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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

Last week, M.G. in Boulder wrote in about how much coverage Donald Trump should get from us, and suggested other readers weigh in. We're going to start today with a few of those responses, followed by some other Trump-related comments. And on May 15, G.L. in New York City wrote in for advice about navigating a mixed-politics relationship. Several of those responses appear in the second section below; we'll run a few more next week.

TrumpWatch 2021

S.R. in Kansas City, MO, writes: I agree with M.G. in Boulder. I want to keep informed about "his" machinations. Should he decide to descend on another escalator, I don't want to be broadsided. I want to personally be there to vociferously object.

M.A. in New York, NY, writes: I don't feel in any way that relating relevant things Trump has said, or his many legal woes, is giving him a platform that enables him in a problematic way. I trust the (V)s and the (Z)s of the world to only write about events which are meaningful to the general political landscape—I consider your morning posts essentially a digest, with extremely informative opinions and context tacked on, and I've yet to come across a piece I found completely superfluous to this.

That said, I draw the line at listening to him actually speak. His voice and the ridiculous, idiotic, and occasionally unintelligible things he says with it make me want to plug up my ear canals with superglue, and hearing it is something I go out of my way to avoid. So while you may link to or embed the occasional video of him talking, I'll take a pass there.

That said, I remember feeling the same about George W., so maybe there's a trend appearing.

J.R. in Bellevue, OH, writes: I agree with M.G. about when the ex-President grifter deserves to be discussed—on your site or on any news platform. His idiocy and propaganda does not need to be addressed, but his legal issues and his control over the Republican Party are things that affect the U.S. ship of state.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: Friday's post was extremely Trump heavy (I felt like it was a very special episode of 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 all rolled into one). So, I want to take this moment to respond, since that some have of late in the Sunday Mailbag complained of mentions of the "Previous Guy." I read that CNN's Don Lemon is urging his fellow reporters to ignore that guy's "lounge act" so as to not give him power. Facebook also announced that [*****'*] account will be suspended for two years and then reevaluated to see if the he has amended his ways (presumably after they ban Santa Claus for publishing his naughty list). I could not disagree more. I fully believe that one of the reasons "He Who Should Not Be Named" won in 2016 was that so many news organizations did not take him and his followers seriously. Let us learn our lessons from Harry Potter, because for all that the wizarding world's insistence on not naming Voldemort, he came back anyway and in a bigly and not so pleasant way. So please, (V) and (Z), continue to shine the brightest white spotlight on the Mar-a-lago Clown in his Bronx Color Orange, exposing every jowl, raccoon eye and pudgy finger so all can laugh at the ridiculous figure he cuts. I agree with Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who consistently calls Trump a loser because that is the term Trump hates to be called/loves to use as an insult. No criminal ever disappeared by just ignoring them.

Incidentally, while looking up Kinzinger's name I discovered a fact that warmed my heart. In my first election, I voted for G. William Whitehurst (R) for U.S. Congress in VA-02. It was for one of his last few (of eight total) terms he held that seat. Rep. Whitehurst came to my senior year government class to give a lecture and I can say his lecture fed my love of politics. He is a good, decent man. Given that he is now 96 years old, I falsely assumed he had died in the intervening years and that I had missed the announcement. Instead, in 2016, Whitehurst had this to say: "Our party's nominee this year is a man who makes a mockery of the principles and values we have cherished and which we sought to represent in Congress." In 2020, Whitehurst, along with 23 Republican former lawmakers, endorsed Joe Biden for President! For all those who may see me as a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, they might be surprised to learn that I never regretted voting for Rep. Whitehurst and I would vote for him today. During his time in Congress he sponsored repeated bills to (1) cause the naturalization of alien military service members (i.e. Dreamers), (2) found a National Zoological Foundation, (3) create sanctuaries for humpback whales and seals, and (4) to provide Medicare coverage for flu vaccines—all positions that are anathema to today's GOP!

E.H. in Westford, MA, writes: You wrote about what's really behind Donald Trump's professed belief that he will be "reinstated" as President this summer, and referred to Mary Trump's assessment of his psychological flaws. I completely agree, and offer a sharper version of her take from the summer of 2020: "The more stress he's under, the more besieged he feels, the more likely it is that the distance between the telling the lie and believing it is the truth is decreasing. We're getting to the point it's instantaneous."

You may find the full interview of interest.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I recently watched the documentary "Allen v. Farrow," and one comment by Woody Allen was especially chilling. During a taped phone conversation, Allen says to Mia Farrow: "[I]t doesn't matter what the truth is. It only matters what people believe." When Farrow is asked later whether she's afraid of Allen, she says, "Yes. Someone who thinks the truth doesn't matter will do anything."

That is Donald Trump. He is motivated by only one thing—what props him up and makes him feel better. It doesn't matter what the truth is. And he has an army of people at his disposal willing to peddle any lie or fantasy that he tells them to. He doesn't care what the Constitution says. He doesn't care that the election was secure and fair. He doesn't care that he will not actually be "reinstated." He doesn't care what the truth is, and neither do his allies. They will do anything. And if a sizable portion of the electorate believe what Trump & Co. is selling and give them money, that's good enough. And they'll keep this going for as long as Trump is alive. This is his life's work now, particularly if he's indicted. And if he can get his followers to stage a coup, that's gravy to him.

I continue to be amazed that journalists like Charles Cooke still don't know Trump's game. He doesn't "genuinely believe" anything! He just wants the announcement in the press to give it some legitimacy to stoke the fantasy. (Just like calling the ballot scam in Arizona an "audit"—that was a master stroke of PR.)

There is no downside for him to these claims—he won't face any greater legal jeopardy for lying to the American people or destroying democracy and neither will any of his stooges. For them, it's not a question of "why?," it's "why not?" For Trump, this is how he gets his kicks and his revenge. If he's going down, he's going to take as much of our democracy down with him as he can. And not only is no one in his party doing anything to stop him, they are his co-conspirators. This is his latest con, and as long as he continues to be indulged with delusions that state Republicans will overturn the will of their people and declare him the 2020 victor, he will only come up with more.

D.L. in Cary, NC, writes: You made inquiries into Trump's recent antics.

Grift? Delusion? Put-On? Coup?

Yes. All of the above.

A.B. in Miami, FL, writes: I'm a little surprised you didn't mention reason #5 why Donald Trump may be saying he'll be "reinstated":

Putin's Puppet: If you were hypothetically Putin with an ex-President in your pocket, what are the kinds of things you would you have them do? Paint, make pottery, or play pinochle? Considering Trump's long history of trying to undermine the U.S. and people's belief in democracy, to cause internal strife, etc. (which is to say, his entire political career), would it be surprising at all to see a possible Putin Puppet (ex-)President acting in ways that try to undermine people's belief in democracy, make the U.S. look bad to the world, and generally trying to harm the U.S. in any available way? Considering Trump doesn't have a "platform," he's done an excellent job of getting this bit of indigestion-causing news out to the world. Has he had help crafting his ex-presidential plans? Someone should investigate if there's any link at all between Trump and Putin. Anything? Anything?

B.B. in Chipley, FL, writes: You wrote that, now that Donald Trump has shut his blog down: "Remaining relevant is going to be a challenge. It will be interesting to see how he tries to do it."

