We got a surprisingly large number of Trump questions this week, so we'll start with some of those. This week's installment also includes the longest (and arguably grimmest) answer we've ever written. In short, you might want to make sure you have a strong cup of coffee before you start reading.
Q: If Trump secretly pardoned Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg so he wouldn't be subject to pressure to testify against Trump in any future lawsuits, at what point does the pardon become known to the public? J.M., Lexington, KY
A: Customarily, pardons are registered with the Department of Justice when they are issued. If Trump quietly did that and told then-AG Bill Barr or then-acting AG Jeffrey Rosen to keep it quiet, then AG Merrick Garland would have that information, and would presumably release it, either through some sort of official announcement or through a leak.
It is possible Trump might have declined to do that, so as to enjoy greater secrecy. If so, then it would not be absolutely necessary to reveal the pardons until a federal crime was charged. However, there are risks to this. Secret pardons have never been tested in court, and could be subject to a legal challenge. Further, the pardonee would need ironclad proof that the pardon was issued while Trump was still president, and proving that is not so easy.
In any event, this is moot in Weisselberg's case. He's being investigated for, and looks like he's going to charged with, state-level crimes. Those cannot be pardoned by a president.
Q: Like most liberals, I am excited anytime something bad happens to Donald Trump, and I cringe at the consequence-avoiding teflon he seems to have. Could you get out the crystal ball, give some probabilities for the following, and explain your reasoning: (1) Donald Trump spends time in jail, (2) Rudy Giuliani spends time in jail, (3) one of the Trump children spends time in jail, and (4) Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) spends time in jail? M.F., Calgary, Alberta
A: First, we assume that jail (short-term incarceration for lower-level crimes) and prison (longer-term incarceration for more serious crimes) are being used interchangeably here, and that you're really asking which of these folks is likely to do some sort of serious time, as opposed to spending a night in a holding cell before making bail. Second, we're not confident enough to assign specific probabilities, but we'll try to give you as satisfactory an answer as we can.
Anyhow, we would guess the most likely future inmate is Gaetz. His alleged crimes are so serious that he would absolutely have to do some time if convicted. The evidence against him appears pretty damning. And that's just the evidence that is publicly known; who knows what else prosecutors might have on him? Gaetz is also young and healthy, so he's not likely to escape imprisonment by dying, or in response to a request for compassionate, non-prison sentencing.
Next most likely is Trump. He's left himself exposed in too many ways to wriggle out of them all. Further, there is massive benefit to being the DA who brings him down, and there will be huge blowback against any DA (or AG) who tries and fails. So there will be much motivation to pull out all the stops when it comes to him.
Third in line—and we'd say we're roughly in coin flip territory now—is Giuliani. On one hand, he's clearly been very careless in his dealings in the past few years, and that is likely to come back to bite him. On the other hand, most of his trouble is either professional (disbarment) or civil (Smartmatic suit). The only criminal issue that is clearly hanging over his head is his interactions with Ukraine, and we just don't know enough about that to feel confident he's going up the river for it. Also, he's the oldest and apparently unhealthiest person on this list, so he might beat the rap by expiring. And we really do think that his fleeing the U.S. is possible, so he might beat the rap by escaping.
However, does he really want to live in Angola, Cameroon, or Niger? He would have to find a country that is livable and which is not subject to U.S. pressure. Sure, he could try to move to Saudi Arabia, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has enough trouble with the U.S. already and doesn't want more. If Rudy showed up and the U.S. asked for him back, MBS might just arrest him and send him to Egypt (which does have an extradition treaty). Would this be legal? Wrong question. Right question: Do you think MBS gives a hoot about what is legal?
Last in line is Trump's children. Nearly all of the reporting on them, their possible legal exposure, the extent to which they are being investigated, etc. is speculative. The logic is that (1) the Trump Organization was up to no good, (2) The kids were intimately involved in the Trump Organization, and therefore (3) the kids were up to no good and so are in deep trouble. However, that's not evidence, it's just a bunch of (admittedly reasonable) assumptions. The kids might have been insulated from any shady dealings. Or they may flip on their father/their colleagues to save themselves.
Q: Why does it take so long to even charge Donald Trump with a crime when he's clearly broken many laws? I "get" that you have to get it right and I also "get" that someone with lots of money can drag things out, but heck, even Harvey Weinstein has been charged, tried and jailed, and all in the last few years. D.D., Hollywood, FL
A: The case against Harvey Weinstein was pretty simple. A number of women said he committed acts of sexual assault, and he said that he didn't. It wasn't all that hard to get the victims and Weinstein into a courtroom, to have them each tell their side of the story, and to let a jury decide.
