The letters about the effects of Donald Trump and MAGA on families struck a chord. So, the section with responses to that is longer than we normally do in the mailbag these days.
B.G. in Houston, TX, writes: You wrote that Congress is hopelessly gridlocked along party lines and that there is no simple policy change that could affect that. But I think there is: bring back that vehicle of budgetary pork, the earmark.
Right now no centrist (of either party) can cross party lines to vote for an otherwise reasonable bill. That sin against ideological orthodoxy invites death by primary from the extremist wing of their own party, without any hope for a reward that balances out the possible pain.
That is exactly what an earmark used to provide: a tangible benefit like a new bridge or a drug treatment program that a representative might use to illustrate their effectiveness in helping out their local constituency. Right now, all they can do is vote along party lines, or joust at a windmill.
Instead of dealmaking that promotes compromise we have the current situation where there is no horse trading anymore to give political cover for voting the way they want (ought) to anyway, for essentially zero budgetary improvement. Earmmarks would empower those willing to compromise. I'd gladly accept $50 billion/year in pork-barrel spending for even a modicum of improvement in the ideological lock-in.
P.K. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: You have wondered if the country has become more conservative. I think the U.S. has grown less conservative, yet more divided. As a gay teen in Reagan's America at the height of the AIDS epidemic, I never imagined our Senate poised to pass a bipartisan bill legalizing same-sex marriage with broad public support, let alone a senate with 24 women and a Black woman as senate president. Shockingly, Gallup first recorded a majority of Americans supporting interracial marriage in 1997; by last year, that climbed to 94%. Over that time, support for gay marriage went from 27% to 71%, about a 50% shift on both issues in one generation. The midterms showed the strength of public support for women's rights. The Supreme Court has been radicalized and is so out of step with the country, its decisions seem fated to lose their authority; the country is less conservative by far than in the 1980s and 90s.
However, increasing acceptance of marginalized groups, and support for progressive positions like a higher minimum wage, have not brought the parties closer. The right used to define its patriotism by strong opposition to external enemies, from Nazis to Soviets to terrorists to China. During the Trump takeover, the GOP and its messaging apparatus seemed to concede that Nazis hate Jews, and so does some of their base. Russians hate gays, and so does some of the GOP base. Islamic militants oppress women, as does some of the GOP base. China hates democracy, as does some of the GOP base. Thus, "the enemy" shifted from an external threat to "the Democrats." Past Republican leaders could unify all Americans against an outside threat, but America can only be divided under Republican rule that brands the opposition party as the real enemy; this is the crisis state in which we are precariously situated today.
P.S. in Arlington TN, writes: In response to the question from D.E. in Lancaster, I was a ticket-splitter in my district and view myself as the same type of voter who went Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA)/Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA). I was a GOP voter and reliable donor prior to Trump.
My representative is David Kustoff (R), who voted for the insurrection. I voted for nobody in his primary because the options were like-minded or worse. In the general, I voted for the Democrat.
My governor and state representative do a great job in Tennessee. Things are well run. Schools are great and taxes are low. Both men keep their mouths shut and concentrate on running a great state.
I'm also a cargo pilot and trade restrictions are very high on my list of policies.
The problem the GOP has is that MAGA runs the party federally. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R) won't get my vote because she's MAGA. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) won't get my vote for the same reasons. The real threat to the Dems in 2024 is if a governor who isn't MAGA somehow wins the nomination and unites the party.
I hope that helps.
C.V. in Chadron, NE, writes: One of the things that has come out of the 2022 general election is the Republicans winning the House popular vote. This is true, it happened by a margin of about 3.1% or 3.3 million votes.
However, if someone thinks that translates to a national political environment where the populace favors Republicans, there are some other factors should be considered. First of all, there were about twice as many uncontested Republican districts than Democratic districts. Although vote totals are often difficult to find on such races, they do exist (I have found vote totals on uncontested races on Wikipedia). So, in twice as many races, there are no Democratic votes being cast due to no Democrat on the ballot, than no Republican votes being cast due to no Republican being on the ballot. Considering this, the House popular votes for Republicans would likely be narrowed somewhat if every race was contested.
But there is an even bigger reason why one shouldn't look at the national popular vote to think the political environment should favor Republicans. For some reason, turnout was way way way down in many urban districts. I looked at all of the congressional districts in Los Angeles County, and the New York City boroughs.
In L.A. County, there are 16 congressional district completely inside (or mostly inside) Los Angeles County. Of these 16 districts, 9 districts had fewer than 150,000 votes cast. This is really quite low. In 6 districts, total number of votes cast was fewer than 200,000. The more competitive a district is, the more votes being cast overall, and most of these weren't at all competitive.
In the New York City boroughs, turnout was absolutely down, there is no question about it. There are 11 districts completely or mostly inside the five boroughs. Of these 11 districts, one had 228,000 votes (Jerry Nadler's), and one had 182,000 votes (lean-Republican Staten Island). The rest of the New York City districts had between 87,000 and 138,000 votes. This is very, very low.
In contrast, just mousing over rural red districts around the country, 200,000 votes is the usual minimum, with most districts having 250,000 total votes cast, and some even right at 300,000 votes cast. Let's look specifically at Tennessee, in which Nashville was gerrymandered to get rid of a Democratic seat. Tennessee still has one Democratic district (Memphis); it had a total of 132,000 votes cast. The other eight Tennessee districts had between 170,000 and 218,000 votes cast. This trend of lower inner-city turnout versus rural turnout is not the same everywhere, but it does seem to be the case far more often than not.
I am guessing that if urban turnout was equal (almost always not competitive) to rural turnout (almost always not competitive) and suburban (almost always competitive), Republicans would not have won the House popular vote.
J.S. in York, PA, writes: I would just like to point out something I find interesting, as someone who grew up in Orange County, NY, and now lives in south-central Pennsylvania. Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro (D-PA) currently has about 10,000 fewer votes than Gov. Kathy Hotchul (D-NY) has, as of Nov. 21, and the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race had about 5.25 million votes to about 5.73 million votes in the New York gubernatorial race. This despite New York having approximately 5 million more people than the Keystone State. So, to me, this shows that New York Democrats didn't show up to vote, and this had massive impact downballot. It speaks to the unpopularity of Kathy Hotchul. I find this interesting, and wonder if some of this happened in Florida, as well.
