Donald Trump continues to receive a fair bit of attention. We're never going to have a Trump-free week, are we?
E.W. in New Orleans, LA, writes: The U.S. military has always been strangely fickle about forgiveness and punishment. In Vietnam, drug use was often overlooked, but being gay brought swift and severe punishment. In my active years I witnessed people guilty of negligent discharges, causing fatal accidents, and adultery whose careers were allowed to continue. The only seemingly unforgivable crimes were drunk driving and... mishandling classified material. If you brought your cell phone into the SCIF or brought "homework" with you to a coffee shop, you were finished. And those were probably mistakes. Actual ill intent would land you in prison faster than you could say "covefe."
C.S. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: A lifetime ago, my buddies and I made patrols on nuclear submarines. The crew of the radio room where we worked had Top Secret and SCI security clearances (along with others). The door of that room had a combination lock and restricted access. Inside the radio room was various equipment and more than several safes. The vaults and the room generally contained materials "..unauthorized disclosure [of which] could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security," the military's definition of Top Secret.
It's possible that someone somewhere might question the classification of the equipment and documents. Although I never heard even a hint of disagreement about security classifications, everything had to be handled precisely, regardless of opinions. Access protocols involved a need-to-know, clearances, signature trails, logging, inventories, destruction records and archival logs and records. This was very serious stuff requiring considerable care. Always.
If someone responsible for safeguarding our nation's security discards protocols and treats sensitive documents in a sloppy or cavalier manner, there are two possible reasons: (1) that person views national security as trivial or (2) that person holds my shipmates, others in the military, and me in contempt.
Might there be another explanation? Was our commitment and dedication to safeguarding Top Secret SCI information silly, and undertaken simply for entertainment purposes? It sure didn't feel like what we did was nuclear powered kabuki. And it feels especially wrong that someone who avoided military service because of bone spurs has so much disdain for those working tirelessly to protect our country. Though We shouldn't be surprised. That bone-spur guy called those in the military suckers for serving.
This brings me to Bruce Springsteen's Broadway monologue. He asked questions that may give some pause: "Who went in my place. What happened to him?" My response: When the Country called, my buddies and I answered the phone.
Other questions should also be asked. Who is honorable, who is trustworthy, and who took the words "protect and defend" with the seriousness they deserve when raising their right hand?
A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I'll add another reason Trump is saying wants the affidavit released: It's just about the announcement. Much like he wanted Volodymyr Zelenskyy to announce an investigation but didn't care if one was actually undertaken, here, too, he just wants to be able to say that he's asking for it to be unsealed. He knows the courts will take forever deciding the issue and, by then, people will be absorbed by some other drama he created. But for today, he demanded that it be released!
This isn't the first time Trump has put his lawyers into impossible situations. As you pointed out, not only did they not appear on Thursday, they didn't file anything in support of the media's position. They know that there is only bad news in that affidavit for Trump, no matter how much of it may be unsealed. Those affidavits contain only the prosecutor's side of things—there is nothing exculpatory in it.
But again, whether some of the affidavit is released will ultimately have no effect on the legal case against Trump. This is about the public piece—and that's the piece Trump controls. I'm sure he believes that when some of that affidavit is inevitably revealed, he can do what he's always done—lie and spin and deflect and get his followers to attack the FBI and prosecutors and judges, and his political capital within the GOP will only rise.
In fact, I'm sure Trump believes he can use the affidavit to his advantage—the worse it is, the more he can claim this is further proof that "they" will stop at nothing to bring him down. He will use it to rile up his supporters into an even greater frenzy. And the rest of the Republicans will meekly fall in line.
S.K. in Dallas, TX, writes: I would add as a reason why an attorney may not want to take on Donald Trump's espionage case is that they would likely need to get a Top Secret security clearance in order to review the classified documents. It can be done, but it's a pain because it will require the lawyer's participation in a very, very thorough background check.
I would think most rational lawyers should also be concerned about becoming a possible witness, if not a potential suspect, since it's possible that Trump could commit future crimes to which you are privy That could mean having to spend your own time, for which you would not be compensated, or worse, having to hire your own lawyer.
Further, life is already good for most good lawyers, so they don't need the additional publicity. They already get cases based on their work and reputation. Why risk that reputation?
Finally, most criminal defense attorneys are sole practitioners who practice only criminal defense and do not have to worry about what their other clients may think about them representing Trump. However, if Trump hires an attorney from a bigger firm, then that firm has to worry about other clients at the firm terminating their representation as part of a cancel-culture move.
A.M. in Miami Beach, FL, writes: You missed another plausible explanation for multiple passports: People who travel to foreign countries that are not on friendly terms with certain others are known to deny entry or harass people with visa stamps indicating travel to those countries. In particular, this has caused problems for U.S. travelers to/from Cuba, but also the various Middle East countries, and, at least at one time, the two sides of Cyprus. While sometimes the use of removable pages gets around this, the other solution is multiple passports.
In addition, some people who travel very frequently may also have multiple passports due to the need to leave a passport in order get visa stamps while they are engaged in travel to other countries.
L.C. in Brookline, MA, writes: You wrote: "And just about nobody outside the U.S. will want to see a Trump film." It occurs to me that some people in Russia might be interested...
V & Z respond: Depending on whom you believe, the Russians have already got a Trump film...
P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: I watched the 1978 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers last night. Oddly enough, as I am a big fan of sci-fi, it was my first time watching the film. Just one of those I never got around to, I guess. It was surprisingly good, and I'd watch more films like it. So I have to vigorously disagree with your assessment that no one would watch Trump themed films.
V & Z respond: There's also Back to the Future, Part II. Future Biff, the venal, corrupt, murderous casino owner was modeled on Trump.
M.S. in Canton, NY, writes: Aaron Sorkin has given one other compelling reason why there will not be much in the way of films about Trump. He was asked if he would be interested in making a West Wing-style show about Trump, or a fictional Trump-like figure. His reply was no, and probably no writer would, because "There's no such thing as an interesting character who doesn't have a conscience."
B.C. in Hertfordshire, England, UK, writes: A very minor point, but there is a TV series about the Chernobyl disaster entitled (unsurprisingly) Chernobyl. It was jointly commissioned by HBO in the USA and Sky Atlantic in the UK. Whether it was ever available in Germany, I do not know but if J.K. in Bremen, hasn't seen it, I strongly recommend the procurement of a box set. It really is very, very good.
