To our American readers: Happy Independence Day!
To our Canadian readers: Happy (belated) Canada Day!
We're going to lead today with the longest letter we've ever run. We think that is apropos; you'll see why in about two seconds.
This Land Is Your Land, and This Land Is My Land
J.B. in Hutto, TX, writes: Seeing this week's Mailbag falls on Independence Day, I thought it might be refreshing for you and your readership to have a dose of thoughtful patriotism rather than the knee-jerk jingoism we are so often force-fed on this day. Therefore, without further ado, allow me to describe what it is that I love about America.
I love the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. I love the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, and the hundreds of beautiful letters that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote to one another in retirement. I love the journals of Lewis and Clark and the diary of John Quincy Adams. I love the Declaration of Sentiments—the founding document of the women's rights movement, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I love Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. I love the Thirteenth and Nineteenth Amendments. I love the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King. I love FDR's "Four Freedoms" speech, JFK's speech at Rice University in which he declared that America would to go to the moon, MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech, Barbara Jordan's speech in defense of the Constitution during the Watergate hearings, and the 1987 speech in which Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. As ironic as it might seem today, I love Frederick Douglass's speech "What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?"
I love Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Harper Lee, Louisa May Alcott and Tomas Rivera, Edgar Allan Poe and Claude McKay. I love the poetry of Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Phillis Wheatley, Robert Frost, and Maya Angelou. I love the history books and biographies of David McCullough. I love "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin," "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave," "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau, "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac, and "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." They are all part of the same story.
I love the American flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the old-fashioned patriotic songs sung by children's choirs. I love the Statue of Liberty (thanks, France!) and the Liberty Bell. I love bald eagles and American bison. I love Mount Vernon and Monticello, not only as living tributes to great men but as reminders of the reality of slavery in our nation's story. I love the monuments and memorials around the National Mall in Washington D.C. I love the Alamo. I love the monument to the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment in Boston. I love St. John's Church in Richmond, where Patrick Henry asked that he be given either liberty or death. I love the Old North Church in Boston, where two lanterns were once hung to signal riders that the British were coming by sea. I love Emanuel Leutze's painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware," with its subtle inclusion of a Black man, a woman, an immigrant, and an American Indian. I love the USS Constitution—"Old Ironsides"—launched in 1797, bloodied in battles against the British and the Barbary Pirates, and still officially a commissioned warship in the United States Navy today. I love the American Battle Monuments Commission, which carefully maintains dozens of national cemeteries around the world where tens of thousands of our fallen warriors rest in peace.
I love the Space Needle in Seattle and the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center in New York City. I love the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I love the Art Deco architecture of Miami and the Spanish colonial architecture of Santa Fe. I love the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, and all the thousands of small bridges one passes over while driving the back roads of our vast nation.
I love the cultural institutions of New York City: the Met Opera, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Hayden Planetarium, and the musicals of Broadway. I love the museums of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.: the National Air and Space Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the National Museum of American History. I love the Boston Aquarium, the San Diego Zoo, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, and Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. I love the Library of Congress and all the presidential libraries. I love Ellis Island, through which uncounted thousands of immigrants (including my own ancestors, in 1906) passed through to become Americans, their eyes sparkling with dreams of freedom and a better life for themselves and their children.
I love the National Parks: Yellowstone, the Everglades, Yosemite, Acadia, Bryce Canyon, and all the rest. I love Carlsbad Caverns and Mammoth Cave. I love the haunting stillness one can feel amid the ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park and Bandelier National Monument. I love the way the wind howls through "The Window" at Big Bend National Park. I love the national battlefields: Saratoga, Yorktown, Antietam, Gettysburg, and all the rest. I love the carefully preserved homes of historical figures and sites of historical events. I love the Stonewall National Monument, the site where the gay rights movement began in 1969, and the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York, the site where the women's rights movement began in 1848.
I love NASA. I love the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, and the adorable little Ingenuity helicopter, that are exploring the surface of Mars. I love the Juno probe currently in orbit around Jupiter, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around the Moon (though it could have had a better name), and the plucky little New Horizons spacecraft that flew past Pluto back in 2015 and is now sailing on into the Kuiper Belt. I love the two Voyager probes, still sending back data decades after being launched and embarking on their lonely journey into the vastness of the Milky Way Galaxy. I love the beautiful photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and the scientific information sent back by Galileo from Jupiter, Cassini from Saturn, Magellan from Venus, and dozens of other amazing missions throughout the Solar System. I love the fact that the United States was the first nation to land human beings on the surface of another world. I love that, in the otherwise dark year of 2020, the United States regained the ability to launch human beings into space.
I love Texas barbecue more than words can express, but I'm willing to admit that the folks in Kansas City, Memphis, and the Carolinas make some pretty good stuff, too. I love well-made cheeseburgers. I love the breakfast tacos of Austin and San Antonio. I love locally brewed beer and locally distilled whiskey. I love the overpriced hot dogs and pretzels served at baseball stadiums. I love corny dogs at the Texas State Fair. I love the cabernet sauvignons of Napa and Sonoma County, the tempranillos of the Texas Hill Country, and the pinot noirs of Oregon and Washington, proof that Thomas Jefferson was right when he said America could produce wines as good as those of Europe. I love pizza from Brooklyn and clam chowder from Massachusetts. I love cheddar cheese from Vermont and colby cheese from Wisconsin. I love Native American frybread.
I love drinking a good hurricane at Pat O'Brien's Bar in New Orleans. I love the Steak Dunigan made at the Pink Adobe restaurant in Santa Fe. I love the chili half-smokes at Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington D.C. I love the fresh shrimp at Singleton's Seafood Shack in Mayport, Florida. I love lobsters from Maine and oysters from Apalachicola in the Florida panhandle. I love Boston cream pie and I love s'mores around the campfire. I love Kentucky bourbon. I love the grits, catfish, fried okra, and pecan pie of the South. I love chimichangas at Tex-Mex restaurants. I love Jewish delis in New York City. I love kolache festivals in small towns that have strong Czech heritages. I love coffee, bacon, eggs, and hash browns served at dingy highway diners by sarcastic old waitresses who reek of cigarettes. I love making dinner from ingredients purchased at farmers' markets. I love Cuban sandwiches in Florida restaurants. I love the delicious food you can enjoy in family-owned restaurants in cities and town all across this bountiful country. I love the resilience all these special places have shown in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I love the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes, the Columbia River, the Ohio River, Crater Lake, the Tennessee River, Chesapeake Bay, the Susquehanna River, and all the other rivers and bodies of water that run their courses throughout our land. I love the vast skies of the Texas Hill Country, the majestic peaks of the Rocky Mountains, the palisades of the Hudson Valley in New York, the brilliant colors of the autumn leaves in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, the endless expanse of the Great Plains, the beautiful desolation of the painted deserts of the American Southwest, and the rocky seashores of New England.
I love New Orleans jazz, the blues of Memphis and Chicago, the indie rock of the Pacific Northwest, the bluegrass of the Appalachian Mountains, and the amazing music that comes out of Austin. I love the blending of Mexican and Central European elements that one can hear in Tejano music. I love country music stars singing patriotic songs. I love the singer-songwriters of the seventies. I love Creedence Clearwater Revival. I love how Jimmy Buffett can make a bad day better with a single rendition of "Margaritaville." I love the singing of James Taylor, Elvis Presley, and Bing Crosby, the guitars of B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughn, the trumpet of Miles Davis, the drums of Art Blakey, and the piano of Dave Brubeck. I love the beautiful voices of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday. I love the classical compositions of Aaron Copland and the grand marches of John Philip Sousa. I love the haunting music that can be produced by the Native American flute.
I love Civil War reenactors and the ridiculous arguments they have with each other about brass buttons. I love independent bookstores like BookPeople in Austin, the Tattered Cover in Denver, City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and Prairie Lights in Iowa City. I love county fairs, pumpkin festivals, and outdoor church services on Christmas and Easter. I love the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival and the Santa Fe Indian Market.
