The opening section is rather heftier than we typically shoot for because we got some interesting letters that we did not want to trim too aggressively. Also, later in the mailbag, we got a lot of suggestions for most influential Americans.
The Big Lie, and Other Aspects of the Modern Republican Party
A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: It was chilling to read your response to T.E.G. in San Diego and M.N. in Ithaca, probably because it rang so true. Besides being on a tight leash, I think Republicans were surprised at how wildly successful their promotion of the Big Lie has been, and they will continue to ride that wave to stay in power. And a big part of the reason they have gotten so much mileage out of it is because the media and others have continued to repeat the Big Lie in their efforts to refute it. Putting the word "false" in front of the phrase "claims of a rigged election" or "claims of voter fraud" still serves those sowing doubt about the elections' integrity. Meanwhile, the actual truth is getting lost. We need to start repeating the facts: this was the most secure election in history; more people voted than ever before; and mail-in voting is safe, secure and convenient.
M.F. in Cambria, CA, writes: I'm new to your site and read with great interest your comments on what would happen if the Republicans were to refuse to certify the presidential election in 2024 (which I'm sure they're contemplating every minute of every day). You wrote: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.
To this I reply: remember 2000? Granted, it wasn't quite as bad as what we're discussing here. It was the pre-Trump political universe. That said, it was a coup. They did steal the presidency in broad daylight. I was out in the streets protesting but there was hardly anyone else there. In San Francisco, no less! The country took pride in accepting the verdict of the court and moving on. "Move on" became the refrain. The country did exactly what you suggested. Voters shrugged and said "well, that's the way it goes."
Would it be any different in 2024? Maybe. Maybe not. The American people, though born out of a revolutionary war, are not the revolting kind. People in most European countries wouldn't have put up with a fraction of what we put up with over the last four years. Not a peep! The only things people take to the streets for are police shootings and racial issues. It's good that they did protest finally, but I can't help wonder all the time why they can't do the same thing for anything else. Not even the voter suppression laws being passed in state after state. So no, I'm not optimistic that we'll stop them in 2024, no matter what they do.
V & Z respond: Welcome aboard! However, we feel compelled to point out that it is one thing to nudge a close result in one state. It is another to steal an election that has already been declared for the other party, and where the outcome has been publicly known for approximately 8 weeks (Election Day to early January). Further, Florida 2000 had little in the way of precedent (at least, not precedent that remained in living memory). By contrast, a 2024 steal would take place not only after Florida 2000, but after 8-10 years of Republicans (some of them) making clear they will do whatever it takes to subvert the democratic process.
G.S. in Raleigh, NC, writes: In yesterday's Q&A, we learned that roughly 35% of Americans believe the Big Lie, that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 presidential election, only to have it stolen away by fraud. That percentage is not too far from the crazification factor, a term invented by John Rogers in 2005 to explain how 27% of voters in Illinois voted for Alan Keyes for the Senate instead of Barack Obama despite the fact that he had replaced Republican nominee Jack Ryan less than three months before the election and had no connection to Illinois.
So it is comforting that most Americans remain rational. The danger is that the Big Lie has the backing of one of the country's two major political parties. The Republican Party is actively purging its ranks of any moderates (er, apostates), and the hard-core right has all but completed its takeover. Consider the last year and a half: (1) 195 out of 197 Republicans in the House voted against the first impeachment, along with 52 out of 53 in the Senate; (2) 139 House Republicans voted to object to the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election, and eight Republican senators were on the record that they would have done so if the capitol riot on January 6 hadn't brought proceedings to a halt; (3) so far, nine state Republican parties have officially censured or rebuked their members who supported the second impeachment; (4) Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), whose only crime is to call the Big Lie what it is, is about to be exiled from the party leadership; (5) Republicans have introduced voter suppression bills in 41 states, using the Big Lie to disguise them as fighting voter fraud, and they have passed them in two states already (Georgia and Florida), with a third right behind (Texas), and more to come.
(V) and (Z) wrote yesterday that they no longer have confidence that a Republican majority in either the House or Senate would honor the will of the American people. I agree with them entirely. It is not an exaggeration to say that the survival of democracy in the United States may very well depend on the success or failure of the GOP in 2022 and 2024, and that could be decided by how many people who voted for them in 2020 can be peeled away from the crazification-factor core of the party.
P.M. from Currituck has tried to give readers of this site a perspective on why some Americans have turned to the Republicans. I would divide the GOP and its supporters into three groups: the politicians, who have sold their souls to the devil; the Trump Base, who are irretrievably down the rabbit-hole; and the redeemable remainder. I'm not sure how to convince this third group to vote differently, but I know what won't work. Over the past few months, I have been struck by the tones of righteous indignation in some of the responses to P.M.'s letters. Certainly not all, but enough of them to make me worry. We cannot convince anyone of anything by talking down to them. People have been fooled by the greatest con job in American history, but that doesn't make them fools. I invite other readers to point the rest of us to guides on talking to our friends and sowing the seeds of doubt that might take fruit 18 months from now and save our country from the current threat, so that we can face whatever the next major challenge proves to be.
V & Z respond: If we get suggestions, we will run some of them.
R.M. in Port Matilda, PA, writes: Regarding the Saturday question from T.E.G In San Diego, there is no doubt in my mind the TrumpliQans would try such a thing as instilling their own over a legitimately elected Democrat. With the Republicans, it is all about "owning the libs" and what better way to boil the blood of liberals than to steal an election the Democratic Party won? I am by no means a historian, but I'm not ignorant of history either. With that said, I'm hard pressed to point out a period of time, other than the Civil War itself, where we've been so rigidly divided. Tip O'Neill famously once said "all politics is local." While that was true in his era, all politics is now tribal. It's all about party.
But while Democrats are arguing over facts, policy and what is best for America, Republicans argue over who is more loyal to Dear Leader Trump. The American Rescue Plan, which received zero Republican votes, is nonetheless being touted by several members of the Party. Seems par for the course for them. It remains popular, if polling is to be believed. But even with the Trump voters with whom it remains popular, they will never vote for President Biden or any Democratic candidate, no matter how much they like the bill or how many $2,000 checks the Dems send them. Politics is too tribal and we are too divided. And how exactly do we even begin to work out our differences when one side is consumed with doubling down on the Big Lie and the answer to everything is an automatic "No!"? P.M. in Currituck wrote that "most people with progressive-leaning views do not want to attempt to understand the point of view of more conservative-leaning voters like me because of their own smugness and self-righteousness, as it is much easier to simply pass judgment, cast aspersions, and then move on, feeling self-confident in their attitudes, especially when magnified in a bubble with others holding the same views."
Oh for David Tapdancing Koresh sakes, here we go again with the conservative persecution complex. Really, where does one begin with these people? We are a two-party system. How do you try to understand, negotiate and govern when one of the two parties is living in an alternate reality where Trump is still the president and everything Fox "News", OAN, or Newsmax says is the gospel truth? How do you reason with "good people on both sides"? How do you reason with people who have no problem with a terrorist insurrection? How do you reason with people who don't care how many school children are killed, as long as they can continue to own weapons of war? How do you reason with someone who won't bother to put a cloth over their face in public if it were to save the life of their fellow humans? If we can't even have a reality-based discussion, how do we survive, let alone thrive, as a country? And while they are pressing their knees on the necks of minorities to make it as hard as possible to vote, they have the gall to complain we are not trying to understand them and that our judgement of their racism is hurting their fee-fees? Where does one even begin to try to understand and reason with that?
I read with interest the "Whither The Republican" series. That's the kind of thing that makes liberals like me giddy with glee! But as much as I want it to be true, I fret it will not come to pass. If you voted for Trump in 2020, you are lost to the Democratic party. That is a large chunk of the population that can't be reasoned with and we need to out-vote. Unless the Democrats can pull a Stacey Abrams in currently red and swing states, not much will change. With the utter gridlock and the absolute hatred each side has for the other and with the Republicans' seeming willingness to overturn legitimate elections, the question isn't "Whither the Republlicans?" but rather "Whither the United States of America?" And if the Republicans actually pull the trigger and install one of their own over the wishes of the electorate, the question becomes "can our country survive? At that point, I have no clue of where to go. Do we file for divorce?
