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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We're going to do one more round of "talking to Trump supporters" responses, and then next week we'll start running some of the "mixed relationship" responses. Oh, and if you like book recommendations, then today is your lucky day.

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

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: I thought I had nothing to say on the topic of talking to Trump voters because I'm a moderate who was cursed at an early age with the ability to see things from other's point of view even when that point of view is contrary to my self-interest. The topic came up, and I realized that I can talk to my conservative siblings about politics, but I can't talk to my liberal siblings. The liberals in my family will attack with gusto if I attempt to explain a conservative point of view they misrepresent or don't understand, as if I was a proponent of that view, whereas the conservatives only want to talk about conservative views and dismiss liberal views with derision. Guess what, conservative principles aren't insane. Supply side economics may be voodoo, but incentivizing industry through tax policy is not. Properly tempered, conservative principles have a place. Likewise, liberal policies are not insane; society cannot function without social services (gasp, socialism like roads and bridges) but if the social safety net truly provides no incentive to work, lots of people won't. People have a hard time accepting that the truth almost always lies in between.

Anyhow, here are my rules for engaging with those with extreme views.

  1. Remain calm; a shouting match serves only to feed their anger and leads to them declaring victory because they yelled louder and longer.

  2. Don't try to "win"; you won't.

  3. Don't take the bait. They will say outlandish things to try to get you to break rule 1 or 2.

  4. Talk about what they want to talk about unless you get a good segue to move the discussion off politics. Don't ever try to move the discussion to a political point contrary to their side.

  5. Extremists often have little understanding of the concepts they support, they often understand only the sound bites and slogans. Properly explained, they can sometimes be enlightened. Oddly enough, conservatives will sometimes hold a liberal view while believing it conservative and vice-versa with liberals.

R.L.D. in Austin, TX, writes: Step 1: Reach the correct diagnosis. "Do you support violent overthrow of the US government, yes or no?" I figure if the answer is "yes," it's probably not worth my time to continue. In hindsight, there's been a thread of "tree of liberty being watered with the blood of patriots or tyrants" (or however that militia meme goes) for quite a few years. Perhaps we should have seen the Insurrection coming and perhaps we should have been asking this question a long time ago.

Step 2: Respond with facts. This is how I've handled conversations with my dad in recent years. Back when Obamacare was new, he pointed me to an e-mail he had gotten with page references to the law purportedly showing how Obamacare was anti-freedom or something (I honestly don't recall). When I told him that I didn't think the conclusion in the e-mail was valid, I asked if he'd checked the text in context himself to see if he agreed with that interpretation. Because, of course, anyone can say anything they want on the Internet, including making stuff up out of whole cloth. And since he has the World Wide Web at his fingertips, this was definitely something he could do.

A few years later, he started a conversation about how "in the old days" new immigrants to this country were "proud to learn English." I told him about the naturalized citizens I knew who spoke excellent English and the three different women in two different conversations who lamented the fact that they didn't speak enough Spanish to be able to have a serious conversation with their respective grandmothers. All that in contrast to the family of my now-ex-wife who all would have had no problem talking to their grandparents. Fortunately for me, Dad soured on the Orange One during COVID so I don't think I need to check on his thoughts on insurrection. I hope I never do.

C.R. in Pelham, AL, writes: The dilemma you present, about how to reach people who are inclined to be racist and cling to conspiracy theories, has been at the foundation of my entire academic career as a historian. Like the biblical Paul, I underwent a "conversion" of sorts, from growing up in a racist, white-flight, Southern suburban household to becoming a liberal, non-theist, card-carrying Southern Democrat. Except my conversion took place not on the road to Damascus, but in the hallowed halls of the history department at Louisiana State University, which forced me to challenge my beliefs and marshal evidence to defend them. For all of the criticism thrown at higher ed these days, the fact that "college educated" voters are almost uniformly smart enough to see through the Trump bulls**t is the best possible endorsement for the current system of higher education, and explains why Republican-led states are so intent on defunding it and tearing it down, or at least denying access to most of the population.

So, without higher education, which provides the critical thinking skills necessary to see through bulls**t, whether in infomercials, payday lenders, or Republican sales pitches, how do you reach Trump voters? One way is to meet them where they are. Within the historical profession, many subfields are highly politicized. Environmental, gender, and social historians tend more to the left, while many political, economic, and especially military historians lean to the right (and it's not hard to guess which fields have ascended in academia since the 1960s and which have fallen into decline, and how that might have contributed to the increased polarization). Given the wide popularity of military history on the right (as evidenced by Stephen Ambrose's popular, if not academic, success) this is one place to reach this audience, and my three most recent books have all tried to highlight aspects previously excised from the historical record. For example, Southern Neo-Confederates espoused the myth of a "Solid South" as part of their "Myth of the Lost Cause," ignoring widespread dissent across the former Confederacy. My Alabamians in Blue highlights a forgotten period of biracial cooperation in the state that led to temporary progressive change during Reconstruction, presaging the Civil Rights Era in the 1960s, when descendants of Union soldiers, white and black, including federal judge Frank Johnson, united again to overthrow Jim Crow in the state. I suggest future biracial political cooperation is essential to complete a third, economic Reconstruction and wrest control of the state from an alliance of white supremacists and "big mules" that have dominated the legislature in Montgomery for centuries.

Similarly, my forthcoming book, The Dixie Division in Peace and War (University of Alabama Press, 2022) highlights the virulent racism of the Army's 31st Infantry Division in World War II. The unit, raised from the Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana National Guards, helped export regional racial ideals into a national Army and carried Jim Crow across the Pacific to New Guinea and the Philippines. Soldiers, many of whom were the grandsons of Confederate soldiers, actively channeled neo-Confederate imagery, with a division band that dressed in gray uniforms, complete with kepis, and that painted Confederate flags on its drumheads and played "Dixie," the division's unofficial anthem. By highlighting the ingrained racism of the "Greatest Generation," it encourages a reassessment of venerated heroes and reminds readers that history will judge whatever they manage to accomplish by the manner in which they accomplish it.

So that's one way, hopefully, to reach people who will not pick up a book on critical race theory, and won't read anything without "war" in the title. So far, I readily admit, my "sugar coating" hasn't had too much success, but I'm willing to play the long game, in hopes that a sufficient number of white Southerners born after the Civil Rights Era will eventually come around to seeing the error of their ways. Virginia's complete conversion, and early indications from North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas are all encouraging, but it's still mostly an uphill fight.

K.F.K. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: I have no great "save American dialog" advice. The vastness of the country and our historical attachment to individualism are huge roadblocks. But a starting place is to see each other not as folks filled with selfish self interest (be it "socialist" or "small government") but as human beings. I do not waste time trying to build bridges with the most supremacist person on the block. But I will continue to try to take a breath, deeply consider where a comment is coming from and reply with either personal perspective or facts as opposed to character attacks. You may think I am some Pollyanna, but this has been a huge struggle for me (and wow, can I go into a scathing character assassination in my head). But let's just keep those there, shall we? I don't know, and am often cynical, that the current polarization in the country can be healed but I will at least make an effort to understand those folks in my immediate circle of relationships. To see them as humans.

