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Saturday Q&A

Still a lot of Trump legal questions, of course, but not wall-to-wall this week.

Current Events

M.C. in Newton, MA, asks: I noticed a couple of mentions today of juries in potential criminal trials of Donald Trump. Is there any realistic chance of finding a jury capable of reaching a fair and unbiased verdict in such a trial? I imagine that his supporters would never convict regardless of the evidence ("I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters"), and many of his opponents likewise wouldn't acquit.

V & Z answer: We would guess this isn't as big a problem as it seems. First, lawyers and judges are pretty good at identifying and eliminating jurors who do not plan to listen to the evidence. Second, a number of Trump flunkies—Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, etc.—have gone on trial and been convicted, and after the trial there have been jurors who said, in effect, "I'm a Trump supporter, but the evidence was clear."

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, asks: If Donald Trump can't find a lawyer to represent him in either a state (say, Georgia) or federal criminal case against him, would the court have to assign him a public defender? The Miranda warning includes the phrase "If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you," but what happens if you can afford a lawyer but no lawyer is willing to take your case?

V & Z answer: In rare circumstances, it does happen that a court appoints counsel for someone because that's the only way to get someone to do the job. However, it would likely be a private practice attorney rather than a public defender.

B.H. in Southborough, MA, asks: Please fire up the crystal ball using extra PYM particles. In the meal that is Donald Trump's prosecution, we have had appetizer after appetizer after appetizer. When will we get to the entrée, which, to be precise, is defined as some tangible loss for Dear Leader? Examples would be either being unable to run in 2024, some substantial financial penalty, or, ideally, loss of freedom. I don't think another headline entitled "Trump has a bad legal week" will cut it anymore.

There are already online odds to this effect that predict he won't be even indicted in 2022. For example, BetOnline has The Donald's odds of being indicted before 2023 at No: -220, Yes: +155 (this translates into a roughly 65% chance that he won't be indicted and a 35% chance that he will). Also, Rudy's odds of being indicted in 2022 are at -125 (55% chance), all other cronies in Trump's sphere are at positive odds (less than 50% chance).

What say you?

V & Z answer: First of all, betting odds have proven to be less than reliable when it comes to Trump. In that arena, as in so many others, he inspires people to do irrational things.

Second, we believe an indictment in Georgia is almost inevitable, and that a federal indictment is almost as likely. If you imagine that it's 80% he'll be popped in the former, and 70% for the latter (and we think both of those figures are low), then his chances of avoiding both indictments are, roughly speaking, just 6%.

Meanwhile, the various prosecutorial authorities are working with an informal and ill-defined, but nonetheless very real, deadline. They won't want to indict in 2024, for fear of interfering with the political process, and also because Trump would use his candidacy/potential candidacy as an excuse for all manner of delays.

In short, we think that the odds of an indictment or other tangible loss are north of 90%, and that this will come to fruition sometime in the next year or so, probably by mid-2023.

L.J.D. in Orlando, FL, asks: I was reading your item about Trump possibly running for President while under indictment and I got the ball rolling in my head about a completely wild, but very possible scenario that could play out. Say Trump is indicted, tried, and convicted for his role in the January 6 insurrection and is no longer qualified to run for President. I think that this wouldn't stop him from declaring he is running. Next, suppose the GOP, since they are still overwhelmingly all-in on Trump, decides it will not hold primaries and declares Trump as their nominee. I know it wouldn't be smart, politically, but that seems to be par for the course these days in the GOP. It also could happen in reverse, where the GOP declares Trump is their nominee, then Trump is indicted. But what would happen if a party nominated someone that is not qualified to be President?

V & Z answer: Political parties are free to nominate whomever they wish as their standard-bearer. The Republicans could nominate Jesus for president, or Mickey Mouse, or even a Christ/Mouse ticket, if they so desired.

However, many states will not allow ineligible candidates to be on the ballot. Sometimes, the rules are spelled out in state law; sometimes the matter is left to the judgment of the state secretary of state (or equivalent officeholder). This is entirely legal, and has been affirmed by the Supreme Court on more than one occasion.

If we imagine that Trump somehow overcomes all of these problems, and still gets elected, it still wouldn't matter. Under your stated condition that he's been found guilty of fomenting insurrection, and so is ineligible under the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment, then he would not be able to assume the presidency. In that case, on January 20, 2025, Trump's running mate would automatically succeed to the presidency. Anyone in the line of succession who is ineligible gets skipped, and that applies to the person at the front of the line just as much as it applies to the person who is sixteenth in line.

