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Sunday Mailbag

One more round of letters about faith vs. good works prompted by the question from B.B. in St. Louis. After that, it's quite the grab bag.

Christ, Knowing You Ain't Easy, Part III

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: Being a layman, I got in touch with my nephew/godson, who has just taken his First Vows as a Jesuit (and, despite protestations—yes, they are, in fact, Catholics). Here is his response (lightly edited):

[T]he argument seems to trace back to the works v. grace argument that [Martin] Luther made more popular. The premise is that, "Is grace and belief sufficient for salvation, or does one need to do works in order to cooperate in salvation?"

Luther argued for the former and the Roman Catholic church generally promoted the latter.

In James 2, [it reads] "Faith without works is dead." But St Paul talks about grace and belief in Jesus being sufficient.

There is also the mistake of Pelagianism (basically, infants are born blameless, and humans have free will to achieve perfection without divine grace) or Jansenism (which held the idea of "original sin," i.e., we are flawed simply by being born and have a proclivity to sinful conduct) where one can believe that one works for their salvation and it's on individuals to win their own salvation. This is not right, however, as it relies on human power to achieve a divine end and it denies the saving power of grace.

On the other end, one can think they only have to believe and nothing more. This can be a form of predestination or can lead one to believe that they do not need virtue in their lives, which is also a mistake.

It's a complicated question that has a lot of ink spilled over it over more than half a millennium.

As for my take, to paraphrase Dr "Bones" McCoy, I'm not a theologist, I'm just a simple country engineer. With that disclosure, if I, personally, were to answer, I think this is a false dichotomy. The two are not mutually exclusive and there are other important aspects of Christianity. To draw an analogy, they are like air and water—both are necessary. Yes, we would die from lack of air first, but that does not mean that water is less important.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: In some ways the question about whether Jesus's divinity or teachings is more important is like asking parents who is their favorite child, since among His most important teachings is that "before Abraham was born, I am." Jesus declares over and over that He and the Father are one, that only He has seen the Father, that His will and the Father's will are one and the same, that He is the Son of Man referred to in the Old Testament, and so on. So when one references His teachings, that includes the teaching that He is God.

However, I think this might give some perspective. If someone tried to follow some of Jesus's teachings, but rejected His divinity (and therefore many of His teachings as well), they would face eternal damnation. They would not be a Christian. On the other hand, anyone who accepts Jesus's divinity because they did not reject the free, gracious gift of saving faith from the Holy Spirit will try (while certainly falling short since all sin and fall short of the glory of God, which is why they need Christ's gift of salvation) to follow His teachings out of gratitude and a desire to live a life which is pleasing to God.

So anyone who is a Christian accepts Jesus's divinity. If not, then they are not Christians. And therefore, anyone who is a Christian will strive in their imperfect way to carry out His teachings, which, after all, are the will of the Father.

Now while not clear, I suspect the writer may have been thinking about people who declare themselves to be Evangelical Christians, yet seem to reject Christ's teachings in their own lives. Only God knows whether someone has saving faith, but Jesus also said you would know the tree by its fruit. I would suggest that rather than simply accepting that someone is a Christian because they loudly proclaim themselves to be and therefore speak for Christianity, instead pay the greatest attention to those who profess Christianity and appear to strive to carry out His will in their lives.

D.D. in San Diego, CA, writes: To bring this topic in line with the main theme of the website, I have noticed that Republican Christians almost always tend to prefer the divinity of Christ message, while Democratic Christians prefer the good works message. We see this every day in America.

Which party, for example, consistently promotes legislation forcing Christianity into the classroom and the lawbooks despite its clear violation of both the Constitution they claim to support and Jesus' explicit instructions to the contrary in the book of Matthew?

Which party, for example, consistently promotes legislation to help shelter the homeless, feed the poor, and heal the sick, in line with Jesus' explicit instructions to do so in the three synoptic Gospels and the book of James?

There's your answer.

S.R. in Robbinsville, NJ, writes: R.L. in Alameda, CA, wrote: "It was later in life that I began to learn the beauty of Christianity and Jesus' teachings. Without ever having read a word of the New Testament, I follow a lot of these teachings, which I believe can be summarized in a simple sentence: 'Be a good person.'"

Speaking as a secular Jew... as I see it, this is same message that's at the heart of Judaism, so it's no coincidence that it summarizes Rabbi Yeshua's teachings. As Rabbi Hillel is said to have told a man who challenged him to teach him the Torah while he stood on one foot, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: This is the whole of the Torah. The rest is commentary."

P.W. in Edmonds, WA, writes: I found the comment from A.B. in Wendell, NC to be the most uplifting, satisfying and comforting point of view about Jesus Christ that I have ever heard or read (especially paragraphs 4-7).

As a recovering Catholic, I've wanted to respond to the divinity v. teachings/actions discussion. But I couldn't condense my family history, current beliefs and actions, and viewpoint of and concern for the afterlife (I mentioned I am "recovering") into a succinct message. And now I don't have to! Thank you, A.B.