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

A.A. in Branchport, NY, writes: Why do we communicate? We communicate to share information, to comment, to ask questions, to express wants and needs, to develop social relationships, social etiquette, etc. So I read with interest the call for suggested strategies for talking to Trumpy Republicans before the 2022 election.

However, my question would be: Why would you want to? Trumpy Republicans are not interested in any information that originates outside of their bubble, they love to comment by snark, innuendo and sarcasm. They have no need to ask questions, as the Dear Leader tells them what to think while he listens to their wants and needs. They hate libtards and have no interest in developing social relationships with anyone outside of their tribe. Especially the hated evil, child molesting, Christ-killing Democrats. And Democrats hate their country. The Trumpies' minds have set like the most expensive concrete.

None of the previous paragraph is news. Yet somehow, some people are as wedded to the idea of establishing rapport with Trumpies as the Trumpies are wedded to the idea that Trump won the 2020 election. Hence a never-ending stream of articles on the subject. Yes, Trumpists should be offered the same respect that everyone deserves, just as we would wish to be treated. But one should never forget how little respect is offered for others who are not members of the Trump cult. And there are better ways to spend one's time than attempting to reverse the Trump tide in any one individual. I should mention that I am in a very rural section of northern Appalachia and am a member of the local volunteer fire department. Doubtless, the majority of members are Republicans, yet there is a Democratic presence. My very good friend and partner at the department likes Trump and has said so, probing...and I've made him aware of my anti-Trump leanings. Doesn't stop us from enjoying each other's company, and watching out for one another. We don't have any rapport as a result of our politics, but we have a strong rapport as firemen! Everyone in the department is constantly learning. One never knows what one will need, so training is ongoing. Everyone agrees on the curriculum, and there are no alternate facts when fighting a fire.

Everyone in the department is always treated with respect. Perhaps that's because we all need and depend on one another. It seems to me that if we could scale that up, the country would be in fine shape. Pity we allow people to divide us. There was a time that Republicans and Democrats were all considered Americans. I don't think that will ever happen again.

R.R. in Nashville, TN, writes: How to talk to a Trumpster? "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you."

J.M., in Summit, NJ, writes: I have followed with interest the discussion about how those who (let me find the right word) detest Donald Trump (and everything he claims to stand for) might communicate meaningfully with those who adore him. I am not encouraged that there is a hopeful strategy, at least for me.

It seems to me that the greatest impediment to meaningful communication is the enormous divide in perspective between the two groups. I find that Trumpists see life as a glass half-empty, and are fixated on the evils in the world. They look for perceived wrongs and magnify them wherever they think they find them. They often feel persecuted by "others" and resent being looked down upon, even if nobody is actually persecuting them. Thus, they are ripe for being taken in by conspiracy theories about government officials who sodomize children and socialists who steal elections. Antifa is a real enemy to them. They are easy targets for a demagogue who preaches hate and sows division. Issues like immigration and crime, rioting and terrorism, appeal to them.

Those who reject Trump, I find, are more likely to be glass-half-fullers. They choose to see good in the world, and express hope that we can find ways to fill the glass all the way up by bringing more good to more people. Issues that appeal to them revolve around eliminating social injustice, poverty and bigotry. They don't live in fear, as much as they live in hope. And they seek a world filled with tolerance and brotherhood/sisterhood, even at the risk of being labeled naive, Pollyannaish or socialist.

Polarized by these different perspectives about the world, it is easy to see how the two groups fail to communicate easily. And why they are prone to self-segregating into their own territories. We talk two very different languages.

Unless there is a way to radically alter a Trumpist's perspective on life—and I doubt there is—then there is nothing I have to say that is going to change his or her attitudes about the problems in this country, and how to solve them. And the same holds true in reverse. I am not going to change my world view in order to appease Trump World.

So, unfortunately, that leaves me with a despair that this search for common ground to find a basis for meaningful dialogue is more a fool's errand than a realistic project. Sorry for the pessimism.

Trump's Troubles

J.M. in Summit, NJ, writes: After reading your item today about the convening of a six-month grand jury in the New York investigation of Donald Trump, and listening to a host of TV commentators trying to divine the hidden meaning of this development, it occurs to me that you (and your curious readers) might be interested to learn about the grand jury process from someone who conducted dozens of criminal investigations using that process. There is a lot of energy being invested speculating about a process that need not be so mysterious.

The grand jury, consisting of 23 citizens selected from the regular jury pool, is the body that has the legal authority to issue criminal subpoenas, to interrogate witnesses and, ultimately, to decide if there is reasonable cause to believe felonies have been committed, resulting in the issuance of an indictment. (Lesser crimes, like misdemeanors, do not have to go through this process.)

The work of the grand jury is facilitated by prosecutors who appear in the grand jury room and do the actual work: drawing up subpoenas, questioning witnesses, drafting indictments, instructing the grand jurors on the law, and recommending to the grand jurors which individuals ought to be indicted on which charges. All of this is done behind closed doors, and is subject to laws that make it a crime to disclose grand jury evidence to the public.

Most criminal cases arise after suspects have been arrested. Speedy-trial rules require prompt indictments, and these cases are processed through the grand jury in short order. The grand jurors who hear these cases (known as "regular" grand juries) sit every business day for a calendar month and then are discharged from duty. They will usually hear many cases every day and vote indictments on the spot.

The regular grand jury is not well designed to handle complex criminal investigations because of its short term. Complex investigations take months or years to conclude. Therefore, periodically, a "special" grand jury will be convened to sit a day or two every week for an extended period of time, up to eighteen months. Special grand juries hear evidence in multiple ongoing investigations, and eventually will vote on proposed indictments when prosecutors make recommendations of prosecution. If an investigation has not ended before the special grand jury's term expires, then the prosecutor must re-present all the evidence already received to a new special grand jury that will be empaneled to resume the investigation.

So what hidden meaning attaches to the news that a six-month grand jury has been convened in the Trump investigation? Not much, really. It may simply mean that a previous special grand jury has just expired. This is surely not the beginning of the grand jury process in the Trump investigation. We already know that subpoenas were issued years ago, and they could only have been issued in the name of a sitting grand jury, perhaps the special grand jury whose term just expired? So we are not seeing a sign that the investigation has entered a new phase, as some pundits are suggesting. It has been in the grand jury phase already for quite some time.

The six-month tenure of this grand jury does suggest that those in charge of the investigation hope to wrap it up within that time frame. All of the evidence gathered so far will be re-presented to this new grand jury. Any remaining documents and witness testimony will also be received by this new grand jury. But if six months go by and no final decision has been made about indictment, the term of this special grand jury can be extended by court order, or the investigation could be re-submitted to yet another special grand jury. So even there, six months is not a fixed deadline.

As an insider to the process, I find this news story to be mildly interesting, but not nearly the blockbuster everybody seems to be making it.

V & Z respond: Thanks for the benefit of your expertise!

