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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We start with another round of responses to R.T.'s question. We'll have one more round next week, and then we'll invite responses from the other side of the aisle.

What Do You Want from Trump Supporters, Part III

T.P. in Highland Park, NJ, writes: R.T. in Arlington wrote: "What do you want members of Trumpish tribes to do?"

Part of an underlying issue here, of course, is that R.T. says they feel like they are often told what to think, and that a call for specific actions other than the most anodyne or generic will necessarily involve a certain amount of that world view.

So here is my anodyne and generic, but heartfelt, statement: Treat the other side as if they are also Americans. You may think they're wrong, you may even be correct, but most people are just trying to get along and address problems they perceive.

To be candid to R.T. in return: Ever since I was a teenager (grew up in Houston) I have felt from an abundance of sources, primarily right-leaning but sort of shruggingly agreed with from the left, that I was not "really" an American. Not because I did not have a birth certificate or grew up elsewhere, but because I didn't share a certain set of hobbies or follow a particular form of religious faith. I have enough historical knowledge to realize this is due to a political project you can probably date back to about Ronald Reagan's days. I do not think this attitude helps make America better, it just helps some people win elections and sell advertisements on their TV shows.

If R.T. would like a more actionable thing, though: Build clean power infrastructure across America. Even if you think global warming is a crock of something or other, it's often "something for nothing," makes jobs, and gives us a stronger and more secure energy system. Bonus: If we don't pump our oil reserves all dry, we'll still have it when everyone else runs low. And I don't think anyone actively likes air pollution, do they?

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: What I want the members of the Trumpish tribes to do inevitably begins with how I want them to think. I want them to think about what policies would be best not for themselves, but for the country. And then, to vote accordingly. If R.T. considers that to be acting against one's own best interests, then so be it. Because in my view, the right to vote comes with the responsibility to exercise that vote not in narrow self-interest, but "in Order to form a more perfect Union."

T.S. in Florissant, MO, writes: What I want is for them to have some balance in their thinking. I totally get why they, and conservatives in general, believe what they do, although I generally disagree. But the problem is that they believe it to an unlimited extent and regardless of any extenuating circumstances. For example, they oppose minimum wage increases because they're pro-business, yes; but why on the federal level are they still in opposition to any increase at all after 12 years, even though $7.25/hour is practically worthless now? Why does that not make any difference in their thinking? Why is it here in Missouri, we have state legislators actually filing bills to reduce the minimum wage? At what point do you go from legitimately looking out for business interests to gratuitously kicking ordinary people while they're down?

The pandemic is another such issue. No one really likes the masks, social distancing, lockdowns, and so on. Of course we all want complete freedom of movement and commerce. But why would the existence of a pandemic not change your thinking on this, even in the slightest? And then when it becomes clear you're not remotely interested in protecting people's lives, you have to go down a rabbit hole of minimization and denialism to continue to justify your position. Not a good position to be in, in my opinion—one that could lead to having blood on your hands. Here in Missouri, we have state legislators introducing bills to tie the hands of county public health departments, trying to make it illegal for them to respond to a pandemic with legitimate public health measures in the future! It's just insane.

I could go on with many more examples here in Missouri: showboating with 2nd Amendment protection bills, even though there's no threat to it here. Extreme anti-choice bills, including the utter cruelty of telling rape victims who conceive that they have to carry the fetus to term and give birth, an idea that is commonplace in Republican circles now. Anti-BLM bills that would authorize you to hit someone who is protesting in the street with your vehicle—conservatives love to lecture us on what government is for, but, really? Is that what it's for? Conservatives love to lecture us on "right to life" but do you lose that right as soon as you walk out in the street with a sign? It's absurd.

I bring up Missouri a lot, but I wouldn't doubt that this nonsense happens in red states everywhere. Most of the country does not think in these extreme ways, and yet Trump supporters are unable to believe that their president genuinely lost the election in November.

Furthermore, such unbalanced thinking is ignorant of history, probably willfully so. The EPA isn't a socialist power grab. It was established because, as just one example, we literally had a river on fire in Ohio. Support for working people and organized labor isn't socialist or communist—we used to have children working 16-hour days for a nickel an hour. There is a legitimate reason for the government intervention in many aspects of our lives. People do not always look out for the common good of their own accord.

We could theoretically talk about where the balance lies between too much EPA and too little EPA, or too much organized labor and too little, or what the minimum wage should be, but disparaging and opposing those things completely is not legitimate public discourse, in my opinion. The president trying to destroy those things from the inside is not legitimate politics.

In short, I just want Trump supporters to realize that every political belief has limitations in scope and circumstances to which it applies. Every political belief has to be nuanced, or balanced by other considerations and societal needs. Any policy may make sense under certain conditions, but change this thing or that thing, and maybe it doesn't make as much sense anymore. If you don't realize that, it's impossible to have dialogue with you, and you will believe it's impossible to have dialogue with me.

I think their extremism has been driven over the last 30 years or so, in large part, by a certain guy from my state who passed away recently. And I'm hoping, now that he's no longer on the radio, that with time Trump supporters will be willing to change with the times and join the sane world again.

M.S. is Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Ready? Demand your elected party members respect you and your vote enough not to constantly lie to you. Demand that if they don't stop lying to you that you'll stop voting for them. That is what Trumpish tribe members, as you called them, can and should do. Listen, this is quite simple: the GOP will never stop lying if Republican voters keep allowing it. Coronavirus is fake, the virus is just a hoax made up by Democrats, it's not that bad, it's no worse than the flu, someday soon it'll just "poof!" disappear, we don't have that many cases, we only have more cases because we test more, I won the election, there was massive voter fraud, you shouldn't replace a SCOTUS judge in an election year because the American people should have a say, Hydroxychloroquine is treatment for COVID-19, ballots in Wisconsin "are being dumped in rivers," "Our Covid-19 numbers are better than almost all countries"—and all of those are just from 2020 (or at least unequivocally proven to be a lie in 2020, as is the case with the Supreme court nominee lie)!

Who are Republicans lying to? Democrats? Absolutely not. They're lying to Republican voters. Why? Because you let them. With the exception of the post-election lies about fraud, most of those things I listed were well before the election...and still Republicans everywhere jumped in line and said "yes sir, thank you sir, I want more of that lying sir," and went to the polls in November and voted for lying as the GOP gained seats in the House and nearly even held onto the Senate...even after all those blatant obvious lies. Incredible.

So what do I suggest you do? Stop letting them lie to you. That is the actionable item you requested and it's the only thing "the Trumpish tribes" need to do to effect real and significant change across the broad spectrum of issues our country and our world face in the future. For example, if your leaders stopped lying about climate change, we could stop arguing over basic common scientific facts and actually do something to fix the problem. But your leaders lie for two reasons: they're paid to lie by special interest groups, and Republican voters let them lie by still willingly handing over their votes. The first is likely to never stop. This means if you don't take responsibility for the second, then they'll never stop lying about it, or any of the other myriad things they lie about constantly, and we'll never actually do anything to fix it or any of the other problems. So that's it—very simple. Demand that they stop lying to you or you won't vote for them anymore and then, of course, actually follow through and not vote for them when they continue to lie, which they will, until they lose an election or two very badly.

J.B. in Springfield, MO, writes: We want you to be responsible members of society as it exists today, not as it existed fifty years ago.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, N.Y., writes: What do I want from Trump voters? I have a modest proposal: Get Raptured. No, wait, hear me out. All of the evangelicals, all of the God-fearing white supremacists and misogynists (because the Bible tells them to be that way), and the people who support them with their votes, all get to go to Heaven, right now! Eternal bliss among the clouds and angels (hey, is that Kid Rock holding a lyre concert?), and maybe a wall around their section to keep the souls of people who had darker skin out.

Meanwhile I, and everyone Left Behind, get to enjoy: No more table arguments at Thanksgiving! All statues of traitors toppled! No more coal or oil companies! Socialized Medicine! Heck, socialized everything! No more violent seditious insurrections! No more harassing protesters at clinics providing abortion on demand! Everyone required to use the same bathroom! School day starts with a flag burning! Dr. Seuss canceled! Best of all, all the property of the Raptured given to People of Color as reparations, so that everyone has exactly the same amount of money and property regardless of their ability or how hard they work.

