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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We had many responses to (Z)'s story about inclusivity, and many more about ideas for inclusive teaching. Some of the latter were pretty long, so we'll run a selection of those over the next several weeks.

The Insurrection Is Being Televised

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I don't know how I will be able to contain myself as I will be truly on pins and needles through the rest of the summer until the start of "The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol—Season Two." Or should we call it "The January 6th Insurrection: The Wrath of Trump?"

It is not my intention to make light of an extremely serious subject but to use it as a strained metaphor. Forget the Red Wedding; forget "Kate, we have to go back;" forget Locutus of Borg; forget Thanos' snap; forget Walter White killing Hank; and forget "Who shot J.R.?" This week's hearing of the Select Committee was one of the most intense, riveting and emotionally wringing viewing I have ever seen. This was a drama on the level that most screenwriters only dream of achieving. At nearly 3 hours in length, the time flew by as I was once again absorbed in their findings. Some of the revelations, I had read about before, but hearing and seeing people who were there made it all the more powerful and real. It seemed to me that several times in course of the evening, Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS; the only disappointment of the night is not hearing his wonderfully melodious voice more and I wish him a speedy recovery), Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Representatives Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Elaine Luria (D-VA) were on the very edge of recommending that Trump be prosecuted for his crimes. It seemed so tantalizingly close. On the other hand was the true horror of seeing the glowering malignancy and the complete absence of basic humanity on Trump's face in the still photos and the January 7th taping. I regret to admit that I have not had such a visceral reaction of hate and loathing to one person since Osama bin Laden, and like bin Laden I wished for Trump's death to come sooner rather than later. But one thing I can swear by is that as much as I detest Trump, it will never hold a candle to the scorn and disgust that permeates every word that Cheney and Kinzinger say about The Former Guy.

One of the most powerfully gut-wrenching moments for me was when the concealed individual, who is still in fear for their life, was describing how Vice President Pence's Secret Service detail were relaying messages to the loved ones because they feared their deaths were imminent on January 6th. As you might recall, I lived in D.C. for almost 20 years, and if you live in the area you're bound to know—through very few degrees of separation—a member of the Secret Service. For me, it was the husband of a co-worker and an agent I briefly dated. I can try to fathom the great infinity of time stretching back to the Big Bang; I can try to grasp the intricate dance of quantum physics; I can glimpse hints at the utter weirdness of string theory; but when I consider the Secret Service, who go to work each day knowing that they can be called upon at a split second to throw themselves in the path of a bullet to protect the President or Vice President, that level of dedication I can't fathom (as much as I might admire it). For them to be so scared that they are conveying their thoughts to their loved ones is beyond emotionally devastating. Now, with the revelation that someone loyal to Trump in the Secret Service is possibly hiding evidence just—sorry, I can think of no other way to say it—sh**s on their dedication and that makes me nauseous. To paraphrase something you wrote earlier this week, everything that Trump touches is begrimed with crap.

After all that we have learned from these hearings, to think that the Committee is still receiving testimony and still has witnesses in their back pocket circles my metaphor back to the cliffhanger. Again, my intention is not to trivialize the hearings, but every good dramatist, whether it's for TV, film or a hearing, knows these two core principles: Always leave your audience wanting/needing more, and if you go for a second dip in the pool, it better make a bigger splash. The members of this Committee are smart enough and are deeply and personally concerned with this investigation that I can't see them coming back for future hearings that only retread what we already know. I think that they, at the very minimum, are gathering evidence even more damning to Trump—and that thought has me on the edge of my seat!

I have to finish with a piece of comedy. Good God, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) sure does scamper like a frightened little mouse! A run like that should be immortalized in song and the lyrics should go something like this: "When danger reared its ugly head/He bravely turned his tail and fled/Yes, Brave Sir Josh turned about/And gallantly he chickened out/Swiftly taking to his feet/He beat a very brave retreat/Bravest of the brave, Sir Josh!" But, in all fairness, he might not have been scurrying away from the violent mob. Instead, maybe he was chasing after his rapidly shrinking political aspirations! Scamper away, Little Hawley, scamper away!

R.S. in Tonawanda, NY, writes: In the hearing Thursday night, the jump-cut from the image of Josh Hawley to the video of him fleeing the rioters might have been a bit below the belt—after all, everyone fled or hid. But it was funny, and certainly no worse than the trolling that has come from MAGA Nation. It reminded me of the running gag in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where brave King Arthur sounded the retreat ("Run away!") when the going got tough.

