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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

It was a busy news week.

Q: I'm hoping you can speculate about something I've always wondered about. What do you think the long-term goals are for the Palestinians and Israelis? In particular, what is Hamas thinking by periodically and repeatedly launching rockets at Israel, knowing it will provoke an overwhelming response? Do they think Israel will give up their land because of the rockets?

And what is Israel thinking by consistently trying to evict the Palestinians and expanding settlement activity, knowing full well that the Palestinians will inevitably respond? Do they think the Palestinians will somehow disappear?

Do you think there's any long-range thinking at all at this point?
E.W., Skaneateles, NY

A: Let us begin by pointing out that this is a very contentious subject, and people on both sides have strong opinions. We don't mind weighing in on contentious subjects, but we're less dialed in on this one than many other hot-button issues, so keep that in mind.

We would guess that, to the extent there is a long-term vision, that vision is not what governs day-to-day decision-making. What governs day-to-day decision-making is that there is short-term political gain to be had in lashing out on occasion. That is to say, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu rallies his political base with occasional heavy-handed actions against the Palestinians. And Hamas leaders Mousa Abu Marzouq, Ismail Haniyeh, and Khaled Mashaal rally their political base with occasional heavy-handed actions against the Israelis. Not helping things is that there are many foreign actors who also benefit from these tensions in various ways, including the Arab States, the United States, Russia, Iran, etc.

We'll have some interesting letters on this subject tomorrow, incidentally, from folks who know a lot more about it than we do.

Q: After following the news in Gaza over the past two weeks I realized how little I actually know about the Middle East. Are there any particular books or resources you would recommend to someone who wanted to learn the basic history and dynamics of the Middle East in the modern age—as in, World War II onward? C.P., Silver Spring, MD

A: You might want to pick up a copy of Stephen Kinzer's All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, which is a real cloak-and-dagger-type thriller, with Theodore Roosevelt's grandson playing a central role. And also a copy of Aaron David Miller's The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace; Miller worked on this exact issue for six different presidential administrations, and so has an insider's perspective. Taken together, the two books give a decent foundation for understanding modern Middle Eastern geopolitics, particularly as they involve the United States.

Q: The obstruction of government performed by the Republicans these days is so outrageous and hypocritical that I am wondering: Is it possible that they are overdoing it in order to force the Democrats to remove the filibuster? Then, they would have the Democrats do the killing, take the blame, and they would benefit from it when they grab back power? V.R., Grenoble, France

A: We doubt it, for the following reasons:

  • It is not usual for any politician to play 3-D chess like this; there are too many ways for things to go wrong.

  • This specific scheme would require putting the power in Democratic hands for an indeterminate amount of time before the Republicans finally got to take it for a spin. That's anathema to many Republican politicians, not the least of whom is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

  • The Republicans are, on the whole, more reliant on the filibuster than the Democrats are. Look at how many major laws would likely have passed already, but for the filibuster.

  • The Republicans are, on the whole, less hindered by the filibuster than the Democrats are. The things that Republicans care most about are either (largely) beyond the reach of Congress (like outlawing abortion), or can be accomplished even with the filibuster in place (tax cuts, approving conservative judges).

Q: Is there any prospect of reducing the threshold for a filibuster from 60 to—say—55? J.S., Peterborough, ON, Canada

A: Doubtful. As odd as it may sound, this would probably be harder than just getting rid of the filibuster altogether (or getting rid of it in special cases, like statehood bills).

If the Democrats manage to kill (or change) the filibuster, they will wait for the filibuster to be invoked, and then call for a point of order. That point of order might be: "Madame Chairperson, I don't believe the filibuster properly applies to statehood bills." Or it might be, "Madame Chairperson, I don't believe a filibuster can be passive; it must be actively maintained on the Senate floor." Then there would be a straight up-down vote, and if the point of order was carried by a majority, then the filibuster would be changed.

By contrast, it would be somewhat difficult to frame a change in the required number of votes as a point of order. Someone could try: "Madame Chairperson, I believe cloture only requires 55 votes rather than 60." But since the number of votes needed is specifically spelled out in the Senate rules, it would be hard to argue that there is a legitimate point of order to be resolved, and Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough is not likely to allow it. If so, then the actual rules of the Senate would have to be changed, and that requires a two-thirds vote.

