The questions are quite wide-ranging, even more so than usual, we'd say.
Q: You noted that Republicans are using delay tactics—forcing the bill to be read aloud, using all 20 hours of debate, offering unlimited amendments—to stall the current COVID-19 relief bill that is going to be passed under reconciliation. Why did the Democrats not use these same tactics to delay the Trump tax cuts (giveaway) bill under reconciliation, other than Democrats being gutless wonders? M.W., Richmond, VA
Q: Is Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) the first senator to notice that you can force a reading of a bill
under consideration, or have other senators been considering and rejecting this tactic all along?
In particular, why would the Democrats not have done this during that passage of the 2017 tax bill? The optics would have been vastly better, since the Senate really hadn't had a chance to read what was in the bill then, and it would have given the senators and the public several days (it was a long bill) to find real problems in the bill. Additionally, that bill was passed very near the end of the session, so a delay of several days might have been enough to scuttle it. D.B., Mountain View, CA
A: There have been (very rare) occasions in the past where one or more Senators invoked this "privilege." Perhaps the most notable was in 2009, when then-Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma insisted that Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) 767-page amendment to the Affordable Care Act be read aloud (reading of the actual ACA was avoided by invoking cloture). Eventually, Sanders withdrew the amendment, since he knew that it was never going to be adopted (it would, of course, have created a single-payer healthcare system).
Anyhow, the primary reason that senators rarely do this is because it's not very collegial. Not only do stunts like this poison the waters going forward, they also encourage a tit-for-tat response. That is to say, if one side insists on playing parliamentary games, the other side is encouraged and given cover to do so as well.
The current situation is a good example of this. Senate Republicans intended to spread the COVID-19-bill-reading over two days, and so as midnight approached on Thursday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) asked to adjourn. The Democrats refused, and so the bill-reading (unexpectedly) continued until it was completed around 2:00 a.m. ET. The red team assumed that the point of that was to make them stay late and miss their bedtimes and their late-night cocoa, so Johnson and McConnell left as rapidly as was possible once the Senate clerks finished the job. The Republicans either did not notice, or did not think it was important, that several of their Democratic colleagues were lingering in the chamber. And once all the members of the red team were gone, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) moved to reduce debate on the bill from 20 hours down to 3. Since there was no Republican to object, then-presiding-officer Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) found the motion in order. And so, the net result was that the GOP lost 17 hours of debate time in exchange for 10 hours of bill-reading—a net loss of 7 hours of delaying.
With that said, there is one senator who would like every bill to be read in full. He thinks bills have gotten too big and complicated, and that the federal government is trying to do too much these days, and that forced-bill-reading would help trim Congress' wings. So, he has sponsored what he calls the Read the Bills Act. You can click on the link if you want to know what senator it is, though it shouldn't be too hard to guess which member: (1) is militantly pro-small government, (2) thinks that dumb parliamentary tricks are a good way to advance that worldview, and (3) has no problem with uncollegial behavior. We'll even give you a hint: This senator is so uncollegial to his neighbors that one of them tackled him and put him in the hospital.
There is no chance that the Read the Bills Act actually passes. But if it does, or if that uncollegial senator (or his colleagues) tries to pull this stunt too many more times, the Democrats may just take a cue from their brethren in Colorado. In the state Senate there, back in 2019, the Republicans insisted on the reading of a 2,000-page tax bill. In response, the Democrats brought in five computers, and had them read the bill simultaneously and at a speed faster than human beings can actually process. That cut 60 hours of reading time down to less than 2 hours.
And finally, the reason the Democrats did not do this back in 2017 is that the shady parts of the GOP tax bill were already getting plenty of attention; a forced reading wouldn't have improved on that. And it also wouldn't have stopped passage; that bill is basically the Republican Party's entire raison d'être legislatively, and there is no way they were going to be derailed.
Q: Could you explain to this poor foreigner about the history of the filibuster, and why Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are so married to it? Has it ever been used to good purpose? Do the voters of Arizona and West Virginia have direct interests that are maintained by the existence of the filibuster? Do those voters even really care about the filibuster? Or is it just a deeply held personal conviction on the senators' parts, that maintaining a mechanism for a minority to put some brakes on the actions of a majority is so critical to the future of the republic that it is worthwhile giving up H.R. 1 and ensuring rule-by-Republican-minority in perpetuity? Frankly, I just don't understand; but then, I live in a Westminster parliamentary democracy, where a bare government majority essentially confers dictatorial powers (except over the Constitution). But, then we also seem to have gerrymandering mostly under control. R.B., Calgary, Alberta, Canada
A: We're a little leery of giving free intel to someone from up North, but we'll proceed on the hope that you're not a spy. Perhaps that is naive.