Oh, and the icing on the cake was A.B.'s line that reminded me of my favorite avant-garde rockers:

National Politics

D.M. in Elgin MN, writes: I wholeheartedly agree with your ongoing analysis of redistricting throughout the 50 states. The fact that more and more House districts are "safe" is an indictment of the process and somehow needs to be fixed, probably by federal legislation. Having safe seats gives us more lefties like Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN) and righties like the triumvirate of Reps. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). The polarization and radicalism will continue to increase as long as members are only threatened by not being right-wing or left-wing enough.

As a resident of southeast Minnesota, within 50 miles of the borders of both Iowa and Wisconsin, I've seen what fair lines can mean. I live in a district that flipped from Republican to Democratic in the past decade and in fact five of the eight Congressional Districts in Minnesota have flipped since maps were drawn (by a judicial panel) in 2010. In neighboring Iowa, seats flipped and flipped back in 2018 and 2020, reflective of the vote in the state. Finally, in gerrymandered Wisconsin, no flips occurred, despite the election of Democrats statewide in 2018 and Joe Biden narrowly carrying the state in 2020. My district was held by a Democrat last year by less than 2 percent and I'm sure she'll be one of the top targets of national Republicans in '22.

Unless there is a "red wave" equal to or greater than 2010, I would expect the 2022 midterms to put a floor of 200 seats for both parties, with the 30-35 swing seats determining control and by how much. I actually believe that if closer to 100 swing seats were in play there would be more chances for productive action in Congress, particularly if the filibuster is modified or eliminated.

A.H. in Monterey, MA, writes: I found your piece about Harry Reid interesting. I think this recent article in The Nation, "The Centrist Who Taught the Left," somewhat complicates your observation that he was "just a shade to the right of Joe Manchin (D-WV)," and also adds a perhaps surprising dimension to his continued influence after his retirement:

J.E.M. in Seattle, WA, writes: Regarding Pete Buttigieg's 2024 chances, you wrote: "Pete Buttigieg is doing amazingly well for a young gay guy who has pretty limited experience and is not a celebrity. ... It is possible that many (older) voters want Camelot II, and he is the most like JFK of the well-known potential candidates."

Pete is a celebrity, just not with aging Boomers. He has a major following among young people. He (and his husband Chasten) broke out during the 2020 campaign and have maintained that name recognition and following, something many candidates can't claim. What he doesn't have is that broad appeal needed for a national race, but those who like him really like him.

The Pandemic

P.A. in Redwood City, CA, writes: R.S. in Huntington Beach asked about how the partisan distribution of COVID deaths might effect future elections. The excellent blog had an extensive discussion of this last Thursday: "Elephant In The Room: Yes, More Trump Voters Have Likely Died Of COVID Than Biden Voters. No, It Likely Won't Make Much Difference." In addition to its regular coverage of ACA signups, the author posts weekly analyses of partisan distributions of COVID vaccinations, cases, and deaths. The author was a primary source for the NPR coverage of this issue in December.

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: I heard the staff mathematician had indulged in New Year's Eve libations, so let's do a quick back-of-the-envelope check to see how plausible this it is that COVID deaths could flip a congressional district. NPR gives the death rate among Trump counties as 2.73 times higher than Biden counties. Let's take that as the actual partisan multiplier, although I'm sure it is actually much higher since that number is based on county-wide populations, not partisan-only populations.

As in the NPR study, let's take May 1, 2021, as the starting date for when vaccines were widely available and the partisan death rates started to diverge. The U.S. COVID death count stood at 578,000 on that day, according to CDC tracker. There have been 242,000 deaths since then, and the national death rate has been hovering around 1,000 per day over the whole pandemic (with spikes and lulls). There are 313 days until Election Day 2022, giving us an additional 313,000 deaths or so. That is a total of 555,000 deaths, or about 0.17% of the total US population, between May 1, 2021 and Election Day.

Let's assume, for a first pass, they fall proportionately in each state (certainly not true), and proportionately in each district. For example, California has 11.91% of the U.S. population, so this assumption gives 66,000 deaths up to Election Day. CDC counts 15,000 deaths from May 1, 2021, to today and about 300 daily for a total of 109,000 by Election Day. So, a proportional method undercounts hard-hit California by a factor of about 2. But whatever.

Under the old maps, California had 53 districts, so 1,200 deaths per district. With a 2.73 partisan lean multiplier, that means 321 democratic-leaning deaths and 876 republican leaning deaths per district between May 1, 2021, and November 8, 2022. That is a swing of about 500 votes, and that's without assuming a 100% voting rate, whereas the voting rate is closer to 60% and has a partisan lean as well.

The closest tossup districts in California are CA-10 with a PVI of even, and CA-48 with PVI of R+1. Republican Michelle Steele flipped CA-48 from dem Harley Rouda in 2020 with a vote of 201,738 to 193,362. That's a margin of 8,376 votes. Deleting 900 Republican votes and 300 Democratic votes doesn't come close to swinging it. Even if the 1,200 deaths were exclusively Republican voters (a partisan lean of infinity), and even if we double the proportional death count assigned to California, it doesn't flip this election.

