Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Saturday Q&A

This is the first time in several weeks that we've had a regular Q&A. If you submitted a question at any point in October, and we did not answer it, please do feel free to submit again.

Also, it would seem that Friday's theme is the toughest one we've ever put together. So, we'll give three hints. The first is that looking at a calendar would be helpful. The second is that the hint we gave yesterday contains what seems to be a grammatical error, but isn't. The third is that we really wanted to squeeze Taylor Swift and Wednesday Addams into headlines, but it wasn't doable.

Current Events

D.K. in Stony Brook, NY, asks: Do the rules that former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) agreed to in order to get the speakership (particularly, one member can initiate a vote to vacate the chair) also apply to the new speaker, Mike Johnson (R-LA)? Were those rules the organizing rules for the entire duration of this Congress, or just for his tenure? If the former, can Congress change them in the middle of the session?

(V) & (Z) answer: That rule is a part of the organizing resolution for this Congress, and so is still in effect. It can be changed, but that requires 217 votes (right now), and would almost certainly have to be done entirely with Republican votes.

Johnson has suggested that a rules change is on the agenda, but he's been very vague as to when that might happen or what it might mean. The obvious possibility is to change the threshold needed for a motion to vacate. The other option being bandied about is to require that a motion to vacate include the name of a successor, so that the speakership cannot remain vacant. In other words, the vote would not be a yes/no on "We are going to fire Mike Johnson" but instead a yes/no on "We are going to fire Mike Johnson and replace him with Steve Scalise (R-LA)."

Any rules change would almost certainly have to be done exclusively with Republican votes and, as you may have heard, it's not so easy to get 217 (or, after November, 218) Republicans to agree on... much of anything.

K.E. in Newport, RI, asks: Various media outlets have described new Speaker of the House (and some of his political allies) as Christian Nationalists. Where is there any historical or theological support for Christian Nationalism in the United States? John 18:36 states: "Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.'"

None of the Founding Fathers ever required people to adhere to Christian belief to serve in the government, or in the military, or to be a U.S. citizen. Even the Vatican, which has a long history of interfering with the operation of governments (i.e. the Spanish Inquisition, the Counter Reformation) doesn't seem to be supportive of this movement.

Do you believe Christian Nationalism has any basis in the religion or in the Constitution?

(V) & (Z) answer: Christian Nationalism quite clearly has no basis in the Constitution. Many of the Founding Parents were religious skeptics, or flat-out nonbelievers. On top of that, they were laser-focused on the various ways in which King George III managed to impose his authority on colonists. And they believed, with good reason, that the existence of an established religion was one of those ways (after all, the monarch is also the titular head of the Anglican Church). The Founders, even the ones who WERE religious, made clear over and over against hat they intended to create a wall of separation between church and state.

There is also no basis for Christian Nationalism in the Bible. As you point out, as part of his ministry, Jesus made very clear that his kingdom is the Kingdom of Heaven, and is not to be found on this planet, or in this life. In addition to John 18:36, there is also Philippians 3:20: "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ."

More broadly, the single most important idea underlying Jesus' ministry is radical inclusivity. This is what brought him into conflict with more traditional/fundamentalist Jews of his era; he welcomed all comers, and was entirely or largely unconcerned about parentage or ritual purity or social status or gender (among other things). To propose to create a nation for one kind of person (basically, straight white social conservatives) runs absolutely counter to Jesus' message.

What we have here, then, is people who have a modern-day political agenda, and who are bending and twisting their religion to justify that agenda. Undoubtedly we are all shocked that something like that could happen.

N.S. in Barrie, ON, asks: You wrote: "After he was elected, Johnson said: 'The Bible is very clear that God is the one that raises up those in authority.' In other words, he doesn't feel he won an election by 11 votes. He feels God ordained him for the job."

If Mike Johnson believes that God is the one that raises up those in authority, why doesn't he believe that God raised up Joe Biden to be in authority?

(V) & (Z) answer: See above; today's Republican "Christian" politicians tend to be particularly shameless when claiming divine sanction for their political program, even if their claims do not stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny.

If you were able to grill Johnson, and ask him why God raised up both Mike Johnson and Joe Biden, it is likely Johnson would say that he is in power because that's what God wants, and that Biden is in power because sometimes God puts obstacles in the path of Christians to test their mettle. See, for example, 1 Peter 4:12-19, from which the well-known phrase "fiery trial" is drawn.

W.H. in San Jose, CA, asks: House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has now tallied around 3,700 votes for Speaker of the House. Is this more than any other person in history? It seems like only a candidate from the 34th Congress would have a chance of beating that.

(V) & (Z) answer: It is unquestionably more than any other person in history. The fellow who is in second-place, behind Jeffries, is Sam Rayburn. He was the leader of House Democrats for about three decades, and so he picked up 225 or so votes in each of the 11 roll-call votes where he won the speakership, and he picked up 180 or so votes in the two roll-call votes during his tenure when the Republicans had the majority. His career total was 2,551 votes, although that comes with an asterisk. When he was first elected speaker, in 1940, it was after the sudden death of William B. Bankhead. And, to keep the House operating, the members allowed Rayburn to be elected with unanimous consent. You could count that as 432 votes (the number of members, at that moment) or you could count that as 254 votes (the number of Democratic members, at that moment), or you could count that as zero votes (since it was, after all, unanimous consent). Depending on which version you favor, then, Rayburn got either 2,983 votes; 2,805 votes; or 2,551 votes in his career. All three totals, of course, are well short of Jeffries.

D.E. in Austin, TX, asks: Did the House Democrats effectively blow it by allowing Tom Emmer (R-MN) to fail in his bid for speakership? With just a little unsolicited voting, the Democrats could have "chosen" the least offensive Republican of the eight: a pro-Ukraine, non election-denying person not in the thrall of Donald Trump. They would have deflated the power of the Freedom Caucus and have been able to show some influence over what happens in the House! Instead, they just chose to make the Republicans look incompetent for another day or so. It seems like it be an easy choice to throw the Republicans that curve ball. Now they look complicit in allowing an extreme Republican into power who could possibly put democracy at risk in 2024. And all because... why? It's beneath them to ever select the name of an R?

(V) & (Z) answer: We do not believe the Democrats blew it. As they say, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them." And in his brief run as speaker-designate, Emmer made two things very clear: (1) He would most certainly kowtow to Trump, and (2) He had no interest in reaching across the aisle, even when doing so would allow him to become Speaker of the House. So, despite his ostensibly "moderate" résumé, there was simply no reason to believe he'd govern any differently from a Kevin McCarthy or a Jim Jordan (R-OH). And there's simply no reason for the Democrats to empower that.