Rapture: Heaven in Heaven for Trumpers, and Heaven on Earth for everyone else. It's win-win, and as noted above, really is simply A Modest Proposal.

TrumpWatch 2021

R.E.M., Brooklyn, N.Y., writes: Since you were kind enough to invoke me, I'd note another element of a defamation claim: The falsehoods have to be statements of facts, not opinions. "Trump's super PAC is a grift" is an opinion, as is the whole paragraph you wrote, and therefore is not actionable. Opinion statements are not provably true or false, and therefore cannot form the basis of a libel claim.

D.F.W. in Schenectady, NY, writes: I love your site and appreciate your puns, but you may have missed a golden opportunity:

A person at CPAC kneels before the golden 
Trump statue, while a caption points out that he's technically worshiping Trump's golden calf (i.e., the lower part of his leg)

P.S. in Riverside, CA, writes: I agree with D.S. in Palo Alto. "Trumpeter" should not apply to the orange one's followers. I prefer "Trumppuppet."

R.M. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: The term I prefer is "Trumpkins," which is preferable because it brings to mind another iconic orange thing.

P.F. in Wixom, MI, writes: I suggest "Trumpsters," which sounds a bit like "dumpsters." At least, until maintenance people and garbage collectors start to take issue...

SenateWatch 2021

E.K. in Charleston, WV, writes: This is likely getting a bit too deep into the weeds for publication, but in the last two weeks you've suggested a few times that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) would face heavy GOP opposition in a Republican primary from coal barons Jim Justice or Don Blankenship. While your general opinion is dead on—Manchin would be unlikely to win a Republican primary here and may not survive a reelection bid—I doubt it would be the Governor or the Don who defeats him.

Blankenship ran last time around and finished a not-quite-distant third in the GOP Primary to then and current AG Patrick Morrisey and then-congressman now-state-Supreme-Court-Justice Evan Jenkins (35-30-20). Since then, he's relocated out of state. Any statewide officer, including the guys who beat him last time, are more likely. Justice is trickier, but bear in mind that he never really relocated to the governor's mansion through his first term and still coaches the girls' basketball team at the high school in his hometown. He could decide to move to D.C., but it seems doubtful. Far more likely that he waits four years after he is term-limited and tries again for Governor.

That doesn't mean Manchin has it easy. Not only did Republicans win the races in West Virginia for president, governor and U.S. Senate by 35 points or more, they won every single county in all three races. If Manchin runs for re-election (there are rumors he will try again for governor) he's going to be pushed by whoever survives the GOP primary. And he would only win the GOP primary if it turned in a free-for-all with 4-5 legit candidates where the Senator could win with 25% of the vote. So, like I said, your general opinion is right.

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: Who needs Republicans when we can sabotage ourselves? I think it's a safe bet that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is going to regret her dramatic thumbs down to the minimum wage increase. All she did was anger the Democratic base while guaranteeing a primary challenge from the left. We need to tolerate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) from blood-red West Virginia, but not so much Sen. Sinema in increasingly purple Arizona.

Assuming we don't need her to hold the Senate, I know I'll be happy to see Sinema go away and will be donating to any progressive challenger. Not a smart move for somebody who just barely won her seat and can't afford to lose a single vote.

D.B. in Deer Park, NY, writes: You wrote that a new Voting Rights Act can be written so as to be upheld by the Supreme Court. So it seems that the only thing standing in its way is the continued existence of the filibuster, which, as you also pointed out, Kyrsten Sinema still supports. Since Arizona is among the states taking the lead in new voter suppression efforts, I hope she soon realizes that without a new Federal VRA, her next election could be one in which only card carrying TrumpaLoompas and QCumbers are allowed to vote.

D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Norm Ornstein raised two significant points about the current form of the filibuster that I have not heard discussed, including on this site. He suggests that there is really no need to abolish the filibuster, merely to implement minor changes, which even Joe Manchin can't object to.

He contends that the current onus of the filibuster is on the majority. It requires the senators of the majority to be involved in the discussions, and approve, but there is no requirement that the minority senators be involved at all; for all intents and purposes they could be on the beach in Cancun and just show up for the thumbs-down vote. And even that is not required, a non-vote is sufficient.

Ornstein suggests that the filibuster rules can be changed to require 40 votes against, rather than 60 votes for the bill. Alternatively, the rule can be interpreted that the 3/5 requirement be of present and voting rather than 3/5 of the entire Senate. That would put the onus on the objectors, rather than proponents of the bill.

V & Z respond: This all sounds plausible except for the part about a senator taking a trip to Cancun when they should be back home working. That surely would never happen.

I.H. in Washington, DC, writes: For Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) to complain about the governor of Puerto Rico allowing American millionaires and billionaires to escape federal income taxes while Schumer continues to support the carried-interest loophole that allows multi-billionaire New York City hedge fund managers to pay substantially lower income tax rates than nurses or janitors is perhaps the height of political hypocrisy. I say "perhaps" only because Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) still exists.

L.T.G. in Bexley, OH, writes: I quite agree that Ron Johnson (R-WI)'s insistence that the COVID-19 relief bill be read out loud was purely obstructionist—and, thanks to a blunder by Johnson and Mitch McConnell, counterproductive. But in a true deliberative body, reading a draft bill out loud can be very helpful. I'm a member of the Uniform Law Commission (until recently, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws), which drafts uniform or model acts on subjects where uniformity has particular virtues and then seeks to get them enacted by the states. Under ULC rules, a draft uniform act must be read in full on the floor at two or more annual meetings before the body as a whole may vote on it. After each section is read (by members of the drafting committee), the section is discussed by the group at large, often with suggestions about changes and sometimes with motions. The drafting committee then meets to take the suggestions into account and, if the act is slated to go to a vote, will produce a revised text for consideration.

When I became a Uniform Law Commissioner, I thought the custom of reading acts aloud was a colossal waste of time. Surely we can all read. Better to spend the time on actual discussion of the draft than to listen to an undramatic recitation of rather prosaic text. But I quickly realized that listening to the sections in turn can prove fruitful. Often one hears ambiguities or infelicities that weren't obvious upon silent reading. And in a body like the ULC, the members on the floor do listen closely to each section as it is read; the exercise is definitely not pro forma. Section-by-section reading also engages members not expert in the particular area, but who are good lawyers with broad experience. Certainly this practice has caused me to make a great many suggestions—mainly directed toward expression, but sometimes substance as well—that have found their way into the final versions of the acts.

Were the United States Senate truly a deliberative body when it meets in session, then reading bills aloud could have some salutary effect. But the usual ULC act is around fifteen to forty pages, practically a haiku when put up against one of the federal behemoths. And with size comes, not just a tremendous cost in time, but also a reduced chance that a listener will notice a drafting glitch or misleading interconnection. I thus write to defend the frequent value of the practice, not its flagrant and obnoxious misuse by the petulant and willful.

W.S. in Plum, PA, writes: I am happy that you corrected your typo in the Neera Tanden item. The last time I looked, the Republican senators have no testes.

The Democratic Agenda

E.C.R. in Helsinki, Finland, writes: You wrote that Democrats were in the process of making a "huge unforced error" by not addressing the taxability of unemployment benefits in the latest COVID relief package. Well and good, but I'm sad to say that this unforced error pales into insignificance next to the unforced error that the Democratic party made under President Obama and continues to make today. The Democratic party, then and now, assumes that the goal of all political actors is to strengthen democracy, to extend the electoral franchise to as many citizens as possible and, when elected, to govern in a bipartisan manner for the good of the entire country. In fact, looking at the past, current, and proposed actions of the significant actors in the American polity it is clear that many actors have a very different agenda. These mal-actors are not confined to fringe parties like the CPUSA. In fact, in recent years, a majority of the Republican Party has come to have such an agenda and the Democratic Party ignores this at their peril.