Q: You wrote: "Group eat-fests are considered too dangerous, even though (nearly) all the Democratic senators have been vaccinated." Which Democratic senators have not been vaccinated, and do you know what their excuse is? D.B., New York, NY

A: That information has since become outdated, as the last couple of Democrats are now fully vaccinated (they had their shots a couple of weeks ago, but were waiting for them to achieve full efficacy). In fact, 96 members of the Senate are confirmed vaccinated. Two senators—Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Mike Braun (R-IN)—say it's nobody's business but their own, and two others—Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Rand Paul (R-KY)—have refused to be vaccinated. In addition, every single Democrat in the House has been fully vaccinated—Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) runs a tight ship. On the other hand, less than half of House Republicans have been confirmed vaccinated—House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) runs a leaky ship.

Q: Does anyone know if all the petitions I auto sign every day do any good? I know most are just fundraising tools, but I figure some must help move the needle. Do you and/or other readers know if any do help influence politicians and/or political parties? S.S., West Hollywood, CA

A: They move the needle very, very little. The investment is so small, and the potential for fraud (bots, or people misrepresenting themselves, or the like) is so great, they are hard to take seriously. If an online petition gets a huge number of people (six figures, at least), or gets a very rapid response (75,000 people in one day), that might be slightly meaningful, but only slightly.

Q: I'm confused (not that unusual, really). Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) seat is up in 2022, Sen. Rick Scott's (R-FL) not until 2024. Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) has announced that she's running against Rubio, and Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) is also giving up her seat to run for the Senate. That means Demings and Murphy are going to run against each other in the primary. Doesn't that run the risk of losing two House seats and getting nothing in return? Rubio may not be a good senator, but I gather he's quite popular, especially with the Cuban emigré community. J.E.T., New York, NY

A: Well, politicians have sometimes been known to put their own needs ahead of their party's needs. Not that there's been any recent president like that.

Anyhow, it is indeed the case that if Murphy and Demings both run, they could put two seats at risk. However, while Murphy's seat is D+3, Demings' is D+12, so it's probably more like one seat at risk, barring some really slick redistricting by Florida Republicans. Further, now that the Party knows the two Representatives' intentions, the pooh-bahs could step in and try to mediate. One of the two might be persuaded, for example, to wait until 2024 (a presidential year) and to take their shot at Scott (who is less popular than Rubio, on the whole, and who might vacate the seat to run for president). Alternatively, as the campaign unfolds, one of the two could decide things aren't working out, and could decide to shift gears and try to hold on to their current job. That's what Rubio did in 2016; he announced his intention to vacate his Senate seat and then, when he was crushed by Donald Trump, said, "Oops! Never mind!" and ran for reelection after all.

Q: I would imagine that running for anything above city council must be a full-time job. If you're not independently wealthy, are you allowed to pay yourself living expenses from campaign funds? If so, what protections exist to minimize (I know we can't prevent) abuse. If not, how the heck is your average citizen supposed to be able to run for something? S.V.E., Renton, WA

A: It's possible under FEC rules, but there are some pretty strict restrictions. The main limits:

  • Only non-incumbent candidates may pay themselves a salary.

  • The salary can only be equivalent to either: (1) the salary of the office they are seeking, or (2) the salary of the job they gave up in order to campaign (whichever figure is lower).

  • They can only pay themselves while they are a full-time candidate.

  • The salary can only be paid by the candidate's campaign committee.

If you care to read the rules for yourself, they are here.

Q: Sandra Day O'Connor served in the Arizona legislature. Earl Warren was governor of California. Do any of the current justices have experience in elected office? M.M., Plano, TX

A: No, and barring a sea change in how things work, it's hard to imagine another former politician being named to the Court.

In the 19th century, and for the first part of the 20th, justices who had once held political office were the rule, rather than the exception. It was understood back then that judges were subject to political pressure, and it was thought that the people sitting on the bench ought to know how to deal with that.

Since the 1930s (or so), the power of the Court has grown dramatically, and as a consequence both parties have become more invested in stacking it with loyalists. This, in turn, has given rise to the kabuki theater custom of everyone pretending that the justices nominated by their party are just neutral umpires calling balls and strikes, and are not "judicial activists" the way the other party's nominees are. That farce is a bit easier to pull off if the judge has never held political office.