I love silly American traditions. I love presidential pardons for turkeys just before Thanksgiving. I love that the Le Pavillion Hotel in New Orleans serves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with ice-cold milk in the lobby every evening at ten o'clock. I love the singing of "Sweet Caroline" by Red Sox fans at Fenway Park in the middle of the eighth inning every game. I love the daily duck parade between the elevator and the lobby fountain at the Peabody in Memphis. I love Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. I love the different drinks and different theme songs for each of the Triple Crown horse races. I love the emergence of Punxsutawney Phil from Gobbler's Knob on Groundhog Day. I loved the Poe Toaster, wonder what happened to them, and still hope they come back.
I love crossing guards. I love little league games. I love bake sales that raise money for middle-school bands. I love family-owned businesses that have jerseys of the local high school football teams hanging on their walls. I love public libraries and PTA meetings. I love citizens complaining about potholes at city council meetings. I love local chapters of the Lions Club.
I love the mystique of the Golden Age of Hollywood: Clark Gable, Katherine Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly. I love old Frank Capra movies, especially "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." I love the movies Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together. I love Frank Sinatra. I love the script-writing of Aaron Sorkin, the documentaries of Ken Burns, the musicals of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the films of Steven Spielberg, and the acting of Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Meryl Streep. I love watching the Academy Awards. I love the Charlie Brown specials shown every Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I love PBS programs like NOVA, Masterpiece Theater, and American Experience.
I love how Congress, despite its flaws and the corruption of so many of its members, can sometimes rise to the occasion and pass legislation that dramatically changes America for the better. I love the Homestead Act, the Morrill Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Servicemen's Readjustment Act (more commonly known as the "G.I. Bill"), the National Defense Education Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, the Higher Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and many, many others. As with Congress, so with the Supreme Court. I love Brown vs. Board of Education, Gideon vs. Wainwright, Miranda vs. Arizona, Loving vs. Virginia, and Obergefell vs. Hodges.
I love liberals, conservatives, and libertarians—all equally American. I love peaceful protesters (including athletes who choose to kneel during the playing of the national anthem), who remind us of the hard work that lies before us if our republic is to live up to its founding ideals. I love the naturalization ceremonies in which immigrants take the oath of citizenship to the United States, instantly becoming as American as anyone whose ancestors served in George Washington's army or came over on the Mayflower.
I love freedom of expression, and I don't much mind that it means that people can express opinions with which I disagree and which I might even find repugnant. I love that I can stand on any street corner and denounce any politician in the nation without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or execution. I love freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, which allow me to worship God as I choose, and I don't much mind that it means people can practice religions different from my own or choose not to practice any religion at all. I love that a person accused of even the most heinous crime imaginable will still get a lawyer and appear before a judge in the same manner as anybody else. I love that the police cannot enter my home or search my car unless they have a warrant issued by a judge. I love that I can go into a voting booth and cast my ballot for whomever I wish.
I love the men and women working hard at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the doctors and nurses in our nation's hospitals, who have been on the front line in the fight against COVID-19. I love those police officers, the vast majority, who are good and decent people doing an incredibly stressful job to keep us safe. I love firefighters and emergency medical workers who protect us every day and night. I love the teachers who work in an extraordinarily demanding job with little pay because they love children and care about the future of our republic. I love the plumbers, electricians, highway construction workers, and mechanics without whom the country would fall apart overnight. I love garbage collectors. I love that anyone in America can take a risk and start their own business.
I love the generosity of the American people. I love the volunteers who make possible the work of nonprofits like Meals on Wheels, Homes for our Troops, and Habitat for Humanity. I love church groups who cram into vans and drive to coastal towns demolished by hurricanes to bring aid and comfort to the disaster victims. I love the people of Operation BBQ Relief, who show up in devastated regions with their grills and smokers and pass out barbecue sandwiches by the thousands to those in need of a warm meal. I love the Louisianans of the Cajun Navy, who show up in flooded regions with their boats to assist in search-and-rescue missions.
I love the men and women who have served or are serving in the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. I love the few remaining veterans of the Second World War, who fought a glorious worldwide crusade to destroy fascism. I love the grizzled old veterans of Korea and Vietnam, whose heroism and sacrifice has still never been fully appreciated. I love the Navajo Code Talkers. I love SEAL Team Six, who rid the world of Osama bin Laden's evil on an epic night in the spring of 2011. I love the 1st Battalion, 5th United States Field Artillery, formed by Alexander Hamilton in 1776 and today the oldest continuously serving unit in the United States armed forces. I love that elite group of soldiers known as the Sentinels, who maintain their lonely vigil in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier twenty-four hours a day, even amid hurricanes and blizzards, as has been done without a moment's break since 1948. I love the men and women of every battalion, every ship, and every squadron who put their lives on the line every day to protect everything we hold dear, including all I've written about in this piece.
I could go on and on and on, but I think the point I'm trying to make is pretty clear.
I love America.
V & Z respond: Bravo! Bravissimo!
A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: The section on flags in last week's mailbag got me thinking of something I have long said: Those who loudly proclaim to be Christians...probably aren't. If they were, you'd know it by their actions, and they would not need to tell you. The same applies for patriots, in my opinion.
As to the National Anthem...every time I hear it, I think of that last line, "Home Of The Brave," and find myself wishing we were the Home Of The Brave...but we aren't. We're afraid of everything, it seems, anymore, in these United States. Anything that looks different, acts different, worships different or loves different...we are afraid of it.
Another thing that comes to mind with these so-called patriots is how often they hold up the ideals upon which this nation was founded as evidence of this nation's greatness, yet they continue to cheerfully and gleefully refuse to live up to those ideals! Ask any minority, like me, for example, if they think this country is living up to the ideals it professes to cherish.
It is one thing to set lofty goals and ideals...and fail to achieve them. It's quite another to hold out those ideals, claim to cherish them and use them as evidence of our nation's greatness while at the same time refusing to live up to them!
When will LGBTQ+ like me know real freedom? When will Black people? Muslims? Jews? Women?? I could go on and on, but for so many, this county fails. I still love this country...even if it does not seem to love me in return. I love this country for the ideals upon which it was founded, but which it thus far has failed to achieve. I love the country I learned about in grade school. I do not love the country we have become...I do not love the government that has come to be in power over us.
H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: The Independence Day holiday reminds me that 1976 was the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. And 45 years ago, after experiencing the war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, the American people needed something unifying and positive.
The 1976 celebrations were truly extensive. To coordinate them a federal agency, the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, was created. Its logo (a "spinning" red, white, and blue star) was displayed on all federal government property and paperwork. U.S. coins and postage stamps marked the occasion. The image on the back of the $2 bill was changed from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello to John Trumbull's painting of the signing of the Declaration. Foreign countries offered tributes, including a flotilla of the world's Tall Ships and a state visit by the British monarch. Bicentennial themed advertising and patriotic merchandise (ranging from respectful to kitschy) were seen everywhere. The Revolutionary War was a common subject in popular culture and news media (just print and broadcast in those days—no Internet or podcasts yet, and far fewer talk radio stations or cable TV channels).
July 4, 2026, will be the 250th anniversary of the announcement of the Declaration (as well as the 200th anniversary of the deaths of its co-authors, Jefferson and John Adams). Perhaps we should have a grand commemoration five years from now like the one 45 years ago. Considering how polarized and angry public life has become, a celebration of our history could provide a unifying and positive influence. Of course, it could devolve into yet another rancorous partisan dispute. Either way, one-quarter of a millennium seems like a much more significant milestone than two centuries, although the word 'Semiquincentennial' doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.
P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: While Americans today are blowing up an ungodly amount of explosives (along with some of their digits), I seek to extol the virtues of The Great White North in the wake of Canada Day (July 1). I once held Canada in a modicum of contempt from my northwest Ohio home, a mere hundred miles from Windsor. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was all the baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolets while growing up? But I saw the light. Or maybe it was that puck I took to the noggin. Anyway, without Canada we would not have hockey—nor, by extension, Don Cherry (and I know Cherry was dumped from HNIC for some seriously racist comments but the "Coach's Corner" segment of HNIC was the crown jewel of CBC sports broadcasting back in the day):
If we did not have Canada, we would not have the music of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, nor Gordon Lightfoot (nor Rick Moranis and his parody of Gordon Lightfoot singing every song ever written). And as Canadians are, person for person, the funniest folks on earth, we would not have "SCTV" or "Schitt's Creek" or John Candy or Dan Aykroyd or Samantha Bee. Fashion would suffer (again, see Don Cherry). The movie "Argo" (based on the Canadian rescue of American hostages held in Iran) would be fiction without our Canadian friends. Sure Canada is not perfect—there's still that little matter of a continuing connection with the British crown and, of course, Justin Bieber—but where else is one going to get a package of politeness, health care, culture, and hockey so neatly wrapped into a single package?