At some point, the band-aid has to be ripped off. That is to say, the hard-right faction in Congress has to be given a chance to govern and to show what they can do. Only if they try, and then fail spectacularly, will their decline commence (it might not commence even then, but it certainly won't commence if they aren't shown to be all hat and no cowboy). So, Democrats and non-crazy Republicans both should take some solace in the fact that the right-wingers are going to have a turn in the frying pan.

R.P. in Northfield, IL, asks: As more and more of his co-defendants decide to plead out and get probation, a fine, and have to apologize and do community service, do you think Donald Trump would ever do the same thing, avoiding possible conviction and jail time? Or would it be beneath him to ever admit guilt, and, instead, take his chances at trial? And if he did plead out, wouldn't DA Fani Willis pretty much have to give him an easy sentence, similar to that of the others? Seems like if she didn't, he'd have a legitimate gripe.

(V) & (Z) answer: There is, first of all, no justification for the argument that a harsher sentence for Trump would be unfair. The kingpin is always hit harder than the henchmen, and that is how it should be. The CEO is more important to the criminal enterprise than the accountant who shreds documents, the don is more important to the criminal enterprise than the soldato who carried out hits or shakedowns, and the president is more important to the criminal enterprise than the guy who volunteered to cast one fake electoral vote.

As to a potential plea, it's hard to see that happening. From Trump's end, even a light sentence would be unacceptable to him. It would be a huge, virtually intolerable, blow to his clearly narcissistic ego. It would be an effective end to his political career (and with it, his fundraising/grift operation). It would probably be the final blow to his business career. And, as a not-so-healthy fellow approaching 80 years of age, it could be something close to a life sentence. Keep in mind that he has criminal exposure in four jurisdictions; even if each agreed to impose a "light" sentence, four such sentences might add up to something not so light anymore (say, 2 years in prison x 4).

Meanwhile, we doubt that a plea deal makes sense from the prosecutorial end. The four cases involve serious misconduct, and there has been an enormous investment in investigating the various crimes and putting together the various prosecutions. All of this demands a relatively substantive sentence, so as to justify the investment made, so as to properly punish Trump for his misdeeds, and so as to send a mesage to other would-be wrongdoers. There's probably a sentence that Jack Smith would agree to, and one that Fani Willis would agree to, and one that Alvin Bragg would agree to. But those sentences are surely FAR longer, particularly in the aggregate, than Trump would ever accept.

D.E. in San Diego, CA, asks: Donald Trump is famous for never paying his bills. The $5,000 and $10,000 fines he received in his civil fraud trial are essentially a slap on the wrist. What if he just doesn't pay them? What can the court do to enforce the fines? Put him in jail? Seize his bank accounts or Trump Tower?

(V) & (Z) answer: We got this question a LOT this week.

To start, the timeline for paying the fines is laid out in the orders from Judge Arthur Engoron. The $5,000 fine is payable in 10 days (see the order here); the $10,000 fine is payable in 30 days. We do not know enough about the nuts and bolts of New York procedure to know if the day the order was issued counts as "Day 0" or "Day 1," and we do not know if non-business days (i.e. weekends) are excluded from the counting. Depending on the answers to those questions, the due date for the $5,000 is sometime between tomorrow (Oct. 29) and Friday (Nov. 3).

If Trump does not pay, the Court can garnish his wages or benefits (in Trump's case, it would surely be his pension as an ex-president). Or, it can send a bailiff to his residence to collect; in that case, Trump would also be on the hook for the costs of the collection.

In general, one does not get thrown in jail for a failure to pay a fine unless the Court believes that the failure to pay is an act of defiance (and thus is, in effect, contempt of court). In Trump's case, it almost certainly would be an act of defiance. So, although it's unusual, he could end up jailed if he doesn't cough up the money.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, asks: Does Judge Arthur Engoron believe that by smacking Trump's hand with a meaningless fine really going to change his behavior?

(V) & (Z) answer: On some level, it doesn't matter if the fine is one penny or is $100,000. Either way, Trump is being forced to publicly submit to someone else's authority, and he hates, hates, HATES that.

Beyond that, Engoron is laying the groundwork for more serious sanctions. A judge can't hit a defendant with Thor's hammer following the first instance of misconduct. The rock hammer, and then the claw hammer, have to come first. Engoron is thinking about the certain appeal and wants to make it clear to the appeals court that he tried to be reasonable and start small, but Trump refused to cooperate, and so had to be hit harder to get his attention.

J.C. in Lockport, IL, asks: Do you think Donald Trump might be intentionally trying to get tossed in prison, even for only a day or two? It would probably improve his approval rating and fundraising.

(V) & (Z) answer: Trump is one of the most inscrutable people in the history of American politics, and even if you had perfect insight into his mind right now, what you would learn might not apply in 4 hours. It's kind of a psychological version of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.

That said, Trump has a big ego, and we don't think he can handle the thought of being photographed behind bars. He's also a coward, and we don't think he can cope with the uncertainties of a couple of nights in the klink.

R.K. in Seattle, WA, asks: Is the Donald Trump security detail disarmed in court rooms? Could a judge hold Trump in contempt and on the spot take him into custody?

(V) & (Z) answer: The U.S.S.S. is not disarmed. They have to be prepared at all times to protect him, in the event that something happens. Like, say, Trump getting up and suddenly running outside as part of a temper tantrum.

That said, the job of the Secret Service is to protect Trump against extralegal harm from random evildoers. They are not a Praetorian Guard charged with keeping 10 feet of space between him and all other human beings. If a judge ordered Trump taken into custody, the U.S.S.S. agents would stand aside and let that happen, although they would accompany Trump to wherever he was taken (say, a holding cell).

D.D. in Hollywood, FL, asks: With another senseless mass shooting, It seems that something needs to be done to ban military weapons from the general public. The problem is that I am from Florida, so it seems useless to contact my representative, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), as she's already on board. To contact our two horrible Senators (Marco Rubio, R, and Rick Scott, R) seems like a waste of time. I've e-mailed both and you get a generic e-mail (several weeks later), and you are put on their fundraising list. I don't think I'm being hyperbolic that neither will ever change their position for fear of being primaried. What can be done, aside from donating to candidates more aligned with my positions? I'm sure a lot of people feel just as helpless.

(V) & (Z) answer: We wish we could give you a more hopeful answer, but the fact is that in modern American society, the pro-gun position is Goliath and the pro-gun-control position is David. Except that while David still has his dinky slingshot, Goliath has an AR-15 loaded with armor-piercing bullets.

The only thing we can suggest to you is to donate what you can to one of the leading gun-control organizations, namely Brady PAC, Giffords PAC, or Everytown for Gun Safety. At very least, they've identified the softest spots in the dike, and are focusing on those.