Q: At what point should Justice Stephen Breyer announce his retirement so as to maximize the chances that the Supreme Court keeps its liberal minority at least as intact as it is now? In your opinion, will he heed the hard lesson taught by Ruth Bader Ginsberg and take that into account, or will he opt to hang in there and hope for the best? B.L., Hudson, NY

A: Well, given the risk of a Democratic senator dying unexpectedly, the safest thing would be for him to retire immediately. That said, the risk Breyer is taking is nowhere near as significant as the one Ruth Bader Ginsburg assumed. Breyer has more than three years left to retire with a Democrat still in the White House, which means that the seat will—at worst—be left open, as opposed to being filled by a fire-breathing right-winger. Indeed, there's a decent chance that a Republican-controlled Senate would approve a Joe Biden nominee, since the GOP already controls six seats.

Our guess is that he wants to give his former clerk Ketanji Brown Jackson time to be appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and to spend a little time there before getting promoted. We could see him announcing his retirement next term, which would have him leaving sometime next spring/early summer.

Q: The new Texas and Mississippi anti-abortion laws seem so extreme that I wonder if even this current conservative court won't find constitutional problems with them. But what might they be? J.D., Rohnert Park, CA

A: Roe v. Wade, and the other abortion-related cases that the Supreme Court ruled on around that time (the early 1970s) essentially weighed two interests against one another. On one side was the "privacy" of the mother, which was defined very broadly to include things like bodily autonomy. On the other side was the interests of the unborn fetus and of the state government responsible for protecting human life. In the 7-2 majority decision, Harry Blackmun explained that for the first trimester (or so), the fetus/state have no compelling interest, and the "privacy" of the mother is paramount. Thereafter, there is more of a balancing act, where things tip toward the state/the fetus, but can tip back if the mother's life is threatened by the pregnancy, or there are other mitigating circumstances (like a rape).

Anyhow, the Court certainly could decide that Roe is fine, just as it is. Or, it could decide that while Roe went too far in protecting the mother's interests, the new laws in Texas and Mississippi go too far in infringing on the mother's privacy, and the justices could recalibrate the precedent in some way.

Q: The not infrequent reminders that current partisanship looks like the 1850s brings up the question: What exactly is the core beef between the two parties? In the 1850s it was very clear that Southerners were wanting to continue the expansion of slavery while the newly formed Republicans were dead set against it. But today? Honestly, it feels like the Hatfields and the McCoys just maintaining a feud because that's what they've always done. As has been noted many times, the divergence of the parties predates Trump, but it was accelerated with a "Contract with America" that suggested some GOP governing goals. At this point, though, I get the feeling that we're fighting over the Enlightenment. Is this really just an extremely polarized version of the old large government vs. small government disagreement? Is it white nationalism vs. multiculturalism? Idealism vs. nostalgia? How much of the battles we see in daily news are just tactical maneuvers rather than evidence of grand strategic goals? In short, what is it that you two find to be the compelling bone that the politic is fighting over that really motivates our deep polarization? C.J., Boulder, CO

A: We think you have basically answered your own question, though not in the way you might expect. When it comes to the 1850s, you must understand that "slavery" is shorthand for the entire antebellum Southern way of life. So, the Confederates were not only fighting for an institution that their economy was based on, but also one that their culture was based on, and one that their social system was based on, and one that their worldview was based on. Slavery, and the defense of the institution, were deeply intertwined with Southern religion, Southern literature, Southern journalism, and Southern "science."

And so, it's not that the 1850s witnessed a struggle over a single issue, and the current era is seeing a struggle between two complex factions with competing world views. It's that the 1850s witnessed a struggle between two complex factions with competing world views and the current era is witnessing the same thing. Now, if you want the "linchpin" around which everything else revolves today, and which will be used as shorthand when historians teach this era in the future, we'd say it's something like "change." Democrats, by and large, take the position that the world has changed dramatically in the past generation or two in terms of race, gender, sexuality, climate, technology, the economy, geopolitics, etc., and that there is no choice but to adapt. Republicans, by and large, take the position that the change is exaggerated and/or non-existent, and that things could easily be as they once were, if not for meddlesome Democrats and foreigners.