Two years ago at a family reunion at a state park in Indiana, I completed my personal conversion process by leading my wife's Canadian cousins in a drunken rendition of "O Canada" (with the new inclusive wording) at the end of the evening. I for one will welcome our Canadian overlords with a cold one in hand. You should too, eh?
M.A. in Manchester, PA, writes: While shopping at Michaels recently, I browsed their seasonal area. Among the assorted Americana, I discovered a tiny invasion from our neighbors to the north:
One step at a time, eh? Happy Independence (for now) Day!
V & Z respond: First it's Michaels and then, before you know it, it's Pottery Barn and Sur la Table.
P.M. in Makhanda, South Africa, writes: I read your item "No Charges for Trump in New York?"
It happened to appear the same day as South Africa's Constitutional Court sent our former president Jacob Zuma down for 15 months for contempt for refusing to appear before a corruption inquiry, then dissing the Concourt when they ordered him to appear.
Zuma's lawyers adopted the Stalingrad strategy—fight every detail to bog down proceedings—to keep him out of jail for corruption. The enquiry is chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who is wise to Zuma's tricks, hence getting permission to go straight to the apex court from which there is no appeal.
Relevance to the U.S.?
A past president who is deeply corrupt, uses populist appeal to fight off less corrupt opponents, was accused of rape and is generally big on misogyny...nope, nothing to do with anything you write about.
But still, I wonder, why did New York wimp out?
E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: There's an angle that you left unmentioned, when you pointed out Donald Trump's astoundingly well-documented tax evasion scheme, and the "stuff we're not telling the IRS about" column in that spreadsheet. All these schemes were pretty much in plain sight, yet the New York State tax authorities never seemed to notice anything amiss, for all these years. I'm guessing that there must be at least one tax official who was "persuaded" to look the other way.
Point being, there's got to be a bribery charge or two in here somewhere, as the layers get peeled back. Presumably, that's a heavier sentence than simple tax evasion?
A.L. in Highland Park, NJ, writes: The Trump's-in-trouble-this-time-for-sure crowd is at it again. They are about to be disappointed.
The arguments seem to be that Weisselberg will flip to avoid prison, and implicate higher-ups including Trump. And also that the Trump Organization being indicted is bad, bad news because big loans are due and no one will lend to an indicted company.
I predict that Weisselberg will not flip. There will be some fines, maybe probation. His age (73) and lack of previous felonies will play into it. He will pay the fines without much trouble. He will keep his mouth shut.
I also predict that the Trump Organization will be found guilty and pay some fine. They will come up with the money easily. They will also be able to refinance the loans when they come due. Maybe there will be some assets (in Moscow?) that will fetch a suspiciously handsome price, if they feel the need to explain.
It should be clear that Trump is still of high value to the Kremlin. He has 70+ million American followers. He has turned them from rabidly anti-USSR Reaganites obsessed over Red-Dawn-type scenarios into pro-Russia anti-NATO apparatchiks. A few tens of million dollars is a bargain for an asset like this.
Politically, none of this will have the least bit of influence on anything. Maybe Weisselberg's daughter-in-law will get custody of the kids.
R.G. in Alexandria, VA, writes: In honor of Mel Brooks' 95th birthday this past week, I found the actual security footage of Allen Weisselberg's arrest:
V & Z respond: Except that in that movie, the sleazy businessmen are willing to partner with Nazis, whereas the Trumps...oh, wait...
A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Given The Donald's history of sexual assault, the rather menacing-sounding name GETTR is entirely keeping with his brand. All that's missing is an exclamation point to really get the message across.
M.L. in Athens, OH, writes: Jason Miller should have just gone ahead and labeled his antisocial app GRIFTR. At least then he would've been honest for once in his life.
B.K. in Washington County, NY, writes: It strikes me that GETTR will soon end up in the GUTTR, though perhaps that was the subliminal goal of its founders in the first place.
V & Z respond: It is already an absolute train wreck. (Z) signed up for an account in order to be able to write up our item on the platform, and the content is roughly 30% stuff imported by Miller & Co. from Twitter to make it look like GETTR has actual content, 30% stuff from people trying to make a mockery of the site by posting anti-Trump memes and messages like "Who is here to meet gay men?," 25% porn, 15% racist stuff, and 15% conspiracy theories. Why does that add up to more than 100%? Because many things are in multiple categories.
M.C., Oak Ridge, TN, writes: You wrote: "Mental illness shouldn't be a consideration for voters..."
Mental illness that can be managed or otherwise accommodated despite the stresses and demands of high office ought not be a consideration. However, if mental illness could compromise the ability of a politician to handle complex, high-stakes matters for their constituents then surely it should be a consideration, hence some of the reasonable concern about President Trump's true state of mind.
S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: So let me get this right. Republicans say the January 6th Insurrection wasn't much more than a typical day of tourists. The very same Republicans now don't want to serve on the Select Committee on the January 6th Insurrection because they fear for the safety of themselves and families from those very same "tourists."
V & Z respond: It would appear that a foolish inconsistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Sorry, Ralph Waldo Emerson, you had it backwards.
M.A.K. in London, England, UK, writes: In response to the item "Trumpers Want More Arizona-style 'Audits'": The idea of publishing the names and addresses of everyone who voted is interesting, but there is one massive flaw. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who have very good reasons to want to keep a low profile. By far the biggest proportion of these people are women who have left abusive relationships. It is literally impossible to underestimate the lengths that abusive men are capable of going to in order to track down someone who leaves them. Publishing their names and addresses directly puts these women in danger of being murdered.
A.B. in Reston, VA, writes: I've been actively involved advocating for improved election equipment, laws and processes for almost two decades. Although well intentioned, your proposal to print a sheet for voters to prove how they voted is fatally flawed.
Since the late 19th century, most U.S. elections use a secret ballot. In Virginia, the secret ballot is even required by our state constitution. Imagine the types of abuses that become possible when if voters can demonstrate how they voted. Candidates could (and would) pay for votes. Abusive spouses, domineering bosses, employers, church and union leaders could all demand proof that voters followed their instructions. Using a random number instead of a name only slightly lessens the damage such an approach allows.
The purpose of a secret ballot is to protect the state's interest that the election reflect the voter's true intent. People are certain/y free to state whatever they like about how they voted, but if they could actually prove to another party how they voted, it would seriously undermine the integrity of the election. You can imagine how the pressure to vote in public could affect some people's choices.
As much as your proposed solution sounds reasonable on the surface, the best voting system available today is to use precinct-based optical-scan paper ballots, along with risk-limiting post-election audits to check the accuracy of the results. If you are interested in learning more about voting technology or meaningful audits, I recommend reading the excellent resources at Verified Voting's website.
C.D. in Buffalo, NY, writes: I've got to say that I bristled, to put it mildly, at the last sentence of your segment "Trumpers Want More Arizona-style 'Audits.'": "And even this simple one would go a long way to improving public trust in elections."
The only reason there is any public mistrust in elections to be discussed is because the former president has fomented it and the media and politicians have given it oxygen! We need to stop giving these lunatic ravings any credibility. There is no "both sides" on this issue. There's reality and then there's a sore loser throwing a tantrum. Elections don't need to be "fixed." Voter fraud isn't a thing.
If we want to improve public trust in elections we need to not accept this self-serving premise and leave the ex-President to bluster to an increasingly disinterested public like Fredric March's Matthew Harrison Brady at the end of "Inherit The Wind."
S.Z. in New Haven, CT, writes: On Thursday, you said "This simple scheme is not perfect, but better (and more complicated) schemes also exist. And even this simple one would go a long way to improving public trust in elections."
I disagree. There are three kinds of people:
- Low-information people who do not care will be unaffected by your proposed changes, so public trust will not be impacted at all.
- Rational people who understand the current state of our elections already know that the election results are trustworthy, so additional trust-building features will not affect them.
- Irrational people who are not convinced by 64 separate court cases finding that proof of fraud claimed by the GOP does not exist in the real world will not be affected by additional evidence of the facts.
You can't cure crazy, and non-crazy people do not require additional proof.