V & Z respond: Two letters in, two references to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In other words, the readers are batting 1.000 so far.

A.S. in Black Mountain, NC, writes: P.N. in Austin asks "Do you think Josh Hawley will run for president?"

Oh, he's running. Sometimes to and sometimes fro.

C.J. in Arlington, VA, writes: As a Member of the National Guard intimately involved in what happened on 1/6, I can tell you unequivocally that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was not involved with the Guard's response. Neither was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) or acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.

Everyone thinks the National Guard is the "easy" button. But it takes several hours to get troops prepared and ready to go. Nothing was different that day.

However, the DC Guard is very different in that it is commanded by POTUS (instead of a Governor). The House's version of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act would change that. Something to ponder for your readers.

S.M. in Pepperell, MA, writes: Did Donald Trump want to march with the rioters to The Capitol on January 6? The missing Secret Service text messages from January 5 and 6 could only incriminate or exonerate Donald Trump on that point. If the missing messages exonerated Trump, they would have been leaked the moment requests were made to preserve them. Furthermore, Trump would be on social media right now asking for an investigation into the missing evidence that would have cleared his name. Perhaps he would even espouse conspiracies involving foreign governments, Antifa, or Jeff Bezos. The only conclusion is the missing texts would have been the smoking gun for investigators, cementing Trumps' intent.

L.E. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: I have read in a variety of places, and have also had some of my friends give a two-word explanation for what happened and is happening in the USSS: Praetorian Guard.

It's a chilling thought. It may be time to destroy their barracks. Perhaps they should return to their originally designated function (counterfeiting and other financial crimes) and have the Executive Branch create a new agency to fulfill the protective mission.

Legal Matters, Steve Bannon Edition

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: Yes, Steve Bannon's conviction for contempt of Congress is his first offense, owing to Donald Trump's having pardoned him before he was ever convicted for his prior offenses. However, federal sentencing guidelines, rightly or wrongly, do currently permit a judge to take into account "acquitted conduct" as an enhancing factor at sentencing. So Judge Carl Nichols could certainly justify giving him the higher end of his sentencing range.

S.C. in Eagan, MN, writes: Regarding the Bannon jury's deliberation time: I was on a jury once. We got in the jury room, someone said, "Well, does anybody think she's guilty?" Silence. We had to wait an hour until they got everybody back in the courtroom.

T.M. in High Rolls, NM, writes: Since Bannon has gone medieval... can they put him in a dungeon?

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: In 1978, New York Yankees manager Billy Martin said of right fielder Reggie Jackson and team owner George Steinbrenner: "The two men deserve each other. One's a born liar, the other's convicted." The same now can be said for Donald Trump.


H.E.B. in State College, PA, writes: In response to a question about the possibility of VP Kamala Harris becoming President, and Congress needing to approve a new VP, you wrote: "At the moment, if the vice presidency were to be vacant, then next in line would be Nancy Pelosi. Surely McConnell and the other Republicans would prefer some nice, bland VP like Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)."

But what if it's 2023, and someone like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)—or, Heaven forbid, Donald Trump—is Speaker of the House?

In that case, aren't you absolutely certain that McConnell would refuse any and all appointments of a new VP? Thus leaving the post absent and placing the GOP Speaker first in line in the order of succession.

I'm as certain of such McConnell-esque shenanigans as I am of Michigan crushing UCLA on the gridiron.

V & Z respond: The question was predicated on the assumption that Joe Biden's current bout of COVID proves fatal. If the calendar turned to 2023, and a Republican became Speaker, it's certainly possible McConnell might try to keep the vice presidency open. But we still doubt that he, and his entire conference would be willing to deal with the blowback from interfering with the presidential line of succession like that.

And with both UCLA and Ohio State on the schedule starting in 2024, Michigan will annually have two games they have no real hope of winning.

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: In response to the question about whether Mitch McConnell might block the VP nomination if Harris becomes president, you wrote that blocking a VP would be too visible and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) would support a filibuster carve-out. Maybe, but to me the whole question is based on a faulty assumption. As has been pointed out many times, a VP doesn't do much. It's largely ceremonial, bucket of piss, etc. The potential partisan rewards for blocking that SCOTUS appointment were enormous, and will pay dividends for decades. What would McConnell gain by blocking a VP?

If anything, Republicans should want an objectionable far-left VP, one that they can run against and use to paint the Democrats as out of touch. There is no partisan gain to be gained from blocking a VP appointment, and that's why it's nothing like blocking a SCOTUS appointment.