R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: The GOP likes to invoke the Bible frequently. So I have an analogy that fits perfectly with their current status.
Remember when Moses led his people out of Egyptian slavery? When things didn't go as planned, some began to grumble and began their own faction in the hopes of getting better results. This included creating a gold cow as their idol, which they worshiped feverishly. A few in this faction were nervous about breaking away from Moses, but they went along to get along.
That's how I would best describe today's GOP. Today's Moses is Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), and the golden cow is TFG. "God" is Ronald Reagan. Cheney (Moses) is trying her best to get the entire party back into the good graces of God, or else suffer His wrath. We know God wrote the Ten Commandments, and Reagan included an 11th, "Thou shall not speak ill of another Republican."
But how will this version play out? I wonder what Cecil B. DeMille and Charleton Heston would say today.
A.S. in Lenora Hills, CA, writes: Regarding the success in using sports venues as polling places, you wrote: "In short, everyone involved came out ahead, and so too did democracy. What's not to like?"
Clearly, for the Party of Sedition, what's not to like is: everyone came out ahead, and so too did democracy.
A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: I happen to reside on the Left Coast in the Great State of Oregon. The first state to institute all mail elections.
Since we receive our ballots in the mail, and return them through drop boxes or prepaid postal service, it is unlikely that the Portland Trailblazers' (The Rose Garden) or The Winterhawks' (Memorial Coliseum) venues will be used as polling sites. My wife and I receive our ballots about 2 weeks before the scheduled election and 1 or 2 days later on our morning perambulations we drop them in the conveniently located drop box (about two blocks away). I believe Washington (the state) and Colorado also vote by mail, as do several others. I think it is awesome that the sporting world is supporting get-out-the-vote and the voting experience, I am just sorry we, The State of Oregon, don't fully participate in the full panoply of the experience. But I will never give up the convenience of vote-by-mail.
L.J. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: You wrote, in a summary of a CNN op-ed: "Biden should appoint Cheney to a Cabinet-level position in his administration, something along the lines of an election integrity czar."
Another idea: AG Merrick Garland should offer Cheney a position in Department of Justice to work the Trump case(s). She already knows the ground and has demonstrated formidable prosecutorial skills.
N.S. in North Hollywood, CA, writes: Regarding this: "After all, DeSantis did get into politics to serve man."
Word is that people are saying Governor Ron DeSantis [R-FL] is a cannibal.
That's how this works, right?
D.H. in Lisbon Falls, ME, writes: Over the last three months, I have given Fox News a chance. This was in an attempt to see another point of view and prepare myself for an upcoming family reunion—my Trump relatives will be there.. You will be proud of my attempts... I have now increased my Fox News viewing time up to 43 seconds before I start screaming.
V & Z respond: Clearly you're not watching while Tucker Carlson is on air.
L.D. in Hamden, CT, writes: As someone who was fitted for my first aid in 1993, I can attest that hearing aids don't do what most people expect. The sound quality is terrible; it's like getting a tinny transistor radio shoved in your ear.
Everything gets really loud, because everything is amplified—the background noise can be overwhelming.
The first month of use was really difficult and unpleasant. I have adjusted to the sound quality, so anything that I can hear sounds "normal."
Most elderly lose the high frequencies, which transmit consonants—as a result, understanding speech requires primarily interpreting vowel sounds, which makes accented speech very hard to understand.
I have both high and low frequency loss and even though my current, digital aids have been adjusted to accommodate my specific loss profile, I still have tremendous trouble understanding speech. One-on-one, I can catch about 75% of words when standing in close proximity to a speaker in a quiet setting. Throw in distance and a mask and I'm lucky to catch 50%, even using my "speech in noise" setting. Then there are the things that I simply can't hear, like bird calls or the low hum of the attic fan.
This website summarize positions and legislation but, more importantly, follows the money. While I was at GWU I used this site regularly to look at what motivates many officeholders, especially when votes seemed to contradict their traditional policy positions (Hint: it's all about the money, honey).
Another great feature of this site is that it contains data on not only current lawmakers, but also historical ones.
I strongly encourage your readers to take a look!
L.V.A in Boston, MA, writes: Full disclosure: I am one of the three founders of the ActiVote app described here.
You requested suggestions for websites where people can look up votes taken by their representatives. ActiVote, which is a free, non-partisan smartphone app for iOS and Android as well as being available on the web, does this in a personalized manner: for any user of the app, their representatives from president all the way down to city council and school board are shown. Then, for every relevant bill that has been voted on in Congress or their state legislature, the votes taken by their senators and representatives are shown.
The app is interactive in that the user can vote on every bill and then, based on the votes of the user and their representatives, see the overlap in voting behavior. Thus, by the time your representative is up for election again, you can see how often you agreed or disagreed with them.
The app does more than just bills: It shows each user every election they can vote in, who is on the ballot, the background of each candidate, including where they fit on the political spectrum. It is intended to be the fully personalized daily democracy app for any registered U.S. voter, allowing them to confidently vote in every election.
V & Z respond: Several voters wrote in to recommend the site, so this isn't just L.V.A. polishing their own apple.
G.A. in Berkeley, CA, writes: Reader R.E.M. in Brooklyn and others keep arguing that third-party Ralph Nader voters gave the 2000 election to George W. Bush over Al Gore, and that Jill Stein voters gave the 2016 election to Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Third-party voters may have contributed in small part to these outcomes, but that is not the main story. In both cases, the relatively unpopular Democratic candidates ran bad campaigns (despite which, they each won the popular vote nationally), and other factors interposed.
Gore, an experienced politician, vice president in a successful administration, should have trounced Junior Bush (whom Molly Ivins called "Shrub"). But the 2000 election came down to Florida, where Bush's brother was governor, and the secretary of state a partisan Republican. The Republican-majority U.S. Supreme Court stopped a vote recount, and by 5 to 4, installed Bush as president. Gore supposedly lost Florida by 537 votes, but Republicans may have found the necessary votes, however many were needed. Moreover, on Election Day, Florida Republicans did what they could to suppress the Gore vote by blocking some roads in minority areas, making it difficult for people to get to the polls; and by persuading some potential Democratic voters that the election was instead on a future date.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton, highly intelligent, highly educated, was perhaps the most experienced and best qualified person ever to run for president. Trump had no qualifications whatsoever. FBI head James Comey's last-minute public "revelation" about finding Clinton emails improperly residing on a cell phone (ludicrously) contributed to her loss. But most of all, people found Clinton arrogant and presumptive, and her national campaign was certainly that, ignoring pleas for help in Wisconsin and other "swing" states.
