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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We got a lot of interesting "How to talk to a Trump supporter" letters. So, we are going to divide them into two groups (see below), and also spread them over 2 weeks, to avoid overload.

How to Talk to a Trump Supporter, The Optimists (Part I)

A.A. in Branchport, NY, writes: As far as how to talk to a Trump Supporter, I was waiting last night to pick up a take-out order at a redneck bar in one of the reddest towns in one of the reddest counties in one of the reddest districts in New York State. While waiting at the bar, I got involved in a conversation with a man and a woman who were admiring my dog, whom they could see from the bar. I asked the woman if she would like to pet him, and off she went, where she and Riley had a grand time admiring each other.

As soon as she left, the man identified himself to me as a Trumper by stating the election was stolen. My rejoinder, identifying myself to him, was, "Why do you say that?" And we were off...

The next ten minutes, he would give some Trumpy lie, I'd inquire why he believed that, and after his expositions, I'd state the facts. Whereupon we would move onto the next lie. Rinse and Repeat. We had an enjoyable back and forth. He didn't move from any of his positions and I never stated mine. I am quite sure he had me pegged as one of the opposition, though.

My order came, and as I was leaving he reached out his hand for a handshake while saying something like, "We're all in this together...stay well." As I shook his hand I told him, "Remember, we're all Americans. Hope to see you again, sometime."

I believe we both had a good time. I know I did.

J.B. in Bend, OR, writes: I usually avoid political discussions with friends and family on the other side of a subject because it never changes anyone's mind and only causes people to lose their temper.

However, I often will ask questions with a sincere interest in finding out what and how they think. I don't challenge their position, or state my own, or respond with "but what about..." I find that if I ask non-threatening questions, I usually get honest answers that are not defensive. This approach is informative, interesting and doesn't lead to an argument.

O.E. in Greenville, SC, writes: I have a suggestion, though given the politics of many readers here, it may go over like a lead balloon. Bring up broken Trump promises and see how they react. A few examples:

  • Trump said NATO was obsolete. Why, instead of getting out, or getting NATO to keep its promises and invoke Article 5 to go after Daesh, did he call for even more money to be spent on it and by its members? They went from half the world's military spending to 5/9 of the world's military spending.

  • Trump promised to increase the minimum wage. It's still at 2009 levels.

  • Trump promised to "lock up" Hillary Clinton. In fact, his administration argued in court for not releasing information sought on her. Further, his administration tried to lock up whistleblower Chelsea Manning and publisher Julian Assange instead!

K.W. in Madison, WI, writes: I'd think the best way to persuade Trump voters is with a reverse field maneuver—not to argue with them, but to agree with them, and agree with an untoward enthusiasm. An article in The Atlantic tells of an experiment in Israel where social scientists tried to persuade right wing Israelis in a conservative suburb to be more open-minded and tolerant of Palestinians. But instead of trying to persuade them to change their minds, they took the opposite tack and began an advertising campaign that agreed with their anger and opinions about Palestinians, but to an overwrought and ludicrous extreme. But instead of encouraging further anger, the campaign caused conservative Israelis to exhibit more tolerance and empathy.

One of the researchers explained why it worked: "No one wants to think of themselves as some angry crank," "No one wants to be lumped in with extremists or the angriest fringe." Sometimes, however, we don't realize we've become extremists until someone makes it painfully obvious."

I doubt this tactic would work with the hardest core Trump supporters (who seem quite happy being extremists and the angriest fringe), but it could get to the less committed. If progressives started running advertising promoting Trump, but with lines like "Donald Trump 2024: Believe only the lies he tells you" or "Donald Trump: Nobody can bleed the suckers better," and agreeing that the most patriotic thing one can do is hate half the country, it would get past people's reflexive rejection of any anti-Trump or GOP criticism. Nobody wants to be told that they're wrong or intolerant, but even more so, nobody wants to think they're being condescended to or being played for a fool.

J.O. in Raleigh, NC, writes: I would start with understanding where the person you want to talk to fits on the Conspiracy Chart. The farther up the chart they are, the smaller and smaller you have to start. You can't directly challenge their beliefs, that will just end the conversation for all practical/useful purposes.

An example: If you are talking to someone who follows Alex Jones, you can't just say he is a con-man or a liar, but you can say "You know how he says he's on the verge of going out of business? Well, his company is actually doing very well." And have the backup info if they ask for it.

Provide information, but draw no conclusions. Lots of short conversations, no long earnest sermons. Give them the tools and data they need to dig themselves out of the conspiracy hole.

If they haven't crossed the "Leaving Reality" line yet, then you can try logic. Point to Republicans like Liz and Dick Cheney and how they have put country and democracy and truth ahead of short-term political gain. Build stepping stones to the idea that Donald Trump and any office holder who pushes the big lie is destroying American democracy. I believe that democracy as a concept still has currency among conservatives.

K.H. in Corning, NY, writes: As a blue dot in a Red County, I've had to engage in these conversations and here's my advice: don't try to convince them that you are right. Just make sure you convince them that you are not evil.

That is how we keep them (or start them) thinking that we can have trustworthy opinions. They do not seek facts. They engage more with relationships. They find facts to be potentially misleading and untrustworthy. But once they form a relationship with you, or the blog, or the preacher, or the news channel, then they will receive the information that source provides.

So the goal in conversation for me has been to talk about things we have in common. To demonstrate that I am human, and expose my heart to them so that they can see that I'm not the frightening caricature that their current source labeled me and that they had believed about me. They won't give up that caricature, but they may remove me from it and place me in their "you're not like them" mental bin. And that is enough so that when I later say, "I found this convincing," they consider me one of their sources and include that information as something that may convince them.

It's hard to be so deliberate and patient with someone who was willing to call me an elitist, and extremist, or worse. But it is the only way to make a difference in how they treat me (us). I'm struck by how P.M. from Currituck plays this out, being willing to blame others as elitists talking down to him, while he talks down to them. It frustrates me when he says, "No one listens to me or respects me," right before he says, "and I don't need to listen to you progressives or respect you." So my message to the ones who would vote for those willing to destroy democracy to stay in power is: "I am human, just like you. I am a citizen, just like you. I listen to you and hear your frustrations. It turns out that I have frustrations, too. Do you want to hear them? No? Well, tell me more about yours and know that some of those are things I would help you fix. Here's the data that convinced me. And someday, maybe we'll get to the point in the conversation where you are ready to hear my frustrations and how I'd propose fixing them."

How to Talk to a Trump Supporter, The Pessimists (Part I)

B.H. in Westborough, MA, writes: Truth is, I have no f'ing idea how to change the minds of Trumpy voters, and I know a lot of them, including one of my best friends. The talking points from Fox and the right are well crafted, easy to digest and repeat, and hard to refute on the spot. Your answer to L.S. in Greenboro yesterday referring to the Times and Snopes offering fact-based retorts to conspiracy theories is helpful only if you have time to look up the retort and the listener has any interest in engaging in a fact-based discussion. More typically, any retort is written off as "oh well, you just have Trump Derangement Syndrome." At the heart of all of this is a lack of critical thinking, a skill that is sorely lacking in our country today. This frustration has caused me to back away from many of the friends that I was formerly much closer to, to Vladimir Putin's delight.

P.S. in Arlington, TN, writes: In response to G.S from Raleigh, NC, on what can be done to get through to Trump supporters, I'd recommend doing nothing and letting the GOP self-destruct. From 2002 until Trump knocked out Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), I was a donating Republican. There were millions of us who did bolt the party over the nomination of Donald Trump. I voted for Gary Johnson, thinking that I merely had policy differences with Trump. In fairness to me, I think most failed to realize just how destructive Trump would ultimately become.