T.B. in Tallahassee, FL, writes: We have a soap opera going on between the Merrick Garland Department of Justice and the courts concerning a William Barr memo. My coworker and Rachel Maddow don't understand what's going on, and I suspect many others are wondering what the current DOJ is up to. The background: Attorney General Barr's DOJ had a memo which allowed them to totally ignore the "Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election" issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. That report all but decreed that Donald Trump was involved in obstruction of justice. A federal judge (Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee) ordered the DOJ to release the Barr memo as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The Garland DOJ is defending the non-release of half of the memo with rather embarrassing, extreme mea culpa language in official pleadings.

What I believe is going on is this: Br'er Rabbit is caught in a corner by Br'er Fox and Br'er Wolf and pleads, "Please, oh please: don't throw me in yonder briar patch." Er, I mean, Garland is pleading, "Please, oh please: don't release the really truly badly drafted and poorly conceived memo," hoping, all the while, that Br'er, I mean, Judge Jackson, will release the memo anyway. Having defended the non-release, Republicans will not be able to use the "witch hunt" defense (or is it offense?) against the Biden administration. (My appreciation goes to the Cherokee Nation for sharing their tale.)

M.G. in Boulder, CO, writes: This week, you apologized for giving us so much Trump news, as some readers object because they feel you are giving Trump a platform. You wrote: "Some days, however, there is a lot of Trump-related news, and our hands are tied."

Speaking for myself, there's a difference between articles about Trump whining, blustering, interrupting, golfing, etc. and Trump having legal problems. The first category is of no interest, the second is of much interest, since it involves upcoming elections, tracks the state of public opinion, and affects the future of the U.S. and the world. Untie your hands and type away. I suspect that many readers would agree and hope they'll let us know, one way or the other.

V & Z respond: You have pretty much described the line we try to draw, though some items have one foot on one side of the line and one foot on the other. And it would indeed be interesting to hear if other readers share your view of things or not.

More on Israel

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: I wanted to thank everyone for their insightful responses to my question last week about the motivations of Israel and Hamas during the latest round of violence. My take was similar; namely, that there is no long-range thinking on either side and that in both cases, they are simply "playing to the base." I wish I shared D.G. in Israel's optimistic assessment that there will be a lasting peace in my lifetime, but sadly, I do not. The issue seems completely intractable because elements on both sides of a zero-sum game want the same limited resource (land) and the facts on the ground (millions of people who are not going anywhere) don't support any path to a resolution.

Oddly enough, I see a striking facts-on-ground parallel to the problem of the number of guns in the United States (people won't give them all up and there's no way to make them) as well as the immigration issue (undocumented people are not simply going to disappear). Those problems also seem unsolvable. Yes, there are differences between all three cases, but in each there's basically an equilibrium where all parties tacitly accept a certain level of violence (rockets, shootings) or oppression (of Palestinians'/immigrants' rights) rather than actually changing anything. The people on each side of these conflicts who care the most about the issue really don't care about changing the status quo. I'm afraid that until enough people who want change care sufficiently to force that change, these issues all will remain quagmires.

Thanks again for answering my questions and printing my comments!

B.C. in Farmingville, NY, writes: I just wanted to comment that your letters all seem to be Israel-biased. I know in the west we are already Israeli-biased thanks to several news stations, but I don't think it does justice for your website to do it too, if you're trying to be neutral. Just a thought, maybe you can publish some next week that aren't all pro-Israeli or maybe some letters from an ex-pat from Palestine.

V & Z respond: We can only run the letters we get, and we would hope that anyone who reads the mailbag regularly would know that if we had gotten a strongly pro-Palestinian letter last week, we would have run it. Anyhow, see the next couple of letters.

T.R. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: I'm sure you're getting a lot of these so I'll keep this short. I want to respond to some of the reader comments about Israel/Palestine and the recent round of violence.

D.G. in Los Angeles writes about the topics of the settlements and the East Jerusalem evictions, but their statements on the former subject are untrue and those on the latter are misleading without context. It is not true that "Israel claims ownership to the West Bank in its entirety." Israel's formal position is that the West Bank is disputed territory whose status should be resolved through negotiations; both the International Court of Justice and Israel's own Supreme Court have ruled that the West Bank is a territory under belligerent occupation. The settlements are therefore illegal under international law.

On the East Jerusalem evictions, D.G. presents the issue as merely a legal one for Israeli courts to decide. First, it should be noted that though Israel has annexed East Jerusalem, this annexation is not recognized internationally so it is not at all obvious that Israeli law should apply there. Second, though Israeli law grants the descendants of Jewish owners the right to claim pre-1948 land, Palestinians have no corresponding right in practice. In fact, many of the families facing eviction in East Jerusalem are descendants of refugees driven from homes they owned in what is now Israel proper, but they have no legal right to claim those homes.

This asymmetry is part of a broader strategy on the part of the Israeli government to "Judaize" the land under its control (a goal which has been explicitly stated for Jerusalem by the current deputy mayor). Besides East Jerusalem, the other major flashpoint in the recent violence was the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Lod, in Israel proper. That city too has been the site of extensive "Judaization" efforts by right-wing religious extremists, with the support of prominent Israeli political figures. This context of an ongoing large-scale project of dispossession is crucial to understanding the conflict.

D.G. also says that there is no occupation in the West Bank because Israel retreated from Gaza, which is an obvious non sequitur. As L.S. in Greensboro notes, Gaza has been under a strict Israeli-Egyptian siege for 14 years; Israel still controls the passage of goods and people into and out of Gaza, including restrictions on basic foodstuffs, as well as the civil registry and the electricity and water supply. Hamas's rule in Gaza is a brutal tyranny, but it is a commonplace of Israeli political commentary to point out that it is also a boon for Netanyahu and the Israeli right; one well-known pundit (Gadi Taub) recently spoke the quiet part out loud and said that Hamas should be kept in power as long as possible because if Fatah replaced it in Gaza, Israel would have to negotiate.

Finally, I wish I shared the other D.G.'s (D.G. in Israel's) optimism that a solution will be found because Israel would "give just about anything away if someone really wanted to make peace with them." The whole point of the settlements is to make this impossible; one does not settle half a million people on land that one intends to give away.

D.S. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: The contributions of your readers on the Israel-Palestine conflict have been interesting and useful, but they largely conform to conventional U.S. and Israeli perspectives. If we are to fully understand what's going on, we must consider Palestinian and critical Jewish-Israeli voices as well. For both, I recommend the on-line Israeli magazine +972, which is a collective Israeli-Palestinian effort. For histories, I recommend the books of Columbia University historian Rashid Khalidi, although there are many others of course.

On the issue of the Sheikh Jarrah dispute in East Jerusalem, some of your readers have noted that this property was given to the current Palestinian inhabitants by the Jordanian government after 1948. What is not mentioned and rarely mentioned in the mainstream U.S. press is where those Palestinians came from. They were refugees from Haifa and a couple of other places in Israel who were expelled during the 1948 war along with something like 750,000 of their fellow Palestinians, most ending up in Lebanon, Jordan, and the Gaza Strip. Bringing the focus back down to just Jerusalem, we must understand that in 1948, several tens of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their villages and houses in the western parts of the city. So, to the extent that the Israeli state or courts think it would be just to restore land to the original owners in Jerusalem and elsewhere, Palestinians would be very happy to do that. Of course, the Israeli government will not consider doing this, so the issue of Sheikh Jarrah is seen by Palestinians, understandably, as one more step in a decades-long process of dispossession.