If any of these factors had been different, if the Democrats had run better campaigns or more popular candidates, if candidates were elected based on the national popular vote, the results of the two elections could have been different as well. But the desire of Democrats for their candidate to win is no reason to begrudge third-party voters support for their chosen candidates. The two dominant parties need to win on their own "merits." If they want third-party votes, then they need to adequately address the concerns of third-party voters.
D.R.J. in Oberlin, OH, writes: Regarding R.E.M. in Brooklyn: For years now I have heard the argument that Ralph Nader is to blame for the GW Bush "victory" in 2000. There are a number of reasons why I disagree with that assessment:
- Nader entered the 2000 presidential race because neither Bush or Gore were addressing issues he thought were important. One of those issues was the environment and climate change, which was ironic given Gore's post vice presidential career.
- Gore ran a terrible campaign. He couldn't win his own state and never even tried to appeal to voters leaning towards Nader. Instead, he tried to appeal to conservatives.
- Gore and the Democrats had no claim to the voters who chose Nader. There is no guarantee that, if Nader had not been on the ballot, that Gore would have received all, most, or any of those votes.
- Millions of registered Democrats throughout the country voted for Bush. Are they all "morons," "cretins" and "imbeciles" for doing so? Shouldn't they be as much—if not more—to "blame" for Bush?
- With a vote margin measured in the hundreds, rather than the tens of thousands, in Florida, a recount was a no-brainer, if not automatic. The Florida State Supreme Court order for a recount should have been the final word on that. Instead, SCOTUS got involved and five Republican Supreme Court Justices went against their own state's rights precedent and handed us Bush. If you need to pin it down to one person, try Sandra Day O'Connor, the "swing" vote who swung the wrong way.
One of the similarities between 2000 and 2016 is that the Democrat once again ran a terrible campaign, taking voters for granted in a number of key states. Before blaming Stein voters for TFG, I would go first with Hillary Clinton, Obama voters who switched to Trump, Jim Comey and the founding "fathers" who created the Electoral College... in no particular order.
In case anyone thinks I am rationalizing my own votes, I went with Gore in Virginia 2000 and Clinton in Ohio 2016.
P.K. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Anyone who blames Nader voters must logically oppose all third-party voting. What if a majority of Libertarian votes defaulted to Republican candidates, following your premise that most Green voters would back a Democrat? Gary Johnson got 3 million more votes than Jill Stein in 2016, and the Libertarian candidate pulled in almost 1.5 million more votes than the Green party in the 2020 presidential election. What if most of those votes went to Trump? I want an answer from everyone who blames the "cretins" that voted for Nader or Stein: Why do you feel entitled to those votes, if the GOP isn't entitled to the consistently larger Libertarian vote?
Sure, it's fun to inhabit an alternate reality where third-party candidates only hurt Democrats; in that fantasy, anyone who doesn't vote for your candidate is to blame, not you, the nominee you picked, the other side, or the unpredictable ways human history plays out. But does ranked-choice voting even solve this problem, as some readers suggest? I've seen the surveys on back-up preferences of third-party voters; predicting where that glut of Libertarian votes goes should be a concerning prospect to anyone demanding fealty from Green voters.
Without Ross Perot, I can't even see Bill Clinton becoming president, yet we get endless tirades blaming Nader voters for, well, everything. Heaven forfend centrist Democrats take responsibility for the failures of their party over the past 25 years when there's a convenient scapegoat. Such misplaced blame exemplifies why Democrats continue to lose elections, including an arrogance that repels voters and an inability to learn from strategic errors. Instead of blaming Nader voters for 22 years, you could have spent that time asking, "what could we have done to win your vote?" and positioning yourself for political success. A generation later, where has the blame game gotten you?
J.D.M. in Cottonwood Shores, TX, writes: I often refer my friends to E-V.com with a special emphasis on how nice it is to have a moderated comments section every Sunday so that you are not exposed to infantile name calling by an emotionally disturbed person. After this Sunday's comments by R.E.M. in Brooklyn, I felt my trust in you had been betrayed. It took me several hours to quit writing a similar response in my head.
But, instead, let me offer an analogy that might help other readers understand their fellow citizens.
Strictly speaking, the Dobbs ruling will only cause harm to a relatively small number of women (and inconvenience to a much larger number). But the ruling is outrageous because it threatens to become a tipping point in a move to make the United States a white, Christian theocracy where women are treated, at best, as second-class citizens.
Strictly speaking, if TFG had succeeded in his coup attempt, it would have just meant 4 more years of governing for grift. But, it clearly would have been a tipping point in the shift from democracy to autocracy, albeit with sham elections for show.
Strictly speaking, climate change has, so far, just meant more frequent extreme weather events. (A new study just reported in The New York Times predicts regular summer temperatures in the MidWest U.S. of 125 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050... hell, technically even I might still be alive,) But we (those of us not hiding our heads in the sand) have known since the 1990s that the real danger comes if/when we reach some global tipping points. At that point, it will be hundreds or thousands of years before the planet returns to the climatic sweat spot that we are currently enjoying. So we started to make as much noise as we could manage given the state of the two political parties and the mainstream media. And it worked! In 2005, the Republicans, who owned the trifecta, reinstated the solar investment tax credit that Ronald Reagan had ended in 1985. Since that point, solar installations in the U.S. have increased 10,000%. In 2015, with the help of ActBlue donations averaging $27, we moved the noise machine inside the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton fought us tooth and nail. Joe Biden, bless him, embraced us and it made all the difference.
Now, can we all please work together to avoid all three tipping points?
B.M. in Hamamatsu, Japan, writes: I grew up northern New Jersey and went to Jefferson Elementary School of the Maplewood/South Orange school district. This week, the Board of Education finalized a plan to change the school's name to Delia Bolden Elementary, in honor of the first Black woman to graduate high school in the district.
A key board member, Qawi Telesford, is quoted as criticizing Jefferson, seemingly unprompted, for owning 600 slaves and releasing but a mere few. What is not quoted, perhaps intentionally, is the man he was responding to, who told Telesford (a Black man) that he should be thanking Jefferson that he could even serve on a board of education.