I am worried about my country. Very worried.
D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: I believe you are correct that the Republicans are playing with fire in booting out Liz Cheney while coddling Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL). I think they believe they can just count on the historical trend of the party holding the White House losing seats in Congress. However, there are reasons these things happen, and they should be playing close attention:
- When a president is elected, they often have coattails that can drag candidates down ballot across the finish line even in districts when they should be in a disadvantage. Then, when the president is not the ballot, those newly minted congresspeople have to stand on their own and in districts where their party is at a disadvantage often lose as water finds its level. However, in this past election, the candidate with the longer coattails was Trump as the Republicans picked up more seats and therefore will be playing more defense than most out of power parties. Without the president at the top, more Republicans are in danger than Democrats.
- Redistricting is going to be a messy affair this time around. First, the 2010 map is probably as Republican friendly as you can get it. They used advanced computer software to draw the lines to crack and pack the Democrats to the max. You can only slice the bread so thin, and the country as a whole is even more Democratic than it was a decade ago. Trying to force out more Democrats will imperil sitting Republicans, which they will push back against.
And this is assuming the census was a good one, like what we had in 2010. Instead, it was a disaster and the Republicans' antics likely backfired. I wouldn't be surprised if, when the county data comes in, the rural counties are more severely undercounted. Canvassers can find more uncounted noses in a day's work in cities and suburbans than in rural regions, and the immigrants in rural areas would be more easily intimidated than those in cities. This would lead to the cities and suburbs being over-represented when it comes to redistricting, which would make them harder to crack and pack.
Further, exactly how the redistribution happened is not as good of news for the Republicans as they had hoped. At least four of the seven seats lost will come out of their hides (West Virginia, New York, Illinois, and Michigan, once the Grand Rapids cracking is undone). And then they might get four of the seats gained (but the Democrats will get the Colorado, Oregon, and at least one Texas district). That would be a wash at best.
- People want results. Obama harmed the Democrats by over-promising and under-delivering. Biden has so far under-promised and over-delivered. The party out of power often makes gains because they're a check on the president's power. However, if you fight tooth and nail against even the most innocuous things the President does, you seem less like a check and more like a petty and small party and petty and small parties don't go over well with independents.
- Conversely, Trump is toxic with a large swath of the American population, yet the Republicans embrace him fully. This goes over well with the base, but it again does not get you the votes you need to actually win majorities, even with the deck stacked in your favor. The Republicans have lost the suburbs and their current actions won't help them on that front.
- The most recent buck of the trend was in 2002 in the aftermath of 9/11. Bush and the Republicans were able to capitalize on the new war on terror to tar Democrats for their less militant stance. While the Republicans were able to use emotions to whip up certain segments of the population over freedom and the like, by November 2022, the pandemic should be in the rear view mirror and the damage done by their resistance to measures to slow it will be clear. And this time the Democrats can tar them for getting Americans killed at the pace of one 9/11 every day, at some points.
- And this is the most important point I want to make. The Democrats campaigned in 2020 with one arm tied behind their backs. They weren't going door to door, they weren't holding massive rallies. They were responsible during the pandemic. In 2022, they will be campaigning whole hog and both their audience and potential workforce are more likely to be fully vaccinated.
So, the behaviors of the House Republicans suggests they think the Speaker's gavel is in the bag. However, we hold elections for a reason. They could face an electorate that looks a lot like 2018, if not worse, if they continue to act like the Party of Trump.
R.L.D. in Austin, TX, writes: I think all the gerrymandering and voter suppression coming out of GOP-controlled state legislatures is the surest indication that the Party of Lincoln is heading for a long dry spell and also the clearest indication that the Republicans know they're heading for a long dry spell. They saw it coming a long time ago in Texas and have been fortifying against that day ever since.
R.G.N. in Seattle, WA, writes: When Liz Cheney pointed out to a GOP audience that the Emperor has no clothes, it must have been a shock for her to realize that, unlike the villagers in the original story, her entire audience was as stark naked as Trump is.
K.R. in Austin, TX, writes: Your description of how Liz Cheney could become Speaker is exactly how Texas ended up with a moderate Republican as Speaker in 2009, a pattern which still continues. Tom Craddick was ultra-conservative and also punished his enemies even within his party. In 2009, enough Republicans wanted him gone that they joined with the Democrats to select a Speaker who was a moderate Republican and who did his job well.
N.M. in Detroit, MI, writes: Y'all nailed the fact that the "Bush playbook was, at very least, the rough draft for the Trump presidential playbook."
However, I think you missed an important feature: loyalty to the administration became the primary definition of competence. Whether it was Richard Tomlinson's "bias study" of NPR defining "conservative" as "agreeing with Bush" and "liberal" as "disagreeing with Bush," or Heckofajob Brownie's handling of FEMA after Katrina, or Bush's claim that his biggest mistake in his first term was hiring Paul O'Neill as Treasury secretary, it's clear that the Bush administration was laying the foundation for the loyalty and omertà that came to full bloom in the Trump administration.
V & Z respond: Clearly, Liz Cheney failed to note that you never take sides against the family.
M.D. in The Poconos, PA, writes: Reading your item "Trump Who?", it hit me that Cruz, Rubio, Graham and the rest are the dementors from Harry Potter. They swoop in, perform their one and only action—eating the souls of decent, good people—and then move on. No thought required, just do their evil best for their evil master.
I don't recall watching them in the film and thinking, "Yes! These are beings worth celebrating!" I will never understand what is in it for them, as all they get out of this is a soul that can never satiate and maybe a fleeting thought from their self-obsessed Master, though usually they only get that if they fail. They will never be Master, no matter how desperately they try, as dementors are just special effects and not real people. And everyone with a soul hates them.
J.F. in Houston, TX, writes: You wrote: "It is really something to be perceived as too far right by someone who was themselves considered too far right by Barry Goldwater, of all people."
Your younger readers, as well as all of us for whom either senile dementia or the chemical effects of the 70's have affected our memories, may not remember the campaign bumper stickers that appeared even in then-moderate Oklahoma. They read: "Goldwater 1864." His party now seems to have regressed to 1764, or further.
E.S.T. in Lake Helen, FL, writes: Last week G.S. in Raleigh wrote: "The attitude of the Republican party to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to defy rational explanation."
And in the last paragraph, G.S. asks, "What on Earth is the Republican Party thinking? Why would they work so hard to doom the United States to a COVID-19 purgatory? Is any political gain worth sacrificing hundreds of thousands of American lives?"
I submit a rather simplistic and cynical answer to his question. There was a time last summer when the Republican anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers and anti-shut-down folks started escalating their views. At about that same time, it seemed to me, the CDC came out with the statistics that Black and Brown people were dying of COVID at a rate of two to three times the rate of white people.
I find it entirely plausible that the Republican leadership would find the odds for every 4 or 5 people dead, only one Republican vote would be lost to 3 or 4 Democratic votes, and would find this to be entirely acceptable and desirable.
R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: This, from The Nib, is the best political cartoon regarding cancel culture, or at least my favorite:
Also note this was published in November 2019, before Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) followed this exact same model following the cancellation of his book deal.
N.F. in Brussels, Belgium, writes: In light of the fact that "Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth," I got a kick out of the donaldjtrump.com terms of service. Notable highlights include:REPEAT INFRINGER POLICY. In accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA") and other applicable laws, Save America has adopted a policy of terminating subscribers or account holders who are deemed to be repeat infringers, in appropriate circumstances as determined by Save America in its sole discretion.
USER CONTENT AND INTERACTIVE SERVICES OR AREAS...You are solely responsible for your use of such Interactive Areas and use them at your own risk. By using any Interactive Areas, you agree not to post, upload, transmit, distribute, store, create, or otherwise publish to or through the Sites any of the following: User Content that is unlawful, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, indecent, lewd, suggestive, harassing, discriminatory, threatening, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, abusive, inflammatory, fraudulent, deceptive or misleading.