In 2016, Trump came on the scene and got 1% less of the vote than Mitt Romney. He barely won because a sizeable portion of the GOP left and voted for Gary Johnson. In 2018, the trend continued as college-educated white suburban voters broke for the Democrats to take back the House. In November of last year, Trump did better with minority voters than in 2016 and lost. In 2020 if you add a portion of Gary Johnson's numbers to Joe Biden's, it sure looks like us "Never Trumpers" showed up in larger numbers for Joe Biden. My mother won't talk politics with me anymore but my dad sure does.

Now Republicans are lying about who won the election, blaming everything that goes wrong on Biden, mainstreaming conspiracy theories, bashing science and passing laws that are a transparent attempt at autocracy. My guess is that 1-2% of the country has taken note, just like in 2016, 2018, and 2020. Adding those numbers to Biden's will make a difference, especially considering that neither Hillary Clinton nor Biden were particularly inspiring candidates.

At the very beginning of Trumpism, he commanded around 30% of the GOP base and the other 70% had deep reservations. Portions of that 70% have moved on and we were the real reason Biden won on narrow margins. There's probably more of that 70% that has a line somewhere, and the GOP needs every single one of them as currently constructed. I bet that the GOP lost 1-2% on January 6th and who knows what mistakes Trumpism will bring in the next 18 months? Just stand aside and let the GOP implode until they get the message.

S.Z. in Darien, IL, writes: My parents have been right-wing Republicans since the Carter Administration. I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian. My parents believe that all Muslims are terrorists and that Sarah Palin would have been a great VP (their words). Needless to say, they were enthusiastic Trump supporters. I don't speak to them anymore. They live in their own impermeable reality, have never really listened to anything I say, and are not interested in my opinions. My conclusion is that attempting to communicate with extreme right-wingers is time wasted.

M.P. in Halethorpe, MD, writes: Unfortunately, the political right has gone so far off the tracks, such as running a freight train into a hospital ship because COVID-19 is a lie, to ever be able to come back. The party that supported and continues to support an assault on the Capitol is nothing more than terrorists. There can be no conversation with any pro-Trump person because such people are irreparably damaged.

I know this isn't the sort of reply desired or expected. However, in my own case, when I first registered to vote I registered independent, then shifted to Democrat due to the excesses of the Bushes, Dole, and Gingrich, and now frankly I've been radicalized by Trump loyalists. In addressing this conversation, I want to know why I should approach any anti-American domestic terrorist for conversation?

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Every second spent talking to Trumpublicans is a second not spent talking to a person who leans anti-Trump but is not a committed voter, especially in midterms and off years. In other words, it's a wasted second. Life will teach some of the Trumpublicans—you won't. Put your efforts to better use.

Whither the Republican Party

J.D. in Greensboro, NC, writes: The Republicans do seem to be going off the deep end with their support of Trump, even after he lost them the presidency, as well as the Senate and House.

But I think they are just appeasing Trump to get his base to think they are on his side. For one thing, the base is pivotal to the primary wins. For another, his base is not exactly a tea and crumpets group of people—they are often violent, own masses of guns, communicate with each other relentlessly through social media, and feel a great deal of animus toward anyone who casts a bad light on Trump. Who wants to anger this nest of hornets? Not only that, but an entire news network has them in thrall and is not about to give up the ability to control the thinking of this easily swayed group.

What the Republicans really want is to appear as if they fall at Trump's feet, but in reality wish that the hammer of justice falls hard on him, and soon. Of course they will pretend that they are enraged at this prospect, just like they did in response to the impeachments, but they yearn to be free of him so they can again be known as a tax-cutting, corporation-loving, and flag-waving party. If Trump is tried and convicted of his crimes, this will be a long drawn out process that will slowly melt away the support of the majority of his base. Already without social media this is happening, according to polls.

They can keep up the charade as long as possible and not appear to be hypocrites when he is dragged through the court system. Once Rudy Giuliani is indicted this path is clear.

All that remains is for them to choose a new Trump, like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) or Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who will still run roughshod over the country but will do so in hopefully a more dignified manner.

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: The letter from B.C. in Forest Park and your response reminded me of the Pax Romana, which my junior high history education told me was a period of peace and prosperity in the Roman Empire, but my later, more cynical reading and instruction taught me was a period of peace and prosperity inaugurated by having utterly crushed, subdued, and subjugated all rivals and threats. If the Republican party exists in a state of unity it is because its current overlords have crushed or marginalized all internal opposition. Yet the "Whither..." series tells us that, perhaps, the party's "Year of the Five Emperors" may not be far off.

M.G. in Chicago, IL, writes: I read your answer about the erosion of the Republican party and many other related items. I get an overall sense that the various analysts are just overthinking the matter. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson all had the "Trump" base as part of their coalition. These voters, along with progressives and "moderate Democrats," had a common foe in the rich/big business and an unspoken (in public) agreement that Jim Crow could continue. However, these Democratic presidents (and Congress) succeeded in strengthening unions and implementing the social safety net and Voting Rights Act, and the focus shifted to equality for minorities for the "Trump Base." Nixon was the start of this with the "Southern Strategy," welcoming the "Trump Base" with open arms.

This marriage was different than the previous alignment. This "Trump Base" outnumbered the Rockefeller Republicans and demanded more and more until they finally took over the Party. This is something they had done from 1870-1964 with the Democrats. During the 70/80's this group of voters decided they would no longer be able to control the Democratic Party and made a play for the Republican Party and succeeded. (A kind of slow-motion George Wallace victory.)

Liberals like myself try to understand the 74 million and ask "why?" and "how?" We forget that Martin Luther King Jr. had bricks thrown at him—not in the South, but in Cicero, IL.

The problem with minority parties is how to exercise influence. With a parliament a minority party can be a kingmaker or participant. In the U.S. system, if you cannot control the House, Senate or White House, you are out of luck. This "Trump Base" that America has had since its inception will not go quietly into the abyss. They will fight harder, dirtier and more violently no matter how counterproductive, as that is the nature of a dying beast.

A wild card is the ability of a country like Russia/Putin to use this "Trump Base" to screw with America.

J.K. in Freehold, NJ, writes: I agree with your response to the question that J.K. in Bremen asked regarding the erosion of the Republican Party, especially your awarding of the gold (implied), silver and bronze medals, to Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes and Newt Gingrich respectively, who drove this erosion over a period of years. But I do feel that Donald Trump was the true "tipping point" that brought this all together. January 6th, for example, would not have happened had it not been for Trump, as he continues to be the focal point of this Republican phenomenon.

S.Z. in New Haven, CT, writes: Yesterday's question and response about "the erosion of the Republican Party" is a topic I have a definite opinion about. While Richard Nixon's movement of the party to address what he called the "Silent Majority" began the process, I think that the more recent funding and support of the Koch Industries and the famous brothers who ran it for the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party movement provided the basis for Donald Trump's takeover of the GOP.

B.P. in Salt Lake City, UT, writes: I would definitely include Newt Gingrich, perhaps higher than you did. And maybe Rupert Murdoch over Roger Ailes? There's also the Kochs and Mercers, though they are Johnny-come-latelys. Lee Atwater and Karl Rove...ugh.

But some goes even back to Nixonian strategy, resurrected by the Reagan team. Dick Cheney? Military-industrial folks who were anti-hippies and anti-Black and anti-commie. Roy Cohn? And Hoover (not Herbert)?

M.A.D. in Olympia, WA, writes: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's (R-GA) mail slot video reminds me of the child catcher scene in the movie "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Creepy and deranged.

V & Z respond: Or the twins in "The Shining."