Somehow, the three members who voted against the name change go unnamed and either decline to state why, or vagulely criticize "procedure" as a way to avoid being honest about their reasoning. However, one can see the truth behind the opposition as vomited all over the comments section of Fox's article on the vote.
I have been close friends with Telesford since middle school, so ever since he ran for the board position I've been following along. Admittedly, I wasn't keen on the name change myself when initially proposed. However, I think the end result of the students' efforts is commendable. Thomas Jefferson isn't going to disappear from public consciousness because he's on one less school. And what is more American than elevating the story of trailblazers who find success despite adversity?
What I feel is most important, however, is that we need our public figures at all levels to stop appealing to the worst of us and speaking disingenuously for the benefit of social media attention.
And that's what really moved me to write in about this.
I know that like me, Telesford reads E-V.com religiously, so I just want to say how proud I am of my friend because he had the guts and integrity to stand up and state how he felt on this issue.
M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: I think your item on Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's (D-PA) U.S. Senate campaign is the perfect illustration of what Trumpism has done to American politics nationwide. For Trump supporters, it's not about policy or the personal integrity of the individual candidate. It's all about social class.
Republican politicians and pundits have railed against "elites" for the last decade, ironically because they are all part of the elite—prominent, well educated and, most importantly, well paid. "Elites" and the decisions they make have been tarred as the sole reason everyone else is suffering economic loss and hence loss of status.
Republican political operatives convince rural and small town voters that well-educated elites look down on them as unenlightened rubes "clinging to their guns and religion" to bolster their identity and self-esteem.
Income inequity further underscores the gulf between elites and the rest of the population stuck in low paying jobs without any means to advance.
The political right believes it is engaged in class warfare. It believes Democrats want to "give" minorities welfare perks to buy their votes and elevate them socially and monetarily above white, blue-collar working-class folks. Thereby remaking the country into something these voters don't recognize.
Fetterman captures this sentiment and makes it work for him despite the (D) behind his name on the ballot because it's not about policy for these voters. Elites care about policy. We talk endlessly to one another about which policies will lift the middle class out of the doldrums, which policies will help the poor and the homeless most, which policies will boost the economy and which will further our national security. None of that matters to people who mistrust anyone in a suit and tie, anyone with a college degree (not to mention a graduate degree), anyone with a six-figure income. They believe we are the bane of their lives, that we hate the country, that we will destroy it if we aren't stopped at the ballot box, or failing that, with violence in the streets. It's class warfare and nothing less.
M.C. in Wilmington, NY, writes: I had to laugh when I saw the Dr. Oz crudité video. I consider myself a bit sophisticated. I read E-V.com for starters, and go to a lot of cocktail parties. You would have thought someone like me would not have to look the word up. Oh, it's a veggie tray.
But more important, my mother was from the Alabama part of Pennsylvania and I still have plenty of relatives there. I have no idea where you can buy liquor in their county, but you have to go to a state liquor store to do that and they are few and far between. Further, they believe that anyone who drinks liquor is going to the not-so-happy place. The fact that Dr. Oz, a Muslim, something they already know, was looking for tequila, in their mind, makes him "shameful," not "Senator."
M.D. in The Poconos, PA, writes: I was at a meet-and-greet with John and Giselle Fetterman this week, here in Monroe County, PA. John spoke for almost 20 minutes and then spent time answering questions and doing photos. The main takeaway was that he is healthy and plans to repeat his previous success from the primary where he won all 67 counties in Pennsylvania by going to each and every one of them over the next 3 months, making sure that every voter knows that he may not agree with them but he cares and takes them seriously. Here is 16 minutes of his appearance that I uploaded to YouTube.
B.B. in Dothan, AL, writes: I've been following Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) since he was a city commissioner in the 90s. He's basically an opportunist, watching which way the winds are blowing and selecting his next race to help him advance to a higher level, and then taking advantage of those facts. For example, he got elected to the Florida house in 2000, when the Republicans took over the government from the Dems. In other words he doesn't surf, he rides the wave.
Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), on the other hand, is a forceful and dynamic speaker.
M.S. in Westchester County, NY, writes: You mischaracterize the facts regarding Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) in NY-10 and, with those remarks, what is happening in the House races in nearby Westchester County, where I live.
Just a touch of background. All this reshuffling is due to the horrendous way redistricting played out here in the State. Ok, let's say that the Democrats overreached. Still, to have one person decide everything who knows nothing about the state and its history. Should have gone back to the legislature. Anyway, I digress.
When the music stopped, what happened? Parts of the old 16th (Jamaal Bowman) and 17th (Jones) were meshed together. Jones refused to challenge Bowman because (his rationale), he wasn't going to run against another Black man. DCCC head Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) had a choice. Run in the new 17th or another district that contained parts of his old district. He chose the more Democratic 17th. He drew Alessandra Biaggi as a primary opponent. This left Jones with no place to go but the open seat in the 10th.
Dan Goldman may win because he just snagged the New York Times endorsement, but Jones is not his primary (no pun intended) challenger concern there. There are well-known state representatives also in the race. In fact, Jones may well finish in 4th place. This is just devastating to those of us who think Jones is the real deal: someone with star power, a thoughtful legislator who has the potential to go far.
There is no doubt that, if Jones and Bowman were in a primary, Jones would have won. Bowman is in the middle of a contentious primary with two challengers. (The fourth is on the ballot, but has dropped out.). It would not surprise anyone if Bowman's opponents garner a majority of the votes, with Bowman winning by a plurality. We will know next Tuesday.
S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: D.C. in Brentwood asked whether appeals could only be based on mistakes of law rather than on mistakes of fact. Your answer—yes—is just about right, but as always in law, it's a little more complicated than that.
In both civil and criminal cases in the United States, the judge decides questions of law, but the factfinder almost always is a jury. This is different from most of the rest of the world, where judges decide both legal and factual issues.
In the relatively small number of United States cases in which a trial judge determines the facts, those factual determinations most definitely are subject to reversal on appeal. The appellate standard of review is highly deferential. A trial judge's findings of fact are supposed to be reversed only if "clearly erroneous." Of course, one appellate judge's "clear error" might be another appellate judge's "close call."
A jury's factual determinations, by contrast, are sacrosanct and not subject to review on appeal. An appeal based on the argument that the jury made the wrong decision, believed the wrong witness, etc., is dead on arrival.