R.B. in Long Beach, CA, writes: Normally, I wouldn't indulge 45, but I went to his new site. He sure is posting as if it is Twitter. I also find it ironic he calls out Facebook and Twitter, yet has their social media share buttons. Really sums up his time in office.
B.S.M. in Chicago, IL, writes: I'm a web developer, so I always like to check out Chrome's Developer Tools to look for browser warnings and errors on web pages.
Each of the social media widgets on Trump's new page are using the same attribute "id." This is a rookie mistake. Also, there are competing FB Pixels (used for tracking).
And what is the deal with the text color used for the day and time the post was published? You can barely read it because the text is so light on a white background.
As for the "Like" button, clicking it throws the following error: "Uncaught SyntaxError: Unexpected token < in JSON at position 1." This is a common error, and easy to fix.
Lastly, one non-error, but a poor decision, is to use the same phrase "Donald J. Trump" as the title for every blog post. When you click the title, you are brought to a page with no additional content than you see on the first page.
It would be interesting to know who made this website, if they ever got paid (ha!), and to see if these errors are ever fixed.
Biden's Policy Agenda
D.A. in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, writes: It occurs to me that both carrot and stick might be needed to boost vaccination uptake in the U.S.
While there are plenty of sticks, with threats of lockdowns and perhaps employers only hiring those who are vaccinated (for safety reasons of course), it occurs to me that perhaps states shouldn't be throwing money into the savings bonds you've mentioned a couple of times. Likewise, offering "cash bribes" to convince the wavering will put out those who already did the right thing, or those who can't have the vaccine for whatever reason.
So is there a carrot which could work for everyone, cost relatively very little for the government, and allow for Congress, the President and business to work together and be a PR win-win-win?
I'm wondering how difficult it would be to add a new public/federal holiday to the calendar for the first Monday in the month after all the states hit a certain vaccination uptake percentage. Businesses would, of course, lose a day's work for everyone, but if they spin it that it's cheaper than losing staff for a few weeks to self-isolate then businesses could come out ahead.
Obviously, some employees would have to work on the day and be compensated later/in another manner.
But a public holiday for the majority would be a reason to celebrate, put their feet up, go visit friends and family, go shopping (perhaps even maskless), hit the theme parks. etc. It would also be a welcome boost for everyone who needs a break from the additional stress caused by COVID-19.
I think a few trial balloons from the President wouldn't go amiss on this idea. Start a debate as to what the day could be called, perhaps. "National Science Day" is my suggestion, if they can borrow that name from the current organizers. Then the competitive nature of humans will drive things, as everyone would have a reason to keep an eye on the numbers because they would all have a stake in the results.
I do hope President Biden's team is reading e-v.com, because I think they could do a lot worse for think-tank ideas.
M.H. in Seattle, WA, writes: I'll note at the top that I don't work for "Big Pharma." I'm an academic doing early-phase drug development.
I hope this can be turned into an honest discussion about how to incentivize medical R&D, but right now the suggestion that COVID-19 vaccine patents be nationalized feels like a cheap shot at pharma to earn some "populist points." Waiving patent protection couldn't possibly do anything to increase vaccine availability any time soon.
Most of the global capacity for sterile manufacturing is already devoted to making one type of COVID vaccine or another with a few smaller operations still making other necessary injectable drugs like Remdesivir, insulin, Ustekinumab, etc. With whole countries desperate for doses, return on investment is all but guaranteed, so we can be certain that pharma companies, greedy as they are, have already offered to throw millions at any factory with any spare bit of capacity. Waiving the patents won't create any more manufacturing capacity. Unfortunately, expanding this capacity takes years. Even an auto plant takes years to locate and construct a site, fabricate and install machines, train staff and troubleshoot production. And cars don't need to be specially manufactured and extensively tested to confirm that they are sterile at the end of the production line. Injectable drugs do, and doing so is not trivial. Can you imagine the anti-vaxx backlash if shoddy production hurt someone or even just caused a batch to be recalled?
It's easy to dump on an industry with the likes of Martin Shkreli, Elizabeth Holmes and Mylan Pharmaceuticals, but Pharma's response to Covid had been a bright spot for the industry so far. The patent system isn't perfect and there are certainly other ways to incentivize medical R&D, but that doesn't look like what's being discussed here.
M.M. in Plano, TX, writes: In 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan met with French President François Mitterrand. Reagan said that he commiserated with the French leader, as he had to make more than a thousand appointments. Mitterrand replied that he had no problem and he needed to make only 44 appointments.
A wholesale reform, converting all Level IV and V positions to Senior Executive Service, upper General Schedule, or upper Foreign Service grades, and promoting from within would be a first step.
D.C. in Birmingham, AL, writes: Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-WV) qualms about the constitutionality of D.C. statehood are indeed frivolous. The Twenty-third Amendment gives Congress the power to decide how the District's EVs are to be allocated. It would be simple to include a provision in the statehood law that would choose the District of Columbia electors by a method other than the popular vote in the federal district. A reasonable move would be to assign the electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.
R.L.D. in Austin, TX, writes: Okay, so yes, seeing a letter from the IRS in the mailbox did engender a bit of stress, especially considering that 2020 was my first year doing taxes as a self-employed person (2020 sure was a year, huh). But seeing that it was "just" a form letter touting the stimulus we had received, and in keeping with tradition set for previous COVID Stimulus checks, was a relief. So, while I don't disagree that there could be some downside, after 4 years of Trumpy shenanigans, I don't think this one will have much impact. At least not with anyone that matters.
M.A. in Denver, CO, writes: You wrote: "In the past, the GOP knew who it served: rich people, affluent (but not truly rich) suburbanites, and big business. The goal was to play reverse Robin Hood and steal from the poor and give to the rich."
Your snark went too far for me! The U.S. income tax system is already one of the most progressive tax systems in the world. According to the most recent IRS data available (tax year 2018), the top 10% of taxpayers had a 47.7% share of total reported income, and paid 71.4% of total income tax reported at an average tax rate of 19.9%. In contrast, the bottom 50% of all taxpayers had an 11.6% share of total reported income, and paid 2.9% of total income tax reported at an average tax rate of 3.4%. The income "split" point used to define the top 10% was $151,935 and the split point to define the bottom 50% was $43,614. "Rich" people already contribute the vast majority of federal revenues, so in my opinion characterizing describing lower taxes as "stealing from the poor" does not really reflect the facts. We can reasonably argue if overall tax share and rates should be more or less for specific groups of taxpayers but let's not continue the tired trope that the "rich" are soaking the poor by lowering income taxes—the poor don't pay income tax.
You may counter the above with the comment that the bottom 50% likely has to pay an additional 7.65% of their income in Social Security and Medicare. This is true. The counter to that is that the top 10% also have to pay Social Security and Medicare, and while Social Security tax ends at a certain income level, Medicare taxes increase at higher income levels. And while Social Security and Medicare taxes are relatively more of a percent of income for the bottom 50%, the top 10% would not qualify for the earned income tax credit. The refundable portion of EIC is not included in the taxes paid calculation cited above (if it was, it would be a negative tax or tax credit). If refundable EIC was included in the analysis, the bottom 50% would have paid even less of the total tax share (and a lower overall rate) and the top 10% would have paid even more.
P.S. in Bellevue, NE, writes: One significant detail overlooked by the summary of the takeaways from President Biden's speech to Congress, beyond maybe the general theme of "I'm channeling FDR," is a reference to the "Protecting the Right to Organize" (PRO) Act, where the President advocated for its passage. In the speech, it is wrapped around a lot of virtue-signaling and motherhood-and-apple-pie about making America, American jobs, and American products strong, but it can also be seen as a dog-whistle to unions, one which promotes policies that may not necessarily benefit most Americans, even working-class ones. In summary, it could be the additional takeaway of, "I'm going to try and bring back previous failed experiments with protectionism and other anti-competitive practices that appease special interests, but in a shiny new package that sounds patriotic."