The most significant case against Trump, which is the one in New York, is vastly more complex. It appears to involve many different sorts of illegal acts, and it definitely involves financial records, which take time to acquire and unravel. And a DA has to have basically the whole case in place before charging, because the ball will get rolling pretty quickly thereafter. It's also the case that DA Cyrus Vance Jr. got key documents he needed, namely Trump's tax returns, fairly recently. Others who might be investigating, say Merrick Garland and his team, got an even later start.
Q: Last week, Bill Maher brought up the question of what would our country be like now if the insurrectionists had gotten to Mike Pence and succeeded in killing/hanging him? What alternative political landscape would we have now? B.P., Mill Creek, WA
A: We will start by noting that, should that have come to pass, it would have fundamentally altered the character of that day. In that event, you would have a near-total breach of security, along with a crowd that was out of control and had made clear its violent intent. This would have left the police, or the National Guard, with little choice but to open fire on the crowd. So, things would have been much, much bloodier.
Once order was restored, then, with a dead VP (and probably other dead officials), as well as a bloodbath on the steps of the Capitol, Americans would be angry and would demand answers and punishments. Donald Trump would likely be arrested, and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) would be tossed out of office by their peers, while some representatives would be similarly cashiered. The Republican brand would be terribly damaged, perhaps fatally, while the Democrats would have political cover to do almost anything they saw fit in order to "fix" the country.
In short, we think things would have been very different if Pence had been assassinated.
Q: You added a trademark symbol to "True Believers" in a post about Republican activists. I know there's a True Believers comic series based on Marvel characters—just safeguarding against Disney's long legal reach? M.M., San Diego, CA
A: No, we're not concerned about Disney. Their legal department is a real Mickey Mouse operation.
The trademark symbol implies a manufactured group identity, either by the members of the group themselves in an effort to feel special, or by those in power who wish to manipulate the group for their own purposes. It's a rather subtle bit of snark.
Q: We live in a fairly red area, to the east of blue Los Angeles, and many of our neighbors have American flags conspicuously displayed in their front yards. I have no way to verify this but have my suspicions that this is an indication of one's Trumpiness or at least one's Republican-ness. I have never felt the need to publicly display my patriotism (I'm plenty patriotic!) but now I fear that flying the stars and stripes on a very tall pole in my yard would give the neighbors a misleading message about my political views. I'm trying to keep current with the subtle dog-whistle-type messaging these days and would be interested in your take on this. Am I just being paranoid or has my country's icon been co-opted and sullied by those I consider the enemy? Case in point—the shocking use of flagpoles in the Jan. 6 attack. K.A., Upland, CA
A: It's true that a lot of phony patriots parade the American flag around, although that's always been true. The real dog-whistle flags, at least at the moment, are the Confederate battle flag and the Blue Lives Matter flag.
We don't think that the Trumpers or the right-wing have a monopoly on the flag. (Z)'s grandmother was a die-hard liberal, and she regularly flew the flag from her house until her passing in 2003 (before Trumpism, true, but not much before). Military families and veterans often fly the flag, and they are not all Republicans or Trumpers. That said, if a person is really concerned, they could add a second flag to the mix. A pride flag, or a Black Lives Matter flag, or AFL-CIO, or possibly even a state flag.
Q: Now that the USPS Board of Governors has been fully approved, why haven't they gotten rid of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy? R.P., Redmond, WA
A: We have no insider information, all we can do is point out three things:
- There's no immediate need to send him packing; the next major election is 18 months away.
- They may be waiting a while, either to make things look respectable, or until his legal problems become serious enough to give them political cover.
- There could be ugly reforms that need to be made, and they want to let him get the blood on his hands (rather than theirs) before they let him go.
All of this assumes, of course, that the Democratic majority thinks he needs to go. Maybe they do, maybe they don't.
Q: You wrote that the "invisible hand" might be accomplishing what Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) could not, in raising the minimum wage to $15/hour. That same day, a Houston hospital fired 150 employees for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and the CDC director noted that now, nearly all COVID deaths are among the unvaccinated and are preventable. This raises the question: How much longer will big insurance companies continue to foot the bill for weeks in the ICU because their policy holder refused to take basic precautions? Will the free market dictate policy cancellations for the unvaccinated, and would that finally force the hands of the reluctant? C.R., Kansas City, MO
A: It would be hard to make this work. If the insurance companies tried to cancel policies in advance of hospitalization, they'd have to have a way to identify the un-vaccinated, which would be a huge logistical and legal hill to climb. If they tried to cancel policies following hospitalization, that wouldn't save money (since the money would already be owed under the terms of the policy), and would be somewhat pointless since the person is unlikely to be hospitalized again. And this is before we consider that many people are covered by group policies and can't be canceled or booted.
The companies could change the terms of some insurance policies, either requiring proof of vaccination, or putting COVID-19 on the list of un-covered liabilities. However, they can only do that on the next policy, and not the current one, so this would be a long-term response, not an immediate one.
