Another history-heavy Q&A.
Q: FiveThirtyEight wrote this week that 70% of Republicans believe Joe Biden stole the election. However, they left out a lot of relevant information, like the percentage of all Americans that believe the Big Lie? I was hoping that electoral-vote.com might be able to provide something more meaningful. G.S., Raleigh, NC
A: Well, we can add a little bit to the puzzle. There have been a bunch of polls recently, and they all report the same basic thing, namely that 65%-75% of self-identified Republicans believe that Donald Trump actually won the election. They are joined in this belief by about 33% of independents, and about 5% of Democrats.
That said, the Republicans are the minority party; roughly 25% of Americans today consider themselves to be Republicans, 33% consider themselves to be Democrats, and most of the remainder (40%) consider themselves to be independents. Of course, most independents aren't really independent; among that segment, about 50% consider themselves to be Democratic-leaning and about 40% consider themselves to be Republican-leaning.
In short, whether we solely consider registered Republicans, or we consider anyone who is Republican/Republican-leaning, we're talking about a distinct minority. Further, the party is losing support; the percentage of Americans who identify as Republican has just dropped to its lowest point in a decade. Not great news for the GOP, given that it's not election season, and so you don't have people thinking carefully about what their party registration should be.
Anyhow, if you add it all up, the percentage of Americans overall who believe the Big Lie is about 35%.
Q: In a hypothetical situation, where Republicans take the House in 2022, and maintain it in 2024,
but Biden wins the electoral vote, could we see a situation where the house would now refuse to certify the election
results, making current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) de facto president?
I ask because it appears all the sensible pro-democracy Republicans are getting purged and/or censured. If Donald Trump or a Trump-like Republican candidate claims fraud a second time, it seems doubtful a Republican controlled House would be willing to stand up for reality again. T.E.G., San Diego, CA
Q: There has been a lot of talk recently about the possibility that if Republicans regained control of one or both houses of Congress in 2022, they could refuse to certify a Democratic presidential win in 2024—or even certify it for the Republican (Trump) regardless of the election results. I was wondering if you could play out what might happen next in such a scenario. How could states respond to this? How could the still president Biden respond? How about the courts? And the military? Surely all of these entities would not just simply go along with a coup attempt like this, but what are their options? M.N., Ithaca, NY
A: At the start of the Civil War, as many readers will know, Abraham Lincoln originally called for volunteers to serve for just 90 days. Jefferson Davis followed suit. This is because most people in April of 1861 had no idea what the future actually held (Union General-in-Chief Winfield Scott was a notable exception; he predicted with a fair bit of precision how things would unfold).
And now, back to the present. There have been so many occasions where, for one reason or another, the Party might have turned its back on Trump. The Ukraine situation. COVID-19 denial. Losing the election. The insurrection. Demanding fealty to the obvious, and destructive, lie that he actually won the election. And after each of these, the party leaders keep following right along, like they are wearing a collar and Trump is holding the leash. Even people like former Speaker John Boehner, who wrote extensively about all the harm Trump has done to the party, still voted for him.
What that means is that there is no line left that we are willing to say, with confidence, that the current iteration of the Republican Party will not cross. One of the core tenets of representative government—indeed, the core tenet—is that you take your best shot during an election and, whatever happens, you respect the result. That doesn't mean you have to like the result, and that doesn't mean you can't complain about it, but you do have to respect it. Most Republicans appear to have already abandoned that idea, and under that circumstance, it is entirely plausible that the Republicans in Congress, and in particular those in the House, might attempt a coup like this.
That said, we will now repeat something that we have said many times, namely that governance rests on the consent of the governed. There is absolutely no chance that if the election is stolen like this, the citizenry will shrug and say "Well, that's the way it goes." No, at that point the country would be on the cusp of Civil War v2.0. Exactly what that might look like, and whether or not the nation might be pulled back from the precipice, we don't know, which puts us in the same position Lincoln and Davis were in 160 years ago. However, Joe Biden is not James Buchanan, even if they have the same initials. Election results are certified on Jan. 6, and his first term does not expire until Jan. 20, which means he would have two weeks to respond. He might well order House Republicans to be arrested and charged with insurrection. The remaining (Democratic) members would then have a quorum and could approve the election results.
That is just a guess, but it's also probably the best insurance against such a maneuver. When the South commenced with secession in 1860, they hoped that the president (the former JB) would do nothing and that the North would decide it was not worth the time and energy to resist. These were plausible possibilities, even if the Confederates ultimately guessed wrong on the second one. Today's Republicans might very well be willing to try a coup, regardless of how unethical and anti-democratic it might be. But can they really convince themselves that the president (the current JB) might plausibly sit on his hands, and that the American public might plausibly tolerate a stolen election? That could be the million-dollar question.