The only way anything big might happen is for the Democrats to get a functional trifecta (i.e., 50 actual Democrats in the Senate and a Democratic veep) and pack the Supreme Court with 4 or 6 new justices who believe that the Second Amendment applies ONLY to the muzzle-loading smooth-bore muskets available at the time the Second Amendment was passed and does not apply to any weapons not known at that time. AR-15s were not available in 1791.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, asks: How much aid do we give to Israel? Given that they are essentially a well-off European-style country, why do we continue to give them aid? Is it earmarked for specific purposes or does it go into their general fund? Do we give aid to other wealthy, European allies? Or to other English-speaking countries (i.e. Australia, New Zealand)? Have we ever given aid to the Palestinian Authority? Or to other Arab nations?

(V) & (Z) answer: This is not such an easy question to answer, as there are different kinds of aid. For example, paying the costs of NATO is de facto a form of aid to Western European countries, but it's not direct aid. Similarly, the U.S. government doesn't generally give direct aid to the Palestinian government, but it has distributed over $5 billion in humanitarian aid through USAID since the 1990s.

In terms of direct aid, Israel is far and away the largest recipient of U.S. largesse, and has been for a long time. Here are the top five beneficiaries since the end of World War II:

Country Amount
Israel $312.5 billion
Vietnam $184.5 billion
Egypt $183.7 billion
Afghanistan $158.9 billion
South Korea $120.7 billion

Not coincidentally, the U.S. has fought wars in three of those five places since World War II, which is going to skew the totals. Here is the top five for the last 5 years:

Country Amount
Afghanistan $17.5 billion
Israel $16.3 billion
Ukraine $14.32 billion
Jordan $8.7 billion
Ethiopia $6.45 billion

Afghanistan and Ukraine are near the top of the list (and Ukraine will be at the very top at this time next year) because of recent events in those places. Israel's placement near the top is perennial, by contrast.

The U.S. gives lots of money to Israel, in part, because it's a cost-effective way of advancing U.S. priorities in the region (e.g., hemming in Iran). And in part, because there are political benefits on both sides of the aisle in doing so. As a general rule, the aid is at least partly directed, which means it's allocated for specific purposes (usually defensive/offensive weaponry).

D.R. in Phoenix, AZ, asks: My 16-year-old son, who has what I would say has expert knowledge of geography, world capitals, and flags, tells me Palestine is a mostly-recognized autonomous state which should be considered as a bona fide independent country. I think of it as a fenced-off area within Israel, with somewhat fluid borders, run by a terrorist group and not recognized as a legitimate country by many/most of the United States' peer countries. Hence the "two-state solution" being aspirational, not a reality. Which of us is more correct?

(V) & (Z) answer: We'll give you some facts, and you can decide for yourself who is most right. Palestine is officially recognized by 140 nations (for comparison's sake, Israel is officially recognized by 165). Palestine is also a non-member observer state of the United Nations, and has been since 2012.

The list of 140 Palestine-recognizing nations includes nearly all of the nations of South America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, and... virtually none of the westernized industrial democracies. Among the non-recognizers, in addition to the U.S., are Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.


T.B.S.S. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: Twice in the past week, you've speculated about why Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) never ran for speaker, even going so far as to list possible reasons such as the fact that she's got a toddler at home. Neither time did you mention what, to me at least, seems obvious: She's holding out for the VP slot on a Trump ticket.

Stefanik and Trump no longer live in the same state, she's rebranded herself as a MAGA attack dog, having a toddler at home didn't stop JFK or Sarah Palin from running for executive office, winning would place her one criminal conviction and/or 78- to 82-year-old heartbeat from the presidency, she at least seems to lack the baggage of a Kari Lake or a Gov. Kristi Noem (D-ND), and she'd be an instant 2028 frontrunner for the Republican nomination whether her ticket wins or loses in '24. Why abandon that set of benefits, just for the experience of getting abused, discarded, and tainted as a loser for a few hours/days/weeks/months? I'm wondering what you're seeing or hearing about Stefanik that I'm not.

(V) & (Z) answer: We can only give you a very subjective answer; take it for what it's worth.

To be on a Trump ticket, you have to be able to say all this wild stuff, and make the crowds think you really believe it. One way to accomplish that is to actually believe it, like Kari Lake does. The other way to accomplish that is to be very good at faking it, like Trump himself is. Stefanik is in neither category. She doesn't actually believe what she's saying, and she's not at all convincing when she tries to pretend otherwise. Every time she speaks, our impression is the same: "This is not the slightest bit genuine; she's just saying what she thinks she needs to say."

Donald Trump is very capable at separating a good salesperson from a bad salesperson, and Stefanik is a very bad salesperson. So, we don't see Trump finding a place for her on the ticket.

B.P. in Salt Lake City, UT, asks: Why don't Democrats promote the kind of historic tax cuts Republicans have, but exclusively for lower brackets, to at least counterbalance the top heavy and heralded Republican (Reagan! Bush! Trump!) Tax Cuts?

If nothing else, it would be fun to watch Republicans oppose tax cuts unless they're mostly for their masters.

(V) & (Z) answer: The problem here is that the main tax that is under the control of Congress is the income tax. And poor people don't pay very much in income taxes—the bottom 50% of income earners pay only 2.3% of all income taxes. Even if you expand it to the bottom 75% of income earners, it is only 11.5%. So, there isn't a lot of meat there to work with. To a greater or lesser extent, because the top, top tiers of income earners take in so much of the income, and pay so much of the tax, that's the only place where meaningful battles can be had.

J.B. in Bend, OR, asks: I just read that Joe Biden's approval rating has dropped again among Democrats and independents. What is your explanation for this? Sure, he hasn't been dazzling or inspiring, but he hasn't done anything wrong and he's actually accomplished quite a bit. I'm baffled by why it would drop—hover around a "ho hum" level but why is it so low and getting lower?

(V) & (Z) answer: This is a question that won't have a good answer until there is the benefit of 10-20 years' hindsight, and maybe not even then.

Our best guess is that we've entered into an extreme "grass is greener" era in American politics, on both sides of the aisle. That is to say, there were clearly times in U.S. history where "the president is 60% in line with me" was enough for a thumbs up. Now "the president is 80% in line with me" is often NOT enough for a thumbs up. And the same basic dynamic is true at other levels, which is why it was so hard for the Republicans to find a new speaker.