Except... judges do not always let juries decide the facts. If a judge thinks that the evidence is so one-sided that "no reasonable jury" could decide in one side's favor, the judge may enter judgment for the other side. (The exception is that a judge cannot use this trick to convict a criminal defendant in a jury trial.) This looks like a finding of fact, but it is treated as a legal conclusion about the sufficiency of the evidence.
Because this ruling is treated as "a matter of law," the party that loses may appeal based on an argument that the judge was wrong and there should be a new trial in which a jury is allowed to decide the facts. And a party who asks for this ruling and doesn't get it, and then loses the jury verdict, can appeal based on the judge's refusal to take the case away from the jury.
In these limited ways it is possible for losing parties to American trials to base their appeals on disputes about what facts the evidence presented did and did not prove.
Sorry to give a law school class, but classes start this week...
J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: Your answer is incomplete. While there may only be four levels in the normal appeals process—district, appeals, en banc appeals, and SCOTUS—there are a variety of ways for a case to be heard more than just four times, and the Trump tax return cases have followed this course.
For example, in Trump v. Vance he lost in district court, then appeals, then en banc. He mostly lost at the Supreme Court, but SCOTUS also remanded certain questions for the lower courts. That started the process all over again. Eventually it finished the second round of appeals, with SCOTUS declining to issue a stay or hear it again, and Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance got the tax returns. But it took 2 years and more than four hearings. Vance's successor, Alvin Bragg, has shown signs of dropping the investigation.
As for the Ways and Means case, it's over 3 years, and only at the appeals phase, because the entire case was stayed pending the result of a separate case over whether former White House counsel Don McGahn could ignore a subpoena. That case was eventually resolved, and finally Trump lost in district court, and appeals, and en banc is next. This case is following the 4 steps you described, but only very slowly and you can only count it as 4 hearings if you ignore the separate case which it waited 1.5 years for.
T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: You had several letters about the legal aspects of the Trump cases.
As to the numerous appeals, in most states and the federal system, it is not a matter of the courts letting Donald Trump have an appeal. With limited exceptions, any party who loses in court has the right to file an appeal. And if they lose their "appeal of right" in a lower appellate court, they have the ability to ask for a discretionary appeal to a higher court. In most circumstances, this request for a discretionary appeal is rejected, but the time that it takes to process this request can delay the implementation of the initial decision by the trial court.
I know that it may seem to outside observers that 6 months is unusually long for an appeal, but most of the cases that get media attention are expedited emergency appeals. In the normal, post-trial appeal, six months is actually too short. Most jurisdictions give the parties a month to three months (or longer) to file the record—the court pleadings and the transcript. It takes time for the court reporter to complete the transcript as most states and the federal courts do not require same-day transcripts as the trial is proceeding. Once the record is filed, the parties have time to file their written arguments (a.k.a. briefs)—typically at least 30 days for the appealing party, followed by 30 days for the party that won at trial, followed by a final brief from the appealing party. Then the appellate court has to schedule oral argument and then issue an opinion after the argument. Even assuming no requests for extensions by the parties (which occur in most cases, and are routinely granted), I am ecstatic whenever I get a decision within 12 months of the original judgment.
Finally, as far as attorneys for Trump's expected criminal trials, I do not expect that Trump will need to have an appointed lawyer (and if he does get to that point, that will be its own can of worms as he will almost certainly complain about that person and ask to get a different person). The bigger issue is the talent level of attorneys that Trump has been getting. Nobody expects Trump to get the best lawyers to handle his case; the concern is the level of lawyers that he might get. The Constitution does not merely require that a defendant had a warm body as his attorney; it requires that he has effective counsel. While most people have stopped focusing on a criminal case by the time that this occurs, every state and the federal system have some mechanism for a defendant to complain about the competence of counsel (typically the motion and hearing occur after the first appeal). If Trump manages to find the next Sidney Powell to represent him, the prosecution is going to have to basically fulfill both roles—prosecution and defense counsel—to assure that the conviction sticks.
M.K. in Rye, NY, writes: I'm moved to write in for the first time, regarding homelessness in Houston. In the late 90's, I went to a conference on petroleum research in downtown Houston. During a break, this (if I may say so) innocuous young woman wearing proper science conference garb found a lovely patch of grass outside the conference center and settled to enjoy the sun and read some abstracts. At some point I reclined with my briefcase as a pillow. Within seconds, a police officer was towering over me, saying it was illegal to lie down in public. You know, because homelessness. I recognize it now as white privilege that I replied by needling the officer, asking if it was all right to lean back on one elbow. (I don't recall his reply but I did walk away without a ticket. Or getting tased.)
I do appreciate that they enforced this with everyone rather than letting it slide for the (apparently) not homeless, but it was still a stupid and cruel law, in my view. This was one of many experiences that convinced me that the culture of the oil industry—which, right or wrong, I equated to the culture of Houston— was not for me, and that I must not ever find myself living in Houston.
So your post was not at all what I expected. I am pleasantly surprised to learn how their policy changed and they found success with helping the homeless. Imagine that! Kindness and support worked where cruelty did not. I am happy to revisit my opinion of Houston. (Though not of oil. That platform has sailed.)
S.S-L. in Norman, OK, writes: Last winter, I was leaving a restaurant and noticed a police officer speaking to an elderly homeless woman outside. You'd think the officer was asking if she was OK and connecting her with community resources, right? Wrong. He was writing her a ticket and threatening her with jail time if he ever saw her there again. I had to learn more. She'd come in to warm up and ask what they did with food people didn't finish. The staff told her to leave. She did, but a police officer followed her outside. He talked down to her for being a criminal trespasser and disturbing the peace. Her position, communicated respectfully and with painstaking effort, was that she'd been released from the hospital 2 days earlier after having a stroke, and the shelters were full because we were having a cold snap. She hadn't eaten in 2 days. I was furious. The woman got a mountain of food from a different restaurant and was placed in a shelter that afternoon. Yet absolutely nothing's been done to address the underlying problems. The following month, our new mayor won handily because he ran on a platform of keeping homeless people on the streets. He thinks it'll teach them a lesson. I'm still furious. It's like holding back a tidal wave with our bare hands.