Q: To my mind, there is an obvious argument against D.C. Statehood that I don't recall having heard expressed anywhere. Washington is the 20th largest city in the United States by population. If it is going to become and therefore get two senators to represent its interests, why should New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and the other dozen or so cities that are larger than Washington not also become separate states and enjoy comparative representation in the Senate? J.B., Hutto, TX
A: You're comparing apples and oranges. The argument for D.C. isn't really based on population, excepting that they have easily cleared the minimum population required by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (and 1789). It's based on the fact that the people there are American citizens/residents, are not fully represented in the government, and statehood is the established means for resolving that. A constitutional amendment granting the District one representative and two senators would also solve the problem, but the Republicans aren't going to go for that, either.
Q: Whenever the Senate goes on a major break, one order of business on the final in Senate workday is usually a large number of military type promotions. Why do all these military promotions have to go thru the Senate? Thankfully, these are always done with unanimous consent; imagine the time this would take if one party forced roll call votes on military promotions. R.V., Pittsburgh, PA
A: Shhh. Don't give Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) any ideas.
Anyhow, as we have discussed before, military officers are considered Officers of the United States. In broad terms, that means they are vested with some portion of the sovereign power of the United States. In specific terms, that means that they are empowered to either commit the U.S. to some obligation (financial, diplomatic, etc.) or to command troops.
The Constitution implies that all Officers of the United States (a group that includes many civilian officials, and not just military personnel) should be approved by the Senate. This is impractical, and so when it comes to military folks, the compromise is that Senate only approves people above the rank of major. This has been deemed enough to satisfy the constitutional requirements (which would otherwise have to be changed by amendment). It also serves to reiterate (1) the Congress' oversight of the executive branch, of which the military is a part, and (2) civilian control of the military.
Q: Reading your recent items on Supreme Court rulings, I was wondering how involved the original plaintiffs/defendants in a case remain involved when the case gets to the Supreme Court level? I recall reading that the original plaintiff in Roe v. Wade had little to do with the case beyond the initial court session—it was taken up by activists. So, in Lange v. California, for example, would the officer/police department directly be involved by the time it reaches the nine justices' desks? P.S., Brooklyn, NY
A: You have the right of it. Generally speaking, the facts of these cases are pretty simple or, at very least, have been clearly established by the time the case has worked its way up the legal ladder. The Supreme Court basically doesn't do witness testimony; by the time they get involved, the debate is not over what happened, but instead which legal theories/precedents are most applicable. In Lange, attorneys working for the state of California presented the state's case, and the police officer, his department, and the arrestee (Lange) all remained on the sidelines.
Q: I always assumed that the Chief Justice would be chosen based on time in the Supreme Court, and not just given to the nominee who replaces the departing Chief Justice, but that's clearly not the case. Why isn't it seniority-based, when the Chief has (slightly?) more power than the others? T.B., Santa Clara, CA
A: Sometimes, the senior member (or, at least, one of the most senior members) has indeed been promoted. However, if a president wants to maximize their influence on the Court, then it makes the most sense for them to put their guy or gal into the most powerful position, as opposed to elevating some other president's guy/gal. There are also cases where the president had a political need to place a specific and prominent person on the Court as soon as a seat opened, the first seat that happened to open up was the chief justiceship, and making that prominent person an associate while promoting someone else to chief would have been politically thorny. Such was the case with Salmon P. Chase (Abe Lincoln needed to get him out of the Cabinet and out of his hair), William Howard Taft (Warren Harding needed to unify the GOP), and Earl Warren (Dwight D. Eisenhower had to pay off a promise to appoint Warren to the Court in exchange for withdrawing from the election of 1952).
Q: Since President Biden became the first president to acknowledge the Tulsa massacre, are there other infamous attacks on black communities that white history has conveniently forgotten? I know the Black town of Rosewood, FL, was burned to the ground in 1923 and the survivors had to hide in the Florida swamps until they could be rescued (not by the state or federal government, incidentally). My Google search must have been flawed because it returned with articles about Tulsa only—Rosewood didn't come up, but I remember it from a news report and a film with Don Cheadle. Speaking of film, recently I serendipitously watched "Judas and the Black Messiah." I remember the news reporting of this incident as a child because I couldn't understand why people who supported one of my favorite comic book characters, the Black Panther, deserved to be shot in such a violent raid—ah, the naiveté of youth! Maybe this subject—the whitewashing of Black history—deserves its own survey piece from your perspective. D.E., Lancaster, PA
A: This is, of course, a very, very big question. So, our answer will necessarily just scratch the surface. Before we start, here are the ground rules that govern our response:
- We are going to give you 10 items and, because trying to "rank" them is distasteful, we're going to
present them in chronological order.