Obama ignored the implications of Republican control of the state legislatures and governorships in 2010 with the result that after reapportionment Republicans controlled the House until the blue tsunami of 2018, largely a reaction to Trump's outlandish governing style. Worse, with the resulting gerrymandered redistricting, the polarization of the House was cemented with the result that extremists of both parties were favored for elections, eliminating what little remained of the political middle. The upcoming reapportionment after the 2020 census will likely cost the Democrats the House for the whole of the upcoming decade. Worse, in assessing their chances to increase their share of seats in the Senate, the Democrats must plan for widespread and systematic voter suppression in Republican controlled states. The result is likely to be a hugely uneven playing field where Senators from blue and non-Republican-controlled states win elections where a large proportion of the citizens can vote while in the Republican-controlled states, Democratic-leaning voters are systematically disenfranchised, perpetuating the (re)election of Republicans in a manner reminiscent of the segregated South. The Democratic party needs to squarely face the facts that the Republicans are:

  1. A minority party
  2. Advantaged in the Electoral College by the Connecticut Compromise
  3. Willing to use any and all means that the Supreme Court permits to prevent voters likely to vote for Democratic party candidates from either registering to vote or from voting

The means available to restrict the franchise are legion and range from barriers to absentee or mail voting in most states to virtual poll taxes in Florida and apparently dehydration in Georgia. What is lacking is that the Democratic Party needs to stop pretending that the Republican party is not oligarchic. Recently, George Kennan's famous "long telegram" from Moscow has been in the news due to its 75th anniversary and with it various retrospectives of the role it played of waking up the Truman administration from its illusions about Soviet foreign policy goals. Kennan forthrightly stated a large number of truths about the Soviet Union, foremost among them that the Soviet leaders "even more than previous Russian rulers ... [felt they had] justification for their instinctive fear of the outside world, for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to rule [and] for cruelties they did not dare not to inflict..." One can only hope that a similar missive will wake up the Democratic party but I would note that key among Kennan's recommendations was that the government ensure that "our public is educated to realities of Russian situation. ... In this we need not be deterred by ugliness of picture." It is long past time that the Democratic Party leveled with its voters regarding the ongoing stakes.

Aside from its need to massively disenfranchise U.S. citizens to remain in power, the Republican Party has the real potential to systemically undermine U.S. national security. In this regard, Kennan himself came to favor restricting the U.S. voting franchise to white males and viewed favorably conservative autocrats like António de Oliveira Salazar. Tellingly he said of California, cradle then of Hollywood and the UC atomic bomb laboratories and later of Silicon Valley, and the "whole great Pacific Coast, ... throughout the length and breadth of it not one single thing of any importance is being said or done." Since the West Coast was the center of U.S. airplane manufacturing during World War II, this oversight cannot be written off as just a reflection of a low opinion of the movies. Rather, Kennan completely missed the import of the technological changes that swept the world both during and immediately after the War and in his (and the century's) final decades. In this lies the real danger of the U.S. sinking into oligarchy. Oligarchies are by their nature resistant to disruptions of the status quo, including the technological innovations that will be needed to both fight climate change as well as those needed to resist the inexorable rise of China to Great Power status.

In the United States there is a yawning chasm between the blue states and the red states. The chasm is not just cultural but also economic and above all technological. It is no accident that the 509 counties that voted for Biden comprise over 70% of America's economy and likely 90% of the high-tech economy. The red states, by and large, yearn for a return to the 1950s but the consequences of the U.S. turning its back on economic and technological progress while the rest of the world continues pursuing it will ultimately be fatal. History is replete with examples of empires that turned their back on progress and ended in the dustbin of history, such as Joseon (now Korea) where the ironclad warship was invented 450 years before the USS Monitor and 500 years before an enfeebled Joseon wound up as a Japanese colony. A government controlled by, and governed principally for, the benefit of a backward-looking one-quarter of the US economy is a government that will fail to meet the ultimate "Pearl Harbor" moment that surely awaits before the close of this century. In fact, if COVID-19 is viewed as sort of a medical "Pearl Harbor," then the fact that the USA is still importing from Asia masks and most if not all protective and treatment gear save vaccines is proof that Donald Trump failed to meet the moment even as most Republicans desired to re-elect him. A country that cannot accurately assess a leader that has had a chance and failed to deliver is a country that will not long survive and, as noted, history is replete with bad endings.

C.K. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: Your item "Democrats Are Winning the Twitter War" makes the statement that Democrats are winning on Twitter "as a result" of Donald Trump being kicked off the major platforms. I do not think the "as a result" part is true. Even if Trump were still allowed to tweet, I believe the Democrats would still be winning.

Obama consistently had more followers than Trump during the entire last four years. Wikipedia's List of most-followed Twitter accounts shows that Trump had only 88 million followers at the time he was terminated. Obama remains at a healthy 129 million today.

¿Cuomo Se Dice "Harassment"?

F.S. in Idaho Falls, ID, writes: I'd like to comment on your item "Cuomo's in Deep Trouble" from the perspective of a woman who worked a majority of her career in a male-dominated workforce. I regularly "misinterpreted" men "being playful" and "teasing." In a 35-year career, I endured the usual sexual advances and comments, but also jabs to the ribs, loud noises such as two books being banged together behind my head, and tripping while I walked down the hallways. If I complained to the man, he would usually find some schadenfreude in my discomfort and continue the "teasing," or he would comment about my high-strung nature, setting me off on a Tourette's syndrome like rant once again. If I complained to HR, then I would be known as a complainer and miss out on advances. The usual route that most women take, after a couple of educational incidences, is to not say anything at all. This is why women don't come forward. Our status can be slowly whittled down to an office in the basement with a red stapler. These men all knew exactly what they were doing, and chose to continue the behavior. Andrew Cuomo knew what he was doing also.

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: If you print this, it will probably get a lot of pushback, but I'm going to share this experience anyway.

When I was in college, I worked for a Mom and Pop factory. While I worked there the owner was in his late fifties to early sixties. There were never more than a dozen employees and usually about half were women. Most of us were students in our twenties. The owner, G, was a pretty friendly guy and would often talk to us while we were working. These conversations were usually about school or politics. However, if he caught one of the women working alone, the conversation would drift into sex. And how they felt about older men. The tone was always nonchalant, casual, but G had a serious "tell" that he was unaware of. He would be smiling ear to ear. The conversations were an inside joke among us. New hires were always warned about them, but always told not to worry because he would never lay a finger on any of us. Not even at the Christmas parties, where his famous (infamous) kickapoo punch was liberally served. It was almost entirely alcohol.

He was one of the best bosses I ever had. We all got regular, if tiny, raises and were allowed to schedule our work around our classes. I worked there for three years. A few years after graduation I started my own business. G walked me through getting my business license, filing my fictitious name and keeping good books. He even became a customer. Yes, he was a man of his time, and certainly not PC by current standards. But seriously, could anyone put my old, long deceased employer, or even Governor Cuomo, in the same category as a Donald Trump?

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: For the life of me, I cannot fathom how Andrew Cuomo could fall so quickly from grace. I cannot imagine someone who was once lauded for his handling of this terrible pandemic, and was even considered as presidential timber, could conduct himself in such disturbing and disgusting ways.

Between his current nursing home and sexual harassment scandals, along with complaints over his strict lockdown policies, his fellow Democrats are getting nervous. This week, the Democratic-dominated State Legislature passed laws that would strip him of the vast emergency powers he's been using since the beginning to control the pandemic. They say they are no longer necessary. Before the sexual harassment scandal erupted, some were calling for an investigation into the nursing home matter and even asked for his resignation on that.

The state GOP for their part, smells blood in the water. They see a weakened governor under fire from all sides and are salivating at an opportunity to take him down and lay the groundwork for possibly grabbing the governor's mansion in 2022. Not only are they calling for him to resign, they are using the "I" word: impeachment.

While Republicans today are calling for Cuomo's head, it must be asked where they were when similar accusations were made against their own (e.g., Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh). In those instances, they downplayed and even attacked the accusers. Funny how politics has now ingrained itself even into a personal matter like this and it makes me seriously question their motives.

There has been talk about some of the potential GOP candidates who might take on Cuomo next year. A Congressman from a neighboring district of mine, Tom Reed, is considering a run. But talking about running and actually doing it are two different things. One thing for sure is they cannot nominate a Trump hugger. If they do, they will lose. But if they nominate someone in the mold of Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) or Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD), they have a good chance. The last GOP governor, George Pataki, won as a moderate Republican who was pro-choice and for some gun restrictions, even though he also supported tax cuts and the death penalty.