Businesses may object to the PRO Act's proposed ban on rebutting the union message to employees during mandatory company time. It is already illegal to threaten termination, or to engage in other forms of retaliation for organizing in the workplace. The PRO Act arguably overcorrects with an overbroad restriction on corporate speech, one which may not pass judicial review. Any worker might also be concerned about requirements for employers to hand over employee information to union organizers without clear privacy protections. This Act may even allow unions to bypass secret ballot elections, enabling them to organize a union in a workplace solely by card check, where workers are asked by organizers to openly sign cards expressing their desire to have that union collectively bargain for them. This opens the door to peer pressure and coercion, and undermines workers' right to choose. There is an additional gotcha in the bill that you may be making more money (or not) in a union-organized workplace, but there may also be clawback from mandatory union dues due to the Act overriding the right-to-work laws on the books in many states, which may not sit well with some workers, either.
As part of this overall theme of American jobs, labor, and products, the President also advocated for a goal for the government to use only American products, with much fewer exemptions granted. Government preference for American products is generally commendable, and may also have national security implications. However, specifying only American products may result in higher prices and lower quality, mostly benefiting only a small subset of vendors, products, and workers that supply to the government. Of course, these vendors also point to the high cost and labor of complying with a complex government acquisition processes and regulations as justification for bidding higher prices already. And what to do for some things sole-sourced from non-American companies, such as 4G and 5G cellular telephony equipment, or rare-earth element products? Even something as simple as supplying running shoes to military recruits in basic training is not so straightforward, due to where nearly all shoes are made nowadays.
M.W. in Frederick, MD, writes: In response to P.B. in Gainesville: I am envious that you are able to commute to work via bicycle, and I'm sure we would agree on a lot of things, especially about the environment, but I disagree with your assessment of electric vehicles. Yes, taking fossil fuels out of our power grid should be a high priority, but it needs to happen at the same time as a huge push for EVs. Even if everyone in the country decided to buy an EV for their next car, it would still take decades for gas cars to be replaced with EVs.
EVs have a lot of beneficial effects on their own, regardless of the original source of their power. First of all, they are about 4-5 times more efficient at converting energy (factoring in 33.7 kWh equals the energy in 1 gallon of gas) into forward motion. EV batteries can be recycled to a much larger degree than combustion engines (including the rare-earth minerals inside). EVs already take advantage of the renewable energy that is pumping into the power grid, and will get greener over time as the power grid gets greener (unlike combustion engines). Even using the energy mix in today's power grid, EVs take disease-causing emissions from every car/truck tail pipe and move them to power plants where the emissions can be better monitored and ameliorated. EVs need almost no maintenance, taking away the carbon emissions associated with oil changes, replacing spark plugs, getting your emissions tested, etc. For these and many other reasons, the push for EVs should be at the top of any environmental priority list.
D.V. in Everett, WA, writes: As a scientist and former educator, I don't want to let the comments on electric cars made by P.B. in Gainesville stand. The advantage of EVs is not, as P.B. suggests, that they do not use fossil fuels. As P.B. correctly points out, that depends on where you charge them. The advantage is this: A gasoline car is, at the very, very best, about 30% efficient. Heat engines, like those that use internal combustion, are limited in their possible efficiency by the second law of thermodynamics. Electric motors and batteries are not heat engines, and do not have this obstacle. Typical EVs on the market today are about 77% efficient, more than double even the most efficient internal combustion cars, and three times more efficient than typical internal combustion cars. P.B. is correct about the environmental damage done in the manufacture (and eventual disposal) of EV's, which likely is greater than that of other vehicles, although the comparison is complex and difficult to evaluate. So, don't trash a perfectly good internal combustion car just to switch to electric. But, when the time comes, get an EV for your next one.
A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I was pleased to see a fellow Gator in your mailbag last Sunday—and, not surprisingly, they're spot on. I completely agree that Joe Biden's plan needs to place more emphasis on driving less, rather than focusing on buying more EVs. As P.B. correctly points out, all that electricity has to come from somewhere and right now your EV is still fueled by fossils even if it takes a less direct route to your engine.
The pandemic has shown us that many of us don't need to commute at all. My work habits have been permanently changed; moving forward I'll be going physically into the office only once a week. Biden should incentivize remote work and alternate transportation, like cycling. (Like P.B., when I report to the office, I commute by bike—even in Los Angeles, it can be done!) Budgets for complete streets are woefully inadequate.
Moreover, the President's childcare plan should create incentives for workplace childcare as well as rent caps and rent subsidies so people can live closer to where they work. Finally, freeways in large urban areas have destroyed communities. In San Francisco, for example, they've removed some portions of the freeway and the resurgence of those areas has reduced crime, increased economic opportunities and improved health and quality of life.
These are not radical ideas. And a true comprehensive infrastructure plan needs to incorporate all these elements.
D.H. in Boston, MA, writes: I'd like to respond to the comment from P.B. in Gainesville about wanting the U.S. to have more renewable power in place. President Biden is working on that! To give an update on a comment I made last year, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) did indeed stall on approving the Vineyard Wind project off Cape Cod, and it appears that if Donald Trump had been re-elected, the project would have been in serious danger of being canceled. However, Biden appointed Amanda Lefton, who worked on energy and environmental policy under Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), as head of BOEM. New York State also has lots of offshore wind potential, so we will likely see projects there.
In March this year, Vineyard Wind passed its environmental impact review, and should get a final decision from BOEM in the next month or two. My fingers are crossed it will be approved. If so, there are multiple other wind farms that could be built in that area. The next candidate for review is Revolution Wind. (To add a connection to another comment from Sunday, the company behind Vineyard Wind is Ørsted, formerly known as DONG.)
P.B. might also be interested to know that a power company named NextEra, based in Florida, is investing heavily in wind and solar energy, and currently has about 15 gigawatts of wind power capacity and 2 gigawatts of solar. In total, that's enough for a dozen DeLoreans with properly installed flux capacitors. It looks like NextEra would benefit from Biden's infrastructure plan.
It's going to take a while for the U.S. to develop renewable energy production to the levels we need, but I'm much more optimistic about its progress with Biden in office.
R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: The problem of falsehoods and conspiracy theories proliferating on social media and what to do about it is a knotty one. On the one hand, government regulation, even of massive social media corporations—either directly through new-fangled "seditious libel" laws or indirectly by mandating "independent" boards to make take-down, suspension and banning determinations—almost certainly runs afoul of the First Amendment, which trumps (sorry) the Commerce Clause when it comes to regulating speech. Moreover, even if such regulation were constitutional, it wouldn't work. Can you imagine what Trump's DOJ would have done if it could have prosecuted lese-majeste?
On the other hand, does anyone really want to trust giant corporations to police speech, limited only by current defamation, obscenity and criminal solicitation laws? I respectfully submit that if American democracy is to be predicated on the good intentions and actions of mega-corporations, we are well and truly bleeped. Likewise, even assuming the "independent" boards are not a figleaf to deflect criticism from the corporations ("Hey, don't blame us; it's the Board that banned your hero/allowed fascist lies!"), do we want an anonymous collection of international "experts" sitting in a Zoom version of the Star Chamber making these decisions? Who watches the Watchmen?
There are two approaches I can think of. One is to strip the social media companies of their protection from private suits that result from harms caused by communications on their platforms. Now this would absolutely have a chilling effect on speech, as litigation-averse companies would race to limit problematic posts and err on the side of over-removal. I would couple that with a federal cause of action, enforceable in state and federal courts, like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, making all speakers of harmful false facts or incitements to be civilly liable with statutory penalties. I'd also require all the social media companies to maintain records of account holders with verified names and addresses to facilitate enforcement of Social Media Consumer Protection Act, as I'd call it.
The second approach could be to update the antitrust laws to break up large social media companies specifically, or Big Tech in general. That would have the ancillary effect of limiting the reach of any given piece of speech, but would not run afoul of the First Amendment.
A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I can tell you I agree with the Facebook Oversight Board...there are no clear rules! I can tell you I have seen freaking death threats and doxxing done against transgender people be reported, only to have Facebook come back with their automated response that this does not "violate our community standards"! It's so common that in the trans community the running joke for years here has been...just what freaking standards do they have?
So, I cheer this move by the Oversight Board. Let Facebook come up with clear rules, and let minority voices, which are usually the most-harassed on social media have a voice in those rules!