- To keep things at least somewhat manageable, we are going to limit our focus to the American era (1770s-present).
The colonial stuff is often poorly documented and poorly understood, and including it would make an already unwieldy
response too unwieldy.
- We are also going to limit the list to offenses against Black people. It would be easy to make a list just like this
for Latinos, or Asians, or Native Americans (as well as Catholics, women, LGBTQ+ folks, etc.). But if we tried to cover
them all, it would be too much.
- It would certainly be possible to just make a list of 10 riots/massacres (or, for that matter, a list of 100
riots/massacres), but that would also get somewhat repetitive and might not be the most instructive exercise. So, we are
going to be a bit broader in covering some of the harms done to Black Americans over the years.
- Because counting the number of dead or injured Black people was often not a high priority for the (almost
exclusively white) authorities, casualty figures for many of these events are murky at best.
- It is not always easy for a professional historian, who is steeped in this material, to be certain how familiar these events are to non-professionals. The first time (Z) taught a Civil War history class, for example, it took about three lectures before he figured out that the students were unfamiliar with "Union" and "Confederacy," terms he's read and heard tens of thousands of times. Anyhow, we don't want to gloss over anything, but we also don't want to spend time on anything that is very well known, since the question specifically asks about things that are "forgotten." For example, we tend to assume that most people are familiar with the Constitution's 3/5 compromise, which, in effect, defined Black Americans as being worth 60% of a white American. So, our standard for inclusion on this list—in other words, our definition of "forgotten"—is that the entry must, in the experience and judgment of (Z), who has taught a lot of undergraduates, be something that at least half of college students would not be able to explain in 2-3 sentences.
And with that out of the way, here we go:
- The Cincinnati Riots (1829-41): Large-scale incidents of racially-driven violence were
somewhat limited in the first 50 years that the U.S. was an independent nation, primarily because the vast majority of
Black Americans were enslaved. By the second quarter of the 19th century, however, a fairly sizable number of enslaved
people in the North had been freed (and they were joined by a fairly sizable number of runaways). Meanwhile, America's
cities were growing dramatically, and filling up with significant numbers of poor white people who were concerned about
protecting their economic and social status. It is not surprising that these two trends ran headlong into each other in
Cincinnati, as that city is right on the Ohio River (and so very accessible to new citizens arriving from other places), and is
also right along the border with Kentucky, which remained a slave state, and thus a source of runaways, until the 1860s.
Anti-Black violence broke out in
The number of people injured or killed in these incidents is unknown, but the riots did have three clear consequences: (1)
Cincinnati acquired a reputation as the pro-slavery capital of the North, (2) many Black citizens chose to leave the
city, and (3) those Black citizens who remained banded together to form mutual support organizations, like
the United Colored Association and the Sons of Enterprise.
- Nat Turner's Rebellion (1831): The large size of the Southern United States, and the
population imbalance in favor of white Southerners, made large-scale slave rebellions somewhat impractical. Only two
Southern states were majority-Black—South Carolina and Mississippi—and in each of those, the Black majority
was relatively slight (roughly 52%-48%). By way of comparison, the population of Haiti—site of the most successful
slave rebellion in the New World—was more than 90% enslaved Africans.
As a result of these factors, there were only a small number of major slave rebellions before the Civil War (between three and six, depending on one's standards). This did not stop white Southerners from being very paranoid that an insurrection might be right around the corner, or from reacting extremely violently when one did take place. Nat Turner's Rebellion, led by enslaved preacher Nat Turner, was the largest and bloodiest of the American slave insurrections. The rebels killed approximately 60 white people and, in the process of suppressing the rebellion and dispensing punishment, Southern authorities killed or executed 160 Black people in response. That included Turner, of course, who was hanged on Nov. 11, 1831. Thereafter, there were undoubtedly hundreds or thousands of smaller acts of violence perpetrated by frightened white Southerners, particular as part of roving slave patrols. However, virtually all of those incidents are invisible in the documentary record.