Q: What is an "elite," exactly? Because it seems to me that both sides have their own definition of elitism. Take my father, for instance—according to him, I'm an elite. I grew up away from him in a Mississippi swamp, certainly didn't have food on the table all of the time, worked through high school, undergrad, and grad school. I was homeless at one point but now make around $70,000 a year with a mountain of student debt.

He, however, had his wealthy father pay his way, buy him a car, etc. He had a job that paid him $70,000 a year with a high school education, never paid child support, retired and inherited a used car lot plus a cool million bucks. In his mind he is the downtrodden "working man" the government and liberals are coming for. I won't inherit any of this by the way, I'm too gay and he's too KKK.

So who is right? The right wants to define "elite" as "people who have education." It does not matter how hard they worked to get that education or how much they make now. I'm an elite because I know history. My mother is an elite because she is an RN. My husband is an elite and he's a union organizer. And yet, somehow pretending that you're a redneck like the Duck Dynasty family, while going to the country club and getting workers to pay for yacht and caviar subsidies, or perhaps day trading in front of your computer all day makes you a "working man."

And what about punishing elites? The right-wing is completely against taxing inheritance, allowing workers to unionize, or getting rid of obscene financial loopholes.
C.G., Aurora, CO

A: Your question supposes that everyone sees someone as "elite," but we don't think that's actually true. Your father is wealthy, for example, but you don't really think of him as "the elite," do you? And by the way, "I'm too gay and he's too KKK" would be a great starting point for an "Odd Couple" reboot.

There is a certain populist-tinged flavor of politician, and religious leader, and "news" outlet which acquires influence by telling people whom they should hate. These folks are propagandists, and one of the most important tools in the propagandist's toolkit is what scholars call "plain folks." The politician, or the preacher, or the TV host presents themselves as a "regular Joe" (or "regular Joanne," or "regular Tucker") who speaks for and understands the worldview and concerns of their audience full of regular Joes and Joannes. But again, anyone who deploys "plain folks" is a propagandist, and a propagandist needs an enemy, an "other." And that is the "elites."

So, "elites" just means "those who are not like us," either based on where they live, or how much money they have, or their education level, or the car they drive, or the clothes they wear, or their religion, or their sexuality, or their political party or whatever the signifier is. To put it even more simply, "elites" means "not plain folks." And again, the only people who think carefully about this are people who are both: (1) trying to convince themselves that they are regular Joes/true Americans/down-to-Earth, and (2) very concerned with figuring out who their "enemies" are.

Q: Democrats are categorized as progressives and moderates, without either group being offended and accepting that designation. Are there equivalent names for the groups in current Republican schism? Using Trump in the name is not ideal as a Trump will eventually leave but his methods will remain. Nationalist vs. Traditionalist? G.G., Sugar Land, TX

A: We don't see why Trumper vs. NeverTrumper is a problem; people were talking about Roosevelt Democrats for decades after FDR died. And they are still talking about Reagan Republicans. That said, the Trump wing is also the populist wing, and the NeverTrump wing is also the traditional wing, so we might go with Populists vs. Traditionalists.

Q: "Judgment at Nuremberg" was on TV last night and it occurred to me that there was a parallel between the Nazis and the followers of Trump. People who join a movement or government that does bad things and supports lies need to have courage to leave or fight against it. Very few people have that kind of courage and are willing to stop what they are doing and give up the benefits of their involvement and face the dangers involved in going against a powerful movement or government. It is much easier to just go along day-by-day and ignore the injustice, inhumanity, dishonesty and irrationality of the cause and the people with whom you serve. If you are a true believer, it is natural but if you are not, you just bury your conscience and play along, hoping the judgment against you won't ever come or be too harsh. That is why it is fair to say the Trump followers are really like the Nazis. Do you agree? D.K., Iowa City, IA

A: We will agree that "Judgment at Nuremberg" is a great film. What a performance by Maximilian Schell! And by Montgomery Clift! And by Spencer Tracy! Not to mention Marlene Dietrich, Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland, and Werner Klemperer. Even if the appearance by an early-in-his-career William Shatner, as a captain not named Kirk, is a little distracting.