M.V. in San Francisco, CA , asks: Access to Top Secret information is, by definition, restricted to a very small number of people, and I assume National Archive employees don't have the level of clearance required to access that information. So, what prevents a rogue staffer from reading things he or she is not supposed to?

V & Z answer: You have actually made two assumptions that are not correct. First, Top Secret clearance isn't that rare. In fact, that club includes well over 1 million Americans.

Second, as you can probably now guess, the NARA employees who handle and have access to these documents do have Top Secret clearance. On multiple occasions, (Z) has been interviewed by FBI officials when a former student of his went to work for NARA. They asked a lot of questions that he could not possibly answer, like "Has [student X] ever been addicted to drugs?" or "Does [student X] have loyalty to a foreign government?"

J.K. in Silverdale, WA, asks: Why does Donald Trump have multiple passports?

V & Z answer: Full details have not been made public, but we do know he had three passports that ended up in FBI hands, at least one of which was expired.

Undoubtedly, one of these is his regular, blue-cover tourist passport, just like the one that tens of millions of Americans also have.

It is likely that a second one is his black-cover diplomatic passport. These are granted to anyone who is conducting diplomatic missions on behalf of the United States. Former presidents are allowed to keep their diplomatic passports after leaving office, but they are only good for one year after their term ends. So, this was presumably the expired passport that was taken by the FBI.

The nature of the third passport is less clear. It might have been a maroon-cover official passport. These are granted to people who are working on behalf of the U.S. government abroad, but not in a diplomatic capacity (e.g., military contractors). It is not standard practice for a president to have both a diplomatic and an official passport, but with Trump, you never know. He enjoys talismans that remind him of how powerful he is/was. It's also possible, though not likely, that Trump has dual citizenship with some other country, and the third passport was connected to that. The third possibility is that he has both a current and an expired tourist passport.

M.C. in Philadelphia, PA, asks: Do you think TFG is reading/visiting your website?

V & Z answer: No. First, he doesn't like to read, particularly thousands of words a day. Second, if he was reading, he surely would have fired off an angry e-mail or two by now, and we've never gotten anything that reads like the kind of complaint he would make.

Further, we just ran a Flesch-Kincaid test on the site, and got this result:

Your page ( has an average reading ease of about 62.7 of 100. It should be easily understood by 14 to 15 year olds.

So, even if Trump stumbled onto the site, he wouldn't be able to understand it.

M.R. in Atlanta, GA, (formerly Acton, MA) asks: When I think I have something really important to say, I'll put it in my Yom Kippur sermon (maximum attendance) rather than on, say, the Shabbat before secular New Year's Eve (somewhat, shall we say, lower attendance). As they say, timing is everything.

I share this because I'm completely baffled by the Biden Administration's timing on the signing ceremony for the "Inflation Reduction Act." Because they did it on the same day that the primary election took place in Wyoming, they were relegated to second-place in Wednesday's news coverage behind Rep. Liz Cheney's (R-WY) loss. My question: What in the world were they thinking? Everyone in the Western Hemisphere knew she would lose that race. This was the biggest moment of Biden's term. Signing the bill on that particular Tuesday ensured that this would be the only time a major bill signing would be overshadowed by a Wyoming House primary election. Aren't there people whose job it is to think about these things? Were they all fired?

V & Z answer: We'll point out a few things. First, Biden only has so many days to sign the legislation. And the scheduling has to be worked out with the various key attendees at the ceremony (e.g., Sen. Joe Manchin, D-VA). So, Tuesday may have been the only day that was viable.

Second, when Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had their big breakthrough and announced as much, shortly after the CHIPS Act passed, it was big news. When the Inflation Reduction Act passed the Senate, it was big news. When it passed the House, it was big news. And the Democrats are going to remind voters about the bill, over and over, during this campaign cycle. Point is, we don't think the signing ceremony is really all that significant. Americans are going to know about the bill.

Third, and finally, there tends to be big news almost every day. If it's not the Wyoming election, it's the Trump affidavit, or the latest setback for Rudy Giuliani/Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), or something else. It's not easy to have a news cycle all to yourself, unless the FBI searches your house and finds classified documents there.