Q: With all of the censures flying this way and that, I wondered if there is much in the way of historical precedent, particularly at the Congressional level, for a legislator being censured for doing something that's explicitly in their job description, such as voting (e.g., for or against impeachment)? Or is this just another part of the New World Order According to Trump? S.S., Athens, OH
A: Let us begin by noting that these censures are coming from state- and county-level Republican party machinery. The House has not censured Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) or anyone else this term, nor are they likely to do so, since they rarely censure anyone (five times in the last century), and they generally only do it in response to lawbreaking or sexual misconduct.
That said, it is not at all unheard of for someone who goes against party orthodoxy, including with their votes, to be scorned in various ways. Whether it is formal censures, or insults (RINO! DINO!), or cutting off donations, or finding a primary challenger for the next election cycle, they are all part and parcel of the give and take of partisan politics. Don't forget that just last year, then-representative Justin Amash departed the Republican Party because he knew that if he stayed, after voting for impeachment, he would be persona non grata.
Returning to the specific example of Cheney, much of the blowback she is getting (e.g., the likely loss of her leadership position) is not because of her votes, per se, but because of her vocal anti-Trump rhetoric. She's a veteran politician, and she surely had a good idea what the cost of her actions would be. Put another way, she deliberately martyred herself. If her bet is that by Nov. 2022 Trump will be a spent force, she may be in a position to rebuild and lead the Republican Party. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years in the notorius Robben Island prison. Then was elected president of his country. Stuff changes.
Q: Are the efforts of the Republican leadership (the elected officials and party officers of the various states and at the federal level) to censure anti-Trump members a text book example of the cancel culture they so vehemently complain about? If so, is this also a classic example of projection or the pot calling the kettle black? P.M., Simi Valley, CA
A: Let us begin with two observations. The first is that partisans on both sides of the aisle are guilty of engaging in behavior for which they condemn partisans on the other side of the aisle. The second is that there is a real idea/concern behind "cancel culture"; some people have seen their careers destroyed, and some books/symbols/products have been yanked from circulation in hasty and knee-jerk ways that appear to involve much in the way of emotion and relatively little in the way of calm deliberation. You might say they did not get cultural due process.
There are plenty of cases where Republicans have engaged in cancel-culture behavior, whether it's directed at Starbucks because their holiday cups are non-denominational, or at the NFL because of kneeling players, or at MLB because they moved the All-Star Game, or Liz Cheney because she dared to vote/speak her conscience. They are within their rights to do so, of course, just as Democrats are free to boycott Chik-Fil-A, or Goya Foods, or Ted Nugent concerts, or the movies of Woody Allen.
On top of that, we would suggest that Republicans have become particularly willing to deploy buzzwords that drive their base into a lather without worrying about being hypocritical or even making sense. When the Dr. Seuss estate decides to stop publishing a few of his books, that is not cancel culture—it is capitalism in action. Similarly, Joe Biden is not a socialist, critical media coverage is not fake news, and it's not judicial activism every time the Supreme Court makes a decision that is at variance with the conservative perspective.
Q: The backlash against Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) demonstrates that the 45th president is still hugely popular with Republican politicians and voters. In effect he remains the party's leader, and he's the presumptive challenger for 2024. How does his post-defeat status compare to the other defeated incumbents in the last century: George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Jerry Ford, and Herbert Hoover? H.F., Pittsburgh, PA
Q: I am convinced that as long as Donald Trump (Q-FL) is alive, he will be running for president in 2024. Should he be successful in his run, he would be the second person to be president in non-consecutive terms. Do you see any parallels in what he is doing as compared to what Grover Cleveland did from 1889-1893 so that he was able to win his second term? R.M., Pensacola, FL
A: Bush, Carter, and Hoover were all trounced pretty badly, and their successors all proved to be somewhere between "popular" and "wildly popular." And so, even if they had desired a rematch, they would have realized it was foolhardy.
Gerald Ford, by contrast, lost a relatively close election and could plausibly have persuaded himself that, if just a few things had broken differently, he might have won. Further, his successor—Jimmy Carter—was not especially popular. And so, Ford might seriously have considered a rematch. And he sort of did; there was talk of a Reagan-Ford ticket, with the idea that they would be co-presidents. The idea was dropped, obviously.