R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: (Z) is right on the money with the parallel between Japanese internment and "homeless camps." And I too have used that analogy, except I used the term "concentration" camp under the pre-Nazi definition. The City Council in Austin, TX, had decided to finally repeal the ordinances criminalizing public camping and the backlash was strong. In their defense, many of the people advocating for re-criminalization were appalled at the conditions people were living in, frustrated at the lack of progress, and worried about everyone's safety (sleeping under a bridge, next to traffic, is very dangerous). And for many of them, all they knew was that the people they saw had appeared relatively suddenly after decriminalizaton, so re-criminalizing was a logical (if imprudent) conclusion, even paired with their not-in-the-referendum ideas of approved campsites, out of the way where visitors couldn't see them. It was not helpful when I told one woman that she was describing a concentration camp.
The real barrier to discussion was that, for most people, the "problem of homelessness" seemed to be only that the poverty and desperation was right out where they could see it, and thus sweeping it under the rug again was deemed a sufficient solution to that problem. Or perhaps they were so thoroughly convinced that homelessness was largely voluntary, or that the problem was so hopeless, that hiding it was the only "solution" they could see as viable. In any case, let me assure everyone that homelessness is most definitely a solvable problem, but not if we waste time and resources trying to arrest our way out of it, or if we refuse to dedicate any resources to the proven solutions in use across the country. The word "ignorance" carries strong connotations of judgment of the person who is unaware of the facts, so I want to be careful, but if more people knew about the success places like Houston have had, the true causes of homelessness, and the futility of trying to use legal penalties, we'd be in a much better position to tackle the problem. Without public acceptance (at least) or pressure to get more affordable housing in the marketplace, the only way we can ever end homelessness is one household at a time. It's like trying to bail an overflowing bathtub without shutting off the faucet first.
So, here's an illustration of the problem in microcosm. The City of Austin was pushing, a few years back, to increase traffic safety and they were trying to address every aspect of it from DUI to jaywalking. One of the task groups was specifically looking to tackle the dangers of people panhandling at intersections. They were asking for input on passing another ordinance that would add or increase fines for people standing next to traffic. Now, let me just say that there are some fantastically dangerous spots near I-35 as it passes through town, where there were guardrails to protect against cars from careening from the frontage road onto the main lanes below, but people would stand inside the guardrails to ask for money. My response was that people were already risking life and limb and the prospect of a horrible death of being run over by multiple cars after a fall that by itself would be enough to cripple them. I didn't think that the risk of an additional penalty of a $20 fine was going to change the calculus of that decision appreciably, especially considering that the whole reason they were risking their lives in the first place was because they didn't have any money or other options for getting it. That's the main reason why criminalizing homelessness is so ineffective at anything besides hiding the problem in greenbelts and other hiding places: legal penalties don't work if you don't have any other options.
The one place where I disagree with the response is that it is not "completely different" to say that your relocation to an approved camp is not mandatory. As a practical matter, when a local government decides to go the route of approved camping or a single-site campus for people experiencing homelessness, they couple it with ordinances against providing food service anywhere but the preferred camp and carrots-and-sticks to try to force non-profit service organizations to co-locate at the preferred camp. Often, they'll make participation in these services contingent upon "pitching their tent" figuratively or literally in the approved place. Being escorted by law enforcement is not the only way to make something mandatory.
J.N. in Freeland, WA, writes: In your response to T.W. in Norfolk, you neglect to take into account that many (most?) of the anti-homeless zealots quite likely believe the Japanese internment camps were a good idea.
D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I read with horror Trump's platform for his second go at being God Emperor for life. After reading his fifth plank about moving the homeless out of cities into huge guarded tent cities, I thought to myself, "What could go wrong with that?" Oh wait, we already know what will go wrong with that. It will culminate in "Sanctuary Districts," where the homeless, the sick, the invalids, the mentally disabled, and the poor will be dumped and forgotten by their fellow Americans until their plight is revealed during the Bell Riots led by Gabriel Bell, who looks very much like actor Avery Brooks, as depicted in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes, "Past Tense, Part I and Part II":
While part of me rejoices that mankind's future has been assured that there will be a Federation, a Captain Sisko and the Celestial Prophets, the other part despairs that we have to have to endure a second term of Treasonweasel to bring about such an enlightened future. But if we get a Sisko, I guess that means we get a Gul Dukat and a Weyoun as well. Although the similarities in personality between Dukat and Trump are numerous, and if I had to choose between them I would go with the Spoon Head.
Live long and prosper, and don't tell me this didn't cross your mind when you wrote about this!
P.L. in Denver, CO, writes: In reference to your response to S.W. in New York, you are probably already aware that there is plenty of investment going into solid-state batteries to replace the current lithium batteries. I have read we can expect these to be used in the next few years. There is no perfect environmental solution to provide our energy needs. However, I agree with your contention that buying an electric vehicle is investing in the future.
T.B. in Leon County, FL, writes: In response to the question from S.W. in New York, you acknowledged there are challenges to recycling lithium ion batteries (including electric vehicle batteries), and conclude there are consequently minimal short-term environmental benefits at this time for buying an EV over an efficient internal combustion vehicle.
A search of the CleanTechnica website shows recent breakthroughs in EV battery recycling and reuse and, more importantly perhaps, the opening of lithium ion battery recycling plants in the U.S., western Europe and China. Tesla, which recycles its own batteries and currently makes about two-thirds of the EVs sold in the U.S., claims to recycle 92% of battery raw materials. (Aluminum probably accounts for most of the unrecovered waste.) Many EV batteries, however, have an opportunity for a "second life" before needing to be chemically recycled. From a 2020 article: "While the high-power demands of a vehicle render stored energy inaccessible [for an older EV battery], batteries might be able to serve an additional 6 to 10 years in a lower-power, stationary application storing energy from solar panels to be used in off-grid or peak demand-shaving applications." For sure, nasty auto accidents do happen and some batteries are improperly manufactured or maintained, resulting in battery fires, but these are relatively rare, and will become rarer. On the mining of raw materials, ethical purchasing requirements by some battery manufacturers are reducing, for example, the number of child laborers involved. Tesla is making cobalt- and nickel-free batteries (half the batteries installed in the first quarter of 2022), furthering this humanitarian trend.
I've read that Tesla intends for their batteries to last a million miles (and some have) when properly cared for. I'd say EV batteries have "arrived." And with tax credits soon to be available for purchasing used American-made EVs (part of the Inflation Reduction Act), cost of EVs will be less of an inhibitor.