S.W. in New York, NY, asks: In years past, I always remember the Vice President standing on the stage when the President was signing (or speaking of) an important piece of legislation. Yesterday, President Biden signed the IRA bill, but I did not see VP Harris anywhere near him. She may have been in the room but she certainly wasn't on the stage. She cast the deciding vote in the Senate. Do you know anything that could enlighten us on their relationship or lack thereof?

V & Z answer: Harris was on vacation this week, first in California and then in Hawaii. You can read into this what you will, but we don't think it means much of anything. There are lots of high-profile ceremonies, and photo-ops, and speeches, and meetings and the like, and if a person goes on vacation, they're going to miss some of them.

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, asks: The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act is supposed to bring big changes to health care, the climate crisis, and federal taxes and revenue, but many of its features won't produce results for quite a while. If the Republicans regain the trifecta in Washington they'll repeal it pronto. Lots of folks are probably scheming right now to line up legal challenges so that the Supreme Court can overturn as much of it as possible. How much real difference will it actually make?

V & Z answer: Time will tell, but it is likely to have a pretty big impact.

We think you're a bit too confident about the possibility of a repeal. Joe Biden will be in office until January 2025, at the very least, by which time a fair chunk of the money will already be spent. Further, Republicans promised to repeal Obamacare, and it's still in effect more than a decade later. There are a lot of Republican senators who would not be excited, for example, to tell their constituents that it's time for them to start paying more for prescription drugs again.

We also think you're going a bit far in assuming Supreme Court interference. Congress has the power of the purse. This was a very straightforward exercise of that power. We don't see a legal foothold for conservatives here.

E.S. in Maine, NY, asks: As you know, the right-wing scaremongers are claiming that 87,000 AR-15-carrying IRS agents are ready to raid trailer parks all across America and confiscate all the 60" TVs and 2003 pickup trucks.

So, what percentage of various law enforcement agencies' employees are armed?

V & Z answer: Going into state-level law enforcement would take a great deal of time and space, so we'll focus on the two federal agencies that are most germane to this question. The FBI employs about 35,000 people, of which about 8,000 are special agents. By law, special agents must carry a gun while on duty. So, about 22.8% of FBI employees are armed.

The IRS employs a considerably larger number of people than the FBI does—about 80,000 of them. However, the only armed IRS staffers are members of the Criminal Investigation Division, which has about 2,000 agents. So, about 2.5% of IRS employees are armed. Which means that, as you undoubtedly suspected, the right-wing talking point is nonsense.

C.P. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: As this week marked the 1-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, do you think Joe Biden would have withdrawn from Afghanistan on his own if TFG hadn't forced his hand with the Taliban deal?

V & Z answer: Yes. Afghanistan had clearly turned into a quagmire where no further forward progress was being made. And Biden has something that no president since Jimmy Carter has had: a child who served in the military. In other words, the President has an awareness of, and a sensitivity to, the human costs of an unending and unproductive occupation. And it is awareness of a sort that his six immediate predecessors cannot share. So, he was the obvious candidate to bring that mess to an end.

R.M.S in Lebanon, CT, asks: When the Biden administration pulled the U.S. out of Afghanistan last August, you published a lot of negative commentary about how it was done. You were both mildly critical of it of yourselves but did not react with the fury that many other commentators did. I believed then, and now, that the withdrawal was the correct decision. The Biden administration played a bad hand well and stopped trying to turn lead into gold.

It was clear to me by the end of the Bush administration that the majority of Afghans are anti-American and didn't have much regard for the US-backed government. I thought we should have left the country in 2011 after we killed Osama bin Laden. Holding bin Laden and his fellow criminals accountable for 9/11 was the reason we invaded the country in the first place.

I think President Biden realized, for good reason, that Afghanistan wasn't a threat to the security of the U.S. or our allies. Leaving the country has freed time and resources to be spent on bigger threats. He knew Russia and China are much more dangerous and that we should be focused on them.

Fast forward to August 2022. Russia has invaded Ukraine and is trying to kill or imprison its democratically elected leaders. They are trying to stamp out an independent Ukrainian culture and make it impossible to be Ukrainian.

Chinese president Xi Jinping has basically declared himself president for life. China has reacted with apocalyptic fury at Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) show of solidarity with Taiwan. They have become increasingly menacing towards Taiwan and recently fired ballistic missiles over the island. They're trying to send a message that they could reduce the island to ashes if they want to.