In our attempts to understand the roots and dynamics of the conflict, we should also take a look at well-respected human rights organizations. Both B'tselem in Israel and the mainstream Human Rights Watch in the U.S. have recently released in-depth reports concluding that the prevailing situation in Israel and Palestine is essentially apartheid. It's a harsh judgment, but it is noteworthy that these are new positions by both organizations. They have concluded that, after several decades of occupation that started in 1967 and the massive expansion of Israeli settlements and associated infrastructure, there exists one unequal system in the land controlled by Israel.

Finally, on where things might go from here, readers should be aware of Peter Beinart's work. Beinart, an orthodox Jew and long-time supporter of a two-state solution, has concluded in the past couple of years that a two-state solution is impossible and that justice for all within a single state, including the right of return of Palestinian refugees, is the only acceptable solution and an ethical necessity that Jews should understand and support. In practical terms, there is no resolution of any kind on the horizon, but the Carnegie Endowment has recently published a study about what the U.S. could be doing to improve matters in the short-term and perhaps lay the foundations for a workable and reasonably just settlement in the long term.

J.S. in Dublin, Ireland, writes: You were asked last Saturday for some recommendations for books on the Middle East. I would highly recommend two books by Robert Fisk, a British journalist who lived in Beirut since 1976 (having moved from his post in Belfast covering the first years of the troubles there). Possibly one of the greatest war journalists of the last 40 years; sadly, he died earlier this year. The books are Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War and The Great War For Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.

S.P. in Foster, RI, writes: In your self-acknowledged "very small nutshell" of an answer to M.K.'s question about how the U.S. benefits from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you may not have had the room to mention the enormous profits that U.S. arms manufacturers make by producing weapons which the U.S. sells or gives to Israel. (This American Jew doesn't see that as a "benefit" to the U.S., but I imagine that stockholders in those companies, as well as the politicians who receive their campaign contributions, feel quite differently.)

By the way, many readers of Howard Zinn's works do not find them to be a downer, but rather an uplifting account of people's resistance to real downers, like racism, colonialism, and exploitation of workers. And those of us who were lucky enough to have heard Howard Zinn speak at a rally or demonstration usually left the events inspired by his optimism and tickled by his sly humor.

V & Z respond: You're right that Zinn had an underlying optimism, both in person and his work. But if someone is unfamiliar with the hardest truths of American history, the first exposure is not easy.

Shifting Values

M.G. in New Brunswick, NJ, writes: Over the years my political friends and I have argued about whether or not people become more conservative and switch from Democrat to Republican in significant numbers as they get older, so thank you for weighing in on that topic.

You wrote that people that become more liberal as they get older are an anomaly. I guess that makes me an anomaly. For decades I described myself as socially liberal but fiscally conservative. Now I am very liberal in my fiscal beliefs. My journey to becoming very liberal started when I took finance and continued when I took economics in graduate school when I was in my 40s. That lead me to reading The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph E. Stiglitz and End This Depression Now! by Paul Krugman. The specific event that caused me to flip was when I learned that during the second oil crisis, the one that started in 1979 and ran until the mid eighties, the U.S. could have imported sugar-based ethanol from Brazil to help alleviate the crisis but U.S. agro companies did not want the competition. So, they used their political power to get a large tariff on Brazilian ethanol. I found it shocking that a U.S.-based corporation would do something that was hurtful to the people and businesses just to pad the bottom line of one industry. And once I found one example, I was able to find other examples with relative ease. Now I am very sensitive to when the Democratic party is too cozy with big business.

Rev. Dr. J.E. in Boone, NC, writes: This is related to my fellow anomaly, W.F. of Blairs Mills, PA, and my own question from yesterday. I often tell people that growing up, my family was Republican, so in my teens and twenties, I was as well. But then I started really studying the Bible!

V & Z respond: As they say, Jesus was a liberal Jewish socialist.

Ticket Splitting

S.D.R. in Garner, NC, writes: In "Ticket Splitting Is on Life Support," you wrote that the days of saying one voted for the best candidate regardless of party are "dead and gone" and that voters should "look in the mirror" to determine why ticket splitting is on life support. I think you are missing a major point, which is that the change in voter habits is the result of a change in the parties—of one party in particular.

I say this as one of those voters who went from routinely splitting their ticket to routinely voting a straight ticket. While I've been left-leaning for as long as I've been voting, for decades there would always be at least one Republican I voted for. But in the past decade or so the Republican Party has simply changed so radically (moving to the right, embracing "alternative facts," and in recent months going so far as to reject democracy itself if they don't like the outcome) that there simply aren't any Republican candidates left I can support. Those I could have either left office and been replaced by people I can't support or have changed in ways that mean I can no longer support them. If one doubts the way that the Republican Party in general and individual Republican officeholders have changed, one merely needs to read...this very website, which has repeatedly pointed out the way in which that party and its office holders have changed.

In short, I have not stopped voting for the best candidate regardless of party. It's just that these days, the best candidate regardless of party consistently comes from the same party.

B.F. in Poway, CA, writes: You wrote: "While voters all over the country whine and moan about the lack of bipartisanship, maybe they should look in the mirror. If everyone votes a straight party ticket, what incentive do the politicians have to deal with the other party? If all that matters to the voters is the party label, why should anyone expect the politicians to think differently?"

This sounds like misplaced bothsidesism to me. In a world where one party demands blind loyalty to a despicable excuse for a human being, how could one vote for any member of that party in good conscience? At a bare minimum (for a candidate of any party, really), the candidate should unequivocally denounce Trump before I would even think of voting for them. So, absent third party voting, I don't see much of an alternative to voting for every Democrat, regardless of candidate. Put another way, how many examples can you find where voting for the Republican candidate in this last cycle would not have been an implicit endorsement of Trumpism? Very few would be my guess.

V & Z respond: The word "whine" may be a bit loaded, but we weren't taking a side so much as asserting that most people who say they want bipartisanship don't follow through with their votes. Watch for a piece on this subject this week.

Voter ID

M.D. in Poconos, PA, writes: Here in Pennsylvania we have had and still have a Republican majority legislature (both houses) for quite some time, as well as a rather right-wing Republican governor 8 years ago. They passed a voter Photo ID law that was draconian and aimed at stopping minorities and young people from voting.

Besides the issues you pointed out in your response to H.M. in Berlin, Germany, they made sure that working people had a problem getting an ID by cutting back the days and hours that state photo-ID centers were open. This meant that workers would have to take time off from work to get their photo ID, such that even the "free ID" wasn't free.

