Bow howdy did we get a lot of answers to the reader question of the week. We are going to curtail our own answers a little bit, so we can run a few more of the woke answers.
M.B. in Singapore, Singapore, asks: Is it too much of a reach to consider the letter from Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH), James Comer (R-KY) and Bryan Steil (R-WI) to Alvin Bragg an attempt to obstruct justice? This seems to me like a tactic of intimidation meant to dissuade Bragg from indicting their Orange Jesus.
(V) & (Z) answer: Is it obstruction of justice? Yes.
However, as we have learned in the last few years, obstruction is a very fuzzy crime and is hard to prove. On top of that, the feds don't pursue convictions unless they are close to a slam dunk. And further on top of that, the feds are very leery of going after politicians for actions undertaken in an official capacity.
So, Jordan, Comer, and Steil certainly know they are violating the law. However, they also know that the chances of being prosecuted are nil. It is extremely probable that, as added insurance, they had staff lawyers review the letter to make certain of that. Jordan went to law school, so he could theoretically do that job himself. However, it was a mediocre law school and he didn't pass the bar, so if we were Comer and Steil, we'd insist on a review by a more capable lawyer.
D.N. in Hyattsville, MD, asks: In your item "Wait, There Is Yet Another Case against Trump Pending," you suggested the possibility that a foreign bank might be laundering money through Trump's company. Although I'm quite willing to believe that Trump would participate in such a scheme, I don't understand how it would work. If a money launderer puts, say, $2 million into Trump's company, then how do they get any of it back out?
(V) & (Z) answer: There are many plausible ways to do this. What the feds are specifically looking at, apparently, is a loan made by shady, possibly Russian, sources to Trump Media. All Trump Media has to do is sit on that money for a while, then pay it back with some interest, and it's laundered. It would also be possible to return money in the form of "here are the returns from the sale of your stock in the company" or in the form of generous dividend payments.
M.N. in Lake Ann, MI, asks: I have seen a few articles like this one and this this one suggesting that the pro-Trump factions are taking note of the chaos caused by the failure of Silicon Valley Bank and are considering a bank run instead of a traditional type of protest if Trump is arrested. It seems this might actually be more successful than storming the Capitol at bringing down democracy if they can pull it off. I am not convinced they can pull it off, though. What do you think?
(V) & (Z) answer: We think it sounds vastly more plausible as online chatter than it does as a real plan of action.
For this to work, the Trumpers would have to identify a small or smallish bank that just so happens to have a sizable amount of deposits from Trumpers. These depositors would have to be organized in such a way that they withdrew their deposits en masse within a very small window—maybe 48 hours. We just don't see how these conditions can be met, especially since the people who tend to take the lead in angry Trump protesting are generally not, shall we say, the sharpest knives in the drawer. And even if the scheme did succeed, it would not bring down democracy anymore than the failure of SVB brought down democracy.
Much more plausible would be some sort of scheme to manipulate the price of one stock as a form of protest, as happened with Gamestop a couple of years ago. But even that would be tough to pull off.
B.S. in Berlin, Germany, asks: In the event Donald Trump is indicted for a state crime in New York, he would need to be extradited from Florida. Normally, this would not be a problem, but in the alternative reality in which some of Trump's supporters live, where (for example) the vice president has the power to reverse the results of a presidential election, it would not be difficult to imagine those same people believing that the Governor of Florida has the power to refuse to extradite Trump. Given Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is hoping to get many of the people who live under delusions of this nature to support him when he runs for president, might he try and make a public show of refusing to extradite Trump?
On the flip side, if Trump does get extradited, would Trump be likely to use that against DeSantis—as evidence that he, like Mike Pence, is truly a Deep State operative?
(V) & (Z) answer: DeSantis has already made clear he's not open to these kinds of shenanigans. And it's not surprising the Governor feels this way. First, he doesn't want to stick his neck out for a political rival, and he most certainly doesn't expect that doing so would win him any support from Trumpers. Second, because such a gesture would be somewhere between "legally risky" and "pointless."
Article IV, Sec 2 of the Constitution makes very clear DeSantis' responsibilities here:A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.
Both federal statutes and case law make clear that DeSantis is required to surrender Trump, and if the Governor fails to do so, he could end up in legal hot water himself. Whether the feds would actually prosecute a sitting governor is a good question; that would be a pretty bot potato. But what they would definitely do is have the U.S. Secret Service or the U.S. Marshals Service head to Mar-a-Lago and arrest Trump, rendering DeSantis' act of rebellion moot.