V & Z respond: Well, under current circumstances, a vacant vice presidency means no tiebreaker vote for the Democrats. That's not nothing.

R.H. in London, England, UK, writes: In reply to the question from J.O. of Columbia, "Do you think the U.S. would benefit from having something like Prime Minister's Question Time in the U.K.?", I can say as a U.K. resident and long-time spectator of PMQs that the answer is an unequivocal "No."

It's always been more theater than political substance, but under Boris Johnson, it's been nothing more than an exercise in seeing how quickly he can turn things round to boasting about the vaccine rollout and coming up with a new, childish nickname for Sir Keir Starmer.

There's a certain amount of discussion over here about how to either fix the current PMQ format or come up with something more modern and useful. The last thing any other country should be doing is seeking to copy it.

J.S. in Randolph, NJ, writes: You suggested that the Democrats will need to improve their messaging on any attempt to de-radicalize the federal judiciary. Agreed. I offer, simply, "Unpack the court!" It identifies why change is needed and it's short enough for a bumper sticker.

The Future of the Republican Party

W.K.D. in Houston, TX, writes: You wrote: "It is plausible that the activities of the 1/6 Committee, and any prosecutions that take place, will force meaningful numbers of non-extreme Republican voters to accept that their Party has a real problem, and that they simply must withhold their support until that problem is fixed."

This is, of course, preposterous. No such thing is going to happen. To explain why this might be, let us put the shoe on the other foot. What kind of deficiencies within the Democratic Party would it take for Democrats to "withhold their support"? The answer of course is nothing. There is nothing that would cause Democrats to withhold their support from the Democratic Party because we all understand that not showing up on Election Day is not too different from casting a ½ vote for the opposite party and there in nothing the Democrats could do ever that would induce their voters to (in essence) cast a ½ vote for the Republicans. Because Democrats hate Republicans and would rather cut off their right arms than cast a ½ vote for a Republican. And that is exactly how all Republicans feel about Democrats. So forget about it. It ain't happening.

J.C. in Washington, DC, writes: Previously, I sent you a message about ratf**king the Republican primary as a no-party voter in Arizona. I also described the experience as dystopian, voting absentee from DC.

Now that I'm back in my home state to visit family, it's even worse.

Every ad on TV is about who can move furthest to the right. On a positive note, my mother (a retired white mid-60's female suburbanite) and my father (a retired white blue-collar suburbanite) are both disgusted by the campaigns. They are both especially motivated by the Hobbs decision—something I found interesting.

This is all anecdotal, but the feelings I have gotten from even my most conservative of friends here is that we need more rational candidates.

I'll put a marker down right now as a resident of the Grand Canyon State—but (happily) working in DC—that Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) wins in a walk for Senate and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) is the next Governor after the general.

My impression is that folks here, on the whole, are sick of the "circus."

N.S. in Syracuse, NY, writes: When I started reading during the 2004 election I was a Republican male in my 20s. Now I'm a Democratic male in my 40s. Funny how things can change.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: This is an open message to all of our Republican reader friends. Please share this with your other Republican friends. I don't do social media. If anyone who reads this does and agrees with me, please put this in your own words and spread it around.

Republicans don't care about stopping inflation. They don't care that your rent has increased. They don't care about the price of groceries and gas. They don't care that you are melting in the heat or fleeing from yet another once-in-a century hurricane. They don't care about your privacy to make personal medical decisions, who or how you love, or how you present your gender to the world. They certainly don't care about you if you are not white or cis-male. They don't care if you are in a union or want to be in one. They don't care that there is still a potentially deadly virus going around. They don't care if they put judges on the bench who would fit right in three centuries ago.

They care about two things: Power and tax cuts for corporations and wealthy people. That's it. They have demonstrated time and time again that they will lie, cheat, steal and say whatever they think will fire up their base in order to win. Winning is the whole game for them. They have zero interest in improving the lives of average Americans. What they do have interest in is breaking democracy if they think that will keep them in power. They are doing that work openly and brazenly.

You folks helped to save this country from Donald Trump in 2020 by voting for President Biden even as you voted for Republicans downticket. But this work is not over. The cancer is still spreading. We need you for at least one more election (but probably in 2024 as well). We need you to break these gerrymanders and vote for Democrats up and down your ballot. Or, at the very least, we need you to research Republican candidates carefully and only vote for the ones who are pro-democracy (but it would be easier right now to simply vote for Democrats).

I'd be happy to have policy debates with you in the years to come. But right now, the house is still burning down and we still need your help to put it out.