They also initially wouldn't allow college IDs to be used, then relented and allowed them if they had an expiration date. So, many universities had to replace their existing student IDs which cost them money. But the Republicans did make sure that concealed-carry permits could be used as ID, yet not public assistance IDs, since they would have to have been changed to add a photo. There was no money for that, but somehow they found funds to put up billboards in Philadelphia threatening people with prosecution if they didn't have the correct ID to vote.

Besides that, there were elderly people who voted in elections for most of their lives but were refused their right to vote because they no longer had a license, or they never had a license because in places like Philly a car was not needed to get around. If you could get to a photo-ID center, you'd still need to prove you were who you say you were. This is not always easy, especially with older folks some weren't born in a hospital and don't have a birth certificate. Even tougher was if you were in a nursing home. So they changed the law to allow nursing homes to just print IDs for residents. I'm sure there was no fraud there.

The Democrats sued, and the matter went to the then-Republican majority state Supreme Court. The law was so partisan and racially motivated the Chief Justice sided with the Democrats and it was thrown out. The state threw out the sociopathic Republican Governor in the next election and the GOP-controlled legislature has been scheming how to do it all over again since.

So I'd be OK with photo ID if the state actually made it reasonable to obtain one. But for Republicans it's just another means to stop Americans from voting. For them it was all about disenfranchising a few hundred thousand voters in Philly and Pittsburgh so they could keep control of the state.

T.O. in Portland, OR, writes: I've worked as a poll-worker in three States (New York, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana), from 2004 to 2020, and have worked in the election office itself in one of them (New York): processing registrations, canvassing absentee ballots, training other poll-workers, etc.

Adding my own experiences and thoughts in response to HM from Berlin, voter ID in the United States is simply not necessary for voter verification. We have—at a minimum—your full legal name, date of birth, physical and mailing addresses, and a copy of your signature. The DOB is my usual "go to" if there is any confusion over who the voter is, as can happen with seniors vs. juniors right next to each other in the book. Other states provide us additional non-FOIA disclosable bits of information (in Louisiana, we have your mother's maiden name) we can use for verification when necessary.

It's also the practice everywhere I've ever worked to attempt to put poll-workers in their home precinct. Sometimes we can't do this, due to manpower shortages, but this is our preferred practice and it happens more often than not. You will typically have 3 to 5 poll-workers assigned to a given precinct, odds are good that at least one of them lives in that precinct, meaning that many voters will be personally known to one or more of the poll workers present.

When we sign you in we loudly announce your name for all to hear. This is done for the benefit of our own team (multiple poll-workers will be recording you in different books/systems) as well as for the benefit of other voters and/or poll-watchers who may be present and have the legal right to challenge you if something is amiss.

The fraud voter ID laws purports to prevent —someone impersonating another voter—is virtually non-existent. If you attempt this, you are taking a huge chance (this is a felony in every state) for little gain (one vote).

It should also be noted that the implementation of voter ID matters. Louisiana has a "soft" voter-ID law, meaning if you don't have ID we verify you through your mother's maiden name, you sign one extra piece of paper, then vote on the machine with everyone else and that's the end of it. I still don't see the need for this law, but at least it is minimally disruptive, offers an easy workaround, and was presumably passed in good faith by our Legislature.

Other states have "hard" ID laws; in Mississippi if you don't have ID you vote a provisional ballot, which is not counted unless you show up at the County Clerk's office with ID no more than 5 days after the election. The burden this imposes on poor people without access to reliable transportation and/or paid time off work is obvious and it's difficult to look at a law like this and assume it was passed in good faith.

In short, I spent a large part of my adult life working elections (I've since moved to a state that is 100% vote-by-mail, so this part of my life is past now) and I've never seen the "use case" for voter ID, while the fraud it purports to prevent is non-existent, and the burden it imposes on the electorate (and us as poll-workers!) is real. It's a solution looking for a problem and in many cases (Mississippi) is deliberately designed to suppress the vote.

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Regarding the discussion of voter ID laws, here is a very informative Twitter thread by an academic economist who uses data to demonstrate that tasks that often seem routine or simple for middle/upper class folks tend to be far more onerous/time consuming for low income folks. This perception barrier—I think—may explain why voter ID seems like a "duh" thing to most middle-class folks but is a major issue for progressives.

I'll support voter ID when all 50 individual state governments look at it as their burden to make sure all of their residents who want an ID have one, and look at it as their failure if those residents are unable to get one. Right now the burden is entirely on the individual citizen and state governments—even in "liberal" states—don't really seem to see it as their responsibility.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I can speak mountains as to why Voter ID is a bad idea. For starters, these laws are drawn up to be onerous to poor, Democratic-leaning voters. I sorta accidentally went viral about this back in 2016, with the notorious HB-2 "bathroom bill" here in North Carolina. I got photographed by a newspaper, holding my driver's license, right next to a poster declaring which IDs were acceptable for the purposes of voter ID. I was quoted as saying, "If this is good enough for me to vote, why isn't it good enough for me to pee?"

As a transgender woman, I have had to go through the onerous process of changing one's identity documents. Now, fortunately, I was born in a civilized state (Illinois) and the process was made rather simple for me, but it still cost over $200 just to change the birth certificate. As it so happened, I had surgery in 2002, but never had bothered to change the birth certificate until 2016, when I was erroneously informed by former Congressman George Holding that I needed to prove my citizenship to solve an issue I was having with the Healthcare Marketplace. I mean, how else does one prove citizenship? And my birth certificate was in a name and gender I had not used in 20 years! Forget the fact I paid taxes every year! So, yes, replacing/changing identity documents is an onerous process, and an expensive one—one I suspect will get even worse once "Real ID" is required. Not sure what that star is supposed to prove, anyway—I could steal someone else's ID.

The real problem is that Voter ID is a solution in search of a problem. Many audits over years have shown the rate of fraudulent ballots ever cast to be far lower than what would be required to change the results of any election. If they really wanted to solve the problem, they would take your digitized photo from the DMV, and place it on your voter registration card. Voila! Free voter ID! And for those without driver's licenses or state-issued ID—at least here in Wake County, you can get a card from your local board of elections which serves the purpose of voter ID, at no cost. This is what they would do if they actually wanted to solve or prevent an actual problem, but that isn't the goal of voter-ID laws. The goal, and purpose is to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning (poor and black) voters, as stated by Mike Turzai, former Speaker of the Pennsylvania House in 2012: "Voter ID, which will deliver Pennsylvania's electoral votes to Governor Romney...done."

R.H.O. in Portland, ME, writes: The question from H.M. in Berlin is an excellent example of how those who seek to limit access to voting have won the battle of "framing." Requiring an ID to vote seems perfectly natural to most citizens in the U.S. and abroad, so voter-ID laws likely enjoy more support than the facts would merit. In reality, voter-ID laws are not about requiring an ID to vote, they are about rejecting some IDs in favor of others (i.e. a license to carry a firearm is fine, student ID is no good). I would suggest language such as "ID suppression" or "ID discrimination" would be far more effective ways to frame the issue for those who seek to preserve and promote laws guaranteeing equal access to the ballot.


M.F. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: You wrote: "[M]any old-fashioned liberals argue that the answer to hate speech is to oppose that speech, not to ban the speaker."