If DeSantis was willing to do anything possible to save Trump's skin, his only real option would be to arrange for Trump to be charged with and convicted of a crime in Florida. The law does allow states to retain custody of a person if that person is satisfying a criminal sentence in that state.
C.S. in Tucson, AZ, asks: It seems pretty dang important, but my question hasn't been covered (to my knowledge) by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post or The Borowitz Report: What are the U.S. strategic interests vis-à-vis the invasion of Ukraine by Russia?
(V) & (Z) answer: Perhaps we are misunderstanding your question, because this seems to us like an issue that's been addressed exhaustively.
Vladimir Putin has made very clear that he has broad territorial ambitions. And anytime he's acted on those ambitions (e.g., Crimea), that whets his appetite to acquire even more territory. In turn, his territorial expansion disrupts global trade networks while also putting Russia in a position to threaten key U.S. allies, most obviously Poland and Germany.
C.P. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: I was reading Heather Cox Richardson's excellent substack last week where she noted how the International Criminal Court had issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin on war crimes. She noted how 120+ countries created the ICC with a treaty called the Rome Statute, but the United States did not and has not still signed. My question is, why hasn't the U.S. signed onto this treaty? Is there any chance they could sign on in the future?
(V) & (Z) answer: Actually, the U.S. has signed the treaty, but it has not ratified it. That's true of 30 other countries, as well, including Israel, Russia and India. The letter advising then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that the U.S. would not be ratifying and would not be bound by having signed the treaty was sent by a fellow named John Bolton during the Bush 45 years.
The U.S. is generally loath to cede authority like this, particularly given that the U.S. sometimes does things that violate international law (or that come close to doing so, at least). Republicans are particularly committed to this view, and so a Republican president would never submit the treaty for ratification, and Republicans would also undoubtedly stop the Senate from ratifying the treaty if it ever came up. And Democratic presidents also dislike having their hands tied (see Barack Obama's policy in Syria), so it's unlikely that any of them would even try to submit it for ratification.
D.D. in Hollywood, FL, asks: It seems to me the running of our government is being done more through the judiciary than the legislative branch. Drugs are being approved (or disapproved) by judges, what the EPA can regulate is being hamstrung by judges. Teachers are terrified if they say the wrong thing they could be sued. The bounty abortion law in Texas was easier than actually passing a law against abortion. Am I the only one that thinks Republicans have found a real loophole and realize that seating judges who are in "office" for life is a much easier path to shaping our country's conservative policies than the hassle of having to run for office and pass laws, especially when it comes to laws that are fascist in nature?
(V) & (Z) answer: To start, the Republicans did not invent the strategy of using the courts to achieve your agenda if you can't do so through the normal legislative process. The Federalists figured it out 200 years ago. So did Southern Democrats before the Civil War. And, many years later, the Civil Rights Movement.
That said, the modern Republican Party has been particularly disciplined when it comes to sitting a large number of very-far-right judges willing to do the Party's bidding. That's not to say that all judges are partisan hacks, but there are a larger number of partisan hacks on the bench right now than at any point in the last 150 years.
M.B. in Bolingbrook, IL, asks: I'm writing to ask your opinion as to whether or not the- two seemingly leading Republicans are making an unforced error in their purported veep searches? Nikki Haley, Kari Lake and Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) seem to be the leading candidates, but none of them bring double-digit electoral votes to a ticket. I'd think a candidate from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Texas or other states that would offer equal diversity as well as thumbing the scale for down ballot races.
(V) & (Z) answer: To start, you can't choose a hypothetical running mate, you need a real person. And we are not sure what Pennsylvanian, Wisconsinite or Texan might be chosen by Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis. The godawful candidates that the Republicans have put up in the former two states recently makes clear that the bench in those places is thin. As to Texas, there are some options there, but that state is already safely red, and the most obvious options (e.g., Gov. Greg Abbott, R-TX) see themselves as presidential material, not sidekicks.
Meanwhile, except in rare circumstances, a VP candidate rarely moves the needle in their home state. In fact, a VP candidate rarely moves the needle at all, and when they do, it's just as likely to be in the wrong direction (e.g., Sarah Palin). Really, all the VP discussion is just so the candidates and the media will have something to talk about.