What about some much closer districts? Like IA-02 (R+4), NY-22 (R+9), or NJ-7 (D+1)? They were decided by 6 votes (0.002%), 109 votes (0.034%), and 5,329 votes (1.2%), respectively. Iowa, New York, and New Jersey will have about 6,600, 17,600, and 9,600 deaths, respectively. So IA-02, NY-22, and NJ-7 may get proportionally 1,600, 650 and 800 deaths, respectively. With the 2.73 partisan lean, that's 430 Democratic deaths and 1,171 repub deaths in IA-02, which would have easily swung it against Miller-Meeks. NY-22 would also have changed the margin by 300 votes, enough to swing it from Tenney to Brindisi. NJ-7 would not have enough, and anyway it had a Democratic incumbent.

The upshot is that no district decided by more than 0.1% or so is going to be affected by disproportionately partisan covid deaths. There were only 3 such districts in 2020, and may be even fewer in 2022, given the new maps. It's possible that no districts will get swung by COVID.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: Anthony Fauci said he hoped that Trump would keep touting the vaccine. This is quite unlikely to happen, because he got booed for saying people should get the shots that he created.

The narcissist got booed.

As you have noted, Trump figures out where his audience wants to go, then he claims he led them there. THis is why he has so much trouble reading off the Teleprompter—he says something, and if it gets applause he riffs on that, extemporaneously. If it does not get applause, he says something else, with no regard for whether the second thing he says is congruent with or even directly contradicted by what he said 5 minutes (or 5 seconds) ago.

When he got booed, that triggered him.

He won't make that mistake again—unless he forgets.

All Politics Is Local

B.C. in Selinsgrove, PA, writes: Just thought you guys might be interested in knowing that David McCormick has starting running ads in northeast Pennsylvania. (I saw it on the local ABC affiliate). In the ad, he never states that he is running for anything; it's basically just schmaltzy bio stuff and "Merry Christmas" with his name on the screen alongside "Bloomsburg, PA." Had I not been a daily reader, I would never have known who the guy is or the point of the ad. So the subliminal warfare has begun.

D.L-O. in North Canaan, CT, writes: I read Oprah's comments about Mehmet Oz with a laugh and nod to my niece. My niece is a famous author who has spent a lot of time with Oprah and has great respect for her. She was visiting our Connecticut contingent of the family this week, making up for the fact that she couldn't be with us for Christmas. During our evening catching up on each other's lives, we asked her what she thought Oprah's reaction to Oz's political campaign might be and what Oprah might say if she makes any public statement. She got a huge smirk on her face and said, "Oprah never says anything bad about anyone." She went on to talk a bit about Oprah's more recent distancing herself from Oz and said (I'm paraphrasing), "she'll say something honest, but neutral, very non-committal." I was a little shocked when Oprah went public a day later with her cleverly worded Oz non-committal non-endorsement. Honest but neutral indeed!

D.H. in Boulder, CO, writes: Oprah's non-endorsement of Mehmet Oz reminds me of the HR gambit when writing a reference for a weak job candidate. "You'll be lucky if you can get [X] to work for you."

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: Senator Hogan?

I suppose it's a possibility, but I doubt it. Many Republicans run for office, not in hopes of winning, but to pad their resumes for a subsequent gig on the right wing pundit gravy train (cough...danbongino...cough>. Hogan is too firmly in the anti-Trump wing of his party for that to be a possibility. No Fox News gig in his future.

If he ran, Hogan would win the GOP primary easily, but after that he'd be playing against the A team. His two gubernatorial wins were against weak Black candidates, Anthony Brown and Ben Jealous, neither of whom ran effective campaigns. White Marylanders are less likely to turn out for a black candidate, but Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) is neither Black, nor a rookie. Similarly, our Trumperniks will be less likely to bother to vote for a Never Trumper like Hogan.

So what does Hogan have to gain by running? Either way, he'll still be looking at the same retirement/lobbying career after he loses. Unless he really loves campaigning, I don't see it happening.

D.M. in McLean, VA, writes: As someone who lives across the Potomac from Maryland, and reads The Washington Post every day, my response to Hugh Hewitt possibly running is, "please, please, please let him!" If he is a declared candidate, maybe I'll finally get a break from reading the inane titles of his op-ed columns. Bonus points if he wins the primary, as that will keep him sidelined for all of 2022. I never click on his click-bait titles but it is still frustrating to see them on the homepage for the Post on too regular of basis.

Should it be both Larry Hogan and Hewitt in a primary fight, you can bet that Donald Trump will throw his support in behind Hewitt. Hogan has never been a part of Team Trump.

Legal Matters

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: In response to the question from P.L. in Denver regarding consequences from the Biden Administration unilaterally disclosing the documents sought by the 1/6 Committee, you overlooked that there is an order by the D.C. Circuit forbidding that until the Supreme Court rules on any injunction application from Trump. If Biden directed the National Archives to disclose the documents, he and they would be in contempt of the court's order. That would be the kind of disregard for the Rule of Law that Biden would never countenance, and (in addition to potential criminal exposure under the five-year statute of limitations—what would A.G. Rudy do?) I think it would invite impeachment now—I have to think at least five Democrats would be so offended that they would put nation over party.