I give it a 40% chance that it will be a Wizard-of-Oz-style Man-behind-the-curtain type of dud. A faded, decrepit, pitiful Archie Bunker of politics, who has nothing, does nothing, and means nothing. The schadenfreude of it will be that he will have no idea this has happened to him.

D.E. in Waltham, MA, writes: Regarding the observation about redeeming personal characteristics of the former president, there is one trump feature that I always extol: his truly mindboggling level of all-encompassing incompetence. This is by far his best characteristic; without that, the cruelty and selfishness of the last four years would have been far, far worse. I can only hope that the republicans who want to hurt us are denied any more presidential terms—the worst-case scenario is another president who is just as awful but even slightly more competent.

V & Z respond: D.E. asked that we not correct the capitalization here, and we are going to grant that boon. Also, when we wrote that bit about Trump lacking in any redeeming characteristics, we expected to get (1) letters telling us that was an inappropriate and biased statement, and/or (2) letters pointing out that he does have one redeeming feature, namely [X]. Other than this message, however, there was nothing.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Regarding the Barr Memo, I can think of another reason beyond institutionalism for the Garland DOJ to hold it back. It was written by Barr flunkies to "explain" why Trump did not commit obstruction of justice. The unproduced part may contain analysis of the facts and law supporting the conclusion, however speciously. Were that to get out, if Trump were prosecuted for obstruction, his lawyers would wave the memo as evidence to support a "political vendetta" theory and to argue reasonable doubt given that DOJ had "analyzed" the facts and law, and concluded there was no crime. If instead it remains under wraps, then the jury never sees it.

M.T. in Knoxville, TN, writes: In the reply to F.S. of Cologne, (Z) professes surprise at Donald Trump's dovishness. I see it as completely in character for him, however. We are, after all, talking about a five-time draft dodger who, despite his career pretending to fire people on pseudo-reality TV, is actually famed for his inability to personally fire anyone in real life for fear that they might be mean back to him.

All of which is just a long-winded way of saying that he's a demonstrable coward who, unless he sees an easy way to profit personally in the process, is far too spineless to take any meaningful action in any situation. And even when his hand is forced, he will typically just pass the buck to someone else, requiring them to take action on his behalf while he bloviates, dissembles and gets ready to reap any available credit should "his" action unexpectedly prove to be well-received.

Dovishness is precisely what I would expect from such an individual.

J.C. in Chicago, IL, writes: With as much feedback as you receive, there is certainly a matrix that you place each communication into. Historical value vs. educational value vs. entertainment value vs. repeat (reiterating) value vs. cost (time of typing/dictating/researching) benefit (to your audience).

With that said, your reply to Saturday's hypothetical question of Trump vs. WWI, Cuban Crisis, WWII, and Civil War hit so many positive receptors! Funny, insightful, witty, pointed. Please publish more "Trump vs..." Seriously, if the U.S. cable network Comedy Central can fund the show "Drunk History" year after year, the two of you could run circles around them.

V & Z respond: Thanks for the kind words, and we're glad you liked that answer. We are happy to answer "alternate history" questions in the Q&A, whether they involve Trump or not, if and when readers send them in.

Mixed Relationships

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: I would like to respond to G.L. in New York City, who asked about discussing politics in a mixed-politics marriage. I am American and was married to an ex-Soviet Russian for decades. Her parents lived with us and we found lots of ex-Soviets in the area—and boy do they love to discuss politics!

A few months back, I submitted a list of "rules" for a fair, discussion—and I was quite gratified to see it posted. As a reminder, here they are (slightly abbreviated):

  1. It's not an argument; it's a discussion
  2. No name-calling
  3. No interrupting
  4. Use your indoor voice
  5. No vulgarity
  6. Be able to back up your facts and admit it if you can't
  7. Be able to define your terms (e.g., "socialism," "racism," "rights," "privilege"...)
  8. Agree to disagree, but agree on what you're disagreeing about

In addition to these rules, I offer one further piece of advice: if someone breaks the rules, they're not interested in discourse. Change the subject as quickly as possible and don't go back.

My observation is that no party will 'win' the, discussion—what will usually happen is that borders will be redrawn.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: My husband and I recently celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary, and when we met he was a Reagan Republican and I was still carrying around my Students for a Democratic Society membership card in my wallet. On politics and foreign policy we were at loggerheads and frequently argued volubly, sometimes for hours at a time, only agreeing to a truce because we needed to eat or it was time to get to a film we wanted to see.

Then after eight years came graduate school, out of state in the Deep South, Atlanta in the 90s and the rise of Newt Gingrich. Between the ugliness of the Georgia Republican Party and the deeply ingrained, but completely unacknowledged racism of the white community, the blinders fell from my husband's eyes. He suddenly understood exactly what I had been railing against all along.

After nearly 7 years of exile, we returned to our homeland, and the first thing he wanted to talk about with Republican friends was how messed up and dangerous the GOP was in the South. Did his friends take heed? No, they did not because they were certain that the larger, more moderate California Republican Party would determine the direction of the national party. Oops.

My point is that I argued tirelessly without success until my husband actually experienced directly the negative reality of his politics and was shocked into a complete reevaluation of his position. A political about-face is possible, but, in our case, it required a rather extreme, life-changing experience.

Best of luck on your political journey together.

V & Z respond: Allow us to wish you a belated Happy Anniversary!

R.H. in Boston, MA, writes: Mixed relationships can work. My parents were happily married for 42 years (until my father's death) even though they were both McCarthyites. My father supported Joe McCarthy and my mother supported Eugene McCarthy.

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: My rules for dating:

  1. No cigarettes
  2. No Republicans

Not a rule, but a red-flag:

  1. Vegans

Why? Cigarettes are disgusting and make everything smell bad, especially kissing. Yuck.

If you look at the same world as I do and think Republicans have the right answers, then we're starting too far apart. I care too much about politics and social issues to pretend like it wouldn't matter. That said, you don't have to be as liberal as me or even interested in politics and social issues. We'll either have stuff to talk about or we won't and it will work itself out.

I can respect why someone is a vegan, but finding a restaurant we'll both like is just too much damn work. And no, it doesn't taste like chicken!

Of course, this might help explain why I'm still single and none of this helps the reader who's already in the mixed-political-ideology relationship. You're braver than I. I hope you find that happy and comfortable middle ground!

V & Z respond: We would think that, in your part of town, it would be easier to find a unicorn, or a leprechaun, or a USC graduate who can count to 21 without taking his clothes off, than it would be to find a Republican.

D.B. in Winston-Salem, NC, writes: After my first failed marriage, I undertook a thorough review of my marriage to understand what had happened and how I could prepare for any future alliance.

I concluded that there were three major topics on which agreement was necessary to me: religion, abortion rights, and politics. One minor topic, which I realized years later, was Israel.

I did not understand how couples could stay together with radically different political opinions. With religion and abortion rights, I still do not understand.

My beauteous current wife and I agreed on those major topics. Later, we learned we did not agree about Israel. We discussed the topic, offered each other a book to read, and halted all discussions thereafter.

As the Congress Turns

R.S.B. in Ventura, CA, writes: The scenario of senators being absent and thus allowing the Senate to move legislation is actually more relevant than one might think. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) could possibly have pulled this off just a week ago when 11 senators were out of town on the Friday when the Jan 6 commission vote occurred. All that would have been needed would have been 45 votes to change the cloture rule to anything those 45 senators wanted. The problem is that you can only get away with this maneuver once, and if you are going to blow up the Senate rules you would want to get all the needed or desired legislation voted through at the same time. Once Schumer does this, some senators could be very, very unhappy and might actually leave the Party and become independents and decide to caucus with the Republicans, thus handing control of the Senate to the GOP.