Grover Cleveland also lost a close election, even closer than Ford's. He also suspected that his successor, Benjamin Harrison, would not be all that popular, and so left the White House expecting to make another run. The Clevelands even told the White House staff to keep the furniture they liked in good condition, so it would still be usable when Grover returned in 4 years. He was right about Harrison being unpopular, though he did not engage in electioneering while a private citizen, as that was considered gauche at the time.
At the moment, Trump is in the same position Ford and Cleveland were, in the sense that if you squint hard, and imagine Trump getting a few more lucky breaks, he might have triumphed in 2020. However, he lacks a key piece of information that won't be available for at least a few years: he doesn't know how popular Joe Biden will be heading into the 2024 election. If Biden's approval rating is middling, it would not be crazy for Trump to think he might win a rematch. The Donald would still be an underdog, but at least he'd have a puncher's chance. If Biden's approval is strong, then that, plus incumbency, plus the loss of Twitter, plus a few other debits against Trump, would make a rematch ill-advised. In that case, if the former president ran again, he'd be more like William Jennings Bryan, who needed three presidential election losses to figure out that the American people were not buying what he was selling.
Q: When reporting about Congressional Republicans who have publicly criticized Donald Trump, media outlets like to point out that the person in question has "voted with Trump" such-and-such percentage of the time. Is this really a fair criticism, though? I'm pretty sure Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh if he had been nominated by President Jeb Bush. I'm pretty sure Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) would have voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 if it had been proposed under a Marco Rubio administration. In other words, why are anti-Trump Republicans criticized for voting like Republicans on issues that have no direct bearing on Donald Trump's fitness for office or the danger he presents to democracy? J.B., Hutto, TX
A: It is true that much of the legislation that became law during Donald Trump's term, like the tax cut, was standard Republican fare. It is also true that those percentages do not distinguish between voting for border wall funding and voting to rename a post office. That said, they are a reasonably useful shorthand for judging how Trumpy an officeholder is, particularly if they are a standard deviation or two from the mean. In other words, the difference between "voted with Trump 80% of the time" and "voted with Trump 85% of the time" may not be very meaningful, but "voted with Trump 99% of the time" is, and so too is "voted with Trump 65% of the time."
Q: Are we going to have to look at the face of NumbNuts on your website for the next 3.5 years? T.D., Rogers, AR
A: Later this year, we will switch to the Senate map, but that takes time, and also doesn't make a lot of sense right now, since we can't really populate it with data until the candidates are known and polls start to be done. In the interim, you can click on the phone that appears to the right of the map, and read the phone version of the site, which has no Trump image. You can also set your browser to block that element (the Trump image). Or, you can take solace that, in the image, he appears to be grimacing at his loss.
Q: What does it mean to be the #3 Republican in the House? Could you give a brief description of the Republican leadership structure and explain whether or not the Democrats have a similar structure? J.K., Silverdale, WA
A: The top person in the House, of course, is Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). It is up to her to interface with the Senate Majority Leader and the White House, to oversee House personnel (like the sergeant-at-arms), and to manage the Democrats' overall legislative strategy.
Both parties have a Leader; the Majority Leader is Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and the Minority Leader is Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Since the Speaker is focused on big-picture stuff, and since by tradition the Speaker does not vote (or, usually, appear) on the floor of the House, the Leaders are responsible for managing what happens on the floor, particularly during votes. In addition, McCarthy handles some of the big-picture management of the Republicans' legislative strategy, since there is no Speaker above him to do so.
Both parties have a Whip; the Majority Whip is Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and the Minority Whip is Steve Scalise (R-LA). Their job is to count how many votes the party has, to make sure members are present to vote, and to twist arms as needed. Each is assisted by assistant whips, who have titles like "Assistant Whip," "Deputy Whip," and "Chief Deputy Whip."
There is a Democratic Caucus Chairman, Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and a Republican Conference Chairman, Liz Cheney (for the moment). Their job is to lead meetings when the members of the caucus/conference get together. Jeffries is assisted by a vice chair, Pete Aguilar (D-CA), while Cheney is assisted by a vice chairman, Mike Johnson (R-LA), and a secretary, Richard Hudson (R-NC).
There are four Democratic Policy & Communications Committee Chairs, Ted Lieu (D-CA), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), and Joe Neguse (D-CO), and there is one Republican Policy Committee Chairman, Gary Palmer (R-AL). They consult the leadership on legislation and legislative strategy, and manage committee assignments.
There is a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair, Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), and a National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman, Tom Emmer (R-MN). Their job is to try to win as many House elections as is possible, directing money and logistical support to competitive districts.
And finally, the Democrats have an Assistant Speaker, Katherine Clark (D-MA), whose job is to help Pelosi as needed. The job was largely created to give Pelosi more patronage to distribute; there is no Republican equivalent.