A.G. in Fairfax, VA, writes: Amusing, indeed. In your July 1st column, you spell out some recommendations about making elections more secure. I had a healthy dose of chuckle when seeing your choice of "random" numbers:Precinct Race Choice Random number 6231 President Joe Biden 314159265358 6231 Senate Mark Kelly 271828182845
Pi and e never looked more glamorous!
P.J.S. in Monterey, CA, writes: I kind of geeked out here, but I thought, or rather I hoped, that you might find it interesting.
Bottom-line-up-front: If the values associated with each voter's validation sheet were truly random, then 12 digits wouldn't be adequate to avoid risk of having duplicate validation values within a given precinct.
The odds of someone else duplicating any particular number are tiny, but the birthday problem tells us that with a pool size of 1012 possible values, random subsets of a million voters or more will contain duplicates with high probability. In other words, duplicate validation codes would almost certainly occur within many states, or even within voting districts. I got curious about how likely this would be down at the precinct level, and dashed off a quick Ruby script to do the calculations. While the calculations are exact, this is a first order approximation because precincts are not all the same size. I went with an average precinct size of 800, which I found in a paper online. With the 2020 electorate having approximately 155 million voters, the number of precincts involved and the logic of the birthday problem turn the very rare likelihood of duplicate validation codes within a precinct into the surprising overall probability of 0.06 that there will be at least one precinct with one or more duplicates. If this scheme is used once, there's a non-negligible chance of seeing duplicates within some precinct, and if used repeatedly, duplicates will occur in the long run.
Most voters don't know enough about probability to understand that the existence of duplicate codes is not an indication of shenanigans, so people trying to stir up the pot and sow doubts about election integrity would be pounding on this non-stop. My point is not that your scheme can't be made workable, but that 12-digit validation codes aren't up to the task.
Alternatively, if deterministic pseudo-random algorithms are used to generate the validation keys, they can be constructed to be unique. However, this would require massive coordination across all the voting machines and creates its own set of potential problems. What if election officials misconfigure the seeding process, or forget to do it (as they did this past week when they forgot to zero out the New York ranked voting tallies after testing)? Will voters trust that seeding the validation algorithm won't be used to somehow alter the vote tallies? It also opens up the possibility of somebody reverse engineering the pseudo-random algorithm so that votes were no longer anonymous.
I agree that the software should be open sourced, but that won't cancel out the trust issues given that most people can't read programs, and only a small percentage of those who can will do so. That puts us back in the realm of dueling experts, and sadly, the tendency these days is for people to believe the "expert" who confirms their preconceptions.
S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: On the topic of implementing voting machines on off-the-shelf PC hardware and open source software: For the love of democracy, don't base the system on a drafty, breakable, commercial operating system! Use something Unix-like; I read that there's a lightweight *nix OS called MINIX that's "designed to be much more reliable and secure than standard operating systems."
V & Z respond: Dunno. MINIX was reportedly developed by a resident of The Netherlands, a.k.a. "The Canada of Europe." Could be risky.
G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: Your item "Voting Machines Are Black Boxes--and So is the Entire Voting Industry" supports a speculation I've had regarding invalidating voting machines with "audits" such as the Arizona Cyber Ninja effort. It seems plausible that invalidating the machines wasn't an unintended consequence, it was part of the plan. They hand the machines over to the Cyber Ninjas who promptly break the seals and render the machines unusable for future elections, then the Republican legislature/governor can say, "Gosh, it turns out we only have enough funds for half as many machines as previously served those counties." The counties that voted for Democrats in 2020 will then have half as many voting machines in 2022 and beyond, thus drastically increasing the waiting time to vote.
I had dismissed this speculation, because I figured the spending on the machines would be public information, and the Republicans would have to explain why they weren't able to find the funds. Your item shows that there is so much secrecy in the purchase of voting machines that the Republicans can pick any number of voting machines to buy such that they get the desired wait times and no one can prove whether the state could afford to buy more machines. Perhaps I'm being generous to suspect that these political operatives are clever, as opposed to being too stupid to realize in advance they were wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on voting machines. It seems awkward that the only options available for interpreting political leadership actions are "insidious" or "grossly incompetent."
M.W. in Turnwater, WA, writes: I was a legal observer for many years, including both in person and mail-in elections in Washington, and one in Wisconsin. Republicans don't add votes, they subtract votes. They prevent votes from being cast; they turn away voters at the polls; they give voters wrong information; they don't count provisional ballots; they lose votes by leaving them in a closet or the trunk of a car. It's easy, and I've seen it done in Washington State in a manner that affected thousands of votes. Lawyers know it is nearly impossible to bring a case involving missing votes, because there is no evidence! That is how it is done.
It's a Bit Taxing
D.B from Jersey City, NJ, writes: I'm always excited when you bring up international taxation because it means I have something to add! I wanted to provide some clarity on the way the global tax is expected to work. As you note, there are not a lot of details yet, but previous OECD BEPS and US tax proposals (such as the recent SHIELD proposal in the Biden Green Book) have added that payments to jurisdictions that do not meet the minimum tax would not be allowed as a deduction in local countries. So currently, if France makes a royalty payment to Ireland, there is tax arbitrage between the approximately 30% French CIT rate and the 12.5% Irish rate. With the (hypothetical) new rules, France would deny a deduction for the royalty payment, greatly increasing the effective tax rate. Similar rules already exist around the world for hybrid payments (payments that create multiple deductions due to different tax treatments in different jurisdictions or create a deduction in one jurisdiction but no inclusion in another), so there is a framework to do this.
V & Z respond: It's not every reader who gets excited when we write an item about international taxation.
L.S. in Warsaw, IN, writes: The voters will notice...
- If the Democrats frame the 15% "worldwide" minimum tax as a giant bulldozer sent to level the playing field for workers who are being hurt by the quest for the lowest cost of both labor and taxes, they will understand. It can be presented as the NAFTA antidote.
- It has the potential to reduce a major incentive for corporations to utilize tax-havens.
- It supports "American Jobs" initiatives, no matter how they have been framed.
- It provides revenue currently lost by the tax dodgers hosts.
- If the agreement creates an opportunity/expectation for corporations to consider moving their operations "home." It may also spawn a movement of honor among thieves, but perhaps not.
D.R. in Portland, OR, writes: As a Christian whose upbringing was fairly evangelical and who now would proudly claim the description "progressive Christian," I would like to pick up on the last point made by M.R. in Acton: "It just frustrates me that reactionary understandings (which I would characterize as misunderstandings) of the Bible often get most of the attention. For many of us, Scripture is the motivating factor in our work on behalf of progressive ideals."
I would add these five points:
- The mainstream media have pretty much given up on religion. There seems to be no real attempt to understand the role that faith, and a religious worldview, have on how many people look at issues. They only mention religion when it appears in its most extreme manifestations.
- This lack of attention to religion is a major part of why many folks consider the mainstream media "too liberal" and why they feel more at home with Fox and its ilk.
- Fox and other right-wing media cover religion, but exclusively from the perspective of white evangelicals.
- All of this leaves the typical American with the impression that Christianity is synonymous with the religious nationalism on the far right.
- So this abdication of responsibility by the mainstream press serves to amplify the voices on the religious right, while ignoring the voices on the religious left. There are many Americans—Christian, Jewish, Muslim and others—who believe our scriptures are about liberation, peace and hope for the oppressed, not fear and exclusion. We need to hear their voices.
A fair and balanced understanding of the role religion plays in our culture and politics—on the left and the right—is critical to our national discourse.
S.M. in New London, CT, writes: If you are getting a lot of flak about your crucifixion joke and you're "feeling in the dumps," just remember to always look on the bright side of life.
V & Z respond: Anyone who makes that joke is a very naughty boy (or girl).
J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: As a follower of Christ, I absolutely adore the canonical fifth Gospel, the Life of Brian. However, if we're going to do satire, it should be satire of reality, not a strawman.
P.J. of East Haddam described the origins and history of Christianity in a satirical manner, but missed a few things. The man didn't grow up thinking his real father was a god. He believed that he, that man, was God. No one goes around calling themselves "I Am" and "Son of Man" in that culture without understanding the clear references to divinity—as did his detractors. Thus, when he describes himself as a "Mother Hen," he is also referencing the Biblical name of YHWH, el Shaddai, which can mean "the Breasted One." In the second Genesis Myth, "male and female" are created in God's image. Although God is most commonly referred to as a male in a patriarchal culture, there are also regular and clear references to Her being female, and more than male and female.