Gov. Cuomo is in the middle of his third term. He wants to seek a fourth one next year. AG Letitia James (D) also wants to move up the ladder. Two of our last three governors (Eliot Spitzer and Cuomo) were AG before being elected. James is the only Democrat I can see right now who could take Cuomo down. But that would entail a nasty Democratic primary next year and nobody here wants that. I was a little skeptical about her damning report of the nursing homes considering it might be intended to make Cuomo look bad and push him out of the picture. Her latest investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations is welcomed and we are awaiting the results, as that will tell a lot about the futures of the main political players involved.

The way I see it, I give Andrew Cuomo's chances of serving out his third term at 50/50. A lot will depend on what this new investigation reveals. It also depends on whether more women come forward with new allegations. Here in New York, our state budget must be passed by April 1st. This involves a lot of input from the governor. If he is currently weakened, that will hamper his ability to govern effectively at a time when hard decisions need to be made about spending priorities as we try to get out of this pandemic. I'm reminded that Spitzer resigned his office in March 2008, right before the budget deadline.

While it's possible Gov. Cuomo could survive all of this, the time has come for him to wrap up his political career. There is a growing "Cuomo fatigue" here. It's the same "disease" that affected his father, Mario, in the mid-90's. While Mario was still popular, people just wanted to change to something new and different. That led to Pataki's election in the middle of the 1994 GOP Revolution.

For me, in the end, it would be wise for Cuomo to not seek a fourth term and instead to retire while saving some face. His once-stellar record, for better or worse, has taken a hit and I don't see it bouncing back. I have voted for him three times. Overall, he's done some great things for New York State, but it's a shame it's come down to this. The time has come for someone else to step into the big chair in Albany and lead us in this post-pandemic future.

On Gender

R.C. in Madison, WI, writes: I've been surprised recently by the awareness of American politics on the other side of the world, when in contrast I suspect few of us are even aware that the Governor General of Canada resigned amid scandal about six weeks ago. In last week's mailbag, D.G. from Australia posed some questions about the sign posted outside the office of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (D-GA). Maybe it would be useful for readers outside the U.S. if they were answered.

By writing "Trust The Science!" with quote marks, she's trying to troll the libs. Conservatives think that liberals used that phrase against Trump to criticize his handling of the COVID pandemic. If I Google "trust the science" with quote marks in the search box, on the first page I find some pro-vaccine results from The San Francisco Chronicle (behind a paywall) and three YouTube videos (one a news story by the Fox broadcast affiliate in Milwaukee, WI). The first page of results also shows examples of conservatives using the phrase: Ross Douthat, the Cato Institute, and the right-wing magazine Commentary. There aren't any results that seem particularly liberal, unless you count Douthat because he is employed by The New York Times.

D.G. also commented on the phrase "there are two genders." Maybe the American preference to use the word gender is more extreme than in Australia. While a few of us use "sex" and "gender" to mean different things, most use "gender" almost exclusively. If Greene wanted to communicate that "there are two sexes," she would say "there are two genders." I don't know if she would even recognize that sex and gender are different. I should reference that, in last week's mailbag, C.C. from St. Paul made the same point with particular reference to social sciences. I would add that the US FDA, in 1993, (incorrectly) started using "gender" instead of "sex." In 2011 they changed again to recognize the difference between the two terms. I also have a personal experience: within the past ten years, a paper which I had submitted to a medical journal was edited by the copy editor to (correctly) change every instance of the word "gender" to "sex" after the paper was accepted.

Related to this subject, I've been re-reading mailbags from December. In the 12/13/20 edition, A.S. in Renton uses the phrase "sex and gender" multiple times and also refers to "Our race, our class, our sex." Otherwise, from the beginning of December until two weeks ago, no other letter supporting trans rights used "sex" in the sense of a biological classification of humans and other animals. One letter explicitly referred to the characteristic identified at birth as a gender, rather than a sex. Along with writing I've found elsewhere on the Internet, this leaves me wondering, how much of the trans community agrees with the notion that sex and gender are different? To make it slightly more specific, is an intersex person considered transgender? For example, if an intersex person is assigned female at birth and identifies as female for the rest of her life, is she still considered transgender?

L.K. in Boulder, CO, writes: I'm glad a couple of your readers have pointed out the complications of the LGBTQ Equality Act. As a lesbian I've certainly been in situations where I would have welcomed those protections. I'm glad that my trans friends are gaining a foothold in accessing rights that most take for granted. Lots of us LGBTQ folk know the terrible—and yes, deadly—effects of phobic extremists, many of whom use religion as a cover for their bigotry.

However, I would suggest that you refrain from discussing the TERF wars until you know more about them. So-called "TERFs" ("Trans exclusionary radical feminists") have been the object of horrific vilification and verbal violence by the trans community for years—a clear case of misogynist "punching down."

Lesbians and feminists have for decades understood the importance of women-only spaces as a safe refuge from the dominance of men. The struggle to develop consciousness-raising groups, safehouse shelters, rape crisis organizations, women's support groups, cultural events, conferences and gatherings, women's colleges, women's studies classes, health and reproductive rights organizations, feminist activist groups, affirmative action slots, and yes, scholarships, that are women-only has been ongoing for decades. The struggle to create such spaces has in large part succumbed to legal and financial challenges, to the point now where many such groups and programs are rare to nonexistent.

The decisive blow has come via trans rights. There are transwomen whose energy, tone and style of speech, and physicality can sometimes be perceived as inconsistent with women-only spaces. The claim is that reluctance to include transwomen (regardless of the stage of their transition) in some of these entities means refusing to recognize transwomen as women. The next step in this argument is that if transwomen aren't recognized as women, they are more vulnerable to bigotry and to physical attacks—and so somehow this makes "TERFs" murderers. Never mind that these attacks are perpetrated by violent men and conservative bigots, not feminists. And never mind that being a cis woman doesn't protect us from male violence—on the contrary, violence against women is endemic worldwide.

You have mused over the fact that most of your readers are male. I would urge you to try to have a little more understanding about the pervasive nature of male privilege: how it impacts every aspect of women's lives. It even permeates the psychology of many transwomen, who despite their gender identity were seen and raised as boys, and thus have expectations (conscious or not) commensurate with their former status. These expectations are reflected in their alarm at suddenly being vulnerable to male violence, and in their demands to exploit and dominate the meager gains carved out by the women's movement in recent decades.

Someday maybe violent crimes committed by men will diminish; corporate boards, church pulpits, and academia will no longer be dominated by men; our politicians and criminal justice system will no longer be overwhelmingly male; sexual harassment, rape, and femicide will be a thing of the past; people of all genders will have bodily autonomy; and parenting will be a shared enterprise. Until then, male-bodied individuals who grow up with male privilege despite their gender identity, might want to ponder how they can best become true allies to feminists and join the effort to increase gender equality for all.

K.Y. in Seattle, WA, writes: You published a couple of comments from readers who expressed concerns that the Equality Act, if enforced as written, would rob some number of female athletes of medals/scholarships that they would otherwise have earned because natal male athletes would steal those accolades by virtue of their greater strength acquired via male puberty. In response, you wrote: "Is it not clear that 99.9% of the people making a big stink here are doing so in bad faith? Do they really care about high school sports, and whether or not a few athletes are in a position to receive a scholarship? Or have they merely seized on this because they know they can leverage it to get people's blood boiling? Surely it is the latter."

There's a misconception that if anyone objects to any of the ideas coming out of trans activism, they must necessarily be a right-wing religious bigot who is just squicked out at the idea of a natal male person wearing earrings and high heels. But this is far from the case.

Does this really strike you as bad faith? Or this? Or this (note the byline)? There is no far-right or religious content at any of those links.

I don't think the women and girls coming in fourth place would appreciate being dismissed as "a few athletes." Like it or not, there are conflicting interests here, and no amount of hand-waving is going to make this issue go away.

V & Z respond to both L.K. and K.Y.: We made no comment on the broader issues here, which are complicated. Our comment was specifically addressed to the Connecticut high school athletes. We remain skeptical that someone like Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson cares about feminist issues, or that they care about these athletes in particular. They just know that this will get their viewers angry, like segments about canceling Dr. Seuss, or Terri Schiavo's "right to life," or any of a hundred other things they glom onto in order to egg on the viewership. And so, we stand by our assertion that 99.9% of the folks who are making a stink about the Connecticut high schoolers are doing so in bad faith.