Undoubtedly, the propagandistic nature of much modern media is part of this. So too is the fact that the world is in a period of particularly intense change and particularly intense challenge, and people unhappy with those things tend to point the finger at those in power, whether it makes sense to do so or not. And some of the people who disapprove of Biden in the polls may be Bernie supporters. They want Biden to directly confront the Republicans and use every power he has to do that. If he has to close every military base and every military hospital and every federal government office in some district to get the representative's attention, go for it. Make that representative suffer and make it clear to the people of the district why they are losing all their jobs. Needless to say, Biden isn't going to do that. But in this case, disapproval would be less about policy and more about approach.

All of this said, this answer is entirely vague impressions; we don't feel we have a great handle on why a record like Joe Biden's, which used to be good enough for 55%-60% approval, is pulling a 40% these days.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: You wrote, of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., that he doesn't have much of a foothold with Democrats "other than very low-information Democrats who don't realize his father was murdered 55 years ago and is not running in 2024." I believe you have alluded to this several times in recent months. But, come on. How many such people can there possibly be?

(V) & (Z) answer: There are approximately zero voters who think that Robert F. Kennedy Sr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. are the same person. Everyone knows Senior was assassinated in 1968.

That was our snarky way of saying "Democrats who think Junior and Senior are on the same basic page, politically." There are most certainly low-information voters out there who hear the name Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and think he must therefore be a "Kennedy Democrat," sharing the same basic worldview as his father and his two officeholding uncles. This is not the case, of course.

We are quite dialed-in, politically, and even we once made a similar sort of error. We know full well what Junior's politics are, but when he came out in support of freeing Sirhan Sirhan, we assumed he spoke for the general views of his siblings. That was, and is, not the case.

E.S. in Maine, NY, asks: So many House members on the Republican side rely on small donors and are thus effectively independent of any party or have little use for party leadership. How many senators have sizable small-donor bases? Bernie Sanders (I-VT), of course, but how many others? And do you think it makes a significant difference in how our government functions?

(V) & (Z) answer: Among senators, Sanders is unquestionable king of small-donor support, but there are colleagues of his that are doing pretty well. Here are the top 10 members of the upper chamber, by percentage of their donations that come from small donors (individuals contributing a total of $200 or less). The senators who are #2 and #3, in particular, should not surprise you:

Rank Member Percentage SD
1 Bernie Sanders 70.25%
2 Elizabeth Warren 53.46%
3 Rand Paul 50.93%
4 Lindsey Graham 48.39%
5 Jon Ossoff 46.79%
6 Jeff Merkley 46.51%
7 Raphael Warnock 44.75%
8 Ted Cruz 43.93%
9 Mark Kelly 43.30%
10 John Kennedy 43.17%

Clearly, the sizable percentage of small donors does not have much effect on some members. Jon Ossoff (D-GA), for example, is hardly known as a show horse, and is undoubtedly on the list because he became a subject of national interest (and thus the beneficiary of small donations from across the country).

That said, there are also some members whose success with small donors allows them to thumb their noses at leadership and at their party, and that also encourages them to keep up various kinds of obnoxious behavior so as to keep the small donors happy. Rand Paul (R-KY) strikes us as an obvious example here. And those folks most certainly do affect the functioning of the Senate, and thus that of the government.

D.V. in O'Fallon, IL, asks: This question is in response to "Eight Men Out," where you define an election denier as someone who voted to reject the 2020 election results. My congressman, Mike Bost (R-IL), voted against certifying the 2020 election. His argument is not that he thinks that Trump necessarily won. He claims that in Pennsylvania and Arizona, the courts of those states changed the election laws rather than the state legislatures doing so, making those changes—and therefore the results from those states—unconstitutional. I wonder what you think of this argument.

(V) & (Z) answer: We think very little of this argument, which is just meant to give his election denial a veneer of legitimacy. Every time he makes such statements, he provides absolutely no evidence in support of his claims, nor any explanation for why it's a problem when Arizona and Pennsylvania courts are asked to resolve election disputes, but it's not a problem when courts in other states are asked to do the same. See, for example, the vacuous statement Bost issued on Jan. 7, 2021.

Making it extra rich is that the disputes in Arizona and Pennsylvania were cooked up out of thin air by... Republicans. In Bost's world, if we take his position to its logical conclusion, anyone and everyone can dispute a state's election results for any reason, and there is no state-level entity with the power to resolve those disputes (keeping in mind that state legislatures can only change the rules going forward, and not retroactively). This would then leave Congress with the right to reject any objected-to EVs, since there would literally be no valid way to cure the problem. If this were true, it would be chaos for democracy, since partisans on both sides would torpedo every state's results.


M.W. in St. Paul, MN, asks: You wrote: "If the Senate is split 50-50 and can't pick a veep, the speaker of the House acts as president." Would that individual continue to be fully responsible for all of the duties of both the presidency and the speakership? I guess it's the "acts as" qualifier that has me confused as that implies the office is not fully invested.

(V) & (Z) answer: To start, if the vice president succeeds to the presidency, then they are the president, full stop, until the current presidential term ends. By contrast, if anyone else in the line of succession is elevated to the big job, they are only "acting," and they only keep the job until a new vice president is selected and approved, at which case the new VP becomes president and the acting president is out of a job. That's the meaning of the "acts as" qualifier.

It is not legal for someone, other than the sitting VP, to be part of two branches of government at the same time. You can't be a senator and a federal judge, you can't be a representative and the Secretary of the Treasury, and you can't be speaker and acting president. So, the rules are that a speaker elevated to acting president has to resign both the speakership and their seat in the House. Once their time as acting president is done, they can theoretically be restored to the speakership immediately, and they can also be re-elected to their old seat in a special election, assuming it hasn't been filled.

C.C. in Houston, TX, asks: What happens after the 2024 election if the House of Representatives is unable or unwilling to perform their constitutional duties? I can see the Republicans doing what they just did, kicking out whoever the current speaker is, and refusing to replace him/her.

(V) & (Z) answer: There is no "kicking out" of the current speaker, per se. The moment that a Congress expires (usually Jan. 3 after an election year), there is no speaker anymore. The correct characterization here would be "fail to reelect" the current speaker.

In any event, if the House can't get its stuff together, then the Senate would organize itself and would elect a VP, who would be in line to take over if the House failed to approve both the president-elect and a new speaker. If there was no VP-elect, for some reason (say, they died), then the upper chamber would also choose a Senate Pro Tempore, who would become president in the event that the other three jobs were vacant.

We made a bit of a joke this week about a 50-50 Senate, but it would actually be very difficult for circumstances to exist where the Senate could not fill either job. Recall that the sitting VP's term, even if it's coming to an end, overlaps with the new Congress by about 2 weeks (roughly Jan. 3 to Jan. 20). So, if the Senate really does vote 50-50 for the VP or for the Pro Tempore, then the on-their-way-out VP would break the tie.