On another subject, further to your item about U.S. Courts of Appeals decisions, in some ways they are even more important than Supreme Court decisions. First, they are not only mandatory authority for the federal district and bankruptcy courts in the Circuit, they are binding on future panels in that Circuit. The only way a Circuit panel's decision can be overruled are either in an en banc proceeding before all the judges on that Circuit, or by the Supreme Court.

Second, the Supreme Court takes very few cases (it has discretion over its docket), but nearly all Circuit appeals are as of right, so there are many, many more of them. Thus, district judges are much more likely to be concerned with being overruled by the Circuit than by the Supremes. Finally, even across Circuits, courts do not like to create splits—that creates forum-shopping opportunities—so even though not mandatory, precedent from another Circuit can be highly persuasive if there is no contrary controlling authority in the jurisdiction. Most cases are not "political"—I clerked for a conservative Reagan appointee, and we still agreed about 80% of the time. But for cases with a political aspect (which seem to be on the rise), who appointed the circuit judges hearing the appeals is enormously important.

V & Z respond: Thanks for the added information!

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: You wrote "Biden has been particularly successful in filling slots on the appeals courts—11 so far—which decide far more cases than the Supreme Court does, even if those decisions are not precedent-setting outside of their circuits."

This is, strictly speaking, true, but in practice it's a bit more than that.

For instance: For cases concerning copyright law, most federal judges look to the Second and the Ninth Circuits for guidance, because most copyright cases are brought in the Second Circuit (in which is found New York City) or the Ninth (Hollywood), and most cases interpreting corporate law are brought in the Third Circuit (Delaware, where most large U.S. corporations are incorporated).

There are exceptions, of course—when the Elvis Presley Estate brought suit against people who attempted to profit off his likeness after his death, the Sixth Circuit (Tennessee) looked to the Second and Ninth Circuits and saw that those two "leading" courts had held that the right of publicity dies with the person.

Well, this just would not do, since Elvis' Estate made several tons more money than Elvis (and Colonel Parker) ever had, so the Sixth Circuit held that the right of publicity dies with the person unless the person had profited off of his publicity while he was alive. This was a popular moot court question, forty years ago, but most Circuits have since adopted the Sixth Circuit's reading of the issue.

Courts like to talk about "judicial economy," by which is meant "Don't make me work any more than I absolutely have to!" If a Federal Judge in the Seventh Circuit (Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) gets a copyright case, they are gonna look to the Second and Ninth Circuits. They are not gonna look to the Eleventh Circuit (Alabama, Florida and Georgia) unless they really want to reach a conclusion different from the Second and Ninth, and the Eleventh produces a result more to that judge's liking.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: President Biden's latest pick for the D.C. Circuit, J. Michelle Childs, is a bit of a head scratcher. She's 56 years old and doesn't really seem to be that progressive. Keep in mind, she was confirmed to her District Court seat in 2010 without zero objections. One of the South Carolina senators at that time was Jim DeMint (R), so if he did not oppose her, she likely is more of a centrist jurist.

When George Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991, he was 41 years old. One of Trump's SCOTUS nominees, Amy Coney Barrett, was 47 years old when nominated. Many of Trump's lower court nominees also were in their thirties or forties.

Since the DC Circuit is often Triple AAA before heading to the majors (SCOTUS), nominees to this court should be less than 50 years old, in my view, and very progressive if coming from a Democratic president.

California Uber Alles?

D.T. in Hillsboro, OR, writes: With your staff mathematician out for the usual New Year's reasons, I can see why you may have missed this. No doubt if he hadn't been sleeping it off, he'd have pointed out that California is never going to break up into three new states. Maybe two new states, one with Los Angeles and the other with the Bay Area—although the Republicans would scream bloody murder about that—but three is a no go for the Democrats.

The reason for no three new states is that one of those states would pretty much have to be the northern third of the state, basically everything north of Sacramento. People in that area have been advocating separation from the rest of the state for a long time. See the State of Jefferson, which goes back to 1941.

That area is ruby red, which makes the Senate math neutral and the Electoral College math favor the red team. For the Senate, the two Democratic California senators would be replaced with 4 Democrats and 2 Republicans, for no net gain on either side. It looks like the proposed state of Jefferson would have two or possibly three representatives (estimate based on current Congressional district map) which would basically shift those electoral votes to the R side. The D's cannot afford to lose EVs like that.

I trust someone in the Democratic Party can do this math too, so don't expect that area to be given its liberty. The same goes for southern and eastern Oregon. Southern Oregon was an original part of the Jefferson proposal, but currently they're trying to join Idaho along with eastern Oregon. That would shift a congressional seat, along with its EC vote, to our neighbors to the east, so it's another no-go.

J.L. in Chicago, IL, writes: I question whether the Democrats really would approve breaking up California into two or three states, even with a working majority in Congress. I have a few reasons for doubting it:

R.B. in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, writes: Indeed there seem to be very few cases of non-violent, or even minimally violent secessions in modern history (leaving aside the distinction between decolonization and secession—e.g., India or Algeria). About the only non-violent one I can think of is the 1993 "velvet divorce" in Czechoslovakia. Well, the breakup of the USSR, but that was more a wind up of the whole state, not the breakaway of a part of it.