- The New York City Draft Riots (1863): The outbreak of a war, particularly a major war,
puts great stresses on a society, and leaves citizens with frayed nerves and short tempers. Not coincidentally, many
of the most notorious incidents of urban violence took place in the midst of wars (the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, the
Watts Riots of 1965, the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, etc.). Perhaps the most notable example is the
New York City Draft Riots
of 1863. During the Civil War, New York City remained a Democratic and largely anti-war stronghold. It was home to a
great many poor Irish immigrants, large numbers of whom opposed the war on the basis of class concerns ("rich man's war,
poor man's fight") and of racial concerns (they feared that emancipation would lead to mass Black migrations, and so
would create wage-depressing competition for jobs). When government authorities arrived in New York to begin drafting
conscripts in accordance with the terms of the Enrollment Act of 1863—or, in the eyes of many Irish immigrants, to
force them to risk their lives in a war they staunchly opposed, while wealthier people could buy their way out
of service—violence erupted. Black New Yorkers, who of course had nothing to do with the draft, were targeted by
roving mobs. When the dust settled at the end of 3 days, at least 100 Black citizens were dead, and probably more like
As a sidebar, very few draftees actually ended up in the Union Army. There were so many ways for people to escape service—even poor people, who generally had little problem dodging the authorities—that only two out of every 100 draftees actually ended up in uniform. The purpose of the Civil War draft was not to directly furnish conscripts to the army, but to indirectly furnish them by serving as a "stick" that encouraged would-be soldiers to voluntarily agree to join the service and to take advantage of the "carrots" available, primarily in the form of enlistment bonuses. A soldier who was drafted forfeited their chance at these bonuses, which often ran into the thousands of dollars ($1,000 in 1863 is equivalent to about $20,000 today).
- The Fort Pillow Massacre (1864): For a very long time, people in the Western world conceived of war
as a basically civilized affair, governed by certain standards of chivalry and fair play. This is why, for example, the
British wore bright red uniforms for over a century—it was seen as cowardly to disguise oneself, and honorable (or
"honourable") to turn oneself into a giant, walking target. Such romantic notions began to crumble during the Crimean
War (1853-56), and they crumbled a great deal more during the Civil War. By 1864, the Civil War had entered its nastiest phase.
It's not a coincidence that the first version of the Geneva Conventions, which attempt to impose limits on wartime behavior, was
in that year.
Anyhow, with many fewer constraints on their behavior, both rank-and-file soldiers and commanding officers sometimes perpetrated horrific acts of violence that would have been unthinkable in previous wars, and that would eventually come to be called "war crimes." Possibly the most notorious of these was the Fort Pillow Massacre. In brief, Southern troops led by Nathan Bedford Forrest—a one-time slave smuggler who would help to create the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War—encountered and overcame a predominantly Black detachment of Northern troops during the Battle of Fort Pillow. The defeated Black soldiers tried to surrender, which should have been accepted, both in accordance with the customs that governed the Civil War, and with the soon-to-be-completed First Geneva Convention. Instead, Forrest and his men granted no quarter, and slaughtered over 200 unarmed Black men.
- The Postwar Order (1865-mid 1870s): Wars are difficult for a society to cope with.
Re-acclimating to peace is sometimes not much easier. The Civil War devastated Southern banks, railroads, and farms,
while also depriving the region of much of its labor force. White Southerners were left to cope with this turmoil, while
also fearing that their privileged status as white people was in danger, and—on top of that—while nursing their
resentment and their embarrassment over having been defeated. Meanwhile, Southern states were chock full of formerly
enslaved people who were slaves no more. What we have described here is a tinder box, just waiting for a spark.
Actually, a whole bunch of tinder boxes, since nearly all Southern townships were experiencing the same basic dynamic.
And so, there were at least 30 race riots/massacres across the region over the course of about a decade. The two most
famous are probably the
New Orleans massacre (1866)
Pulaski riot (1868).
This period also included the incident of racial violence with the highest-ever confirmed death toll, the
of 1868, which happened in Louisiana, and left more than 250 Black Southerners dead.
- The Red Record (late 1880s-early 1900s): Republicans were none-too-thrilled at the
behavior described in the previous paragraph, feeling (with some justification) that white Southerners had learned
nothing from the Civil War, and were not behaving as a defeated people should. So, the Congress and the Grant
Administration brought down the hammer, most obviously placing the South under martial law, and taking steps to destroy
the KKK. Thanks to these efforts, the years from 1875-90 were relatively quiescent in terms of anti-Black violence.
However, by 1890 (1) the Civil War and the Reconstruction were pretty far in the rear-view mirror, (2) a new generation
of white Southerners was in power in the South, (3) and the U.S. economy was struggling, thanks to a series of panics
and recessions between 1885 and 1896. And so, Southern anti-Black violence came back with a vengeance, most noticeably
in the form of lynchings—executions by hanging, usually at the hands of a mob, and without benefit of a trial.
The South averaged about two lynchings per year in the 1880s, a figure that jumped to over a hundred per year in the 1890s. This was very carefully documented in the book The Red Record, by Black anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells. She proved that while the stated reason for most lynchings was generally some alleged offense against white womanhood, the real reason in nearly all cases was to eliminate economically successful Black citizens. This era gave us, in particular, the infamous Wilmington insurrection of 1898 and the 1906 Atlanta race riot, both of them basically mass lynchings of Black citizens in those respective towns. Like the Tulsa massacre, these events were "disappeared" for several generations before finally being restored to the historical record by scholars and activists.