R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: While the House will likely be spending the next 2 years on utter nonsense, the Democratic senate will hopefully fill every judicial vacancy there is.
The House will conduct far-reaching investigations on whether or not there is porn on Hunter Biden's laptop, then they'll have that hearing on whether Anthony Fauci created COVID in his basement to make Trump look bad in an election year, then there's sure to be the hearing where Mike Lindell will testify he saw aliens (who looked like the aliens in the 1986 James Cameron movie) destroy ballots in red counties in 2020. I don't think the best writers in Hollywood could dream up the possible investigations that will happen in 2023-24. The next 2 years in the House will be a non-stop revenge and score-settling tour de force.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Democrats will have plenty of time to fill every judicial vacancy. Hopefully, some George W. Bush and Bill Clinton appeals court judges will take senior status in 2023, thus opening up their seats to fill. There likely won't be a SCOTUS opening in next 2 years, but President Biden can approach 60 appeals court confirmations by end of his first term if some currently active judges opt for senior status and/or retirement.
D.M. in Alameda, CA, writes: I disagree with your conclusion in the item "The Midterms Contained Warnings for the Democrats" that "if Republicans nominate someone else (other than Trump) for president, the Party's chances shoot up." On the contrary, if a pale imitation of Trump like Ron DeSantis or Mike Pompeo were to win the nomination, let alone a real "never Trumper," then Trump voters would abandon the party and its candidate. Trump owns the Party. Many of his supporters believe that he was chosen by God. If the Party loses 20 or 30 percent of their base vote, I cannot see a way forward for the presidency, much less the trifecta.
M.C. in Friendship, ME, writes: You wrote: "If [the Democrats] emphasize things that matter to, say, Black voters then they lose the interest of working-class white voters. If they emphasize things that matter to working-class white voters, they lose the interest of progressives. If they emphasize things that matter to progressives, they lose the interest of centrists. And so forth."
What if they said, over and over?
- "Democrats want to protect you from corporations; Republicans want to protect corporations from any kind of regulation or taxes."
- "Republicans have no plan to solve any of our problems beyond tax breaks for rich folks and corporations."
- "Democrats give you things everyone needs like Social Security, Medicare, healthcare that doesn't bankrupt you, clean air and water, workplace safety, food and drug safety, consumer protections, etc. Republicans want little to none of those things, citing 'too much government regulation'."
- "Republicans are against teaching real stuff in schools; they want you to sit up straight, do what we tell you, answer tests with the answers we gave you. They don't want you to learn to think because people who do tend to vote Democratic."
Almost all Democratic voters can agree with all of it. Candidates should say it over and over.
C.M.W. in Myrtle Beach, SC, writes: You wrote: "Meanwhile, Biden is getting opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to remind them that he and the Democrats are trying to help with their loans while the Republicans are aggressively defending the opposition position."
Yesterday, the administration sent an e-mail with the subject line "Your loan forgiveness application has been approved!"
Then the body of the e-mail was "We got it, you're good... except it's been challenged in court so we can't send you any money yet, even though we, the good guys want to... so hang on for now until we, the good guys, defeat the people that don't want this for you, now, at Christmas."
It's possible that I paraphrased that a little bit... but that was definitely how they wanted you to read it.
For once I, as a professional marketer, am impressed with the Democrats here.
They used a clickbait subject line to get an open. Then they showed how they want to help you, but they can't because of THE OTHER (a concept that works well in politics and marketing) and, without directly saying so, painted THE OTHER as the bad guy that is stopping them, the good guy, from removing your problem.
I guarantee this got a bunch of people to go Google what it was talking about, which will of course show them that conservatives don't want loan forgiveness.
Great bit of maneuvering by the administration.
M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: After yet another rash of mass shootings, I really want the Democratic messaging to put pressure on gun rights supporters. How about, "You demand your Second Amendment gun rights but refuse to accept any responsibility for them. When nearly 70% of NRA members want universal background checks, how responsible is it to block that reform? When a majority of NRA members want to ban assault weapons, how responsible is it to subvert that legislation? Where's the responsible action that balances unfettered gun rights? Oh, wait, there is none because of the Republican Party's misguided policies."
T.T. in Minden, LA, writes: You wondered "What Are the Republicans Going to Do about the Religious Right?"
Your item is framed as though this is merely a political problem for the GOP. In the aftermath of the Colorado Springs shooting, it's obviously a moral one as well. A guest on Tucker Carlson's show Tuesday night said something to the effect that "the left is trying to use this shooting to demonize our opposition to the gay agenda." Then there was the blood-chilling statement from Jenna Ellis, a lawyer for the former President of the United States, that the victims of the shooting "are now reaping the consequences of eternal damnation."
If the GOP, to a person, doesn't immediately repudiate this insanity (and spoiler alert, they haven't and won't), we've got a very dire situation on our hands. Much political violence, such as the recent attack on the Speaker's husband, is a product of GOP politicians demonizing figures on the left. You ain't seen nothin' yet if they're now outright condoning/justifying terrorism on explicitly religious grounds.
D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: You cited the video posted by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) that advocated fascist violence against congressional Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and speculated on its influence on the attacker of Paul Pelosi. What you unintentionally omitted was Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-CA) own statement to the effect that the first thing he would do with the hammer of the Speaker would be to hit Nancy Pelosi over the head with it. I am stunned actually that the "responsible" media (WaPo, NYT, NPR, CNN, etc.) seems to have forgotten all about that. One could reasonably argue that McCarthy is directly responsible for the attack by the hammer-wielding piece of scum on Pelosi. McCarthy advocated an attack and specified the weapon of choice.
J.H. in Lodi, NY, writes: Your discussion of Gosar's and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's (R-GA) caustic words occurred on the 59th anniversary of the death of a president. The words of a different Supreme Court justice are now haunting:If we really love this country, if we truly love justice and mercy, if we fervently want to make this Nation better for those who are to follow us, we can at least abjure the hatred that consumes people, the false accusations that divide us, and the bitterness that begets violence. Is it too much to hope that the martyrdom of our beloved President might even soften the hearts of those who would themselves recoil from assassination, but who do not shrink from spreading the venom which kindles thoughts of it in others?