We don't agree that the parallel with the Nazis is all that salient, however. Yes, there are some people today who feel pressure to "go along" with their neighbors and to support Trump, for fear of social reprisals. And there are some politicians who feel pressure to be part of Team Trump, for fear of ending their careers. But Nazi Germany was a one-party state, and your options were either to support the Nazi War Machine, or else to risk ending up in an extermination camp (or perhaps to be summarily executed by the Schutzstaffel). You could try to flee, and many did, but that was no small feat by 1937 or so, and could also end with your arrest and/or death at the hands of the Nazis.

By contrast, the modern U.S. has alternatives that do not invite death. If one is too frightened to speak up, one can resign their political post, or at very least vote their conscience. The hundreds of members of Congress who keep voting to protect Donald Trump (and his accomplices) from the consequences of their actions cannot claim that they simply had no other choice. Nor can the 74 million people who cast presidential ballots for Trump in 2020.

Q: If Donald Trump formed his own party, how similar would the situation be to when Theodore Roosevelt created the Bull Moose Party? K.R., Austin, TX

A: Not all that similar. Yes, Roosevelt was a former president who split off from the Party who put him into the White House, and formed a short-lived political movement that had elements of a personality cult. However, the Bull Moose Party was nowhere near as cultish as the Trump base is. Further, the Bull Moose Party was basically centrist, had a real chance of attracting moderate and/or crossover Democratic votes, and might plausibly have achieved victory. By contrast, a Trumpian third party would be entirely driven by spite, and—as a far-right splinter group—would have no hope of winning much of anything. Certainly not a presidential election.

Q: I'd be curious if (Z) knows of any political parties or groups that have been banned in the U.S. M.H., Seattle, WA

A: Well, every single state has laws on the books that make private militias illegal. Not that the laws work; there are at least 180 militias in the U.S., in part because they are good at evading law enforcement, and in part because law enforcement often looks the other way. Or, if you want something more specific, the federal government outlawed the Ku Klux Klan in the Ku Klux Klan Act (1871).

Q: So the news is that New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) has joined Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr.'s (D) investigation of Donald Trump, and is now looking at the former president in a "criminal capacity." Columnists and pundits are saying this is badder than bad news for Trump and his sons. My question is: Even if Donald Trump, Trump Jr., and Eric are convicted of some crime, what are the actual chances that any of them will spend time in jail? But I guess if they do, they can always get survival advice from Trump's "apprentice" Rod Blagojevich! J.E., Boone, NC

A: If they are indeed convicted, the odds are close to 100%. Prosecutors don't invest the kind of resources that James and Vance are investing just to let their targets off with probation, or some other slap on the wrist. Recall that Michael Cohen was sentenced to prison (he got out so as to minimize his COVID-19 exposure), and he was only an accessory, and only dealt with small potatoes-type issues.

The only possible fly in the ointment is if Trump is convicted in New York State and then holes up in Florida after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signs a new bill that forbids state officials from extraditing state residents without the written permission of the governor (which DeSantis won't grant). That would violate federal law, specifically 18 U.S.C. 3182, but that may not matter to the Governor, and so it is not clear how that standoff might end. There could be court cases that go on for years. What happens if the Supreme Court ultimately rules that Florida must hand over Trump and DeSantis says: "How many divisions does the Supreme Court have?

Q: Regarding your item "Trump Lashes Out at Letitia James": Please just stop.

No one cares what Twitler has to say, so please stop being a megaphone for his messages. Seriously, just stop. It's one small thing you can do for the nation.

Unless there is actual news (criminal charges, conviction, death, etc.), stop giving him a platform to spread his distortions and hatred.
E.R., Irving, TX

There are few things that are less interesting to write about than Trump's rants. However, his response to the news of the criminal probe is unquestionably newsworthy, as it suggests that even he thinks he could be in trouble. That goes far beyond "Can you believe the outrageous thing he said today?"

Q: Your item on the Seminole Tribe, casinos, and Trump have made me curious about why Native American tribes are so often in the casino business. Native American-run casinos often pop up in American television and movies, but why? And, relatedly, while there is often talk about compensation to Black communities for the horrors of slavery, are there similar talks about compensation to Native American tribes? Here in New Zealand, we have spent over 20 years going individually through each tribe's (iwi) history, land confiscation, horrors and so forth, with the government apologizing, providing compensation (land, money and often regulatory decision-making over key ancestral lands). Are there similar moves in the U.S.? G.S., New Plymouth, New Zealand

A: In 1974, Congress passed the Indian Financing Act, which provided loans to reservation residents so that they might start their own businesses. The problem was that most reservation residents were poor, and so could not really support a business concern, while the people who did have money were unlikely to drive 40-100 miles to the middle of nowhere just to buy shoes or produce or widgets.

