to save as many lives and as many livelihoods as possible."
This is an important point. Much of the resistance to isolation and keeping businesses closed stems from the entirely reasonable fear of losing one's job or business (or seeing businesses, especially local business, close).
Other countries that have strong social safety nets, and (usually) high taxation, have found ways to provide ongoing economic support. Most U.S. aid has been in the form of inadequate, time-limited unemployment benefits or loans to businesses that don't always keep people employed, and owing to lack of interest on the part of the GOP, our federal government hasn't been able to come up with a new aid package for Americans. This Washington Post story has some information on programs in Europe, as does this article from U.S. News and World Report.
C.P.S. in San Jose, CA, writes: Looking forward to the elections of 2022 and 2024, I hope that Joe Biden understands that he will be judged not by how much he cooperates with Republicans, but by results. That bears repeating. Some voters may find a challenger who claims the ability to reach across the aisle to be appealing, but when it comes to evaluating a candidate or party in power, the galactically dominant factor is results.
The other insight—which I pray that Biden has learned from his eight years in the Obama administration and from recent post-election events such as Mnuchin's transfer of $455 billion of stimulus money back into the Treasury's general fund, where it will require new congressional authorization before being used—is that the Republicans' only goal will be to make him a one-term president and that there is no level of harm to the country which they would not countenance in order to achieve that goal. The same Republicans who refused to allow a second stimulus package for Barack Obama after the financial crisis of 2008 have crowed for the past dozen years that the recovery was the weakest and the slowest in American history.
Sure, Biden should be as polite and respectful as possible, but when it comes to policies to stop the spread of the virus and to protect and restore the economy (as well as protect the world from a looming climate emergency), he should simply declare an emergency and take whatever actions are necessary.
J.H. in Canton, GA, writes: I'm not so certain Joe Biden's base supports canceling student debt, even if the far left does. As someone who has voted Democratic in every Presidential election in my adult life, this is the type of thing that would push me to the Republicans (assuming Donald Trump isn't on the ballot in 2024).
I'd support repealing BAPCPA restrictions on bankruptcy discharge. We should definitely stop bankrolling predatory for-profit colleges that push people into loans they can't afford for worthless education (e.g., Corinthians Colleges). However, education affects earning potential, and people make lifelong decisions based on earnings vs. debt. As someone who chose to attend public university for undergrad and grad school and worked to pay off my student debt, I'm not okay with just forgiving the debts of Ivy League graduates who have the income to pay those debts back.
R.H. in Arlington, VA, writes: I would be more cautious about suggesting that "the winner of the Democratic primary will coast to election in Nov. 2021." While Virginia has grown increasingly blue over the past several cycles, largely thanks to my fellow northern Virginians in the D.C. suburbs, I am skeptical that 2021 will be a cakewalk for the statewide Democratic nominees.
Virginia has a tradition going all the way back to 1973 of electing a governor from the opposite party from the President, with the only exception being Terry McAuliffe's relatively narrow victory in 2013 over Republican Ken Cuccinelli (47.8% to 45.2%, with a Libertarian candidate pulling over 6% and likely hurting Cucinelli more than McAuliffe). This came with a rather disgraced Republican, Bob McDonnell, exiting the governor's mansion.
True, the Virginia Republican party has a history of self-destructive nominations for statewide office, such as Corey Stewart in 2017, and, arguably, Cuccinelli in 2013, since the more moderate then-incumbent Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling would probably have beaten McAuliffe. If the party is dimwitted enough to nominate Amanda Chase—Virginia's own gun-toting facsimile of Marjorie Taylor-Greene—for governor in 2021, then the Democratic candidate will coast. But do not underestimate Kirk Cox, the former majority leader of the state House of Delegates. Cox is staunchly conservative, pro-gun, anti-choice, and certainly out of sync policy-wise with the population centers in northern Virginia, Richmond, and Virginia Beach. But he has a more moderate persona and has managed to hang on to his district in 2017 and 2019 even after it was redrawn to include a much more liberal and diverse electorate.
If Cox is the Republican nominee the Democrat, whomever they are, is unlikely to coast to victory. It will all come down to which party can better sustain turnout in our off-year cycle. Traditionally, that has been Republicans, but one wonders how many Virginia right-wing populists can only be bothered to vote when Trump was on the ballot.
S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes: I was delighted to read your item "The Last Gasp of Anti-Trans Politics?" As a transgender woman and activist who makes her living in the very Trumpublican nuclear industry, it's been a real challenge for me to keep conversations civil when peers have poured Gatorade coolers of praise upon this president. The Trump Administration has been a nightmare for the greater LGBTQ+ community and for transgender people, in particular. These past few years taught me something of what other minorities must feel when their own governments target them for discrimination.