Anyhow, the filibuster is close to two centuries old, but it was used very rarely until the 1960s, when Southern senators used it liberally in order to try to maintain their conservative social order. It didn't work very well, as all of the major civil rights bills ended up being adopted anyhow. In 1970, noting that the filibusters had made it hard to conduct any other Senate business, then-Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) engineered a change in the rules to allow the Senate to have more than one item of business on its plate at a time. This, in turn, made it much easier to sustain filibusters, since they no longer required a physical presence on the floor. The Senate used to have 2-3 filibusters a year, but by the 1980s the number was pushing 100, and today it's more than 300 in an average year.
Broadly speaking, the argument in favor of the filibuster is that it gives the Senate's minority party a voice in legislation (something that the minority largely does not have in the House). There are plenty of cases where a law was killed by a filibuster, and plenty more when a law was made more moderate and palatable in response to a filibuster. Whether or not those were positive developments tends to depend on what side of the issue a person falls.
In any event, the argument for the filibuster fails when one party or the other is no longer acting in good faith, and is using the technique merely for obstructive purposes, with no intention of securing improvements in any legislation, ever. Given that Senate Republicans have proclaimed openly, since 2008, that their only job is to oppose Barack Obama/Joe Biden, we have surely reached the point where the legitimate purpose of the filibuster is effectively gone, and the tactic is being deployed primarily (or solely) for undemocratic purposes. Keep in mind that the framers put multiple clauses into the Constitution requiring more than a majority vote for certain purposes (like, for example, conviction in an impeachment). If they had wanted all legislation to require a supermajority in the Senate, they could have written that into the document. The fact that they did not is instructive.
As to Manchin and Sinema, they are always in the minority, in a manner of speaking. When Republicans control the upper chamber, they are literally in the minority. And when Democrats control the upper chamber, they are the outliers. In either case, the filibuster works in their favor, giving them outsized power to control the Senate's agenda. That may be the sole reason they want it to stay intact. However, it is possible that they also fear recrimination from their voters at home if the filibuster goes the way of the dodo. Most West Virginians and Arizonans probably don't care about the filibuster, per se, but if it's no longer in effect then Manchin and Sinema could be forced to take a much larger number of politically tricky votes. Plus, even if the legislation currently on deck (like H.R. 1) does not offend the folks back home, the Democratic majority might eventually pass some other bill that would offend them.
Q: What are the chances that Joe Manchin (D-WV) wakes up one morning and becomes Joe Manchin (R-WV)? R.S., San Mateo, CA
A: Very small. In the end, he's still a Democrat, and is in line with his party on most things. Further, unless he's planning to retire, primary elections are freebies for him regardless of what office he runs for. If he becomes a Republican and then runs for reelection to the Senate, or runs for his old job as governor of West Virginia, he's going to get a serious primary challenge from some well-funded Republican (like Don Blankenship or Jim Justice).
Q: If we fantasize for a minute and imagine that the Democrats in the Senate overcome the filibuster barrier and pass H.R. 1 to expand Americans' access to the ballot box, what chance will the bill have for long-term survival vs a 6-3 conservative SCOTUS when the states with GOP trifectas file suit to burn it down? J.D., Ames, IA
A: It will have a very good chance of survival.
We have written this many times, and will write it many times more, but the Supreme Court really does have to be mindful of overreach. If their decisions appear to be partisan declarations, with no meaningful basis in law, then they will encourage: (1) the president and other stakeholders to ignore those decisions, and (2) more and more talk about Court packing or the creation of a Constitutional Court or the creation of some other limits on SCOTUS' power.
When the Roberts Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in Shelby County v. Holder, the Chief Justice—in the majority opinion—explained exactly what was objectionable about the Act, and how Congress could fix it. H.R. 1 follows his instructions to the letter; if he and the Court moved the goalposts, they would look like fools and would severely weaken their authority.