Considering what has happened in the past year, do you still think the withdrawal of Afghanistan was bad for the U.S.?

V & Z answer: We think you may be slightly misremembering our comments on that situation. Our consistent position was that Biden was left with a lot of bad options and he chose the least bad of the bunch. A question we raised several times, and one that we did not see the critics addressing, was: "What better option did Biden overlook?"

Consistent with this, a year later, we still think Biden largely made the best he could of a bad situation. It would have been better if he'd accepted that the U.S.-backed government was a lost cause, as opposed to hoping it might survive. But even that was a justifiable choice, even if it proved to be the wrong one.


T.W. in Norfolk, England, UK, asks: The first thing that came to mind, when I read your paragraph about Donald Trump's plan to move the homeless out of cities and into tents was the phrase "concentration camp." Has anybody used this description about such plans yet? If not, why not? Because that's what they clearly are. And the mere thought is terrifying. He should be hammered with it so hard that even Jared and Ivanka publicly disown him.

V & Z answer: Well, thanks to the Nazis, "concentration camp" is synonymous with "death camp." So, that's not quite right, at least not anymore (though it would have been correct from 1895-1935 or so, when "concentration camp" just meant "large, hastily constructed prison camp").

However, (Z) has had multiple conversations with anti-homeless zealots that went something like this:

(Z): What would you like the government to do? Raise taxes and invest in housing, healthcare, drug addition treatment, etc.? (Answer: No.)

(Z): Would you like the government to put all homeless people in prison, which costs far more per capita than humane assistance? (Answer: No.)

(Z): Well, then you're left with the status quo, or else rounding up all the homeless people and forcing them to live in camps outside of town. (Answer: Actually, that sounds pretty good).

(Z): Congratulations, you just re-created Japanese internment. One of the most grievous injustices in American history.

Whether anyone else has drawn this parallel, we do not know. But it's clearly salient, in our view. Of course, if the government said: "We have a camp with tents out of town where you will get free food every day and free medical care. You are welcome to move there if you like but if is not mandatory" that would be completely different.

B.K. in Dallas, TX, asks: How badly does Liz Cheney want to stop Trump? Could she do the same thing Ross Perot, Jill Stein or Ralph Nader did, in order to stop Trump? Do you think she would?

V & Z answer: We've written this a few times, but we don't think a third-party run by Cheney would take many votes from Trump. Certainly, she has no hope of catching fire the way Ross Perot did. He was able to claim that he represented a "third way," and to attract all the people who were disenchanted with the two major parties. But Cheney, in the end, is a Republican, even if she's one who doesn't like Donald Trump. She's not going to get lots of independents and despondent Democrats on board.

We do see one way she could affect the presidential election, although it's pretty crazy. How about Biden-Cheney 2024? A big risk for Democrats, given Biden's age and Cheney's political leanings. But it would make a pretty powerful statement. And it would be pretty much the exact same thing Abraham Lincoln did in 1864, picking an apostate from the other party as his running mate in order to send the message that national unity was more important than partisan allegiance. Lincoln even changed the name of the Republican Party temporarily, to the National Union Party.

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, asks: Under Wyoming's sore loser law, couldn't Liz Cheney run again in the general election as a member of a third party or as a write-in?

V & Z answer: We looked up the actual text of the law, and here is what it says:

An unsuccessful candidate for office at a primary election, whose name is printed on any party ballot, may not seek nomination by petition for the same office at the next general election.

Wyoming requires a petition from independent candidates and also from write-in candidates, so this law rules out both of those options for Cheney this year. It does seem to leave open the possibility of running as the nominee of a third party. However, it does not appear that any third parties qualified for the ballot.

M.U. in Seattle, WA, asks: Can you explain the apparent polling disparity between candidates for governor and the Senate in swing states? The Republican gubernatorial candidates, i.e., the craziest of the crazies, seem to be trailing their opponents pretty closely, as opposed to their senatorial counterparts, who are lagging far behind. If someone is inclined to like and vote for, say, Kari Lake (R) in Arizona, I can't imagine that person is also inclined to say, "But, sure, I'll vote for the Democrat in the other race."

V & Z answer: Some of the Republicans running for governor are pretty far-right, but they are all pretty clearly genuine members of the Party. For many voters, that's all it takes.