So, at what point does the Democrat leadership decide it is worth the possible loss of control of the Senate? Once this question is answered by the powers that be, there are a number of ways to go about dealing with Rule XXII.

My favorite possible approach is for the point of order to be constitutional rather than rule-based. There are four things listed in the Constitution that require a super majority of two-thirds of Senators: conviction in an impeachment trial, removal or expulsion of a Senator, approval of treaties and the override of a presidential veto. So the point of order would be that Rule XXII is unconstitutional since it implicitly imposes a supermajority where the Constitution does not require one, and so should be expunged from the rules completely. Since it only requires a majority of Senators present and voting to affirm a point of order and the precedent is for the presiding officer to refer all constitutional points of order to the Senate for a vote rather than looking to the parliamentarian for a ruling, if Schumer called a vote on any bill on a Friday afternoon before a Senate recess where there were already a number of Senators out of town, but there were still 51 Senators available to fulfill the quorum rule, he would need a simple majority to affirm that Rule XXII is unconstitutional and the three-fifths cloture rule would be gone forever.

Another total blowout move would be to suspend the Rules of the Senate completely with a quorum present and vote on every bill Schumer puts to the Senate by simple majority of those senators present and voting. This would be very controversial but would allow Schumer, by way of the presiding officer, to completely control the voting and movement of any and all legislation in any manner, consistent with the Constitution, he saw fit. So if there were eight bills sitting around waiting for a vote, suspend the rules, bring each bill to the floor for an up-or-down vote with no debate or amendments being allowed. I will leave to your imagination the reactions this tactic would elicit.

J.N. in Columbus, OH, writes: You wrote:

This unexpected development will cause a headache for Biden and an even bigger one for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Manchin wants two, maybe even more bills. In practice, it's going to be one bill or no bill. But it could also be a blessing in disguise. The hard infrastructure bill is much more popular than the soft infrastructure bill. Even Republicans don't like roads with potholes or bridges that collapse. But the soft infrastructure bill effectively taxes rich people and gives the money to poor people. OK, it's not quite that simple, but the money doesn't go into public works projects that benefit everyone the way repairing unsafe bridges does. If the consequence of the ruling is that Biden simply defers the soft infrastructure bill for at least a year and uses reconciliation to fix the roads, that might be very popular with the voters, even Republicans. And simply passing the "Jobs" bill will not give the Republicans much to carp about.

I disagree that the Democrats should use reconciliation to pass the hard infrastructure section. This can be the test: Will Republicans vote for anything at all? Use the "hard" bill to test for this. If they can't get 10 senators to sign on to even that, then Manchin knows they won't vote for anything and he'll either have to help kill the filibuster, or it'll most likely kill him.

This idea of "not give the Republicans much to carp about" is a fairy tale at this point. They'll sh*t on anything the Democrats do, even if it is literally exactly what Republicans have already done. They'll even sh*t on it if 10 Republican senators do sign onto the bill, but at least then the voting public has the ammunition to tell them to go pound sand.

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: I believe Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is genuine in her belief that the filibuster is an important tool to try to create consensus and stabilize the balance of power. However, this all assumes you have two sides interested in good governance. The minority needs to have a legitimate policy agenda they want represented and be willing to work out real compromises with the majority. Otherwise, we get what we have now, where the filibuster is used by a minority only interested in burning the whole thing down to keep the hydrants closed.

The thing is, killing the filibuster is tantamount to declaring there is no hope for the Republican Party. They have devolved into the Party of Trump, white grievance, and "owning the libs." Joe Manchin's and Sinema's role in this kabuki theater is that they are the last ones holding out hope that the Republican Party will come to its senses. However, I think that in the end, they are ready to vote to kill the filibuster when the rubber meets the road. They don't want to, but they are prepared to. And they need to make sure we all know they do this as an act of last resort and the Republicans brought this upon themselves.

D.G. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: In your discussion of "Biden's Budget" on Monday, you omitted one significant item—the military budget. Joe Biden proposed a $753 billion outlay for the Pentagon, just short of 2% higher than Donald Trump's last budget.

The military budget is more than three times that of China and more than the total for the next highest eight largest military budgets combined. Imagine what could be done if the military budget was slashed by several hundred billion dollars: funding for education, health care, infrastructure, fight climate change, and many more socially useful programs.

The military budget is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. It's time to reorient our priorities.

W.P. in Weare, NH, writes: You wrote:

The Slippery Slope: The yellow stars were pretty bad, but would be a footnote today if that is where it had stopped, since there are so very many instances of hateful and discriminatory behavior in world history. However, the real problem is that the stars were one big step on the path to atrocities. Unless Greene thinks that non-vaccinated non-masked people are approximately 18 months from being rounded up and exterminated en masse, then there's no comparison here. Of course, even she would not be outlandish enough to make that claim, because [Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA] knows it's not remotely plausible.

From my safe distance I believe you have seriously underestimated her. There is little doubt in my mind that she really does see herself and her allies as threatened by imminent (probably extrajudicial) arrest and removal to some federally run, probably secret Konzentrationslager, if not to be put to death, at least to be "reeducated."

A.T. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Years ago, when I was an investigator for a large California county, I was asked to background a certain California legislator who had proposed an obscure scheme to a high city official. I located about fifty lawsuits against the legislator that were languishing in limbo for the simple reason that a legislator, at that time, could not be served on the floor, nor while conducting state business. He was crooked as a dog's hind leg, but he wasn't stupid. Whenever he left the floor, he claimed to be traveling on state business, which oddly enough involved quite a few trips to various and sundry watering holes and vacation spots, usually with a file or two and an appointment with some other poor sap in one jurisdiction or another who wondered why in the devil this character was rambling on about some scheme with an obscure connection to the great state of California.

This worked so well for him that he ducked service for the many years that the voters of California kept him in office. Speaking with one of the attorneys who had sued him on behalf of a victim of his many private frauds—usually involving a fictional company, investment opportunity, or a large retainer to provide legal services that never surfaced—I learned that there had developed over the years a coterie of law firms in his district that referred to themselves laughingly as the [the legislator's name] Task Force.

I don't know whether the House of Representatives, as you ponder, has no such prohibition about serving legislators on the floor, but if it does, and the prohibition extends to a legislator on federal business, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) might want to consider retaining the ace PI who wouldn't quit before finally seeing Rudy Giuliani served.

To put this tale to bed, the California legislator continued his pattern and practice after leaving office, but was quickly discovered by intrepid FBI agents. His prison sentence and hefty fine followed.

Voter ID...

H.M. in Berlin, Germany, writes: Thank you for answering my follow-up question about ID cards. But the only part of your answer that makes sense to me is the fact that the U.S. is a country born out of suspicion of centralized authority. While certainly valid in many situations, such suspicion can be easily exaggerated to the point of paranoia, and I detect more than a whiff of it in your answer. What risk, exactly, does a national ID card pose? You do not explain specifically how it might increase government abuse, and I fail to see a connection. As you point out, the U.S. government has abused its powers often enough without an ID card present. On the other hand, I would like (V), who has lived for decades in a country which uses a national ID card, to tell me if he really feels that as a result the government has "enormous power" over his life, "significantly impinges" on his privacy, and if he really thinks that it causes a "security nightmare." There are laws against governmental abuses (many of them pioneered by the U.S.), and these laws will not be suspended by the presence of an ID card; indeed it might help prevent abuses like the purging of voter rolls on the whim of a legislature or governor.