There are other parts of H.R. 1 that go beyond Shelby, like standardizing voting practices across the country for federal elections. Those additional elements are rooted in Congress' Constitutional authority, however. Art. I, Sec. 4 reads: "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations." Roberts & Co. would really have to stand on their heads to find that Congress does not have the right to make election-governing regulations, since it is literally right there in the Constitution.
Q: With all the talk of Republicans using the filibuster to obstruct the Biden agenda, what is the history of Democrats using the same tool during the Trump Administration? S.A., Salisbury, MD
A: They used it considerably less often than Republicans did during the Obama years, though considerably more than was the norm before the year 2000 or so. This is less about philosophical differences between parties, and more about differences in circumstances. For the first two years of the Trump presidency, the GOP controlled the House, Senate, and White House. However, thanks to differences of opinion among House Republicans, relatively little legislation was passed, and so there was relatively little legislation for Democrats to filibuster.
For the final two years of the Trump presidency, the Democrats controlled the House, and passed plenty of legislation. However, then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tossed it in his desk drawer and did not bring it up for a vote, instead spending most of the Senate's time on unfilibusterable matters like approving judges. So there was once again limited opportunity for the minority Democrats to use the filibuster, albeit for different reasons than during the first two years of Trump's presidency.
Q: Could you give us a breakdown of the different judiciary levels under the Supreme Court and how many Republican appointees, Democratic appointees, and open seats there are? S.S., West Hollywood, CA
A: To start, here are how many judges are currently serving, by the president who appointed them:
|All Serving Judges
The first column includes all the judges who have assumed senior status. Some of them hear cases as needed. Others, like the one remaining Johnson appointee (Jack B. Weinstein) do not. Ultimately, it's the second column that really matters, since those folks hear the great majority of cases.
As you can see, there are currently 20 more active Republican appointees than Democratic appointees. However, there are currently 69 open seats—60 on the district courts, 5 on the courts of appeals, 3 on the court of federal claims, and 1 on the court of international trade. Since judges can't be filibustered, Joe Biden will be filling all of those in the next year or so. In addition, there are around 40 judges who are on the cusp of assuming senior status (including many Reagan and Bush appointees). So, by this time next year, the courts will have roughly 500 Democratic appointees versus 380 Republican appointees.
Q: You've written a few times that "Many House Republicans are in carefully gerrymandered, very Trumpy districts." How can a district be both gerrymandered and very Trumpy? Unless Democrats committed the gerrymander (which is relatively rare and should not lead to many House Republicans), a gerrymandered district contains 45% or so Democrats, which limits its Trumpiness. J.K., Seoul, South Korea
Q: Sometimes on this site, gerrymandering is blamed for producing districts that are so unbalanced (massive majority of one or the other party) that extremist nut jobs get elected. Other times it is blamed for producing districts that are just barely unbalanced, resulting in the majority party winning more seats than it deserves (though presumably the candidates who are elected are more moderate). Is this an accurate understanding? Is the latter situation always the goal for the party doing the redistricting? A.S., Hanover, NH
A: These two things may seem to be in conflict, but they are not.
The ideal district, from a Republican perspective, would be 50.001% Republican, with all of those voters being people who always vote, and who always vote Republican. That would waste as few votes as is humanly possible. (Obviously, the ideal Democratic district would be the same, except swap 'Democratic' for 'Republican.')
Of course, we do not live in an ideal world. First of all, geography imposes at least some constraints on gerrymandering; you can't put the western part of the Florida panhandle in the same district with, say, Orlando. Second, knowledge about voters—the depth of their partisan loyalty and the likelihood they will show up for most or all of the next decade's worth of elections—is imperfect. And so, a gerrymanderer has to make some judgment calls, and decide what kind of balance they want between "waste as few votes as is possible" and "make sure the district is as safe as possible."
As we have written a few times, the current round of gerrymandering is going to be particularly tricky for the Republicans. They know full well who is a loyal Donald Trump supporter and who is not, but what they do not know is how reliably those folks will show up to vote when Trump is not on the ballot (or, even worse for the GOP, if he is actively trying to discourage their participation). So, the gerrymanderers could shoot for a bunch of very Trumpy districts with small Republican majorities, at risk that the Trumpers don't bother to vote in the midterms. Or, they could shoot for a bunch of Republican supermajorities, at risk of wasting votes needlessly. Or they could aim for somewhere in the middle. Given the geographical issues, as well as the fact that different people reach different conclusions when faced with a problem like this, there will undoubtedly be many Trumpy districts, many Republican supermajority districts, and many that are somewhere in the middle.