L.B. in Savannah, GA, asks: If Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is unable to return to the Senate, who do you think will be his successor? As minority whip, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) is technically next in line, but the minority leader could very well be the majority leader in 2024, and I don't know if Thune has the confidence of his fellow Republicans for that position. Can you make any predictions? All I know is that it won't be Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) or Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).
(V) & (Z) answer: The first thing to keep in mind is that while the Speaker of the House needs a majority of the entire House (which means that, under current circumstances, they need pretty much their entire party), the party leaders of the Senate only need a majority of their own caucus/conference. In other words, the person who replaces McConnell, whenever that happens, will need roughly 26 Republican votes, not 50. So, it's not possible for a small handful of nutters to throw a wrench in the process all by themselves.
We suspect that when McConnell steps down, the Senate Republican Conference will want someone with some leadership experience, but maybe not someone who is as close to McConnell as Thune or Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). The Party is also mindful of the need to show the world that it's not just the party of old, white men. So, if we had to place a bet, we'd probably bet on Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), who is currently Republican Policy Committee Chairman. And yes, that is her proper title; the GOP decided several years ago that all chairs are chairmen, regardless of gender.
D.H. in Portland, OR, asks: I am sure that after Pearl Harbor there were many young men who dropped out of high school to join the military and, after returning, some of those men became members of the House of Representatives. Since then, how common is it to have members of Congress with only a high school education?
(V) & (Z) answer: As a baseline, in the first Congress to sit after the end of World War II, about 56% of House members and 75% had a college degree. Both of those numbers reached 90% in the early 1990s, and they've stayed in the 90s ever since. Further, roughly two-thirds of the members had advanced degrees by the 1990s; that number has also remained steady.
In the current Congress, there are 27 members of the House who do not have a bachelor's degree; five of those have an associate's degree, while the other 22 have only a high school diploma or GED. The non-college House members are mostly Republicans, though there are a few Democrats on the list, including Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Cori Bush (MO). In the Senate, there are only two members who do not have a bachelor's degree. Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) has an associate's degree, and that's the extent of his education. And while Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is an M.D., he never completed his undergraduate studies at Baylor.
The executive summary: Right after World War II, members of Congress with only a high school education were pretty common. Now, they are much rarer, but they are not unheard of.
A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK, asks: You wrote that Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) is not eligible to be U.S. president, presumably on the basis of her birth in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, and subsequent naturalization as a U.S. citizen in 1959.
However, Sen. Hirono's mother, Laura Chie Sato, was a U.S. citizen born in Hawaii in 1924. If Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz (Canada-born to an American mother and Cuban father who only attained US citizenship in 2005) is eligible to be president of the United States, then why isn't Mazie Hirono? The fact that Hirono went through a naturalization ceremony suggests her status was at best ambiguous, but both Hirono and Cruz were born outside the United States to couples where only the mother was a U.S. citizen. What am I missing?
(V) & (Z) answer: The rules for the conveyance of citizenship to children can be abstruse, and they have changed over time. When Hirono was born in 1947, she was subject to the terms of the Nationality Act of 1940, which dictated that for citizenship to convey from a person's parent, the parent must be a citizen who lived for at least 10 years in the U.S., including at least 5 years after the age of 16. Laura Sato failed the second part of that test, and so she did not convey citizenship to her daughter. Mazie Hirono was eventually naturalized in 1959.
By the time Ted Cruz was born in 1970, the Nationality Act of 1940 had been superseded twice; the legislation that was in effect at Cruz's birth was the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This bill created more liberal terms for a citizen parent to convey citizenship to their children, although his mother apparently would also have met the terms of the 1940 law, as she had only lived in Canada for a few years when Cruz was born.
A.B. in Wendell, NC, asks: I was discussing Donald Trump's impending indictment with a friend, and the friend said Trump should just do us all a favor and shuffle off the mortal coil.
I said, hell, no... that would be another slick escape for him. And my friend argued that the trial would go on, stating that people are tried "in absentia" all the time. I told him that this still assumes the defendant is alive. A civil trial can transfer to a deceased person's estate, but a criminal charge would die.
I told him, however, that if Trump were tried and found guilty, then appealed, then died, the guilty verdict would stand and the appeal would cease. Can you settle this argument?