S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: Responding to D.H. in Boulder, who gave an account of jackasses "rolling coal" at them while cycling: As a fellow cyclist, I was saddened, appalled, and outraged to read that letter. It's a bad enough practice when directed at another vehicle, but at a cyclist, who has no cabin air filter to lean on? That's beyond the pale.
All I could suggest is, perhaps, tying an American flag to your bike. Carrying the flag is a tactic used by counter-protesters at right-wing protests; hyper-conservatives seem hesitant to direct their violence at the stars and stripes. I'll grant it's extra wind resistance, but it could be worth a try to save your lungs.
R.E. in Birmingham, AL, writes: You wrote: "And you'll find that most of the really bad extremism in U.S. history began with white Southerners."
I am 61 years old, and have been a white Southerner all my life. I wish you were wrong, but you're not.
B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Ouch! Though, of course, I am a white Southerner only by birth, not by profession.
O.N.E. in Greenville, SC, writes: In your response to T.R. in Hillsborough, you wrote that the Federalist Party has no connections to the modern far right. I disagree. The Federalists were the first to push for restrictions on immigration and citizenship, with the Alien Friends Act, Alien Enemies Act, and the Naturalization Act of 1798 (which has been referenced positively by immigration restrictionists—who leave out the fact that it was repealed only four years later). Further, the Federalists were hostile to independent journalists, accusing several of sedition, imprisoning several. Add in the Federalists' using religious leaders to campaign for them and preach sermons against their opponents, I can see several similarities to Trumpism.
For those who want to learn more on the battle between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, I recommend Richard Rosenfeld's American Aurora. While biased, and taking some liberties, it includes a number of articles and comments from both Federalist and Anti-Federalist media outlets. It's also a fun read, if long.
And one more bit of trivia! In your response to K.P. in Brooklyn, you mentioned Noah Webster. He happened to be a Federalist, too.
P.J.T. in Raton, NM, writes: Regarding the inquiry from K.P. in Brooklyn about the standardization of American English, it may be fruitful to mention that the first definitive dictionary of [British] English did not appear until 1755, when the poet Samuel Johnson published his two-volume Dictionary of the English Language. So, it's not as though Noah Webster was, in reality, up against some stodgy and dusty Old World "tradition," steeped in centuries of formalism. Rather, both authors provided lexicons of a living language, as they knew it.
It is a salient point to bring up classical languages as a dividing line, albeit an unfair one, though if the elitism Webster strove against was social rather than literary, it does make some sense: only a limited (educated) few—the wealthiest among us—had real access to Greek and Latin instruction. From a purely literary standpoint, however, elitism is an unfair charge. Greek literature (in contemporary English translation) in particular, is highly accessible and deeply organic. Roman literature does seem more formal, but that likely represents the difference between a literature arising out of an ancient oral tradition (Greek), and one arising predominantly from reflecting upon the literature of another people (Latin, in the reliance of Roman literature on Greek precedent). Standardization of other European languages was roughly contemporary with Johnson, and is consequently a relatively recent phenomenon.
K.F.K. in CleElum, WA, writes: I taught elementary school for over 30 years, about half of it in a 5th grade classroom and the other half in kindergarten. While I realize the genesis of this commentary revolves around older (high school/college) students, in light of the recent legislation aimed at even our youngest students I thought my comments might be useful.
Young children largely bring to school the ideas, ethics, philosophies and—to some extent—politics that they are exposed to outside the classroom. One instantly thinks of family, but this can also include older siblings, cousins, neighborhood children, things they may hear on the bus or at church/synagogue/temple.
I believe very strongly in a play-based early childhood education because it is during their playtime together that children learn and are taught how to live with, and solve, a wide range of social and emotional topics. Probably the hardest for young children is sharing ideas and materials. Discussing, collaborating and compromising on ideas for how to build structures in the block corner, and who gets which plastic animal and why, are the beginnings of learning to listen and value other's contributions. Allowing Hindu students to use materials to reenact Hindu rituals during play time goes a long way to showing children we live in a diverse society. And yes, if anybody had ever wanted to have a pretend Catholic Mass I would have allowed that as well.
While we did not engage in lively discussions about topics such as the pros and cons of affirmative action, we did read and discuss many books about historical figures who had the courage to stand up against things they felt were unjust in our society. This was an outgrowth of turning discussion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. centered on peace into discussion that centered on courage. I felt that to turn a celebration of MLK into a discussion about peace was to miss the point that non-violent protest is more about courage in the face of violence than warm fuzzy feelings.
Rather than ban all discussion of religion, I welcomed families and children to share their significant holidays/rituals with the class. I would mention that my family celebrated both Jewish and Christian holidays. Some teachers, in an effort to be neutral, will stifle all discussion of religion but I feel strongly that welcoming these kinds of discussions validates children's belief systems without the assumption that everybody is Christian (which is what I grew up with and allowed for things like Christmas trees in the classroom).
One conundrum I never really solved well was the Mother's Day/Father's Day dilemma. How to do a Mother's Day gift for a child with two dads? Is it OK to do Mother's Day, which occurs during the school year, but not Father's Day, which generally does not? Birth parents? Step parents? Children raised but other family members or in foster care? I really could have done without those two holidays!
In an early childhood classroom, most heated arguments center on topics such as whether or not the tooth fairy, griffins, or Santa Claus are real, but one can use these discussions to teach children productive ways to disagree and to begin to accept the fact that everybody does not think the same way about many topics.
In some ways I felt very lucky to have a diverse extended family with white folks, Asians, Latinos, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and atheists and children both born into my family and adopted. Because of this I was often able to use my family as an outside-the-norm example. Because I am a white, cis-gendered, upper middle class woman who grew up in small, predominantly white, Christian town in the Midwest I could draw upon that too.
I do not mean to imply that I had to deal with issues of the magnitude of a college history professor, though once, after a student assigned roles in the dramatic play area—queen, princess, baby, servant—a second student replied, "Are you telling her she has to be the servant because she has brown skin?" (These are the times to hang back and just see how it plays out). I do mean to point out that I believe what we do with our earliest students holds great importance for their future ability to live in a complex society with fluctuating norms. I can only hope I did it well and avoided harm whenever possible.
P.S. I could write a whole other letter about 5th grade, but suffice it to say that after several lessons on Westward expansion I had a student deem white settlers evil, to which I replied, "So wanting to leave a poverty-stricken life in Europe behind and create something new in America is a horrible thing?" And the poor kid replied in anguish, "Just tell me what to believe!" Now therein was the lesson: There are no simple answers.