In short, it is entirely proper to blame gerrymandering for some of the crazy Trump-loving representatives and for some of the cases where one party or the other is overrepresented among their state's congressional or legislative delegations.
Q: During the transition, you listed some possible Republicans that Joe Biden could theoretically consider for his Cabinet, and Ron Johnson was mentioned several times. I never understood why, considering he was always very Trumpy and also willing to help push some of the crazier conspiracy theories. Given how he has behaved since Biden became President, and his current efforts to delay the latest COVID-19 relief bill in the Senate, what ever made you think that Biden would have any interest in having Johnson in his Cabinet? J.S., Hightstown, NJ
A: First of all, we never really saw Johnson as a serious possibility. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) makes a lot more sense. Johnson merely checks the minimally necessary requirements of coming from a state where he might plausibly be replaced by a Democrat.
That said, if Johnson was open to such an arrangement, Biden would have jumped on it. First of all, it is easy enough to just ignore an annoying cabinet secretary. Second, there is significant motivation for a cabinet secretary to stay in line. If they act out too much, they give the president cover to request a resignation.
Q: What was the popular level of support for adding Alaska and Hawaii as new states? How does that compare to the current level of support for adding DC and Puerto Rico as new states? A.L., Cambridge, MA
A: The situation was surprisingly similar to the one right now. Democrats, foreseeing two more Democratic senators and another Democratic representative, really wanted to admit...Alaska. Republicans, foreseeing two more Republican senators, and another Republican representative, really wanted to admit...Hawaii. Yes, things were a little different back then. There was reasonably broad public support for both admissions, with Republican voters more sympathetic to Hawaii's cause and Democratic voters more sympathetic to Alaska's (among the prominent Democrats who spoke strongly in favor of Alaska were Eleanor Roosevelt, Jimmy Cagney, and Pearl S. Buck). President Eisenhower, as a Republican, was ready to move on Hawaii but not on Alaska. So, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed a bill that tied the two admissions together. Ultimately, they were admitted about 8 months apart (Jan. 3, 1959 for Alaska and Aug. 21, 1959 for Hawaii).
Q: I've been an avid reader ever since a professor brought your site to my attention 6 years ago. I've learned a lot about chronic dirty tricksters such as Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Lee Atwater. All are (or were in Atwater's case) devout and immoral Republicans. But I haven't heard of similar Democratic tricksters. Who are the most well known Democratic tricksters, and what are their famous or infamous deeds? M.C., Simsbury, CT
A: Thanks for reading!
As to your question, Democrats certainly aren't above dirty tricks, though they tend not to brag about them as much as Republicans do. Nor do they generally rely on hired-gun specialists to run their dirty tricks operation. Instead, the ideas tend to come from the Democratic candidates themselves, or someone close to them, and then are propagated through a large number of low-level operatives. For example, Franklin D. Roosevelt himself arranged for members of his campaign to spread rumors in 1940 that Wendell Willkie was cheating on his wife.
John F. Kennedy's "trickster" was his father Joe. Joe's most famous move was to notice that his son's main opposition in the Democratic House primaries in 1946 was a man named Joseph Russo. So, Joe Kennedy found and paid another Joseph Russo to run as a Democrat so that supporters of the legitimate Russo would split their vote, not knowing which was which.
Meanwhile, like Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson was more than capable of coming up with his own dirty tricks. So, he ordered his underlings to write letters to Ann Landers under false names in which they asked "questions" about what to do when Barry Goldwater starts a nuclear war. LBJ's people also put out a "pro-Goldwater" coloring book that was presented as the work of the Ku Klux Klan.
When it comes to specialists, Democrats are actually more likely to employ fixers rather than tricksters. In other words, people who try to kill controversies rather than start them. Probably the most famous fixer of the last half century is Betsey Wright, who put out fires on behalf of Bill Clinton. It was Wright, for example, who formulated the campaign's strategy of responding to claims of extramarital affairs by dismissing them as "bimbo eruptions." She became the character of Libby Holden in Joe Klein's book Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics, and was played by Kathy Bates in the movie adaptation.