J.N. in Columbus, OH, writes: You wrote: "Meanwhile, there is a very real possibility that some (many?) folks who say they are voting Republican for fiscal reasons aren't telling the whole truth, and are only saying that because it's a socially acceptable justification for their vote."

At this point every person claiming this is point blank a liar. The Republicans have been caught in so much fiscal shenanigans over the last 10 years that there is no voting for them for fiscal responsibility. I used to feel that way, but I paid attention and realized pretty quickly that the economy generally performed better in Democratic administrations, when the Democrats had firm control. Like after 2008. Like in the late 90's, after the attempt to neuter Clinton had failed. This poor run for the Biden administration is actually kind of unusual. We have to go back to Jimmy Carter to see something similar. And I agree that it's mostly due to uncontrollable things like COVID and the Russian war against Ukraine.

I wish the Republicans would get their act together, or they would just die already, so a real fiscally responsible party could come about. The Democrats may tax and spend, but the Republicans just borrow and spend. They're both spending, and usually on stuff that doesn't help that much.

All Politics Is Local

J.Z. in Santa Rosa, CA, writes: A lot of different things get called ratfu**cking. Sometimes it's the difference-maker (e.g., Claire McCaskill's win in Missouri in 2012). But it's hard to make the case that what Democrats did in Maryland "steer[ed] the nomination to Cox". Same goes for Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania. The Democratic Governors' Association spent very little money, when Cox and Mastriano were already the frontrunners, and neither race was close. "Team normal" Republicans are looking for an excuse as to why their base prefers the RWNJs the Party keeps nominating. You should avoid getting conned into adopting that framing (à la Politico).

V & Z respond: The DGA did spend $1.2 million, which is something like twenty times what Cox himself spent on advertising.

N.F. in Brussels, Belgium (originally from Frederick, MD), writes: As a native of MD-06, I would challenge your assessment that this is a likely Democratic hold. The district was intentionally redrawn this year to be highly competitive, and given the environment, it's a likely Republican flip.

In the 2010s, including the 2020 cycle, MD-06 was gerrymandered by the Democrats such that a densely populated portion of DC inner suburbs canceled out the rural western panhandle, allowing Democrats to carry and hold the seat. This is the seat to which David Trone was elected.

The court-mandated independent commission map for 2022 (supported by the moderate Republican governor) returns MD-06 to its pre-2010 character (which was solidly Republican), removing the inner DC suburbs and replacing them with more rural areas. In fact, the Trone resides in that inner suburban area that has been removed from the district.

Politically, you can think of the rural portions of MD-06 as a continuation of West Virginia. The wildcard is that the district also includes outer DC suburbs and exurbs that have seen huge population growth over the past 10 years, and which indeed now resemble similar areas across the country that are tilting more and more towards the Democrats.

By the way, despite being a partisan Democrat, I support the court's decision to overturn the embarrassing gerrymander in Maryland to something that is more reflective of the population.

C.S. in Waynesboro, PA, writes: I work in Washington County, MD, and live just north of it in Pennsylvania. Washington County is all in MD-06, as are all points west, and parts of Frederick County to the East. And I can attest that this area is custom-made for the insanity that is Del. Neil Parrott (R). People in this area (and in areas in Pennsylvania to the north and in the West Virginia panhandle to the south) are all-in on all of this: Trump, QAnon, Hunter Biden's nefarious laptop, Hillary Clinton being a child sex smuggler and any other crazy right-wing stuff you can come up with.

The saving grace of the district is that it extends to the D.C. suburbs. And while it's Newsmax crazy out here, there's not that many people. The folks in the D.C. suburbs way outnumber them.

I don't think Rep. David Trone (D-MD) is going to win by 20 points again, as I fear it's going to be a red wave year. But the D.C. Suburbs should be enough to help Trone with again, if by a lot closer margin. If not, and if Parrott actually somehow wins... well, God help us here. And God help the country as a whole even more, because that will mean a red tsunami of unprecedented size.

D.M. in Burnsville, MN, writes: "Twenty Counties Will Decide the Midterms" was an interesting read, and I was kind of surprised to find that I reside in one of those twenty counties.

Specifically, I live in Dakota County, MN. I have since 1984, and have seen significant demographic changes over the years. My home is in the northern part of the county and our immediate neighborhoods swing significantly Democratic. Our representative, Angie Craig (D-MN), lives nearby. But just a few years ago, Jason Lewis (a talk radio "personality" of the Rush Limbaugh stripe) served as our representative. Before that, we had John Kline (a Republican carpetbagger from Texas, installed during the Bush years). So we do seem to be trending Blue. Today, the Cook PVI appears to be about EVEN. Your description of our county as being brightest blue at the north and brightest red in the south is quite accurate.