The Senate candidates, by contrast, are largely phonies. Is anyone certain that Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker are actually Republicans? Or did they just choose the more viable route to elective office? Blake Masters and J.D. Vance are trying to lay claim to blue-collar bona fides that they don't have. Remember, the main things the base loves about Trump are that he's "real" and he "speaks truth." Neither is actually true of the former president, but his base thinks they are.

Also, the Senate candidates have an unusual amount of baggage of various sorts. In Oz's case, it's carpetbaggage. In Masters' case, he's been bought and paid for by a Silicon Valley billionaire. In Walker's case, he's got so many issues the list is longer than the one Santa carries around at Christmas.

You're right that there aren't many people that will vote, say, Kari Lake and Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) in Arizona. But that's not the only option. Someone who does not like Masters can vote third party, or write someone in, or skip that line on the ballot. And we can certainly imagine people who would be OK with Lake, but who would be unwilling to support Masters.

S.P. in Harrisburg, PA, asks: If Robert Francis O'Rourke loses the bid for Texas governor, do you foresee him having a political future? The Democratic party had considerable hopes for him just a few years ago.

V & Z answer: He's not dead, even if he doesn't defeat Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX). O'Rourke is still young, charismatic, and a tireless campaigner.

O'Rourke has the same not-his-fault problem that Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has: He comes from a state that does not currently elect Democrats to statewide office. Indeed, it would not surprise us if a Cabinet post of some sort was in O'Rourke's future.

B.L. in Hudson, NY, asks: I've been wanting to ask this for a while, but the timing never seems right as he's never the focus of your posts. But his name did come up last week, so maybe I'll get lucky. Why do you guys always put an exclamation point after Jeb Bush's name? Just because of his thrilling personality, or...?

V & Z answer: Because, in a desperate attempt to push back against Donald Trump's claims that Bush was low-energy, his campaign engaged in some clumsy rebranding, trying to sell him to voters as Jeb! See:

Bush supporters hold a Jeb! sign and wear a 
Jeb! sticker.

And for what it is worth, the former Florida governor's name isn't Jeb. His real name is John Ellis Bush. His initials are JEB, normally written in capitals.


D.C. in Brentwood, CA, asks: In Australia, when I studied law, I learned that an appeal could only be made if there were a mistake of law, not a mistake of fact, and that appeals are not new trials on the merits. It seems that Donald Trump, and others, appeal their lost cases up through every level of every court, and that the courts let them, which drags out an ultimate decision for years. Is it explicitly different over here?

V & Z answer: No, it's the same in the U.S. However, Donald Trump and his lawyers are very good at coming up with a long laundry list of alleged mistakes of law. Further, while the average appeal takes 6 months to be heard, Trump and his lawyers are also very good at muddying the waters and dragging things out with wild and crazy motions and requests for delays.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, asks: D.E. in Lancaster reminded me about the long-running attempt by the House Ways and Means Committee to acquire TFG's tax returns. This has been going on for how many years in spite of the fact that the law is crystal clear in this case? Here is my real question: Is there no limit to the number of appeals that are available? Whatever happened to swift justice? It seems unfair that a party can appeal a case, apparently to the end of time, just because we can afford to.

V & Z answer: In the federal system, you can get your case before a court four times. There's the circuit court, to start. Next is the court of appeals, where you get a three-judge panel. Then, you can ask for (and sometimes get) a second hearing from the court of appeals where all of the justices on the court (usually a dozen or so) gather en banc. Finally, there's the Supreme Court.

Up to four hearings, at 6+ months per (see above), adds up to a lot of time.

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, asks: What happens to the IRS the next time there is a Republican administration? Can a Republican president take away the billions of dollars in funding provided to the IRS from the Inflation Reduction Act with an executive order, or does it have to come from Congress? How quickly can that be done?

V & Z answer: What you are describing is called "impoundment," and it was a favorite tactic of Richard Nixon. For that reason, Congress passed the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, which made impoundment illegal.

That means that only Congress can yank the IRS' new funding. A Republican president could, however, issue an executive order that would change the IRS' approach to tax cheats. For example, "only pursue people who file returns created with off-the-shelf software." This would have the effect of shifting enforcement away from rich people toward middle-class people without saying it explicitly.

A.B. in Westport, CT, asks: Has anyone ever considered an amendment that would limit presidential candidates to current or former state governors? Let's try them out managing a state first! At least we'd have some insight into their policies and priorities. And how they manage people and budgets.