Anecdotes about Ronald Reagan and tattoos are not relevant here. Need I say why? The Nazis used tattoos as a way to stamp and separate people from their society until the day they died. My German ID card puts me on an equal footing with all other residents (and allows me to vote in some local elections), and if I decide to move out of the country, it will simply become invalid.

Benefits? Offhand, I can think of three (1) When moving to North Carolina from New York and opening a bank account there, I needed to provide my social security number, a photo ID and proof of address. How ridiculously cumbersome; had I not known or forgotten to bring one of those three documents, I would have had to come back. In Germany (or Switzerland, or...) I just had to fish a card out of my wallet; (2) Preventing voter purges and other abuses, as I write above; (3) Shutting up the Republicans on that subject forever. Isn't that worthwhile?

As you wrote in an answer to another question yesterday, "Americans think they have the best of everything, but that is simply because they don't know what things are like elsewhere." This seems to me to be a similar case. Your question "Why fix what isn't broken?" is strange after the many complaints on that the election system in the U.S. is broken, and that fixes are badly needed. Here is a fix for some of the problems, and many others that have nothing to do with elections, a fix that has worked in many other countries (at least in those 19 who have better quality of life than the U.S., per your link). For me, the resistance seems no less ridiculous after reading your answer.

Dixi et animam levavi ("I have spoken and my soul is relieved").

D.M. (no relation) in Berlin, Germany, writes: H.M. here in Berlin has had a misunderstanding or two. I'm Austrian and have lived in Austria, France and Germany. The ID H.M. mentioned (called Personalausweis in Austria and Germany) exists, but is by no means automatically issued to every citizen. You have to apply for it like for a passport. I never did, and so I've never had such an ID in any country. To vote, or to open a bank account for that matter, I've always shown my passport; the passport is the strongest form of ID there is, so of course it is acceptable to vote with! It is true that the passport doesn't list your address. That problem is solved in a very un-American way: the government knows where you live. In Austria, every time you change your residence, you have three months to go to the local government bureaucracy and show them your new rent contract or whatever. In Germany, it's two weeks (theoretically; in Berlin, the bureaucracy has been downsized so many times that the "offices for everything" can't always give you a date within that timeframe). In France, this doesn't exist; instead, your electricity bill fulfills this function (even though the public-owned electricity provider is no longer the country's only one). Anyway, the bureaucracy knows where you live, so they know which polling station you're supposed to show up in, and then you only need to go there and identify yourself. Banks and employers don't know where you live; when they need to know, you need to go to the local bureaucracy, ask them to print you a fresh certificate of residence, and send it to whoever needs to know. In France, showing them a current electricity bill worked.

The "security nightmare" is prevented by frankly onerous laws about what anyone, the government as well as private corporations for example, is allowed to do with anything that might contain identifying data, and by a culture that guards such data, perhaps paradoxically, much more jealously than in the U.S. and sees a scandal around every corner. The German word datenschutz (literally "data protection"; Wikipedia translation "information privacy") is found 478 million times by Google. (Not a typo; close to half a billion.) Of the 14 laws listed in the English Wikipedia article Information privacy, two are E.U.-wide and one is from the U.K.; one is the California Consumer Protection Act, but none of the others are from the U.S. or any part of it. The E.U. has also famously forced Google to acknowledge the "right to be forgotten," and required everyone who places cookies to make at least that much explicit. In fact, there is a lawsuit alleging that something like half of all cookie policies don't let people reject cookies easily enough to pass under that law; that's probably going to get expensive for a lot of corporations.

I've voted in Austria as well as in Germany: twice in E.U. parliamentary elections, where all E.U. citizens are eligible to vote in all E.U. countries, and once in a district-level election, where likewise all E.U. citizens are eligible to vote in whichever E.U. country they live in. The passport worked every time.

G.A. in Berkeley, CA, writes: In answer to the question from H.M. in Berlin suggesting the use of a national identity card in the U.S., you pointed out the risk of abuse by a centralized authority. However, "Real ID," soon to be required for boarding airplanes and other purposes, contains a lot of information about the bearer, and essentially constitutes a national ID card. The information may even be intentionally shared with Mexico and Canada, and unintentionally with other countries such as Russia. For that matter, information now already coded onto driver's licenses already provides a lot of coded information to government.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Regarding requiring voter I.D., it's a mark of how much we've given up our privacy that so many people think this could be a reasonable idea under any circumstances. Americans have never been required to have ID, unlike other nations, particularly totalitarian ones that could demand, "Papers, please." IDs here have always been voluntary—if you want to drive, or buy alcohol, or travel on an airplane or internationally. Indeed, the major document that is required for everyone, the Social Security Card, for decades explicitly stated "Not for identification," and the Roosevelt Administration, to get Social Security passed, had to promise the cards would not become national identity cards. Voting is a fundamental right, and it should not constitutionally be conditioned on carrying identification, even if freely given to voters, let alone making it effectively a poll tax.

...And Other Voting-Related Matters

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: You are more optimistic about the integrity of future elections than I am, considering the complete disinterest of the GOP in uncovering the full truth about January 6, along with the contents of the proposed Texas voting restriction bill. The latter points to exactly how the Republicans will try to steal future elections: limit voting as much as possible, make it easy and legal to intimidate voters and election officials, give judges the ability to throw out results on the flimsiest possible grounds. They will also try to get Republicans into the offices that run elections and gerrymander wherever they can.

Another issue is the disappearance of independent newspapers and radio stations, as corporations buy them up and homogenize them, and of course the power of social media sites, which can so easily spread misinformation.

J.M. in Conway, AR, writes: I had to chuckle when I read the question from G.M. in Sydney about aggressive Democratic poll watchers. I am a large, loud white man who could change my clothing and look more like a biker than the hippie that I actually am. I have fantasized about disrupting my little local rural election site in just the manner described by G.M. My inevitable confrontation with the police would probably not be deadly since I am white, but it is enough to pop my fantasy bubble, regardless of what the law says.

In other news from Texas, isn't it now a sure thing that the Cowboys will win the Super Bowl since we have stolen the Packers' head coach?

V & Z respond: You know how the Headless Horseman's power ends at the covered bridge? Well, Packer magic, though awe-inspiringly powerful, extends only to the gates of Lambeau Field. Sorry.

W.B. in Paris, France, writes: Regarding your point about mimetic desire, I'm a Canadian citizen who has lived in Europe for 12 years now. During the right-wing government of Stephen Harper, he tried to limit the rights of expats to vote. It definitely motivated me to make sure I requested and submitted my ballot well in advance.

S.C. in Flat Rock, NC, writes: Apparently mimetic desire has been studied before. This video of the experiment will put a smile on your face:

Let's see what the Texans do.

New York's Mayoral Election (and Ranked-Choice Voting)

T.B. in Powell, OH, writes: With regard to your item "Exhausted Voters, Exhausted Ballots," the Boards of Election who oversee ranked-choice voting should advertise it as the "new March Madness" and work with web designers and the League of Women Voters to create fantasy leagues that help voters understand the "stats" (policy positions) of the candidates on their ballot. Maybe this would entice a larger group of people to get involved and educated. It would certainly make it more interesting.