That's Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the United States, from his eulogy to the Late President Kennedy delivered in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol on November 24, 1963.
R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: The Southern system of having runoffs has two effects that support an establishment (i.e. white-advantaged) outcome that RCV does not. The second vote for the runoff has a smaller and less moderate turnout than the first vote, making the partisan voice louder. Further, by having a gap in time, the group that doesn't want "one of those people" in office gets a chance to focus energy and resources on preventing that.
J.N. in Columbus, OH, writes: Quite simply, the premise is that if it's hard for Black and poor people to get out and vote in one election, then it's twice as hard to have to do it again, especially since the December election will not have the "aura of respectability" that taking time to vote in the November election has. There is also a premise that Black and poor people are less intelligent or more lazy, and thus more prone to forget or not bother to keep track of an off election like white people might. Thankfully, Black folk in Georgia lately have been proving these premises wrong, but don't think for a minute that many white folk, including many in power right now still think these things. RCV will only catch on in a place like Georgia if the racist folk think it will help (or at least not harm) their candidates.
D.S. in Newark, OH, writes: You missed something in your item on Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). He has won elections state wide five times, not the three you mentioned. Brown was elected Secretary of State in 1982 and re-elected in 1986.
M.B. in Windsor, CT, writes: (V) observed that VA is now blue, "the last gubernatorial election in Virginia notwithstanding." I agree. Terry McAuliffe (D) was a deeply flawed candidate who should have known better than to throw his hat back into the gubernatorial ring. There were two phenomenal women running for the nomination, and several other strong candidates. My friends in very rural Northern Neck, VA (that peninsula between the Potomac and the Rappahannock), who are among the very limited number of Democrats there, all voted for a candidate other than McAuliffe.
And yet, in every single county in the state, McAuliffe carried the primary vote by 50% or more. I'm wondering if the fact that the GOP played fast and loose with the primary process, choosing a caucus approach, freed up a lot of Republicans and independents (technically, every Virginian is an independent, as there is no official membership in any party) to vote in the Democratic primary, and to give the party a pretty much guaranteed loser. No lawn signs, no enthusiasm for him as the nominee, and too many people sat out the election rather than vote for either McAuliffe or Trumpkin... er, ah, I mean Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA).
But then you see Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) win again in '22, and the other Democrats hold on (except Elaine Luria, and I suspect in her district a lot of MAGAts turned out to vote against her because of the January 6 Committee). I left Virginia and returned to reliably blue Connecticut in part because I woke up the morning after the '21 VA election to Youngkin as the winner, and I knew I could not live in a state with that man at its head. And I was simply tired of the idjit in the VA District 1 seat. (I admit, having a new grandson in Connecticut was a lure, but still...)
2024 is gonna be a barnburner no matter what goes on with the economy.
J.L. in Tualatin, OR, writes: Regarding the comment from B.P. in Chicago about OR-05: I don't know the details about Democratic Party support, or lack thereof. However, it occurred to me that the overall Congressional representation for Oregon has now changed to better reflect the political lean in the state—from 80-20 Democratic percentage (based on the previous 5-district split) to 66-33 Democratic, with the newly added OR-6 district. Although I strongly favor the Democratic majority (and expect the Democrats to go after OR-5 heavily in 2024), I'd like to think 66-33 is closer to the overall political population split in the state, which, if not heavily gerrymandered, is probably what it should be, unlike some other states.
That said, since I reside in the new OR-6, I was intrigued by the yard sign distribution in my neighborhood and surrounding area. The Republican, Mike Erickson, had lots of signs, most of them quite large, maybe 3'x5' or bigger. Signs for Democrat Andrea Salinas were mostly smaller, few and far between, but in the end, she prevailed in a close race.
M.S. in Knoxville, TN, writes: This retired attorney and judge finds the appointment of the special prosecutor frustrating, because Attorney General Merrick Garland foreseeably placed himself, and all of us, in this situation.
Donald Trump should have been indicted months ago, particularly on his illegitimate taking, misuse, and refusal to return classified documents. Garland should not have allowed the raid on Mar-A-Lago if he was not prepared to indict Trump in relatively short order. Anyone else who had done anything approaching what Trump has done with classified documents would have long since been indicted. Furthermore, we all knew when the midterm elections would be held and that Trump would at sooner than later announce he was running for president in 2024. There is nothing about the current situation that was not obvious nor unavoidable. The end of summer 2022 should have been a hard deadline for making decisions.
Indictment for crimes related to January 6 and election subversion is more complicated, but a decision should have been made in the same time frame, for the same reasons. The facts and law surrounding these situations is sufficiently clear to support a decision. Federal judges have stated in published decisions that crimes have likely been committed by Trump and others. If Garland for some reason disagrees, it's his call. The country, however, deserves a decision.
The national interest in preserving our system of government raised by these circumstances, in my considered opinion, is so vital that decisions should have been made months ago.
Finally, appointment of the special prosecutor will clearly delay the matter. It would take anyone time to staff up and get everyone up to speed. In this case, the prosecutor is also in Europe, recovering from surgery.
Ultimately, Garland is still going to be the one who has to make the final go/no-go decisions. I find it incredibly frustrating that Thanksgiving 2022 is upon us, these decisions have not been made, and now a new team is being brought in.
D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: What a mistake! Merrick Garland came across as a weak wimp, a toothless hound, scared of what the rabid MAGA crowd might say.
He had a choice, and he did the wrong thing. He knew that Donald Trump was going to announce his candidacy on Nov. 15, so on Nov. 14 he should have indicted him for the Mar-a-Lago document theft, and for endangering the security of the United States. Chelsea Manning did not get a special prosecutor, Reality Winner did not get a special prosecutor, and David Petraeus did not get one either. So, the Justice Department under Garland does not operate without "fear or favor" after all, as he constantly claims.
He should have split the two cases, and then on Wednesday he could have announced a special prosecutor for the 1/6 seditious conspiracy case, and let the MAGAGAGA™ crowd holler till the cows come home.
