Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Saturday Q&A

Back to normal order, as promised.

Current Events

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, asks: This one has puzzled me for quite some time, but what is Trump's intent when he nicknames NY AG Letitia James "Peek-a-Boo?" Trump's nicknames are usually pretty straightforward, not particularly clever and usually involve a ton of projection. When I think of Peek-a-Boo, I think of: (1) a game mothers play with their infants involving a blanket; or (2) a swinging 60's nearly see-through woman's negligee. Somehow, I just can't see Trump going with either one for James. The only other option is that he's trying to go with a concealed racial slur, but even that is not completely obvious like he has in other instances. Could it be an alt-right reference that people in the Real World just won't get because it's based on some obscure grievance?

(V) & (Z) answer: Nobody, including those who keep an eye on the alt-right, knows exactly what he's going for. It is entirely possible that it's a racial slur, though there are many theories.

Trump could be hinting at the word that starts with "j" and sounds a fair bit like "Peek-a-Boo," not unlike his use of the word "riggers." It is also the case that in some circles, "Peek-a-Boo" is already a slur used to denigrate people of color of a middle- or upper-class background. Alternatively, there are a bunch of sexual connotations of "Peek-a-Boo," though it's unclear which Trump would be using, or why he would be familiar with any of them (none of them involve urinating on anyone). Trump's defenders suggest that he's somehow trying to suggest that after years of threats, James finally sprung the "surprise," though this is a pretty big stretch. Others suggest that Trump is just playing around with everyone by being cryptic, not unlike with "Covfefe." And finally, Michael Cohen has put forth his strong belief that it's evidence Trump is losing it, cognitively.

M.B. in Cleveland, OH, asks: Back in the distant past, you referred to Truth (sic) Social as Donald Trump's "social media platform." Then for a long time you referred to it as his "boutique social media platform." Just recently, you have referred to it several times as his "failing boutique social media platform." What adjective do you anticipate adding next?

(V) & (Z) answer: We don't anticipate adding anything. We anticipate changing "failing" to "failed."

P.D. in Smithfield, RI, asks: Are there ongoing "behind the scenes" preparations being made for a potential Trump second term on the part of the U.S. military? We already know TFG compromises national security, and cozies up to dictators.

Does the military have a way to neutralize any damage he could do?

(V) & (Z) answer: Since the president is the commander-in-chief, there are no built-in mechanisms to allow military members to defy him. That said, it was made clear during Trump's first presidency that high-ranking brass would take off-the-books, ad hoc steps when possible and when deemed necessary, such as communicating with foreign counterparts through backchannels. Further, if Trump were to become president again and to try something really loony, like ordering a nuclear strike against Mexico (or, for that matter, an invasion of Mexico), he would have a hard time finding someone to carry out that order.

K.H. in Kerrville, TX, asks: You had a recent piece that had me wondering:: Do these billionaires trying to get Trump reelected not realize that if he IS reelected and (somehow) enacts a truly authoritarian state, that they are just as likely as anyone else to suffer the consequences of his actions? I mean, the list of oligarchs who have been jailed or died under the authoritarian Putin regime is fairly long. These billionaires are supposed to be the American "elite"—are they really that naive or shortsighted?

(V) & (Z) answer: Well, there really are a lot of shortsighted and/or stupid billionaires. In part, this is surely a byproduct of the fact that many of them inherited their money rather than earning it. And in part, it's probably due to their being up there in years, and not having much need to think long-term.

That said, anytime the moneyed classes conspire to unleash Frankenstein's fascistic monster on the world, they do so thinking they can control what they've created. Inasmuch as Trump has less spine than any other dictator or wannabe dictator we can think of, they may be making a smart gamble here, and may be able to do it.

D.R. in Phoenix, AZ, asks: Does Rep. "George Santos" (R-NY) get to keep his pension and other benefits if he is expelled from the house?

(V) & (Z) answer: Santos will receive no pension, whether he is expelled or not. In order to qualify, one has to serve at least 5 years, and he will not be reaching that milestone, unless they count his time as aide-de-camp to Gen. Washington.

G.A. in Fort Lauderdale, FL, asks: Regarding your item about the Comstock laws being invoked to stop the mailing of meds that can be used to induce an abortion: Couldn't the meds just be shipped via FedEx or UPS? Or this is too simple a solution and I am missing something?

(V) & (Z) answer: The original version of the Comstock Act, in 1873, neglected to close that particular loophole. However, the 1909 update extended the Act to cover all forms of "commercial transport." They were thinking about railroads, in particular, in 1909, but the updated language clearly covers UPS, FedEx, Uber Delivery, Amazon, etc., as well.

E.C.R. in Helsinki, Finland, asks: Does the election result in Holland have any portents for 2024 or 2028 in the U.S.? Here in Finland, we had a milder but similar result in the spring and already immigration-related things are being significantly tightened. Permits for non-workers are being restricted, citizenship wait times are in the process of being lengthened and there's a serious proposal for a new test on Finnish civics to be added alongside the long existing Finnish- or Swedish-language tests. Leaving aside the question of whether Donald Trump will de-facto repeal the Constitution, if Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) or Nikki Haley or some other Republican wins in 2024 or 2028 is likely that the U.S. will slash legal immigration from non-European countries and stop accepting refugees, for example?

(V) & (Z) answer: We don't think it's quite right to say that the Europeans will influence the U.S., per se. Europeans, South Americans, and others saw Trump and thought "He's doing what we're thinking." Clever politicians in those countries took note. They tried the same thing and now it is spreading like wildfire (Hungary, Poland, Brazil, Argentina, etc.). Trump wasn't the first in the 21st century, of course. Silvio Berlusconi in Italy came first, and Trump might have been inspired by him.

Trump already tried to restrict immigration in his first term, both from Muslim countries and from what he called sh**hole countries. If he wins, count on him continuing to try to restrict it. If DeSantis becomes president, it is very likely he will also try to slash all immigration. He likes to act like a tough guy. We doubt that Haley would try to slash legal immigration. He parents immigrated from India, so she is much more attuned to the needs and wishes of immigrants than the other candidates.