R.L.D. (soon to be) in Sundance, WY, writes: I applaud and heartily endorse your strategy for ranked choice voting. If we're ever going to break the two-party stranglehold on power that fascists have hijacked, we can't keep letting them win out of fear the wrong lizard will win (Douglas Adams, "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish").

However, if you're worried that none of the people you like have any real chance of winning, I think it's valid to save your last choice for the least objectionable of the plausible winners. It is a compromise, but at least it's only a compromise of the least important one-fifth of your voice and not of your one-and-only opportunity to make your wishes known.

C.L., Boulder, CO, writes: Thanks for the coverage of the New York City mayoral race! My daughter lives there, and we've been having strategic discussions on how to rank her ballot. You wrote, "Perhaps it is too much to expect voters to learn enough about 40 candidates to be able to rank them." But NYC voters are limited to only 5 rankings—no need to learn about all 40 candidates. (In San Francisco, voters are limited to 3 rankings for mayor.) No wonder so many ballots are exhausted!

While a voter may choose to rank 5 conservative candidates but, to hedge their bets in more liberal New York City, they may want to rank their favorite centrist candidate #5 to have more voting power.

A similar conundrum could happen in 2022 in Alaska. Alaska is scheduled to use an open primary, with the top four vote-getters competing in an instant-runoff (RCV) general election. You can imagine Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) running against a Democrat and two candidates closely aligned with Donald Trump. Will Democrats choose to strategically rank Murkowski higher than the Democrat to prevent either of the Trump candidates from edging her out and ultimately winning? Consider this possible scenario: the Democrat gets 30% of first-choice rankings, the two Trumpistas each get 24% and Murkowski gets 22%. Murkowski would be eliminated right off the bat, not making it to any of the runoff rounds! Or maybe there are enough Murkowski never-Trumpers to put the Democrat over the top. Given your conclusion that vote-splitting is dead, maybe not.

Aren't more expressive ballots fun?

M.S. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Referring to the hullabaloo about the cartoon of Andrew Yang being a tourist in Times Square, I want to point out that the "tourist" description was because Yang (1) has never voted for mayor in New York City before, (2) left New York for the Hudson Valley during the pandemic, and (3) when the candidates were asked to name their favorite subway station, chose Times Square. In my opinion, the "tourist" designation was not racist. Whether the cartoon depiction of him was racist is not for me to say, as I am not Asian. Voters will decide whether Yang "playing the race card" here is appropriate or not.

Israel (and Proportional Representation)

M.C. in Perth, Western Australia, Australia, writes: I note with some interest your claim that the current situation in Israel "demonstrates the weakness" of proportional-representation (and similar) parliamentary systems. I would say quite the opposite—that the current situation demonstrates the strength of such a system, not its weakness. Why?

  • With room for minor parties to achieve meaningful legislative representation, party policies don't harden into the ossified, knee-jerk oppositionism of two-party systems, whereby members of one party reflexively oppose anything proposed by the other. Effectively, the presence of minor parties to whom either major party can turn for needed votes acts as a lubricant in the legislative machinery, and weakens (does not remove, sadly) tribalism as a major factor in electoral politics.

  • The presence—and viability—of those minor parties gives major-party voters who are unhappy with their party leadership "permission," if you will, to signal this unhappiness without either wasting their vote (by giving it to a non-viable party of similar beliefs) or jumping ship entirely (by voting for the other major party). By this mechanism, parties which seek to form government are less likely to fall into extremism, since doing so will reliably be punished at the ballot box. Even Benjamin Netanyahu is no hard-right ideologue—on any issue except Israel-Palestine relations, he's willing to negotiate and accept compromise outcomes.

  • With no meaningful prospect of a single-party majority (the Knesset has never had a single party win at least 50%+1 of all seats in an election), even the most dogmatic party leader has to become accustomed to negotiating outcomes if they wish to be effective. In turn, this means that leaders of all significant (i.e., effective) parties must be in the habit of negotiating in good faith—a factor notably lacking in most two-party systems.

In short, I believe that (within reason) the more parties exist in a parliament, the more likely it is to function smoothly, efficiently and in a manner consistent with the wishes of the populace—not less. While the current ABB (Anyone But Bibi) coalition looks more fractious than most, it will likely last long enough to serve its intended purpose—removing a toxic actor (Netanyahu) from prominence, most probably by lasting longer than his upcoming corruption trial(s).

T.M. in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, writes: In an otherwise terrific post on the perils of proportional representation in parliamentary democracies, you make the statement that getting budgets passed has "always been an issue in parliamentary systems..."

Not true at all. Israel (and Italy) lay bare the flaws in proportional representation run amok, because the threshold for gaining seats is far too low and leads to obviously unstable governments. But most parliamentary systems have budgets passed with relative ease because there are far fewer parties with seats. In Canada we happen to have a minority Liberal government at the moment, and while they have to work with 2 of the 3 opposition parties to pass a budget, it's not that hard. And if it's a majority government then it's a snap.

To be sure, there are flaws with a first-past-the-post system in which a government can be formed with less than 40% of the vote, but looking south, this is far more stable than the U.S. system as it is currently being operated. Here, a minority party can help bring down a government, but if they do they have to face the electorate about 6 weeks later and explain why! Parliamentary democracy could be more democratic if it used ranked-choice-ballots. Small-r republican systems could be more democratic without the filibuster, the Senate, etc. And Israel could be more stable if they raised the threshold for a party holding seats in the Knesset from the current 3.25% to 5%.

D.G. in Israel, writes: I enjoyed the responses to my letter. You have great and thoughtful readers. And you hit the nail on the head with your "Bye-Bye, Bibi" recap; your comparison to US politicians was perfect.

You glossed over one of the most major developments, though. That little Arab party is pretty powerful. Also amazing is that it happened after all the accusations of apartheid, as well as the recent Gaza war and riots. You might think Jewish Israelis would harden their mistrust of Arabs after that, but the opposite happened in an epic way. Just another sign that most Israelis want to live in peace with Arabs. The only condition Israelis have is that they recognize they have a right to live there.

H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: As the letters you have printed show, there are multiple, conflicting narratives about Israel and Palestine. I recommend to your readers two books that I've read that balance the Israeli and Palestinian narratives using the stories of actual people on both sides. The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East is the story of one house in the town of Ramle, the Palestinian family who built the house, the Bulgarian Jewish family who occupied it, and how two children of these families find some measure of hope and reconciliation as they learn to listen to each other's stories. City of Oranges: An Intimate History of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa looks at the history of Jaffa through the stories of six families (3 Jewish and 3 Palestinian) who lived there for generations.


M.H. in Athens, GA, writes: The letter/question from N.M. in Chicago regarding whether or not to move out of the U.S., at least for a time, brought an immediate instinctive response in my mind, as I have been weighing the same question. Indeed, I was recently asked by a colleague, for reasons that need not be detailed here, whether I would prefer to live in Berlin or here, and my response was immediate and quite explicit: I absolutely prefer Berlin.

I presume that your response was largely, if not entirely, written by "V" (since they are the expat), and I agree with the reasons given. But I would add additional points. Quite honestly, I no longer feel comfortable in a country where almost half of the voters view Donald Trump sufficiently favorably to vote for him, where a significant percentage of the political leadership (and presumably the voters that support them) thinks it is OK to restrict or encumber access to the ballot box, where gun ownership is viewed as a more sacred right than the right to feel at ease and comfortable in public society, and where lies, distortion, and disrespect for reason and science are viewed positively by a high percentage of the populace, just to name a few things that have really started to irk me to the point of seriously considering leaving the United States.