We've listed the jobs here in order of their precedence, so for the Democrats the Speaker is #1, the Majority Leader is #2, the Majority Whip is #3, and so forth, and for the Republicans, the Minority Leader is #1, the Minority Whip is #2, the Conference Chairman is #3, and so forth. The exact rank of the Democrats' Assistant Speaker is a little fuzzy, but is generally given as #4. Usually, the formal chain of command does not go beyond #4 or #5, such that the relative importance of the campaign committee chairs, the deputy whips, etc. is not explicitly spelled out.
Q: I am wondering why you continue to use the terms "chairman" and "chairmanship" rather than the more gender neutral term "chair?" I know that you understand that women head many committees (organizations, companies, etc.), so please help me understand. I have actually been wondering about this for some time now. J.S., Durham, NC
A: Usually, we try to do this, but sometimes we slip up and forget. There are also cases where "Chair" is not factually correct. For example, in the previous answer, we refer to Chairman Liz Cheney a couple of times. That is because the Republicans decided that the title of that office is "Chairman," regardless of the gender of the occupant.
Q: In your item "A Race Against Time," you pointed out how vaccination has become a political issue more than a health or science one. Honestly, in recent years, I've seen a huge shift in this direction. I actually got kicked out of my church in the 90's for believing the earth was 4.2 billion years old versus 10,000. Add in climate change deniers, flat earthers, the "vaccines-cause-autism" people and who knows what else and we have a public that seems bent on a phrase a friend once said to me, "I don't care what you say, that's what I believe." I've met people who think universities are cesspools of liberalism, that people with degrees don't know anything about the "real world," and I have watched teachers blamed for everything a kid does wrong. When did being educated become a bad thing? It used to be highly valued. S.B., New Castle, DE
A: This is not a new phenomenon. In 1964—in other words, close to 60 years ago—Richard Hofstadter won the Pulitzer for Anti-intellectualism in American Life. In that book, he observed that, "intellectuals...are [perceived as] pretentious, conceited... and snobbish; and very likely immoral, dangerous, and subversive ... The plain sense of the common man is an altogether adequate substitute for, if not actually much superior to, formal knowledge and expertise."
That said, it does seem that anti-intellectualism and hostility to education/schools/teachers have become more intense in the last couple of decades. (Z) has a little personal experience with this; his father was brilliant but was also a high-school dropout due to issues that had nothing to do with mental abilities. As (Z) put together a more conventionally successful high school career, it became a source of tension, and once he moved on to college, the relationship became untenable, and (Z) Sr. cut ties on New Year's Day of (Z)'s freshman year of college. They never spoke again. Anyhow, perhaps this anecdote is somewhat instructive, perhaps hostility to educated folks grows as they become more common, and as it becomes harder to say "It doesn't mean anything that I didn't go to college; nobody really goes to college."
As a sidebar, note that we've got a draft of a piece on universities as cesspools of liberalism that's been sitting in the "to do" folder for several months. Actually, we've got a mountain of content in the queue that requires more time to complete than is plausible when teaching and writing at the same time. The good news is that the school year is almost over, so much of this material will finally see the light of day sometime in the near future.
Q: In light of the revelations that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is under a federal criminal investigation for
sex crimes, why do you think Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn't given him the Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) treatment and called a
floor vote on him being removed from his committees?
I think having a floor vote on Gaetz's removal from committees would be something close to an armageddon to Republicans in Congress. It will force them to go on the record siding with or against a man being investigated for bringing a girl across state lines for sexual encounters. Most Republicans don't seem to want to be caught within 10 feet of him, but they know it will enrage much of the Trumpist crowd if they go on record punishing him. In short, I think most of them would rather swallow a thumbtack than be forced to take a public stand on him.
Removal from committees and other congressional punishments are political in nature, not legal. It is not necessary to be convicted of a crime to be punished by Congress, as we've seen with the impeachments of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. R.M.S., Lebanon, CT
A: Greene's misdeeds took place when she was acting in her capacity as a member of Congress. Further, the facts of what took place were well-established and were not going to change; the only question was whether or not her behavior was problematic enough to warrant punishment. Given the precedent set by the committee-stripping of former representative Steve King, it was, it would appear.
With Gaetz, it certainly looks bad, but much of what is known is rumor, or supposition, or inference. He hasn't actually been charged, and the evidence against him is largely, at this point, secondhand. If Pelosi went after him right now, there are at least two problems we foresee. The first is that she would set a precedent that would be open to abuse. What if he got popped, and then a Republican law enforcement official—a Joe Arpaio type—announced that they were investigating Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for hiring teenage boys for sexual favors, and that they had credible evidence of her guilt? It would be a lie, of course, but it would also be hard for Pelosi to justify treating that situation and Gaetz's situation differently.