Any of the Republicans might try to stop accepting refugees, especially from Central America. None of them see any value whatsoever in accepting uneducated, destitute people who don't even speak English. What is conceivable under any Republican administration is a system like Canada's where the motto is: "Ask not what Canada can do for you, but what you can do for Canada." There potential immigrants get points for being educated, having job skills Canada needs, speaking English or French, bringing money and plans to start a business and hire Canadians, etc. The whole focus is on improving Canada, not being nice to the immigrant.


R.H.D. in Webster, NY, asks: You've written that it's likely there won't be debates between Donald Trump and Joe Biden next year, if they are the nominees. But would that mean there wouldn't be a VP debate, as well?

(V) & (Z) answer: We tend to think that Trump's running mate will follow his lead, meaning if Trump refuses to show up, the VP will also refuse to show up. In the end, it would be pretty hard to come up with an explanation for why Trump can't debate, but the VP can. Absent such an explanation, everyone will conclude: "Trump's afraid to debate Biden." That means it will probably have to be a blanket explanation that covers all debates, like "They're set up unfairly."

S.B. in North Liberty, IA, asks: You both seem quite sure that if and when Trump is convicted of whatever crime, it will cause some of his support to wane. Are you really so convinced that this will create some meaningful exodus of his support, particularly in the Republican primary? After 8 years of destructive, abhorrent, disgusting behavior, a criminal conviction or two will be a bridge too far for these voters? I live among many Trump supporters and Republicans here in Iowa, and I just don't buy it.

(V) & (Z) answer: There are multiple polls showing that if Trump is convicted of a crime, his support will drop by about 5-7%. Some of these are people who, apparently, will finally accept what they have been unable to accept before, namely that Trump has an issue with behaving in a manner that is legal and ethical. Others are people whose support for Trump will remain, but who think it's problematic to nominate/elect someone who could well be in prison by the time Jan. 20, 2025, rolls around.

D.R. in Grayling, AK, asks: With the gradual increase in popularity of Nikki Haley on the Republican side, and the steady advance of legal jeopardy against Trump, has there been any polling with a three-way race: Haley, Republican vs. Trump, Independent, vs. Biden, Democrat?

(V) & (Z) answer: None that we've seen, nor would we expect any. Every question that is added to a poll costs money; first because it adds to the time needed to conduct the poll, second because the longer the poll is, the greater the odds of a hang-up partway through, rendering the whole response invalid. So, the pollsters only ask questions that have some reasonable chance of producing instructive results.

The only way Trump runs as an independent is if he is rejected by the Republican Party; either by its voters or by the RNC itself. There is no indication that is going to happen. And once he's appeared on primary ballots, something that will begin to happen in just a couple of months, he won't be able to mount an independent run, even if for some reason he should want to, thanks to sore-loser laws.

In short, there's no real purpose in asking about something that is now a long, long, longshot.

P.D. in Brookline, MA, asks: I just came across a 7-month-old podcast, Zeihan on Geopolitics. Peter Zeihan says that only ten percent of the electorate will be in play come Election Day and they will vote as they did during the midterm elections, which means that Joe Biden will be re-elected. Your views are similar about the ten percent of people who will decide things, although I'm not as sanguine as Zeihan is that they will all vote Democratic. I hope so. But that's not my question.

Zeihan also said that Biden is implementing a lot of foreign policy ideas that Trump tweeted about but never attempted. How true is this? China and immigration policy come to my mind, but nothing else. And Biden's moves regarding China are way different than Trump's. Are there other policy areas where Biden and Trump have similar outlooks?

(V) & (Z) answer: There are a number of similarities, if we look at broad strokes. Both wanted to get out of Afghanistan (with Biden actually doing so). Both wanted to constrain China (with Biden finding more effective means for achieving that). Both have handled Saudi Arabia with kid gloves. Both have been strongly pro-Israel. And both have taken aggressive steps to try to control the United States' southern border.

Readers can decide for themselves the extent to which these things speak to commonalities between Biden and Trump in particular, and the extent to which these things are simply necessities for anyone who occupies the White House in the 21st century.

K.C. in St. Augustine, DeSantisWorld, asks: Do you see any plausible situation where President Biden would finish his current term but "reluctantly refuse" to run for a second term? Suppose—and hope this doesn't happen—he has a few public Mitch McConnell-like moments of unresponsive confusion and pressure increases for him to step down. In your opinion, would he? Would anything stop him from running?

(V) & (Z) answer: There is absolutely a chance that Biden could stand down. If he had a serious health incident, like a stroke or heart attack, he almost certainly would yield to another candidate. And if he believed that his poll numbers had reached "unrecoverable" status, and that the Party would be better off with a primary process and a new nominee, that would also lead him to step aside.

Nobody can predict a health crisis, so that's a wildcard. But as to changing horses midstream, we'll say yet again that dumping Biden just trades one set of liabilities for another, and jettisons the only Democratic candidate who is incumbent and who has actually beaten Donald Trump. So, it would take some extraordinarily bad polling for Biden to believe that another candidate is the way to go.

R.M. in Pensacola, FL, asks: Given that just about everyone realizes that Ron DeSantis' presidential campaign is dead, where does his political career go from here?

I don't see him calling it a day politically once his second term as governor is up in 2026. The Senate doesn't seem to be an option for a while. A return to the House seems beneath him at this point. Does he ask the Florida House/Senate to let him run for a third term, then they respond with just how many more terms does he want? Disappear into the political wilderness until he figures out just what woke happens to be? Something else?

(V) & (Z) answer: It's a real problem for him. We find it very unlikely that the Florida legislature will change the state's term-limit law for him. They don't really like him, and don't want to spend an additional 4 years kowtowing to him, so that's out.

We agree with you that the U.S. House would be a step backwards, while the U.S. Senate is something of a longshot, and won't even be an option until 2028 (when Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, is up again). An appointed position in a Republican administration could help allow DeSantis to reinvent himself, but there's no way that Donald Trump would be willing to appoint DeSantis dogcatcher, much less something important.