Lastly, it does great disservice to Mary by dismissing her as "pregnant without her prior consent"—when the words of her magnificat are a profound clarion call to support the oppressed, which she is thrilled to be part of—and which P.J. also (rightly) cares about. To deny she said (something like) those words, or that she was not a willing participant, is a denial of her agency.
R.L.D. in Austin, TX, writes: P.J. in East Haddam is definitely wrong about one thing: In the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Mary definitely gives consent to be impregnated. I can't quibble with the rest of the comment, and it is true the angel doesn't really ask (at least, not in the usual English translations). But the text is clear, she does agree to the plan.
D.H. in Pueblo, CO, writes: I wanted to thank T.L. from San Francisco for recommending Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, and add my recommendation.
While I can't do justice to Haidt's work in a short space, here is a brief introduction. In the book, he discusses his research on Moral Foundations theory, arguing that while human moral rules vary dramatically across different human cultures, we nonetheless tend to see six basic moral foundations:
- Care: Caring for children, family, sick, needy, etc.
- Fairness: People receiving their fair share of what their family, tribe, and society produce.
- Loyalty: Loyalty to your family, tribe, people, and nation.
- Sanctity: Avoiding behaviors, foods, and areas considered unclean.
- Liberty: Prevention of unjust oppression and control.
- Respect: Respect for authority, be it a king, religious leader, president, governor, law enforcement, etc.
Haidt discusses how each of these moral foundations was likely necessary for humans to band together into larger and larger groups, and to develop larger cultures. He discusses how morals built on these foundations allow groups of people to combine together to act as super organisms, describing humans as having a balance between selfish behavior and group-serving behavior. He talks about how humans build communities based on shared morals, and how those morals bind the community together and blinds the members to any fundamental problems with their core shared morals (yes, this applies to both the left and the right). He explores how different cultures emphasize these six foundations to differing degrees, and how they can lead to both very good and truly horrid results.
Turning to history, Haidt argues that Enlightenment thinking made a major break from prior norms by heavily emphasizing the care, fairness, and liberty foundations while minimizing loyalty, respect for authority, and sanctity. This resulted in western thinking and cultures differing dramatically from other cultures. He then explores how the political left focuses on the care and fairness moral foundations, to the exclusion of others. But the right, at least in their messaging, includes all six, in his view. Additionally, the left understands fairness as "everybody getting an equal share," while the right understands it as "everybody getting the just result of the effort they put in." Haidt asserts that the left worries almost exclusively about the individual, while the right frequently worries about social structures (e.g. families, churches, etc). He discusses the tendency of the left to bemoan how so many on the right vote against their self-interest, and resolves this issue by arguing that the problem is with seeing people as inherently selfish and assuming voters want to vote in a simple self-interested way. He finds that voters frequently sacrifice their self-interest to vote in the interest of whatever groups they identify with, be it party, church, race, or something else.
While my argumentative side finds plenty of points to quibble with, and sometimes wants information on the replicability of cited studies, I think Haidt's core thesis is solid. I found it to be a very insightful analysis as to why good people end up on polar opposite ends of the political spectrum. If you already believe the other side as irredeemably evil you will probably hate the book. But if you are genuinely interested in understanding the other side this book is well worth a try.
I also want to recommend "The Story of Us" on WaitButWhy.
Author Tim Urban starts with human evolution and the balance between instinct and emotion vs. rational thought, and the tendency of humans to form into groups that are effectively super-organisms. He discusses how conversations and sharing of ideas within a society interact to form a group opinion, and how control of speech impacts a society. From there he explores how the Internet groups people into echo chambers (yes, this includes you and me). They come to identify as a distinct subgroup, each with its own radical opinions, which leads to conflict with other such groups. After all, those of us in the electoral-vote.com tribe, clearly know better than everybody else and they should shut up and bow before our superior knowledge (sorry, my sarcasm got out of hand). Urban then explores how this is starting to drive the people of the United States further and further apart.
A bit of a long read, and you really should start at the beginning and read through, but also worthwhile to those trying to understand just what is going on.
Hooked on E-V.com
J.T. in Marietta, GA, writes: S.T. in Philadelphia makes a number of unsubstantiated claims about male sex workers while criticizing you for your joke about "Tucker Carlson, Male Prostitute." S.T. asserts—without evidence—that "most" people having sex for money are "victims" and that "very few ... choose the sex trade of their own completely unfettered free will." This simply parrots the conventional wisdom of both an outspoken group of feminist critics of pornography and their arch-conservative allies.
I would invite S.T. to provide any statistics or evidence in support of this assertion. I've studied the sex industry and pornography for many years, and have never found any sound evidence for such claims, despite their prevalence in popular culture. In fact, the contemporary sex industry allows sex workers a degree of independence and self-determination never before seen. Certainly exploitation and trafficking do take place, but nowhere near on the scale described by S.T. (And the idea of Tucker Carlson as a prostitute is indeed hysterical—and recent revelations would suggest it's appropriate, at least figuratively.)
More on Critical Race Theory
J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I hope the Critical Race Theory (CRT) skeptics in your readership are paying close attention to this week's SCOTUS decisions on voting rights. Brmovich v. DNC is a textbook example of "systemic racism," the very thing that CRT was developed in order to identify and critique. Systemic racism is a term to describe systems that do not use racist terms or operate in overtly racist ways, but that nevertheless have a racially disparate impact. An obvious example of this would be something like the wildly different sentencing guidelines for cocaine (largely used by white folks) related offenses vs. crack (largely used by Black folks) related offenses.
Alito's decision in Brmovich, in essence, appears to give assent to systemic racism, giving states the go-ahead to enact voting policies that have a disparate racial impact as long as they don't say that's what they're doing. One imagines we'll see states move to do things like close down polling places for "budget reasons," and that those polling places will tend to be in counties where there are high percentages of people of color. Under the Alito Doctrine, this will be okay because the state ostensibly did it to save money even though it is clearly discriminatory in its effect.
Critical race theory emerged to point out that stuff like this exists. Critical race theory exists and continues to be a vital part of scholarly thought because stuff like this still exists.
P.S. in Gloucester, MA, writes: Last week—in response to the chronologically-ordered list of incidents of racial violence against Black communities that you posted in response to a question from D.E. in Lancaster—I wrote about how much more effective I think education about such incidents is when illustrated by the stories of tangible individuals.
I think the same is likely true of educating people about systemic racism—"critical race theory". I'd like to quote an explanation of the latter that I think does this, from David Honig, adjunct faculty at Indiana University Law School (by way of Facebook):There's a lot of talk about Critical Race Theory, from the theoretical to the hyperbolic.
Please allow me to put it in a relatively simple context, with examples that flow from our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our immediate families.
Imagine, please, two men who served on the same aircraft carrier in World War II, one white and one Black.
After the war, they both came home. The white man went to college on the GI Bill, and graduated with a degree in accounting. The Black man was excluded from GI education benefits, so he went to work as a laborer.
The white man bought a home in one of the new Levittown suburbs, which were white only, and his loan was funded with a very inexpensive FHA loan. The Black man wasn't eligible for an FHA loan. He rented a house and saved as much as he could.
The white man, after a few years, had enough equity in his house to buy a new, bigger house. The Black man took several more years to buy a small home in the Black business and residential community downtown. Soon after he bought, an interstate highway was built through downtown, right through the middle of the Black man's neighborhood. Property values dropped to almost zero, and the lead build-up from car fumes, though he didn't know it, was damaging his young children's brains.
60 years after coming home from the war, the Black man's net worth was approximately 6% of the white man's. He couldn't fund his children's education through a second mortgage, because he had no equity. And when he died, he left his children and grandchildren with nothing but debt. The white man, who died just a few days later, left his children and grandchildren with enough money to pay off all the kids' debts and to pay for college for the grandchildren.
The difference was driven entirely by official U.S. government policy, and those who benefited from it continue to benefit from it today. Those who suffered from it continue to suffer from it today.
That's CRT. It says official racism in this country had a negative effect on those it targeted, and those effects continue to today.