To the positives of living in Western Europe (I cannot speak from experience about Eastern Europe) that (V) & (Z) listed, I would also add an overall lower cost of living (at least outside of housing), as food costs are significantly lower in Europe, at least in my experience. I am in the fortunate position of being bilingual, so language issues do not enter into my equation. Nonetheless, I would strongly second the advice given, namely to do a trial visit there to get a feel for real daily living there (as opposed to touristing). The rhythms of daily life in Europe are different from the United States, and do take some adjustment, as I experienced first-hand!

A lot goes into a decision like the one that N.M. is facing, and I wish them all the best, whichever way they decide!

J.P. in Victoria, BC, Canada, writes: I'd like to respond to the question from N.M. in Chicago about making an informed choice to leave the U.S., as I made that choice about 12 years ago and have not regretted it for a minute, even with some of the bureaucratic challenges, such as immigration, that I had to navigate.

To keep this much shorter than it otherwise could be, I lived through Richard Nixon in my first age-eligible election in 1972, the 49-state sweep over George McGovern. I lived through Ronald Reagan and my first exposure to tribal politics and dog-whistle racism (and another 49-stater in '84), then through the 2nd Bush years, with the wars and demonization of people (1) of middle-Eastern descent, because they might be Islamic or (2) who opposed Bush and his enablers, and were labeled "traitors."

In 2008, I was hired by a public school district in B.C., Canada and in my late 50s, I chose to leave the U.S. because I was beginning to seriously doubt the ability (and desire) of a near-majority of its citizens to end the tribalism that drove policies and responses toward so many issues to right-wing extremes.

What I had seen for nearly 40 years so violated my core values that I was finally faced with the choice of living up to those values or remaining in the same quagmire, either fighting a losing battle or giving up. I was lucky I had the choice to emigrate; so many who might make the same decision don't have that choice.

Some folks might think it takes more courage to stay and fight. To a large extent, I don't disagree. I've been in the streets protesting, from the Vietnam era to George Floyd last summer, and many times in between. Someone always needs to be there to speak to Power and tell them that there are things that are wrong and they're always wrong! However, from another perspective, I viewed the choice I made as perhaps an even stronger protest, to stand up for those core values, even at a cost to myself, by leaving my birth country, to a place that far more frequently mirrors those values. I see it here every day.

I then watched Barack Obama's election from up here and had a lot of hope for the gradual recovery of the U.S. from the racism and corruption of the Bush years. And although I believe Obama was a great man, he was too accommodating toward an opposition party who made no secret of their desire to make him a one-term leader. "Sacrifice good things for the people so Obama and the Democrats don't get any credit." The perfect avatar for the term, "Party Over Country." Thanks a lot, Mitch.

I appreciate (V) & (Z)'s optimism about tribalism/populism not having as much staying power as some readers worry about. But even when a leader I believe in like Obama comes along, we promptly vote someone like Trump in immediately after. I've watched this for 50 years. Look at Trump and ask yourself how far we've evolved since Nixon.

A leader who puts children in cages, denigrates women and people of any race but his own, whose most memorable response to the plague amounted to speculating in public about drinking disinfectant to fight it, and who denies science and his own country's legitimate election—and is still supported by nearly half of the voters—is a bridge too far.

As to (V) & (Z)'s statement about health care in one of their favorite countries is quite true (by the way, keep up the good work pretending you think we're plotting a takeover; we'll talk later about the Trojan Horse strategy). Even with a heart attack and my wife's cancer and chemo treatment, the only bill we ever saw was the parking fees in the hospital garage. University tuitions are indeed far less expensive and overall, people are better educated and do know far more about U.S. politics than most U.S. voters. That's a function of Canada being extremely dependent on the U.S. for the vast majority of products, so the Canadian economy is inextricably tied to what happens down south. And, as mentioned, because of restrictions in place on gun ownership that are far stronger than in the U.S., we are far less stressed about weapons as gun-related deaths happen at a far lower rate per million people than in the U.S.

As far as the language barriers, just learn how to add a "u" to words like "honour," "colour" and "flavour." Reverse your -er at the end of words—"center" is now "centre." And say "Eh?" a lot. That's all you need to know to be "one of us" up here. Oh...and bring a warmer coat.

S.R. in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (formerly of Wyomissing, PA), writes: Regarding your response to N.M. in Chicago, I'm surprised you didn't comment on Canada's ranking as #1 on the quality-of-life link you included! In response to N.M., I also want to say that as an expat living in Canada since 2017, I have no regrets. I may have to make my own cheesesteaks and soft pretzels now, but even though I'm only six hours north of where I grew up and lived my first thirty-odd years, the differences I find between Canada and the U.S. are quite staggering sometimes. Canada is cleaner, the people are nicer, and all around life here is just more pleasant. These are obviously generalizations, and there are always exceptions, but I never think I made the wrong decision.

Nothing was more jarring than when I drove thirty minutes south to visit my P.O. Box in Ogdensburg, NY, and stopped at the Wal-Mart for some exotic American goods. As I was walking in, I heard a woman my age (mid-thirties), wearing a Trump shirt and missing some teeth (I wish I was joking, but alas I am not) say to her son: "Well's rainin' here now too, guess the rain from home done come." As someone finishing a Ph.D. in English, this was very grating on the ears, as you can imagine, but it also made me realize how I would never hear something like that on the north side of the St. Lawrence. The U.S. is failing so many of its citizens—their education, their health, their overall quality of life. It's disheartening and distressing, and the experience was very eye-opening.

J.M. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: I noticed that you posted a link to the "Best Countries to Live in". Interesting who is at the top...

V & Z respond: Reportedly, the ratings were based 33% on "How good is the health care?," 33% on "How often is it uncomfortably hot?," and 33% on "How easy is it to acquire a gallon of fresh maple syrup?"

History (and Civics) Matters

T.T. in Putnam, CT, writes: In your answer to the question about what the disgraced former president's handling of various historical crises might have looked like, you convincingly list the things that would have made his handling of World War II a train wreck. However, it probably would have been even train-wreckier than you suggest, given that Franklin D. Roosevelt spent years slowly and deliberately bringing an isolationist America around to opposing fascism, arming the U.K., etc. But that's also assuming Trump wouldn't have been on the fascist/Nazi side in the first place. He certainly would have admired Hitler's "strength," and he apparently got much of his MAGA philosophy from Mein Kampf. He even looked like he was impersonating Mussolini when he returned from his COVID-19 hospitalization, with that star-turn on the balcony. So yeah, things might have been a little different!

M.B. in San Antonio, TX, writes: You wrote: "If poor white and poor Black people had joined together in colonial America, and aligned themselves against rich white people, that would not have ended well for the rich white people." There is in fact a modern example of just this dynamic. In 1950s Cuba, poor white farmers (called Guajiros) opted to join with poor Afro-Cubans rather than with the wealthy white ruling class (Criollos). Fidel Castro, himself of Guajiro origins, understood this dynamic, and took advantage of it. He was very popular with poor people, regardless of race. It did not end well for the rich white people, most of whom ended up moving to Miami.