V & Z answer: We can find no evidence anyone ever proposed such an amendment. However, we will point out that for an amendment to be adopted, it has to achieve overwhelming support. And we don't think an amendment like this could do so after the historians and political scientists pointed out that such a rule would have disqualified George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy while maintaining the eligibility of Warren Harding, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush.

E.R. in Arden, DE, asks: If the Keystone State elects Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) to the U.S. Senate, will he have to buy a new wardrobe? What is the Senate dress code?

V & Z answer: To appear on the floor of the Senate, a member must wear a coat and tie. Other than that, anything goes. Fetterman wore a suit when he was inaugurated as lieutenant governor, so he is already covered. Also, the Congressional cloakroom has loaners, should it come to that. Though, as we think about it, they might not have a loaner that fits someone who is 6'9" and weighs north of 260 pounds. In addition, senators earn $14,500/mo, so if he is short on cash, he could probably get a short-term loan and pay it back after he gets his first paycheck.


T.R. in Hillsborough NH, asks: I have heard of the Federalist Society and its influence on recent Supreme Court justice nominations, but until your item concerning the right-wing response to the Mar-a-Lago search, I was not aware of a media site named "the Federalist."

I have done some reading on the Federalist Party and the Federalist Papers, and I'm wondering whether (or why) either or both of these were inspirations for the aforementioned modern organizations. Some aspects of the Party and the Papers would seem to appeal to today's conservatives, but other aspects seem to contradict modern right-wing thinking, as I understand it.

Would you opine on why the "Federalist" name might have been appealing to the society, the media outlet, or both?

V & Z answer: The Federalist Papers were not arguing for a political ideology, per se, as much as a system of government (a federal system as opposed to a confederation).

This being the case, the Federalist Society and The Federalist are both referencing the Federalist Party. The ideology of the Federalist Party has relatively little to do with the ideology of the modern far-right. However, claiming the name "Federalist" allows both the society and the website to claim a (phony) lineage to America's first conservative political party and to associate themselves with George Washington.

S.N. in Santa Clara, CA, asks: If someone had told you 30-40 years ago that democracy would be under attack in 2022, would you have believed them? If so, which party would you have most expected to be leading the attack?

V & Z answer: Sure, that was certainly plausible. And if someone had asked for a prediction in 1985 or so, then the Republican Party was the obvious choice to be leading the attack. First, the Republicans have been the more radical party since at least the Reagan years. Second, the Republicans have been the smaller party since at least the Lyndon Johnson years, and minority parties are more likely to resort to extreme measures. Third, and most importantly, the Republicans have been the party of the white South since the 1960s. And you'll find that most of the really bad extremism in U.S. history began with white Southerners.

K.P. in Brooklyn, NY, asks: You wrote: "On the other hand, spelling and capitalization were not yet standardized in 1776, so the Founders had an excuse for their questionable grammar choices."

I did not know that. When did they become standardized? And can you explain the effort to do so?

V & Z answer: The spread of both literacy and of mass-printed materials in the early 19th century created pressure for standardization. And the fellow who stepped into that gap, and made addressing it his life's work, was Noah Webster. A schoolteacher and Yale graduate, he spent nearly 40 years between 1806 and his death in 1843 writing and revising textbooks for schoolchildren and compiling the first proper dictionary of American English.

Webster's main goal here was to improve the education of American students, which he found to be wanting. However, there was also a strong political undercurrent to his work. He wanted to create a clear distinction between American English and British English, so as to promote a unique American culture. He also wanted to reduce reliance on Greek and Latin words and grammar, as he found "classics" to be elitist, and he regarded the U.S. as fundamentally republican and egalitarian.

As a bonus, here is the bit of trivia that historians generally use to illustrate the irregularity of American spelling before Webster came along. In his diary of the Lewis & Clark expedition (1804-06), Meriweather Lewis somehow managed to spell "Sioux" 26 different ways.

J.K. in Bremen, Germany, asks: There are motion pictures about the Mafia, Word War II, the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, the Civil War and even about things as specific as prohibition in the 1920s, the McCarthy era, Wall Street and the conquest of the American West.

However, to the best of my knowledge, there is no large body of work about nuclear catastrophes (like Chernobyl), or the political polarization pioneered by Newt Gingrich, or the beginning of the scientific era in the late baroque. It comes as no surprise that there are no motion pictures about George H.W. Bush (who remembers him?). In the last year of George W. Bush's presidency, I thought there would be many films about him (he was the first president to witness a motion picture about himself while in office), but today the man and his deeds seem to offer no further inspiration.