My father and father-in-law were both teens when they arrived in the U.S. as refugees from Nazi Europe, and they were both drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. My father earned his Ph.D. and began his career as an English professor thanks to the GI Bill. My father-in-law was able to buy the house in which my wife's family was raised, thanks to a VA/FHA loan. My wife and I both grew up middle-class as a result. We were and are the beneficiaries of privilege, because the same opportunities available to our fathers were denied to veterans of color.
I think Honig's illustration suggests a practical, wealth-building (partial) form of reparations that makes sense: extend GI Bill benefits and access to VA/FHA loans to the descendants of veterans who were excluded from them.
R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT , writes: In response to C.B. in Fort Wayne: First of all, there is no society in which everyone is completely equal because it is impossible to create equality of outcomes. It has been attempted by Marxists in other countries, but it failed and it becomes authoritarian in practice. Perhaps I wasn't originally clear but I was referring to equality as defined by the Bill of Rights. For example, I have just as much of a right to speak my mind about something as Bill Gates does, even though he is far more wealthy and influential than I am.
Furthermore, in no comments I've made on this site have I ever advocated sweeping racial discrimination and abuses under the rug. I am well aware they exist and that our country needs reforms to help rectify the problem. My main point was that CRT is illiberal and it shouldn't be a basis for lawmaking or decision-making in a liberal democracy. The book (Z) cited even openly admits the theory rejects the foundations of the liberal order. And I can tell from C.B.'s dismissive comments about liberalism they think it is lacking. As Ibram Kendi teaches, an antiracist cannot exist with a liberalism that perpetuates racism, so it is always the liberalism that must be dismissed.
Some of the most important fundamental principles of liberalism are: a commitment to free speech and press, an open exchange of ideas (even distasteful ones), decision-making based on facts and reason over superstition, and the value of individual human rights over groups or tribal identities. I believe most Americans want to maintain these principles.
I support changing laws to make the country fairer—but only within a liberal system that sees the individual and equality as foundations. There are many policies we could liberalize to make the country more just. Drug decriminalization would go a long way. The United States has only about 5% of the world's population but about 22% of its prisoners. A high percentage of these prison sentences are for drug-related offenses. About 31 million Americans have been arrested for drug offenses, which is about 1 in 10 Americans. These laws disproportionately impact the poor and racial minorities. If drugs were punished with civil fines instead of imprisonment it would greatly reduce the prison population and give more people a chance to live without a criminal record.
O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, writes: I am sure there will be many responses to the comment from R.T. in Arlington, but it doesn't appear to me that they are talking about Critical Race Theory. R.T. appears to be upset (or was upset) due to some sort of affirmative action program whereby a minority or female was chosen for a job over him. This may, of course, have occurred. But I would invite R.T. to read this study, where researchers sent out 5,000 job applications that were identical except some had a "black-sounding" name like Lakisha or Deshawn, and the others had a "neutral" name like Kathy or Dennis. The applications/résumés with non-black-sounding names "received 50 percent more callbacks for interviews." So while I am very happy that R.T. made peace with their experience, the 31% "minority" (presumably white males) that R.T. is a part of needs no advocates because white people still get preferential treatment from hiring managers. (The study cited above has been replicated many times.) Also, this 31% cohort has plenty of advocates—such advocates go by the initials G.O.P. (but for them to be really advocating for you, you have to be rich as well).
D.B.Y. in White Lake, MI, writes: I worked during the same time frame as R.T., and usually for every five promotions offered there were three for "Us" and two for the "Others." My goal was to be at least the third-best white guy, not the fifth-best candidate for the new job. If I didn't get the position, it was just a reason to improve my networking and other skills for the next one. I retired at about the level I desired.
A.N. in Memphis, TN, writes: My thanks to R.T. from Arlington for shining a light on the disregarded plight of white men. My own experience is uncannily similar to RT's—almost. I have never had to apply for a competitive job, but I did lose my dream yacht because the workers at my dad's company demanded a $1/hour raise during the pandemic. Surely, this gives me insight into R.T.'s feelings when others were deemed more qualified for a dream job, or Elijah McClain's feelings when others were deemed more qualified to keep breathing.
Yes, I am a member of the 1% of Americans that everyone is free to ridicule, blame for their troubles, and label as oppressors. We can't even force them not to ridicule us anymore! I take some comfort in remembering that my race, gender, and family fortune are things that happened to me; I had no control over that. We are all so much more alike than different. If only we valued inclusion in lieu of diversity—white men's inclusion, of course—how much better things would be for all of me.
Like R.T., I feel I have no advocates. I am relentlessly buffeted by the refusal of minorities to accept my entitlement. Worst of all, my demographic is not even allowed to complain about this fair treatment: I expect I shall be arrested soon after this is published.
V & Z respond: Indeed, we've already turned your information over to the CRT PD. Of course, that force is made up entirely of law professors dressed in tweed suits, so it could be a while before they get to you.
Presidential Ranks and Rank Presidents
L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: It's not "presentist" to judge past presidents harshly based on their ownership of slaves or support for the institution of slavery. Maybe presentism shouldn't be applied to the ancient Romans who owned slaves, but before the United States was founded, there was a lively debate over slavery. Even the Constitution required the "three-fifths compromise" to convince the slave states that the free states wouldn't outvote them and end the institution. Every president from the beginning made a conscious choice to support or oppose slavery, and the slave owners shouldn't get a moral pass just because slavery was legal or "accepted" when they were alive.
D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: You wrote: "We really don't understand how two guys who served well less than a year can be so far apart in the rankings (26th place tie for Garfield, 39th place for Harrison)."
Well, Garfield was assassinated for not hiring someone who felt "entitled" to a job based on political support, so at some level he died trying to preserve honest government. Sort of the opposite of Joe Biden's predecessor. Ol' Tippecanoe died because he didn't know enough to come out of a freezing rain and was willing to subject his listeners to the same hazard while blathering on endlessly. He was our first presidential public health menace. Remind you of anyone?
A.J. in Baltimore, MD, writes: As to the discrepancy in rankings between William Henry Harrison and James Garfield, I wonder if that may be partially attributable to the way they died. There's an age-old perception that Harrison hastened his demise by delivering the longest inaugural address in American history in freezing cold weather. Even if that doesn't really square with modern germ theory, I wonder if that sense is still affecting perceptions of Harrison in a subconscious way.
By contrast, I dare say all presidents who were assassinated (like Garfield) have gotten a boost to their reputations due to the martyr effect.
J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: While I know little about the presidency of William Henry Harrison, the one thing I know about the Garfield presidency is that he campaigned hard for civil service reform and to end the "spoils system" and ensure the growing postwar bureaucracy was staffed by people who were well-qualified and not just well-connected. As I understand it, Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes before him sought to do the same and met with little success. President Garfield's assassination galvanized support for the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which was signed into law by his successor Chester A. Arthur. Arthur cannot be assumed to be a rubber stamp in this case, as he'd been personally targeted by Hayes in his crusade for civil service reform and had long been associated with reform opponent Roscoe Conkling. One might deduce that Arthur felt compelled to support the bill because to not do would have been an affront to the legacy of Garfield.
While it's not a flashy issue today, the professional civil service is a cornerstone of U.S. governance and Garfield was instrumental in institutionalizing it. That certainly seems to merit inclusion in the presidential rankings. Indeed, he seems to have accomplished more in his six months than others did in two full terms! Reading on him, he also seems like he was a very nice guy and an honest straight-shooter by the standards of his day.
R.H. in Middleton, MA, writes: I was in high school during the Watergate impeachment proceedings and our US history teacher was a crusty old conservative who thought they were ridiculous because every President had done something for which a hostile Congress could have impeached him. He went through them all: Jefferson, for example, exceeded his authority when he made the Louisiana Purchase, Jackson defied the Supreme Court, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, etc. And I have no doubt that Mr. Scotland would find all subsequent Presidents guilty of an impeachable offense. But he said that William Henry Harrison, alone among all our Presidents, never committed an impeachable offense. By that measure, he should be ranked as our greatest President.