(V) & (Z) answer: Yes, we can settle it. However, you may not be happy when we settle it by telling you that you are both wrong.
To start, in the U.S., people cannot be tried in absentia. To be more precise, they must be present for the opening steps of the process including the plea and the opening of their trial. IF they choose to flee once the trial has commenced, then the trial can continue, as they are presumed to have waived their right to be present. But if the defendant is not in court for those early steps, the trial cannot begin.
As to the question about convictions and appeals, the term used is abatement. And the Supreme Court has made clear, most recently in U.S. v. Libous and Nelson v. Colorado (both 2017) that if a defendant dies while the appeals process is underway, then the entire process is abated. That is to say, any convictions are vacated and any penalties (e.g., fines) have to be repaid to the decedent's heirs.
The basic logic here is that if the appeals process was still pending, no final judgment was reached. That means that if a person pleads guilty and dies, or neglects to appeal and dies, then the conviction does stand, since the conviction would be "final" in those cases.
J.P. in Horsham, PA, asks: You have often written that the job of President of the United States is the hardest job in the world, with the job of running for president being the second hardest in the world. It's not hard to figure out when POTUS became the hardest job: after (or possibly during) World War II, when the country truly emerged as a global superpower.
Less self-evident is the timing of when running for president being the second hardest job. I'm currently reading Gentleman Boss: The Life and Times of Chester Alan Arthur by Thomas C. Reeves. Although some of the backroom meetings among the various factions of the Republican Party may have been stressful during the 1880 campaign, they don't seem to make the act of running for office anywhere near as difficult as it is now.
So when did running for president become as difficult a job as it now is?
(V) & (Z) answer: We would say the 1960s. First, because the job became so powerful and so all-encompassing after World War II. The number of policy areas a would-be president was expected to master grew exponentially.
Second because, by the 1960s, the medium of television was firmly established. So, a candidate had to be "on" at pretty much all times.
Third because, by the 1960s, the primary/caucus system had become the mode for choosing nominees. If all you have to do is gladhand a bunch of cigar-smoking pooh-bahs, then that requires relatively little time and effort. Further, that process tended to begin in late spring or early summer. On the other hand, if you have to make nice to a bunch of people in 99 different counties in Iowa, and you have to show up at dozens of state fairs and fish frys and other such events, it takes a lot more time and effort and the process begins much earlier.
S.M. in Louisville, KY, asks: I have been really interested in the details of the controversy of the Jefferson-Burr 36 ballot conflict in 1800. It's seems like a great story, but I can't find any books that focus on this. I'm curious if Burr really was trying to sneak in the back door. Do you have any recommendations?
(V) & (Z) answer: It would be most correct to say that Burr wasn't actively trying to sneak in the back door, but he wasn't actively trying to close the door, either.
As to a book recommendation, the University of Kansas did a series on presidential biographies, and is now doing a series on presidential elections. They're up to volume 24, which means they aren't quite halfway through (there have been 59 elections overall). Luckily, 1800 was one of the very first, so that volume has been out for several years. It is called The Deadlocked Election of 1800: Jefferson, Burr, and the Union in the Balance, and was written by a well-regarded scholar of the early republic, James Roger Sharp. It's only 239 pages, and since it was produced for a broad audience, it's very readable.
A.C. in Nashville, TN, asks: I have lived in and around Nashville, TN, my whole life. I took Tennessee history at some point during my elementary/high school years, but never learned about the importance of all the preserved Franklin Battlefields (Carton Plantation, Lotz House, Winstead Hill, Carter House, etc.). I just drove by them and see the Confederate battle flag hanging proudly, which makes my blood pressure boil. Can you explain the significance of these areas and why they have preserved them?
(V) & (Z) answer: There were two Battles of Franklin. The one in 1863 was a very minor skirmish. The one in 1864 was one of the worst defeats the Confederacy suffered, in significant part because the Confederate commander, John Bell Hood, was in way, way over his head. Neither engagement was particularly important, however. The former, again, was just a minor skirmish. And the latter took place on Nov. 30, 1864, by which point Atlanta had fallen, Abraham Lincoln had been reelected, and the Confederacy's days were numbered.