However, under U.S. law, tribal reservations are considered to be semi-autonomous nations. That means that the tribes are allowed to pass some laws that differ from American law. And that, in turn, means that some kinds of businesses are legal on reservations but not elsewhere. In the 1970s, that generally meant head shops (drug paraphernalia) and bingo parlors; people would drive for those, because head shops/bingo weren't legal off the reservations. And by the 1980s, reservations had begun founding the first Indian casinos. As with the head shops/bingo parlors, the Indian casinos were—for a time—the only game in town (unless you wanted to travel to Las Vegas or Atlantic City). Even today, Indian casinos can offer games that most other casinos (again, excepting Vegas and Atlantic City) cannot, like slots and roulette and other games of chance. Most American casinos can only legally offer games of skill like poker and pai gow, where players are playing against each other, and not directly against the house.

As to reparations, there have been some expenditures of that sort, sometimes at the state level, sometimes at the federal level. The best known of the federal efforts was the Indian Claims Commission, which awarded $818,172,606.64 in judgments between the 1940s and early 2000s, before being shut down.

Q: Are there any statues of Confederate politicians or generals remaining in the U.S. Capitol? Are there any elsewhere in Washington, D.C.? C.P., Fairport, NY

A: There were once eight Confederates honored in the Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection (which has two statues per state). Robert E. Lee (VA) and Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry (AL) have been removed, with Lee to be replaced by Barbara Rose Johns, and Curry already having been replaced by Helen Keller. Confederate president Jefferson Davis (MS), Confederate VP Alexander Stephens (GA), and military officers Wade Hampton III (SC), James Z. George (MS), Edmund Kirby Smith (FL), and Joseph Wheeler (AL) are still there.

As to elsewhere in D.C., the National Park Service took an inventory of Civil War monuments in D.C. in 1978, and counted 18 of them. Only one honored a Confederate, namely Albert Pike, who was commemorated by Masons, in Masonic dress, for his service as a high-ranking member of that order. Still, his status as a former Confederate led protesters to topple the statue in 2020, so he's not there anymore.

Q: Why do you think there are so few major things named after FDR, clearly the greatest president of the 20th century? Hoover got the dam and the institute at Stanford; Reagan and JFK got major airports, Ike got the whole interstate highway system, and the only thing significant that FDR got was a 9-mile expressway in New York? E.S., Arlington, MA

A: Well, there actually is a Roosevelt Institute, in New York. And there's a small airport named for him in the Netherlands. He also has a namesake dime, a namesake mineral, and a namesake island in New York City.

All of this is to say that there is a certain arbitrariness to the whole business. Hoover got a dam because the construction started while he was president, and he was an engineer. Kennedy got an airport because he was assassinated. Reagan got an airport because Republicans in 1998 were obsessed with St. Ronnie.

If FDR has indeed gotten short shrift, though, we would say there are two reasons: (1) He's pretty recent, and most of the best "named in your honor" stuff, like state capitals, was named in the 19th century, and (2) There are multiple Roosevelts, and unless you're willing to name something the F.D. Roosevelt [X], that can create issues. For example, there can't be a Roosevelt Highway named for Franklin because there's already a Roosevelt Highway named for Theodore (HWY 1, also known as Pacific Coast Highway).

Q: You wrote: "It wasn't until Donald Trump that the Jimmy Kimmels and Jimmy Fallons of the world began going at the sitting president with a double-barreled, take-no-prisoners approach."

Am I correct in noticing something very similar happening on your own site? I've been reading you guys since...I want to say 2004, but certainly 2006...and I remember when you mainly operated in the months leading up to an election, went a few weeks longer to wrap up, and then didn't make new posts again for almost two years. It was only when the Trump nomination revved up in 2016 that you started having consistent daily updates which continued past the election up through the present time (except for the weekends, which you sometimes skipped).

