Given yesterday's extremely significant news, we're going to turn over this week's Q&A to the Trump indictment. If readers of this site end up more familiar with the ins-and-outs of the situation than readers of any other outlet, that seems a good thing to us. We will also have a little gallimaufry at the end for dessert.
M.E. in Greenbelt, MD, asks: Do you think the indictment of Donald Trump for hush money payment improprieties really changes anything with respect to the 2024 Presidential election? The way I see it is that, after 45 or more years in the public eye and 8 years in politics, his support and opposition is already well established. His true believers won't be shaken—they are likely to become even more devoted to him as he's now something of a martyr in their eyes. Those opposed to him are not going to support him because of this. I read about how this will change undecided voters, but how many of those are there? I have a hard time imagining there are enough to make a difference.
(V) & (Z) answer: Anyone who says they know exactly what the impact of this will be is lying, because there is zero precedent to refer to for guidance. That said, we think it is very likely that the indictment(s) will affect the presidential race. We just don't know how. But here are five possibilities:
- Trump loses support. There are a lot of former Trumpers who finally reached their breaking point and jumped ship. If he is convicted of one or more crimes, that could certainly be the final straw for even more of his supporters. And note, they might be swayed by the notion that he's been proven crooked, etc., but they also might be swayed by the notion that a criminal conviction (and potential sentence) make it impossible for him to govern.
- Trump gains support. As you point out, his base might rally around him even more enthusiastically, thinking him a martyr. That would be a change in the dynamics of the election, if not the one that we would normally expect in these circumstances.
- Trump's opposition gains support. Voters tend to forget pretty quickly, and it could be that by 2024, some of the anti-Trump bitterness will have subsided. Maybe not enough to flip former anti-Trump voters to Trumpers, but enough to persuade some of those folks that they don't really need to get to the polls on election day. If Trump is convicted of one or more crimes, that could light a fire under some of those folks to make sure that Trump (and, very possibly, to make sure that nobody like Trump) is elected president.
- Trump loses focus. There's only so much money to be squeezed out of the base; it can either go to the Trump campaign or the Trump legal fund. There's only so much time in Trump's day; it can go to his defense or to his campaign. There's only so much hot air he can expend and get coverage for; it can either go to snotty comments about his trial or snotty comments about his political opponents. Point is, if Trump is trying to do two very different things at once, he might not do either very well.
- Other candidates are hurt. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and other folks running for president as Republicans are going to face hundreds of questions about Trump's legal situation, on a daily basis. Threading the needle, such that they don't alienate the base, but they also don't alienate swing voters, will be very difficult. It may be impossible.
D.G. in Ramsey, MN, asks: If Ron DeSantis won't extradite Trump, is there a reason why DA Bragg couldn't or wouldn't send a polite request to the Secret Service to accomplish that? And if that was rejected, surely the U.S.S.S. would comply with a writ of mandamus?
(V) & (Z) answer: First of all, Trump is playing DeSantis like a fiddle here. The former president waited until the Governor said he would not extradite, and then immediately announced that he would turn himself in. So, DeSantis stuck his neck out for Trump (and flip-flopped on his previous position) for no reason. Adding insult to injury, the Trump campaign then unleashed a bunch of anti-DeSantis ads.
In any case, we think it is overwhelmingly likely that Trump will surrender himself, as he has said he will do. If he doesn't, then yes, the U.S.S.S. can and will arrest him for Bragg. They have no real legal basis for saying "no," and their mission (keeping Trump safe) is best served with the most orderly process possible.
S.K. in Atlanta, GA, asks: I keep hearing on the right that Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg is "Soros-funded." I know this is a ridiculous assertion, but how did this start? Do they even try to establish a link beyond just using the phrase? The only thing I can think of is George Soros may have paid taxes in New York; the DA's office is funded by tax revenue; ergo Soros-funded.
(V) & (Z) answer: You're right that the link between Soros and Bragg is very thin, but it's not the one you guessed.
Bragg and Soros have never met or spoken, and Soros has never directly given money to Bragg. However, Soros is a major funder of the super PAC Color of Change, which works to elect Black people to public office. Bragg got some financial support from that PAC. The odd thing is that a vague, somewhat indirect connection like this might well be more compelling to those who believe the "Soros-funded" claim, because the whole thing is rooted in the antisemitic trope that Jews are secret puppetmasters running the world.