All of that said, I "came out" this year in my workplace. I did so slowly and methodically, so as to not startle the diversity-and-inclusion faint-of-heart. The end result: overwhelming acceptance. I teach reactor plant operations to the control room operators. My current class and immediate work peers even went so far as to buy balloons and sign a card congratulating me on my legal name change.
Is everyone on board? No, but the vast majority are, so I think you have the right of it: transgender people are a crumbling wedge issue in politics. I guess the far right will have to find another moral issue to hammer, perhaps adulterous affairs with porn stars who are paid off with hush money or men who grab women by the...nah, that won't work. Oh well, I'm sure that Sean and Tucker will dream up something.
A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: The second you wrote about trans politics, you had to know I'd have something to say about it. In fact, quite a bit, actually. I wish I really believed we are seeing the end of anti-trans politics, but I do not believe that. The one thing our LGB sisters and brothers have that we trans still do not is social acceptance on a large scale. For us trans there is still a very visceral "ick factor" for many people, and anti-trans politics is just the fallout of that reality.
Additionally, unlike our sisters and brothers at BLM, we do not have the widespread social sympathy they enjoy. We keep hearing "Trans Lives Matter"—and yet, I see millions show up for BLM, and we trans have to pull teeth to get 200 to show up for us. If we really mattered, you'd think more people would show up. For me, "Trans Lives Matter" as a statement...makes me unsure if I want to laugh or cry...because I know people say it in order to be saying the "politically correct" thing, but then they fail to act as if Trans Lives really do Matter.
At most, we trans are going to get a very-much-needed respite from four years of being constantly targeted, and walking around with bullseyes on our backs. I was very grateful for President-elect Biden's words during the Trans Day of Remembrance this year, and his commitment to end the unfair trans military ban, as well as restore protections for trans in healthcare (especially important right now in this pandemic) and in emergency shelters (equally important right now in this pandemic.)
I have been living in absolute fear of getting COVID-19, because I have the very real fear—with Trump doing what he could to change Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act to allow the denial of healthcare to trans and LGB people—that I would be denied treatment, or be passed over for care in favor of a non-trans (cisgender) person, just because of being trans. I could see my trans status literally becoming a death warrant; with the last sounds I would hear on this Earth, as I drowned in my own fluids, with no family around me, being the sounds of a doctor who was bigoted against trans laughing while I struggled for my last breath. That has been the reality of being trans in America these past four years!
And I would be remiss, as a North Carolinian, if I did not address HB-2. Like so many not from this state, you are laboring under the pretense that HB-2 was repealed. It was, technically, but then replaced by HB-142 which did away with bathroom restrictions (later clarified in a consent decree issued by Judge Schroeder in the ACLU case). HB-142 was a so-called "compromise" that left us trans with no means to obtain equality in North Carolina, as it forbade municipalities and other local government units from passing any civil rights legislation until Dec 1, 2020—almost four years' worth of discrimination baked into the law! This, incidentally, was a factor in my deciding to run for the North Carolina Senate myself this year—and I'd be lying if I said otherwise...though there were plenty of other issues!
The law is due to sunset, finally, in four days. Of course, had we not broken the GOP supermajority in our legislature in 2018, they undoubtedly would have passed separate legislation extending the sunset date out into infinity. And, even before the sunset, we now have, of a sort, protections at least in employment against discrimination, by way of the Bostock ruling (Aimee Stephens, the trans plaintiff did not live to see her case won—my own story of employment discrimination was used in an amici curiae filing in her case). And while we re-elected Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC), we also got Mark Robinson (R) as Lt. Governor (I am still wondering how someone splits their ticket to vote Cooper/Robinson, but I digress). Robinson made many harsh and transphobic statements while still a candidate.
So while I long for the day when anti-trans politics are no longer a thing, I still doubt I will see it in my lifetime, because we are so hated by so many...just because we live our lives authentically, as our true selves. We harm nobody. But if I have learned anything in over 25 years out as a trans woman in America, it is that fear attracts the jackals and makes you a more-enticing piece of prey.
Nobody who is not trans can know what it is like to live with the kind of fear we do, and never be able to show it. And nobody who is not trans in North Carolina can ever know how painful it is to have your own State Legislators stand on the floor of your Senate and openly imply that you and everyone like you is a pedophile and a predator, while approximately half your fellow citizens believe it! And you never can know what it is like to have a senator of your state literally brag about how he would attack trans women as they came out of bathrooms, as former Senator Andrew Brock (R-Mocksville) did...while I was sitting in the Senate Gallery.