E.B. in Seattle, WA, writes: Given the letters on how much the appointment of a special counsel might delay Donald Trump being charged with holding classified documents, you might be interested in this. The summary is basically that the Department of Justice can't charge Trump with any classified document crimes until they know what documents they're going to be able to show at trial. That means that the special master review under Aileen Cannon's supervision will need to be resolved, either by the 11th Circuit taking document review away from Cannon's jurisdiction or the completion of the review itself. Both of those decisions are also potentially subject to appeal. None of that will be fully resolved until mid-December at best.
Given that, it's hard to see any indictment-related Christmas gifts under the tree this year.
Incidentally, emptywheel.net, the source for that link, is a pretty good resource for explaining the why of delays and other legal issues.
J.C. in Arlington, VA, writes: Regarding the special prosecutor, another factor, as I understand it, is that special prosecutors are funded by a separate pot of money that the new Congress may not be able to reduce. Also, the prosecutors terms seem to run until they are finished, à la John Durham, regardless of a change in administrations. That would be an amazing ninja move, if true. Also, if there is a new administration and the new AG tries to change the guidelines, then there has to be a report to Congress.
This may be more nuanced than it looks!
C.C. in Hancock, NH, writes: In your response to the question from K.F.K. in CleElum as to why Allen Weisselberg might be protecting Trump, you hypothesized: (1) wanting to keep his salary, (2) fear of retaliation, and (3) loyalty. I grant that any of these, or some combination, might be in play.
I dislike the former guy as much as anyone, but we can't let that blind us to the obvious. It could be that Weisselberg is telling the simple truth.
R.P. in Kāneʻohe, HI, writes: In your response to the question from K.F.K. in CleElum about why Allen Weisselberg is claiming full blame (credit?) for the admitted tax fraud by the Trump Organization, you posit three possible (non-mutually-exclusive) explanations: to continue collecting his salary, to avoid possible dirt being exposed, and because he has genuine fondness for the family. I'd like to offer another (also non-mutually-exclusive) explanation: He's telling the truth. He was the CFO after all, and as such was the person most likely to make such financial decisions.
As much as I want to believe all-things-corrupt in Trump's orbit stem from the orange man himself, I also recognize the incongruity of simultaneously characterizing him both as an evil genius in full control of his domain, and as a complete moron. In my view, while he may have savant-like abilities in whipping up the passions of people attending his rallies and finding others to take the fall for him, matters as technical as filing taxes seem far beyond his intellectual capacities. I find it much more plausible that Weisselberg (who I imagine is vastly more capable, intelligence-wise) actually did conceive of and implement the fiscal shenanigans himself. Sure, if TFG was intimately aware of what Weisselberg was doing, then he is culpable as well. But honestly: How much do you think Mango-Man actually knew (or even had the mental capacity to know)?
J.M. in Portland, OR, writes: I had always thought Allen Weisselberg is taking one for the team to protect his family. I believe his son also works for Donald Trump and was a beneficiary of some of the perks the Trump Organization is in trouble for. I assume the deal is "you take care of me, I'll take care of them."
R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: You wondered why Donald Trump's New York trial is scheduled for October 2023.
The attorneys have told him how long they expect the trial to take, and that was the first opening on the judge's docket for a civil trial of that length.
(Oh, and criminal trials take precedence over civil trials, because criminal defendants have a constitutional right to a "speedy trial," while civil litigants have no similar right.)
J.P.R. in Westminster, CO, writes: I don't know for sure that my mom lives in the reddest of counties (Hood) in Texas, but it's not turning purple or pink or any more diluted shade anytime soon. This was spotted in a shop in the (county seat's) town square on Black Friday. In light of current speculation as to whether the base is souring on TFG, I should think that the two markdowns are telling:
P.S.: It was at the back of the store, quite out of sight.
L.S-H. in Naarden, The Netherlands, writes: So the people who live in Luzerne County that P.M. in Edenton is always talking about are now "tired" of TFG. As opposed to 2016, they now find the (orange) Florida Man too erratic, petty and crazy, with too much baggage and hounded by too many investigations. Like, they were all in on some pettiness, craziness, baggage and investigations 6 years ago. They don't really want TFG to be the nominee but they would vote for him in a fetal heartbeat if he was. And they are thinking of cheating on The Donald with Ron DeSatan—Trump v2.0. And this is called "generally reasonable but not full-in on MAGAism"? I think the good people of Luzerne are kidding themselves.
O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, writes: I want to say this respectfully, and wish to stress that I ask this purely out of curiosity. R.G. in Seattle writes: "I have a one sibling, an older brother..... I respect his intellect, his desire to research and read." R.G. then writes "He is however, a white supremacist, a scientific quack, and what is often referred to as a 'gun nut.'" I find this utterly baffling. How does one respect the intelligence of someone who is admittedly a "scientific quack"? Why would one respect such person's desire to read and research when such reading and researching is leading him to such horrible conclusions? Don't you (after respectfully listening to their reasoning) at some point have to throw your hand up and say—believe what you want, but you're a fu**ing idiot?
M.B.T. in Bay Village, OH, writes: I guess I'm one of the lucky ones. My three siblings live in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Indiana respectively—one reddish and two crimson states. Two of my siblings are devout gun-owners. So it's easy to surmise they would be super MAGAts, as my wife did and as I feared, having been reluctant to bring up any kind of political talk with them. But... in a get-together, we kinda let it all out and all four of us dumped heavily on Mr. Tangerine Man—so much so, that we looked around at each other, started laughing, and moved on to other topics since we were all in violent agreement.
J.M. in Portland, OR, writes: As a contrast to the stories of families torn apart by politics, let me relate how extremely pleased I was when I visited my sister and her conservative, career military husband turned out to be as disdainful of Trump as I was. My respect and esteem for him went off the charts.
K.R. in Austin, TX, writes: Perhaps it's because of who would read your site and write in, but so far, you haven't posted any letters from right-wingers who are troubled by strained relationships with liberal family members.