So, we guess it's the wilderness for 2-6 years (or more). Maybe DeSantis works as a pundit, or writes books, or does something else that at least keeps his name out there. Alternatively, it's possible that he is quickly forgotten once he leaves office, as tends to happens with these Southern governors who come crashing down to Earth. When was the last time you heard anything about Bobby Jindal, or Jeb!, or Mike Huckabee?

M.M. in San Diego, CA, asks: As Ronna Romney McDaniel is on life support as RNC chairperson, do you think Speaker Emeritus Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) might want the position? He's a stellar fundraiser, and there's the added benefit for McCarthy that he would be in a powerful position to take revenge upon those Republican House members he's at war with by starving them of 2026 campaign funds, or by encouraging primary challenges.

(V) & (Z) answer: To start, anyone who takes that job with the idea of hurting some of the party's candidates really shouldn't be taking that job.

Beyond that, nobody gets to lead the RNC these days without Donald Trump's say-so. We doubt Trump would approve McCarthy, and we doubt McCarthy would be interested in signing up for 2-8 years of being Trump's lapdog.

B.H. in Frankfort, IL, asks: With ten (so far) GOP congresscritters retiring from safe Republican districts, we have to wonder about their replacements. My amateur eyes see an influx of Trumpy candidates making the divide in Congress even more stark. What do your more experienced eyes see?

(V) & (Z) answer: That will certainly happen in some districts, but not in all of them. There will undoubtedly be districts where two or three nutters jump in, one sane Republican joins them, and the sane Republican wins the nomination with a plurality because the nutters divide up the nutter vote.

Also, keep in mind that Congress only becomes more dysfunctional under these circumstances if the Republicans remain in the majority. If the Democrats take over again, it largely doesn't matter how many looney-tunes red teamers there are.

T.S. in Mansfield, OH, asks: With so many in the majority retiring in presumably safe districts, what do you think of the possibility that the state and local Democratic campaign organizations start recruiting candidates just to see if they can make an opportunistic pick-up here and there?

(V) & (Z) answer: Democratic officials will work very hard to make sure that there are as few uncontested Republican seats as is possible. After all, they know that, as Wayne Gretzky once observed: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."


D.K. in Iowa City, IA, asks: Is there any possibility that Trump could be declared mentally unfit to run for President? Is there a process for doing that? There seems to be increasing evidence that he is mentally ill.

(V) & (Z) answer: No. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment includes a procedure by which a president may be deemed mentally unfit AFTER taking office, but there it no means of disqualifying someone who is merely a candidate on the basis of mental fitness.

That said, there might be some wisdom in the Biden campaign proposing that both candidates undergo a battery of cognitive tests administered by a mutually agreed upon physician or group of physicians. We see three possible outcomes here, all of them good for Biden: (1) Trump refuses, making it look like he's hiding something; (2) the results affirm that both candidates are OK, helping to defuse one of Biden's biggest weaknesses; or (3) the results affirm that Biden is OK and Trump is not.

Note that we are not including "Trump is OK and Biden is not" because we are confident Biden would not fail the tests. That said, if he did, it would be valuable information for him, and would probably lead him to stand down.

R.M.S. is Stamford, CT, asks: I read (V)'s comments on Judge Aileen Cannon's tactics to delay the stolen documents case to benefit Donald Trump. Don't you think she is playing with fire here? The Constitution guarantees speedy trials, so if she is seen as trying to help one of the parties, couldn't she be penalized for it? Violating constitutional principles should be a no-no for any public official. Would it be grounds for her to be removed from the case? The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2006 that speedy trials are required in the United States both to protect defendants, and to ensure the public that justice is being served to guilty parties.

(V) & (Z) answer: Defendants are entitled to speedy trials, if they want them. The government is not. In this case, the defendant wants the least speedy trial possible, so that's not an issue here.

Cannon might end up having this case removed from her docket, given her mismanagement and apparent biases, but that's a big maybe, and she's not likely to face sanctions beyond that. After all, what is happening is that the parties are making motions and she is ruling on them. No principle of law says she can't accept all the Trump's motions since each one has some (nominal) explanation that came with it.

M.W. in Northbrook, IL, asks: While I agree on your bullet points in "Houston, We Have Voter Fraud," I wonder what data supports your assertion that voter fraud is "usually discovered". How do we know?

(V) & (Z) answer: It is quite difficult to commit voter fraud without leaving behind some sort of telltale signs. If you cast a bunch of absentee ballots on behalf of other voters, for example, there's a very good chance at least one of those voters will show up and try to vote, leaving behind two ballots for the same person. If you try to monkey around with voting machines, the "random" vote totals you come up with won't be so random, and won't comport with past results in the same precinct, and will stick out as fishy to people with expertise in these matters.

There are people looking very closely for anomalies and other signs that something is awry. And they generally manage to figure out what the source of these issues is; sometimes the answer is voter fraud.

In sum, it's hard to commit voter fraud without there being some evidence, and once that evidence is uncovered, it usually leads back to the perpetrator.

E.D. in Saddle Brook, NJ, asks: I understand that plenty of districts have weird shapes for a lot of reasons, whether it be geography, gerrymandering, or the need to balance population, but the map you posted of CA-47 really stood out as unusual. What's with all the odd shapes out in the ocean? I realize the skin color of mermaids has been a hot topic of discussion among Republicans this year. Is this an effort to gerrymander the mermaid vote, or is there a saner explanation?

(V) & (Z) answer: We got this question at least a couple of dozen times, and so we'd really like to be able to answer it, but... we can't. We can tell you it's standard to include maritime territory in district maps, so it's clear that people living and/or working on the ocean have representation, as you can see in this (partial) map of California's House districts:

California House districts in Southern
California; the maritime boundaries of CA-47 include some unusual extensions that keep the lines from being clean.

Clearly, someone, for some reason, made a specific point of adding a little piece of maritime territory southwest of Dana Point to CA-47, as opposed to putting it in CA-49, where it would otherwise belong. We cannot discover what the reasoning was, however, and whatever it is doesn't show up on any of the maps we looked at. If any reader knows, please send us a message.