Clearly, death threats and doxxing should trigger an immediate and permanent ban, on first offense. You don't get to cyberstalk people and threaten their lives and make them live in fear! You do not get to incite harm to others. I would also add you don't get to incite a riot or an insurrection, and you don't get to use it from a position of governmental authority to promote propaganda. And all Facebook ads should be fact-checked and forced to be truthful.
Seems Facebook and their like want all the protection of Section 230 without any of the responsibility to police their own site against truly unacceptable behavior.
R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: You mentioned the five year statute of limitation for Obstruction of Justice—but the statute for conspiracy does not begin until the last act by the last conspirator has been completed.
One can extricate oneself from a conspiracy by renouncing it and taking steps to thwart it (which usually means going to the cops), but until one does that, each member of the conspiracy is liable for every act of every other member of that conspiracy, whether known or unknown.
For instance, say (A) and (B) agree to rob a bank. (A) will bring the gun, and (B) will bring the getaway car. (A) gets a gun (which is a physical act in furtherance of the conspiracy, without which the conspiracy cannot be charged). (B)'s car breaks down, so (B) tells (C) he will give him $500 to steal a car for the job. (C) does a carjacking, and in the process he shoots and kills (D).
(A), (B) and (C) are all responsible for conspiracy and for robbery and for homicide of (D), even if (A) didn't know anything about (C) or that (B) was bringing him into the conspiracy.
This is why lawyers say "never conspire with stupid people," because if you do, you will be liable for their crimes as well as your own, and you are not in the clear until the statute of limitation runs out on the last act by any member of the conspiracy, even if you never knew that person existed.
V & Z respond: To be honest, (V) and (Z) have always been a little leery of (A), (B), and (C).
S.S. in Detroit, MI, writes: Regarding the discussion about police militarization, it seems an inevitable response to the militarization of criminals. All the bad persons are now armed and armored for war. I don't blame the police for wanting armored vehicles, helmets, body armor, assault weapons, and the whole kit. Urban policing can go from boring and uneventful to very deadly with no warning. In any situation, they could be going up against firepower that puts a patrolman with a pistol at a big disadvantage. I served on a jury where I had to examine a lot of 8x10 glossies of the devastating effects of an assault rifle on human bodies.
So, how to demilitarize the criminals? I doubt a solid majority of people are ever going to accept an interpretation of the Second Amendment that seriously restricts ownership of military-style weapons. Even if they did, there are vast numbers of those in circulation already, and no doubt any number of gun runners would be happy to sell even more. With all due respect to Beto O'Rourke, coming for them ain't gonna happen.
I don't know what sort of person chooses to go into the policing profession, but I doubt that a high opinion of human nature survives for long among them, at least in part for good reason. In my younger days, when I was visibly an "other," owing to hair, beard, and clothing, I experienced on a few occasions the hot wrath of the police, possibly similar to what Black people experience on a regular basis. But I suspect they held back just in case my daddy might have been someone important. One aspect of white privilege. When I got a little older and a little more respectable, I got "yessired" and "nosirred" to a point that was almost amusing. I might hold the record for traffic stops without getting a ticket. I lost count around a dozen. So yes, racism is definitely a factor.
I totally condemn what was done to George Floyd, and several others, and I don't see any excuse for it. I do feel bad for police officers, however, and the split second life-or-death decisions that they sometimes need to make. What strikes me in some of the bodycam and cellphone recordings that have played out recently has been the agitation of the officers, screaming incoherently at their subjects over and over. I think they must be either terrified or so hyped on adrenalin, maybe other things, that their judgment is questionable. It is unfortunate, but I can't say that I would act any better in that situation. My decision is to avoid it—but somebody needs to protect us from criminals.
C.P. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: Regarding the discussion on the lack of racial justice in policing, I highly recommend listening to this short podcast series, "Behind the Police." Put together by Robert Evans, an excellent journalist who has spent considerable time researching far-right hate groups currently active in the U.S., it explores the history of police forces in America and what led to their current racial justice issues.
D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: In 1952, I was a young child in San Francisco when Dwight D. Eisenhower was running against Adlai Stevenson. I remember, in my working class neighborhood, hearing adults dismissively calling Stevenson an "egghead." That was the term used for intellectuals in those days. An intellectual was anyone who spoke like an educated person. I liked Stevenson, but was afraid that he would lose. I did a door-to-door poll of my neighborhood and announced to my family that Eisenhower was going to win. They thought that was pretty funny.
J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: As a holder of a humanities Ph.D., I have a theory about the prevalence of left leaning folks in academia and especially in the humanities. Well, I have several theories, but of late one in particular has been my favorite.
I would like to conduct a poll of self-identified conservatives in the field, the poll would be one question long:1. After graduating college, how interested would you be in foregoing 6-10 of your prime earning and career development years to make the equivalent of minimum wage while likely accruing substantial debt, in order to gain the right to participate in a job market where you'll be competing against 300-400 others for each of the 10-20 available positions, the postings are vague and the hiring processes as onerous as they are opaque, and in which a 'decent' job pays $40-$50,000 a year with little possibility of topping $70-$80,000 by the time you retire?"
My guess is that no self-respecting conservative would be "stupid" enough to do something like this? I mean, what kind of fool would be stupid enough to subject themselves to such a thing?
J.W. in Aston, PA, writes: I'm really disappointed in the list you compiled of the 10 most influential Americans worldwide. With one exception, they are all white guys. Not that I have anything against this group, but this narrow range of thinking has definitely restricted your thoughts to some people who probably don't deserve to be there.
Others whose actions have had a major impact on the world:
- Margaret Sanger; advocating for birth control contributed to a permanent change in the workforce of the entire planet
- Frances Perkins, the longest serving U.S. Secretary of Labor, and a major figure behind crafting the New Deal
- Hedy Lamarr, who invented technology that enabled wifi (she was Austrian born, but since you included Einstein)
- Katherine Johnson
- Rosa Parks
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Ruth Bader Ginsberg
There are too many to narrow down to only 10, or 10 greatest. The most recent individuals, who none of us had ever heard of only a year ago, are Drew Weissman and Katalin Kariko (Hungarian-born), who developed mRNA technology that has made the COVID vaccine possible.
V & Z respond: If you review our list, 8 of 10 reached the height of their influence 90 or more years ago (not surprising, since there has been more time for their work to influence the world), and were predominantly in politics or science (not surprising, since those are the types whose influence is most likely to cross national borders). And politicians/scientists born more than a century ago are going to skew very white and very male, given how American society was structured back then.
That said, King was one of the last two people to be cut, as we narrowed it down to 10. Keep reading to see why, and also to learn who the other "final cut" was.
J.A. in Forest, VA, writes: Benjamin Franklin, believe it or not, was arguably the first person in world history to take a scientific discovery and immediately apply it to practical use. The Franklin Stove and the Lightning Rod were the results—two inventions Franklin refused to patent so that the world could take immediate benefit without added cost. Electrical terms like "battery" and "positive and negative" were conceived by Franklin.
Add to that his diplomatic and political work, and his support of Andrew Hamilton as John Peter Zenger's attorney in the trial that helped establish freedom of the press, and you've got a decent contribution to what we now consider to be the modern civilized world.
Then there was his probable invention of franchising—he helped establish his apprentice printers in their own businesses across Pennsylvania, paying for their equipment in exchange for a two-decade share of their profits; an arrangement that allowed him to retire (another new concept) from printing in his 40s and concentrate on science and politics.
V & Z respond: C'mon. Everyone knows that the real brain behind the operation was Amos the mouse.
D.B.F. in Regina, SK, Canada, writes: Thomas Paine. His Common Sense laid the foundation for the American Revolution.
J.W. in West Chester, PA, writes: James Wilson. He cast the deciding vote in the Pennsylvania delegation that broke the tie to separate from England. Thus, while Thomas Jefferson was the genius who wrote the document that started this country, James Wilson could be said to be the person who started the process.
Of course, I'm a descendant, so maybe I'm biased.