T.W. in Newport News, VA, writes: You published two letters referencing the lawsuit in Connecticut regarding transgender athletes competing in girls track & field. Both cited "chances for getting college scholarships" being damaged for the cis girls.

As someone who has spent 26 years coaching track & field at the collegiate level, welcome to my wheelhouse. And let me say to L.D., L.E., or anyone else thinking that this argument has merit: B.S.

I was surprised that the potential loss of scholarships was actually included in the lawsuit (Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools, Inc.)—maybe just to create a measurable dollar value? Regardless, while the loss of medals or competitive opportunities where by-place qualifying occurs may be argued, the loss of scholarship opportunities is baseless and is more likely to be a line to gain uninformed public support.

Scholarships are neither offered exclusively to state/league champions nor will SEC schools, for example, actually be impressed by "Connecticut State Champion" because the general level of competition gives that title no innate value relative to the competitive level of the SEC. The measure in determining scholarship allocations is performance potential. Many factors are considered, but medal hauls are buzz not substance.

The NCAA Transgender Handbook outlines many complexities for transgender inclusion and ultimately requires one year of hormone therapy (testosterone suppression) before biological males may compete in exclusively women's sports (not simply "a desire to dominate in women's sports"). Applying such a rule to peri-pubescent/minor athletes would be more problematic ethically, medically, and practically.

Opportunities for separate female competitions is relatively new in most sports and were defined by a binary sense of gender/sex. As we learn more about our biology and that such characteristics are on a spectrum that is not one-dimensional, the debate will and should continue about how and when to apply biological thresholds to competitive opportunities. Regardless of where those lines may be drawn, those in the more advantageous regions of the spectrums will always have an edge. Note, however, that the transgender athletes the Connecticut plaintiffs claimed took away their opportunities were not atop the national high school girls rankings in their events, so their advantage was merely relative.

R.P. in Gloucester City, NJ, writes: In response to L.D. in Hamden, if testosterone levels are the distinguishing feature, stop dividing sports by gender and start dividing them by testosterone level. Simple.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: A shout out and incredible thank you to M.S. in Brooklyn, who gets it. "Imagine what it is like to empty one's personal savings, in order to change their body to one that conforms with their internal gender identification, bringing upon themselves derision and physical danger." I, unfortunately, do not have to imagine that. That is my life. And every time I do not get a job, a promotion, win an election, get approved for a loan, etc., I always have to wonder if discrimination had something to do with it. Hell, once I was sexually assaulted in a doctor's the doctor! In fact, on that occasion, I got a religious excuse for refusal of treatment, and the sexual assault all in the same visit. One stop shopping, man! Disrespect R Us!

51 Pickup

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: I see granting Puerto Rico statehood as a matter of making sure we never have another Maria. We can't stop another hurricane from hitting the island—and it's a matter of when, not if—but the state of Puerto Rico would not be treated as badly as it was as the territory of Puerto Rico in 2017. While Joe Biden would move heaven and earth if Hurricanes Mindy, Martin, Margot, or Milton hit Puerto Rico as a near-Category 5 or a full on Category 5; it's possible Donald Trump or one of the Trump wannabes are in the White House in 2025 when Hurricane Melissa comes calling. And, even as early as 2023, the Democrats could lose one or both chambers of Congress and the two McC's will just kill any statehood talk until the Democrats can take both chambers again.

This is why I don't agree with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Nydia Velázquez (both D-NY) from a practicality standpoint. If you can guarantee the Democrats will hold the trifecta for an extended period of time, then a self-determination convention is ideal. However, they should take this opportunity to grant Puerto Rico statehood now. It's the most practical means of "decolonizing" the island.

Of course, I'm not Puerto Rican, so I can't speak to what is going on in their culture. It's just that, as someone who tracks the tropics, I would rather be a state than a territory when the hurricanes start spinning.

R.P. in Gloucester City, NJ, writes: You wrote "Nobody likes 51."

I like 51! 51 is a fantastic number. It's one of the few small non-prime numbers that really looks prime! It's 3 times 17, so a flag with 51 stars can look pretty organized: 6 rows of stars, alternating 9 and 8 each. A 51-gon can be constructed with ruler and compass. And, for some conservative appeal, it's the number of essays Alexander Hamilton wrote as part of The Federalist Papers defending the U.S. constitution! Viva 51!

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: There are at least two guys who like 51:

The fire engine and main characters from the
show 'Emergency!' The fire engine has 'squad 51' painted on it.

V & Z respond: We fear that your memory of a show that went off the air in 1977, and that has only run occasionally in reruns since, might just date you a bit.

T.E.G. in Hector, NY, writes: It's been a busy week, but I'll take the bait and presume you are quite aware that a considerable number of somebodies are utterly fascinated, even obsessed, with "51." Therefore I propose Area 51 as the 51st state.

Secession from Nevada might not be too difficult since the area currently has no active voters. Though that would soon likely change upon statehood as it becomes swamped by:

  1. Conspiracy theorists of all stripes—either getting in touch with the cosmic unconsciousness or just checking out some serious bunker options.
  2. Post-ironic millennials and Gen Zers who decide to follow through and finally storm the area. Probably some like-minded Gen Xers in green Chevy Malibus, too.

And it wouldn't be surprising if any of the former groups started agitating for voting rights for the resident population of extraterrestrial beings. And, doggone it, now you've got me pondering which way the new state will ultimately skew politically.

V & Z respond: Aren't most extraterrestrials understood to be Martians? If so, Mars is the Red Planet, so that might just give you your answer.

Gunning for the Guns

P.S. in Portland, Maine, writes: Believe it or not, given my earlier excitement about how much Donald Trump helped us get AR-15s off the street, I have to somewhat agree with P.S. in Arlington. From what I hear from gun owners and users, AR-15's are excellent rifles. They just have a bad rap because of how they look and the horrible abuse. You would think we would have the technology to keep them out of the hands of the wrong people without taking them away from everyone.

I am a pilot. I have a right to pilot a particular airplane as long as I have a current license with a proper medical clearance and the right ratings to fly that airplane (e.g., single engine, twin engine, jet, particular jet when they get complex enough) under the particular conditions at the time (e.g. visual flight rules, instrument flight rules, paying passengers). It seems to me we could have the same sort of rating system with guns—a general license to own a gun, but the more powerful and destructive the gun, the more specific the license and extensive the background check, along with the rules for operation.

I wonder if the other P.S. would go for a revision of the second amendment that didn't take the right to own certain guns away from anyone who could safely have one, but did create a more advanced licensing and background check system.

L.S.H. in Naarden, The Netherlands, writes: I was a bit surprised to read that P.S. in Arlington, TN (formerly of Texas) and their family and friends are definitely not going to give up their military-style guns anytime soon. P.S. explains that their father, a small-business rancher, uses his AR-15 to kill hogs. Now, I don't know if this small business is a hog farm or if P.S.'s father is just killing hogs for sport, but it seems to me a plain old shotgun would be more than adequate for the job.

I grew up in New Hampshire and my father was an avid hunter, since he was a teenager, to literally put food on the table and to purchase necessary items (like his high school graduation gown) with beaver pelts. As a family, we raised pigs/hogs for meat and chickens for eggs and later stew meat, and my father regularly nabbed a deer during deer season. As a young girl, I saw plenty of animals being drawn and quartered to prepare them for the freezer and our table, but never did my father use a gun that was not appropriate for the job. My father was a member of the NRA (back when the group was mainly into hunting education and permits) and was a member of a local shooting/outdoor club. He even taught me (a girl!) how to shoot, so I'm no newbie to guns. But this is what I don't understand about those who fight against any gun reform. I'm for general gun reform that allows single-fire guns (such as for hunting) but I see no reason to allow military-style guns to be owned by U.S. citizens.

Perhaps some kind of compromise could be made: The gun addicts could keep their single-fire guns but give up multiple-round, military-style weapons, similar to how abortion-rights proponents have seen abortion remain legal but with plenty of restrictions (too many, IMO) in place. Such a compromise would allow P.S. and others like them to look beyond Beto's O'Rourke's "coming for your (military-style) guns" statement and vote for him after all.