The second problem, and the bigger one, is that the moderate fuzziness around Gaetz gives his colleagues an out. They could vote in support of him, and then tell reporters that they just haven't seen any evidence that would justify punishing him, and that America is a country where people are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
When and if Gaetz is charged, or when and if some hard evidence against him becomes public, then Pelosi might make a move. Then, the precedent would be in line with past sanctions, and would not create a new, and more loose precedent. Meanwhile, Republicans would be in much more of a pickle when it came to which way they voted.
Q: In your item about Senate Confirmations being needed for 1,200 appointees, you failed to mention why that is. Who decides which positions needs Senate confirmation, and which ones do not? Is there a master list? Does it go by pay ranking? GS-XX and above needs confirmation? B.O., Malvern, PA
Q: Can you explain just how the number of mandatory confirmations became so huge? Is there any viable way now of reducing the number of appointments that require Senate approval? Seems that Senate approvals for maybe 50 to 100 high level appointments would be about right. C.W.M., Monroe, WA
A: Let us start by reminding everyone of the text of the Constitution's appointments clause. See if you can pick out the part that really drives the number sky-high:
and [the President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
Before we tell you which is the key part, let us first note that the U.S. keeps 189 ambassadors, plus an additional number of consuls and special envoys, so that puts the total number way above 50 to 100 right there. In addition, once the Senate takes responsibility for appointing one member of a committee/commission/board, they pretty much have to appoint them all. Having to approve all of the members of the Federal Elections Commission, or the Federal Reserve Board, or the Federal Communications Commission really drives up the tally, too.
That said, the key part is this: "Officers of the United States." That refers to anyone who is entitled to exercise some portion of the sovereign power of the United States. In turn, this has come to mean anyone who is empowered to commit the government to some sort of obligation, including by interpreting laws, signing contracts, executing treaties, and issuing military orders. This clause is why all federal judges (they interpret laws) and high-ranking military officers (they issue military orders) are approved by the Senate.
It is generally understood that the heads of federal departments are likely to do at least one of these things, and there are between 400 and 500 of those, depending on who's counting. Further, these department heads might well be replaced, at least on an acting basis, by their immediate underling(s), so the assistants/deputies generally get approved, too. Sometimes the enabling legislation that creates a position/department spells out whether a person is an Officer of the United States and needs to be confirmed, sometimes Congress has simply exercised its judgment, and occasionally a court has made the decision.
It is possible to trim the list some; as you can see, Congress is specifically allowed to exempt many offices from the need for approval. And sometimes, they go through and prune the list. For example, the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011 cut the total by 163, decreeing that such posts as the Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Director of the Selective Service System, the Treasurer of the United States, and the members of the National Science Foundation no longer needed Senate confirmation. However, it would be impossible to get the list down to 50-100 and still be in line with the Appointments Clause, unless a constitutional amendment was adopted.
I was reading in the Cook Political Report about the reapportionment of House seats based on the 2020 census contained
the following sentence: "Amazingly, Minnesota beat out New York for the 435th and final House seat by just 89
Can you explain what this means? What formula is used for reapportionment where 89 fewer people in a state of 19.45 million people (New York) means that state loses a Congressional seat to a state of 5.6 million people (Minnesota)? W.R., Tampa, FL
A: It's not the overall population that matters when it comes to breaking ties, it is—to use a term from 3rd-grade math—the remainder.
The Census Bureau uses (and has used, since the 1940s) a complicated technique called the Equal Proportions Method. If you want to know exactly how it works, follow the link, and make sure you are armed with advanced mathematical knowledge. However, the basic idea is that they start by awarding one representative to each state. Then they award seat #51 to whichever state has the strongest claim, based on the "current" average size of a Congressional district. So, for example, California has a population of 39,538,223, which means that when they have been awarded only one seat, they have an average district size of 39,538,223. That's bigger than any other state, so they get seat #51, and their average drops to 19,769,111 per seat, and they slide a few slots down the list. Then Texas (29,183,290 people) gets seat #52, Florida (21,538,187) gets seat #53, and New York (20,215,751) gets seat #54. At that point, the state with the highest population per district is...California again, so they get seat #55, and so on and so forth.
Although it varies by state because of this method, the average number of people per seat (outside of the small, one-representative states) is about 750,000. And eventually, the Census Bureau gets to a point where they have a handful of seats left to award, and no state has 750,000 population still left unaccounted for. So, in essence, the state with the largest remainder ends up with first dibs.