But Canada came fairly close. If the PQ government in Quebec (with the Bloc Quebecois, which had formed the Official Opposition in Ottawa) had won the referendum in 1995—and they came very close, winning 49.4% of the vote on a somewhat vaguely worded question—nobody really quite knows what would have happened. Use of force seemed pretty unlikely, in a Canadian context (evil though Canada may be), but it ultimately could have come to that, depending on how the situation evolved (or perhaps more appropriately, devolved).

But the prospect of secession brought up a host of very interesting new questions. For if a country is divisible, so is any sub-part of that country. If Quebec were to secede, there is no reason in principle it should get to keep its current boundaries, which were determined under federal law, and ultimately and theoretically at least, by the Crown (or perhaps even the UK parliament, in part). And that was a very real prospect, because, for example, First Nations groups occupying the majority of Quebec's landmass held treaties with the Crown, not the government of Quebec, which could be construed as superseding Quebec's provincial status. And aboriginal groups were pretty unanimously against secession.

I would imagine that there are significant chunks of California that might not be all that enthusiastic about secession either.

So even a non-violent secession could have gotten very ugly. But I'm not sure what part of this might apply to a highly armed, highly violent country like the U.S.

Election Chicanery

K.H. in Ypsilanti, MI, writes: In your discussions of disputed presidential elections I'm surprised you did not address the role of Katherine Harris in 2000.

As Florida Secretary of State (and co-chair of the George W. Bush presidential campaign in Florida), Harris effectively ran out the clock by dragging her feet on certifying the vote, leaving no time for a full recount. That, rather than a tactical mistake by the Gore campaign, is why Gore sought only a partial rather than a full recount—there wasn't time to do one before the deadline for certifying electors.

Given the concerns that partisan officials might tamper with election results in 2024, it's important to note that we already have a recent example of such shenanigans having a decisive effect on a presidential election. And with tragic results, many of us might add.

K.C. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: My apologies in advance for dwelling on something that was probably intended just to be glib, but when you wrote that the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes was best remembered for the First Lady's affinity for lemonade, I couldn't help but think about the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, an uprising that began in West Virginia but ultimately spread to numerous states across the country over more than a month, resulting in roughly 100 deaths. It was the president's decision to send in federal troops to numerous cities that finally quelled the unrest—and also led to a necessary upgrading of the National Guard. True, this wasn't a presidency that included any world wars, but the Great Strike was arguably the most severe labor conflict in American history... a pretty stern test for a new president just a few months into his term. I have to think that history will remember it a bit more intently than the lemonade.

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: You wrote, in your discussion of the Election of 1876: "The worst state was South Carolina, which had about 180,000 eligible voters, and yet somehow reported 182,683 votes."

This is perhaps the main reason why the nationwide popular vote was not selected as our method of choosing the president. Too susceptible to chicanery. Any state could claim some outlandish number of votes. That, and differing eligibility requirements to inflate the number of voters from state to state. Electoral votes based on the census limited the utility of this kind of gamesmanship.

L.C. in Brookline, MA, writes: To your list, you need to add:

11. The voting machines and computer systems downstream of them. Since nobody can see what is going on in these, once ballots are cast on or moved to these, the chain of custody is effectively broken, and is at the mercy of whoever can hack them or do an inside job on them to deliver the electoral votes to the candidate of their choice. Those who cast the votes will decide nothing; those who count the votes (or more accurately, who program the things that count the votes) will decide everything. Don't be surprised if the Trumpers and voting machine companies are suddenly on good terms again in a few years...
History Matters

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: You wrote: "As to the least consequential election, we will go with 1888." Since the major party nominees were exactly the same in 1892, certainly the presidential election of 1892 was equally unimportant.

C.R. in St. Louis, MO, writes: The election of 1924 was pretty inconsequential.

Both candidates were conservative, small government advocates not likely to cause waves with big business or cater to any leftist or labor movement. Progressives put up a separate candidate that had no chance except to win his home state of Wisconsin.

J.M. in Stamford, CT, writes: I hesitate, as usual, to take on a professional historian, but I wonder if you included the election of 1792 in your list of candidates for least consequential? The incumbent president was unopposed and re-elected unanimously, so it's hard to judge the "consequences" of his losing to the non-existent other fellow.

The campaign for second spot was contested, and perhaps one might argue that, had George Clinton won instead of Adams, Adams might not have succeeded in getting his shot at the top job four years later. That might have distorted the 1797-1801 period a bit, depending on whether another Federalist would have won on Washington's endorsement, or whether the Republican VP and/or Thomas Jefferson himself, encouraged by Clinton's win in 1792, would have had a chance even against the President's chosen successor.

I tend to think a Federalist would have won, whether Adams or another, based both on Washington's prestige and on the lack of the scandals and conflicts that characterized the third Federalist term and led to the eventual victory of the Democratic-Republicans in 1800. And if even the vote for a different VP in 1792 would have had few meaningful consequences for national history, surely that oddest of presidential elections wins as "least consequential," hands down.