J.E. in New York, NY, writes: I feel like I have to respond to P.S. in Arlington, who talks about law-abiding citizens using AR-15s.

First off, nobody is "coming for your guns," no matter what gun control is passed, since nearly all of the time such laws grandfather people in. Prohibiting AR-15s or similar weapons from purchase by civilians would not affect current owners, and I can't think of any situation where ownership of anything like that was made illegal and jackboots came to take stuff away—not in the U.S., anyway.

It's also not clear to me why anyone needs an AR-15 to kill a hog, or do hunting of any sort, unless you are a rather poor shot, in which case you shouldn't be handling a weapon.

If you want to shoot an AR-15 because it is fun to do, that's your business. But be honest. "I like to shoot machine guns because I enjoy it" is a perfectly legitimate position to take. That said, there are lots of things we might enjoy that we do without. I might enjoy professional-level fireworks like the ones at Macy's 4th of July in my backyard, but there are laws governing such. Without military-grade weapons—which are designed specifically to kill humans—there are still plenty of choices for hunters and recreational shooters.

There simply isn't any reason to allow military grade weapons to proliferate any more than they have already. The right to bear arms does not mean the right to bear anything you please. After all, if you wanted efficient home defense from a potential intruder, a mine field is a much better option. Put a sign up and, after all, the intruder went in at their own risk, right? But we don't allow people to do that for a reason. Similarly, we don't allow people to drive tanks, and we don't allow civilians to have missile launchers or mortars.

There is almost no evidence that an armed populace curbs governmental tyranny. There are plenty of countries right now where much of the populace is armed to some degree—and at least a few I can name are failed states. Far from guaranteeing against government overreach, the only thing that the proliferation of military weapons has accomplished is a re-imposition of something like feudalism. "Small government," indeed.

I also note that many successful rebellions occurred in just the last century in countries that did not guarantee such a right; and that there is no relation between the number of armed citizens and how democratic a country is (if anything, it's the reverse). The idea that a right to bear arms somehow protects against government overreach is simply ahistorical. It ignores how rebellions actually happened, and how governments responded. It certainly did not stop the U.S. government from sending troops to the South to bring them to heel. Can anyone name a country where the government, if it was intent on imposing its will, said, "Oh no, the populace is armed, we can't do that!"? When governments have negotiated with rebels it was almost always after the fact, and after they had suffered either a major military defeat or faced a prolonged conflict that was too expensive or politically fraught to continue. That isn't a collection of individuals owning guns; it means a well-organized political movement that has a lot of support; effectively another army.

I might add that the United States has faced an armed populace in many countries since the Civil War period and it hasn't stopped us. Just ask the people of the Philippines. I don't think the people there would describe rule by the U.S. (1903-1946) as particularly democratic, especially in the southern part of the country. If armed populations prevented tyranny the history of the Philippines would be very different.

And speaking of confiscating weapons, I have taught people to use hand weapons for a number of years. Many such weapons in a number of states are illegal to carry; nunchaku, sais, shurikens, and swords are some examples. Some states prohibit knife blades longer than six inches. Any of these weapons require some expertise and training to use, but I submit no more so than a firearm (the dexterity required for many of these is rather exaggerated). The biggest difference I can see is that it's much harder to accidentally injure another person or oneself fatally—a really bad mistake using nunchaku might result in a broken bone or concussion, but it's rather unlikely to kill you, or anyone else. An error using a sai might "put an eye out" if one is particularly clumsy. Firearms, on the other hand, accidentally kill thousands of people every year, and sometimes from some distance away. The logic of this differential treatment escapes me, but perhaps someone can explain it.

K.S. in Miami Beach, FL, writes: In response to PS in Arlington, I will say that I don't get why those who cherish their guns can't give up the assault weapons for the good of society. Let's compromise and meet in the middle somewhere, in the name of unity. Why does anyone have to use an AR-15 to shoot a hog? I'm sure they didn't use such weapons when the Constitution was written. I wonder what is the sport or farming technique to slaughter a hog like that? I grew up on a cattle farm, and I respect slaughtering, but we didn't use assault weapons to slaughter our bulls or calfs. Can't these assault weapon users find another method to kill the hog? A rifle or a pistol or a good knife?

If someone finds something to be offensive, it's good social practice to choose alternative non-offensive acts or words that can achieve the same goal.

I Will Not Read Them in a Box, I Will Not Read Them with a Fox

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: Regarding your item on Dr. Seuss, I don't disagree that the cartoons he produced during the Second World War depicted the Japanese in very stereotypical terms. But let us remember: there was a war going on. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, and the propaganda machine was running on all cylinders. The idea was to make the enemy look as awful as possible, and as I am sure everyone will agree, visuals are incredibly powerful, and were used with great effect by both sides. Dr. Seuss was simply following suit, and showing a cartoon of his made then, with the seeming goal of making the readership today react in a specific manner (holding current attitudes), is a tad disingenuous.

V & Z respond: Immediately above that cartoon, we wrote "And, consistent with the expectations of that day, he produced many propagandistic cartoons that supported the war effort and portrayed the Japanese (in particular) in very stereotypical terms." We think that more than adequately puts his work into its cultural context, and is not the slightest bit disingenuous.

S.O.F. in Montclair, NJ, writes: With all due respect, I think you and the rest of the center to center-left media are reading the Dr. Seuss incident (the Dr. Seuss affair?) incorrectly. While it has gotten lost in the ridiculous hyperbole of right wing media, there is a broader story here. Dr. Seuss certainly is foundational to a lot of people in this country, specifically those all-important white affluent suburban parents. What I heard this week from the non-Fox-news-orbit folks was not an acquiescence of an activist-led quest to end Dr. Seuss or an affirmation of the media assessment that this was much ado about nothing. Instead, what I heard from the kind of people that marched in support of Black Lives Matter protests all summer was a rejection of the sterile/absolutist vision for the country that some anti-racist activists are pushing.

To correct some of the reporting, this was more than just a unilateral decision made by the Seuss Foundation; there were other things happening leading up to this point that have not been thoroughly reported. Namely that there has been activism, such as this report that does recommend fully "cancelling" Dr. Seuss. This report finds nothing redeemable about Dr. Seuss's work, and even mentions some of the more flattering examples you listed (e.g., "The Sneetches") as being problematic. The authors petitioned NEA to reduce their involvement with the Seuss foundation in 2018, and the NEA complied. They have outlined a plan for teachers, librarians, etc. to begin to downplay the author's work, and it appears that schools and libraries are beginning to play along with this plan the same way as NEA has. Based on all of this, the story is not merely that the Seuss Foundation did something in a vacuum and the Right tried to make an issue out of it. There is actually some truth to the fact that activists on the left overstepped a line here (albeit over the course of a few years, not just on Tuesday), as I do not think the people driving Dr. Seuss books to the moon on Amazon this week were patriotic militiamen from the backwoods of Michigan.

I was reminded of the Terry Schiavo incident this week, watching this unfold. Looking back at that event, you can trace the Evangelical Right's power arc in this country over the last few decades. Up until that point, the vast center of this country (suburban apolitical, center to center-right) acquiesced to their politics. While they often did not agree fervently with the Evangelical Right on many issues, there was this acceptance of them that they were on the right side of a larger, more amorphous issue: the decay of values in our country. After this incident, though, the center in this country began to move away from the Evangelical Right; gay marriage began to lose its potency as a wedge issue, Republicans began to face losses at the polls. Then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's career, at the time considered ascendant, ended based on this event. The Evangelical Right has been on a downward slope ever since, to the extent that they were minor players in the Republican Primary of 2016. I bring this all up because there are a lot of similarities to the Terry Schiavo incident and the Battle of Dr. Seuss this week that I think have been missed. I doubt this event will be viewed with the same level of consequence as the Terry Schiavo incident in the future, but the implications are very similar. The center's treatment of anti-racist activists has similarities to how the Evangelical Right was perceived in the early 2000's: disagreement on day-to-day issues, but agreeance on a broader societal issue.