I do not know, anymore, what it takes to get people to really care about us...for our lives to TRULY matter, instead of people just SAYING that they do. And I have no idea how to get even one percent of what shows up for BLM to show up for us. Given that situation, how would YOU feel when you heard the words "Trans Lives Matter"? I am guessing you would be like I am...not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
E.P. in Boston, MA, writes: I appreciate the concise and astute analysis your site provides and have been a longtime reader (one of your mythical female readers) on these merits.
I feel compelled to respond to your recent discussion of trans politics, though, as I believe that you may be underestimating the number of thorny conflicts between trans rights and women's rights. Like many progressives, I started from a position of hearty goodwill on this issue and still count myself a staunch supporter when questions of equity are on the table, as with the recent Supreme Court decision protecting housing and employment rights for trans individuals. I find myself, however, with increasing safety and fairness concerns around matters such as trans participation in female sports or the blanket policy, recently adopted by the state of California among other states, of housing inmates according to their gender identity.
There is also the issue of safeguarding minors who seek medical intervention. Our country's medical system doesn't exactly have the best track record of providing medical care for complex, ongoing health issues. We are, I would say, much more inclined towards the "give 'em meds" side of the spectrum (see the opioid crisis).
I don't think it's warranted for any and all questions surrounding these legalities to be framed as bigotry. We are, in essence, replacing the protected category of biological sex with one of gender identity, and if that is what we are going to do, we should be transparent about that and not allow valid concerns to be silenced.
P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: Thank you for running the item about Latino voting. Specifically, I found the point about how 97% of Latinos never use "Latinx" as a term to be very interesting, and how it is a creation of white activists who prize political correctness above all else. This reminds me of the recent push toward using the term "Black" over "black" when describing Americans of African descent who form a cultural group once referred to as "African American." I had this discussion (about "Latinx" and "Black") with an old friend, who is of that particular African background, and his response was "we went through this 50 years ago...going on about this stuff is like worrying about your cable being out when your house is on fire." He is absolutely correct—there are bigger issues.
L.C. in Amherst, MA, writes: In response to M.M. of Santa Cruz, There are a number of proposals for modifying Spanish to make it more gender neutral, only some of which involve changing the endings of gendered nouns, which generally end in 'o' for masculine and 'a' for feminine. One indigenous attempt is to replace the 'o' and 'a' with 'e.' There are many words for which this doesn't work, in that they already end in 'e' for the masculine and collective cases, such as cliente (client), but most words that specifically refer to gender, such as muchacho/a, can be rendered gender neutral by substituting 'e' for 'o/a.' This strikes me as much more natural to Spanish as it is spoken by native Spanish speakers. I have read that this idea originated in the youth culture of Buenos Aires.
B.B. in Columbus, OH, writes: While I won't say that it's impossible that the person who coined "Latinx" is Latino, it is extremely unlikely. Spanish has gendered nouns and "de-gendering" them would make no sense to a native speaker. "Abuelo" means grandfather, and "los abuelos" means grandparents collectively, including the grandmothers. "Niño" means boy and "los niños" means children collectively, including the girls. No Spanish speaker would ever refer to them as "abuelx" or "nñx". "Latinos" is perfectly fine to use in order to refer to both males and females of Hispanic descent. On Twitter, someone asked, "Who invented Latinx?" My favorite response was "Gringx."
J.O. in Dallas, TX, writes: The Wealth of Nations should probably be on the list of the five most important books in U.S. history. For good or ill, whether the influence has been actual or just as propaganda.
K.S. in Harrisburg, PA, writes: I would put the Federalist Papers in place of Silent Spring. The environmental movement was going to happen regardless, due to the poisoning of our environment. The Federalist Papers, though, are responsible for the Constitution being passed and becoming the framework of American government and laws.
Number 6 may be Gone With the Wind. It continued the caste system in America for decades by portraying Black Americans as subhumans and their white owners as a superior hero race.
V & Z respond: (Z) has not yet decided if the Federalist Papers count as a book or not. But if it does, you're right, it's way up there.
J.K. in Los Angeles CA, writes: Thank you for all that you do. This site had been a godsend for me. It's odd that the first time I write in after 5 years has nothing to do with politics.
In response to E.M. in Milwaukee asking about "The Civil War" by Ken Burns, I think it's also important to point out that challenge wasn't only that the story is enormous and complex, there was no precedent in film on how to tell that story. People under fifty might not remember what most documentaries were like before "The Civil War", but they were two dimensional and really boring!