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: This might be helpful to folks who avoid using U.S. $20 bills because they incorporate a portrait of Andrew Jackson. The newer ATMs at Chase let you choose the currency dispensed to you, giving you control over whether Jackson is in your wallet or not.

I.D. in Richmond, VA, writes: If S.C. and G.B. are interested in other recommendations, I've found the volumes in the Oxford History of the United States series absorbing and informative (although admittedly they do not deal with more recent history). Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 was particularly interesting, as it deals with a transformational period that's often somewhat overlooked in survey of US history courses.

V & Z respond: Howe's work is always excellent. Though in the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that (Z) not only knows Howe, but that Howe was chair of the dissertation committee for the historian (Joan Waugh) who, in turn, served as chair of (Z)'s dissertation committee.

J.E.L. in Portland, OR, writes: ´╗┐When you asked which state has had three women governors I knew the answer immediately: Oregon. "How so?," you ask.

Our current governor, since 2015, is Kate Brown (D). Barbara Roberts (D) served from 1991 to 1995, and Carrie Shelton was governor in 1909. The latter was the first woman governor of any state and, in her case, 11 years before she could even vote! Her ascension to this office was a bit odd, but nonetheless real.

V & Z respond: A very interesting footnote to U.S. history, though we should note that (1) she was an acting governor, and (2) even that authority was of dubious legality. Her story is similar to that of Edith Wilson, a.k.a. "America's first female president."

J.P. in Indianapolis, IN, writes: Texas has elected a female governor three times. Ann Richards and Ma Ferguson (twice).

E.R. in Chicago, IL, writes: I have a comment about the often-lamented state of Civics education in America. I speak as a Civics teacher with a decade of experience.

A huge number of Civics teachers are not particularly well prepared to teach Civics, nor are they particularly interested in doing so. Their true "calling" is to coach. There are not many P.E. jobs (huge classes, only required for 2 years). Social Studies is the only major academic area that doesn't have a dedicated standardized test, so administrators can hide low teaching quality there. So, people who really want to coach get certified in Social Studies. Too often, the head football coach drives the selection process, choosing a school's next civics or history teacher based on their proven ability to coach linebackers. Do we need a new head coach for volleyball? Hire a social studies teacher who can win volleyball championships.

I had to agree to coach a sport to get my first a middle school. For me, the coaching came second, but I am an exception.

Some coaches do make fine social studies teachers, of course. But it is rare for that ability to drive the selection process. In short, speaking from inside the system, civics education is poor largely because it matters less to us than sports.

Complaints Department

J.E. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: This site is becoming more partisan with every passing year (month?). I understand this is in reaction to a Republican Party that has gone all-in on a megalomaniac and sees wedge issues and voter suppression as the only means to staying in power. But that does not excuse distorting the legitimate and sincerely held values of their supporters simply because you don't agree with them. You summarized the key pillars of the Party as:

  • Lower taxes for rich people and corporations
  • Less government regulation of business
  • More government regulation of women's reproductive lives
  • Allowing people to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people if they are so inclined.

Most Republicans would agree with the wording on the first two (minus the word "rich"), but would characterize the latter two as:

  • Protection of unborn fetuses
  • Family values and religious freedom

You may not personally agree that unborn fetuses warrant protection or that discriminating against LGBTQ+ people should be a family or religious value (and those are valid and supportable viewpoints), but it does not help the conversation to frame the issues such that only stupid or evil people could possibly disagree with you. While I agree that some GOP leaders are cynically using these wedge issues to rile up their base, some conservative politicians and much of their base sincerely hold these views, and rhetoric like that above is why they feel misunderstood and demonized by the "coastal elitists."

H.B. in Portland, OR, writes: Your item "Will We Ever Know?" marks at least the second time you've suggested that Black Lives Matter supporters would "sack" the Capitol, the same way the insurrectionists did, should people on the left be upset with the results of a future election.

I'm not sure of your intent, but this callous accusation at best suggests a deep misunderstanding of BLM, and at worst an internalization and parroting of right-wing racist propaganda.

BLM is concerned with drawing attention to, and stopping, unequal treatment of African Americans by law enforcement; in particular, unwarranted use of force and killing. BLM's rallies, demonstrations, and civil disobedience all exist to highlight this point.

The vast majority of last summer's protests were peaceful; most of the minority of violent events were instigated by provocateurs unassociated with, or opposed to, BLM (such as Boogaloo Bois, Antifa, or unaffiliated troublemakers), or by law enforcement. In some cases, BLM supporters identified and even restrained provocateurs seeking to cause violence.

I can see no circumstance in which BLM would choose to protest a disputed election by overrunning Capitol Hill, violently hunting down lawmakers, and/or violently preventing lawmakers from discharging their Constitutional duties. I ask you to stop promoting this false and damaging equivalency. Every time you do, it normalizes the idea in readers' minds.

P.A. in Geneva, Switzerland, writes: I am a fan of the site and have been reading for years. However I am growing weary of reading about cheese slipping off of crackers—(V), perhaps impose a quota on how often (Z) can use said phrase? Or suggest some alternative turns?

V & Z respond: When you produce as much content as we do, it is easy enough to lapse into clichés, and we are always happy to be warned when that might be happening. We hope you appreciated that in yesterday's Q&A, we switched to "a few bricks shy of a load" and "the elevator doesn't go to the top."

Umbrellas and Batteries and Subarus--Oh, My!

M.C. in Seattle, WA, writes: You wrote:

We can only imagine what it will look like if other states again follow West Virginia's lead, and start offering culturally appropriate prizes:
  1. California: Vegan tacos, free headshots, and HOV stickers (legal to drive in the carpool lane)
  2. Iowa: Hog-castrating equipment, fried candy bars, and Iowa-Iowa State tickets
  3. Pennsylvania: Roast pork sandwiches, Wawa gift certificates, and batteries to throw at Santa
  4. Wisconsin: Cheese, cheese, and more cheese
  5. Washington: Umbrellas, Starbucks gift cards, and Subarus

As a local Washingtonian I'd just point out that:

  1. An umbrella here is a sure-fire sign that someone is a tourist.
  2. Everyone hates Starbucks (and former CEO Howard Schultz) but drinks it anyways.
  3. You're dead right about Subarus. On any given trailhead, well over half the vehicles are Subies.

M.U. in Seattle, WA, writes: Your piece about culturally appropriate vaccine prizes was enjoyable, but a bit off the mark as no self-respecting Seattleite owns an umbrella or would be caught dead outside with one!

D.D. in Lansdowne, PA, writes: Please—no batteries were thrown at Santa—it was snowballs and he was a drunk who had been cursing out everyone.

Although batteries were thrown at J.D. Drew, the former Phillies draftee who refused to sign with the team.

There, now you can correct the comment.

V & Z respond: We knew that we were blending two different incidents, but most readers won't recognize J.D. Drew, and snowballs don't make sense as a prize.

M.K. in Hyde Park, VT, writes: (Z), you are on a roll! My husband is from the Philly area, and he laughed out loud when you listed Wawa gift certificates and batteries to throw at Santa. I laughed at the Wawa reference, but he had to explain about the nasty Flyers fans.

Well done! Kind of lightened up the apocalyptic analysis of Trump's plans further up.

S.L. in Irwin, PA, writes: In response to the item on culturally appropriate prizes for states to give away in exchange for being vaccinated, your list for Pennsylvania contained only items found in the east side of the state. Don't forget about us in the west—and, let's be honest, the better of the two sides. May I suggest Primanti Bros sandwiches, Sheetz gift cards, and a case of Iron City beer?