Now, there ARE ways the Senate could theoretically be unable to act, particularly if certain members were determined to throw a wrench in the works. But if you think the pressure is great when the U.S. approaches a potential default on its national debt, you haven't seen anything compared to how much pressure there would be on both chambers to not allow a power vacuum at the top on or after Jan. 20.

M.B. in Montreal, QC, Canada, asks: Suppose the election is not decided in the Electoral College and goes to the House where there are 25 Republican delegations, 23 Democratic, 2 split, but the Democrats have a bare majority of the seats and have chosen a Speaker who happens not to have been a natural-born citizen. Imagine that the Senate is divided 50-50. So there is no president-elect, no VP-elect, the Speaker is not eligible and there is no cabinet yet appointed. Now what?

(V) & (Z) answer: In the precise, and very unlikely, scenario you describe, the speaker would resign, the Democrats would quickly elect a natural-born speaker, that person would become acting president, and the naturalized speaker would be reelected to the vacancy. That person would be "out of office" for just a few hours.

But let us imagine a scenario where, for whatever reason, Jan. 20 arrives and there is no duly approved president, VP, speaker or Senate pro tem. This would be extraordinarily unlikely, for reasons we describe above, but if it did happen, well, cabinet secretaries are not elected officials, they are appointed. That means their terms do not expire. Customarily, they resign when a new president takes office. And if they refuse to do so, they are fired. Still, until the new president is in place, there is still a sitting Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, etc. It's possible that some of those positions might be vacant or filled by an acting appointee, but most will be filled by a Senate-approved appointee. And so, one of the Cabinet secretaries would become acting president.

P.L. in Denver, CO, asks: If a small number of House Republicans changed to independent, while stating they would caucus with the Democrats, would control of the House move to the Democrats?

(V) & (Z) answer: If an announcement like that was made, and that was the end of it, then no.

Let us imagine that 8 Republicans become independents who caucus with the Democrats, giving the Democrats 220 votes. Let us further imagine—and this is the key—that all 220 agree to vote in lock-step for purposes of running Congress. Then what would have to happen is the 220 would have to vote to vacate the chair, then would have to vote to elect a new speaker (presumably Hakeem Jeffries), then would have to vote to adopt a new organizing resolution. At that point, THEN the Democrats would control the House.

C.T.P. in Lancaster, PA, asks: Discussing a past run for the state legislature, A.B. in Wendel wrote: "I did five times better than anyone expected me to do... getting 27% of the primary vote against an establishment favorite who had run once before, had a ton of lead time on me because of gerrymandering."

How did "gerrymandering" have an effect on the campaign if both A.B. and the eventually winner were running in the same NC State District?

(V) & (Z) answer: Because that was one of the many occasions when North Carolina was screwing around with its district maps. The opponent lived nowhere close to the boundaries of the district, knew exactly where they would be running, and so could get going early. A.B. lived right on the border between two districts, and could not begin campaigning until the maps were finalized.


M.G. in Boulder, CO, asks: has used the term "Founding Parents" several times. Naturally, I like your term, but the Founders are usually considered to be the persons who signed the Declaration, the Articles of Confederation, and/or the Constitution. None of these signers was female. How do you justify your usage of the term?

(V) & (Z) answer: In that era, it was understood that males would be the public face of the household, taking care of things like politics, military affairs, economic matters, etc., while females would be the private face of the household, doing what was necessary to support their husbands. Perhaps that meant preparing meals and keeping clothes clean and pressed, so that the men could focus on more momentous matters. Perhaps that meant acting as a sounding board for ideas, as Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison did for their husbands. Perhaps that meant helping to take notes, or track down books, or handle correspondence.

Given the nature of 18th century gender roles (i.e., that women's sphere was the "private" sphere), we don't have a lot of specifics about women's contributions to their husbands' careers, with only the occasional exception (the aforementioned Adamses were not shy about documenting Abigail's place in her husband's life, for example). But there's no question that the Founding Fathers' wives (and mothers, and daughters, and aunts, and cousins) helped make the Fathers' public careers possible. So, "Founding Parents" is more apt than "Founding Fathers."

K.B. In Manhattan, NY, asks: While dehydrated on a long walk the other day, I errantly thought about Donald Trump's attacks on our institutions and democratic norms, and thought of... John C. Calhoun. Then, I almost got hit by a car.

While more savvy than Trump, Calhoun also seemed to directly attack democratic norms—nullification, opposing the admission of new, non-slave states to maintain the South's influence in the Senate and to encourage the fire-breathers, etc.

So, do you think this is a meaningful comparison. And is there anything redeeming about Calhoun's career, or even about him?

(V) & (Z) answer: While Calhoun and Trump did both threaten democracy, and while they both expressed similar ideas about which race belongs on the top of the heap, we'd say they are actually pretty different.

To start, as you note, Calhoun was much more savvy than Trump. Or, let's actually say smarter. Calhoun's arguments did not ultimately carry the day, but they weren't totally unsupportable, and he put forward a pretty good case for what he was saying (although he did so anonymously). By contrast, Trump was (and still is) willing to just grasp at whatever straws are most pleasing.

Second, it is at least somewhat a misnomer to call them "norms" in Calhoun's time. When he was pulling the strings of nullification behind the scenes, the Constitution had been in effect for about 40 years. Some of the questions Calhoun was raising were legitimately still open to debate. That is far less true with Trump.

Finally, Calhoun appears to have been a legitimate patriot. It's just that his deeply held loyalties were to the South, and to South Carolina, as opposed to the federal government. He wasn't cynically trying to acquire power for himself by any means possible; he really believed he was fighting for his fellow Southerners. By contrast, Trump is all about Trump.

To the extent that there is anything redeeming about Calhoun, there it is. He was two-faced in his dealings with many of his fellow politicians, he was a slaveowner and a white supremacist, and he did things that significantly helped pave the way for civil war. But he did many of these things out of a sense of duty, and he devoted his life to public service as he understood it. Calhoun was long dead by the time the Civil War ended, but if he had been alive, we'd say that the famous quote from Ulysses S. Grant, covering the General's feelings after Appomattox, would have been very applicable:

I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.

J.T. in San Bernardino, CA, asks: My (probably vulgar) understanding is that the Whigs were a coalition of many factions that had little in common except their opposition—for very different reasons—to the Democrats. Eventually they reached a point at which the anti-majoritarian forces, the anti-slavery forces, and the nativist forces could simply no longer function as a coalition.

To me, that seems pretty familiar. What holds the Republican Party together in 2023 besides a mutual hatred of the Democratic political program? The "neo-Reaganist" small-government, corporate protection wing can scarcely find common ground with a nativist, theocratic faction that would like to see the government regulate behavior and regulate corporate speech.