And finally, with all of this said, the most famous Democratic "trickster" of them all is surely Dick Tuck. The reason we did not lead with him, however, is that his "tricks" were largely lighthearted pranks, and not dirty tricks in the sense that term is usually meant. He battled Richard Nixon, in particular, for decades, earning Tricky Dick's enmity, but also his respect. For example, Tuck once booked Senate candidate Nixon for a campaign speech, arranged for a huge auditorium for the event, and then...didn't invite anyone. On another occasion, when Nixon was visiting Chinatown in Los Angeles, Tuck arranged for a lot of "pro-Nixon" signs written in Chinese that actually said anti-Nixon things (the press called it the "Chinatown caper"). On another occasion, when Nixon was arriving to deliver a speech, Tuck arranged for numerous pregnant women to be there to greet him, bearing signs with the candidate's slogan "Nixon's the one." And after Nixon resigned the presidency and was pardoned, Tuck hung a giant papier-mâché phallus from a four-story building in Los Angeles accompanied by a sign that read "pardon my dick, too."
Besides his work as a trickster, Tuck is known for one other thing. He once ran for the California State Senate, in 1966, and lost. As the vote totals came in, and it was clear that he would not win, Tuck famously remarked: "The people have spoken, the bastards."
Q: If all 50 states and Washington, DC, had determined their electoral vote distribution like Nebraska and Maine do, what would the final result have looked like? D.M., Delray Beach, FL
A: This is the bread and butter of 270towin.com, and they have already done the math. Here is how the map comes out (keeping in mind that two additional EVs go to whichever candidate won the statewide vote, because of the two Senate seats):
Obviously, the election would have been a lot closer if done this way, meaning that this approach would have given the minority an even more disproportionate share of the influence than they already have. Further, if the Trump campaign mounted close to 100 lawsuits just in fights over state-level results, can you imagine how many they would have filed if able to challenge the results in hundreds of individual congressional districts?
Q: You've mentioned several times that having 52 states would correspond nicely to the number of
playing cards in a standard deck. If you were to assign cards to states, what would be the best way to do it? My own
first stab at it would be to assign suits to groups of states divided by main industry (hearts = services, clubs =
agriculture, spades = manufacturing, diamonds = natural resources) or suits by region.
However, how would you assign the different number cards and face cards to states without making it seem like some states are more important than others? E.W., Skaneateles, NY
A: Going by industry would be very tricky. After all, the #1 state in the nation in terms of agricultural output is also the #1 state in terms of services (California). It would surely have to be by region. And conveniently, the regions used by the census bureau would work pretty well with only minimal modifications:
- Northeast: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New
Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, plus Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. relocated from the Southern region
- Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri,
Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, plus Kentucky relocated from the Southern region
- South: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Alabama,
Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, plus Puerto Rico, which is currently in no region
- West: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington
As you can see, all that's needed is to move a few states out of the South and then to find a place for Puerto Rico.
As to the suits, clubs is supposed to represent farmers and laborers, which seems to match the Midwest pretty well. Diamonds is supposed to represent commerce and merchants, which works for the Northeast. Hearts represents the clergy, which is a fit for the evangelical South. And spades represents warriors and cultural elites and, as the home of a lot of military bases and a lot of celebrities, the West has both.
As to the ranks, we have news: some states are more important than others. That said, we would probably do ranks in a manner harmonious with the meaning of the suits. So, the Midwestern State with the highest agricultural output would be the ace, as would the Northeastern state with the highest GDP, the Southern state with the highest number of regular churchgoers, and the Western state with the highest number of soldiers. And so on and so forth.
Q: A quick question about one small detail in your item
"The Grift Is Everywhere."
The name of Ben Carson's American Cornerstone Institute did not seem (to me) to echo the usual GOP sound. Could it be meant to remind the institute's supporters of the "Cornerstone Speech" given by Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy? If so, it is an amazing choice for a Black person to make, even a Black GOP leader. S.Z., New Haven, CT
A: No. Carson's pretty right-wing, but he's not so right-wing that he'd embrace the most famous pro-slavery speech ever given.
It's meant as a metaphor for his life's philosophy, which he says is built on the four cornerstones of "Faith, Liberty, Community, and Life." It's rather reminiscent of former basketball coach John Wooden's Pyramid of Success.