Given the relatively low historical significance, there are two primary reasons the area has been preserved, we would say. The first is that the states that served as the site of Civil War battles, particularly the Southern states, tend to want to have some physical locations that commemorate the war. They are there for tourists, students, local residents and, many years ago, for veterans of the war. If the Battles of Franklin had been fought in Virginia, well, that state has many battlefields to choose from, and does not need to preserve those of minor importance. Tennessee has fewer options, however.
The second reason that the area has been preserved is... it still exists. With only a few exceptions (notably Gettysburg), it did not much occur to people at the time of the Civil War that people might want to visit the battlefields in the future. And so, economic and population development took their course, and many battlefields effectively disappeared, as they became residential or industrial or commercial areas. Once people decided that battlefields were something worth preserving, only some of them were left. And many of those (including Franklin) are only partly intact. Anyhow, you can only make a historic site out of a place that is at least partly intact, and at least partly accessible to the general public. This is why, for example, there are virtually no Revolutionary War battlefields available to visitors.
J.V. in Madison, WI, asks: Why do you think a half century of occupation of the Philippines by the U.S. has produced such a small effect on the American culture and psyche, and what lessons do you think we should take from our involvement there?
(V) & (Z) answer: As to your first question, it's very far away, and the U.S. government has done a very good job of suppressing that part of the historical record. To this day, most students know the Spanish-American War (where the U.S. was the good guy) but have not heard of the Philippine-American War (where the U.S. was the bad guy), despite the fact that the two conflicts are closely connected. That said, Filipinos are one of the largest immigrant groups in the U.S., so the impact of the war is felt in that way.
As to lessons, we can think of two. The first is that colonialism never works out well. The second is that if a country is going to be a global power, it's going to end up doing some very unpleasant things to maintain that power. One of the primary things that persuaded Americans to support the Spanish-American War was that the Spanish government was putting innocent Cubans into concentration camps. Then, in less than a year, the U.S. government was doing the same thing with Filipinos.
Note that before World War II, "concentration camp" meant "prison camp." While the unsanitary conditions led to a lot of suffering and death, they were not sites of mass executions. That didn't come along until the Nazis' concentration camps of the 1940s.
E.W. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: So this has always bugged me. Why did deeply conservative, traditional values, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan backing California attract the counterculture (e.g. Summer of Love)? Why go there, why not some existing place where the people (and thus the government) wouldn't be so hostile?
(V) & (Z) answer: You have the events out of order. As late as the 1920s, California was redder than Wyoming or Oklahoma are today (it was about 80% Republican). But then the Depression, followed by the prosperity of World War II and the postwar years, brought millions of new residents from elsewhere. These people were overwhelmingly working class and were overwhelmingly Democrats. And they had lots of kids, and those kids were overwhelmingly Democrats, too. As a result of this, in the span of roughly 6 years (1928-34), California went from being 80% Republican and 20% Democratic to being 60% Democratic and 40% Republican. That's where it stands today (obviously, we are not including independent and third-party voters in these numbers).
Nixon, Reagan and the other Republicans who had success in post-World War II California (Pete Wilson, George Deukmejian, Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc.) were thus anomalies. There are a number of secrets to their success, but the one commonality is that they all had significant liberal streaks. Nixon was pro-environment, Reagan was pro-gun control, Wilson and Deukmejian pushed to increase the minimum wage, Schwarzenegger is pro-choice, etc.).
W.V.D.B. in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, asks: As a Dutchman, I shouldn't complain about that fifth place—we beat two Scandinavian countries plus Switzerland, and I don't even need to mention the North American contestants (though what is war torn Israel doing in fourth place?). But I'd love to hear your take on the methodology of this "World Happiness Report." Can we really draw any conclusions from it?
(V) & (Z) answer: Truth be told, we're a little underwhelmed by the whole enterprise. The people who worked on it clearly spent a lot of time and money. But when the list is all western, predominantly white countries? And when Israel is way up near the top, given the issues that nation faces?
We mostly shared that news for two reasons. First, we are inclined to think that the year-to-year comparison is somewhat meaningful; it's basically a tracking poll. Second, we liked the idea of World Happiness Day, even if we didn't know about it until it was over.
D.K. in Iowa City, IA, asks: There is something that has always bothered me. When there is a huge demonstration that goes on for a long time, what do people do when they have to relieve themselves? There are not many public restrooms in most places, and certainly not enough for tens of thousands of people. Does that sort of thing get reported? A related question, what do people do for food and beverages?