S.D. in York, England, UK, asks: As the cause of labor is likely to be central to President Biden's reelection campaign, I have a question on the origin of the word "strike." Legend has it that it is derived from the industrial action in 1888 Bryant & May match factory in London. This led to organized labor in the U.K., and was a major moment in UK suffrage, child welfare, work's rights and safety in general. But is this really where the term "strike," as a labor dispute, comes from?

(V) & (Z) answer: Two notes, to start. First, it is entirely possible, and indeed likely, that certain words and phrases emerged independently in different times and places, such that there is no "one" origin.

Second, however, is that when the "origin story" for a word or phrase is a little too pat, and doesn't really make sense, then you are right to be a little skeptical. Obviously, you "strike" matches. However, it's not really clear why that would lead matchmakers to declare their work stoppage to be a "strike." And, in any event, there is clear evidence that the word "strike" was being used to describe work stoppages for at least a century before the 1888 events at Bryant & May.

The likely origin of the term, or at least one of the origins, is that shipwrights in the 1700s took the lead in organizing into proto-unions. And when they engaged in a work stoppage, they would strike the sails from the boats they were working on, so as to make it impossible for the boats to be relocated to some other construction facility.

D.R. in Phoenix, AZ, asks: I've never understood how the advent of the cotton gin exacerbated the slavery problem. This invention made the removal of cotton seeds from cotton fiber much more efficient, if I understand it correctly. To me it seems like it would lead to the need for fewer "unpaid workers" rather than more. I always paid attention in history class, but I must have missed something here. Can you straighten me out?

(V) & (Z) answer: Without the cotton gin, it took 30 days to remove the seeds from one day's worth of cotton harvest. At that rate, cotton could not be produced profitably. Enslaved people were not paid, but it still cost money to feed, clothe and house them. With the cotton gin, it took an hour to remove the seeds from one day's worth of cotton harvest. At that rate, cotton could be very profitable, indeed.

D.H. in Libertyville, IL, asks: Numerous local Audubon organizations around the country are arguing among themselves over whether to change their respective names (with a number having already done so) due to their collective namesake—John James Audubon (1785-1851)—having been both a slaveholder and vocal proponent of slavery.

I'm interested in the resident historian's opinion on the campaign, in the hope that it will help better inform my own thoughts on the matter. (Z) has in the past cogently argued for judging historical individuals in the context of the world in which they lived; a position I share. This particular controversy serves as a stand in for the larger question; that being at what point in American history changing social mores and the general conception of what constituted the morally correct position had sufficiently evolved such that being a proponent of (and participant in) human bondage can justifiably be condemned by those in the present day. From my perspective, condemning those from the Revolutionary period is absurd; hence my disdain for campaigns to, say, rename institutions honoring Thomas Jefferson. Conversely, absolving military and political leaders of the Confederacy is equally absurd, hence my strong support for removing Confederate monuments and renaming military bases that honored such individuals (also, many such monuments/bases were established decades after the fact to promote and glorify racial repression, so there's that). When, in the roughly 80-year-gap between these two periods, do we transition from "product of their times/world" to "there is no excuse for such actions"?

(V) & (Z) answer: If you want a year, let's go with 1840. By that year, the British empire had outlawed slavery, a critique of the morality and ethicality of slavery had been enunciated by abolitionists, a critique of the economic efficacy of slavery had emerged, and there was abundant information about the horrors of the institution, which generally became more brutal over time (thanks to the shift to cotton production, and to increasing Southern fanaticism).

In short, John James Audubon had every opportunity to be aware of the wrongfulness of slavery, and he chose to ignore that information. On top of that, although he's a symbol for conservation, he did his work by killing literally thousands of animals. The resident historian sees no problem with dumping Audubon's name in favor of someone less problematic. How about Margaret Morse Nice? Or maybe John Cassin?

R.L. in Alameda, CA, asks: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." — Maya Angelou

Now that Elon Musk has shown us who he is, can we label him as this generation's Henry Ford?

(V) & (Z) answer: A car-manufacturing antisemite who uses the dominant medium of his day to amplify his views? Seems on-point to us.

S.B. in Hood River, OR, asks: There are lots of articles marking the 60th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. Do we have any inkling of how the 1994 election might have gone, had he not been assassinated?

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, asks: It was 60 years ago that John F. Kennedy was killed. What would have been the political consequences if JFK hadn't been assassinated, especially regarding the Vietnam War, the civil rights legislation, the Great Society legislation and the presidential elections of 1964 and 1968?

(V) & (Z) answer: We will address five things, listed roughly from most to least probable to have happened:

  1. Election of 1964: Kennedy averaged a 70% approval rating for his presidency, and was rarely below 60% (although, it should be noted, he was at 58% on the day he was assassinated). Meanwhile, we see no reason to think that the Republicans would have behaved differently if Kennedy was the opponent rather than Lyndon B. Johnson, and so the unelectable Barry Goldwater would likely still have gotten the nomination. In other words, based on all available evidence, Kennedy would have won reelection in a walk.

  2. Civil Rights: The Civil Rights Movement did an excellent job of making clear that the time had come for action by the early 1960s. JFK, though no radical on the subject, clearly warmed up to the Movement's concerns over time, and remember that the March on Washington (Aug. 28, 1963) was staged for his benefit. It is probable that, if he had lived, some version of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1985 would have become law.

  3. Vietnam: There is some evidence that JFK was not sold on the enormous geopolitical importance of Vietnam. And it is definitely the case that he had learned to take his military advisers' advice with more than a few grains of salt after the Bay of Pigs. So, there's a good chance that the U.S. would have avoided large-scale involvement in Vietnam if Kennedy had lived.

  4. Election of 1968: Kennedy would likely have remained popular through his second term, and would probably have turned over more responsibilities to LBJ, just because JFK's health was so poor. In any event, LBJ had an excellent chance of securing the nomination in 1968 and riding Kennedy's coattails into the Oval Office, not unlike George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan's coattails in 1988. The Democrats might also have gone with RFK Sr. over LBJ, though Americans tend to be leery of dynasties. Either way, the Republican is still probably Richard Nixon, and he probably loses.