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: I do not agree with your repeated claims that Marjorie Taylor Greene is mentally ill. I think she is perfectly sane and she understands exactly what she is doing. Since the election of 2008, there has been a surge in politicians who put a priority on grandstanding and provocation over governing and legislating. I think the selection of Sarah Palin on the 2008 Republican ticket greatly changed American politics. John McCain picked a running mate who was governor of a state with fewer people than Seattle for less than two years with a very small list of governing accomplishments. Her national profile soared for a few years due to her ability to fire up crowds and argue with media figures and portray herself as a "fighter" but her list of accomplishments was still paper-thin.

After 2008, other politicians, like Steve King and Michele Bachmann, followed in her footsteps. Can you think of any legislative proposals that King or Bachmann made during their Congressional careers that actually were enacted?

Taylor Greene has no experience legislating. And now she has very little ability to put a stamp on legislation since she has been removed from her committees. So she is going to resort to grandstanding, heckling, and bullying to raise money for herself and her allies. She knows that this strategy works as a way to become politically popular. She will probably be rewarded for this by her constituents in the next election since many Republicans seem to prioritize grandstanding over governing now.

V & Z respond: Note that we have not declared, and would not declare, that Greene (or anyone else) is mentally ill. We have neither the training nor the necessary information to do that. We have merely pointed out that it's a possibility, and one raised by some of her colleagues.

M.D. in the Poconos, PA, writes: Reading that Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) is actually a sane Republican, but more than willing to follow the party line in search of power, no matter how insane it gets, reminds me of Adolf Hitler's Jewish Luftwaffe General, Erhard Milch. Milch's mother was willing to attest to all her children being sired by her uncle just so they wouldn't be branded as half Jew and thus non-Aryan. While copping to adultery and incest saved all of them from being persecuted by the Nazis, Erhard proved a very loyal, obedient servant of the regime that was murdering people like himself. I'm sure Stefanik will do her loyal best as well. And Stefanik is just doing it for the power. I understand doing anything to save my children, but to then serve people so evil when you know they are evil is beyond comprehension to me.

B.G. in Kalamazoo, MI, writes: Did you say that someone who is willing to throw out an election because she didn't like the outcome is a moderate?

K.N. in Lynchburg, VA, writes: You wrote about Bob Baffert and the GOP obsession over "cancel culture." I used to think that really started with Colin Kaepernick, who was canceled from pro football back in 2016. I have come to conclude that the use of the word "RINO" to effectively dismiss someone as not Republican (and, these days, not sufficiently Trumpy enough) is itself cancel culture. Wikipedia says that RINO traces back to a New Hampshire Union Leader editorial in 1992 and verbally back to Teddy Roosevelt. So Republicans have been canceling their own for a long, long time.

J.L. in Paterson, NY, writes: You wrote that it might not be possible to put together a comprehensive resource about the election lawsuits. Wikipedia has at least attempted it, dividing it by pre-election and post-election. There is also an overview article that covers non-lawsuit attempts, such as Donald Trump's phone calls about the Georgia result.

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: Randy Rainbow, the master of the double entendre, does it again!

And he's not a bad singer...

V & Z respond: Folks who don't care for blue humor, particularly that directed at Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), should probably skip this one.

Whither the Cheneys

C.S. in Madison, WI writes: You wrote: "Washington is a strange place when he [Sanders] and the daughter of Dick Cheney are 100% on the same page."

No! Cheney's own words point out that the speech she is giving is about her worry for the foundations of democracy.

Washington is a strange and very scary place in that these words are being spoken at all and some do not agree with her.

A.L. in New Brunswick, NJ, writes: Liz Cheney's sin is similar to Galileo's. She spoke an uncomfortable truth too loudly and frequently. Urban VIII and the Jesuits knew that geocentrism was hogwash but GG had to go shout about it and publish his "Dialogue Concerning..."

I guess Kevin McCarthy is Pope Urban in this analogy. I do not think there is any critical thinking faction analogous to the Jesuits within the current GOP.

Galileo was forgiven in 1992, so maybe Cheney just has to wait it out.

V & Z respond: Eppur si muove.

W.S. in Austin, TX, writes: You wrote: "To paraphrase, once again, Lyndon B. Johnson's explanation for why he never fired J. Edgar Hoover, Cheney is about to be outside the tent pissing in rather than inside the tent pissing out."

I imagine that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) thinks that since she's a woman, her range can't be that far. He may be underestimating both her determination and her biology.

If I were her, for instance, I might do one or more interviews with major outlets like the Times or the WaPo in which I said something like this:

You know, Kevin famously said back in 2015 that he was sure Donald Trump was in the pay of Russia. I'm pretty sure he said that...yes, he definitely said that, I remember listening to the recording. I wonder if he still believes, today, that Russia pays Trump? Or maybe he thinks Russia stopped paying Trump once Trump had lost the election? I'm just not sure. Perhaps someone from your line of work should ask him that during his next presser?

D.R. in Yellow Springs, OH, writes: I read with interest the item headlined "The Republicans Are Not Going to Have a Civil War." (V) notes that "in state after state across the country, state and county Republican Parties are condemning everyone who has spoken out against Trump. Few, if any, have supported the critics. The unity is amazing. If 50% of the state parties supported Trump and 50% opposed him, there would be a civil war. But with the score 100% to 0%, there won't be, at least not for now."

I agree that the unity is amazing, but I respectfully disagree with his interpretation of what this means for the future of the Republican Party. I think we can agree that there are significant numbers of Republican elected officials in Congress, state legislatures and elsewhere who privately agree with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), even if they dare not say so in public.

If many state and county Republican organizations were passing resolutions acknowledging that Biden won the election fair and square, the people who are now quiet anti-Trump Republicans would feel like they have a future in the Republican Party. They might agree to go public with their opinions with Cheney and Romney while remaining part of the GOP. But with Republican Party organizations so unified behind Trump and unwilling to acknowledge the reality that Biden won, these quiet Republicans will be much more open to an invitation to join a new party.

Here's how it could play out: Cheney realizes she can't win a majority in the Republican primary in 2022 and she can't count on a crowded primary letting her win with a plurality. So she organizes the new Conservative Party of Wyoming. She privately talks to every Republican in the state Legislature who hasn't been enthusiastic about Trump and invites them to join her new party. Maybe she even reaches out to the tiny number of Democrats and the one Libertarian and one independent. Very quickly, the Conservative Party becomes the main opposition party, or perhaps even the majority party in the Wyoming Legislature.

Romney is up for re-election in 2024 and has the same problem Cheney has in 2022. He might wait and see how things work for Cheney before leaving the Republican Party, but if she wins as a Conservative in 2022, Romney will be encouraged to follow her lead.

I suspect every one of the other 48 states has some Republican elder statesman who doesn't like Trump and is well regarded enough by anti-Trump Republican state legislators they'd at least listen respectfully to that person's call to abandon the party. I lived in Pennsylvania for 20 years, so I know former governor Tom Ridge could do it there. I have no idea who could do it in, say, North Dakota, but I'd bet somebody can.

If the Conservative Party runs a well-organized, well-funded presidential campaign in 2024, we'll probably see the Democrats winning every state Biden won in 2020, plus winning a few more states with pluralities (e.g., Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and maybe Texas) and the Conservatives maybe winning a few states that have been reliably Republican in the past (e.g., Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska and the Dakotas).

But it's possible that the Democrats will screw up badly and nobody will have a majority, leaving the House of Representatives to pick the president, with each state delegation getting one vote. Politically split delegations would likely vote for the Conservative as the one option most of them find at least tolerable. We might see the first president from a new party since Abraham Lincoln. That's unlikely, but who would have predicted three years earlier that Trump would win in 2016 or Barack Obama in 2008?