(V) & (Z) answer: Usually, the folks who plan these things are pretty good at choosing public spaces that are designed to handle thousands of people (like, say, the National Mall). On top of that, the management of these public spaces (quite often the National Park Service) is aware of what's coming, and has temporary portable facilities installed.
As to food, these gatherings are usually an opportunity for enterprising vendors. We have never been to a large-scale event like this—protest, concert, sports event, etc.—where there weren't people selling bottles of water, and snacks, and street foods of various sorts.
T.B. in Detroit, MI, asks: Is Major League Baseball broken, and—assuming the answer is yes—when did it break and how might it be fixed?
(V) & (Z) answer: It is important to keep in mind that while MLB and the National Football League are the two largest and most profitable sports leagues in America right now, they operate according to very different models. Because the NFL has limited inventory (256 games a season, plus playoffs), they have to sell their product to a national audience. MLB has a much more extensive inventory (2,430 games a season, plus playoffs), they sell their product to a mostly regional/local audience. So, whenever you read that MLB's TV ratings are far worse than those of the NFL (and those stories are very common), it really doesn't mean anything.
Anyhow, baseball has always needed to evolve to keep up with the times. In the "Moneyball" era, the games have really gotten too long, and with too little action. The new rules that will be implemented this year, most obviously the pitch clock, should help a lot with that.
A bigger problem, in our view, has nothing to do with the on-field product. It's that, in search of every last dollar, teams have pursued TV deals (and, for that matter, ticket prices) that make their product inaccessible to many people. For example, for several years now, only about 50% of people in Los Angeles have been able to watch Dodgers games on TV (you have to have Spectrum cable, or you're out of luck). This has produced vast sums of money for the team, but if they're not getting young people hooked, they could find themselves with a much smaller fanbase by 2040 or so. It is entirely plausible that, in another generation or two, MLB will be a niche sport of interest primarily to people who skew old and wealthy. That's basically what happened with horse racing and, to some extent, with boxing. Those sports were once king, but not anymore. Baseball really needs to go back to putting some meaningful portion of its games on broadcast TV. That's how (Z) developed an interest, watching Angels games on KTLA 5 and Dodgers games on KTTV 11.
M.W. in Glendale, AZ, asks: I enjoyed reading your "Trouble in Tuckerland." But I question why, in using all of the different pseudonyms for the subject station you did not refer to it by its true name "FAUX News"?
(V) & (Z) answer: Well, when we wrote "Tuckersota? Tuckertina? Tuckertucky? Tuckerstan? Tucktarus?" we were referring to Tucker Carlson's little corner of that particular universe. We're OK with something like that because it's basically just wordplay.
On the other hand, we tend to avoid obviously partisan slurs that are in wide circulation. So, we don't use "Faux News" or "Donald Drumpf" or "Ron DeSatan." That crosses a line we don't prefer to cross (though we will allow those things to stand in reader comments). At the same time, we also don't need to participate in the manipulative branding used by some corporate and political entities. So, while we don't call them "Faux News" (too biased), we generally also don't call them "Fox News" (dishonest branding). Almost always, we use "Fox," unless it's in someone's formal title (e.g., "Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott"), or we need to draw a clear distinction between the cable TV operation and the larger corporation.
Here is the question we put before readers last week:
G.W. in Oxnard, CA, asks: What does "woke"mean?
And here some of the answers we got in response:
K.M. im Tacoma, WA: From what I can understand from Republicans' statements, "woke" means the following:
- It's something or someone who goes to Florida to die.
- It's a bank that is run by white folks who fight for deregulation, invest unwisely, its own investors spread rumors of its demise on twitter, and cause the bank to fail.
- It's a company whose employees and management care about marginalized people.
- It's people who want to learn about the history of the United States.
- It's schools that teach students stuff considered immoral or unpatriotic by the politicians.
I consider myself woke, so the main effect of this definition of woke for me is that I can no longer go to Florida, because I don't want to die yet.
D.K. in Chicago, IL: I'm sure many will say that, just like pornography, "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it" and will instead attempt to describe its characteristics. That being said, I will take a stab at it (from a "right-of-center" perspective): "Wokeness" is the offspring of the marriage of "PC" (political correctness) culture of the 1980s/1990s and "cancel culture" of the past decade. Among its defining characteristics are bullying and hostility to traditional values and objective truth, as well as attempts to rewrite history.