I also noticed that until Trump, you tried very hard to write in objective, journalistic language. Although you seemed to be quietly rooting for Democrats, your writing didn't come off as opinionated one way or another, choosing if anything to let reality's "liberal bias" speak for itself. That changed with Trump, when you started (correctly, IMHO) inserting sarcastic barbs meant to demonstrate that one simply can't pretend not to see a certain level of ridiculousness for what it is. This is not meant as a criticism—I think you were ahead of the curve, as other news organizations have grudgingly come over to calling out Trump's foolishness.
L.H., Chicago, IL

A: We would say there are a few dynamics here, somewhat interrelated, and only partly due to Trump:

  1. (Z): It was largely coincidence, but (Z) joined the site at almost exactly the same time Trump became a presidential candidate. And (Z) is a bit more prone to snark than (V) is.

  2. More material: As you point out, and as a product of (Z) joining the site, we produce a lot more material than would have been the case 5-10 years ago. However, the number of polls being produced largely hasn't changed. When you write about polls, that's an almost entirely objective matter. But nearly all of the added coverage (as compared to 2006 or 2010 or 2014) is non-polling stuff, which is going to be more subjective and is going to leave more room for opinion.

  3. More snark: Similarly, when you're putting out political commentary every day, you've gotta keep it from getting boring and repetitive. And one way to do that is to include generous amounts of snark.

  4. Trump: All of this said, you're right that Trump (and his movement) pretty much required a different type of commentary than most other politicians would. When someone is a serial sexual assaulter, and engages in a dozen different forms of corruption, and mocks the handicapped, and overtly appeals to racism, and kowtows to foreign dictators, and undermines the democracy, there is no way to handle that neutrally and without judgment. In the past, we've drawn a parallel to the Civil Rights Movement. When one writes about that, there's no "both sides had a good point."

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May21 Problem Solved--For Now
May21 Biden Wants to Know How Much Climate Change Costs
May21 Trump in Trouble
May21 And About that Reelection Bid...
May21 Gillibrand Will Be Back
May21 Newsom Collects $3 Million Check for Recall Effort
May20 McConnell Now Opposes the Jan. 6 Commission Bill
May20 Trump Lashes Out at Letitia James
May20 Many Democrats Want to Kill Negotiations with GOP on the Infrastructure Bill
May20 Catching Tax Cheats Won't Help Fund Infrastructure Bill
May20 Texas Bans Nearly All Abortions
May20 Florida Opens the Door to Casinos at Trump's Properties
May20 Is the Republican Party Going to Splinter?
May20 Trump Has Kept His Key Staffers--on the Government's Dime
May20 Ambitious Democrats May Cost Their Party the House
May20 Democrats Will Soon Meet in Person
May19 Maybe Not a Civil War, but Certainly a Nasty Squabble
May19 It's Criminal
May19 Giuliani Is In...
May19 ...And So Is Demings...
May19 ...And McCloskey, Too
May19 Peduto, on the Other Hand, Is Out
May18 Ruh, Roe
May18 Not All Arizona Republicans Believe in the Audit
May18 Gaetz' Alleged Partner in Crime Makes it Official
May18 China...the Final Frontier
May18 The Disease Spreads
May18 Cuomo Is Raking It In
May18 That's Funny...
May17 Cheney and Stefanik Take Potshots at Each Other
May17 Poll: Cheney Had to Go
May17 Republican Voters Are Highly Engaged
May17 Republicans Want to Punish Poll Workers
May17 Neera Tanden Gets a Job
May17 Why Is D.C. Statehood So Hard?
May17 Missouri Republicans Fail to Rig the Senatorial Primary to Block Greitens
May17 Wood Sinks
May16 Sunday Mailbag
May15 Saturday Q&A
May14 New York Mayoral Candidates Debate
May14 Kevin McCarthy's Headaches, Part I: Chip Roy
May14 Kevin McCarthy's Headaches, Part II: Matt Gaetz
May14 Kevin McCarthy's Headaches, Part III: Marjorie Taylor Greene
May14 Things Have Gotten Ugly in Israel
May14 FL-28 Battle Lines Are Forming
May14 Ohio Offers Citizens a Vaxxpot
May13 Republicans Boot Cheney on a Voice Vote
May13 The Republicans Are Not Going to Have a Civil War
May13 Republicans Are Already Calling the Jan. 6 Rioters "Victims"
May13 AG Garland: White Supremacists Are Greatest Domestic Security Threat