With respect, this response would ignore everything we've learned about human psychology and how to combat falsehoods. And what is hate speech but a collection of truly pernicious falsehoods? Trying to counter false statements only amplifies their reach, repeats them for new people to hear, and solidifies their place in public discourse.

People who spread hate speech should absolutely face all legal restrictions. They have a right to speak (until that speech becomes slander, anyway) but do not have a right to force others to give them a platform to amplify that speech.

M.C. in Oak Ridge, TN, writes: On questions like how many genders there are, real division comes when the disagreeing people care about the answer. Sure, I can take my stab at counting gender identities, offer a pollster a guess, but I have no strong opinion on it. What I do care about is that people can identify as fits them and live in a world that is civil and helpful regardless. I'd rather us just have unisex stalls or whatever rather than try to figure out how to segregate everybody by gender identification and sexual predilection.

Some of us who are socially liberal do not subscribe to clear doctrine on gender identity, we are simply not inclined to pigeonhole others or impose our perspective on their personal lives, preferring to just take them however they come. We may find a comfortable home among many planks of the Democratic platform while not feeling much alienated by those who answer on either side of the wokeness litmus tests. Democrats may not all be on the same page but such polling does not capture that a fair few may still be on practically compatible pages.

Yang Gang

M.Y. in Hilton Head, SC, writes: It sometimes seems that the only person you dislike more than Donald Trump is Andrew Yang. This puzzles me. It is ok not to agree with his proposals or his approach to politics. In fact, Yang has said, "If anyone agrees with all my ideas I would find that odd." I realize he is easy to dismiss as a one-dimensional candidate. I felt that way until, on a whim, I picked up his book, The War on Normal People: The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future. After reading the book I looked into his proposals and realized he had more of a grasp of things, and more proposals about what to do, than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). He grasps the problems with health care, taxes and education better than anyone I have seen in quite a while. While it is OK to disagree with him, I feel like you treat him like a clown without knowing all of his ideas. Yes, he is optimistic about humanity, but he believes that there is a boot on the neck of the middle class. I challenge you to give him a better chance. I am 70 years old, and would still like to see someone elected who is not an ideologue.

J.P. in Chicago, IL, writes: As a former Yang Gang member who jumped on board solely due to my 15 years of believing UBI is the future, I've been underwhelmed by his mayoral campaign.

However, the Daily News' political cartoon is clearly a dog whistle. Calling Yang a tourist even though he has lived almost his entire life in New York City works a whole lot better because of his race. Everyone's eyes in the picture are open, except Yang's. The closed eyes do not add to the tourist message and are entirely a dog whistle in order to amplify the race portion of the tourist claim.

While there are a lot of reasons to support the other frontrunners over Yang, your presentation of the Daily News claim as equally as valid as Yang's claim of racism is outside of your normal standards, especially considering the enormous increase in Asian hate crimes during the pandemic.

V & Z respond: We just reported both sides' positions in a nutshell. There was no need for us to opine on their relative validity, since readers can literally evaluate all the evidence (i.e., the cartoon) for themselves.

History Matters

B.H. in Sherman Oaks, CA, writes: I'm glad (Z) took Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) to task for her most recent bigoted spewings, and the ignorance displayed therein.

I do have a quibble with the characterization of the January 1942 shift from concentration camps to extermination camps. (Z) states, "The obvious place to send them [the Jews] was to the concentration camps, but the concentration camps didn't have the means to house so many people."

I think this is being far too kind to the Nazis. It suggests, even if only slightly, that the shift to mass genocide was in part due to a shortage of housing. But substantial evidence supports the case for deliberate genocide. Initial plans for the GPO, the Nazis' grand scheme to ethnically cleanse eastern Europe and repopulate it with Germans, were already in development as early as 1940. In June of 1941, the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, and by fall of that year, they were already exterminating Jews in the conquered territories. The Severity Order of October 10, 1941, made Jewish genocide explicit policy. But even before the Severity Order, the Commissar Order and the Barbarossa Decree—both issued prior to the German invasion—provided fig leaf coverage for what would come to be known as the "Holocaust by Bullets" that preceded the extermination camps and killed some 1.5 million Jews on the eastern front. Perhaps the most well-known incident from this period is the Babi Yar massacre, in which more than 30,000 Ukrainian Jews were shot. This took place at the end of September, 1941.

V & Z respond: You're entirely correct, of course. We did not mean to suggest that the mass killings were just an inadvertent byproduct of other policy choices. What we were going for was a callback to the fascist obsession with order and organization, and how the whole plan fit together oh-so-cleanly in their minds.

J.F. in Houston, TX, writes: You wrote: "A lot of students in history classes don't pay attention. Not in (Z)'s history classes, of course, but in others."

I just want to say I really enjoyed that lecture on German fashion of the depression and war years.

V & Z respond: You know how hit songs have to have a hook? Well, the same applies to history lectures if you want the students to pay attention. And something like the chart of the different badges definitely grabs them.

M.B. in San Antonio, TX, writes: In reference to the question on Hitler, I know you weren't trying to make a comprehensive list of history's most evil people (though that would be interesting). But your list (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin) did omit King Leopold of Belgium, whose atrocities in the Belgian Congo led to the death of as many as 15 million people. He should always be mentioned in this kind of horror list.

I.D. in Richmond, VA, writes: It seems to me Timur, the "Scourge of God," might be in Hitler's league if we accept the estimate that he was responsible for the deaths of 17 million people at a time when that was the equivalent of about 5% of the total human population. However, Timur was widely celebrated in Western Europe for his victories over the Ottomans, which I suppose demonstrates your point that to some extent infamy depends on historical perspective.

C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: My opinion on why Hitler remains the boogieman vs Stalin or other well known despots isn't the total number, but the way he largely, systematically singled out one culture for extermination. Stalin killed anyone he thought was an enemy, and since he was paranoid as hell, that was a lot. Further, most of the deaths I've seen attributed to him were from famine.

Hitler rounded up Jews (and, of course, others he considered inferior like Roma, homosexuals, etc.) and had them killed like they were vermin.

J.S. in Pemaquid, ME, writes: In response to the elusive pre/post Colombian book E.L. of Manassas was looking for, I would also submit 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann.

It was quite popular, so I don't know if a synopsis is necessary, but it presents a case that North America was relatively densely populated before European contact, and that there was rapid die-off afterwards.

R.W. in San Francisco, CA, writes: American Colonies, by Alan Taylor.

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: These accusations of "presentism" often arise in response to when George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other founding fathers who owned slaves are criticized for doing so. While an argument could be made that an ancient Roman who owned slaves may have been operating within a cultural milieu where that was considered acceptable, by the time of the American Revolution, there was already an abolitionist undercurrent in American society, and the three-fifths Compromise was specifically designed to allow the slave states to preserve slavery in the face of the states whose populations opposed it and could outvote them. I don't think it's "presentism" to hold a historical figure to standards that were already under significant opposition in the time period they lived in.