Nevertheless, Dakota County is embedded in MN-02. The remainder of the Second District includes far more very red farmland than does our county. That redness is relieved only by a few towns, one of which is Northfield (famous for the demise of the James Gang, among other events). Northfield is home to not one, but two (count 'em) liberal arts colleges of high academic caliber (St. Olaf and Carleton), and thus home to significant numbers of liberal academics with population numbers, such that those votes really are valuable to the Democratic party here.

A.G. in Santa Clarita, CA, writes: As a resident of California's 27th district for over 5 years, I can say with absolute confidence Christy Smith (D) has a near zero chance to win an election. Despite Red-to-Blue saying otherwise, there has to be a point where a politician who has lost the same election two times won't win on her third attempt. The district has been 50/50 for a while but I can see the lean moving to the red team and, on top of that, the GOP incumbent is generally milquetoast. I really wish the Democrats had recruited a much stronger candidate for this race.


G.A. in Berkeley, CA, writes: You had an item about problems with current polling methods. The more interesting question is: Why do we need political polling at all? Understandably, candidates want polls so that they can direct their campaigns in the most beneficial direction—or pander most effectively. But honest polls, let alone "push polls," influence voters as well as querying them. In a better democracy, voters would inform themselves about current issues and the candidates' positions on them, and not be bent by a pollster's predictions about who will win.

A.L. in Highland Park, NJ, writes: It took 90 years for pollsters to understand what undergraduate physics majors get drilled into their heads by their third year: You cannot ignore systematic uncertainty (methodological error), and you cannot determine it by any sort of algorithm. Now after decades of committing the first sin (since we don't know how to determine this uncertainty we will just ignore it) the pollsters are going to commit the second (blow up the statistical uncertainty by x2 and that should cover it). Lab instructors wept.

The biggest way systematic uncertainty creeps into polls seems to be the likely voter model: a secret matrix of weights applied to the raw polling data to account for skewed samples. It always amazed me that a pollster based in New York could poll Florida, apply huge arbitrary corrections and report the result without taking any penalty for what is basically a gut feeling. One pollster that avoids this mess is Ann Selzer, who sticks to a dataset she understands (Iowa voters) and tends to be quite conservative with her error estimates.

Selzer is showing the way forward. Understand the people you are talking to. Take two pollsters at random: Rutgers-Eagleton and USC-Dornsife. Let's recognize that where the are located makes a difference. They would do best understanding and modeling the response of their local communities. Walk around, read the local rags, eat at the neighborhood greasy spoons, talk to people at Whole Foods and Dollar General. Get to know your data. The concerns and world-views are not identical. Hurricanes vs. forest fires. Too much water vs. too little. The likely voter model that comes out will be a lot more believable than "we used the exit polls from the previous election." Aggregators like can play a role by advocating and rewarding outfits that do this.

Ideally, there would be a way to calibrate the methodology by measuring where the answer is already known. Since one of you is an astrophysicist, think of the cosmic distance ladder where stellar parallax is used to calibrate Cepheid variables, which in turn are used to calibrate Type 1a supernovae standard candles.

I do not know where one would find a pre-determined sample of voters, but there is a 1947 Jimmy Stewart movie Magic Town that imagines just such a thing. Spoiler alert: They screw it up; classic observer-participant blunder.

M.M. in Bloomington, IL, writes: In 1960, I was in 8th grade in solidly Republican DuPage County (suburban Chicago). In a school-wide civics lesson, we participated in a mock presidential election on Election Day. I still remember the major arguments: Richard Nixon had served admirably in support of war hero Dwight Eisenhower, while John Kennedy was a Catholic who would be compelled to do what the Pope told him.

The results, announced over the speaker by our principal, were overwhelming: Nixon won in a landslide. We all knew how the election was going to turn out.

I still recall my shock as I delivered Chicago Tribune the next morning: "Kennedy Wins Presidency." I learned a valuable lesson about polling that day.

V & Z respond: At least it wasn't "Dewey Defeats Truman."

History Matters

T.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: You had a question about the ability of Congress and the courts to suspend states.

To the extent that power exists, it is found in the "republican form of government" or "guarantee" clause of Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution. That clause provides that the U.S. "shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government."