Q: In a recall election, such as the one California is currently preparing for, does anything prevent the current governor from also appearing on the ballot as a candidate for the replacement governor? As you pointed out, the new governor need not win a majority, only a plurality. D.T., San Jose, CA
A: Yeah, that possibility occurred to the folks who wrote the law more than a century ago. It plainly says: "If the majority vote on the question is to recall, the officer is removed and, if there is a candidate, the candidate who receives a plurality is the successor. The officer may not be a candidate..."
"Who can forget Michael Cohen, who was something of an idiot savant as a grifter, except without the savant part. He's
currently finishing off his prison term, on house arrest, as a result."
I've always wondered: how does house arrest actually work? Also how does it not violate the principle of "equal protection under the law," given that Cohen's house is almost certainly vastly superior accommodations compared to most people's? E.W., Skaneateles, NY
A: Generally speaking, a house arrestee is required to remain at home for the duration of their sentence, although often with exceptions made for travel to work, or to church, or for supplies/food. These days, house arrestees are often monitored by some sort of electronic tracker, typically worn around the ankle.
Equal protection is not an issue, since where you choose to live if your sanctions are loosened is not in the purview of the government. If it was, then there would be legal issues with any sort of non-prison sanction, like weekend release or probation.
What is in the purview of the government is the conditions of prisons for those who are not granted lesser sanctions, and also how equitably lesser sanctions are meted out. If people of color are put into crummier cells than white folks are, or if white folks are more likely to be granted house arrest than people of color who committed similar crimes, those would be potential equal protection issues.
Q: If Dominion Voting Systems can sue Fox News for spreading disinformation on voting machines, and thereby damaging future business, could Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson sue Tucker Carlson for providing false information regarding vaccines? I don't see the difference between the two. T.J.C., St Louis MO
A: We do not make a habit of watching Tucker Carlson's program, in the same way that we don't make a habit of sitting on a heated stove and guzzling cod liver oil while listening to a recording of fingernails on a chalkboard playing on an endless loop. So, we cannot speak to every single thing he's said. However, Mr. Carlson appears to have been given a refresher on how to get close to the line without crossing it. He tends to present his anti-vaxx statements in the form of questions, rather than affirmative statements, like "Is anybody wondering about how many people are dying from these vaccines?" Further, he alludes to "the vaccines" in general, and not to "the Pfizer vaccine" or "the Moderna vaccine."
As far as defamation law, asking general (if leading) questions about a group of products is entirely different from making direct statements about a specific product, service, or corporation. Compare "I wonder if anyone has considered if pizza causes heart attacks?" with "Pizza Hut pizzas have killed at least 1 million people in the last year." One of those is actionable, one isn't.
Q: You may have heard that a baby boy was was born on an airplane going from Salt Lake City, UT, to Honolulu, HI. If that baby grows up and decides to run for President, would he be eligible under the Constitution because the birth took place about 30,000 feet up in the air? R.H.D., Webster, NY
A: Different nations have different rules, so we will answer for the United States in particular, while noting that things might be different if the circumstances were different.
Anyhow, if the birth had taken place in the first hour or so of the flight, the baby would have automatically gained citizenship, as U.S. airspace is considered to be U.S. soil under American law. This is called jus soli citizenship, and would make the baby a natural born citizen and thus eligible to the presidency.
As chance would have it, the birth did not take place until about halfway through the flight, which means the baby was not born "on" American soil, since it was over the Pacific Ocean by that point. However, his mother is a U.S. citizen and resident, so he acquired natural born citizenship in that fashion, and would again be eligible to the presidency. This is called jus sanguinis citizenship.
There is a plausible circumstance where an in-flight birth takes place, and neither jus soli nor jus sanguinis citizenship is conferred. In those cases, the tiebreaker is sometimes...the nation of registry of the airline. Legally speaking, for example, an Air France plane is basically considered to be "French soil," regardless of where it is located. So, a child might plausibly acquire natural born citizenship in that fashion, and be eligible to the presidency.
In the event that none of these options kick in, it is possible to petition a national government for special consideration under the circumstances. But if that petition is not granted, a child born on a plane could end up stateless.
And finally, although the baby born on the flight to Hawaii was a citizen by birth, and thus eligible to the presidency, that does not mean that it would not be a campaign issue if he actually ran for president in 2075 or so.