V & Z respond: It is certainly fair to consider the range of ideas that were within the Overton Window in a historical figure's time and place. But it is also necessary to consider what was possible for them, as well. If, for example, the Constitution had been any stronger on slavery than it was, it wouldn't have happened. Similarly, Washington and Jefferson had some interest in manumitting their slaves (and Washington did free some, in his will), but they were constrained by (1) anti-manumission laws, and (2) that they weren't actually theirs to free (as least in Washington's case, as many of the enslaved people on his plantation were actually held in trust as part of his wife's property).

S.T. in Worcestershire, England, UK, writes: Your recent comments on "the historian must resist holding people of the past to the standards of the present" certainly took me back to my time as a history student at a UK University, and in particular Herbert Butterfield's The Whig Interpretation of History.

I do not know if this book is known in the states—or if (Z) might be familiar with it. It may be a bit long in the tooth now, having been written in the 1930's. However, its central argument, that it is actually the role of the historian to analyze events on their own terms, and not to make judgments based upon today's standards, seem to be alive and well on your site.

A corollary of Butterfield's arguments is that the absence, or slow rate, of change in a society tends to be underestimated in history. This may also be a factor in politics, as political parties in both in the U.S. (the Republicans) and the U.K. (the Conservatives) seem determined to take us back to the 1950's or earlier.

V & Z respond: That book still gets mentioned in historiography courses. Or it was, at least, when (Z) was in grad school. And "change is hard, and happens only slowly" is one of the two or three major themes of (Z)'s U.S. history survey course, in particular.

D.M. in Burnsville, MN, writes: You wrote: "The upshot of the lecture segment is that pretty much everyone who lived before 1950 is a pretty bad person."

Now hold it right there, big shot! Seriously.

I was born in 1942. And yes, I was indoctrinated into that cultural milieu. But I was fortunate (perhaps one of the few) who happened to have the means, the time and the ability to work myself out of that well of despair. I think that I have succeeded. Yet I do find myself backsliding from time to time. And I take enormous hope from the young people of our nation today. I truly wish I could live among them as one of them.

V & Z respond: Sorry, we should have been clearer in our terminology. Among historians, "lived before 1950" means "concluded their lifespan before 1950." Or, more simply, it means "dead by 1950" not "born by 1950."

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Wow. I'm gabberflasted. Extra bonus enthusiasm points for naming Edward Hull Crump of my hometown. (When I taught there, a couple of his descendants were my students.) He was still alive and influential when I was born. Historically, he is of course an extremely interesting figure—a "throw out the political bosses" Progressive who then evolved into a political boss and virtual dictator.

Native Influence

B.H. in Sherman Oaks, CA, writes: I enjoyed (Z)'s response to Rick Santorum's most recent display of ignorance on CNN. His firing was long overdue. (Why in the world did CNN ever hire Santorum in the first place? To make sure the twice-failed-presidential-candidate-theocrat-reactionary-extremist point of view is heard?)

If Santorum's understanding of "American" culture extends to the whole hemisphere, then he's obviously mistaken, overlooking the cultural accomplishments of the Maya, the Aztec, and the Inca. Even granting Santorum the benefit of the doubt, and restricting his comments to the United States, he's grossly ignorant, as (Z) pointed out with ample evidence.

To (Z)'s pile of examples, I'd also add:

  • The Mississippian Culture, which was fairly advanced, certainly far beyond the hunter-gatherer stage. Their most important site, Cahokia, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964, and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can still visit it today.

  • Sequoyah's development of a Cherokee syllabary. (In fairness, Sequoyah devised his system after being inspired by the writing of European settlers.)

  • The fiction of Ojibwa writer Louise Erdrich, one of America's finest living novelists.

  • And finally, what child growing up in the 1970s was not blessed with the pop music of Redbone?

P.H. in Meadville, PA, writes: When I look at Native American culture, I also think of pottery, basket weaving, jewelry, clothing, blankets and other artifacts. The Antiques Roadshow on PBS has had many examples of high value. The one I remember is the Navajo chief's blanket appraised at $350,000 to $500,000.

J.T. in Bluff, UT, writes: Just a quick addition to (Z)'s list of Native American contributions to "leisure": America's current Poet Laureate is Joy Harjo (Creek/Muskogee), a brilliant writer and performer. As the curator of a small museum dedicated to the deep history of Native societies in the 4 Corners region, I could go on, but I felt obliged to raise at least Harjo's name—I'm sure I won't be unique.

I appreciate that you don't have the time or space to exhaust all the contributions of Native societies and individuals. I am very glad that you are calling out Santorum for his thoughtless comments. My lord man, CORN (maize/maiz-another Nahuatl word, I think), right? Perhaps the sine qua non of American Fourth of July picnic food (and ethanol production). Glad that made your list. Come on, Santorum, think.

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: You wrote: "There are also a number of prominent athletes of Native descent, including Jim Thorpe, Johnny Bench, Charles Bender (better known by a name that we won't reproduce here because it's a slur), Tiger Woods, and Kyrie Irving."

You forgot Billy Mills. Also known as Tamakoce Te'Hila, he is an Oglala Lakota former track and field athlete who won a gold medal in the 10,000-meter run at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. His 1964 victory is considered one of the greatest Olympic upsets because he was a virtual unknown going into the event.

S.A. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Boo! You left out the sport that probably has the greatest Native American/First Nation influence on our culture.

The NHL is a $5 billion annual business. Fans pack arenas in the winter (including here in Southern California) to watch their favorite teams. Not only does the sport have its origins in First Nations Canada, but some of its greatest players are of Native/First Nation origin:

  • Hall of Famers Brian Trottier and George Armstrong
  • Maurice Richard winner (leading goal scorer) Jonathan Chechoo
  • Stanley Cup winners Theoren Fluery, Dwight King, Jordan Nolan, Reggie Leach, T.J. Oshie, and Chris Simon (in addition to Armstrong and Trottier)
  • Olympic hockey gold medal winner Carey Price
  • Craig Berube and Ted Nolan both played and coached in the league
  • Aaron Asham, Ethan Bear, Michael Ferland, Jamie Leach, Brandon Montour, Brandon Nolan, Gino Odjick, Wade Redden, Sheldon Souray, Jordin Tootoo and Zach Whitecloud have had long careers in the league
  • Fred Saskamoose was the first native player in the league's history

If you think this is part of the plot, you are forgiven, though.

V & Z respond: What do you mean IF we think it's part of the plot?

J.L. in Schenectady, NY, writes: In your list of ways Native Americans influenced American culture, I'm surprised you didn't mention guerilla warfare, which Washington used to defeat the British. Or am I wrong about that?

V & Z respond: That argument is out there, but it's hard to prove conclusively. It's like meatballs in that it probably developed independently in many different places.

E.D. in Dansville, NY, writes: "500 Nations" is a wonderful series about the natives on this continent. From the Mayans, the burial tombs, and the California natives with their beautiful beadwork (before the Priests turned them into slaves) to the Trail of Tears and Wounded Knee.

I can get none of my eight grandchildren to watch the series.

B.W. in Worcester, MA, writes: I highly recommend the documentary "Rumble, The Indians Who Rocked The World."