Prior to the Civil War, there was one major case involving this clause. That case, Luther vs. Borden, arose from the failure of Rhode Island to adopt a state constitution after the Declaration of Independence, with the state government still being based on the colonial charter. The U.S. Supreme Court, in an early expression of what is now referred to as the "political question doctrine" said that it was up to the political branches to decide if a state had a republican form of government. Another case involving the clause in the early twentieth century reached the same conclusion. So, effectively, the courts are out of the process, and it is up to Congress and the president.

During Reconstruction, when Congress assembled to meet in December 1865, the majority of each chamber relied, in part, on this clause to find that there was no valid government in the formerly treasonous states. This decision was controversial but was effectively sustained in the election of 1866 when Northern voters returned a majority (of the total potential membership) that insisted on conditions that had to be followed to reestablish a republican form of government in those states. This is key, because even if Northern representatives and senators who disagreed with the vote had walked out and tried to reconvene with the Southern representatives and senators, the Northern Congress still had a quorum and the walkout Congress would not have.

I am not sure that this is a viable option today. There are a handful of small states that elect a one-party delegation. Congress is so closely divided that, if the majority party started to suspend certain states (especially the larger states from which they would also have some members), the minority party could walk out and claim that there was no longer a quorum. Also, in the absence of something so clearly justifying the effort (like a civil war), it is unlikely that the voters would support the majority party in the next election.

C.L. in Boulder, CO , writes: You wrote: "But if [a state was put under martial law because it passed unconstitutional laws], then the Congress could make readmission contingent on, say, acceptance of legal abortion, limits on the Second Amendment, and protections for voting rights."

Given the current situation, I sort of expected a different scenario: "contingent on, say, outlawing abortion, eliminating limits on the Second Amendment and eliminating election drop boxes and absentee voting."

Inclusiveness and (Z)

E.C. in Denver, CO, writes: Wow, did C.W. in Carlsbad and J.M. in El Sobrante touch a nerve!

I have never, in 15 years of reading this site, seen an angrier, more defensive article, analysis, or response from (V) or (Z).

I found it very instructive how (Z) swore he didn't need to develop a thick skin because he was so very, very right in this matter and he doesn't care what his colleagues think and he's the true hero of the story—why, 25 years later, his former professor secretly agrees with him! Game, set, match.

(Z)'s 600 words, starting with the arrogant "I didn't even need to attend an inclusiveness seminar, you know" just illuminates how very much (Z) does need to understand what inclusiveness means, and how making sure straight, white, conservative, Judeo-Christian males—the most privileged, comfortable group in world history—aren't too uncomfortable by the civil rights and very existence of minorities is absolutely laughable.

(Z) really should have cooled off before writing the diatribe about how inclusive he is, and how anyone who disagrees with him must surely be wrong because he grew up in Orange County or something. This is why progress is so slow, because the ruling group, of which (Z) is a part, attacks inclusiveness with such ferocity, as if they were the victims because they're uncomfortable about "thermoses with rainbows"—itself an egregious, reductive straw man (was that really all that came out of the two-hour seminar?)

(Z) revealed his true self with that angry, defensive response to J.M. Luckily, he doesn't care "one whit" what people think, though!

P.K. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: As a gay professor who starts every day reading your site, I was taken aback by (Z)'s concerns that the "woke" academic left doesn't address representation and comfort of (white) working class and Christian students. First, my university and faculty colleagues consider students' socioeconomic and first-generation status (first in their family to attend college) alongside race and ethnicity as key considerations for inclusive classroom practices; even as a minority-serving institution, our focus is never solely on race. We also accommodate and address the realities of serving working-class students in our courses because most of our students are putting themselves through college. My experience is that universities are quite concerned with the socioeconomic diversity of their students and its impact on learning success.

Personally, when I was a student in the 1980s and 1990s, no professor promoted inclusivity and some were openly homophobic. Even closeted, I was a target of career-threatening prejudice (told a gay student would have no future in my field) and of harassment and physical assault by peers on the chance I might be gay. I was also white working-class and Christian, parts of my identity that did not suffer from under-representation or discrimination. My peers and I who were Christian could show our identity and find each other by wearing a cross and attending church; we who were working-class showed it through our accents and clothes. I belonged to these dominant groups and perspectives in every classroom, yet fundamentally was neither safe nor living a full or honest life; I graduated college knowing of perhaps three other LGBTQ students in a class of over 1,000, never having had a kiss or going on one date. Inclusivity is not making everyone feel "comfortable" despite their prejudices, it promotes equality of opportunity to engage in learning despite historical inequities. I sat in classrooms where the largest men would aggressively flick a limp-wristed "fag" sign at me if I raised my eyes up from the desk, to make sure I never spoke. Worrying if the "experience of Christian students is being reflected in the classroom" is indistinguishable to me from the "all lives matter" false equivalency. A Christian may be "uncomfortable" if gay students are told they can exist visibly, but being the only gay or minority student in a room impedes your learning and participation if you feel justifiably unsafe speaking up. Talk to enough people who have been physically assaulted for their orientation, gender or skin color, and the difference should become clear.