I don't know what will happen long-term if a split like this happens. We might see a repeat of the 20th century realignment that followed the Democrats' split over race relations. Or we might see a repeat of the 19th century, in which the Conservative Party takes over as the main opponent to the Democrats and the Republicans become a minor party or dissolve entirely.

J.L. in Chicago, IL, writes: Just as a thought, both as a parent and an establishment Republican (the status quo ante version, since the Trump wing is now the establishment), Dick Cheney cannot be happy and it would send shockwaves through the system if he were to quit the party. There is no way he would become a Democrat, but even becoming an independent would be huge—especially if George W. Bush did the same. Their relationship was a bit strained at the end of their administration but that may have recovered and I could imagine some alignment on how the House Republicans have treated Liz Cheney.

Republican-Run States

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: I wanted to make a comment about your item about what states run by Republicans look like. (V)'s information, while factual, also displays a decidedly negative slant. This may please the majority of readers of this site, but it is worth looking at it from another view.

Has it occurred to the readership (and, by extension, both V and Z) that such laws and actions are what the voters in those states actually want? And, if so, are they not getting from their representatives exactly what they desire? If they were not, they would vote into office others to carry out the will of the people.

You may not personally like what the politicians in those states are doing, but they seem to be following through on the desires of those who elected them. And, it is also worth noting that two of the three states profiled (Idaho and Montana) have had rapid population growth over the past several years. An argument can be made that people elsewhere like what the elected officials in those states are doing, and are moving to those locations to experience it.

Similar to your questioning of why so many states are passing legislation aimed at restricting the rights of trans individuals, it's simply possible that more Americans than you realize actually are in favor of such actions. As one of the seeming few conservative voices here (one of the "redeemable remainder" that G.S. alluded to last week), I feel compelled to speak up to pop the liberal bubble that so many who read this site seem to live in.

V & Z respond: We shall leave it to readers, if they see fit, to respond to your primary argument. However, we will note that you are misrepresenting the questions we raised about anti-trans legislation. We know perfectly well that the various legislatures were responding to widely held anti-trans sentiment among their bases. What we don't understand is the need for speed (several bills were passed at special, hastily called, late-night sessions), or what political benefit these folks hope to gain from this largely performative legislation, since they are clearly not using it in the same way that Bush/Cheney used anti-gay marriage ballot propositions in 2004.

L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, writes: What has happened in one of Louis Brandeis' "Laboratories of Democracy," specifically Idaho, lately?

  • November 2018: Idaho voters approved voter Proposition 2 (61%-39%) to expand Medicaid. This had previously been deemed unconstitutional when mandated by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The Idaho Legislature subsequently passed (and the governor signed) a law making it nearly impossible to get voter propositions on the ballot.

  • March 2020: The legislature enacted a bill that bans transgender people from changing the sex on their birth certificate (since struck down by a Federal court) and another bill that bars transgender girls and women from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity (currently before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals).

  • March 2020: The legislature passed a bill where a doctor would face up to life in prison if they prescribed hormones or performed sex reassignment surgery on someone under 18.

  • April 2021: The legislature passed into law a "fetal heartbeat" ban on abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected. This law, as written, will take effect only if a federal appeals court upholds another heartbeat ban.

  • May 2021: Idaho lawmakers passed legislation that would prohibit public schools, including public universities, from teaching "any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior," which, according to the bill, is often found in "critical race theory." It also bans teaching that "individuals, by virtue of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin, are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin."

  • May 2021: Idaho Lawmakers voted to expel a colleague who acknowledged a consensual sexual relationship with an intern who accused him of raping her. He resigned before the expulsion took effect, after which the 19-year-old intern was publicly named by a conservative media outlet, despite her desire to remain anonymous. After testifying anonymously behind a curtain and after leaving the committee room, she was hounded by activists, including two women with cellphone cameras trying to get video of her, one of them a local TV reporter.

I fear (hope?) the above may be used as pretense for the hordes of stone-wielding Leads and broom-wielding Sweepers to swarm across Idaho's shared 45 mile border with British Columbia.

V & Z respond: People really don't talk enough about the military potential of curling. At least the beaver threat is finally getting some attention, though (see below).

Stolen Elections

C.B.F. in Spokane, WA, writes: You've twice written that Joe Biden could have members of the House arrested for refusing to certify his 2024 win. You really think that the Republicans will sit back and watch? One possibility is that the Supreme Court orders them immediately released. Another possibility is that 100,000 Trump supporters show up with heavy armaments and you have January 6 on steroids where several thousand people are killed. Fox News and Newsmax call it a massacre and armed resistance starts in numerous locales throughout the country. The Republican House spends the next four years passing one impeachment resolution after another. Even if Biden manages to "win" after the Republicans refuse to certify, things could get very ugly. Barring a Democratic landslide, I believe that Trump let the genie out of the bottle and that democracy is dead.

V & Z respond: We wrote that if the Republicans try to steal the election in this way, what comes next is an unknown, but could very well be Civil War v2.0. Beyond that, however, we will make two observations. The first is that these same sorts of concerns were raised constantly prior to the election of 2020, and while there was an ugly insurrection at the Capitol, the system ultimately worked and the legitimate president was inaugurated. Indeed, the reason the insurrection happened is that all the other trickery (USPS, GOP-controlled state legislatures re-awarding EVs, lawsuits) failed so spectacularly. The second is that if folks want to spend time and energy in 2021 worrying about worst-case scenarios for 2024, that is their right, but it also means that they are allowing Donald Trump to live rent-free in their heads for an additional 3½ years.

P.S. in Plano, TX, writes: You wrote that "2000 ... was pretty obviously a stolen election, or at least it was an election where it's hard to argue that the key disputes were fairly and impartially adjudicated."

Al Gore lost because he requested a manual recount only in four overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning counties. This was a baldly strategic decision designed to get machine-unreadable undervotes or overvotes counted only in places where Gore knew the additional votes would help him instead of George W. Bush. Ironically, according to the later media examination, he would have lost even if he had gotten exactly what he asked for.

He didn't get what he asked for, because the courts eventually and correctly held that getting your dimpled chad counted only if you happened to live in a heavily Democratic county wasn't fair. But, by the time the courts had figured out on their own that the only fair thing to do was a statewide manual recount, the U.S. Supreme Court correctly observed that it was far too late to do that. The next-best thing was nobody's dimpled chads getting counted. We didn't get exactly that, either, since two counties completed their unfair-unless-everybody-else-also-did-it recounts before the courts could stop them, but those didn't change the result.

The media examination did eventually find that Gore would have won had every ballot everywhere been counted by hand. If Gore had asked for a manual recount in every county to begin with, there would have been time to do it, and he would have won the election. But he asked for the selfish thing, not the fair thing, so he lost. Karma does exist, huh?

F.M. in Hatfield, PA, writes: You said the 2000 election was "obviously a stolen election, or at least it was an election where it's hard to argue that the key disputes were fairly and impartially adjudicated." Based on what the Supreme Court actually said, I respectfully disagree. Instead, the post-election challenges illustrate the necessity of challenging, instead of a selective handful of ballots which might modulate the results in one's direction, the results of the entire state. Had then-Vice-President Gore requested a uniform recanvassing of the entire state of Florida instead of only certain areas, as the Court recognized the Equal Protection Clause requires, I have little doubt he would have been elected. Therefore, the problem was the campaign's post-Election-Day strategy.