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: Full disclosure: I've worked my way through and my ethnicity is about as UK-centric as it gets. I found two Indian women from the 1600s in the family tree but that is it. Also, my extended family has lived in Oklahoma since the time of statehood and I spent my childhood and college years there. We've lived alongside people from several tribes. I personally honor Indian cultures (note the plural) and am too respectful to pretend I am one.

I found (Z)'s response to Rick Santorum cringe-worthy on several levels. The biggest is that it bundled all native culture into one bubble. In fact there are (and regrettably "were" in some instances) hundreds of tribes in North America with distinctive cultures. I recommend a trip to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian for more perspective on this. We would not pretend to do that with Europeans, blurring the cultural lines between Poles and Italians for instance.

The second, is the adoption of words into English is a false comparison. English borrowed words from a vast variety of cultures, so the presence of Indian words means little, and these borrowed Indian words are now used in British and Australian English as well.

The third is the list of famous people of native-descent. Sadly, the people on the list became famous for skills that were valued in the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture and had to shed whatever Indian culture they carried to accomplish what they did. In fact, most of the people on your list never publicly identified themselves as Indian and some would not have seen themselves as Indian. Some were clearly predominantly from other cultures.

And finally, the dominant "American" culture (including the woke segment) has a bad habit of naming all the others, without their input. Most Indians I have known identify themselves as Indians or by their tribe name and not as Native Americans. That term was invented by others in an effort to be kind to Indians and to distinguish them from South Asians. Although I like the term "First Peoples" that Canada uses better, that is just as much of an affectation as "Native American."

V & Z respond: Well, when referring to them collectively, we have to use a term of some sort, and (Z) has spoken to numerous members of the group who say that Native American/Indian are both acceptable. As to "many tribes, rather than one," that point will be raised in the upcoming piece about genocide.

The Meaning of Santorum

M.J.F. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: I couldn't agree more about CNN and their token Trumpers. Even if this practice does bring a conservative viewer or two (and I sincerely doubt it does), that wouldn't make up for how many moderate or liberal viewers have defected because of it!

CNN was for years the channel I watched for politics. But during the 2016 campaign, I angrily tweeted at them many times for continuing to feature Kayleigh McEnany and Katrina Pierson. Honestly, they didn't even look like real people. There didn't seem to be anything behind their eyes. They were like Pez dispensers, just throwing their heads back and issuing forth with demonstrable lie after demonstrable lie. I remember the specific moment when I picked up the remote and turned to MSNBC, then tweeted a "goodbye" at CNN.

I have since tuned in to CNN once. And there sat Rick Santorum. I immediately flipped back to MSNBC. I'm sure I'm not the only former CNN viewer who said "Enough is enough!"

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: I lived in Pennsylvania for 20 years and followed the career of Rick Santorum; I've also seen him on CNN a good bit. I don't think it's fair to call him a Trumper, a Trump spokesman, or a Trump apologist. "Catholicism's answer to Protestant fundamentalism" or "Catholic-brand Christian right," sure. "Reliable right-winger who occasionally drifts nutty," yeah. "Not the sharpest knife in the drawer," certainly. "Promoted to his level of incompetence," no doubt. But not really a Trumper.

And I think his contributions on CNN consistently showed that. I vividly remember occasions where I was screaming at the TV, "Even Santorum knows this is Crazyland!" The best explanation is one that you have already given: He's a company man. He's a party loyalist. He was promoted for being a reliable party guy. So on CNN, he tried to represent "conservative ideas" (which were often reactionary rather than conservative) and the party line after there ceased to be any ideas or even any party line, only loyalty to Trump. Truth is, he had very little to say that anyone didn't already know, but he did still have a shred of dignity and independence left. (God help us all. I'm writing to defend Rick Santorum. Rick Santorum. It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from here.)

It's a problem: You want to have spokesmen for the other side, but, as Dilbert observed, ignorance isn't a point of view. Party propaganda does not add to the conversation. Too often any more, there aren't two sides to the issue.

R.G. in Alexandria, VA, writes: Rick Santorum should have known better because everybody knows that Milwaukee is Algonquin for "the good land."

V & Z respond: Several readers sent that clip in. We can't believe we didn't think to link to it; "Wayne's World" was huge the year (Z) graduated high school.

M.C.A. in San Francisco, CA, writes: By any chance, were you referring to "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" in today's item about Rick Santorum?

V & Z respond: Yep. For those who did not catch the reference, which is probably 99% of you, every time the history teacher in that movie (Mr. Hand) is seen lecturing, he is always lecturing on the Platt Amendment.

Kabuki Theater

G.L. in Memphis, TN, writes: Glancing at my Litograph t-shirt the other day, I noticed that Siddhartha was going off to become a merchant and so he kissed his consort goodbye. And others said that he would be successful, because he could think, he could wait, and he could fast. Suddenly I realized that Joe Biden has been thinking and waiting, and probably fasting, throughout his career in order to reach the pinnacle of political success. He is the paradigm of the American Siddhartha, and as in Hesse's book, his second in command is Kamala.

You frequently refer to kabuki theater in politics, but Biden is following the Vedas, whether or not he acknowledges it. This is why Republicans are at such loss to confront him. They are at the wrong performance.

L.E. in Putnam County, NY, writes: You suggest the Republicans are "just performing kabuki theater."

Given their obstructionist motives, isn't it more like an older Japanese tradition...No(h) drama?

V & Z respond: Wait. We thought it was Noh Drama Obama.


C.T.P. in Lancaster, PA, writes: You wrote in your answer: "Needless to say, we reject all questions from e-mail addresses as a matter of course. It just takes too long to correct all the misspellings."

I am surprised with that. I would have thought it would have taken much more time to repair all the grammar mistakes!

V & Z respond: We don't take on impossible tasks. We're not Sisyphus here.

P.D. in Leamington, Ontario, Canada, writes: In your answer to J.E. (who, by the way, is an excellent judge of sports teams) you wrote that you fail to see what purpose the Bears serve. As a lifelong Packers fan and former Wisconsin native, I can answer this with authority. As one of the oldest teams in the NFL, the Bears are the historical rival to the Packers. They are still held in low esteem by most Packers fans in Wisconsin. The only team that rivals the distaste for the Bears that we have is the Vikings. But as the Vikings have never won a Super Bowl, Chicago remains as the team to be held in contempt...and every fan needs a hapless rival to poke fun at. Now if you were to bring up the Detroit Lions I have no answer as to what purpose they serve.

V & Z respond: Tackling practice?

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: Surely I'm not the only one who sees the resemblance?

Tucker Carlson and Walter from 'Sesame Street'

V & Z respond: Wait. You're wondering why these two photos of Tucker Carlson look the same?

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: A reader wrote: "Please recognize the snark and sarcasm that may be included in this commentary as humor and not an actual attack on anyone."

Without the "snark and sarcasm" (and erudite meanderings) from all of the commentariat, and (V) and (Z), would just be another political diatribe in the ether.

Hardly worth the time to read on any given morning over my first cup of coffee.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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