D.A. in Long Beach, CA, writes: I teach a simulation-based AP US Government class in Long Beach, CA. Your site has been required reading for years. However I struggle to find a reasonably moderate, intelligently written, fact-based alternative site to present things from a more conservative viewpoint. The places I went to over the years have gone off the rails and are lots akin to The Onion or Q-Anon. What do you suggest?
J.D. in Rohnert Park, CA, writes: At least for books published during my lifetime, I'd vote for Catch-22. It nails, in hilariously satirical fashion, everything that's gone wrong with America since World War II.
D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: There are four novels written by veterans of World War II shortly after that war that I consider extremely noteworthy: From Here To Eternity by James Jones, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, and The Naked And The Dead by Norman Mailer. All four of these challenge the standard narrative of "The Good War" and, more importantly, challenge the application of that standard to the post-War era that lasted at least to 1991 and arguably beyond, to this day. Of the four of these, my vote would be for The Naked And The Dead.
I won't claim that this novel speaks to 250 years (to say nothing of 400 years) of U.S. history, nor would I ever claim that it outstrips Tom Sawyer or The Grapes of Wrath in significance. But even those great works don't "cover" huge swaths of U.S. history and U.S. reality (no novel could). I would also add To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee) because that work so directly confronts one of the two original, and on-going sins of this country.
Finally, I'm certain that my reality as a white Kansas-born male, who attended segregated elementary schools in Topeka (7 years after Brown!), and further "educated" in nearly all-white schools in upstate New York has cut me off from a vast literature of Black writers whose works may well include novels that we should be listing here. Someday I'll retire and get a chance to re-educate myself.
Oh, also: Nothing against the Brits, but if you're selecting an American rock song, you can't choose songs from The Who, The Rolling Stones, or The Beatles. How about Chuck Berry's "Memphis" or Sam Cooke's "What A Wonderful World"—perhaps the latter especially for so exquisitely capturing the anti-intellectual essence of the USA.
R.M. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: If I would choose from distant memories which was when I read most great books I would say Catch-22. It exposes the meaningless of war, which is a big part of American history and of life in general, in a humorous but poignant way.
But if I were to choose anything I've read in the last 30 years, I would say The Sympathizer, by Viet Nguyen. The writing is the best I've seen in many years, and the themes of betrayal, the refugee experience, and the clash of cultures are universal and topical.
S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: Twain is a great choice, but I'm intrigued that you chose Tom Sawyer rather than Huckleberry Finn. I suppose there are some themes—young love—present in Tom but not really in Huck. But still.
Reminds me of the time a Russian lit professor asked me my opinion of Dostoevsky's greatest book. When I said Crime and Punishment he narrowed his eyes and said, in a squeaky Russian accent, "You haff not read Karamazov." Which was true.
I can't really defend this as "the" greatest American novel—among other things, its treatment of women is hopelessly retrograde—but the one I go back to, again and again, is Catch-22. It is so deep, on so many levels, and it speaks to things that are fundamental about America and American institutions.
V & Z respond: We regarded the relationship between Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as being similar to the relationship between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. One of them is more sophisticated and is generally more highly regarded. But the other one came first and has the best-known set pieces in the body of work.
G.N. in Laurence Harbor, NJ, writes: J.B. in Aarhus wrote of the dilemma he and his wife experience wearing their Anaheim Angels hats, with them being perceived as MAGA hats. I wear, in no particular order, a bright red Vietnam Veterans of America hat, a bright red Ben's Chili Bowl hat and a bright red Mazda hat. Just the other day, as we were walking, the neighbor was coming in the opposite direction. When we met she said she thought I was wearing a MAGA hat. I'll follow your advice to keep wearing them to free the color red from orange disgrace.
R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I'm sensitive to the concern of J.B. in Aarhus about having their red Angels cap mistaken for something MAGA-ish. Although I agree that decent people should not, in principle, let Trumpers commandeer the color red, discretion is also the better part of valor, particularly abroad where Americans are presumptively side-eyed to begin with. I'd recommend considering a pre-2002 Angels hat, which have blue crowns (and I love the ones from the 1960s that have the halo).
C.K.S. in Berkeley, CA, writes: My advice on Angels hats would be to order vintage. The ones from the 60's are fine, especially those with the halo around the crown, but maybe the best were from '71 (and I think '72), with the lower-case a with its little halo. And all these are blue (with a red bill). This is from a spoiled A's fan, the best uniform in the majors...
Also, the orange comment is a bit of a cheap shot on the Giants, but maybe this stuff has contributed to their general mediocrity over the last 6 years, last year excepted. The A's have no political excuse.
H.S. in Lake Forest, CA, writes: I feel you missed a perfect opportunity in response to J.B. in Aarhus to quote one of our favorite movies: "No way! Why should you change? He's the one who sucks."
J.O. in Louisville, CO, writes: I laughed out loud at the Christ-Mouse ticket comment. Had some free time, so I made a fun bumper sticker:
E.M. in Milwaukee, WI, writes: I was so pleased that my thoughts on Wordle, Quordle, and Nerdle struck a chord with other readers.
I want to thank B.G. in White River Junction, A.B. in Wendell and J.L. in Paterson for the other game suggestions. Special thanks to J.L. for pointing out that letter position (e.g., Y as last letter, S as first letter) can increase the utility of a guess. I may try to find new first choices that better exploit this if I have a really obsessive day. And to T.B. in Santa Clara... Wow! It never occurred to me to check out the settings and discover hard mode. And this from a computer scientist old enough to know what RTFM means!
D.C. in Brentwood, CA, writes: To A.B. in Wendell, NC, who struggles with sedecordle, I'd suggest my approach. The following four words cover 20 of the most common letters:WEIGH
It doesn't cover JQVXYZ, but they tend to be rarer.
I'll particularly use 'STACK" as the second word if the letter H comes up in several words, as it includes A, T and C (though not P), which commonly combine with the H.
With those letters covered off, getting the rest of the words is usually pretty easy, and sometimes you won't need to use all 4 before some of the words start revealing themselves.
C.C. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: I'll see your sedecordle raise you one duotrigordle.
P.S.: My standard opening words are the same in all of these:STEIN
With some variations, if a full word shakes loose before the second or third guess (things like "LUMPY" or "DUCKY" if we already got the C and K or the L in a preceding guess).