R.M. in Port Matilda, PA, writes: Here in Pennsylvania, our lieutenant governor (and hopefully future senator) John Fetterman will likely take issue with your Wawa gift card idea: "Texas Lt. Gov. offers $1 million reward for voter fraud; Fetterman asks for it in Sheetz gift card."

Sheetz > Wawa.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, writes: In your list of prizes missing from West Virginia's announced list of vaccine lottery prizes, you forgot vittles.

V & Z respond: We also forgot moonshine.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: Your piece about what states might offer as culturally accepted prizes got me thinking about where I hang my hat, North Carolina. Here, it would have to be barbecue. And for those not in the know, North Carolina barbecue is not what most folks from other places think. Firstly, here it is pork and not beef. Second, and this is gonna make half the state hate me...but if you do get North Carolina barbecue, do yourself a favor and get the red sauce. Do not get the vinegar sauce. That is a very acquired taste, and most folks who never had it would not like it. It is down east where you get the vinegar sauce most commonly; western North Carolina is where red sauce is king.

Other potential NC prizes could be NCAA Basketball tickets (assuming we haven't stupidly passed another "I hate trans people" law)—especially the Duke-Carolina game. Pickup trucks would go well here, and maybe throw in a mobile home or two, a trip to the mountains or the coast. Both are popular destinations here (confession, I prefer the mountains, which are shark-free).

I'd love to see you guys solicit your readers to submit for their own states. What might work well as a prize in their respective states? It could be fun.

V & Z respond: If readers send in their ideas, we'll run some of them next week.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: I am a very serious daily reader of your website. I read and think about and share all of your great articles. Really. Every day. I don't just read it for the competitions you announce. But state vaccination incentives...okay, I'll play.

  1. Arizona: An election vote recount that comes out your way.
  2. D.C.: If you reach 80% vaccination rate by Labor Day, statehood!
  3. New Hampshire: If you reach herd immunity rate by Aug. 1, your state continues to go first in primaries.
  4. Any ex-Confederate state: Herd immunity and the rest of us won't say anything about all those voter suppression laws.

What do I win?

V & Z respond: You win all the North Carolina BBQ you can eat. Unfortunately, it's from down east, so it's drenched in vinegar sauce.


C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: I laughed out loud when I read the bit on the "Dunning-Kruger Effect" today, because it immediately reminded me of a couple of ex-boyfriends. Dunning and Kruger could have saved a lot of money on their study just by asking a few women about their romantic encounters. Sadly, most of us can attest to the fact that "poor performers do not learn from feedback suggesting a need to improve."

V & Z respond: If Masters and Johnson and Dunning and Kruger had somehow managed to join forces, they might have changed the world.

J.L. in Chicago, IL, writes: Yup, I noticed your use, in last week's mailbag, of "The Meaning of Santorum." Nice! And I suspect I was not the only one. There must be some decent overlap between your readers and readers/listeners of Dan Savage.

V & Z respond: The most risqué stuff has to be pretty deeply buried. Like, for example, this extremely R-rated joke from "The Simpsons":

A sign over a hillbilly-looking
store reads 'Sneed's Feed and Seed--Formerly Chuck's.' The joke is the implication that it followed the exact same 
rhyming pattern under the previous ownership. That is to say, the business was previously known as 'Chuck's Fu*k
and Su*k'

If you don't get the bit, and you want to, it's explained in the html alternate text for the image.

A.D. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: Since you are keen on posting pictures of Tucker Carlson lately, I'd like to submit another:

Alfred E. Neuman of MAD
Magazine and Tucker Carlson

Of the two depicted here, one is an obviously satirical character who serves as the face of a media outlet mainly geared towards warping reality. The other one is, of course, Alfred E. Neuman.

S.C. in Hoffman Estates, IL, writes: Although I'm a Chicago Bears fan, P.D. in Leamington has got it all wrong, and I have to defend the honor of the NFL North. The Minnesota Vikings have been to four Super Bowls ('70, '74, '75 and '77), even though they lost them all. At least the Bears are 1-1.

V & Z respond: The important thing isn't that the Vikings have zero Super Bowls, or that the Bears have one. It's that the Packers have four.

A.F.R. in Oakland, CA, writes: I am a long time follower of This is my first time to send you an e-mail. I was listening to some outrageous music from the sixties (I think). The name of the song is "Nothing." The group is The Fugs.

At one point in the song they sing: "Richard Nixon, enormous prickson."

There you go!

V & Z respond: We would be even more impressed if they found a rhyme for "Dwight D. Eisenhower."

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun05 Saturday Q&A
Jun04 What Is Going on with Donald Trump?
Jun04 What Is Going on with the DoJ?
Jun04 There Will Be No Presidential Commission on the Insurrection
Jun04 I Fought the Law, Part I: Louis DeJoy
Jun04 I Fought the Law, Part II: Matt Gaetz
Jun04 I Fought the Law, Part III: Mo Brooks
Jun04 Texas Backs Down, a Little
Jun04 West Virginia Ups Its Vaccination Game
Jun04 COVID Diaries: The U.S. vs. the World
Jun03 MacDonough Rules That Democrats Get Only One More Reconciliation Bill This Year
Jun03 Biden Calls for a National Month of Vaccinations
Jun03 Trump Shuts Down His Blog
Jun03 Tampa Man Pleads Guilty to Storming the Capitol
Jun03 Katie Hobbs Is Running for Governor of Arizona
Jun03 National Enquirer Settles with FEC over Helping Trump in 2016
Jun03 Liberty University Is at a Crossroads
Jun03 Bye-Bye, Bibi
Jun02 Biden Speaks in Tulsa
Jun02 Democracy in Danger
Jun02 To Trump or Not to Trump: The Democrats
Jun02 To Trump or Not to Trump: The Republicans
Jun02 RNC Is Already Whining about 2024 Debates
Jun02 Limbaugh's Empire Splinters
Jun02 Stansbury Elected to Succeed Haaland
Jun01 3-D Chess, Texas-Style
Jun01 Voter ID, by the Numbers
Jun01 Bipartisanship, Huh, Yeah--What Is it Good For? (Absolutely Nothing...)
Jun01 This Is Not Fake News...Or Is It?
Jun01 Corporate America Gets Woke
Jun01 GOP Has a Greene-Sized Headache
Jun01 Flynn Appears to Be All-in on Military Coup
May31 Texas Senate Approves Draconian New Voting Bill
May31 Alaska Gives the Texas Law a Dress Rehearsal
May31 New Hampshire Republicans Are Working on Getting Around H.R. 1
May31 Time to Fish or Cut Bait
May31 Biden's Budget
May31 Check Your Calendar: It's 2024 already
May31 Will We Ever Know?
May31 Exhausted Voters, Exhausted Ballots
May30 Sunday Mailbag
May29 The Republicans' Line Holds on 1/6 Commission
May29 Saturday Q&A
May28 As the Senate Turns
May28 Many Republicans Would Like to Move On from Trump
May28 Trump Legal Blotter
May28 Something Else for Trump to Worry About
May28 Today's 2022 Candidacy News
May28 Vaxxpots Are Working
May28 COVID Diaries: The Numbers Are Dropping, in Spite of All the Things We Are Doing Wrong