  5. Great Society: If Kennedy had lived, it's hard to see how anything like the Great Society would have come to fruition. Kennedy was not as liberal as LBJ, did not have the arm-twisting skills that LBJ did, and did not have the sainted memory of John F. Kennedy to use as a motivating tool.

These are all just educated guesses, of course.

R.M. in Norwich, CT, asks: When I graduated from army basic training in August 1972, our drill sergeant recommended (when we stopped being subhuman) that we not wear our uniforms as we traveled home on leave or to our next duty station. Flash forward 20 years post the first Gulf War and airline pilots would ask for a round of applause for uniformed servicemen/women. At sporting events or other large gatherings, service members would be recognized and it became much more prevalent post 9/11. Besides Vietnam being a very unpopular war, what else has changed? Was it the "hippie" culture of the time? Or the fact many Vietnam veterans were draftees as opposed to today's all-volunteer military? I was proud of my service and don't begrudge the recognition today's men/women receive, but at the time I was both hurt and confused by the publics rejection of us.

(V) & (Z) answer: We'll have a piece very soon that talks a bit about this in a modern context, but when voters are upset, they tend to focus their anger on someone or something that is within their reach. In the case of the unpopular Vietnam War, that was sometimes soldiers on the homefront.

As to today's uniformed personnel, you are absolutely right to think that 9/11 was the inflection point. And while it was partly organic (i.e., people remembering to be grateful for those who help keep America safe), it wasn't entirely organic. The U.S. military saw an opportunity to encourage, and benefit from, the martial spirit, and took specific steps to encourage that feeling. In particular, the Pentagon spent tens of millions of dollars to pay for patriotic displays at sporting events, displays where spectators were deliberately kept unaware of the military's sponsorship. There is a word for this, and that word is "propaganda."


S.L. in Glendora, CA, asks: What does an academic institution do with a pair of live turkeys? And why do turkeys live longer at colleges than at Disney or various historical residences? Well, okay, I would die if I had to spend my whole life at Disneyland, so that one I understand.

(V) & (Z) answer: When turkeys are sent to tourist attractions, they end up interacting with thousands of human beings, something turkeys aren't really suited for, such that it stresses them out. Further, non-academic institutions don't know how to feed their turkeys properly, with the result that the turkeys sent to Disneyland, etc. tended to be overfed and to die of obesity-related conditions.

Many universities have an agriculture department of some sort, and with it a working farm. And so, the turkeys basically become part of the menagerie.

P.C. in Vero Beach, IL, asks: Ok, this has bothered me for a long time. We all see the Thanksgiving turkeys get pardoned and shipped off to some exotic location like Minnesota (pretty exotic, if you're a Turkey), but what does the president eat for dinner on Thanksgiving? If he just eats some other turkey, it kinda makes the whole pardon thing hypocritical. Of course, we all know that no politician would ever be a hypocrite...

(V) & (Z) answer: Virtually all presidents have turkey on Thanksgiving. And even if they do not partake themselves, it's there for their friends and family.

That said, the point of the ceremony is to remind everyone of all the animals who will give their lives to make Thanksgiving possible, and to remind everyone to appreciate that fact. In that way, the ceremony has a decidedly Native American undertone to it. We're not sure it's hypocritical for a president to take part, and then to turn around and partake of a turkey dinner. Of course, we're not sure it's NOT hypocritical, either.

Reader Question of the Week

Here is the question we put before readers two weeks ago:

As noted, E.K. in San Mateo would be interested in readers' thoughts on the question of thanking veterans—It is misguided? What's the best way to respond? To that, we will add this: If a person does want to acknowledge a veteran's service, is there a good way to do so? If so, what is it? Please answer whatever of these questions you see fit.

And here some of the vast number of answers we got in response:

A.M. in Mountain View, CA: How to thank someone: Be specific to the person you're talking to. "If you're comfortable sharing, what did your service mean to you?" In reciprocity, you should also answer what their service meant to you, specifically. Let them see the ripple effect of their service on you and through you.

How to respond to a generic "thank you for your service": "Thank you. My service unlocked an education and a career that I wouldn't have been able to achieve otherwise." And then, if you're curious: "What did my service unlock for you?" Or, "Each of us serves in our own way, I'm curious how you think about your own acts of service and the beneficiaries of that service."

These are just examples. The words are less important than the aim: resist the generic and commit to forging a stronger connection to the specific to the person in front of you.

C.B. in Guangzhou, China: In response to the question from E.K. San Mateo, I find being thanked for my service to be incredibly uncomfortable. At the same time, I recognize it as a fact of life so my default response is "thank you for the support" followed by immediately changing the subject or ending the conversation. If they happen to be particularly obnoxious, you can always say "I'm just honored I could do push-ups for your freedom" to shut them down.

I do think it is incredibly misguided to thank veterans (or those currently serving) for their service and it always seemed to me to be part of the fetishization of military service in America. That said, if a person truly does want to express gratitude in some way, and they feel it's absolutely necessary to do so, I would prefer you pay for my drink or my lunch without making a public show of it; that is a nice gesture without the awkward requirement of demanding a response.

P.C. in New York City, NY: When someone thanks me for my service, I ask that person if they continued working during the pandemic.

When the answer is "yes," I thank them for their service and remind them that courage comes in many forms.

K.L. in Sterling, VA: My experience is much like that of E.K. Due to family circumstances, I too sought out an ROTC scholarship in college to pay for tuition and fees. I received that $150 stipend each month (woohoo!). Upon graduation, I had to repay that scholarship with a 3-year active duty commitment. My time on active duty stretched to 9 years. And then, once a civilian, I joined the Army Reserves to continue my service. Stayed another 19 years and retired with 28 years of service.

I too have been conflicted when I am greeted with expressions of thanks and gratitude for my service from friends, families and co-workers. I have served all over the world. I have received hazardous duty pay on three different continents. I have served in de-militarized zones, conflict zones, war zones and on peacekeeping/peacemaking operations. However, I have never been under enemy fire or even been close. And it's this thing that has nagged at me—the worthiness of my service compared to those who have truly sacrificed their bodies and lives across our nation's history.