S.R. in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, writes: As a proud alumnus of Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, I've been anxiously awaiting the new presidential rankings, only to suffer the disappointment of not having Donald Trump displace James Buchanan on the bottom spot. Dickinson has many claims to fame for a small liberal arts college: the first chartered in the new United States (in 1783); it was named after John Dickinson, the villain of the musical "1776"; George Washington mustered his troops to put down the Whiskey Rebellion about twenty-five feet from my senior-year dorm room; elements of the Confederate Army bivouacked on the main quad on their way to Gettysburg; Jennifer Ringley became the world's first "lifecaster" by streaming her daily life in her dorm, presaging many Internet and reality-TV trends.
But I digress, another of Dickinson's claims to fame is as James Buchanan's alma mater. His larger-than-life portrait graces the main stairwell of the college library:
I long hoped that Donald Trump would help remove the blight of Dickinson being the place where the lowest-ranked U.S. President received his education. Alas, I guess I'll need to wait for future surveys and hope that Trump's estimation drops even further over time. Perhaps after he instigates a second civil war in the next few years...
R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Yet another issue that makes President Wilson a tough grade: the Supreme Court. Pro: Louis Brandeis; Big Con: James Clark McReynolds.
V & Z respond: As was the case more often than you might think back then, Wilson put McReynolds, then the Attorney General, on the Court to rid himself of a perpetual annoyance. Same thing with Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase.
P.C. in Schaumburg, IL, writes: Seriously? You answer a question about how LBJ's presidential rating was lower because he was ugly? Have you ever heard of the Vietnam war? A crushing event that is (correctly or incorrectly) attributed to LBJ. Perhaps that might just have more to do with his rating than his lack of meaningful sound bites. Come back to reality, the water is fine.
V & Z respond: If you go back and look, you will see the question did not ask us why LBJ is rated where he is, but instead why he seems to be nearly forgotten. Also, Johnson didn't start the war. He inherited it and knew little about foreign policy so he was soon in way over his head.
M.W. in Glendale, AZ, writes: In your response to B.C.'s question regarding President Lyndon Johnson, you wrote "All LBJ did was lobby for and sign the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act." I think this sells him a bit short. He also lobbied for and signed the bills creating Medicare and Medicaid, among other things. He had a very positive domestic policy. I think what keeps him out of the top 10 was his expansion of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
M.B. in San Antonio, TX, writes: You wrote: "Reagan...has some obvious cons (enabled the religious right, botched AIDS and the 'War on Drugs,' laid the groundwork for a vicious recession, Iran-Contra Scandal)."
I know this was not meant as a comprehensive critique of Reagan's performance, but the most lasting and pernicious effect of his presidency was laying the groundwork for the enormous income and wealth inequality that we are currently experiencing. His policies resulted in a forty-year-long destruction of the middle class (which had thrived for the previous four decades), and ensured the advent of the new gilded age that we now live in.
S.H. in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, writes: There are about 20 responses I have to this week's Q&A, but I wanted to point out an aspect of Bush 43's presidential résumé that I have never seen mentioned but I encounter all the time in my work as an infectious disease physician working in Africa: PEPFAR. That program was, from everything I have read, entirely of Bush's initiative, and I can tell you from personal experience has had an enormous impact on the lives of millions of Africans. According to the State Department, the number of lives saved by PEPFAR is somewhere in the range of 20 million, and even if that number is an overestimate, the true number is still in the multiple millions.
I wouldn't vote for the man on a cold day in hell (and didn't, twice), but still I think he deserves more credit for this accomplishment that nobody seems to be aware of. And to that, we can add that the Bush administration did develop a pandemic plan for precisely the kind of event that COVID has been, and again this came straight from Bush himself after he had read John Barry's The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. This prompted Bush to create a special White House task force to have a plan in place. Michael Lewis documents this at length in his new book The Premonition: A Pandemic Story. So on the public health front, both in domestic and international terms, he's in a very select class (Lyndon Johnson of Medicare fame leaps to mind; there are a few others).
V & Z respond: We are gratified by the first part of your first sentence; the purpose of the Q&A is to give readers some things to think about.
F.D. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: Actually, I believe that Donald Trump is the second-best president we have ever had. All of the others are tied for first.
V & Z respond: Similarly, (Z) is on a decade-plus run of finishing in a second-place tie for the title of People's "sexiest man alive."
C.B. in South Bend, IN, writes: Your Q&A about presidential rankings caused an ear worm that I just had to cure by listening to this song by Jonathan Coulton:
Even though it only goes up to George W. (I wonder if Coulton would be willing to update the song), it still nicely encapsulates all of the presidents up to that year in Coulton's typically smart and funny style. If you've never listened, enjoy!
V & Z respond: There's also this video for folks who want to understand exactly why George Washington is #2. Though readers should note that both videos are PG-13.
Other Historical Matters
P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: I laughed at your response to B.K. in Bath. When they asked (Z) to say something nice about Shelby Foote, the very first thing I thought of was Foote's lovely, lovely voice. Being more interested in the social and political history of the Civil War—military, not so much—I have read only the first volume of Foote's "narrative." I found his writing to be engaging but the lack of footnotes was a bridge too far for me.
T.J. in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, writes: R.L. from Alameda, CA, asked how soon after Joseph McCarthy's demise before he became universally reviled. Arguably, he never became universally reviled, and in the past decade there have been a shocking number of attempts to rehabilitate his image by some Republicans. For example, in 2010 conservative activists in Texas started rewriting the state's textbooks to teach students that McCarthy's outlandish lies have been vindicated by history. Fifty years from now, the Texas State Board of Education may require students to be taught that there was, in fact, a Jewish Space Laser...
H.M. in East Lansing, MI, writes: Right now, I am about halfway through Larry Tye's biography of Joe McCarthy, Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy. It was published on July 7, 2020, in order to draw a timeline from McCarthyism to Trumpism. One of the most interesting connections is that McCarthy's chief Senate counsel, Roy Cohn, was McCarthy's protégé and Trump's mentor.
That said, I think that comparing McCarthy to Trump does a disservice to McCarthy. He started out as a dirt-poor chicken farmer who legitimately put himself through high school in one year, put himself through college/law school in three years, and then did in fact serve in a front-line capacity during World War II. I think that what brought McCarthy down was his alcoholism, and because Trump is a non-drinker, he has been better able to control his own worst impulses. On the other hand, McCarthy rose to prominence in national politics in his early 40s while Trump did not do so until his 70s. Therefore, and actuarially speaking, Americans don't face as much of a long-term threat from Trump as they did from McCarthy in the 1950s.
Americans ultimately burned out on McCarthyism, despite the horrible complacency/cowardice of the Republican Party of the early 1950s. Sound familiar? I think that the same is happening right now with Trump.
S.F. in Chatham, NJ, writes: I grew up in Wilmington, NC, and was always told that the events of 1898 were a "race riot"—as in, Black residents rioting and burning their own neighborhoods. Only in more recent years, beginning with the centennial, has it accurately been characterized as what it really was: A violent insurrection in which white men used intimidation to suppress the black vote, then overthrew the democratically elected multiracial local government, then proceeded to terrorize the black community. In the process, they killed untold numbers of Black people and ran many more out of town, along with some whites deemed insufficiently supportive. What had been a thriving Black business community was decimated in a day, and the era of Jim Crow was ushered in.
Though we were lied to for decades about what really happened, the aftereffects were visceral, even to me, a white kid growing up in the 1980s. A Black middle or upper class was virtually nonexistent. The racial animosity was often palpable. The economic disparities between Black and white were jarring. The city has done a lot to reckon with its dark history, and many white residents have had to grapple with the roles their ancestors played in the Coup of 1898. But the stain is still there, and always will be.
For more on this subject, I recommend David Zucchino's Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy (which just won a Pulitzer) or John Sayles' A Moment in the Sun, which recounts global events at the turn of the 20th century through fictional characters and has a lot to say about the connection between imperialism and racism. His description of what happened in Wilmington is riveting and heartbreaking.
C.N. in St. Louis, MO, writes: I might have missed this, but I think you neglected to mention all of the horrible instances of organized violence against Chinese Americans throughout American history. Some notable examples are the massacre of Chinese miners in 1885 at Rock Springs, Wyoming or the Seattle anti-Chinese riot of 1886.
V & Z respond: We assume you are referring to the answer last week about anti-Black violence. (Z) is well aware of this history, and lives just a few miles from the site of the infamous Chinese massacre of 1871. Anyhow, as we noted, the piece was limited to just one ethnic group, so as to keep it semi-manageable (and even then, it still ran to more than 4,000 words).