Is the current fractiousness within the Republican Party at all similar to the break up of the Whig party in 1856?

(V) & (Z) answer: Certainly. That said, the Republicans were once a normal, functioning, coherent political party. The Whigs never really were. So, the GOP could theoretically "bounce back" in a way that was not possible for the Whigs, if they commit to some sort of back to basics approach and purge the nut cases.

Also, what eventually destroyed the Whigs was an issue on which there could be no middle ground, namely slavery. Does that kind of issue exist for the Republicans today? Maybe. It could be that one day soon, abortion, or climate change, or something else will become that sort of inflection point. But we're probably not there yet.

M.H. in Bellingham, WA, asks: Do you envision any pathway for a revolt of the moderates among Republicans? If, for example, a dozen or so Biden-district Republicans (BDRs) were to declare themselves "Independents" and then vote as a block, this would yield them more power than currently wielded by Freedom Caucus types. As a bridge group, the BDRs would be free to engage in cross-aisle negotiations, perhaps joining the "Problem Solvers Caucus" on occasion (e.g., votes on shutdowns or budgets or foreign aid), at other times voting with the right-wingers. They could sell their constituents on the idea of being reasonable, responsible, and independent Republicans, and perhaps rise from the ashes, first as a caucus, then as the core of a new, conservative "Independent Republican Party." Are there any applicable analogies to be drawn from pre-Civil War party rearranging?

(V) & (Z) answer: Possibly. When the Whigs collapsed, there was a lot of reshuffling of the deck, as various political figures tried to figure out if they were really Democrats of some sort, or Americans (Know-Nothings), or Republicans, or independents.

If a cadre of BDRs were to break off, there would likely be far less tolerance for experimenting with different political identities than there was in the 1840s and 1850s. We suspect that, if it were to happen, most or all of this list would be necessary:

It's not impossible, but there are a lot of moving parts there, and remember that most politicians are very risk-averse.

J.R. in San Francisco, CA, asks: Excellent piece on Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg. So informative!

I read, long ago, something to the effect that Lincoln's prediction that his words would not be long remembered came true and that, by the early 20th century, the speech was largely forgotten. This changed with Charles Laughton's recitation of the speech in the movie Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), which restored the speech to public awareness that has not abated to this day. (As an aside, Laughton shows what a great actor can do with Lincoln's words—make them compelling without raising one's voice or engaging in histrionics.)

My question is whether there is any truth to this story.

(V) & (Z) answer: It is not easy to speak to the "awareness" that people in a particular historical epoch have of most things, because something that amorphous is not generally well documented.

It is also the case that the Gettysburg Address did not mesh well with the understanding of the Civil War that was dominant at the dawn of the 20th century (the Lost Cause), and that the works of Carl Sandburg (1920s) and the various Lincoln-centered and Lincoln-adjacent movies of the 1930s (which also include Abraham Lincoln, 1930, and Young Mr. Lincoln, 1939) led to a renewal of interest in the 16th president.

That said, it does not scan that the Gettysburg Address was "forgotten" in the early 20th century, because it clearly was not. There is much evidence of this, but probably the best is the Lincoln Memorial, built between 1910 and 1922. The commission in charge of deciding which of Lincoln's words to inscribe on the interior, a commission that included Lincoln's son Robert, chose the Second Inaugural and... the Gettysburg Address. They would not have done that with a "forgotten" speech.


B.C. in Walpole, ME, asks: My wife (Mrs. B.C., Walpole, ME) and I do not follow any sports, lumping them all together under the general rubric of "sportsball." But when I was a child, we used to have something called the "World Series." Lately, though, it seems to occur with virtually no fanfare. I only notice it because I remember from childhood that it used to be in October. Whatever happened to the World Series?

(V) & (Z) answer: As chance would have it, we are planning a piece on this subject sometime this week (depending on how much news there is, since news pushes non-time-sensitive items down the list). That said, here is a tentative answer. When the World Series was a BIG deal (say, the 1920s through the 1960s), there weren't too many other sports that got national attention, so baseball really was America's pastime. Further, sports in general, and baseball in particular, were not televised all that much (or not at all before TV took off in the late 1940s). Consequently, the World Series was an EVENT and, for many people, their only chance to see star players who played in the league their hometown team was not a part of (for example, the only chance for fans of the American League's Detroit Tigers to see National Leaguers like Willie Mays, or Henry Aaron, or Sandy Koufax).

Today, the sports landscape is very different, and baseball has adjusted its business model. One implication of this is that there are very few (if any) baseball games that are marketed nationally, even World Series games. MLB's marketing strategy is to aggressively sell teams (and their games) to the local market, such that an Arizona Diamondbacks-Texas Rangers World Series is only going to get a lot of attention, and good ratings, in the two states where those teams play (plus a few neighboring states, like New Mexico). Maine, as you may know, is not close to Arizona or Texas, despite what Google Maps might tell you (keep reading).

H.E. in Hamilton, ON, Canada, asks: How did you conclude that Maine is next to Vermont (wrong), as opposed to being next to New Hampshire (right)?

(V) & (Z) answer: We have a mnemonic, which is that the New York-accented Bernie Sanders moved to the state next to New York, which is Vermont, making New Hampshire the one that's next to Maine.

Unfortunately, we allowed Google maps to allow us to forget to apply that mnemonic. We asked it to tell us the distance from Lewiston to Portland, and it decided we must want the distance to Portland, OR. Because undoubtedly, Lewiston, ME to Portland, OR (3,217 miles) is a much more common drive than Lewiston to Portland, ME (36.9 miles). So much for artificial intelligence.

Then, we dragged the line from Portland to the border of the nearest state. This is what it looked like:

It looks like Vermont is the next state over

It so clearly looks like Vermont is the next state over that we didn't even bother to think it through. You'll note that Canada is also in the picture; we presume they had some role in encouraging this confusion.

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ, asks: I want to echo the concerns of J.S. in Wada regarding the sanity of the staff at At around 5:00 a.m. on weekdays, and at about 6:30 a.m. on weekends, if I fire up my laptop here in Phoenix and your daily post is not up, I break out in a cold sweat. "OMG," me thinks, "Is one of them sick?! Or has some nefarious operator compromised the site?!?!"

Since I'm not a churchgoer, and I don't participate in the idiocy of "social media," the staff and readers at are my community. Everyone here seems to be a rational person, especially the folks who disagree with me. My monthly donation to Patreon serves as a substitute for dropping a few bucks a collection plate as it is passed down my pew. I seem to have successfully drawn my brother-in-law, and others, into being fans of the site.

My question to y'all, staff and readers, is: what else do you think I could do which would be an effective form of support for the site?