I have come to recognize that this is an entirely internal debate. Those who are thanking us for our service are not making any comparisons or valuations between veterans and their individual service. Their gratitude is solely based on the fact that many of their fellow citizens have put on the uniform and safeguarded the principles of democracy, freedom, liberty and justice around the world. And regardless of whether it was in peacetime or wartime, that service was noble, dutiful and necessary.

So, on Veteran's Day, I in turn express my own gratitude for their respect and appreciation and reply simply "Thanks! Much appreciated!"

B.K.L. in Mount Vista, WA: It's a good question. In fact, earlier today a veteran I know answered it. She stated she is also uncomfortable when people thank her for her service. She spent 4 years in service and did not face life-threatening situations. She encouraged people to instead just ask veterans about their service. She would be happy to chat about why she joined and what she did, but doesn't feel the need to be thanked. She also commented on the difference between those who were forced to fight (Vietnam vets) vs. the volunteer armed forces today.

J.E. in San Jose, CA: Best thing to do is donate to Paralyzed Veterans of America.

H.G. in Bellingham, WA: As a currently serving veteran with over 27 years in uniform (5 active, 22 National Guard), I have similar feelings to those expressed by E.K. in San Mateo. I have been around the world and deployed overseas twice, though not into any sort of combat situation. I greatly appreciate the service of those who did find themselves in perilous circumstances in the service of our country but, like E.K., I often feel I've gotten more back than I've given. I guess the only thing I can say is that E.K. and I have at some point in our lives been willing to go into harm's way, and global events beyond our control, for better or for worse, dictate the degree of risk any individual service member may face. When thanked for my service, I definitely do not reply with "you're welcome." I usually say "thank you" in return or something along the lines of "it was my privilege." Because, at the end of the day, it really was (and remains) my privilege to serve.

A.B. in Wendell, NC: I never say "thank you for your service" anymore. I asked a veteran friend of mine about the phrase some years ago, and she indicated that she hated it, because to her, it sounded hollow and performative.

Her advice, which I now use when I encounter someone I do not know (if I discover they are a veteran) is to ask them where they served... and let them talk a bit about their experiences in Germany, Korea, Japan, Texas, or wherever they may have done their stint. If they are wearing a hat or something that makes it obvious they served in Korea, for example, I would ask them when they served or for how long... and just let them talk about it.

And then I might follow up with a question or two about something they said that intrigued me. This is what my veteran friend advised me to do, because it is an engaging conversation, and it shows you actually care about the veteran and their experiences. Oh, and I normally do salute people I know to be veterans. It just shows respect.

I think most who say "Thank you for your service" mean well, but there's better ways of getting across some gratitude, and I have found my friend's advice very valuable in this area. It has led to some very interesting conversations with people I otherwise would not have had.

M.M. in San Diego, CA: I can understand how someone might feel "Thank you for your service" is nearly as hollow as "thoughts and prayers." Perhaps offering some small service might be more appreciated. My husband strikes up conversations with enlisted personnel and hands out his business card with the invitation to contact him if he or she will be looking for a job in the next few years. On a variation of giving your seat on the subway to an old lady, I gave my aisle seat to the young guy in the Army who was crammed into the middle seat on our cross-country flight. A small act can carry considerable goodwill.

C.S. in Tucson, AZ: I enlisted to avoid the draft. Back then, if you had means, you were college-bound. If you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, there was the draft board.

For decades I felt considerable resentment because of this tragically unfair system in which the poor died in the jungle's mud while those with money enjoyed privileges many could not even imagine.

The names I was called by a few college "friends" after enlisting amplified my negative emotions.

About 25 years ago I realized two things: (1) the 'thank you for your service" is delivered with as much sincerity as "have a nice day" at check-outs everywhere. It's merely something obligatory, not unlike my weak smile in response, and (2) I was one of the lucky ones. Those who served as I did—submarines—were on incredible teams making the unimaginable routine and safe. Few are on a team that wins the national championship, but that's what it felt like for many of us—phenomenal teamwork and tremendous performance. Unlike sports teams that win the ring, our successes were consequential.

Those who pursued the ordinary post-high school missed out and were the unfortunate ones.

However, those who were drafted and sent to Southeast Asia likely had very different experiences. Volunteer at your V.A. Medical Center and you can get an inkling of what real service is. When you volunteer, your "thank you" will mean more than a trite utterance.

B.A. in Rosemount, MN: The other day I encountered a young national guardswoman at our local coffee shop. After a brief friendly conversation I said, "Thank you for what you do." She smiled and put her hand over her heart which I thought was the perfect gesture for any such remark. Seems to me, both the phrase and the response would be great for anyone whose service is appreciated, from our garbage haulers (IMHO, one of the most undervalued but most important jobs) to a teacher to an emergency responder to a service member's spouse.

J.L. in Vancouver, WA: I'm another member of what I'm sure is a robust chorus of veterans who share the same lingering hesitance as E.K. in San Mateo to accept much personal credit for my time serving. While I did get deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, it was during the very start of the conflict and my reserve unit was out of country by June 2023 only a couple of months after the government fell and well before the ISIS insurgency was in full form. Several members of my unit did do subsequent tours (including my platoon commander, who was killed in 2004 by a roadside bomb), but my number wasn't called a second time—I tell people I served during the "war war" as opposed to whatever it is you want to call the 15 years that came after that (which largely depends on your politics).

So yeah, as a weekend warrior for most of my 10 years wearing a uniform, there's more than a twinge of imposter syndrome when I'm getting lumped in with the likes of Navajo Code Talkers and multiple Vietnam tour servicemembers under the all-purpose heading "veteran" and being thanked for my service in the same breath as them when I'd consider myself lucky to be worthy of shining their boots in a great many cases.

What has helped me find some peace on this is my brother's observation that it's not that I did more or less than others; it's that, knowing that I could be asked to give anything in service to my country, up to and including my life, I nonetheless volunteered. And when my name was called, I fulfilled that promise. It doesn't seem like much to me (all I did was do my job), but to hear him tell it, it's impressive.