Perhaps the reason is because true MAGA folks actually celebrate these familial strains. In 2019, Don Jr. offered a prize for sending in the best video of a triggered liberal family member at Thanksgiving:
Trigger a liberal thanksgiving! Have some fun & talk politics at the thanksgiving table. Best pic/vid of something/someone triggered maybe w/ my book, wins a signed copy of Triggered & a MAGA hat... Tag me in IG pics & I'll choose by Sunday. Have fun! https://t.co/HKA9knWBBW— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) November 27, 2019
His challenge reminded me of authoritarians in history who encouraged people to turn in their disloyal family members to the government.
M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: A word to everyone who has an angry male family member wrecking your holidays. Anger is the primary symptom of depression in men, which is why it goes unrecognized by both the subject himself and his family and friends. All those raging MAGA heads, gun-nut militia members, and grumpy old men in general are quite likely to be suffering from some level of depression. So, if you have a family member that fits that description, it might be worthwhile to ask your family physician their opinion and recommendation. Otherwise, I'm all for dosing up the nation's water supply with Prozac.
D.R. in Unalakleet, AK, writes: The disagreement between my brother and I goes way back. He enlisted in the Army. I became a minister.
One Christmas, he gave me a membership in the NRA. I countered by giving him a subscription to Mother Jones.
We communicate weekly by phone, and he always brings up politics because he knows I will not ignore it.
Because I live in rural Alaska, our phone service is sometimes spotty. When our weekly arguments get heated, sometimes the phone disconnects. We no longer blame that on the spotty phone service, but on the government intervening to keep the peace between us.
J.E. in San Jose, CA, writes: To M.A.N. in Falls Church, you've made the right decision, and I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving. For those who say family comes first, this is rooted in a time when people were less able to be upwardly mobile. Granted, this is a privileged argument, but if you have the means to "create your own family," have at it. Nobody else but you can prioritize your mental health.
J.B. in Bend, OR, writes: During the second Bush administration, I got into some very heated e-mail exchanges with a very conservative friend I'd known since 3rd grade and roomed with in college. The end of our friendship was looming so I observed that Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart remained lifelong friends, despite being at opposite ends of the political spectrum, because they agreed to stop discussing politics completely. My friend agreed, and we've remained friends, discussing everything except politics.
Another conservative friend of 30 years and I slowly drifted into an e-mail exchange on white privilege, which was clearly headed in a divisive direction, so I proposed the Fonda/Stewart arrangement. His response was along the lines of "I'm not surprised you don't want to discuss the subject further since my argument is so compelling for the following reasons..." Since he didn't let it go as I'd asked, I told him what I thought of his position and why I thought it was wrong. He immediately went silent, hasn't communicated with me in 4 years and stopped sending Christmas cards.
These examples have taught me to respond to any attempt by conservative friends and family to engage me in a political discussion by: (1) pointing out the Fonda/Stewart example, and (2) telling them that since neither one of us is going to be persuaded by the other, there's no point in discussing politics. So far, that has worked, and they either don't raise politics or if they do, they immediately drop the subject as soon as they realize they've breached the Fonda/Stewart Accord.
S.H. in Sausalito, CA, writes: As a former comedy producer, when faced with wackadoodles, whether of the MAGA or born-again or cannabis-solves-all-problems types, I counter their nuttiness with made-up nutty chestnuts of my own. If they start talking about, say, Hunter Biden, I'll let slip, "I heard he's being directed by space aliens from Aldebaran, and Kamala Harris too!" (be specific as possible). When I pass by evangelists and their display of Bible literature, without stopping, I'll catch their eye and, I'll blurt, "I met Jesus once! on Jupiter!" The most delicious is when I receive an astonished, non-believing frown, which is exactly the expression that would flash on my face if they'd have spouted their gobbledygook first. Wave "bye-bye!"
It gives you a chuckle, and it gives them an opportunity to choose another direction in life.
Enjoy the day!
D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I just read that Elon Musk is floating the idea that he will create an alternative iPhone if the Apple Store boots Twitter from its App Store. I have an easier solution for Elon: Why not just create an alternative reality where your whim to buy Twitter actually makes sense and one where he knows what the hell he is doing? More and more, Musk is looking like a stupid kid who didn't do his 15-minute homework assignment and instead came up with the "brilliant idea" to set fire to the school. What's he going to do when his Alternate iPhone doesn't catch on? Bed tons of women so as to produce an army of offspring to be the alternate iPhone customers who can then download his Twitter? Yeah, that sounds like a plan, or at least one Trump tried to use to win at the impossible task of being a casino owner.
So after this dumpster fire of Musk's and the one brought about by TFG, can we as a society retire for good this notion that billionaires are intrinsically brilliant? Instead of being geniuses, Musk, Trump, Lindell, Perot, Jobs, Scott, Epstein, Bezos, Thiel, et al. are just one step above a chattering mange-ridden gibbon, who have accumulated vast wealth only through their enormous talent for braggadocio; their monomaniacal obsession with making money; and from having the morals of a gutter snipe, willing to sell their mother's soul to the Devil for some loose pocket change. They are most certainly not worthy of any form of praise or worship. Instead of elevating these clowns to positions of power and influence, why don't we cram them all in a Space X capsule, point the rocket perpendicular to the orbital plane and say, "Bye Felicia. If you guys are so smart, you'll figure out a way to survive. If not, well, let's just say you going to get a rather up close lesson on the effects of the free market. Enjoy." At least with that the world will have some respite until the next batch of worthless robber barons comes along! This might seem uncharacteristically harsh, but if we could examine a parallel universe where these guys never existed, would the world be that much poorer? I say no because at best they are the sellers of geegaws and trinkets and at worst they do nothing but suck up resources.
R.E. in Birmingham, AL, writes: I sold my shares of Tesla stock (at a nice profit) after watching Elon Musk "run" Twitter for about a week. I have come to the conclusion that he is the stupidest genius ever.
P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: There is much that I despise about social media. Nevertheless, I will miss Twitter if it implodes. It is the only social media platform from which I have ever derived any benefit.
From the earliest days of the Internet, it was clear to me that the value of any given site was not the ratio of useful information to garbage, but whether it was organized in such a way that I could easily find the useful information while avoiding the dreck. Twitter's great boon to me is allowing me to browse and search the site without having to log in. I do not have an account. I have never tweeted, retweeted, or commented on someone else's tweet. Without an account, Twitter has never suggested that I follow someone or recommended that I play a mobile game or tried to get me to buy something. I can lurk in peace without actively giving up any personal information or worry about ever-changing privacy settings. There are a few people whose feeds I check regularly. Their retweets often lead me to other opinions and sources I would have never encountered otherwise. (An aside: Real Clear Politics once served a similar purpose for me but they kept leaning further and further to the right until they eventually fell off the edge of reason.)