- Whitecapping and Sundown Towns (early 1800s-mid 1900s): As you can see from the dates in
parentheses, both of these things were a part of American culture for generations. However, they reached their height in
the first several decades of the 20th century, which is why we put them here. Both are semi-informal strategies for
maintaining white supremacy.
was a movement of white farmers who would form, in effect, goon squads and would intimidate "troublesome" Black people.
If this sounds a lot like the KKK to you, you've got the general idea, up to and including the wearing of disguises
(hence the name "whitecap").
Meanwhile, white Americans were often happy to benefit from cheap, Black labor, but they certainly did not want Black folks living among them. And so, Sundown towns were those where Black people were tolerated during the day, but were compelled—either by local statute, or the threat of violence, or both—to make themselves scarce by the time nightfall arrived. Both of these tactics are lesser-known complements to things like redlining (realtors and banks, often with specific legal sanction from city governments, would limit certain parts of town to only white homeowners) and segregation.
- Red Summer (1919): Recall the observation from above that adjusting to a postwar order can
be just as hard on a society as the war itself. So it was following World War I. That was the most massive mobilization
in American history to that date, which meant it was also the most massive demobilization, creating enormous competition
for housing, jobs, etc. The mental and emotional damage done to many soldiers was profound; what was then called "shell
shock" would later acquire the name "post-traumatic stress disorder." The U.S. economy entered a recession in late 1918.
The Russians' embrace of communism gave rise to paranoid fears of a world socialist plot. And many young Black men,
having done their duty in Europe, returned to America determined to insist upon their rights as equal citizens.
This was, as you can imagine, a recipe for disaster. At least three dozen cities had major incidents of racial violence over the span of just a few months in 1919. The most violent of these was the Elaine massacre in Arkansas, which left 5 white people and at least 100 Black people (and probably more like 200 Black people) dead. It was the activist James Weldon Johnson who coined the term "Red Summer," communicating the double meaning of "bloody" and "inspired by fears of communism." It did not help that President Woodrow Wilson and Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, who were perhaps the only people in a position to maintain order in the South, were both avowed racists who were convinced that "uppity" Black folks were under communist influence. Though things calmed a fair bit once the Red Summer was over, there were occasional incidents of violence in the next few years, including the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, which just saw its 100th anniversary commemorated, and the Rosewood massacre of 1923, which was mentioned in D.E.'s question, and which was indeed commemorated in the 1997 film "Rosewood."
- Bloody Sunday (1965): Most people know the basic story of the Civil Rights movement,
though the narrative that is taught in history classes tends to focus on the triumphant elements. Getting far less
attention, as a general rule, are the years where the successes of the movement led to far more aggressive use of
violence by white Southerners. Readers of this site are probably, on the whole, somewhat familiar with "Bloody Sunday,"
since recently passed Georgia representative John Lewis was one of the key figures involved. However, for those who
don't know, or who are a bit fuzzy, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prompted white Southerners to develop new and
innovative means of depriving Black Southerners of their right to vote (most commonly
literacy tests). Leaders of the
Civil Rights movement planned several large marches from Selma to Montgomery in protest of these machinations. During
the march that took place on Mar. 7, 1965, Alabama state troopers brutally beat many protesters with nightsticks as they
tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Among the victims was Lewis, who suffered a fractured skull. Most Americans
were horrified by the images of that day, and this helped rally support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which became
law in August of that year.
- The New Jim Crow (1960s-present): It is difficult these days to get away with overt discrimination against people of color, since that is illegal. So, those who wish to accomplish such discrimination have to find indirect means of doing so. Meanwhile, as we have pointed out several times on this site, racist behavior is also easy for otherwise tolerant people to fall into if they are not mindful enough. The scholar Michelle Alexander believes that both of these things help to explain that, even in post-Civil Rights Movement America, Black Americans are roughly seven times more likely to end up incarcerated than white Americans. She explores this in great detail in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, arguing that incarceration (legal) has replaced segregation (no longer legal) as an instrument of racial control. Note that this is exactly the sort of analysis that comes out of...Critical Race Theory.
And there you have what is, almost certainly, the heaviest answer we've ever written for the Q&A. We should also make clear that some of these incidents included the open participation of government authorities, and they pretty much all involved the tacit approval of those same authorities, who regularly chose to look the other way. Anyhow, we hope it was instructive, even if it was about as bleak a narrative as is possible.