(V) & (Z) answer: You're very kind! Almost always, when we're late, there's some benign reason, For example, Friday's lateness was due to the effects of dentist-prescribed painkillers (specifically codeine, which slow the brain down) and a small typo that caused us to think we had issued the computer command to make the posting live, when in fact we had not.

Anyhow, we always appreciate proselytizing the site, in addition to the donations. We also have a couple of things we are working on where volunteers will be helpful. Keep an eye out in a month or so.

Reader Question of the Week

Here is the question we put before readers a couple of weeks ago:

D.D. in Hollywood, FL, asks: Whenever I see an American flag in someone's yard, I can't help but think they must be MAGA Trump supporters. Am I the only one to see what Donald Trump has wrought for our national symbol? Or am I overreacting?

And here some of the many, many answers we got in response:

K.R. in Louisville, CO: D.D., you are not the only one, I sometimes jump to the same conclusion. But in my small town (in deep-blue Boulder County) lots of people fly American flags, not only the Trumpers.

In my neighborhood during the 2020 election, a house put up an American flag along with a Trump flag. The house next door to that one instantly installed an American flag along with a Biden flag. Recently the "Trump House" again started flying the American flag (not—yet?—with a Trump flag) and the "Biden House" right away put up its own American flag again. We remember who flew which political flag last time! So let's do the same, to continue to "take it back" next year.

P.S.: I had the privilege of visiting the Normandy beaches recently, and was moved to see how many American flags were flown there, on the roads through the small towns leading in and out of the area. The French learned firsthand what principles that flag represents, and they clearly remember and honor it. We cannot allow the Trumpers to pervert that true meaning.

M.K. in Bargersville, IN: My wife and I are liberal Democrats, and always have the flag flying. Patriotism is not partisan and it never has been.

J.E. in Manhattan, NY: This question is a little more complicated than it sounds, because the symbolism around the flag has evolved a bit over time, and in the last 25 years it has become, in some ways, a much more nationalist-aligned symbol.

I will relate a remark from a British colleague back in 2002 or so, on what was his first (I think) visit to the United States. This was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and there were gigantic flags everywhere—we were in New York City. "My God," he said, "These giant flags remind me of Berlin in 1936."

He was, in his British way, being a bit tongue in cheek, but in the U.S. displaying the flag became a touchpoint of one's patriotism and that could manifest in very ugly ways—many Muslims in the U.S. had to ask themselves if displaying one on the house was a measure to be taken for their own safety. "Support our Troops" became a common phrase and eventually a political statement of allegiance, and having a flag in the yard was often symbolic of that.

I bring this up because as a general rule, more progressive people have not adopted the American flag as a symbol in the way more conservative people have. There are lots of reasons for this, chief among them that much of the language of patriotism has long ago been taken over by the Right. For example, someone who supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was assumed to be patriotic whereas someone who did not think sacrificing thousands of U.S. troops and millions of Afghans and Iraqis, essentially to salve our pride, was assumed to be unpatriotic from the get go—to not "love our country" or "support our troops." It's also true that for people on the more liberal or lefty end of the spectrum, the flag itself doesn't mean that one is patriotic (and the meaning of that very word is fraught).

This doesn't mean that patriotic symbols have no presence on the American Left—but it takes a very different form and a lot of people are less familiar with them because sadly, our historical narratives basically exclude much of the Left from historical memory; there's a lot more to it than the 1960s and what most of us learn of that is caricature at best.

But your question is whether a flag automatically indicates a MAGA Republican, and I can say that the short answer is "no," but it is true that prominent flag displays tend to be from people who skew conservative-ish. I note that a lot of people who put great stock in the flag itself seem to treat it as a kind of holy talisman, for lack of a better word. In a very real sense that is what it is, after all, if a secular version. But that kind of thinking—that one's patriotism is shown by displaying the flag—seems more prevalent on the Right, though it isn't by any means exclusive to right-wing people. But as I said at the beginning, it is complicated.

J.E.S. in Sedona, AZ: I appreciate the question of the week from D.D. of Hollywood very much, as it is one which I have struggled with for some time. I was raised in an evangelical, Marine Corps, South Carolina, Republican family, went on to become a veteran myself (as is my wife), while espousing and supporting liberal, agnostic, Democratic values myself, from my current home in Arizona.

One facet of my upbringing and military career was being properly trained, very early on, in flag etiquette and the U.S. Flag Code. I know how to fold a flag, how to hang a flag (and when to do so, equally importantly), how to treat a flag, how to dispose of a flag, and how to respect a flag. Those rules were just sort of ambient background to the way I was raised, and to the ways my peers were raised around me. I followed, and follow, those rules, because they're the rules.

I agree with D.D.'s premise that the MAGA camp seems to have co-opted the symbolism of the American flag in recent years, but (for me) even worse, as they do so, they routinely desecrate the flag itself, never mind what it stands for. While it is probably too long for me to copy and paste as a letter reply for your site, if readers are interested in more on this ignorant and disrespetful aspect of MAGA symbolism, here is an essay/think piece further exploring the question.

H.S.W. in Ardmore, PA: I was a Never-Trump Republican, until I changed my registration to Independent in 2018 and to Democrat in 2020.

The American flag is a symbol of the United States of America, not of any one party or faction. I proudly fly the flag at my home.

I would urge all Democrats, and independents (and pro-democracy Republicans, if there are any left) to fly the flag precisely to reclaim it from the inferences drawn in D.D.'s question. We need ensure that our flag does not become a symbol of the fascists, Putinists and assorted nutters. They would only disgrace it—indeed they already have. You generally see those folks flying Confederate flags, anyway, which shows you their true colors (see what I did there?).

C.B. in Fresno, CA: You're not the only one, D.D from Hollywood. I wish I didn't feel this way, but any non-governmental flag displays automatically make me assume the person is right-wing. I try to stay away.

Same with people who are too publicly Christian.

I'm not particularly patriotic, but I am religious, and I hate how Christianity is being used to promote hatred.

A.M.S. in Silverdale, WA: Silverdale is located between multiple U.S. Navy bases, and it is not uncommon to see the flag around here. For the most part, I chalk it up to the presence of so many active-duty and retired personnel. When there are one or more full-sized flags mounted on pickup trucks with oversized tires parked at Costco or outside Sportsman's Warehouse, then it's a fair bet there's a "Let's go Brandon" sticker too.

V.S. in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard, MA: This is why I always fly my American flag along side of my rainbow flag (or now the progress flag). I think the message is clear that way.