Breaking news breaks first on Twitter. It is true that fast is not always accurate. President Biden recently said, "Twitter spews lies across the world." I don't doubt it. However, Twitter allows me to use it in a way that lets me avoid the vast majority of the lies. The people I follow often back up their information with links to supporting documents or state clearly that reports are preliminary and need confirmation. A recent case in point was when a rocket struck inside Poland near the Ukraine border. All the early tweets I saw about it were along the lines of, "We don't know anything yet. It's irresponsible to speculate." I have read a couple of articles expressing concern about Twitter's future claiming that first responders and emergency services rely heavily on Twitter to get information out quickly. I don't know how true that is as a general rule. I do know that in January of 2018 when I received an alert on my cell phone that there was a ballistic missile inbound to Hawai'i, the first reliable source I found stating it was a false alarm was from the Twitter account of my then-U.S. Representative, Tulsi Gabbard. The original alert went out at 8:07pm. She tweeted at 8:19am. By the time the official "Oops, sorry folks. Our bad." message went out at 8:45am everyone, had already heard the news—from Twitter.
I know next to nothing about the inner workings of the Internet, so my positive experience with Twitter may have more to due with how Google and other sites handle "tweets" than with Twitter itself. I fell into the Twitter habit because articles from more traditional news sites (e.g., The Washington Post) would embed tweets that were active links to the person's Twitter feed. A Google search will often bring up relevant tweets near the top of the page which, again, allows me to further explore the site without logging in or being exposed to people I don't want to hear from. This ease of access combined with a lack of extraneous junk is not something I've encountered with any other social media platform.
I realize that as a no-account freeloading consumer I add nothing to Twitter's always shaky bottom line. Twitter's inability to make a profit may have made collapse inevitable even without Musk. Twitter's board of directors seemed awfully eager to unload it. Since the new owner's takeover, I haven't personally been exposed to an increase in fake news or bigotry—which only reinforces my belief that I'm doing it right. What I have seen is a drop off in activity from the people that I follow. As for a Twitter replacement, the general consensus now seems to be that Mastodon is too weird and wonky. People are enthusiastic about Post.news but it's still in beta with a wait list of more than 150,000 people. Is it possible to have something like Twitter minus the awful parts that is also financially viable? Well, maybe it's possible but if it were easy someone would have done it by now. Does the benefit of the useful parts outweigh the damage done by the awful parts that I know are there even if I don't see them? I don't have an answer for that. Maybe someone else does.
Lastly, I must begrudgingly say that, while I have a very low opinion of Elon Musk, I feel it is too early to compare him to Henry Clay Frick. Musk has treated Twitter employees badly and may well have broken California employment laws. Frick sent 300 armed Pinkertons to end the Homestead Strike, which resulted in ten deaths and 70 injuries. The cavalier management of the South Fork Dam by Frick and other wealthy members of the Southfork Hunting and Fishing Club led to the Johnstown Flood which killed over 2,000 people and caused $17,000,000 in damage (approx. $550,000,000 in today's dollars). They were never held accountable. If today's labor laws were as unrestrained as they were in the Gilded Age, perhaps Musk would also be resorting to violence. If his shenanigans on Twitter don't cause it to collapse like the South Fork Dam, perhaps it will become an incubator for both stochastic and organized terror resulting in numerous deaths for which he would be indirectly responsible. But for now, comparing actual loss of lives and livelihoods up to this point in time, Frick leaves Musk in the dust.
R.C. in Eagleville, PA, writes: In the item about Elon Musk allowing deplorables back on Twitter you wrote, "welcoming back a bunch of Klansmen, Proud Boys, conspiracy theorists and Trump administration officials..." You made me laugh out loud because I immediately thought of the scene in Blazing Saddles where Hedley Lamarr is signing up his deplorables:
H.M. in Hannover, Germany, writes: In reply to R.M.S. in Lebanon and also to your original post, you write "The Qatari approach to gay rights and women's rights in particular, and to human rights in general, is well out of step with the values of much of the rest of the world." I'm afraid this is wishful thinking. What you call "much of the rest of the world" means, in this case, Europe west of Russia, North America, perhaps some parts of South America, Australia, and maybe some others—1.5 billion people at most. Unfortunately, the other 6.5 billion (including my own country of citizenship, Israel) is societally and/or politically patriarchal, misogynistic and homophobic. We might not like the situation, but those are the cold, hard facts. So why should FIFA worry about what a relatively small number of bleeding hearts think? The money is in the numbers.
D.C. in Brentwood, CA, writes: It seems ironic that Qatar is using "We Will Rock You" as a song in their TV ads for the World Cup, given they'd probably have murdered Freddie Mercury if he had visited the country.
M.S. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: You wrote on Saturday: "It wouldn't be a big deal to cut off Qatar..."
Having spent some time there, I can think of at least two reasons why this is not accurate:
- Al Udeid airbase is the forward airbase for the US Central Command as well as the headquarters of USAF CentComm. I believe there are more than 10,000 military personnel on base.
- Qatar, mostly because of its North Field gas field, has the 3rd largest natural gas reserves in the world. It is also in the top 15 for oil reserves.
Not to condone Qatar's human rights issues, but there are clearly reasons for the U.S. to engage with Qatar.
B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Thanks for this week's Freudenfreude. I guess the lesson we all take away from this is that the only thing that can stop a non-binary bad guy with a gun is an unarmed straight veteran at a drag show.
D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Richard Fierro is an understandable choice for Freudenfreude, but some of the details you omitted were so heart-breaking that it is hard for this to be a "feel-good" moment. Fierro's daughter's boyfriend (fiancé?) was one of the murdered ones, and the family is understandably crushingly heart-broken. When the cops came, they (understandably) had no idea who was who, and Fierro, covered with blood and holding a pistol, was cuffed and dragged into a cop car and held there for an hour despite pleas to find out how his family was—and his family had no idea what happened to him. A total horrific nightmare, and that is just the story (no doubt incomplete) of one family among the many who were hurt here, in this one mass murder among the so many this year. I'm glad you brought it up, though.