C.L., Boulder, CO, writes: D.T. in San Jose, asked what prevents an incumbent who is being recalled from appearing on the ballot to replace themselves. A 2019 election to recall the Fall River, MA, mayor actually did allow the mayor to run as a replacement candidate: "The same election that removed Mr. Correia by a nearly two-to-one ratio also returned him to office." (The linked article, entitled "How a Strange Massachusetts Election Helps Explain Britain's Brexit Chaos," is worth a read. It makes a good case that "The way you design an election can shape the outcome just as much as the actual choices made by voters. Sometimes more.")

V & Z respond: You don't appear to be correcting us, but just in case, let us note that our answer was solely about California, and linked to the election code that prohibits this sort of thing in the Golden State.

Joe Biden's To Do List

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: I wanted to comment on the Biden Administration's plan to add 2 years onto high school, with classes taught at the college level.

I'm all for it. It will increase the education levels of the American public and decrease the costs of university education. If 2 years of high school classes are taught at the college level, then those classes will count as credits towards a Bachelor's degree. Students will only need to spend 2 years in university instead of 4 to finish a degree, which will cut the cost of higher education by 50%.

I started university back in 2000, which is now two decades ago, and even then there was extensive discussion and consternation about the unaffordability of higher education in the United States. I'm sure the costs are even higher now, and nothing administrations of either party have done in the years since has lowered the costs.

There is also a lot of talk in some quarters about how the American public education system is "failing." I am a product of public education myself, and I believe most public schools are quite good. I've found it is parents who are mostly to blame for their children being poorly educated. A lot of students are not taught the self-discipline which is necessary to do well in school, and many parents do not push their kids into rigorous classes during high school. With two years added onto public education taught at the college level, it will get students into more rigorous classes before they move on to work or higher education.

B.K. in Dallas, TX, writes: It seems like the next war will be a cyber war. Instead of a new Space Force, what we need is a Cyber Force. I think we need to respond to cyber attacks that come from other countries. Or maybe just a new cold cyber war. Maybe people from other countries should be afraid of us. Maybe we could give Edward Snowden a pardon and give him the lead job.

V & Z respond: It's a safe bet that the U.S. already has something like this, even if they don't make a point of announcing themselves to the general public.

M.M. in San Jose, CA, writes: You noted that politicians die in office more often than we might think. A full actuarial analysis of the current Senate shows that the chance of a senatorial death in the next year is 83%. The chance of a Democratic senator dying is 57%, a Republican senator 72%. In fact, there is a fair chance of losing more than one senator.

So time is indeed short.

J.D. in Rohnert Park, CA, writes: Here's my take on the Democratic national House math (the last column compares the Democrats' share of the vote to the Republicans' share):

Year Office Pct. vs. Rep
2016 President 48% +2.1%
2016 House 48% -1.1%
2018 President n/a n/a
2018 House 53.4% +8.6%
2020 President 51.3% +4.4%
2020 House 50.8% +3.1%

What do these numbers say? I suggest these possible conclusions:

  1. Donald Trump brings out more voters who vote GOP for president AND House.
  2. Without Trump on the ballot, Democrats did much better in 2018.
  3. The usual pattern of the party in the White House losing seats in the off-year election may well not repeat in 2022. Democratic House numbers may well run between +5 to +8 percent, which would be enough to retain control.

Of course, all manner of things could occur to upset this prediction.

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: M.M. in Plano wrote wrote to suggest reduction of the number of political appointees: "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."

The problem with this suggestion is that it's difficult to get rid of SES and GS workers once they're hired as long as they're doing their job at a satisfactory level. A new president wouldn't be able to replace the workers hired under a previous administration with his own appointees that were more willing to carry out his policies. One solution would be to create a special class that served at the president's pleasure, but didn't require Senate approval. Considering that, in most cases, Senate approval is a rubber stamp, this wouldn't be that different from the current system. To avoid any constitutional issues, Senate approval could be assumed as the default, with the option available for them to weigh in and block the appointment of any controversial selectees.

Some Vaxxing Letters

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: It's too early to know what's happening in the Seychelles at this point, but if the worst turns out to be true—that it's not the vaccines or particular batches of the vaccines or the lack of SD protocols by the vaccinated, but rather that SARS-CoV-2 has mutated so much that B.1.617 and other strains like it are now beyond the reach of our best vaccines—this does not spell good times for the President or the country. He will unjustly be blamed for a resurgence that vaccines don't cover, and if we think it's hard enough now to get people to vaccinate, imagine getting a new, better vaccine to cover the most virulent strains—and then convincing anti-vaxxers that it works, and even pro-vaccination folks that they need to do it all over again. (To say nothing of the ⅔ of the world that is like where I am, and don't have access to vaccines yet). The Seychelles situation bears watching—it could be the single thing that scuttles a Biden reelection.

P.Y. in Upper Nyack, NY, writes: In the past you have been champions for U.S. citizens abroad and getting/helping them to vote.

How about a shout-out to the Biden administration to get some of our excess vaccine out to them?

It seems unfair that citizens abroad pay taxes and the U.S. has monopolized control over the vaccine supply (U.S. citizens can't even buy any) but the U.S. won't send them any.

N.E.H. in Rochester, NY, writes: I found these two articles interesting with regard to mandated vaccinations. This one is about a skilled nursing facility where about 50% of staff were vaccinated and an outbreak with a COVID variant caused the death of 3 residents.

This one is about two assisted care homes where no COVID-19 cases have been reported since the company mandated 100 % of employees be vaccinated. Interestingly, the assisted care homes have no cases despite allowing visitors and allowing residents to leave the facility.

My coworker's father is in a nursing home and COVID-19 swept through there several times over the last year, despite allowing no visitors and requiring staff to wear PPE and be tested twice weekly. I can only assume it's the staff that bring it into the facilities, and that either the PPE is not sufficient to prevent transmission, or it's not being properly worn.

G.K. in Blue Island, IL, writes: Loved your synopsis of the vaccination incentives being offered by Ohio, particularly the portion about some people's "grasp of probabilities".

It also meshed somewhat (to me) with your bit on The Bulwark's observations. I have struggled greatly throughout the last 4-5 years to avoid casting sweeping generalizations on certain segments of the populace, but fear that, at some point, there needs to be some serious discussion regarding the state of critical thinking in this nation. There's been a trope for a couple of decades now that [insert governance problem here] could be solved if civics classes were simply a required part of the curriculum in public schools. While that certainly wouldn't hurt, I think now that simply being able to tell information from disinformation, and facts from lies would be a more useful skill, and be of better benefit to society.

R.C. in Lenexa, KS, writes: The Ohio vaccine lottery doesn't make sense to me, at least in terms of really wanting to get people vaccinated. It seems too short-term and, as you point out, the potential reward may only appeal to those with a lottery mindset.

If I were to propose a program to spend $5 million trying to encourage vaccinations, it would look more like this:

  • Daily drawings of multiple winners
  • Top prize of $25,000 (1 winner)
    2nd prize of $10,000 (1 winner)
    3rd prize of $5,000 (1 winner)
    4th prize of $1,000 (10 winners)
    5th prize of $100 (100 winners)
  • Run the program for 12 weeks instead of 5 weeks

Advantages would be:

  • Daily drawings creating daily interest and news for 84 days instead of 5 days.
  • A 12-week-long program should yield many more vaccines than a 5-week program.
  • Spreading the $5 million to about 9,500 Ohioans throughout Ohio should create more buzz in the community than just having 5 mega-winners.
  • You don't create the idea that government should be handing out giant paydays for doing the right thing.
  • The goal of many smaller prizes would be to try and attract many who are vaccine hesitant, or on the bubble vs. the giant payday which seems to be directed at getting a few who plan to never get vaccinated.