Q: As I read the opening of the Revenge Super PAC item, it got me thinking. The first paragraph skates pretty close to libel (or at least would if it weren't true). As a lawyer myself, I am wondering whether you ever consult legal counsel and/or have someone read over your work to avoid legal entanglements (such as a libel suit). M.A., Park Ridge, IL
To start, we linked to the item in question above, but we'll also replicate that paragraph here:
The 2022 Senate and House races are about to get a new fun factor: revenge! Donald Trump is not one to let bygones be bygones. He is going to make sure the House members who voted for his impeachment and Senate members who voted for his conviction are punished—ground into the dirt, as it were. The instrument he has chosen is a new revenge super PAC, which is distinct from the grift leadership PAC he used to extract money from gullible supporters for a giant slush fund he can use to pay his family big salaries and other things.
As a public figure, to make a successful libel claim, Trump would have to prove these three things: (1) that the allegations are false, (2) that we knew or should have known that they were false, and maliciously pressed forward anyhow, and (3) that he suffered specific and quantifiable damages as a result. He could not plausibly meet even one of these, much less all three. Assuming he became aware of what we wrote, and assuming he was irritated enough about it, he might do some saber-rattling and have his lawyers send us a cease-and-desist letter demanding that we remove the offending passage. And we would likely tell his lawyers to pound sand, and would post the letter to the site for the amusement of our readers.
Anyhow, the point is that while we are not lawyers, we know the relevant law well enough to serve as our own counsel. In particular, when he worked at the UCLA Daily Bruin, (Z) actually had to take a seminar in libel law, and how to deal with libel claims. So, we have not ever consulted with lawyers in this way.
Where we have consulted with lawyers, on occasion, is when an item involves questions of law that we want to be correct about, and that are beyond our area of expertise. For example, we asked A.R. in Los Angeles for help with the legal issues involved with the lawsuit that Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) filed against Mike Pence back in December. We've also gotten feedback from R.E.M. in Brooklyn on occasion.
Q: I have heard from some commentators that we can't (or shouldn't) prosecute Trump for his many
crimes because, as Molly Jong-Fast of the Daily Beast
"Americans don't jail their presidents. We didn't jail Nixon. It's just not the way things are done here."
My question is, what examples are there from other countries on this? What other stable and free democracies have arrested, tried, and perhaps even jailed a current or former President or Prime Minister? I heard the news this morning about charges of corruption against former French President Nicholas Sarkozy, and I understand that South Korea charged and I think jailed their former Prime Minister for corruption not too long ago. And also I know charges are pending against Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. But I don't know much of the details of any of these cases or how they compare with our current situation with the former occupant of the White House. M.N. from Ithaca, NY
A: First, sometimes Jong-Fast makes interesting points. And sometimes, not so much. "It's never been done before" is not a great argument, in general. And it's a particularly bad argument here, since it's never been necessary before. Actually, Nixon probably should have gone to prison, and the fact that he didn't communicated to many future officeholders (including Donald Trump) that it's open season. Sending Trump to prison might be justifiable solely on the basis that doing so would weaken the Nixon precedent.
As to other countries sending their leaders to prison after their term, it's more common than you might think. Here are some of the highlights:
- A fair number of European leaders were sent to prison after World War II for having collaborated with the
Nazis. That includes Vidkun Quisling in Norway (who was also executed), Karl Dönitz in Germany, Risto Ryti in
Finland, and Philippe Pétain in France.
- Argentina has imprisoned three presidents since the year 2000: Reynaldo Bignone, Isabel Martinez de Peron, and
Carlos Menem. And in case they needed a fourth for bridge, the country also sent one Veep up the river during that time:
- Egypt is sometimes stable and democratic, sometimes not. In any case, they have sent five former presidents/prime
ministers up the Nile in the last 10 years: Atef Ebeid, Hosni Mubarak, Mohamed Morsi, Ahmed Nazif, and Hesham Qandil.
- India has imprisoned two prime ministers since achieving independence: Indira Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao.
- The Italians famously convicted PM Silvio Berlusconi, who eventually served a year of house arrest.
- Peru has convicted four former presidents in just the past three years: Ollanta Humala, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski,
Alejandro Toledo, and Francisco Morales-Bermúdez. They also convicted Alberto Fujimori a decade earlier.