The fact is that, as a political ideology, "wokeness" jumped the shark this week. And this comes in a series of events that have seen significant push back from all aspects of the political spectrum (e.g., the San Francisco Board of Ed, Muppets, etc.) People in this country generally recoil in horror at the idea of some other group deciding what media they can and cannot consume, being lectured on how best to raise their children, and, specifically, being told that certain books are dangerous (a time-honored tradition of the right, which has now found a home on the left for some reason). Anti-racist activism has come dangerously close to crossing this line, and, if the Evangelical Right is any example, they could be looking at a major correction if they do not heed this warning. And as to the right coming off as ridiculous this week, sure, but the Tea Party were just a bunch of people that looked silly in tri-corner hats right up until they weren't.

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: I wonder if the conservatives complaining about Dr. Seuss being "canceled" will approve of this Seuss cartoon equating "America First" with Nazism:

Two white men with long white beards that
are entirely intertwined; one has a shirt with the Nazi swastika and the other wears a jacket that reads 'America First' while
Uncle Sam looks at them with a horrified expression on his face

D.L. in Uslar, Germany, writes: You could certainly have extended your list of reasons for conservatives to dislike Dr. Seuss. Environmentalism and criticism of capitalism (both in "The Lorax"), anti-authoritarianism ("Yertle the Turtle"), and so forth. The list goes on.

But it is possible to explain Fox's rush to embrace Seuss. It's not because Ted Cruz read "Green Eggs & Ham" on the Senate floor and promptly made clear he didn't understand it. The answer, as it so often is, is abortion. Several years ago, the pro-life crowd decided that "Horton Hears a Who!" is a statement against abortion, based on the repeated line "A person's a person, no matter how small." Never mind that's not what Seuss was writing about or that the message could be applied to any number of groups the right has expressed dislike for. They've decided it's about fetal personhood, and that's that.

R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: How the times change: "Fox host Lou Dobbs slams Arrietty and The Lorax for 'liberal agenda'."

B.B. in St. Louis, MO, writes: The members of CPAC wailing about the left trying to cancel Kermit the Frog seem conveniently to have forgotten that it was the Republican party, under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, who tried to cancel Sesame Street by attempting to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in the mid-90s. Of course, the real modern day "cancel culture" is the Republicans' attempt to cancel the voting rights of large segments of the population, but CPAC doesn't seem to object to that, either.

J.B. in London, UK, writes: I've been a liberal-minded daily reader of your website since 2008, when I came across you in a quest for balanced reporting on the Obama candidature. So I reckon I've got a reasonably long-term view now of U.S. politics, and your take on it.

Over most of that time, I've felt that your reporting has been fair and objective, and that your opinions, whilst undoubtedly liberal, have always been backed up by facts. But in recent months, you appear to have taken a far less nuanced approach, seemingly brandishing a megaphone from the left. Perhaps this is to balance all the nonsense we've been getting from Trump and his lickspittles, but I don't want to see you dragged down into the gutter with them.

What really tipped me over the edge was your item on Fox and Dr Seuss. We all know how awful Fox is (all of us, that is, who have a modicum of intelligence and objectivity); we don't need to be told in such strident tones. Please go back to a more balanced approach, and regain the confidence of the world-wide audience that you have built up and until recently have richly deserved.

Dirty Talk

F.M. in Hatfield, PA, writes: You mentioned political tricksters and I would like to propose one who, though a private citizen and not connected with any political campaign, transcends them all—not for the scope nor frequency nor complexity of trick but by virtue of the identity of the "tricked" individual—the trickster in question is Freeman Bernstein.

Bernstein was arrested by the LAPD in 1937 for grand larceny for "cheating" Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government. In the capstone of his slippery career, Freeman promised to ship "thirty-five tons of embargoed Canadian nickel" to Corporal Crazylegs and the goose-step gang; when the cargo arrived, the Nazis found only huge, useless quantities of scrap metal and tin. The con was a blow to the Nazi economy and war preparations and Hitler did not take the bait-and-switch lightly.

It was a beautiful trick; it was a brilliant trick; and, most of all, it was a trick which anyone should have seen coming a mile away by simply saying "thirty-five tons of embargoed Canadian nickel" in the voice of Daffy Duck.

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: I'm not sure if this counts as a dirty trick, ratf**king, or just business as usual, but I was living in Los Angeles at the time and remember the incident very well. The 1992 California Senate race to succeed Alan Cranston was between Democrat Barbara Boxer and Republican Bruce Herschensohn, a former Nixon speechwriter. In the final days of the campaign, Democratic operative Bob Mulholland revealed that Herschensohn "frequented" a Hollywood strip club. Herschensohn admitted that he had visited the club once with his girlfriend and another couple. The damage was done, and Herschensohn lost to Boxer by 5 points, presumably due to Evangelicals staying home.

W.S. in Austin, TX, writes: You wrote that "'Nixon' doesn't really rhyme with much of anything." Challenge accepted:

A wily old gent, name of Nixon,
Was famed for the way that he picks on
Democrats —'twas Team Blue
That decidedly who
Were the ones Tricky Dick played his tricks on.

History Matters

J.K. in Freehold, NJ, writes: Regarding the consideration of Erwin Rommel being a good tactician, this article details how Rommel, during the Africa campaign, was privy to American diplomatic transmissions via the Italians who had the American diplomatic Black Codes used by Brevet Colonel Bonner Frank Fellers. Fellers did a great job of informing the American government of the specifics of allied plans and situations in North Africa, which meant that Rommel knew everything—and still got beaten in 8 days.

Perhaps not so great a tactician after all?

C.J. in Hawthorne, CA, writes: I believe you, like just about everyone it seems, really missed the boat on the 3/5 compromise. It is usually framed as a means for the slave-holding states to get more power. In fact, the Southern states wanted enslaved folks counted fully—the North didn't want them counted at all—like Native Americans (the implication being the slaves weren't people at all). Sure, one could point that the slaves couldn't vote so weren't full citizens, so why should they count? On the other hand, white women couldn't vote either and were counted as full people. So while in the typical way of looking at it, the compromise benefited the South, it can (and is) argued that it diluted Southern power as well. The Constitutional Accountability Center, not exactly a right-wing organ given their lawsuits against President Trump, agrees with me on this.

In fact, once African Americans were counted fully, the white South was even stronger relative to its population than before.

V & Z respond: But Native Americans were regarded as citizens of their own semi-independent nations, while white women had most of the benefits of citizenship even if they did not have the vote. The incongruity is that, in every other context except apportionment, the white South wanted their enslaved population to be regarded as not human beings. Given how the enslaved people were treated in Southern law, and in Southern life, asking for them to be counted was not unlike asking for horses to be counted for purposes of apportionment. And so, the 3/5 compromise was a huge concession to the South and to Southern power.

R.K. in Pepperell, MA, writes: Does academic history have to be dry as dust—er, well, academic? Not always. Take works by David Hackett Fischer, history professor at Brandeis. My college students seldom complained about his Paul Revere's Ride, and my tour-guide daughter likes to cite it when she takes tourists through Lexington and Concord.

It so happens that Fischer wrote a Pultizer-prize winning book, Washington's Crossing, that covers much the same ground as David McCullough's 1776. If you read both books, I doubt that you'll find Fischer's account any less readable than McCullough's. But it does show the difference between popular and first-rate academic history. McCullough bases his narrative almost exclusively on primary sources—which he then interprets himself. Fischer, by contrast, immerses himself in the secondary scholarship of the American Revolution, including other academic historians, and then takes on the same primary sources used by McCullough. He even walks some of the battlefields, while McCullough appears to be more of an armchair historian.

Both books are good reads, but Fischer adds nuance, ambiguity, and doubt to the story; McCullough tells a rousing tale. Is one more accurate than the other? Both, of course, are interpretations, one based on a personal viewpoint, the other reflecting some of the collective consensus of specialists who have spent careers studying the period. Being an academic historian myself (who's also published some popular history) I'm biased toward Fischer, even if I don't happen to share his particular political perspective.

Modern Man

S.B. in Hood River, OR, writes: Commenting on the Neanderthals, you wrote: "They weren't actually stupid, just not quite as sharp as the modern humans who replaced them." This is not in line with the current consensus. Even around 20 years ago, there was ample evidence that the Neanderthal culture was roughly equivalent to that of modern humans, with a similar level of sophistication in their tool kit, evidence of burial practices, and also evidence of an artistic sense. From the linked article: "Neanderthals were using technology as advanced as that of contemporary anatomically modern humans and were using symbolism in much the same way."