Q: Why on Earth would you run the letter from N.M. in Phoenix without comment or fact checking? Their (possibly false) assertions of their personal voting patterns for moderate Democrats notwithstanding, the entire letter was nothing but distorted, evidence-free hyperbole straight from Breitbart or OAN. It was all ridiculous right-wing conspiracy theories about some non-existent Antifa "organization" backed by shadowy (I'm assuming Jewish) billionaires and some patently ridiculous, predictable blather about how MLK would reject the "economic violence" of BLM. Considering how much you guys don't hesitate to critique or fact-check far left comments, it seems pretty weird you would give this fact-free agitprop a platform without comment. J.M., El Sobrante, CA
A: Sometimes, including with that letter, we are asked if we deliberately run provocative letters in order to get angry people to write in. We never, ever do that. First, doing that is icky and would make our skin crawl. Second, we have plenty of material for the mailbag and no need to manufacture more. Third, if we wanted or needed more material, we would rather ask for it, and direct people toward something more interesting, like suggesting good books about famous scientists, or giving us other possibilities for a Top 10 list that we wrote, or making predictions for the upcoming year (and get ready for some good stuff on that front in a week or so).
Part of the purpose of the mailbag is to push back against the possibility of a political bubble. And when we select letters on a subject, particularly if there was a lot of feedback on that particular subject, we try to capture the spectrum of opinions we got. That section, for example, began with letters that reacted positively/constructively to our piece, and then progressed to letters that reacted more negatively/critically. It is possible the message was not genuine, but we generally have pretty good instincts for that. Further, there are usually a couple of others like it that we did not run.
When we comment on letters, we try to limit our responses to a few things: (1) clarifying or correcting something that we know to be inaccurate, (2) responding to specific claims about us/our work that nobody else is really in a position to address, and (3) adding a little levity. The N.M. letter was, in our view, a collection of strong opinions and not really a statement of facts. And if we deem something to be opinion, we rarely respond, since that is not our place; it's the province and the privilege of the readership.
Q: Maybe I just didn't notice it before, but lately your items sometimes seem to be urging lawmakers to take certain steps (like in "Manchin Plays Ball"), rather than just reporting on what's going on. Am I imagining this or is that actually the case? I hope it is, as you certainly seem to make a lot of sense (which is one of the main reasons I have been reading you every morning since 2014), and you likely have a good number of readers that are actually in a position to get these things done. I'd probably not be the only one to be very excited to have politicians get their ideas from fair-minded academics on EV rather than from extremist loons like Tucker on Fox or Q on 8kun. Anyway, if it is indeed the case, can you maybe share some instances where it was your intention to stir things a certain way, and you felt it actually happened or at least made a difference? A.D., Las Vegas, NV
A: We are definitely not in the business of advocacy. Nor are we reporters, though. What we are is academics who like to analyze politics: why something happened, what it means, what might come next, etc. That often includes discussions of the options available to a politician, a group, a party, an administration and so forth. But this is us talking about what that entity could do, not what they should do. We might even go so far as to point out which path seems to make the most sense to us, but that's an assessment of strategy, and not an attempt to influence anyone.
In terms of our influence, that's largely unknowable. A politician, or a staffer, or someone else who was affected by our words might not even be consciously aware of it or, if they are, they might not let us know. That said, we do get a little information of this sort on occasion. See tomorrow's mailbag for an example.
Q: (About) what percentage of questions you receive are you able to answer in your Saturday Q&As? And what are the top three things you wish people would keep in mind when submitting questions? T.G., College Place, WA
A: From the day that we began this feature through 1:00 a.m. PT Saturday, we have received roughly 27,295 questions. And, including today's entry, we have written 1,565 answers. That's an answer rate of about 6%.
As to three things we wish people would keep in mind, the most important is remembering to include your initials and city. If we have to try to track it down, it sucks up time that could otherwise be used for writing answers. Second, the shorter and more concise the question is, the more likely it gets an answer. Third, we don't object to people re-submitting questions. Some good questions don't fit well in a particular week, but might fit in a different week. Fourth, questions we can't possibly know the answer to ("Will the Democratic and Republican Parties exist in 2100?") are generally not high priority.
Q: In the course of writing your items, you perforce make many predictions ("...is [un]likely"). What's your track record? What proportion of these implicit predictions in fact turn out to be correct, as far as we know? Similarly, you make many declarations of so-called fact ("...the law/Constitution says"). On reflection, what proportion must be corrected or walked back? In your answer, be careful of self-serving memory biases. S.B., Tucson, AZ
A: As to predictions, we usually choose our words carefully. If we say something is "unlikely" and it happens, it doesn't really mean we were wrong, since unlikely things do sometimes happen. Given that wiggle room, there aren't too many cases where we are objectively in error. That said, we did blow at least one biggie, when we wrote a little over a year ago that if the AIDS crisis did not hurt Ronald Reagan politically, then Donald Trump surely would not be hurt by a disease, either. Oops.