P.B. in Minneapolis, MN: "Woke" has been best described as a combination of: Black, gay and intelligent. Thus, those who are Anti-Woke would be the antithesis of those things: anti-Black (racist); anti-gay (homophobic); anti-intelligence (Stupid). If the Florida Governor is to be taken at his spoken word that "Florida is where 'Woke' goes to die," then Black people, gay people and persons of intelligence go there to die (and we thought it was just retirees). I should probably be worried that Gov. Ron will send his brownshirts to track me down for posting something critical of him online, but there's literally no way they can drive on the icy roads in Minnesota.
M.W. in Springfield, IL: A "woke" person is someone who is opposed to "family values." Since no one has felt the need to define whose family is being valued in the thirty or so years of that phrase being weaponized (The Corleone Family? The Manson Family?), I suspect no one will feel obliged to define whose slumber "wokeness" is disturbing.
R.D.B in Winsford, Cheshire, UK: What does "woke" mean? Presumably it means people/companies who are no longer sleepwalking their way through electoral cycles, fundraising requests, political manifestos and the like.
It may be easier to define the opposite first. So, non-woke:
- Believe the party line, be it a big or small lie
- Believe the political speeches/propaganda
- Donate without question or in return for "promises"
- Believe that the party, if elected, will do something positive for them
- Agree with some/all extreme claims made by political figures
- Anyone who questions the party lie, I mean line...
- Anyone who fact-checks speeches
- Anyone who stops donating
- Anyone who calls out the party/politicians for their extreme views
- Anyone who believes the party, if elected, will do something negative for them
The "party" in question shouldn't be too difficult to work out...
Hmmmmm, in one word, then, could "woke" be defined as "Democrat," maybe?
S.E.Z. in New Haven, CT: "Woke" means treating members of our society who need help in a kind and generous way; recognizing their right to think and act differently than I do. Since I am Jewish, I have been taught all my 72 years to strive to do this.
I always find it hard to understand how Christians, Jews, or any other Americans can have the arrogance to think that any other approach to our fellow humans is a good way to act. That is why, for all its flaws, I have always registered and voted as a supporter of the Democratic Party. And it also explains why I get my political information and news from electoral-vote.com rather than Fox "News" Channel.
B.C. in Manhattan Beach, CA: Easy-peasy! "Woke" means any position that a Republican politician disagrees with. It can be something progressive (for instance, DEI), something mainstream-Democratic (maintaining Social Security, Obamacare, etc.), or something essentially non-existent (teaching Critical Race Theory to third graders). Calling something "woke" means that the politicians deploying the claim don't have to explain what they mean, because all of their supporters will simply nod and agree. In that regard, it is the au courant "socialism."
F.J.V.S in Acapulco, GR, Mexico: Among my gringo friends, I have one from Alabama but now is a Flora man because he moved there to study. I met him in 2021, and that year he told me "The American culture is too determined to be woke and such it is ridiculous." At that time, I did not ask him much about that and the comment faded from memory.
Then, your item on Bethany Mandel came. Yesterday, I asked him "What is 'woke'?" and he replied "Generally, anything with progressive beliefs on race, immigration, history, etc., etc." I told him that he introduced to me that word 2 years ago and now it is a hot topic in American politics. Then, he said, "Now that it is used in normal political circles I would stay away from it, ha, ha... When I used 'woke,' I probably meant that we should be worried about geopolitical problems rather than an argument about diversity."
Then, we wrote about other topics related with it, "Woke is a term created by liberal African Americans, referring to be awoke. A conservative hijacking it for their own use." At the end, we concluded that wokeness is "the thinking of someone that worries about equality, diversity, race, interpretation of history, climate; generally any topics considered worthless (and stupid) by conservatives."
Always there is an old post, tweet, photo, etc. about an action the author regrets nowadays. He was not an exception. In 2021, he said that he sympathized with Tulsi Gabbard, but I do not recall his reasons.
I shared with him a piece of news about her leaving the Democratic Party because of wokeness. His reply: "I do not like that girl, remove that thought. I liked her in 2020 because she spoke of non-intervention, but I do not want you to identify me with her because then I might be held to anything else she says."
I do not consider him a liberal; fortunately, I can confirm he is not a conservative.