My program is one way to spend the $5 million, but really do we even need to give out prizes as large as $1,000 to encourage people? I was just trying to spread out the money in a relatively focused way. (Actually, my program would cost $5,040,000.) If one thinks the $100 bonds in West Virginia are too little, you don't need to jump all the way to $1 million. You could award $250 to 20,000 people.

The goal of my program is to create daily buzz, more buzz, and a more sustained buzz in the community with regard to getting vaccinated. I don't think the current plan in Ohio will be tremendously effective in doing that.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: In Kentucky, one of the classes protected against employer discrimination is (checks notes)...whether the employee is a smoker.

V & Z respond: So the state that elected Mitch McConnell really has its priorities in order.

And Some Taxing Letters

M.G. in Chicago, IL, writes: You published a letter from M.A. in Denver regarding taxes paid by the top 10%. I was disappointed that you gave oxygen to such an analysis without pointing out "total" tax paid includes property taxes, sales tax, gas tax and such. Those making $43,000 pay far more than 2.9%. I thought it was a very misleading letter or perspective to publish on your part.

V & Z respond: We try to be very restrained in terms of responding to the arguments raised in readers' letters, since we get to present our views on the other six days of the week.

J.F. in Houston, TX, writes: M.A. in Denver wrote: "let's not continue the tired trope that the "rich" are soaking the poor by lowering income taxes."

OK, let's start a new vibrant trope that the rich are getting vastly richer by exploiting (without paying a dime for its development, since many were toddlers or younger in the age of the DARPA-ARPAnet) the government that gave them the research funding for the Internet without which Google, Amazon, and TwitFace would not exist, without which Apple and HP would still be housed in (very large) garages cranking out machines for mail-order (which many Americans would only be able to use through the government-supported USPS), and without which Wall Street would still be waving bits of paper at each other across the room and banks would still be relying on mail or a dodgy copper phone network for communication; and the Internet Highway system that Walmart and Amazon now beat into powder with huge fleets of trucks while paying at best a tenth of its upkeep; and a national aerospace research agency without whose fat contracts Elon Musk's worth would significantly reduce; and that the large enterprises who benefit so hugely would still be paying AT&T much higher bills than their tax bills if the government had not finally broken Ma Bell's monopoly.

So asking them to pay a large reasonable royalty fee in the form of taxes for the use of these services seems a pretty damn good idea to me. We might even admire the technical and organizational geniuses behind these companies as long as our government gets its due from them.

P.M. in Simi Valley, CA, writes: A man once had some baby seagulls and he carried them around. In doing so, he stepped over a sleeping lion. After that he set the gulls down by a tank with porpoises cavorting in it. He was then promptly arrested. What was he arrested for? Transporting young gulls over staid lions for amoral porpoises. This joke seems particularly appropriate for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL).

Meanwhile, on the topic of paying one's "fair share" in taxes, it is not the amount or the percentage that truly defines "fair share," it is the level of discomfort that the individual feels that should be shared equally by everyone. Although difficult to measure, equal discomfort levels better approximate fairness than any other measure I can think of. It is why we have a progressive income tax system and why low wage earners are often exempt from paying income tax. There are, however, many types of taxations that are not progressive and are in fact quite regressive when scaled to income levels, taxes such as sales, fees and property taxes, not to mention the absurd inequity in FICA taxation (Social Security withholding).

The Environment

P.B. in Gainesville, FL, writes: Thanks to everyone who responded last week to my remarks about electric vehicles. As you can see in my replies, it's nice to see we can all agree on the facts in this area.

To M.W. in Frederick and D.V. in Everett: I'm a scientist and educator too, so your points are well-taken. I didn't factor in that EV engines are inherently more efficient than internal combustion engines. But your respective numbers for their efficiencies vary by a lot, from 2x to 5x more efficient. A quick web search reveals that roughly 3x more efficient might be an average EV benefit over all non-EV models. That would change the additional power-grid capacity required for a complete switchover from 1.5 PWh annually (as I calculated originally) to only 0.5 PWh, or a 12% increase in our current capacity. Not nearly as bad as I thought, but still, a little daunting. The truly green EV conversion benefit is then more like 73%-80% of the converted capacity (depending on whether you think nuclear is bad or acceptable, respectively), rather than the 20%-40% I claimed. Obviously an important difference!

This mea culpa aside, I was not claiming that EVs are completely worthless, merely that they are not a guilt-free panacea. They will certainly help, but more so as the grid itself becomes greener. More urgently (as A.R. in Los Angeles and D.H. in Boston pointed out last week), we need to transition to a greener society, where the environmental impact is part of every long-term development plan. And to make it happen faster, the realigning of our outlook should be easy, and done in a way that people don't feel like they're sacrificing their convenient lifestyle.

I do realize that I am fortunate to be able to commute by bicycle, and that not everyone can pull this off. But I've lived in several big cities too (Boston, Toronto, Sydney), and where I couldn't commute by bike, or telecommute, I used a Geo Metro averaging 53 mpg, or public transport where it was much more convenient and efficient than driving/parking/rush-hour stupor. All it takes is seeking out viable alternatives that work for you. For example, our family of 4 currently uses about half the energy of our immediate neighbors to heat and cool our house, simply by having chosen energy-efficient appliances and setting the thermostat a few degrees higher in the summer (77°F) and lower in the winter (68°F). But we're not doing this just to save the planet: we already get our electricity from mostly wind power, with a net extra cost of only $7/month compared to our local utility's rates. The bonus is our lowered energy use, which saves us about $2000/yr compared to less thoughtful households, regardless of the energy source.

In short, this isn't hard. Just choose where you can make a difference, and commit.

G.W. in Avon, CT, writes: A.R. in Los Angeles wrote: "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."

This assumption is not reliable. My house—and thus my EV—is 100% wind-powered. It's perhaps not surprising that people who have made the choice to purchase battery-powered cars also tend to adopt renewable sources of power for their homes to whatever extent is viable.


H.M. in Murphy, TX, writes: You wrote an item headlined "Things Have Gotten Ugly in Israel." How did you start your point of reference as "Hamas firing hundreds of rockets" but not with very recent and current Israel's eviction of Palestinians from their Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, or Israeli soldiers storming into al-Aqsa mosque while people were praying in the holy month of Ramadan? It is very current and recent, not years ago or thousands of years ago.

P.S., Gloucester, MA, writes: I think Benjamin Netanyahu used the evictions that his government pursued (and seemingly accelerated) in Sheikh Jarrah, and the police crackdown at the al-Aqsa mosque, to purposely get the current situation to boil over—as an utterly cynical wag-the-dog move timed precisely to scuttle the coalition agreement to form a new government that was almost reached between Yair Lapid (center-left Yesh Atid party leader), Mansour Abbas (Israeli Arab Ra'am party leader), and (strange bedfellow) Naftali Bennett (right-wing Yamina party leader). This would have been the first coalition bringing the major Israeli Arab party (Ra'am) into the government. Bennett and his party are never-Netanyahu right-wingers, so who knows how stable the coalition would have been, but it must have had Netanyahu scared enough to resort to fomenting civil unrest and further entanglement with Hamas with inevitable casualties in order to scuttle it. Given the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Netanyahu has at his disposal the means to inflict as much (per-capita) violent misery upon the civilian populations as Donald Trump ever had (if not more).