J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: I'm sure you'll be bombarded with demands to include George Washington on the list, and I join that sentiment. Take Washington out of the picture, and it's possible that the Revolutionary War would have been lost. Years later, one factor aiding the ratification of the Constitution was the universal understanding that Washington would be the first President. Take him out of the picture, and the United States might have continued as a loose and ineffective confederation, possibly subject to reconquest. Take Jefferson out of the picture, and the Declaration of Independence would indeed be far less ringing and eloquent—but the nations of the world would still see that a colony had achieved independence, and that monarchical rule had been replaced by a republic. Those facts would have sufficed to inspire other revolutions.
Nevertheless, I would keep Jefferson on the list, solely for the Louisiana Purchase. If that one man had made a different decision, the United States today might still have its borders of 1800. Who knows what North America would look like, but such a huge change would influence the whole world.
I refer to one man making a decision because it illustrates a problem with many of the people you list. For example, take Edison out of the picture and we would still have electric lights and motion pictures and so on. They would have come more slowly but they would have come. It's less clearly a case of influence when a person is simply part of a political, scientific, or economic development that would have happened anyway.
D.K. in Chicago, IL, writes: If I may also cheat, I would also nominate a duo: Samuel Morse (despite some of his political views) and Alexander Graham Bell (naturalized citizen). Because of them, telegraph and telephone technology became widespread and was a necessary step in the development of the Internet (remember dialup connections?).
V & Z respond: If a person's odious personal politics disqualified them, Henry Ford wouldn't have made the list.
D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: You might consider Henry David Thoreau. He was very influential, and most significantly influenced Gandhi, who liberated India, and in turn influenced Martin Luther King Jr. and many others.
Also: Samuel Colt—not for his "great equalizer" but for his pioneering of industrial production with interchangeable parts.
As for Einstein, yes, but for the wrong reasons. E = mc2 and his other many scientific breakthroughs took place decades before he became a U.S. citizen. But as a U.S. citizen, he wrote a famous/infamous letter to President Roosevelt, urging that work on what became the atomic bomb be started. Roosevelt took action, we got the bomb, then the USSR and Britain and France and China and Israel and Pakistan and North Korea and soon Iran (and I'm sure I've left some out). If that isn't influence on the world, I don't know what is.
Henry Ford: also yes, but for the wrong reasons. The auto was a big deal but the bigger deal was his organizing production into an assembly line.
M.F. in Oakton, VA, writes: I think a case can be made that Abraham Lincoln should also be on the list. His leadership as President preserved the United States and its republican system of government as an intact entity, and thus prevented what could have become the balkanization of the United States, north, south and west.
As he observed himself, had the South achieved independence, the precedent would have been set for further dissolution over regional differences, even if such differences were not looming on the horizon at that time. This is in addition to the continuation of slavery for some indefinite additional number of decades. It also suggests that the South would likely not have been able to maintain its own unity for very long, particularly with the weak national government they had created and the precedent their own secession had set.
The long-term idea of a powerful, economically diversified and racially diverse nation state with a federal and republican form of government, based on political ideals rather than on ethnic kinship, might have died with southern independence achieved, even if it proved temporary.
In particular, one wonders what the tenability of Canada, Brazil and Australia would be if there was no longer an intact United States?
J.I. in Drexel Hill, PA, writes: I must thoroughly protest your inclusion of Thomas Edison, while criminally omitting Nikola Tesla. In an effort to minimize your word count, I will simply refer you to an amusing, albeit NSFW comic that clearly shows "Why Nikola Tesla was the greatest geek who ever lived."
S.H. Chandler, AZ, writes: I'll throw Alexander Graham Bell out as a name you missed for most influential U.S. citizen. I think he should be considered, given that virtually everyone in world, except the poorest of the poor, now has a smart phone. Granted, he only achieved U.S. citizenry after inventing the telephone so that might be the technicality that kept him off your list.
M.H. in Boston, MA, writes: Walt Disney!
D.R., Norwalk, CT, writes: So many possible names, in so many areas of human endeavor. One that immediately came to mind, J. Robert Oppenheimer, U.S. citizen, born in NYC, and if not actual father, at least midwife, of the atomic bomb.
D.C. in Delray Beach, FL, writes: Since you had some other instances of two people, you might consider adding Eleanor Roosevelt to FDR. She was quite literally his "legs" as she toured the US and the World during the critical years of his presidency. She spread intelligence, good will, and grace around the world.
Give consideration also to Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, who was for many years the most recognized person on the planet. Yes, his sport was boxing, but he was also a pacifist (draft resister) and his message to young people about self-worth as he traveled the planet will resonate for generations.
Honorary mention also to Billie Jean King and her stance on women's equality, which ricocheted across the world like the return of a Bobby Riggs lob.
Likewise think about Bob Dylan, whose extensive library of songs and prolific world touring has brought thoughtful poetry and challenging intellectualism to everyone within the sound of his voice.
D.S. in San Diego, CA, writes: I would like to nominate George C. Marshall, but bow to a better advocate for the explanation.
J.R. in Sarasota, FL, writes: Juan Trippe, who made world air travel a reality.
M.W. in Ottawa, ON, Canada, writes: Claude Shannon. I'm not sure if he'd replace Einstein or Gates/Jobs, but without Shannon you don't have computers or telecommunications.
F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: I would submit...John Bardeen and Walter Brattain.
"Who?" I hear you cry?
Like Wilbur and Orville Wright, they were a team. They produced the first solid-state transistor; contrary to popular belief, it was made with germanium, not silicon.
Without that discovery, the integrated circuit (also made of germanium, and invented by Jack Kilby, another American) would not have come to pass. The IC, of course, was the foundation for the desktop computer, without which Jobs and Gates would have had no gateway to a job (cough). Sorry.
Although William Shockley does share the Nobel prize for the transistor, he entered the scene after Bardeen and Brattain had made their discovery and acted more in a supervisory manner. Also, Shockley began to espouse some rather racist ideas about eugenics that made him an embarrassment to the engineering community. Given those facts, I would not include Shockley as a worldwide American influence.
J.E.L. in Portland, OR, writes: Enjoyed your list of the 10 Americans who had the greatest influence on the world and how. To your list, we would like to add the following and the reasons why:
John L. Leal: An American physician who became interested in water safety and added chlorine to a municipal water supply (Jersey City, NJ) without permission. He was later sued but the practice was upheld. Over the last century how many lives have been saved as a result of his work?
Clarence Birdseye: He noticed how "flash freezing" of food made it safer to store and ship and more palatable to eat. How many millions of people worldwide have benefited from his insights?
Willis Carrier: He was charged with dehumidifying a busy New York City newspaper business in the summer months but along the way found out his new machine also cooled the air. Air conditioning paved the way for people to move to hotter climates and have actually changed the political landscape in the US (i.e., more white folks moving south and voting Republican). Hospitalized patients do better in air conditioned atmospheres.
Maurice Hilleman, Jonas Salk, and Albert Sabin: While the latter two are synonymous with polio vaccines, the former actually developed over 40 of them that are widely in use today. How many lives did these three men save over the last 70 years?
V & Z respond: Salk was, along with MLK Jr., one of the last two cuts, primarily because credit for the polio vaccines is so diffused.
T.B. in Tallahassee, FL, writes: John Putnam Marble, as chairman of the Committee on the Measurement of Geologic Time, moved the age of the Earth from about 1 billion years to 2 billion years.
(He was my grandfather.)
S.W. in Omaha, NE, writes: I'm surprised you didn't reference MLK Jr. Since being in college decades ago and interacting with many International folk since, he is universally well-known. However, I totally understand that fame is not equivalent to influence. Relatedly, I was surprised that your list didn't include any people of color.
V & Z respond: As to people of color in general, see our response to the first letter above. As to King in general, we think it is tough to make a case for his worldwide influence, while not also assigning significant credit to Mahatma Gandhi.
T.S. in Bainbridge Island, WA, writes: I would nominate Rachel Carson and her highly influential work Silent Spring as someone who had a profound impact on world history. Her study of the impact of DDT on the food chain set into motion the modern environmental movement. The impact of her thinking inspired countless others around the globe to take up the cause of environmental stewardship and consideration of human impacts on the natural world. The circumstance of her childhood and how she overcame them is as inspirational as her later writings.