S.D. in St Paul, MN, asks: Trump is being indicted for hush money paid to an adult film star, in violation of campaign finance laws. Is there a way to pay hush money to an adult film star that's in accordance with campaign finance laws?
(V) & (Z) answer: You can do it by bending campaign finance laws a bit. For example, the Trump campaign could have hired Stormy Daniels as a "researcher," and could have paid her for exclusive rights to her "research" on Trump's sexual dalliances. They also could have given her a sinecure, like hiring her as the official campaign liaison to Black Jewish transgender supporters of Trump, Hawaii chapter. Needless to say, there isn't a lot of actual liaising needed there. Both of these things would violate the spirit of campaign finance laws, certainly. But it would be hard to prove that the letter of the law had been violated.
The other way to do it, in accordance with campaign finance laws, was for Trump to pay Daniels directly from his own pocket. Even if the purpose of the payment was political, candidates are allowed to give unlimited money to their own campaigns.
K.H. in Ypsilanti, MI, asks: We'll find out Tuesday, but what I'm wondering right now is how did Bragg get 30 charges out of just the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal payoffs? Sure, those can produce multiple counts of campaign finance and business violations, but 30? I have to suspect the charges read Tuesday will encompass a lot more than just Trump's indiscretions with those two women.
(V) & (Z) answer: It's certainly very possible that there will be more breadth to the charges than previously expected. However, it's also possible that the misdeeds that are generally known are enough to get to 30. For example, the re-payments to Michael Cohen were spread out over 12 months, and it's possible that each payment was charged separately. Also, DAs sometimes charge every crime they can for the same act, and then weed the list down later, particularly if the judge assigned to the case is underwhelmed by the merits of some of the charges.
C.F. in Nashua, NH, asks: How many of the jurors in a grand jury have to agree on indictment?
(V) & (Z) answer: Generally, and this includes New York, it's 12. Grand juries are usually between 16 and 23 in number; the minimum of 12 votes means that an absolute majority is required at all times.
M.M. in Newbury Park, CA, asks: I've noticed political writers (yourselves included) questioning whether Alvin Bragg will be able to secure a guilty verdict at trial because this is the weakest of the cases against the former President. How is that a common opinion when we don't know the charges and haven't seen the evidence? Is it wrong to suggest that if Bragg was able to get a guilty finding from a grand jury, he is likely to be able to get one from a jury in the actual trial? At least more likely than not?
(V) & (Z) answer: There are two reasons that Bragg appears to have the weakest case. First, because the other cases appear to be so damn strong. Second, because he's dealing with crimes more complicated than the other pursuers of Trump appear to be dealing with. That doesn't necessarily mean he has a weak case, just that he has the weakest case. In any event, obviously we'll know a lot more this week.
And your supposition about the grand jury's decision is off the mark. First of all, a grand jury does not find someone guilty, merely that the evidence justifies prosecuting the person. The actual jury has to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a much higher standard. Second, as we note in the previous answer, an indictment requires only a majority vote of the grand jury members. On the other hand, a conviction in a criminal case (almost always) requires a unanimous vote of the jury.
D.S. in Layton, UT, asks: Will the arraignment on Tuesday be televised, and is there a recommended popcorn?
(V) & (Z) answer: There is much talk of wall-to-wall coverage, perhaps even news helicopters following Trump's vehicles as he travels from the airport to the courthouse. So, maybe.
That said, the judge might not allow cameras in the courtroom. And even if the cameras are allowed, this might not be very compelling viewing. Usually, a defendant has to wait for an indeterminate amount of time to be called into court; for example, Allen Weisselberg waited about 7 hours (during which he read Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul). And then, when the arraignment takes place, it's usually a quick in and out process. Which is apropos, we guess, since that's how this all began. In any case, watching someone sit for multiple hours, and then to stand in court for a few minutes, would not exactly have the excitement of a Marvel movie or the Super Bowl, we would guess.
As to popcorn, the various brands aren't that different, you just have to make sure to pop it yourself instead of buying bagged, microwave popcorn. All it takes is a little oil and a frying pan. Or, if you want to use the microwave, and you want to be healthier, these make delicious, low-cal popcorn with minimal effort.
Alternatively, you could buy some Chicago-style popcorn, which is a mix of cheese popcorn and caramel popcorn. The best brand is G.H. Cretors, which is now sold in stores across the country. Or, you can order a six-pack for $20 from Amazon.
D.N. in Hyattsville, MD, asks: Any idea what may happen with jury selection for Trump's trial? I imagine it will be difficult to find potential jurors who don't already have opinions about Trump, yes?