I am a proud and patriotic American, yet at the same time consider Trump and Trumpism to be a cancer upon the American body politic that must be removed—and I am no less patriotic for that position. Similarly, as a Jew, I am a proud supporter of Israel, yet at the same time consider Netanyahu and his cynical polarization of Israel's body politic to be a similar cancer that must be removed—and I am no less a supporter of Israel and (all) the people of Israel for that position. People on both the left and the right need to emerge from their opinion-reinforcement bubbles and understand those of us who support Israel the country and the people of Israel, yet insist that Netanyahu and the divisive and oppressive policies towards Israeli and Palestinian Arabs must go if Israel is to survive.

K.E. in Newport, RI, writes: I hope President Biden has realized after decades of failed attempts at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the United States' strategy has utterly failed. Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump all failed to resolve it. Why doesn't President Biden try a different approach by going to the United Nations General Assembly and asking for their advice?

I have believed for about 20 years now that the United States is largely to blame for the lack of resolution to the conflict. Why? Because the conflict at its core is not fundamentally an American problem but we have pretended that it is for us to solve. It's really an international problem because it involves multiple actors from different areas in the Middle East. And the entity best able to solve an international problem is the United Nations, not the United States. Despite this, the U.S. has unilaterally vetoed dozens of U.N. proposals over the past several decades which at least attempted to resolve the conflict.

I think the Europeans have the better approach towards the conflict. They want to take a hands-off approach because they realize the problem is not theirs; it is a matter for the entire international community. Europe wants to let the United Nations General Assembly come up with a solution and let the process play out and see where it leads. They haven't been able to do so because the United States keeps vetoing proposals in the U.N. Security Council.

The Europeans do not support the Palestinians, but they want to remain neutral in the conflict so they are not seen as biased and only supporting the interests of one side. If the U.S. followed the same strategy I think both parties would have come to a grudging understanding years ago. We are simply not viewed as fair mediators in this conflict and never have been.

Being Heard by Politicians

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I just want to second what you said to J.K. of Greensburg. As a former candidate and possible future candidate for political office, I want to hear from the people I would hope to represent. However, you get such a tide of responses you cannot personally respond to them all—and you are likely to get as many supporting one position as supporting the opposing position. Thus, one might argue it is pointless to contact legislators, that they will just do what they want.

I am here to tell you that is wrong. And that you are absolutely right that the more effort (and originality) that goes into a message, the more attention it receives. I am far more inclined, for example, to pay attention and give heed to a hand-written, postal-delivered letter than I am to an e-mail or a phone call. Likewise, personal visits can be quite effective, and for the very reason you state: the effort involved makes a difference, it demonstrates just how important a particular issue is to you.

N.E.H. in Rochester, NY, writes: In response to J.K. in Greensburg, I have heard anecdotally from congressional staffers that the best way to get the attention of your representative is to call. Better yet, get a lot of people to call about the same issue. Yes, you'll just get a staffer on the phone, but the information I have heard is that a lot of phone calls on a subject get the attention of staffers, which then get the attention of the representative. This is a surefire way to bring attention to an issue, and from what I understand, works better than letters or e-mails.

Pre-Presidential Fame

M.S. in Buxton, England, UK, writes: You didn't directly answer the question from J.M. of Nova Scotia as to whether Donald Trump was more famous than Ronald Reagan before he ran for president. (I agree with your view that Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower were surely more famous than either of them.)

In short, I suspect Trump is the most famous non-general ever to be nominated. He spent decades promoting himself, not just with his TV show, but in every medium imaginable. Before he came down the escalator, I think most Americans not only knew who he was, but also had at least some idea of Trump's fictitious mythology: self-made billionaire, world's best businessman, etc.

In contrast, when Reagan ran for president, he had not made a movie in many years. Low-information voters (which is to say, most of them) probably knew little to nothing about him until the fall campaign of 1980.

V & Z respond: Note that Reagan was a popular TV host in the 1950s. That said, Trump was for a number of years, a dominant symbol of immense wealth (he was name-checked in over 1,000 rap songs, for example).

G.H. in Chicago, IL, writes: William Henry Harrison must have been famous to be referred to as "Tippecanoe" in the campaign of 1840; Zachary Taylor also rode military fame to the presidency in the campaign of 1848. But I would think Herbert Hoover topped them all, being internationally famous before he became president.

C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: Throw in another general. Zachary Taylor may not have been the head general (Winfield Scott, one of the more underrated generals in U.S. history, was) but he was probably more famous. He also rode that fame to the White House.

Also, I would argue that even accounting for differences in media, Washington was probably as famous as Ike or Grant, if not more so.

History Matters

A.S. in Street, MD, writes: Regarding drinks named after politicians, the "Buck and Breck" was apparently a California drink inspired by the 1856 presidential slate that gave us arguably the worst combination of president and vice president we've had. (Since, unlike Breckinridge, Mike Pence didn't commit treason in defense of slavery.)

Here is the drink: Take a small (6 oz.) wine goblet, rim it with superfine sugar, Add 1.5 oz Cognac, two dashes Angostura Bitters, 1 dash (a few drops) absinthe, and top with Champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist.

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: M.F. in Oakton, VA, asked: "In particular, one wonders what the tenability of Canada, Brazil and Australia would be if there was no longer an intact United States?" The answer is "logistics":

  • Logistically, the only country with the capacity to invade and conquer Canada is the United States of America

  • Logistically, the only countries with the capacity to invade and conquer any significant portion of the United States of America are Canada and Mexico

  • Logistically, the only countries with the capacity to invade and conquer Brazil are Uruguay (south); Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia (southwest); Peru (west); Colombia (northwest); and Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana (north)

  • Logistically, the only countries with the capacity to invade and conquer Australia are—well, there aren't any.

Had there been no United States of America (beyond the East Coast of North America), most likely Mexico would still own all of its prior territories, and both the Louisiana Territories and the Oregon Territories would have ended up being appended to Canada.

On the plus side, the U.S. would have avoided the American Civil War.

V & Z respond: You seem to have forgotten the Danish-controlled Greenland, which would be perfect for staging an invasion of Canada. Indeed, it's truly the ideal place from which to launch Operation Viking Conquest. But we've said too much already...

L.E. in Putnam County, NY, writes: On the subject of influential Americans, J.I. of Drexel Hill noted how Thomas Edison had usurped much credit due to Nikola Tesla...and J.R. of Sarasota nominated Juan Trippe.

To understand how Ralph A. O'Neill was the Tesla to Trippe's Edison, I recommend that you read O'Neill's memoir A Dream of Eagles, which tells the story of how his much larger and more profitable New York Rio & Buenos Aires Line was forced by Trippe's government connections to submit to a grossly unfair merger into Trippe's Pan American because the Post Office refused to give contracts to any company not controlled by Trippe.

V & Z respond: Howard Hughes was also not a fan of Trippe's.

W.S. in Austin, TX, writes: You wrote: "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."

Oh, dear.

Gates was actually a competent software engineer who in the early days of Microsoft wrote code. Among other things, he worked extensively on a version of BASIC, to the point that discussing it, and competitive versions like Applesoft Basic, could get his face red. He was, and remains, morally dubious in various ways, but he could write decent code.

Jobs, by contrast, had little to nothing to do with hardware—he certainly never designed or implemented any, of any sophistication—except in the sense that he could talk people who understood it into doing interesting things involving it, such as Wozniak, and then he could take credit for it. This became the pattern of his life.

As a classic instance, in the seventies he persuaded Wozniak to solve a chip optimization problem at Atari for which he, Jobs, then took credit, keeping most of the relevant money as well and lying about it to Woz.

I grant that Jobs is still influential in that when other people had good ideas, Jobs often knew it and could help promote them. But let's not claim Jobs ever had anything resembling a "lead" on "hardware" compared to legit engineers.