As to factual errors, that depends on your exact standard. Quite often, we know the right thing, but we type the wrong thing because we are writing quickly. This happens most often with politicians' party identifiers (e.g., D-WV), with Majority/Minority leaders, and with people who have similar names (e.g., football players Jerry Kramer and Jerry Smith). That probably happens 3-5 times per week.
Sometimes, we make a factual error because our source is incorrect, or because we misread our source. For example, we screwed up the geography of Rep. Lauren Boebert's (R-CO) district a couple of weeks ago because we misunderstood a key passage in the linked article. This happens once or twice a week.
Occasionally, we write something that is wrong, and that we should have realized was wrong, or that we should have checked. Usually, these are relatively minor; this week, for example, we gave a judge with an ambiguous name the wrong gender (Dabney Friedrich turns out to be a woman, not a man). Occasionally, they are really glaring, like writing that Joe Biden is the first non white/Protestant president since John F. Kennedy (a true statement, if not for a fellow named Barack Obama). We probably make one or two minor errors of this sort in the average week, and one glaring error per month. People on the West Coast may not see these errors though because we have some very helpful proofreaders who catch many of them by the time folks on the West Coast get up and have consumed enough coffee to deal with politics.
Q: Which technology is superior: Dilithium crystals or the Flux Capacitor? Asking for a friend. J.M., Norco, CA
A: Well, dilithium crystals aren't really a technology; they are a natural resource required for the proper operation of a Cochrane-style warp engine. And if that is what we are comparing to the Flux Capacitor, then the warp engine clearly wins. It lets you travel at a rate far beyond the speed of light and it facilitates time travel, if you play your cards right (slingshotting yourself around the sun, or getting chroniton particles involved, or using the Orb of Time, etc.). The Flux Capacitor only allows for time travel.
If you wish to contact us, please use one of these addresses. For the first two, please include your initials and city.
- email@example.com For questions about politics, civics, history, etc. to be answered on a Saturday
- firstname.lastname@example.org For "letters to the editor" for possible publication on a Sunday
- email@example.com To tell us about typos or factual errors we should fix
- firstname.lastname@example.org For general suggestions, ideas, etc.
To download a poster about the site to hang up, please click here.
Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
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
Jun24 The Day After
Jun24 Another Proposal for Fixing the Filibuster
Jun24 Biden Nominates McCain for U.N. Post
Jun24 We Have Our First Redistricting Map...and Our First Redistricting Map Squabble
Jun24 Newsom to Face Recall Election
Jun23 It Ain't Over Til It's Over
Jun23 Pelosi Reportedly Ready to Move Forward with 1/6 Commission
Jun23 Manchin Plays Ball
Jun23 Democratic Super PAC Will Pour $20 Million into Voting Efforts
Jun23 Some States Are Making Voting Easier
Jun23 Democrats Vow to Reach Out to Minority Voters
Jun23 Senate Committee Takes Up D.C. Statehood
Jun23 Labor and Green Groups Urge Biden to Reject Watered-Down Infrastructure Plan
Jun23 Judge Rules Against Protesters in Lafayette Square Case
Jun23 Will the Free Market Make Bernie Sanders Obsolete?
Jun22 Sinema Lays Out Her Filibuster Views in Black and White
Jun22 Polling News, Part I: Adams Remains the Favorite
Jun22 Polling News, Part II: DeSantis for President?
Jun22 Trump's Risky Endorsement Strategy
Jun22 Tucker Carlson, Male Prostitute
Jun22 Big News Times Two from the World of Sports
Jun21 More Democrats Are Yelling "Go, Joe, Go!"
Jun21 Catholic Bishops Vote to Draft a Statement That Will Rebuke Biden
Jun21 Garcia and Yang Gang Up on Adams
Jun21 North Carolina Republicans Want to Throw Out Ballots Arriving after Election Day
Jun21 Georgia Will Soon Purge 100,000 Voters from the Rolls
Jun21 First Hearing Is Scheduled in Smartmatic's Suit against Fox News
Jun21 Trump Endorses in Alaska Senate Race
Jun21 Democrats Are Not Wild about Nikki Fried
Jun21 Poll: Chuck, Time for You to Pack Your Bags and Leave the Senate
Jun20 Sunday Mailbag
Jun19 Saturday Q&A
Jun18 SCOTUS Takes Center Stage
Jun18 McConnell Promptly Shuts Manchin Down
Jun18 American Racism, Past and Present
Jun18 Keeping Trumpism Alive, Part I: Immigration
Jun18 Keeping Trumpism Alive, Part II: Trump for Speaker
Jun17 Biden and Putin Met and Nothing Happened
Jun17 Manchin Is Open to a Mini-H.R. 1 Bill
Jun17 Schumer Is Following Two Paths on Infrastructure at the Same Time
Jun17 DSCC Will Spend $10 Million to Protect the Vote
Jun17 Mayors Have Had It