S.M. in Morganton, GA, writes: Please do not take the Club Q shooter's claim of a non-binary identity at face value. That is trolling. He has been identified by several family members as a "him" or a "man" or "boy."
V & Z respond: We suspected that, but when we wrote the item, there wasn't clear evidence we were right.
K.H. in Maryville, TN, writes: Here is the Fierros' website, if any of the readership would like to support their business.
I particularly like the "Diversity, it's on tap" t-shirt.
My heart goes out to all the family and friends impacted by the mass shootings of this past week. Madness...
E.S. in Maine, NY, writes: Bet you got this piece from The New York Times a bunch of times: "Finding joy in another person's good fortune is what social scientists call 'freudenfreude,' a German term that describes the bliss we feel when someone else succeeds, even if it doesn't directly involve us. Freudenfreude is like social glue, said Catherine Chambliss, a professor of psychology at Ursinus College. It makes relationships 'more intimate and enjoyable.'"
V & Z respond: Yes, we did. And it's good to see that the Times is only 6 months behind us. They're getting quicker!
C.M. in Raymond, NH, writes: In your answer to D.A. in Orangetown, you attribute political party stability to the strong identity associated with the parties ("the Civil War caused political parties to become an important part of personal identity").
I would submit that the establishment of parties as quasi-governmental entities during the Progressive Era has had much more to do with that. When the government runs the candidate selection process (through primary elections) and controls ballot access and party labels, then the government must decide who is and who is not a "real" political party. This results in very high barriers to the participation of alternative parties in the process.
As a result, it is far easier for the identity of political parties to change completely (like the Civil Rights Era swap between the parties, or the current shift of the white working class to the Republicans while the upper middle class folks become Democrats) than for new alternatives to emerge.
In addition to systems like ranked-choice voting that help to gauge voters' true level of interest, I also favor separation of parties and state. Candidates will, of course, generally be part of one party or another (or maybe more than one!), but open elections between individuals will bring a return to more fluid party affiliations and better clarity of the political positions of those multiple parties.
R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: In 1863, Confederate general Ben Hardin Helm was killed at Chickamauga.
His widow Emilie came to visit her sister Mary at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. When Union general Dan Sickles, who was recovering from a wound received at Gettysburg five months earlier, protested Emilie's presence at the White House, the President replied, "General Sickles, my wife and I are in the habit of choosing our own guests. We do not need from our friends either advice or assistance in the matter."
C.J.A. in Tucson, AZ, writes: Really appreciated your comments on General/President Grant. He has always seemed the singular in history to me. Even though his administration was rife with scandal, he was never a part of it. His amazing book is so incredibly clearly written and precise, I can imagine his orders on the battlefield left little to misunderstand or doubt. The fact that he continued to write this book in order to provide for his wife in his dying days, even beyond the point when eating was impossible for him, is a testament to his courage and determination.
Bonus point: He liked his steaks well done.
C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: U.S. Grant was popular, but when he tried to run for president in 1880, there was also a bit of a stench from the scandals involving his administration. Sort of like say... Reagan, maybe... personally popular, but even if his mental acuity was still there, I think by 1992 if he were to come back people would have been reticent to turn to him. The nominating convention with James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur is fascinating and I think is worthy of being made into a TV show (though not one of our most famous or "best" presidents, I think Arthur's life story from idealistic young lawyer to shady political hack to fairly decent president is worthy of a miniseries, but that's another subject entirely).
J.L. in Washington, DC, writes: The Great American Novel is, of course, Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans, not least because it's explicitly about, well, the making of Americans (and at the same time the making of novels), but also because it has the most arresting and portentous first words of any American novel (with apologies to "Call me Ishmael"): "Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. 'Stop!' cried the groaning old man at last, 'Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree.'"
Alas, almost nobody who has tried to read it has succeeded, and most who've made the effort have come away with the judgment that it's unreadable. Oh, well.
R.R. in Nashville, TN, writes: Maybe the best American novel about the hopes, dreams, disappointments, accomplishments of America is Shoeless Joe (a.k.a. Field of Dreams).
I'm not a scholar or literary analyst, and so maybe don't have the qualifications to defend this novel. But I've heard more than a few males (mostly celebrities) mention that the only connection between them and their father was baseball. They remember going to games with their dad, or collecting baseball cards, or sharing times talking about their favorite games, players, or moments that all included baseball.
Of course, like any great book, Shoeless Joe uses baseball as a metaphor for what we miss or missed growing up and the dreams we had/have as simply being here in this country It expertly portrays the ideal relationship most wanted to share with our father, but so many didn't. Pitching and fielding the baseball. Going on outings or to games. Just heart-to-heart discussions. Plus, the book takes us back to a time both where the purity of the game was met with the corruption of owners and their tricks to minimize their players. Yep, as typically American as peaceful transitions of power.
Mostly, though it's a wonderful story about family, land, dreams, and magic. And, in my view, it needs to be included in any list of great American novels.
P.G. in Arlington, VA, writes: Portnoy's Complaint. What better way to represent the excesses of American politics, popular culture, and personal entitlement than a dude rubbing one out into family dinner, and feeling aggrieved about it afterward?
J.G. in Managua, Nicaragua, writes: In high school, my American Studies teacher told us that, in his opinion, Moby-Dick is the Great American Novel. I don't recall his reasons for choosing that book, but I had no opinion one way or the other until I read The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna.
The Sand Pebbles has many of the elements that you referred to in Tom Sawyer: racism, exploration, gender roles, religion, love relationships, friendship, restlessness, social tension, and the definition of "civilization."
The mistreatment of Native Americans is replaced by imperialism/colonialism as relating to China. In fact, the irony of choosing this book as the Great American Novel is that it takes place entirely outside of the United States. It also occurs during an exciting time in history, the rise of the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-Shek, which provides a background tension to expose the fault lines of American culture.