There has been a great deal of recent progress in coming up with plausible reasons why the Neanderthals died out. One of which is simply bad luck. Another is due to declining fertility. The latter explanation is especially compelling. When two interfertile species come together (and we know that Neanderthals were interfertile with modern humans, as nearly all of us have some Neanderthal genes), the species with the higher rate of reproduction is likely to swamp the genetic contribution of the other.

V & Z respond: Who knew that "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer" was basically a documentary?

B.S. in Olmsted Falls, OH, writes: The notion that our archaic cousins, the Neanderthals, were cognitively inferior to the ancestors of modern humans has been dispelled; it's just not supported by recent scientific evidence. As you mentioned previously, the archaeological record shows circa thirty thousand years ago that the Neanderthals vanished after modern humans arrived ten thousand years prior in what today is Europe. Before humans assisted in the Neanderthals' prehistoric Houdini act however, they made mad, primal love with them. As a result of this interaction, Neanderthals bequeathed some of their DNA/genes to modern humans. Adapt and assimilate. Even now, thirty thousand years later, the signal is discernible—most people alive today are up to five percent...Neanderthal. They still "live" on in us all. So Joe Biden should reevaluate throwing out the "Neanderthal thinking" epithet when referring to dimwitted bipedals (e.g., Gov. Greg Abbott, R-TX). Stringing a few four-letter expletives together would have suited just fine.

L.A. in Washington, DC, writes: Both President Biden and Governor Abbott very likely have Neanderthal ancestry. My own DNA test indicates my make up as 2% Neanderthal. Practically everyone of European ancestry has some Neanderthal DNA. I proudly identify as Neanderthal-American, despite the widespread tendency to malign my heritage. Black Africans are generally 100% homo sapiens, unless there was some admixture at some point. The science on this is evolving quickly. Current explanations for the Neanderthal extinction have nothing to do with level of intelligence. Obviously, some Neanderthals were on intimate terms with some homo sapiens.

E.L. in Dallas, TX, writes: As a person of 1-2% Neanderthal heritage (everyone has 1-2% Neanderthal DNA), I would like to point out that it was a Neanderthal, and not modern man, who knew the answer to the Ultimate Question of life, the Universe, and Everything was 42.

What's in a Name?

L.E. in Suffolk, VA, writes: Thanks for sharing some all-time great/unfortunate names. However, you missed one of the all-time best names in sports, who was also responsible for one of the all-time upsets in Olympic Swimming: Misty Hyman.

J.E. in San Jose, CA, writes: I have more than a million sports cards for sale on a consignment website, and some of my most popular sales are not of players like Michael Jordan but of Rusty Kuntz and Dick Pole.

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: I worked for a state agency for 40 years, and the two most unfortunate names I came across were B.M. Crappy and Iva Dick. Unfortunately, I had to call Mrs. Dick to ask her some questions. Normally, we would begin the call by using the client's last name, and then introducing ourselves. In this case I decided it would be better, instead of asking for "Mrs. Dick," to be somewhat less formal, so I said "Hello, is this Iva?" She herself alluded to the difficulty in addressing her, by saying something like "I can't believe I married into that name!" I'm very proud of the fact that I was able to conduct the interview without laughing even once!

V & Z respond: If you teach at a state school with a large, diverse student population, as (Z) does, you also run into a few challenges. For example, he had a student a few years ago named Phuoc Ngo. That made it rather difficult on days when essays or quizzes were being returned.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I still think the champion bad name has to be "The First Lady of Texas," Ima Hogg.


J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Since we're hunting for easter eggs now, is it possible that the subject heading "American Jesus" in last week's mailbag was a reference to the signature song of southern California's favorite punk rock band, Bad Religion? As relevant today as when it was written.

V & Z respond: It was indeed. And we might just have done it again today.

P.F. in Peoria, IL, writes: Can you let P.K. in Marshalltown know that we visited my daughter, who attends UIUC. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she doesn't leave campus, but every few weeks we bring her dog for a visit.

Those squirrels are still on the quad and quite aggressive. They steal the corn from the Morrow plots, which are the oldest continuously operating corn field in the United States, established in 1876.

Her dog loves to chase the squirrels. It rained last night, though, so the dog will need to wait until our next visit.

It's good to know that those of us in Central Illinois are not forgotten.

V & Z respond: So it's fair to say that P.K.'s letter played well in Peoria?

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I just saw this picture in the comments on Political Wire:

Some idiot who works 
for Sean Hannity has incorrectly labeled the upper peninsula of Michigan as part of Canada

This Canadian invasion thing is getting serious!

V & Z respond: If they're willing to take Hannity in the deal, we might be ok with letting part of Michigan go.

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: I feel greatly honoured to have been the recipient of the "Most Obscure Twelve Letter Word Used in Correspondence This Month" award. The joy that I feel over receiving that award cancels out the depression I felt over my resurrection of "flerd," with a new and incredibly pedestrian meaning that is totally unrelated to its original, and one that occupied most of the research staff of the B.C. Legislative Library for almost a full working day in an unsuccessful search to find out if it was "unparliamentary." Under some circumstances, it would be, as I darn well knew when I put it into the speech.

V & Z respond: First you folks subvert part of Michigan, and then you subvert a fine, old Anglo-Saxon word like "flerd"? Will it never end?

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar06 Saturday Q&A
Mar05 The Fine Art of Getting Things Done, Part I: The Senate
Mar05 The Fine Art of Getting Things Done, Part II: The Senator
Mar05 The Fine Art of Getting Away With It, Part I
Mar05 The Fine Art of Getting Away With It, Part II
Mar05 The Fine Art of Getting Away With It, Part III
Mar05 Trump/???? 2024
Mar04 House Passes H.R. 1
Mar04 Biden Agrees to Limit Checks
Mar04 Biden Is Being Cautious about Releasing Trump's Tax Returns to Congress
Mar04 Congress Is Being Even More Cautious than Biden
Mar04 Biden Calls the Governor of Texas a Neanderthal
Mar04 Statehood Bill for Puerto Rico Is Introduced
Mar04 Real Divide: Senate Republicans vs. House Republicans
Mar04 The Grift Is Everywhere
Mar04 Even the Grifters Get Grifted
Mar04 The Future of QAnon
Mar03 Abbott Pulls a Snow Job
Mar03 Today's (Probably) The Day
Mar03 Tomorrow's the Day
Mar03 Fox N' Crocks
Mar03 You Win Some...
Mar03 ...and You Lose Some
Mar02 What's Good for the Goose Isn't Necessarily What's Good for the Gander
Mar02 Biden Gets Another Cabinet Member, but Still No "Yea" Vote from Hawley
Mar02 A Tale of Two Speeches
Mar02 Two More Politicians Tease Senate Runs
Mar02 Census Delays Will Make Things a Little Messy
Mar02 Cuomo's in Deep Trouble
Mar02 Sarkozy's in Deeper Trouble
Mar01 Trump Wins Election
Mar01 Poll: Swing Voters Like the COVID-19 Relief Bill
Mar01 Republicans Are Hard at Work Making Voting Harder
Mar01 Trump Is Messing Up the Map
Mar01 Senate Primaries Are in Full Swing
Mar01 Trump Will Create a Revenge Super PAC
Mar01 Other Republicans Are Setting Up an Anti-Revenge Super PAC
Mar01 Democrats Are Winning the Twitter War
Feb28 Sunday Mailbag
Feb27 Saturday Q&A
Feb26 MacDonough to Schumer: "Sorry, Charlie!"
Feb26 Biden's Team Is Being Put in Place...Slowly
Feb26 House Passes Equality Act
Feb26 McConnell Says He Would "Absolutely" Back Trump in 2024
Feb26 CPAC Begins Today
Feb26 The Horse Is Officially out of the Barn
Feb26 Governors in Hot Water
Feb25 Manchin Will Back Haaland
Feb25 DNC Will Get Involved in Midterms
Feb25 Postmaster General DeJoy May Soon Get a Special Delivery Letter