So when thanked for my service, I have simply taken to telling people that "thanks are always appreciated but never required." I don't expect, nor am I seeking, validation for living up to my enlistment contracts (indeed, there's nothing I can't stand more than people who whine about the lack of a military discount). But if that service inspires others, no matter how, then being gracious in spite of whether I feel worthy or not of praise is a costless gesture toward kindness given in good faith. And kindness given in good faith is something we should all be more encouraging of.

C.J.C. in Camano Island, WA: Dear E.K.,

Reading your letter to made me feel so good. How great that you were able to take advantage of an ROTC scholarship and go to the school you wanted to attend, and because of that choice many good things happened in your life.

No matter how you ended up in the Navy you have still earned a thank you. Perhaps you benefited more than the Navy did, but my guess is that having you in the Navy for 4 years was a big benefit to them as well. Perhaps you didn't end up having to risk your life, but you had no way of knowing that when you accepted the scholarship.

I have not served in the military, but for those who are drafted, voluntarily join, or pay back a debt by serving, all put their lives at risk and spend time away from their families and their homes. For those reasons and many more I didn't list, you all deserve a thank you no matter how or why you ended up in the military.

Please don't feel self-conscious about it, you deserve a thank you, accept it and be happy that we appreciate your service!

W.W. in London, England, UK: I served with the British Royal Air Force for close to two decades, seeing service in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is an apocryphal saying that the life of a soldier is 99% complete boredom and 1% abject terror; certainly this comported with my experience of flying, where much of what we did was often routine until things became, to use the phrase we used then, "kinetic."

My retrospective view of my military involvement is as conflicted as E.K's seems to be. On one hand, I am very proud of some of the things we achieved, particularly the rapid and successful recovery of wounded soldiers (including those from the U.S.) into medical care, with the work of our unit giving rise to the mythical notion that you were more likely to survive a traumatic injury in Helmand than on the front door of a British hospital. That said, I also cannot forget the names (nor the dates, frankly) when we were unsuccessful in such missions. Perhaps most tellingly, though, is that the Afghan campaign is largely—and very probably correctly—regarded as a failure. Personally, this contrasts starkly with other hallowed campaigns such as World War II (leading to the liberation of a continent and the defeat of an existential threat) or even the liberation of the Falklands, and leads to my questioning "well what did you actually achieve?"

I have a relative intolerance for those that denounce the campaigns as a total mistake ("You're the Prime Minister. Someone has just flown a plane into the Shard. You're telling me you're not going to do ANYTHING?") but similarly feel the entire exercise could and should have been better managed from the start. As long ago as 2008, I remember returning from medevac missions and musing with colleagues that "the Taliban are just going to keep doing this until it becomes politically/financially unviable for us to stay, and then they'll come back"—it is wearying to think how right we were with full hindsight. This weariness makes me question whether my service was worth it or wonder whether the occasional thanks that I get are, frankly, warranted.

Like E.K, I can point to some direct, obvious benefits that my service had. The relatively well-remunerated position, combined with the exceptionally cheap accommodation on offer while serving, led to me being able to afford the house that I now own. It would also be utterly remiss if I did not point out that the military "culture" led directly to me having the—Dutch courage, bluntly—to speak to the mesmerizing young lady who is now my wife and the mother of our two wonderful children. I think my advice to E.K. would be as follows: You alone know what sacrifices you made and the work you put in to make your career a success. No modern military can accommodate bystanders, and so any service you gave will have made a difference, irrespective of how small you see it as being. For me, I try to focus on the individual lives saved rather than the failure of the overall campaign. Yes, you may regard yourself as having "just done your job," but that sentiment that would be echoed by most service members in most eras, so treat the thanks you receive for what it is: a well intentioned, genuine (if potentially underinformed!) expression of gratitude for what you, and all of us, have attempted to achieve for our respective countries.

J.M. in Norco, CA: Dear E.K:

First, you are not misguided. Your thoughtfulness is welcome and appreciated, and your comment: "folks who just made an employment decision" is spot on. What's more, I am old enough to know that many of those now proudly wearing their "Vietnam Veteran" caps served because a J.V. Court Judge presented them with two options: "The recruiter and the jailer are both in the back of the courtroom. You decide which one you'd like to visit."

Second, I can think of no better response than: "It was my privilege."

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ: As a Vietnam era hippie, commie, pinko draft dodger, I have had the unique opportunity to discuss military service with a variety of individuals; from conchies, to buddies who were severely mentally and physically injured in the war, to rabid righty vets who still claim we could have "won" the war, to a close friend who snorted "Yeah, right. If I'd had another day in Da Nang, I probably could have found a color TV."

For what small comfort I can offer, no matter why you chose military service, I want to encourage you to interpret a "Thank you for your service" as meaning "There are no 'pure' reasons for putting on a police or military uniform, they both instantly put you in harm's way and make you a target for lunatic haters everywhere. Thank you for your courage and your service."

P.M. in Edenton, NC: My suggestion to E.K. would be to respond with something simple, which would allow the person giving their thanks to reflect briefly. Something along the line of "I appreciate it. But we should all thank those who never made it home—they are the real heroes. I was just doing my job." Short, simple, and would allow the person to engage in some reflection.

D.E. in Ashburn VA: My brother is a Vietnam veteran whose entire life course was altered by his "service" as a helicopter pilot in the Army. The negatives are many and easy to imagine; the positives include very good disability benefits and generally excellent health care from the Veterans Administration. For years now, whenever someone thanks him for his service he replies, "Sorry we lost!"

J.S. in Germantown, OH: I will preface this by saying that although I have never served in the military, my father did. His feelings on the sentiment would have been much the same as those of E.K., as he did it for much the same reasons. It was the best option at the time and, as it was between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, he knew there wasn't much danger of active combat. In fact, he spent most of his time as lifeguard for the pool on base, which afforded him special privileges like air-conditioned barracks. On being thanked for his service he likely would have laughed and said, "It was my pleasure!"