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines , writes: I think I'm in total agreement with (Z). I came to Occidental in the early 90s, just a few years earlier than (Z), and just down the road in the small town we shared. I came in as a sheltered-in-a-commune lower-class conservative-liberal Christian—strongly supporting social justice and the poor and thinking women shouldn't lead in church and should obey their husbands. I thankfully grew out of those ideas in my time there, and today I am a raging liberal follower of Christ—but I grew out of those ideas because Christians and non-Christians at the school were gentle with me (and extraordinarily patient) in convincing me that my ideas were... wrong. They did this through a free marketplace of ideas while affirming the values of Political Correctness—values I still hold today. Had I been approached with the hard sell that (Z) describes, I would have left the school, and never developed the liberal values I now hold.

I have been thinking on this subject lately. At this point I abhor the evangelical mindset. Some of these evangelicals are Christians. Evangelicals want to say that they have all of the truth, and everyone needs to conform to their idea of what is true, or else. It used to be that someone with a balanced psychology would say that, "It doesn't matter what other people think of me. I know who I am, and that's good enough—as long as they don't mistreat me (e.g. bathrooms, violence, etc.)." Now it seems to be that we must force everyone to use the pronouns and names we prefer, regardless of if it violates their intellectual integrity, regardless of trying to convince them of our position. (I say this as someone who has long had a preferred name that many don't use, which saddens me.) And it concerns me that we may be encouraging this great divide in our nation as two sides compete to see who can have their personal version of Gilead the quickest, while never doing the harder work of gentle persuasion.

D.R. in Puebla, Mexico, writes: Just wanted to write to congratulate (Z) for his response to J.M. in El Sobrante. As we would say back in Caracas, you gave them a really good sentada 'e culo. Those who wish to contribute to more inclusive and tolerant societies need to always take into account that progress is leaving a lot of people behind, and those people aren't necessarily bigoted—they just have fears that need to be addressed. As an LGBTQ+ and migrant person, I certainly know what I'm talking about.

A.A. in Branchport, NY, writes: It seems to me that J.M. in El Sobrante somehow missed the point. It seems from your description that he wasn't the only one.

I'd like you to know that I've been chuckling all day about how professional educators could attend a lecture titled "How to create a more inclusive classroom" and then proceed to ostracize a person for expressing an opinion. The mind boggles!

Inclusive Teaching, Part 1

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: At risk of blowing whatever anonymity I might retain here... I teach law courses that are heavily freighted with policy and politics. (From 1/20/17 through 1/19/21, the Trump Administration rewrote my lesson plans on a daily basis.) From the beginning of my teaching career I knew that I couldn't possibly be authentic if I tried to present a "neutral" viewpoint. So on day one I acknowledge that policy and political elements of my subjects, tell the students that I have a viewpoint which will quickly become obvious, remind them that they are entitled and indeed encouraged to express different viewpoints, and conclude that debating these issues will make the course better so long as students remain civil and respectful to me and to each other.

I have never had real fireworks fly in the classroom, but I do get spirited discussions. Some students have challenged fundamental assumptions in my subject areas ("why should we care about _______, anyway?"), leading to some of the best class sessions.

Still, disagreement is relatively rare in my classrooms, so I often wonder whether my openness about my own views squelches debate more than it encourages it. But something must be working. To my surprise, one of last semester's student evaluations included this comment: "In a world where non-left-wing views are becoming increasingly scrutinized in the universities, and where students with conservative points of view are increasingly being canceled, [you] stand out as being a staunch supporter of civil and open dialogue... Many professors speak their left-wing minds and make it nearly impossible for right-wing students to say their opinions. [You] understand that right-wing students are afraid of cancel culture, and so [you] argue both sides of the argument every time." The last sentence particularly surprised me—so much for self-awareness!

On the other hand, there are limits. A colleague once told me about a final exam submitted at another school, in which the student's entire answer was that the student "does not believe in" the institution that was the subject of the course. That exam earned a well-deserved F. The student was entitled to the belief, but not entitled to refuse to learn about the institution that exists.