K.C. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: His name is likely unfamiliar to nearly all of your readers, but if we are attempting to name the ten Americans who had the greatest influence on the world as a whole, the list would certainly have to include Jerome Horwitz, the scientist who in 1964 synthesized the compound that became well known two decades later as AZT or azidothymidine. At first, his work wasn't seen as all that noteworthy of a breakthrough, as the compound was ineffective as a cancer treatment. But with the AIDS crisis raging in the 1980s, AZT became the first known effective treatment, leading to the development of a series of antiretroviral therapies that transformed AIDS all over the world from an inevitable death sentence to a serious infection that a person can manage, often without even becoming sick. With more than 32 million deaths from AIDS, and an even larger number of people now living with AIDS, it would be hard to overestimate the significance of Horwitz's work, even if its ultimate impact couldn't have been known at the time that he made his discovery.
J.F. in Houston, TX, writes: In the seventies, climate change, overcrowding, and zero population growth were real things, and U.S. efforts to promote family planning around the world were having significant effects. Ronald Reagan gutted family planning because they talked dirty, making it necessary for Norman Borlaug to appear on your list.
S.H. from Broken Arrow, OK, writes: I would replace the Wright brothers with Tony Jannus. While Orville and Wilbur did indeed invent the plane, it was seen largely as a curio for the rich from its invention in 1903 until 1914, when Jannus made the first commercial airline flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa, FL.
I would also replace Bill Gates/Steve Jobs. This is going to be a slight cheat, but since this person is naturalized as a U.S. citizen and F.S. was not specific on this point, I can still make this choice: Linus Torvalds would be a far better choice. V knows why.
J.G. in Springfield, PA, writes: Donald Trump. He energized fascist movements worldwide.
A.M. in Olympia, WA, writes: How about (V) & (Z)? Provided they have proof of citizenship, of course.
V & Z respond: We decided we were a bit too obvious to include on the list.
Other Historical Matters
K.E. in Newport, RI, writes: The 1619 Project has errors of reasoning, as (Z) pointed out, because it is a work created out of a Postmodernist view of the United States. I am sure (Z) is familiar with Postmodern philosophy because it is a prominent worldview in many quarters of academia. To summarize very generally, it is the idea that facts and reality do not objectively exist, and that all knowledge, including science, is just a part of a cultural narrative. Postmodern philosophy became popular in the second half of the 20th century, and it reached its zenith in the 1990s and 2000s in the Humanities in the United States. It just so happens that I attended college in the late 90s and early 00s, just as Postmodernism reached its peak in popularity and several of my college professors in the humanities taught from that perspective. Needless to say, I do not agree with Postmodernism at all.
I have found through my own education and experience that Postmodernist thinking leads to mistakes like what (Z) described because it is overly focused on identifying narratives and then trying to fit events into the narrative. This is exactly the wrong approach to take for analysis in any field of study. Researchers and investigators should instead be looking for objective facts and then interpreting them in a clear way that lets people draw a conclusion. Instead, the 1619 Project starts with a conclusion at the beginning of its analysis, namely that the United States is a white supremacist society that started in 1619, and that's the key to understanding everything in the country. I do not believe most Black Americans think this way. Nor do most immigrants of color. Otherwise, why would they want to immigrate to such a terrible place?
Tufts University professor of Philosophy Daniel Dennett says, "Postmodernism, the school of 'thought' that proclaimed 'There are no truths, only interpretations' has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the Humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for 'conversations' in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster."
Taking Postmodernism to its logical end means people can dismiss anything they don't like as "just a narrative." If science is just a cultural narrative created by scientists with an agenda and data don't matter, then I can say viruses don't make people sick and I won't get vaccinated. If the media are just creating a narrative, then anything they said that contradicted statements made by the Trump administration was just "fake news" and could be dismissed. The Trump Administration seemed to frequently use Postmodern talking points when confronted with contradictory evidence. I once heard a Trump surrogate who was challenged by a reporter on TV for spreading misinformation reply with something like, "The truth doesn't exist because it's all relative anyway." Kellyanne Conway summed up the idea the best when she spoke about Trump presenting "alternative facts." The idea of "alternative facts" is complete nonsense—either something is a fact or it isn't.
C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: I think calling Zachary Taylor an "enthusiastic member of Team South" is a bit of an overstatement. Yes, he owned slaves, but he was a Union man first and foremost. He opposed slavery's expansion into the new territories and was completely against the secession movements in the South. He said he'd lead an army himself to settle the border dispute between Texas and New Mexico, promising that he'd gleefully hang the traitors. Taylor advocated for adding California as a free state before being named a territory, so Congress wouldn't get to debate the matter. The guy may have owned slaves, but he does not appear that he was on "Team South" the way one would think.
J.M. in Stamford, CT, writes: Regarding the question of Civil War generals who used Napoleonic tactics against post-Napoleonic weaponry, I remember reading in Bruce Catton's books many years ago that it wasn't just the "older generals who had been trained during or shortly after Napoleon's reign" who staged massed charges against riflemen in prepared positions. Catton emphasizes that most Union officers learned their jobs on the fly, due to the radical expansion of the Union Army, and had not been trained in tactics at West Point or pretty much anywhere else.
What they did instead was learn from the book, and THE book was Jomini's The Art of War. Jomini was one of Napoleon's generals, and his book cooked down Napoleon's methods into something systematic enough to be learned by rote—possibly at West Point, but also in a field tent at night, read by lamplight by a newly-commissioned Union colonel or captain desperately trying to figure out how fight a real battle against real soldiers.
Catton notes that the Confederates were under the same theoretical illusion as the Union, but since they were fighting a defensive war, massed charges à la Napoleon via Jomini rarely came up as a tactic; when they did, at Fredericksburg or (as you say) Pickett's Charge, the results were equally dismal. Catton also speculates that the Union losses from bad tactics ate up both men and unimaginative officers at a faster rate than the Confederates, who had been winning their defensive battles for the first year or two.
But the culling effect in the Union armies resulted in a new generation of officers emerging who'd learned the hard way to drop Jomini in the nearest campfire, and to fight riflemen in more appropriate ways in the latter two years. The Confederates didn't learn as fast, thinking they'd been winning due to grit and virtue rather than rifled rates of fire from behind stone walls, and so went down to eventual defeat. Now, I'm not sure Catton got all of this right, but the fact that I remember all this about forty years later speaks well of his narrative virtuosity as a popular historian!
Speaking of whom, abashed at daring to lecture a Civil War historian, I wonder if you might develop this argument, or else quash it with sound scholarship that I never was exposed to.
V & Z respond: This is a fair argument, but (Z) will add two things. First, it holds more for the Eastern theater of the war than the Western theater, as the folks who fought in the West often had more exposure to "modern" (for them) ways of fighting, thanks to living on the frontier. Second, a piece missing from the argument is that there was an ongoing debate between two European thinkers' view of war; Jomini (who fought with Napoleon) and Clausewitz (who fought against him). Clausewitz had a rather more modern view of war, most famously emphasizing the connections between homefront and war front ("war is the continuation of politics by other means"). The Civil War served to discredit Jomini's ideas, but also to validate Clausewitz's, and there were certainly officers in the Union Army who made a point of getting their hands on a copy of his book On War.
C.F. in Rockford, IL, writes: In response to T.R. in Los Angeles' description of Anna Chennault as one of the worst immigrants, I thank M.G. from Indianapolis for pointing out that it's not possible to prove that the Vietnam peace talks would have succeeded without her interference.