Q: Why doesn't the government condition distribution of stimulus checks on proof of vaccination? Financial incentives and subsidies often stimulate otherwise uncomfortable behaviors. If the purpose of the cash handout is putting America into a position akin to its pre-pandemic state, and if herd immunity is key to getting there, why can't the two be linked? E.S., Eugene, OR
A: Undoubtedly, this possibility was considered. However, the general idea was that people needed the stimulus checks immediately, well before vaccination was possible for most people. Further, when over a thousand bucks is on the line, most anti-vaxxers would have found a way to get fake proof of vaccination.
The only plausible way to do this would be to create a new incentive, like West Virginia's $100 savings bonds or the free sports tickets, and to distribute that incentive at the time of vaccination.
Q: You made the case last weekend that the 1619 Project has flaws; in so doing, you indicated that "Most of the folks the Times recruited to work on the project are similar; they value 'message' over 'fealty to the historical record'." Can you be more specific? Does that group of folks include Gerald Horne from the University of Houston? M.M., Mountain View, CA
A: The Times has not been terribly transparent about exactly whom they consulted; the thing that is available for judgment is the list of contributors to The New York Times Magazine issue that launched the project. And if you look at that list, you see one historian (Kevin Kruse), and some scholars from other disciplines, and some poets, and some novelists, and some political activists, and some columnists. Obviously, the non-historians could plausibly produce historically sound work; one of the contributors was columnist Jamelle Bouie, and his work tends to be very good. In general, however, a list of contributors like that might well produce an interesting and thought-provoking issue, but really should not be expected to produce a historically rigorous issue.
Put another way, (Z) might be able to write a decent piece on the history of the AIDS epidemic, but he has only a cursory understanding of the underlying biology of the disease, of medical ethics, of the evidentiary standards of epidemiologists, etc. He probably shouldn't be writing an article for a magazine focused on how AIDS treatment needs to be overhauled going forward.
Further, with science, things are often black and white; either they are true or they aren't. With history, things are much more likely to be in shades of gray, and accuracy and understanding requires a fair bit of nuance. It's hard to even be aware of that nuance without an awful lot of study.
Gerald Horne was not among the original contributors to the 1619 Project issue of the magazine, but he has taken the lead in pushing back against the critics. (Z) doesn't know Horne's work all that well, but Horne does sometimes describe himself as a "radical historian," which is certainly suggestive when it comes to his priorities.
Q: As your staff mathematician will probably confirm, Napoleon Bonaparte died 200 years ago, which has sparked some discussions in Europe about what to think of the guy. I think this is a good opportunity to ask the resident awesome Civil War historian: How did Napoleon influence the United States? For example, did he have an impact on U.S.-French relations, was there some other impact of his wars on North America, was there a boom in pastry shops? J.K., Seoul, South Korea
A: If we are talking about direct effect, during his lifetime, then the three obvious answers are that (1) he was in office at the tail end of the Quasi-War between the U.S. and France, and helped bring that conflict to an end, (2) he sold Louisiana to the United States, (3) his wars against Britain led to both French and British predations against American ships and sailors, and so led indirectly to the War of 1812.
If you were specifically asking about the Civil War—which, of course, began 40 years after his death—his primary impact was to be a bad influence on some generals. Napoleon liked to use massed infantry charges, which worked pretty well in a time when guns took 20-30 seconds to reload and had an effective range of only 200 feet or so. However, after Napoleon died, but before the Civil War began, Claude-Ètienne Miniè developed the Miniè ball (which was not ball-shaped, despite its name). The Miniè ball made rifling practical, and extended the effective range of guns tenfold. Against such technology, massed infantry charges were ill-advised. Still, many Civil War generals, particularly older ones who had been trained during or shortly after Napoleon's reign, were tempted to give them a shot. The infamous Pickett's Charge was, in essence, a Napoleonic-style massed infantry charge.
Q: Which 10 U.S. citizens had the greatest influence on the world as a whole, and how did they influence the world? F.S., Cologne, Germany
A: It is very difficult to quantify the influence of folks like this, and even harder to make comparisons between different sorts of influence. So, we're going to give you ten, but in rough chronological order, rather than ranked order.
- Thomas Jefferson: For his primary authorship of the Declaration of Independence, we are going to
deem him the linchpin of the American Revolution, which inspired a wave of revolutionary movements around the world.
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton: She was the starting point for the American suffrage movement, and the
American suffrage movement inspired suffrage movements worldwide.
- Thomas Alva Edison: Developed, or oversaw the development of, the practical electric light bulb,
motion picture cameras, recorded sound, alkaline batteries, and dozens of other technologies that helped create the modern world.
Probably his greatest invention, though, was the modern industrial research laboratory, whose purpose was to try to make
new and commercially viable inventions.