None of this is too different from what you wrote in your response to A.P. in Kitchener. This is not rocket science. It's amazing how many people don't get it, though.

J.D. in Cold Spring, MN, writes: I recently retired after 40 years of teaching ethics courses—primarily business ethics, but also an occasional "Moral Problems" course. My biggest challenge of inclusivity was with students who believed that the contested issues we examined in class (e.g., economic justice, market capitalism, race and gender equality, abortion) were already settled. Most often, these students were politically and religiously conservative and treating the issues as even open to debate, let alone advocating for the opposing view (as many other students would do), could have a chilling effect. At times, you could see them withdrawing into silence and tuning out of the discussion.

My approach? As you suggest, I started the course and most classes by acknowledging controversy and welcoming diverse viewpoints. I would always try my best to model that in class by inviting comments, acknowledging the legitimacy of well-thought out conservative positions, encouraging debate, and trying to be even-handed in challenging and/or praising any well-reasoned viewpoint. I also found that a sense of humor and some intellectual humility would help keep the classroom relaxed and welcoming. If conservative students seemed reluctant to defend conservative viewpoints, I would play that role (putting the devil in devil's advocate!). I would also claim that my role was not to change their beliefs and conclusions, only to challenge their reasons.

But, with a tip of the hat to Socrates (the unexamined life and all that), I would also suggest that what they should believe is what is reasonable, and if their present conclusions were not supported by reason, they should always be willing to change their mind.

Obviously, the unspoken assumption of my teaching was that rationality, logic, and facts were legitimate arbiters of debate. Not sure how I would survive in the age of alternative facts, conspiracy theories, fake news, and everyone doing their "own research" on such things as immunology and virology. I may have retired just in time.


A.R. in St. Louis, MO, writes: I was amused by a turn of phrase in the letter from D.K. in Glenside. They wrote: "... I switched my major to history, a decision I have never looked back on."

I would suggest that not looking back is not a good trait for a historian!

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: I was doing a little shopping online this week and I came across these: For "only" $25, you can buy a box of 10 straws with the name "Trump" etched on them. Apparently, these are selling because they are being advertised on multiple websites.

You have written several times that Trump is grifting and scamming his supporters through his political movement, and this is a shining example. You can buy a box of 30 straws at Dollar Tree for $1.25.

Do you think the people buying this are just naive, or are they so crazy they are willing to let themselves be taken to the cleaners in support of Trump? This is an exercise for your readers to determine.

V & Z respond: Clearly, it's worth it to some people to suck like Trump does.

G.M. in Laurence Harbor, NJ, writes: If Bernie is going to go up against his own PAC (Our Revolution), he would be well cautioned to wear protective headgear:

S.S-L. in Norman, OK, writes: I always imagine the fake Barry Kripke voice anytime I hear Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). Different R's, but similarly whiny and grating:

E.M. in Milwaukee, WI, writes: Some time ago, a reader asked if (V) or (Z) play Wordle. (Z) does and displayed his overall statistics, explaining that his modal score of 4 results from a strategy that emphasizes being sure to solve the puzzle, rather than solving it quickly. I use the same strategy and have a series of three stock guesses that I almost always start with. They cover all six vowels and 9 high-likelihood consonants. (V) & (Z) wrote back and asked me to share them, so they are: TIRED, MOANS and LUCKY. For what it's worth, if a likely answer is not clear, I often follow with one of these: WHIPS, WHIFF, or BOUGH.

For those who enjoy puzzles of this type, I also suggest:

  • Quordle ( four wordles at the same time, with nine guesses to solve them all. It has a practice mode that you can play over and over again to your heart's content. It favors the more defensive guesses that (Z) and I use.

  • Nerdle ( In six tries, guess a ten-character integer arithmetic equation. For those mathematically-inclined, this is fun but generally not difficult unless several of the digits can be freely swapped. It helps to have good arithmetic skills and the very simplest algebraic logic can simplify the task. But you can get a long distance toward a solution simply by figuring out what symbols (10 digits, four operators) are present and choosing guesses that cut down the number of possible solutions. (Guesses must be valid equations.)

    I have two guesses that cover all but two symbols and third that covers the other two. With this, I usually solve the puzzle in four tries. I wonder if anyone has two guesses that cover all symbols.

    The site supports a number of game variants include "bi" (two at once) and mini (6 symbol equations). All are daily puzzles.

Both sites are currently free, but Nerdle does ask for donations unobtrusively.

V & Z respond: For the record, (Z)'s first three guesses are generally RENTS, CLAIM, and DOUGH.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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