Ken Burns changed everything with his use of actual actors, sound FX and especially his way of bringing still photos to life. In the industry, the use of motion control and creative film moves on photos is actually known as "The Ken Burns Effect." Every editing software has some variation of it, and try to find a documentary made in the last twenty years that didn't use it. Good Luck. As a kid that wasted time in the backseat by reciting movie quotes while being dragged between Civil War battlefields, that documentary made a big impact on my life.
I agree with your assessment, and think it's hard to blame Burns for how Shelby Foote is viewed now, I also seem to remember him as being highly regarded when the film was shot. I also agree that Ken Burns took the right perspective and told the story as well as he could. The fact that he also had to completely reinvent documentary film in order to do it cannot be forgotten.
B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Regarding Shelby Foote, I have to share this anecdote.
I taught U.S. history at a college preparatory school in Memphis, my home town, for 20 years. In that time, all of my students wrote research papers on topics of their choosing (under my guidance). One year, a dear sweet innocent girl, while working on her project, decided to go ask her dad, a smart-ass Memphis lawyer, for a bit of advice. But he was too busy reading his newspaper and brushed her off. Waving his hand, he said, "Why don't you go call Shelby Foote for help," Foote being a resident of the city at the time. This was her dad's idea of a joke.
But it did not occur to her that her father was being a smart-ass again. She thought Daddy was just being helpful. She had no idea who "Shelby Foote" was. Assuming that this person was a friend of her father, she looked up his name in the phone book and dialed the number.
Shelby Foote answered. The star of Ken Burns' "Civil War" personally answered her call.
She explained that her father had suggested she call him. Foote asked her father's name and of course he had no idea who her father was. Or who she was. The student explained her dilemma. Foote asked, in his Mississippi Delta drawl, "And where is it you go to school?" She replied, "Hutchison School." Foote said, "Ah, Miss Hutchison's School. You know, dahlin', I knew Miss Hutchison. She was a friend of the family...Now what was it you needed help with?"
The next day, she came to my class and asked, "Mr. Caldwell, have you ever heard of someone named Shelby Foote?" At the time, Foote was the best-known historian in the U.S. (though actually a novelist by profession). I indicated that yes, I was in fact aware of a writer named Shelby Foote. She said she hoped it was okay, but that she had called him for help with her research paper. I got back up off the floor and asked, "And was he helpful?" I just had to know. "Oh yes! When he found out I go to Hutchison, he was eager to help me. We talked for most of an hour."
D.R. in Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, writes: You wrote that "we've never heard of anyone refusing to use Jackson 20s."
Many Native American reservations and Native Alaskan communities refuse to use Jacksons and immediately ask for change, 2 tens or 4 fives, when they receive a Jackson in change or from an ATM. I can imagine the same behavior will be seen when racists received a Tubman.
G.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: My brother, possibly California's busiest family law attorney, will not take payment in Jackson 20s.
D.W. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I'm contrary, and carry 2s, 10s (Go, Hamilton!), and 50s. I avoid ATMs, except the special ones which allow me to specify my preferred denominations. I hate the Jackson 20s with all my heart, and when the Tubmans are printed, I'll buy them by the 'strap' (100 notes), but not the 'brick' (in the US, 1000 x $20) because I'm a retired educator.
E.D. in New York, NY, writes: Thank you for the Jamestown mention. My father went to his deathbed still railing about the Wise family coming to Jamestown in 1607, before the Pilgrims. I do stress it with my grandchildren.
F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: In light of the transition, and all those civil servants who work from one administration to the next, allow me to suggest this brief clip from "Yes, Minister":
S.S. in Detroit, MI, writes: I, for one, am oh-so-ready to vow fealty to our soon-to-be Canadian Overlords! My hometown of Detroy-it, as you historians undoubtedly know, was once part of Canada, and though tolerating a few years of American rule, when faced with invasion in 1812, we surrendered without resistance. I was young then, but still remember cheering the redcoats with their hockey sticks. I'll support a Liberal MP in my riding, listen to Radio 2, be extremely polite, and eat my fries with gravy.
P.C. in Burlington, Ontario, Canada, writes: I'm afraid your hopes that Canadians will come and rescue you are going to be dashed. The border is closed, so they can't get there. Sorry.
V & Z respond: When have Canadians ever been known to play by the rules, and to behave in a civilized manner when...ah, we see your point.
R.L. in Tucson, AZ, writes: I was delighted by your self-reference in the item "The Thanksgiving Angle." Giving that (V) is a computer scientist, I would expect that from him, but from (Z) it is even more fun. I do have a suggestion, however, that even drives the point a bit more. Usually your links open a new tab (much appreciated), but in this case, I think linking back to the same instance is better yet.
V & Z respond: You're right, of course. (Z) is kicking himself for not having thought of that, but has gone back and fixed it.
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