- The Wright Brothers: Technically cheating, because it's two people, but it's not plausible to
separate them when it comes to giving credit for inaugurating heavier-than-air flight. How different would the world
economy—and the world wars—be without airplanes?
- John D. Rockefeller: He did more than any other person to shift the world away from coal and toward
oil, with all the economic benefit and environmental cost that entails. When you read about the polar ice caps melting,
feel free to say, "Thanks, John D."
- Henry Ford: Meanwhile, he did more to make automobiles accessible to everyone, and
basically necessary for everyone, than anyone else. Feel free to also thank him for those polar ice caps.
- Albert Einstein: He was only an American citizen for part of his life, but we're going to
count him. If you want to try to calculate his impact on science, start with E = mc2.
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt: His New Deal influenced governments worldwide (like, say,
encouraging the creation of the U.K.'s National Health Service). And his leadership during World War II may well
have made the difference between victory or defeat for the Allies. If you are skeptical, replace FDR with Donald
Trump, and then think about how World War II might have gone. Roosevelt also instigated the creation of the United
Nations, even if the job was finished after he died.
- Norman Borlaug: His work with genetically modified crops, particularly wheat, revolutionized
many national economies, and saved millions—and possibly billions—from starvation.
- Bill Gates and Steve Jobs: We're cheating again by listing two people, but we see them as inseparably sharing responsibility for the spread of the personal computer, with Gates taking the lead on software, and Jobs the lead on hardware.
So, whom did we miss?
If you wish to contact us, please use one of these addresses. For the first two, please include your initials and city.
- email@example.com For questions about politics, civics, history, etc. to be answered on a Saturday
- firstname.lastname@example.org For "letters to the editor" for possible publication on a Sunday
- email@example.com To tell us about typos or factual errors we should fix
- firstname.lastname@example.org For general suggestions, ideas, etc.
To download a poster about the site to hang up, please click here.
Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
May07 Trump Who?
May07 Be Careful What You Grift For
May07 FEC Lets Trump Off the Hook(ers)
May07 Democrats Are Unwilling to Light a Fire Under Breyer
May07 Nikki Fried Is In
May07 Keisha Lance Bottoms Is Out
May07 Stacey Abrams Has a Book
May06 Facebook's Oversight Board Upholds the Trump Ban
May06 Trump Endorses Elise Stefanik to Replace Cheney in House Leadership
May06 Trump Rips Pence
May06 Republicans Dump on Big Business
May06 Demographic Change May Not Help the Democrats As Much As They Expected
May06 Biden in Favor of Waiving Patent Protection on COVID Vaccine
May06 Yankees and Mets Will Offer Free Tickets with a Vaccination
May06 The Score: 44 Down, 1,156 to Go
May05 Biden Doubles Down on Vaccination Schedule
May05 Whither the Republicans: George W. Bush
May05 Whither the Republicans: Liz Cheney
May05 Trump Launches His "Social Media Platform"
May05 Trump Legal Blotter, Part I: Barr Memo Is About to See the Light of Day
May05 Trump Legal Blotter, Part II: Giuliani Prosecutors Want Special Master
May05 Florida Politics, Part I: Crist Declares for Governor
May05 Florida Politics, Part II: Special Election Set for January
May04 A Race Against Time
May04 A Biden Misstep: The Refugee Cap
May04 Another Biden Misstep: The Letter
May04 Judgment Day for Trump Is Imminent
May04 Redistricting Is Already a Mess
May04 Be Careful What You Wish For
May04 Jenner Stakes Out Her Territory
May03 Biden Wants GOP Support for His Infrastructure Bill "If Possible"
May03 Manchin Believes that D.C. Statehood Requires a Constitutional Amendment
May03 Republicans Threaten Cheney
May03 Giuliani May Have to Choose between Saving His Own Neck or Trump's
May03 Biden Is Giving the Pentagon Back the Money Trump Took for Wall Construction
May03 Poll: 64% of Americans Are Optimistic about the Direction of the Country
May03 Cindy McCain Calls Arizona Election Audit "Ludicrous"
May03 A Battle Is Brewing over the Chairmanship of the South Carolina Republican Party
May03 TX-06: It's Over Before It Starts
May03 Cheri Bustos Will Not Run for Reelection
May02 Sunday Mailbag
May01 Saturday Q&A
Apr30 The Takeaways Are In
Apr30 The Reviews are In, Part I: Joe Biden
Apr30 The Reviews are In, Part II: Tim Scott
Apr30 The Ratings Are In
Apr30 100 Days
Apr30 Trump Says He Would Consider DeSantis for VP
Apr30 Zinke's Back