D.R. in Ewing, NJ, writes: You wrote: "Those 11 states comprised the Confederacy, though there was also a sizable number soldiers from the Union states of Maryland, Kentucky, Delaware, and Missouri who fought on the side of the South."

No Confederate units were raised from Delaware, so including it is conjectural.

V & Z respond: The soldiers listed on the Delaware Confederate Monument would be surprised to hear this.

W.K.D. in Houston, TX, writes: You wrote that the North's opposition to slavery was economic and not moral. As trained historian (Z) surely knows, this contention is less than half true. Northern abolitionists put forward the best argument that they thought would resonate with the broadest audience—namely that slavery is bad for you and ultimately your pocketbook. But in reality, many (most?) abolitionists were vehemently opposed to slavery on moral grounds, irrespective of their public pronouncements. This is not too dissimilar to the arguments made by current day anti-abortion activists that their primary concern is "the health, well-being, and safety of the mother." They are hoping that this argument is more persuasive than "Satan-worshiping baby killer" even though many of them believe this in their hearts. The activist and the revolutionary typically reach out to the general public with well-crafted rational arguments meant to disguise the true emotional zeal that drives them. So let us not in 2021 paint the white Northern abolitionists of the 19th century as selfish economic opportunists. They were not.

V & Z respond: First, it was (Z) who wrote that, and (Z) does not knowingly write things that are "less than half true." Second, what (Z) actually wrote was: "The Republicans opposed slavery on economic grounds more than moral grounds." So, the passage allowed for the fact that both dynamics were present. Third, the vast majority of Republicans, both officeholders and voters, were free soilers and not abolitionists. The free soilers, among them Abraham Lincoln, may have found slavery problematic or immoral, but they did not feel that the government had the power to unilaterally abolish the institution, and so favored a slow death by halting the spread of the institution. Indeed, the mere possibility that someone might be an abolitionist made them basically unelectable in most circumstances; William Seward's "irrepressible conflict" speech famously gave rise to suspicions that he was a closet abolitionist, and wrecked his presidential hopes. Fourth, the abolitionists most certainly did not keep their "true" opinions to themselves; see the speeches and writings of John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Sumner, Lydia Maria Child, or Frederick Douglass.


M.S. in Gonzales, LA, writes: Well, I'm crossing all my fingers and toes that at least 11 of your 12 predictions will come true. But I'm also not holding my breath. I've been a Democratic volunteer and activist (in the Deep South) since the Kennedy campaign of 1960, but the past 5 years have made me far less optimistic about this country and far more cynical.

No. 12, though: I have to say, I don't really care whether Charles succeeds to the throne this year (though an actuary probably would bet he will), or what he calls himself—but I think it's more likely to be Charles III, since he has been known publicly by his own name for a very long time and I don't believe the British public would look favorably on a change now.

J.K. in Bremen, Germany, writes: I really liked your predictions for 2022, they are so positive and encouraging. Furthermore their formulation is so precise that they are falsifiable (in the sense of Karl Popper).

But I would add one name to #11: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It's the economy, Recep. He ruins the Turkish economy by doing foolish things with interest rates, causing the Euro-based debt of middle class merchants and craftsmen to explode. My guess is that he will try to blackmail the European Central Bank in an act of despair: "Save the Turkish Lira or Turkey will stop serving their debt to banks in Spain and France." Rating agencies will cause Turkey to follow the path of Argentina, ending Erdoğan's career.

S.C. Jonesville, MI, writes: Your .260 average for 2021 predictions was well above the Mendoza Line.

V & Z respond: We weren't the epitome of mediocrity? Yes!

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: You wrote that "Nostradamus's" prediction of a zombie apocalypse, a Biblical famine, solar storms, and an asteroid impact went 0/4. But technically there were solar storms this year; they just turned out to be mild enough to be basically inconsequential, beyond making the Aurora Borealis visible unusually far south.

V & Z respond: We'd be more impressed if there were a zombie apocalypse we hadn't heard about.

M.B. in Menlo Park, CA, writes: My prediction for 2022 is "In June, the Supreme Court will overrule Roe v. Wade, leading to massive nationwide protests."

I can already score it: Accuracy: 5/5 Boldness: 0/5 Total: 5/5

S.K. in Bethesda MD, writes:

Last year we made our predictions
We were certain of all our depictions
We thought we'd win prizes,
But life brought us surprises
And our guesses turned out to be fictions!
You're a Good Man, Charlie Windsor

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: In response to the question from R.C. in Des Moines asking why you predicted that Prince Charles would change his name on becoming king, I believe you left out two important reasons. One, to put it bluntly, the British Royals tend not to name their kings and queens after perceived "losers." I had always heard that there was a unspoken rule that no future British monarch could be named John, Mary or Richard, despite those being very popular names. The general populace viewed and still views King John as a weak king who through his various sins was forced to sign the Magna Carta by his nobles. Queen Mary was known in her time, and is still known, as "Bloody Mary" for her persecution of the Protestants. The regal name of Richard actually is a "three strikes, you're out" issue. Yes, King Richard I was known as "The Lionhearted" for his bravery and prowess, but he is also the king who abandoned his duty to fight in the Crusades, thus leaving England to be ruled by King John (see above). Richard II was viewed as a weak king who was deposed by his court and later murdered. Richard III, of course, is the popular "hunchback villain" of history, who in reality only had a slight twist to his spine and, while not proven, more than likely murdered the two young princes, his nephews, in the Tower of London. Of course Kings Richard and John's bad reputations are helped along by being chronicled in several plays by the greatest playwright of all time, William Shakespeare; that perpetuates memory of their failings.