(V) & (Z) answer: Well, there is no magical solution, like importing 12 jurors from Oompa-Loompa land who have never heard of Trump.
That said, the jurors will surely have to fill out a questionnaire. And the lawyers on both sides are pretty good at putting questions in there that are revelatory, even if the person answering doesn't realize it. For example, they could ask about the person's tastes in music. And the person might not guess that "country" correlates very closely with "Trump supporter."
Then, during the in-person examination, the judge and the attorneys will be watching for non-verbal cues that the person is not being honest. And remember, the professionals (i.e., the officers of the court) are very experienced at telling when someone is lying. Meanwhile, the amateurs (i.e., the jurors) are not going to be great at pulling the wool over the eyes of the professionals.
There's also one other tool. Keep reading...
D.H. in Boulder, CO , asks: I know that jurors are questioned by both sides as part of the selection process but is there more research done into the jurors, similar to oppo research? Given the magnitude of this (potential) trial I would imagine no stone would be left unturned.
(V) & (Z) answer: For big trials, both sides generally hire jury consultants, whose job is to do background research and also to observe the jurors in the courtroom and report on their observations.
These days, background research is generally much easier because of... social media. Most people have at least one public social media account, and often much can be learned from an examination of the material therein. It is good news for Team Bragg that outspoken Trumpers tend to be very loud about their preferences on social media, and at the same time very bad about getting the settings correct so that their pronouncements are not visible to the whole world.
If you would like to read more about the use of social media in jury research, including the pros and cons, the American Bar Association had a pretty good article a few years back.
D.M. in Massapequa Park, NY, asks: Based on Donald Trump's recent posts to social media, such at that picture implying he would bash Bragg's head in with a baseball bat and warnings of mass violence if he was to be arrested, what do you think the likelihood would be that the court in New York will issue a gag order on Trump?
(V) & (Z) answer: We would guess it's close to 100%. The point of a gag order is to protect the sanctity of the process, and to prevent participants from doing things outside the courtroom that might influence the verdict. Trump has already shown that he's willing to use his megaphone in this way, including in this case. So, a judge should already have seen much more than they need to see in order to justify imposing a gag.
S.G. in Manassas, VA, asks: I've noticed you routinely refer to TRUTH Social as Trump's "boutique social media platform." But the word "boutique" implies something sophisticated and fashionable, whereas... gestures vaguely
Can you explain this apparent contradiction?
(V) & (Z) answer: That is one connotation of "boutique." The other is "catering to a small clientele."
A.A. in Branchport, NY, asks: I saw this on PredictIt: "Trump will have to be careful what he says about the case, the judge, jury etc, or else his bail may get revoked (i.e., sh**'s going to get real for the serial liar)."
Have you guys any thoughts?
(V) & (Z) answer: That is well within the realm of possibility. The first step is to impose a gag order. And if the gag order is not properly observed, than the next step is to revoke bail. If someone is in prison, that's the most effective gag order of all, since they won't have access to any of the platforms they might use to try to influence the trial. If Trump is really careless, he could also end up adding additional charges to his indictment, including obstruction of justice.
D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, asks: I keep reading that TFG is including threats in his missives, but it seems to me that he carefully words them to avoid a direct statement of intent. "If you do this, bad things may happen, inflicted by others" is the nature of them. Is that a threat? Similarly, "Only an X would do Y" stops just short of accusing anybody of being an X. How does the law treat these things? If they do represent threats and libel, then they should definitely be added to the list. "Find me Z number of votes" seems also to be an attempt at just-short of illegal wording. In other words, if the votes are there, you should go find them, but of course don't manufacture any. I remain confused. Do you have a take on this?
(V) & (Z) answer: It is true that the courts have tried to create a bright, red line in many of these instances. It is also true that Trump seems to have learned, from someone, where that red line is and how to approach it without crossing it. For example, we can write "Someone should really attack D.S. in Palo Alto" without running afoul of the law. However, if we write "Someone should really attack D.S. in Palo Alto tomorrow," then we could be in trouble, since the particular red line here is "Is the threat imminent?"
Trump's problem is when he ventures into areas that are beyond his experience. There's a pretty basic playbook for attacking people without crossing the line into defamation, for example, and he clearly knows it well. There isn't a playbook for trying to change the results of a lawful election, and so Trump really stepped into it there. And judges have very little tolerance for extracurricular attempts by defendants (or counsel, or prosecutors) to influence a trial. So, if the former president does not keep his yap shut about events in New York, he could be in hot water very quickly.