And there's the rub. Saying that to everyone who served is a form of stereotyping. First, it presumes that every action taken in service of one's country deserves to be thanked. That is demonstrably false in so many ways for so many countries, including our own. Second, it makes huge assumptions about why that person joined and what they were or weren't willing to do if asked which is also easily debunked. If you thank servicepersons regularly, how do you know you haven't thanked a past or future Lynndie England, Bradley Manning, or Benedict Arnold? Would you be comfortable knowing that they took it as further support of their actions?

I also feel it undervalues anyone else in the room who has a job which may be just as difficult and more selfless and which makes all of our lives easier on a day-to-day basis. Although many conservatives feel otherwise, I think many journalists have as much to do with keeping our democracy safe as anyone who ever served.

Sadly, I suspect, with no actual proof, that many involved in this exchange are taking part in a conservative form of virtue signaling. When I have observed it, there seems to be an overt intention to make the exchange as public as possible; like a bit of performance art for the assembled crowd as much as for the individual being thanked.

D.C. in Teaneck, NJ: A few thoughts in regard to E.K. of San Mateo.

If E.K. has only 2 seconds to reply, a modest smile and "You're very kind."

If E.K. has 3 or 4 seconds, the same modest smile and, "Thank you. I served the Navy and the Navy served me."

If the setting allows a few more seconds, "Thank you. I never saw combat, but it was an honor to serve with men and women who did."

E.K. may not have faced combat, but still did sacrifice: 4 years of the free enjoyment of young adulthood. And the Navy lived up to its part of the deal: It invested in a promising student, and its investment was returned with the service of a capable officer.

R.H. in Macungie, PA: The letter from E.K. in San Mateo struck a chord. I was also NROTC and served supervising reactor operations on a ballistic missile sub for four years during the Cold War (1973-77). My father was a career Naval officer (an ensign on a battleship in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941) and his father was a career sailor (bayoneted while repelling boarders on a patrol boat during the Boxer Rebellion). I intended to make the Navy a career but found I wasn't a good fit. I'm proud of that service and appreciate the thanks, but my son hates it. He was an Arabic linguist in the Army in 2001 and fought in Iraq. He's 70% disabled from PTSD and despises being thanked for what he did. He's proud of his service, but not proud of the Army and how they treated him and the Iraqis. So I guess it depends on your experience. Those who never saw combat might feel different from those who did, and I know that the families deserve a great deal of recognition for their sacrifices—not just the servicemen and women. I also know firsthand how it feels to have a son in combat. So I appreciate the "thanks" all the more.

J.N. in Las Vegas, NV: Like E.K. in San Mateo, my own service was brief and uneventful. In fact I never even left the states. So I understand the discomfort with accepting thanks on Veterans Day.

But it doesn't matter that E.K. never saw combat; E.K. was in a position where that was a very real possibility. And it doesn't matter that E.K. served for the benefits. I never met a soldier who would have enlisted without getting paid, and college tuition is just another kind of salary.

More importantly, E.K. did something that most Americans will never do. When someone thanks you for your service it's another way of thanking you for taking their place.

H.R.S. in Milwaukee, WI: My father was a World War II Vet, drafted at age 28 in 1942, serving until 1946. He was an Army T5 gunnery sergeant in the South Pacific. He was stationed in New Caledonia, New Guinea, and finally Clark Air Base in the Philippines before coming home.

My own military "service" was less noble. I was on the cusp of being drafted, so I visited the local recruiters. One asked me: "If you are not drafted, what are your plans?". I said I had college acceptance and financing all lined up. He said "go do that, and if we need you we will call." So off to college I went.

Every national holiday, my dad put out the USA flag—4th of July, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day. If there was a parade, we would go. That was my example for many of my adult years. I continued to display the flag on my front porch each holiday, although our current apartment does not accommodate this. If I am able to, I go to a local parade and stand with hand over heart as each vet passes, in vehicles or marching. If I see a Vietnam vet on the street or in a store, I say "welcome home."

Once I retired, I felt "Thank you for your service" was not enough. So I looked for a way to "pay back".

Each Wednesday, I go to the VA Zablocki Medical Center in Milwaukee where I am a volunteer patient escort. In 8 hours, I typically walk 6 to 9 miles pushing wheelchairs and gurneys. I am often asked what branch I served in, and I answer "civilian," but I am here because my father, my father-in-law, my uncle, and my cousin all served. Most (but not all) of the volunteers at the VA are veterans. The general response to my non-military history is a positive "WOW!, THANK YOU for being here." Upon reaching our destination in the hospital, I always tap the vet on the shoulder or shake a hand if offered and say "thank you, Sir" (or Ma'am). I will continue to do this for as long as I am able.

Volunteering at a VA hospital won't work for everyone. But there are many local veteran-related organizations and services that could use a volunteer. Try a Google search for "local veteran-related volunteer opportunities." You will get a very long list.

D.M. in Cleveland, OH: I'm not one of those veterans who happens to "advertise" their prior service through signals such as ball caps, t-shirts, and car stickers/license plates (and don't at all begrudge those who do), but neither am I ashamed or reticent about acknowledging it—and as such, it occasionally comes out in conversation that I served as an Air Force officer. Invariably, that leads to a "thank you for your service" comment that I have learned, in time, to simply accept in the manner in which it was intended. The fuller context is much more nuanced than that, but, sometimes you just have to treat "thank you for your service" as one of those obligatory "things that people say"—not unlike "have a nice day" or "we've got to get together soon."

I'm uncomfortable taking too much credit for my service, and my standard response offers me a light, disarming way out of it: my go-to line is, "Thank YOU for being a taxpayer during those years—we played with some pretty expensive toys back in the day!"

Here is the question for next week:

M.B. in Cleveland, OH, asks: As I was walking through the halls of the high school where I teach, I overheard two students debating which event set back civilization the most. One student was arguing for the appointment of Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany; her friend was arguing for the burning of the library at Alexandria. They both had pretty good justifications. What does the readership think? what single event, at any time in history, had the biggest negative impact on civilization?

Submit your answers here! And for those who don't want to look it up, Canada became an independent nation on July 1, 1867.

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