- Former Portuguese PM José Sócrates has been in prison for most of the past 7 years (no word on whether
he intends to drink some hemlock, though).
- South Korea actually has a staggering seven former presidents or prime ministers who did time in prison after their
terms and are still living: Chun Doo-hwan, Han Myeong-sook, Choi Kyoung-hwan, Lee Wan-koo, Lee Myung-bak, Park Geun-Hye,
and Roh Tae-woo. Park, Choi, and the Lees are still serving their sentences.
- Taiwan has sent a couple of former presidents to prison in recent years: Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou.
You might argue that some of these don't really count as "stable and free democracies." On the other hand, you might also make the same argument about the United States right now.
Q: I've never knowingly met a QAnon supporter. How many are there? Do we know how many are true believers and how many are just "trolling the libs?" S.S.L., Norman, OK
A: That is hard to know, since there is much motivation to lie to friends, family, co-workers, pollsters, etc. Further, most QAnon "believers" say they only believe "part" of it. That covers a lot of ground, from "some government bureaucrats don't like Trump, and don't try to implement his agenda" to "the world is secretly run by a cabal of pedophile Satan worshipers and only Trump can defeat that cabal."
Anyhow, a recent poll finds that about 15% of Trump supporters (and 2% of Biden supporters) say they buy the whole shebang. Another 22% of Trump supporters (and 4% of Biden supporters) say they believe "some of it." And then, 47% of Trump supporters (and 8% of Biden supporters) say they are "not sure." Finally, 16% of Trump supporters (and 85% of Biden supporters) say the whole thing is a pack of lies.
If we solely limit ourselves to people who cast ballots in the election, that means that something like 14 million of the people who voted in the election believe everything QAnon has to say, and another 21 million or so believe some portion of it. If we assume there are believers who did not vote, and we further assume that some of those "I'm not sure" folks are actually believers who did not want to admit the truth, it's not hard to believe that more than 50 million Americans accept at least part of the conspiracy as true, and probably more.
As to motivations for believing, that's complicated to the point of being beyond a pollster. Probably, many of the QAnoners like the theory because they believe it and because it trolls the libs.
Q: Today you compared Trumpist insurrectionists to Erwin Rommel, unfavorably contrasting his tactics and strategy to those of to Patton and Sherman. Can you expand on this? I was under the impression that Rommel was a rather able tactician. Or did I completely misunderstand your point? B.S., Denville, NJ
A: Mostly that was an allusion to both being fascist in their leanings. However, when (Z) lectures on military history, he observes that there are three paths to being a "great" general: being a great tactician (e.g., George Patton), being a great strategist (e.g., George Washington), or being a great administrator (e.g., George Marshall). Some generals excelled in multiple categories (Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower), and there is the occasional rare military man who excels in all three (Napoleon).
Anyhow, Rommel was a good tactician, yes. But he was not a great strategist or administrator, as he generally failed to account for or grasp the big picture. The same could be said of the insurrectionists, who "won" the battle in the sense of breaching the Capitol, but who did so with no clear vision of exactly what they hoped to achieve, or how they might achieve it. Yes, they wanted to overturn the election, but that's like Rommel saying "I want to beat Patton and Montgomery, and I don't want to lose a single soldier doing it." Just because you have a goal doesn't mean you have a plan.
Q: You should have discussed one of Dr Seuss's last books, a satire on the USA/USSR atomic weapons competition, The Butter Battle Book (1984), which clearly identifies him as a liberal. Conservatives can not logically claim him as one of theirs. But your commentary inspires a question: What did he write that could be interpreted as anti-Black or antisemitic? Mr. Geisel is the last person whom I would suspect of either prejudice. M.M., Plano, TX
A: Other than his less-than-enlightened portrayal of Asians, which spilled over into his books, most of his racially problematic work was executed during the cartoonist phase of his career when he was working for various publications and/or for the U.S. government as a cartoonist. In contrast to overtly racist and antisemitic works, he did not intend to argue for the inferiority of those groups. He merely made an implicit argument of that sort by relying on stereotypes and offensive (to us) imagery. For example:
Seuss would have seen this, at that time, as relying on a well-known "character," like drawing a nerd or a jock or a cheerleader. That said, later in life he came to understand why such imagery is problematic.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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