P.S. I wrote "Flora" because it is funny, when the Florida Man says the name of the state, I hear "Flora."
B.R. in Helena, MT: "Woke" started off meaning "awareness of racial inequality and our past complicity," segued into "political correctness generally," morphed into "the excesses of liberal ideology" then slammed into the Republican Word Factory and became a bludgeon to "own the Libs in their silly (but dangerous) ways."
J.L. in Los Angeles, CA: "Woke" is anything that bothers racists, bigots, and people whose hearts are filled with hate.
J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia: "Woke" is merely an updated word for "PC." It ironically means the exact same thing as being "born again" but in different contexts.
D.T. in San Jose, CA: I live in one of the most liberal places in America. Yet in the past 5 years, I have never once heard any young, progressive person use the term "Woke" (except ironically). This leads me to the conclusion that "Woke" is now just a shibboleth for the right-wing culture warriors.
Whenever I read/hear the word "woke," I always just mentally substitute the phrase "Insufficiently Bigoted." That generally does a good job of preserving the original intent of the speaker.
A.B. in Sunnyvale, CA:The clearest explanation I've heard for what right-wingers actually mean by "woke" is "n*****-lover".
Reminded me of Atticus Finch: "It's hard to explain—ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody's favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It's slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody."
And also Lee Atwater: "You start out in 1954 by saying, "N*****, n*****, n*****." By 1968 you can't say "n*****"-that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states' rights, and all that stuff, and you're getting so abstract. Now, you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites... "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "N*****, n*****."
S.D.R. in Raleigh, NC: What does "woke" mean? It means nothing and everything. I realize that sounds like sarcasm, but I mean it.
As a firm believer in linguistic descriptivism, it is my stance that words mean what the people using them mean, even if it doesn't line up with what any authority says. And these days, the word "woke" is mostly used by people on the right, so it is mostly people on the right who determine what the word means. So what do they use it to mean? Basically, anything that people on the left are doing that has the potential to get the average person wrought up. The slipperiness is a large part of the point: since most people aren't entirely certain what it means, people on the right can describe literally anything as "woke" and most people will go along with it because they don't understand the meaning of the term well enough to say it doesn't mean that. The hope is that with repeated use, people will react so viscerally to the word that any tendency to think critically is short-circuited. If people don't stop to think, then any idea can be discredited by simply labeling it "woke" without having to actually explain what's wrong with it. If that sounds far-fetched, just think about the time Mitch McConnell described the idea of D.C. statehood as "full-bore socialism." Different word, same technique. There's literally nothing the word can't mean. And when there's nothing the word can't mean, it doesn't actually mean anything. It means nothing and everything.
This is why I think that asking the people using the term to define it, as Briahna Joy Gray did, is so important. The effectiveness of the tactic relies on people who don't understand the term thinking that the people using it do understand it. By making it clear that they don't actually understand it any better, the effectiveness of the technique is undermined.
B.C. in Walpole, ME: I just in a flash understood what "woke" is. DeSantis says (repeatedly) that "Florida is where woke goes to die." So woke must be, like, your grandparents. I mean, how many of us have grandparents who moved to Florida and died there? It was easier to figure out than I thought.
C.P. in Silver Spring, MD: As someone who works with teenagers I decided to pass on G.W.'s question to them for some direct insights from the younger generation. Here are a few of their responses transcribed exactly as written:
- "Being aware of different people, culture, and situations"
- "Being aware of social issues, specifically prejudice and discrimination"
- "Spiritual and/or intellectual enlightenment"
- "It used to be, unironically, sort of knowing more than someone, as in being less naive. Now, it is used ironically and used by people like politicians in a way of describing a group of people with valid opinions/ideas who should be seen as radicalized."
- "In my opinion it's politicians way (sic) of slapping a negative connotation on the youth who speak passionately about social justice. While the word 'woke' might have originated as an adjective for people who spoke liberally it's now been criminalized by politicians."
- "Someone who has liberal values and believes in equality and freedom. May be called a 'social justice warrior' by the people on Fox News."
I hope this helps the discourse!
Here is the question for next week:
J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, asks: We recently finished the excellent Danish Borgen (at least for the first three seasons) and are now in the middle of the Ukrainian Man of the People. What would you rank as the finest political TV shows, American or not, dramas or comedies?
Submit your answers here!