N.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: Regarding the removal of statues from the House, and other similar moves: I think they've helped people to remember that people in Congress, or in other positions of power, can still be America's enemy.
That said, they should not be in a place if honor. They should be moved to a house of horrors section of the Smithsonian where they can stand side by side with statues of Osama bin laden, Adolf Hitler, and any other miscreants.
B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: Add Jubal Early, Confederate general and noted white supremacist, whose name adorned the White's Ferry boat going back and forth across the Potomac from Loudoun County, VA, to Poolesville, MD. It's a 5-minute cable ferry when it's running, but now with land and easement squabbles, they're not taking passengers. In the interim, while not running, Early's name has been gotten rid of and replaced with "Historic White's Ferry" on the boat.
J.E in Gilbertsville, PA, writes: In Wednesday's piece titled "The South Will Fall Again" you were incorrect when you wrote "As far as we know, there's no statue of Oliver Cromwell in the Palace of Westminster." There is actually a statue of Oliver Cromwell. We took a tour of the Houses of Parliament in 2011 and at one point in the tour they stop in front of a statue of Cromwell and extol his virtues and talk about how great he was for England. Period. I stood there in shock, looking back and forth at my fellow tourists. As an Irish American, I was horrified that this butcher's statue is both prominent and venerated. Never forgot the horror of it.
V & Z respond: We knew about the outdoor statue, and being right outside the building was close enough to being inside the building that we got many e-mail complaints. So we got rid of Cromwell and switched to a different example...
C.M. in West Hartford, CT, writes: As always, I enjoy reading your site every morning with my tea, but unfortunately it nearly choked me (the tea, that is) on Wednesday. As a student of French history, I can't believe you included Robespierre alongside Confederate figures who waged war against the United States and were owners of enslaved people. Although still controversial, Robespierre was part of a revolution that overthrew the monarchy and feudal system in France, hoping to expand rights for the average French citoyen. As long overdue revolutions often do, it went too far and became bloodthirsty, but with nowhere near the amount of dead in the Civil War (800,000 combat dead as compared to 16,594 official death sentences in France). Also, Robespierre abolished slavery in France and territories in 1794 (even though Napoleon brought it back in 1802). In France, opinions about Robespierre mostly break down along left/right political leanings. His excesses are well known, but today are understood in the context of hundreds of years of brutal oppression by the monarchy and powerful Church.
V & Z respond: ...and Robespierre was the replacement for Cromwell. We needed an exemplar that would be broadly recognizable, and that was not Adolf Hitler, because Hitler is too easy. We thought about Lenin, but the problem is that there's not only a statue of him on Red Square, his actual body is there, too.
E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: Not to diminish Jesse Owens' achievements, but Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were not particularly upset about him beating his Aryan opponents. That could be reconciled with Nazi race theory, as Hitler considered Black people to be like animals. He could hardly expect his supermen to outrun a horse or a cheetah.
On the other hand, Hitler would have been furious if a Jew had won a medal. USOC President Avery Brundage solved that problem for him, by inexplicably benching Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller from the gold-medal-winning relay team, just before the race.
B.C. in Huntsville, AL, writes: In Saturday's posting, you commented that "Ultimately, your question is just as difficult to answer as the one about the chicken and the egg." I have always been told that this question has been answered decisively. The answer is that the egg came first—the chicken is merely the egg's way of reproducing itself.
J.C. in Shawnee, OK, writes: Everyone has a cake and eats it. The proper form for expressing an impossible wish is "eat your cake and have it too." Incidentally, I corrected some other writer on the subject and was promptly informed the correct use of the expression was one of the clues that helped catch the Unabomber.
V & Z respond: As chance would have it, we write this blog from a remote, one-room cabin in Montana.
F.M. in Hatfield, PA, writes: On Saturday, you said you "don't usually use the Oxford comma"; risking pedantry, where I come from, them's fightin' words.
V & Z respond: Are you from...Oxford?
R.L.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: What, you don't use the Oxford comma? What a shock! Next, you're going to tell us that you prefer Pine Kirk instead, of, Shatner, Kirk!
D.L-O. in North Canaan, CT, writes: I laugh in your general direction. They are flotsam discarded in the junk pile of the Universe compared to the displacement-activated spore hub drive. Pfft! to traveling across space or time. I'll take the mycelial network route every time and get there before you can even push the "on" button on your Flux Capacitor or fire up your warp engine!
V & Z respond: We bet you prefer Pine Kirk, too.
R.H. in Seattle, WA, writes: In addition to some of the channels you suggested to tune out politics entirely; may I suggest the Game Show network.
V & Z respond: Perhaps you can tune in and catch "The Match Game," with Charles Nelson Reilly in the upper right seat, and wall-to-wall gay double entendres. And then, after that, "Hollywood Squares" hosted by Steve Harvey, with wall-to-wall straight double entendres. As we said, it's not easy...
T.B. in Santa Clara, CA, writes: I was born a couple years after "In the Summertime" came out, but I honestly am not sure if I've ever heard it (it sounded vaguely familiar). I looked it up after you pointed out it was the 3rd highest-selling physical single and promptly listened to it half a dozen times and might have to listen to it another dozen times before the day ends, as well as sharing it with my family.
The video is hilarious, the YouTube comments are hilarious, and the song is insanely catchy. Thanks for making my day and/or week!
V & Z respond: We aim to please.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul02 RIP Voting Rights Act, 1965-2021
Jul02 Pelosi Makes Her Picks for 1/6 Commission
Jul02 A Win for Biden (Not That Anyone Will Notice)
Jul02 Weisselberg Surrenders, TrumpWorld Spins
Jul02 At Least It's Not Just a Blog...
Jul02 It's a Date!
Jul02 New York City Releases Update on Mayoral Race
Jul01 Report: Trump Organization and Allen Weisselberg to Be Charged Today
Jul01 Trumpers Want More Arizona-style "Audits"
Jul01 Maricopa County Will Replace the Tainted Voting Machines
Jul01 Wisconsin Republicans Cower in Fear of Trump
Jul01 Select Committee to Investigate Insurrection Passes
Jul01 McConnell Now Has a Tough Choice to Make on Infrastructure
Jul01 Pelosi Pushes Back against McConnell on Infrastructure
Jul01 New Study Shows How Biden Won
Jul01 New Ranking of the Presidents--Trump Beats Pierce, Johnson, and Buchanan
Jun30 No News Is Bad News (for RCV)
Jun30 The South Will Fall Again
Jun30 Trump Says Herschel Walker Will Run for Senate in Georgia
Jun30 Whither Lisa Murkowski?
Jun30 A Famous Name Is Not Enough
Jun30 What Happens to Sh** Stirrers When There's No Sh** to Stir?
Jun30 A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Part I
Jun29 RuJoe's Drag Race
Jun29 Pelosi Spells Out Commission Details
Jun29 No Charges for Trump in New York?
Jun29 Maybe Trump Should Be Focused on Some Image Management
Jun29 Political Themes of the Olympics Are Emerging
Jun29 Arizona Audit Is Not Helping Trump
Jun28 Biden: I'll Sign Bipartisan Bill without Reconciliation Bill
Jun28 Donald Trump Wants to Make the 2022 Elections about ... Donald Trump
Jun28 Two States Undercut Secretaries of State for Not "Finding" Votes for Trump
Jun28 Dept. of Justice Sues Georgia over Voting Law
Jun28 Barr Dumps on Trump
Jun28 Axios: J.D. Vance Will Announce a Senate Run in Ohio This Week
Jun28 Democrats Have a Gerontocracy Problem
Jun28 Socialism Is Not a Bugaboo with Young Voters
Jun28 Voting Machines Are Black Boxes--and So is the Entire Voting Industry
Jun28 Former Alaska Democratic Senator Mike Gravel Dies
Jun27 Sunday Mailbag
Jun26 Saturday Q&A
Jun25 As the Infrastructure Turns
Jun25 Pelosi Makes It Official...
Jun25 ...As Does the New York Bar
Jun25 DeSantis Cements His Claim to the Trump Lane
Jun25 This Week's 2022 Candidacy News
Jun25 COVID Diaries: The Origin Story
Jun24 We Have a Deal, Part 29
Jun24 Supreme Court Justices Are Earning Their Paychecks