While the name of King Charles is not on the "naughty" list, it should be noted that there have only been two, and it's been nearly 400 years since they ruled. King Charles I was the last British king to be deposed by the nobility and was also beheaded. King Charles II was Charles I's son and was later restored to the throne after Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth proved such a disaster. His reign has left historians much divided, but his reputation lies mostly with the fact that he left no legitimate heir but rather a long, long line of illegitimate ones—such a mess that his brother was his (mostly) logical heir. For many years after the reign of Charles II, there were many intrigues, plots and attempts to put one of the many, many Pretenders and their offspring on the throne. A king who was so unpopular that he was deposed and beheaded and another king who left the kingdom in a state of unrest and intrigue due to his promiscuous ways... I'm going to guess is not the line that Prince Charles would want to adopt given his personal history.

Which is a nice segue to my second point. Of the many descendants of Charles II's many illegitimate heirs, the most famous of them would be the late Diana, Princess of Wales, who many people still revere and who they see as a martyr to the cruelty of the institution of the monarchy. The fact that Prince Charles was the man married to Princess Diana and is viewed by many as the man who drove his fairytale princess to her death would be, I imagine, reminders that Prince Charles will want to run as far away from as possible. If one reads between the lines with the Oprah interview with Prince Harry, Charles' youngest son, and Harry's wife Meghan Markle, the fissures between Prince Charles and Lady Diana are still causing Royal repercussions to this day.

When Prince Charles ascends to the throne he will have a very weak hand in that the messiness of his divorce from Diana and his marriage to Camilla Parker-Bowles, a divorcee who while married was Prince Charles' mistress while he was married, will still be fresh in everyone's mind. There will be the constant reminder of all this everyday because, unlike her predecessors, Camilla won't be known as Queen Consort but rather as Princess Consort, due to stipulations that allowed Charles to marry her, denoting her inferior status. As King, Charles could try to get that changed but at his age does he really want to stir up that hornet's nest? In The Crown, there is a wonderful episode, among many, where the character of Camilla says, and I'm brutally paraphrasing here, that Princess Diana is a fairytale come true and that a fairytale is always going to beat reality. The only strength Charles will have going for him is Elizabeth's enduring popularity. Even then it is widely known that Charles was not her favorite of her four children. Picking the regal name of George would harken back to his maternal grandfather, George VI, who famously help lead the country through the darkness of World War II.

Of your many predictions, the one where Princess Charles changes his regnal name is one of the least bold on your list. What seems much bolder is your prediction of Queen Elizabeth II's demise in the coming year. She seems like such a bastion of durability that it becomes impossible to imagine her passing. But then I would have said the same of Betty White, whose death seems like the last slap across the face by 2021 as it exits out the door.

V & Z respond: We thought Betty White would make it to at least 105.

M.C. in Newton, MA, writes: An additional possible reason for Prince Charles to adopt a different regnal name is the mid-10s play, King Charles III, which presents a future where he has a very controversial reign. I haven't seen it (not even the TV adaptation, which I believe ran on PBS here), but my understanding is that it depicted Charles in a very negative light.

P.M. in Reading, England, UK, writes: If Charles was to choose Philip as his regnal name, he would technically be King Philip II (Mary I's husband was King Philip II of Spain, who was crowned Philip I of England, our least-known King). I'm not sure he would want his new reign to be greeted with such confusion, so George VII is much more likely.

N.E. in San Mateo, CA, writes: In addition to any nicknames, Charles I famously lost the English Civil War and was executed. Then add in a couple other Charles-es among the Stuarts who were no prizes either.

All told, it seems odd that the present Prince Charles got that name in the first place, as it seems like it should be as discredited as John.

In Praise of

J.K. in Freehold, NJ, writes: I've been an avid reader of, from which I get 90% of my political news and information, for years. In all that time I've never seen anything as profound, uplifting and totally correct as your readers' responses to C.S. in Linville's about having a baby later in life. I've lived all of these comments in my 72 years, in one way or another, but it was still inspired to see them listed so well in one place. It reinforced my optimism about the majority of the American people and the future of our country and world.

J.D.M. in Cottonwood Shores, TX, writes: Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the letters from parents and the limericks. And thank you so much for all your work... Very impressive, given your education from an institution founded after 1800!

V & Z respond: Yes, we regret we weren't able to attend Penn, founded in 1740, and alma mater of one Donald Turmp.

R.L. in Tucson, AZ, writes: Should you consider making the poetry an annual tradition? Absolutely! I'm a mathematician by training, software developer by avocation and retired by occupation. I've learned and enjoyed more about poetry at any time since high school. Never too late.