W.B. in Anchorage, AK: Some years ago, the great Molly Ivins spoke to the Alaska Bar Association. I'm married to an attorney, so I was lucky enough to attend. Her speech was special to me because I was born and raised in Texas and lean left as Molly did. I will paraphrase the part of her speech that has stayed with me: "That flag belongs to all of us. Do not let the political right steal that flag from you." Ever since, I have flown the American flag on all flag holidays. I reliably vote Democratic, and it's my flag, too.

E.D. in Dansville, NY: I have the same reaction about the flag. I display the June 19th flag in our yard.

If there weren't so many guns, I might have stopped at a new neighbor's house. Displayed was a F*** Biden flag. It was very limp. I wanted to stop and suggest that the flag needed a lot of Viagra for it to be of any use

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada: A long time ago, someone told me that the easiest way to find a used car lot in the U.S. is to look for the biggest display of American flags.

That isn't always the case, but it isn't that far off the mark either.

That, unfortunately, leads to the conclusion that those compulsive multiple flag flyers are akin to "Used Car Salesmen"—and you know what those "Used Car Salesmen" have reputations for being.

G.C. in Alexandria, VA: I purchased an American flag and mounted it on our mailbox post on Tuesday, March 5, 2002, the day after we learned that our oldest son had died in combat the day before in Afghanistan while on a rescue mission. It was intended to express our extreme pride in what he sacrificed. It has hung ever since then, only being replaced as it aged.

And then in 2014 we put up a gay pride flag in support of our two youngest daughters when they transitioned.

And then on June 24, 2022, in silent protest of the Dobbs v Jackson decision, we turned our American flag upside-down as a signal of distress; according to the flag code, which says "as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property." We believe that when over half the population of the U.S. can no longer legally make decisions about their personal health and well-being that it qualifies as an instance of extreme danger to life:

A rainbow flag and an upside-down U.S. flag

R.A. in Chesterfield, MO: You are far from the only one to make this assumption, and for quite a while there, it seemed like the only people flying the colors were MAGA acolytes.

However: After the Jan. 6th insurrection, I went out and bought myself a flag, along with one of those "rainbow" signs declaring that "In This House We Believe [litany of progressive maxims]," and displayed both prominently in the front yard. Not long afterwards, a few neighbors did the same, and it turns out there are more left-of-center folk in my suburban St. Louis neighborhood than I had dared to dream (our House district, however, is still deeply red). We were, and are, determined to take back the flag, and show that true patriotism is devotion to an ideal, not a man, and I have seen this pattern repeated all around the region.

There is one good rule of thumb I've discovered, though: The greater the number of flags flown on a single property, the higher the odds it's a MAGA house.

B.C. in Manhattan Beach, CA: I have no empirical evidence concerning the display of the American flag—only anecdotal.

In my case, I display both an American flag and a Ukrainian flag (the latter since immediately after Russia's invasion). I am a proud yellow-dog Democrat, and would not vote for Trump on a bet. My wife is a D-leaning independent.

We have close friends who also display an American flag year-round. He is a never-Trump Republican, she is a Democrat (or at least D-leaning independent).

Our neighbors have an American flag on continuous display. I'm not certain of their politics (although I have no reason to suspect that they voted for Trump either time), but I know he was an immigrant to this country who was extremely proud to have become an American citizen.

I am sure there are people who display American flags to demonstrate their support for Trump (or at least some of his policies, such as America First), but I do not believe it is accurate to assume that every person who displays an American flag is a Trump supporter.

I should also note that John Prine taught us that "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore."

M.G.F. in Minneapolis, MN: My ambivalent relationship with the US flag far predates Donald Trump's arrival on the political scene. Given my age, it was formed during the 9/11 rush to war and the ostentatious performative patriotism the Bush administration weaponized to support their misbegotten adventures. Other readers may have similar feelings dating to Vietnam or Korea.

That said, while the U.S. flag being displayed raises questions for me, I don't see it as a definitive sign of right-wing beliefs. Now, the Betsy Ross flag (outside historic preservation districts) or the thin blue line flag have no other explanation. See those—steer clear.

G.L. in Chicago, IL: I agree wholeheartedly that those who display the flag most ostentatiously generally do so for nefarious purposes, but I don't actually blame Donald Trump for that.

In the U.S., we ascribe an oversized value to the idea of patriotism. When you ascribe value to a fairly nebulous idea, many people will scramble to demonstrate that they exemplify said idea. Using (or misusing) the flag is a pretty easy way to make that claim for many sectors of our society.

But conspicuous patriotism became a thing of oversized value in our society, and "not being patriotic enough" became a mortal sin, well before Trump. In 2008, Obama's lack of a flag lapel pin was a serious issue; I seem to recall Kerry being attacked because his pin was smaller than Bush's in 2004, although I can't find confirmation of that. To my memory, 9/11 and our country's reaction to it was the turning point, although that may be due to my age: I was 25 in 2001 and that event and the developments after were the beginning of me really paying attention to news and politics.

With a bit of time and observation, it's hard not to notice that the loudest "patriots" are the worst humans. The word has been effectively co-opted by the right, and they're not doing it because they're fundamentally decent.

A.H. in Newberg, OR: I need to talk a moment about patriotism. Yes, I am a liberal Democrat, that does not make me a non-patriot. I swore to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign or domestic. I swore that oath when I was inducted, when I was sworn into the city council and the county planning commission to "uphold and defend the constitution, the laws and the ordinances thereof, so help me God." I will swear it again and again without reservation. My son and daughter as well as a brother and some cousins have taken that oath, as did my father, also several uncles and a couple of aunts. Somewhere back there I have a Medal of Honor recipient from the Civil War and a H. that is buried at Andersonville (Confederate Prison) national cemetery. There were H.'s that served in the Continental Army. My wife has the flag that was on her father's casket. From a deployment, our daughter brought back a flag that flew on a mission over Iraq.

You want to burn the flag to protest something, go ahead. I know many people who fought, and a couple who died (Dick Whitney class of '64 and Dave Berry NHS '66) to provide you that privilege. You go to the flag and banner store and put your cash on the table and pick out the one you want to torch, I will even give you the match. There is an AMERICAN FLAG at my house, don't even think about touching it, I would hate to clean up the blood afterwards and explain to the police how you were so grievously injured when you tripped. While you are at it, I don't want to see any "Stars and Bars," "Don't Tread on Me," "Thin Blue Line," or "III% Betsy Ross" flags in my vicinity.

I took an oath to the Constitution and I only recognize one flag that represents that oath.

Here is the question for next week:

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, asks: With the UAW employing what appears to be a new tactic in its action against the Big Three Automakers, I am interested in some good and recent works on the New Deal and the labor movement, the sit-in strikes, steelworker organizing, John L. Lewis, etc.

Submit your answers here!

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