As her official biographer, I believe that it's more accurate to say that she encouraged the South Vietnamese leaders in their existing inclination to prefer Richard Nixon's election over Hubert Humphrey's. So, when President Thieu had the chance to join the peace talks (which he didn't trust), even though he'd told the U.S. Ambassador his government would join the peace talks, he refused to participate. That refusal, along with Nixon's and his campaign's efforts to stoke public opinion to believe that Lyndon Johnson was only announcing peace prospects to bolster Humphrey's election chances, helped keep the momentum on Nixon's side after Humphrey got a little bump following LBJ's October 31st speech announcing the new talks would include both North and South Vietnamese officials. Thieu's announcement (during a big national speech) helped Nixon, but Chennault's role was limited to telling both Nixon and Thieu to keep doing what they already believed was best. In Thieu's case, this was to throw a kink in the proposed peace talks, but it's just as easy to imagine that things would have gone the same way even if Chennault wasn't involved. And considering all the good things that Anna Chennault did to improve US/China/Asian relations in the 1970 through the early 2000's, I can't agree with her being on any "10 Worst Immigrants" list.
L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: If (Z) ever attends performances by the LA Philharmonic, widely admired as the major U.S. orchestra with the most forward-looking and diverse programming, he should be grateful for Frank Gehry. Walt Disney Concert Hall, where the orchestra performs, is a Gehry design, with acoustical engineering by Minoru Nagata and Yasuhisa Toyota. WDCH has magnificent acoustics and a spectacular design. I offer my photos of the hall as evidence, from October 2007 and March 2017.
(Z) might not want to live in Gehry's new house, but I bet that lots of people would: it's sunny and spacious and has beautiful grounds with a great view. The real crime is the green Steinway.
V & Z respond: Sorry to be Debbie Downer, but (Z) has been to WDCH many times. While he concedes that the sound is very good, every time he goes, the outside makes him wonder why Gehry copied his design for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, while the inside makes him feel like the walls (or, really, the ceilings) are closing in.
D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: A thought about the Frank Gehry home: It makes me think of a large insect. As though perhaps an advanced insectoid species might design such a structure.
What's in a Name?
S.S., West Hollywood, CA, writes: I never realized the House was so erotic with a Majority Whip, Minority Whip, Assistant Whip, Deputy Whip, and Chief Deputy Whip. It brings a whole new definition to Eyes Wide Shut which, ironically, is a pretty accurate definition of most House members. (And that's without mentioning Caucus Chairs. Not going there.)
S.S., Athens, OH, writes: I can't decide if "Assistant Whip," "Deputy Whip," and "Chief Deputy Whip" are flavors of dessert topping or designer floor waxes.
V & Z respond: You linked a famous bit from the first season of "Saturday Night Live," but you didn't mention Pussy Whip, the first dessert topping for cats?
A.K. in Toronto, ON, Canada, writes: When my brother, sister and I were growing up, our mother would on occasion tell us to make sure we chose conventional names for any children we might have, so as to minimize the risks of potential future problems for them. She would cite a friend of hers when they were young adults in pre-Second World War London. The friend's maiden family name was Rose. Her parents (I kind of suspect the father may have been the main instigator in this) named her Wylde. Miss Wylde Rose.
Miss Rose grew up, fell in love, and at a time when it was conventional to adopt the husband's last name, married a young man—Jonathan Bull—thus becoming Mrs. Wylde Bull.
Still, I imagine it could have been worse. When we were still living in Montreal in the 1970s, a co-worker was Michael Broad. While Broad is not the most common of last names, it is certainly not unusual. If Miss Rose had instead fallen in love with and married a young man with this last name, she would have become a Wylde Broad.
J.K. in Silverdale, WA, writes: Decades ago in San Francisco, I was looking for a welder to do a small repair. I came across and ad in the phone book that read, "Buttram & Sons: Specializing in Steel Erection." Clearly they offered much more than I was looking for, so I didn't call to inquire.
J.E.S. in Sedona, AZ, writes: Just south of Des Moines, one can find the charming little farm community of Cumming, with its distinctive water tower:
Sigmund Freud would be so very impressed by so many things there! Cumming is on a popular bike trail, and it has a trail-side bar that's a popular stop for those who like to cycle and drink (which is most of Iowa's bike riders). The bar is called Cumming Tap, and it's a very nice day-trip to ride an out-and-back route between there and Beaver Tap, which is in Des Moines' Beaverdale neighborhood, where you can also do your dry-cleaning at Beaver Cleaners and maintain your yard with equipment purchased at Beaver Mowers.
V & Z respond: Didn't Freud say that sometimes a water tower is just a water tower?
A.M. in Olympia, WA , writes: Some years ago in the Tacoma area there was a proctologist by the name of Dr. Rod Gozinya.
It's not known if his office background music included "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell and the Drells.
V & Z respond: Or "Knockin' At Your Back Door," by Deep Purple?
R.H. in Macungie, PA, writes: When I was at Yale, each college had a Dean and a Master. There once was a Dean Bates who knew he would never be selected to be Master of the college.
R.S. in San Mateo, CA, writes:
"Hey, how did it go with Dave selling your house?"
About the Site
C.A. in Tucson, AZ, writes: HooBoy. Thank you so much for suggesting blocking an element (you know who). I can now fully enjoy the site again.
P.F. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: Since the issue of Trump's visage at the top of your page has once again reared its ugly head, I have a solution: Replace it with the words "Photo Not Available." In addition to addressing the oft-heard complaint itself, this would also have the bonus of enraging the wannabe king's fragile ego should anyone ever have the effrontery to bring your site to his attention.
D.R. in Boston, MA, writes: You wrote: "We [don't] allow [comments] here because we were warned about the troll problem. That's why we have a curated Q&A on Saturdays and mailbag on Sundays."
Never change this.
Political Wire doesn't have a big troll problem, rather it's more just a few dedicated trolls of the "devil's advocate" kind, who tend to show up as that one off-colored salmon nibble in the hors d'oeuvres, in the gastronomic pleasure palace that otherwise is the PW comments section.
Your troll problem wouldn't be worth your notice, I'd guess. The more serious-minded sites tend to draw a more thoughtful readership, and you'd probably receive about as many troll interferences as you do now crank e-mails.
Rather, the reason for you not to allow comments is because you do such a fine job with your letters section, and the both of you are so erudite and witty, that comments wouldn't add much, they'd be a distraction. E-V has always felt like an academy to me, with your two voices clearly the focus much of the time and the comments as a kind of end-of-class discussion period, and I'd like it to remain that way.
Yes! An Academy. You are just like Plato and Socrates, albeit with an unfortunate, knee-jerk anti-Canadian bigotry.
V & Z respond: Thanks for the kind words! By the way, you may or may not know this, but your salmon metaphor is pretty on-point, because the behavior you describe is called sealioning.
D.M. in Burnsville, MN, writes: Now, here's a paragraph that's got legs!Now that voting by mail has been largely cut off at the knees, however, some Florida GOP muckety mucks fear DeSantis & Co. may have shot the Party in the foot. It's possible that Republicans who can no longer mail their ballots in will head to the polls, but maybe not. Perhaps they won't be quite that motivated, or perhaps issues of health or distance will make that problematic. It's a question mark for now, but something worth keeping an eye on, as both DeSantis and Rubio try for reelection.
V & Z respond: Sometimes we do these things on purpose, and sometimes, as here, the magic happens all on its own.
S.D. in Roscommon, MI, writes: As a personal friend of K.S. in Traverse City, I would like to inform K.S. that before you have a McKinley's delight it's important to eat a hearty breakfast. I would suggest a McKinley Omelet (egg casserole served with steak) before imbibing. I would be more than happy to prepare this dish for K.S., (V), or (Z), should they find themselves in Roscommon. Be warned that K.S. spent many years of their adulthood in Canada and shouldn't be trusted.
M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: The Canadian invasion has been temporarily preempted by internal domestic conflict: "Canadian 'sign war' captivates the internet. For the past week, the Canadian town of Listowel has been embroiled in a war of words via business signs that has captivated local residents and people around the world."
V & Z respond: Even Canadians can't trust Canadians.
If you wish to contact us, please use one of these addresses. For the first two, please include your initials and city.
- firstname.lastname@example.org For questions about politics, civics, history, etc. to be answered on a Saturday
- email@example.com For "letters to the editor" for possible publication on a Sunday
- firstname.lastname@example.org To tell us about typos or factual errors we should fix
- email@example.com 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 Cheney Situation: Win-Win-Win, or Lose-Lose-Lose?
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