C.H. in Chicago, IL, writes: After having proudly written that you wouldn't be covering Donald Trump, you are devoting significant space to him every single day. On Nov. 21, four of your nine headlines contained his name. Don't you remember what you said? Looks like you're after clicks just like every other media outlet. A shame.
V & Z respond: We will note that we were not bragging or promising, we were expressing our best hopes. Also, we don't have paid advertising, so chasing clicks would not have any purpose for us.
T.S. in Memphis, TN, writes: There's a song I've sung at church, "Let There Be Peace on Earth," and the next line was "and let it begin with me." In that vein, How about designating 1-2 days a week on E-V.com to be TFG-free? There are plenty of other political topics to discuss! We keep wishing that the media would ignore him this time. Let's start here.
M.G. in Boulder, CO, writes: G.W. in Pittsburgh wrote" "...the U.S. has a serious math phobia/cultural aversion problem." My math teacher sister pointed this out to me several years ago, saying, "Everyone talks about illiteracy, no one is worried about innumeracy." I and my science teacher friend said, "But we use literacy every day," to which she replied, "'How much time do I have left on my parking meter?' is math. "I want to go to dinner and a movie after work. Do I need to stop at the bank first?' is math. "Do I have time to stop at the bank first?' is math." Point made—math is a real part of daily living. The problem part became much more real when my cancer doctor said, "Without chemo, you have a 50% chance of survival, with it your chances increase to 70%... um, do you understand percentages?" I thought, "That means that a significant number of adults don't understand elementary school math." G.W is absolutely right.
But is E-V.com and its often incapacitated mathematician part of the problem or part of the solution? Do you know anyone who enjoys words and numbers as much as (V) and (Z) do? Very few days go by without charts and/or statistics. It's true that they appear to do a truly awful job at choosing staff, but as a reader pointed out maybe a year ago, E-V staff obligations appear to be non-performance when needed in return for no pay, which seems a fair balance. The staff mathematician is not the only difficult employee. Just this week the financial analyst confused turkey with Türkiye and is probably still happily dining and collecting recipes in Istanbul.
(V) has written, several times: "Everything is political." On E-V.com, the political is backed up by facts, and the facts are very often based on math. So everything is political but everything political is nearly always mathematical as well. We need to demonstrate that subjects to which our culture has an aversion are helpful parts of daily life, like math is on this site. I was once asked to take on a remedial English class a week into the semester. Having no planning time, I asked the class what they needed so that I'd have a good starting place. A class spokesperson said, "Look, we don't want to learn this, but we have to learn this—grammar." "You mean like 8 parts of speech but maybe not like diagramming, right?" Nods all around the room. We started with nouns. The students looked at each other. Their expressions said, "We were afraid of this?" Learning something easy together united the class. Though my supervisor had forbidden me to teach them grammar, no longer needing to fear grammar was the thing they were most grateful for. I said, "Grammar and punctuation are not hoops you have to jump through, they are there to help you express your ideas more precisely." Everyone nodded without looking up from their worksheets.
Maybe we need to offer catch-up classes—"Everything You Always Wanted to Know About [Math, Grammar, Science] and Are Now Ready to Learn"—in high school, college, or community adult education. Maybe there are other ideas out there, but combining something high interest, like politics, with something that attracts less devotion, like math, is a good start.
V & Z respond: Not all staff hires work out poorly. The staff dachshunds are quite good at their jobs.
N.C. in Tustin, CA, writes: In regards to the comment from R.F. in Madison in the Complaints Department section of the mailbag: Geez, now we can't even make fun of USC "students"? Everything really is off-limits.
D.F. in Norcross, GA, writes: I don't know if you're getting tired of dealing with all the complaints and complaints about complaints. If you are, you might look to these guys for a solution:
E.D. in Saddle Brook, NJ, writes: I was quite amused to see the question about the most common states from which readers' messages are received. I was already thinking about sending this e-mail before I got to the end of the day's post. While reading through the Q&A, I noticed yet another question coming from northern New Jersey. It feels extremely common to see questions or comments from readers in towns that I'm familiar with—enough so that I've thought about commenting on it several times before. Have you ever tried anything like plotting out where your readers are?
V & Z respond: To do that, we'd probably have to run another reader survey.
R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: I noticed that Wyoming wasn't even on the list of choices for top five letter-writing states. Which is not too surprising since I am the only one here:
I am trying, though!
P.W. in Tulalip Nation, WA, writes: No Wyoming option for the "Who's Writing?" competition? I scrolled straight to the bottom, since one Wyoming letter would have counted for, like, 23 California letters, right? Seems fair to me.
S.R. in Kansas City, MO, writes: I'm not sure about the other four most common states, but surely the State of Disbelief would be the winner.
J.H. in Flagstaff, AZ, writes: I must take issue with A.B. In Wendell describing Florida's governor as "Ron DeSatanist." That is deeply offensive to Satanists everywhere who are just trying to do the Dark Lord's work.
T.B. in Leon County, FL, writes: Thanks for the explanation last Sunday on who the previously denigrated "downtown L.A." institution was. Being from far away, I presumed you were finally pointing a finger at your beloved UCLA.
As a side note, my high school chess club participated in a tournament in Los Alamos, NM. We drove past a building with the following signage: University of California Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory I thought that was proof that UCLA was really in New Mexico (the name changed to "National Laboratory" in 1981):
V & Z respond: Yep, UCLA is actually in the rich part of town—Westwood to the south and west, Bel-Air to the north and Holmby Hills/Beverly Hills to the east. It's about 10 miles from downtown. USC's the one where incoming students have to buy a bulletproof vest.
P.S. in Gloucester, MA , writes: Apropos to UCLA vs USC: My father got his graduate degrees at Harvard (in English literature), and used to refer to MIT as "the trade school down the river."
P.A. in Redwood City, CA, writes: Last week there was some discussion of the origins of taking digs at Canada. An important inspiration for this was National Lampoon in the 1970s. The magazine included a monthly "Canadian Corner" item, and if you are so inspired, you can listen to the 1974 "Canadian Show" episode of the Radio Hour on YouTube.
One of my favorite stories described a Canadian going to a restaurant in the U.S. and, when he saw someone about to eat some parsley, lept across the table to knock it away and protect the diner from eating the fiery herb.