V & Z respond: One of us is a computer scientist, and the other has lectured on Jobs at least a hundred times. We know he was no engineer; his gifts were as a marketer and evangelist who helped transform the PC into a mass-market consumer good.

J.P. in Lancaster, PA, writes: While reading this week's Q&A, I was reminded of an experience I had at the age of 14 in Atlantic City. I was in a group of teenagers who attended the Democratic Convention there in 1964. We spent the afternoon in the Convention Hall listening to the afternoon set of speakers before the real fun began in the evening. I remember that on a building near Convention Hall, the Republican Party had posted a sign that read "In your heart, you know he's right." The Democrats had apparently bought the space immediately underneath the Republican sign. It read "Yes...extreme right."

Nowadays, Barry Goldwater, as has been pointed out numerous times on your site, would probably be considered a moderate today. He was also a reasonable man and one of the Republican senators who went to Richard Nixon to tell him it was over, unlike today's Republicans, most of whom cannot bring themselves to say something comparable to the Orange One or vote for his impeachment and/or conviction in impeachment proceedings.

V & Z respond: The Democrats also printed up buttons that year that read "In your guts, you know he's nuts."

About the Site

G.B. in Manchester, England, UK, writes: I feel that (V) and (Z) do a good job of referencing the information that they post on, but the Sunday Mailbag is written by other readers who may not have developed the same habits. I would encourage everyone who writes to the website to include some links to references to back up their statements. This does not necessarily need to be done when people are recounting personal experiences or making logic arguments or just stating likes or dislikes, but I think it is particularly important when people start stating facts with statistical information.

Including references just helps other people to understand where some of these statistics come from. It's more reassuring to know that poll numbers actually come from reliable pollsters, pollution data come from peer-reviewed science articles, and tax statistics actually come from the IRS, and that all of these numbers don't just come from random Facebook or Reddit pages or from some biased political pundits or bloggers. It's also useful to be able to critically examine the references to understand the limitations of their data or biases in their measurements. Frankly, if I know where other people's statistics come from, I feel much more likely to trust the numbers, and if I don't, then I am likely to stop reading what other people have to say.

I therefore very strongly encourage all of your readers, when they write in with any factual information but particularly statistics, to include references.

V & Z respond: Actually, people submit considerably more supporting links than we actually run. We try not to overdo it because (1) we have to vet any site we link to, and there's only so much time, and (2) over-linking can bog things down in terms of readability (Slate has this problem a lot).

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: The option to block image did not appear when I right-clicked on Trump's image (also in Chrome). However the "Inspect" option takes you right to the source code and with a quick edit, voila:

The code is edited to remove image_02.jpg

V & Z respond: We did not realize that the method we described yesterday requires an additional extension, specifically uBlock origin.

What's in a Name?

M.B. in Albany, NY, writes: Regarding your ongoing "What's In A Name?" series, instances of a person's name being reflected in their profession—humorously or not—may not be coincidental. In David Eagleman's excellent Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, he talks about this as a function of implicit egoism (aka affinity bias) and cites a study by psychologist Brett Pelham showing that "people named Denise or Dennis are disproportionately likely to become dentists, while people named Laura or Lawrence are more likely to become lawyers, and people with names like George or Georgina to become geologists." Another study showed that "physicians have disproportionately more surnames that include doc, dok, or med while lawyers are more likely to have law, lau, or att in their surnames."

Other instances of this phenomenon include increased likelihoods that people marry someone with whom they share a first initial (e.g., Jenny marrying Joel, or Pat marrying Paul), and that people born on 2/2 will live in Twin Oaks (or a similarly named place) and people born on 3/3 will live in Three Forks, etc. The percentages are not large here but they are statistically significant—that is, they exceed the boundaries of chance.

V & Z respond: Guess that explains why there are so many politicians named "Dick."

M.C.A. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Regarding A.M. in Olympia's submission about the Tacoma proctologist, the office music probably also included "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

V & Z respond: It would be pretty easy to put together a whole playlist: "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash, "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-A-Lot, "Professor Booty" by the Beastie Boys, "Back Door Man" by the Doors, "The End" by the Beatles, and the entire Led Zeppelin album "In Through the Out Door."


A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: I read your site faithfully every morning. Right after I take my pulse to make sure I am still here and pour my first cup of coffee. Bob Dylan is a treasure to be enjoyed for the ages. Mentioning Robert Zimmerman in the same paragraph with a discussion of Republiscum is apostasy.

I shall continue to read you every morning with "Blowin' in the Wind" or the "Bootleg Albums" playing in the background. Just don't let it happen again.

V & Z respond: The next time Donald Trump Jr. runs his mouth, we will try to refrain from describing it as an "idiot wind."

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: I spent the last 24 hours searching all known news platforms across all media. As I suspected, only contained a Lesley Gore allusion. Once again, leads the way.

V & Z respond: Just for you, between Monday and Friday of this week, we are going to sneak in references to three other 1960s Billboard #1 songs performed by female artists. See if you catch them all.

M.B.T. in Bay Village, OH, writes: I had to read a couple of times before I realized that Igpay Atinlay is really not a dead language after all, although it is seldom spoken by anyone other than us eezersgay.

K.H. in Maryville, TN, writes: (Z), I saw this and thought of you immediately!

Calvin and Hobbes wonder where people
go when they die, if it's maybe Pittsburgh, and if so, if that is a good thing.

This is only if we're very, very good!

V & Z respond: We are reminded of W.C. Fields' reported request for his tombstone inscription: "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: You wrote: "However, because of the pandemic, [Virginia Republicans] couldn't hold an actual convention, so they instead had partisans gather at 40 satellite sites for an 'unassembled convention.' Seems kind of like a hybrid between a primary and a convention. A privention? A corimary?"

A smoke-filled chatroom?

G.M. in Laurence Harbor, NJ, writes: I sometimes confuse the actions of Bob Baffert, Lauren Boebert and Lorena Bobbitt. Probably as I expect each would fail a surprise drug test.

R.L.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: In response to your comment "To be honest, (V) and (Z) have always been a little leery of (A), (B), and (C)."

I never expected you guys to admit to being a bunch of letterists! I mean, looking down on poor (A), (B) and (C), as if they did anything to deserve their position in the alphabet. Always being picked first, always in the spotlight, the pressure they had to endure is massive. The letters at the end of the alphabet should be happy they are there to carry your weight! Next thing, you're going to start sounding as deluded as poor (Q), who gets so little use that they finally grabbed onto a nonsense conspiracy theory just to get some notice and adventure!

V & Z respond: Whenever (A), (B), (C) show up, we try to be polite and suggest to them that there are other letters more suited to them, like (F) and (U).

R.H.R in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Presumably, (W), (X), and (Y), too

V & Z respond: We harbor no ill-will toward (W) and (Y), but (X) is too much a show-off for our tastes, always feeling the need to mark the spot. Plus, have you seen the movies he's willing to put his name on? The worse they are, the more times he puts his name on there!

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: Regarding the Canadian threat, they all want you to think of them like this:

A cartoon of a beaver in a chair

But, in reality, you should be very afraid: Hundreds lose internet service in northern B.C. after beaver chews through cable.

They have millions of those "assault beavers" in training.

V & Z respond: It would seem the Canadians, like James Bond villains, have made the mistake of revealing a bit too much of their plans.

T.I. in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, writes: I've been following this site for a long time, but I think my time here has come to an end.

You're not even playing on stereotypes any more, just nasty slurs, like saying that "Even Canadians can't trust Canadians." What is that supposed to be about, other than you've decided on a policy of bashing Canadians to fill some empty spaces in your commentary?

I'll just get my news and commentary from sources that don't feel it necessary to slam Canadians. You know, non-bigoted sites.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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