K.H, in Boulder CO, writes:

I say this to you.
No need for any ado.
Keep rhymember too.
Responses to the Complaints Department

M.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: In response to S.S. in Tampa, and to and the replies to S.S.:

(V) and (Z) have spent their professional careers as teachers, and by all indications are very good ones. That means listening to students and hearing what they are trying to say, even if it is sometimes different than what they are actually saying. Yet as sure as the sun rising in the east (OK, it's December in Cleveland, so as sure as the sky becoming a lighter gray in the east) the only response to someone mentioning Critical Race Theory is "We're Not Teaching CRT!" It's like a couple of second graders: "Are Too!" "Am Not" "Are Too!" "Am Not!"

Dear folks on the left: The way that the history of race and the present state of racism in America is taught has changed in the last generation. I say this as a high school teacher (not history, but I stayed at a Holiday Inn with history teachers) and as a parent of teenagers. What is currently taught doesn't whitewash the brutality of slavery and Jim Crow and the resistance to the Civil Rights Movement. As just one example, I learned about the Tulsa race riots from my kids, who learned it at school. I had never heard of them, despite having a fabulous U.S. History teacher who was left of left of center and didn't shy away from issues of race. When the anniversary came this year, I suspect that a lot of people in my generation said, "Why have I never heard about this?" That won't be true for the next generation. This is undeniably a change for the better, but any change can be difficult and meet with resistance.

I believe that when well-meaning people mistakenly invoke CRT, they are talking about this shift (I'm not counting the cynical politicians and vile media who are not well-meaning, but the S.S.'s and P.M. in Curritucks of the world). Their kids are more uncomfortable in class than they were, because the truth is uncomfortable. You can't point out that a lot of U.S. history is basically white people treating other people as sub-human without causing caring, empathetic students pain and discomfort. A good teacher will do their best to manage this discomfort and channel it toward working for a better future, but we don't get it right for every student. And when people's kids come home upset, and talk about what they learned in school, and it's not something that the parents learned, well, yes, there is going to be conflict. If you hope to bring fence-sitting moderates into your coalition, you need to acknowledge and address this conflict, not deny it.

Dear folks on the right: While this shift is real, your name for it is not. You have a long history of sticking an inappropriate name to something and then yelling about it. "Socialism!" "Death Panels!" It's easy to remember, but it makes you look like fools. If you want people outside of your bubble to take you seriously, you need to make an effort to get away from a shouted slogan and offer a true analysis of your position.

There. I will put away my teacher voice now, and suggest that we all consider possible thoughtful and caring resolutions for the year to come.

K.M. from Tacoma, WA, writes: I have noticed that many people are complaining that you are becoming more leftist. This is not the case, only in comparison appears so.

As the Trumpist Right has fallen off the cliff, any reasonable person appears to be more left leaning now, including RINOs, moderate republicans and never Trumpers.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: You seem to get quite a few comments about the site's perceived lack of neutrality, or of its having moved to the left in recent years. I don't think that's an accurate analysis. Instead, because of Trump and the MAGA movement, the Right is no longer conservative or normal. Trump is referred to as the Grifter-in-Chief because he is literally a con artist, which is a type of white-collar criminal, who surrounds himself with equally unsavory individuals. This is not hyperbole or "liberal snark." To treat him or those within the Republican caucus who enable him as though they are typical, while not calling out their anti-democratic words and deeds, would be tantamount to lying by omission. (V) and (Z) aren't writing in a biased manner; they are illuminating an utterly corrupt and abnormal political reality. Anyone who can't make that distinction needs to remove their blinders and stop imbibing the Kool Aid provided by some very sophisticated political operatives on the Right.


C.J. in Lowell, MA, writes: In the answer about President Obama not releasing his grades you said he is clearly an educated, intelligent, well-spoken man like certain other Presidents, but I'm not sure how George W. Bush gets on that particular list.

V & Z respond: That was a typo, which many people wrote in to point out, and which we fixed. It was supposed to be George H.W. Bush, of course. Though both of them went to a school founded before 1800, so you might want to check with J.D.M. in Cottonwood Shores above.

A.K. in Alexandria, VA, writes: This showed up as an ad on the Washington Post website this week:

An ad for a series on 
the worst values in college education, state by state, with a picture of some USC cheerleaders

Now we just need a warning about those Canadians.

V & Z respond: You can always count on The Washington Post to fight the good fight for truth, justice, and the American way. They took down Richard Nixon, and clearly they've moved on to an even greater evil.

P.S., Gloucester, MA, writes: A rejoinder to J.P. in Lancaster: I agree that turtles, as a species, do not deserve denigration. So, let's refer to Mitch McConnell specifically as Yertle.

D.R. in Irapuato, Mexico, writes: You wrote: "So, does that mean Sheev Palpatine is Donald Trump? And Darth Vader is Donald Trump Jr.?"

Oh, no. Donald Trump is Darth Vader. Think about it:

Finally, Trump's equivalent to Vader's decision to end the Emperor's rule could very well be cutting ads with President Biden promoting the Covid vaccine. It would be the perfect moment of redemption for him.

V & Z respond: But then wouldn't this make Donald Trump Jr. Luke Skywalker, and Ivanka Princess Leia?

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