So, my question is: Will Donald J. Trump inspire a subgenre of motion pictures? And the followup: If so, has he secured the copyright on this subgenre?

V & Z answer: We'll start with the second question. A person cannot copyright their own life story. They can, in theory, sue a filmmaker for defamation, or for invasion of privacy, or for a few other things. To avoid this nuisance, a film's producers will sometimes "purchase" the rights to someone's story. But that's basically a bribe, and is not legally necessary.

As to Trump films, there may be one or two, as there were with W., but we don't think there will be many. First of all, a person's life story is a series of ups and downs, highs and lows. By contrast, basic film structure requires the identification of a problem or crisis, followed by growing tension, and then a climax and resolution. The two patterns (real life vs. film plot) are very different, which is why biopics are hard to pull off, and there are nine bad ones for every one good one.

Second, a Donald Trump film would run into the same basic problem that keeps the number of Civil War films pretty low. If you make a Civil War film that it at all sympathetic to the Confederacy, then Northerners and liberals are outraged. If you make a Civil War film that is at all critical of the Confederacy, then Southerners and conservatives are outraged. It is instructive that in the two most successful Civil War films of the last 40 years (Glory and Lincoln), the bad guys are... pigheaded Northern politicians and bureaucrats.

Anyhow, a flattering-to-Trump film would anger half the country. A critical-of-Trump film would anger the other half of the country. It's not a great business move to release a film that is guaranteed to be unacceptable to half of your potential customers. Also on that point, movie studios are increasingly dependent on foreign box office revenue. And just about nobody outside the U.S. will want to see a Trump film.


S.W. in New York, NY, asks: I'm puzzled. Electric vehicles are supposed to be great for the environment, but how does the industry destroy the batteries of nonfunctional EVs? Is there a way to destroy old batteries that is environmentally correct?

V & Z answer: The batteries are a real environmental problem, both the mining that is required to harvest the necessary materials and then dealing with them at the end of their useful lives. It is possible to recycle them sometimes, and to dispose of them safely otherwise, but the process is tricky and can release some very problematic stuff into the air and the ground if not done properly.

For this reason, and a few others, EVs are not currently that much better for the environment than modern, efficient gasoline vehicles. However, gasoline vehicles are now about as environmentally friendly as they can plausibly be, while EVs have much potential to become more eco-friendly as the battery issues are improved upon, and electricity generation and delivery becomes more efficient. So, buying an EV right now isn't so much investing in the environment today as it is investing in progress that will hopefully bear fruit tomorrow.

J.B. in Aarhus, Denmark, asks: I know that one of you is big Angels fan, and even though I am a diehard Red Sox fan, I like to wear my LA Angels hat sometimes, especially on the golf course. It is the bright red one, with the top of the A encircled by a halo. My wife has one also (which we picked up the last time we were in Anaheim). We really like these hats.

We worry though, even here in Europe, that we will be mistaken for MAGA-nuts. So what is your advice: should we keep wearing them, or should we pack them away until the whole MAGA-scene disappears into history?

V & Z answer: Keep wearing them. Don't allow Trump to own the color red. After all, he's already locked up orange.

R.T. in Arlington, TX, asks: When will the 2022 Senate map go live with current polling data?

V & Z answer: The traditional kickoff date for the general election is Labor Day. There is one state where the candidates aren't de facto set yet (New Hampshire) and the primary isn't until Sept. 13. We will probably go with the Republican front runner, Don Bolduc, for the time being.

One of the problems with starting earlier is that we are fairly picky about which pollsters to include. A lot of the polls are done by companies that are actually political consultants whose goal is to help their cients win elections. We don't trust these polls for a microsecond since there is nothing to prevent them from simply making up whatever numbers they think will help their clients. Rejecting all of these greatly reduces the number of polls we are willing to use. Some other pollsters have terrible track records or put their thumbs on the scale (yes, Rasmussen, we mean you). So we also won't use pollsters that FiveThirtyEight has given a grade lower than C- based on its past polls. So far in 2022, we have 61 polls from neutral entities, like colleges, SurveyUSA, Mason-Dixon, etc. This isn't a lot. And 19 states haven't been polled at all yet. Typically polling gets serious after Labor Day.

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