A.S. in Black Mountain, NC, asks: What happens if two or more indictments are issued simultaneously? Which agency gets to arrest him first? You know who I mean. Is there a hierarchy among state versus federal? And whoever goes first will get their name recorded in history, conviction or not. Do you think the prosecutors think about that? How much? Time to consult Dewey, Cheatem & Howe?
(V) & (Z) answer: Generally, the prosecutors involved have a chat and work something out. There aren't formal guidelines, exactly, but federal charges tend to get precedence over state charges, more serious crimes tend to be tried before less serious ones, stronger/more ready cases tend to go before weaker/less ready cases, and cases in the defendant's state of residence tend to go before cases elsewhere.
All of this said, prosecutors don't have to defer to other prosecutors' indictments. It's possible, albeit unusual, for multiple cases to be tried simultaneously in multiple venues. Nobody really likes to do this, though, so some sort of agreement is almost always reached.
S.W. in New York City, NY, asks: If Trump is convicted, would he automatically lose his right to vote?
(V) & (Z) answer: He is a resident of Florida, so yes he would. And, assuming he maintained his Florida residency, he would not regain his vote until he had fully satisfied all criminal penalties, including prison time, parole time and any fines imposed. Once he had paid his debt to society in all ways, he could file paperwork with the state to have his vote restored.
The state authorities might not work too hard to enforce the law in his case, and Trump might not work too hard to follow the law. So, he might well try to vote while he's disqualified, and he might even be able to do it. But if he did, that would be—ironically enough—voter fraud. Everyone would know it, and someone would certainly go after him for it, probably a local DA.
H.B. in State College, PA, asks: The following hypothetical (I hope) question occurred to me: Suppose a candidate for President of the US—call him Individual One—has won the election in November 2024 but, having been indicted and convicted of one or more crimes, has fled the country rather than face incarceration and is living in a nation that does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S.
Does Individual One nevertheless still automatically become President on January 20, 2025? Or must he be physically present at the Capitol on that date in order to take the oath of office and assume the presidency?
(V) & (Z) answer: There is no Constitutional requirement that the oath be administered in Washington. And so, numerous presidents have been sworn in elsewhere, including New York City (George Washington), Vermont (Calvin Coolidge) and Air Force One while it was parked on a runway in Texas (Lyndon B. Johnson). No president has ever been inaugurated outside the United States, but a VP has. In 1853, William Rufus DeVane King was sworn in as VP in Havana, Cuba, where he was trying (unsuccessfully) to recover his health. He died a bit more than a month later.
Note that taking the oath is necessary to exercising the powers of the office, but the presidency nonetheless devolves instantly upon the candidate, regardless of where they are located.
E.S. in Atlanta, GA, asks: The press is consistently reporting that this is the first time that a former president has been indicted. I seem to remember that Bill Clinton pleaded guilty to perjury, paid a fine and lost his law license. Would he have been indicted before he pleaded guilty?
(V) & (Z) answer: Clinton was not indicted, and he did not exactly plead guilty. His case was referred to the Arkansas Supreme Court, and eventually ended up in the hands of independent counsel Robert Ray. And Team Clinton reached a deal with Ray: Clinton would surrender his law license and pay a fine, and in exchange Ray would not file criminal charges. This is basically a plea bargain, but it does not come with an admission of guilt.
D.M. in Burnsville, MN, asks: You wrote that TFG is not your average defendant, and that he's the first current or former president to be indicted. Agreed.
But surely other high-ranking government folks have paid an overnight visit to the Crowbar Hotel. Is it known, say by seniority, which (if any) of our public servants from any branch (Judicial, Legislative, Executive) have spent time in the clink? When I mention "Executive," I'm also wondering about civil service, foreign service, senior executive service? I remember that several Watergaters got busted, but I believe that they were relatively tiny fish or plea bargained it way down.
(V) & (Z) answer: To start, it's nearly impossible to answer the question accurately if single-night stays in the clink count. Often such things are expunged from the person's record, or aren't documented in the first place (particularly prior to the 20th century). It is likely that Andrew Jackson spent a night or two in jail, for example, but there's no direct evidence of that.
So, we have to limit it to substantive sentences. Also, there have been thousands of people who have served in high-ranking positions. And there have been many of them who went to prison for a stretch, including high-ranking White House officials, members of Congress, federal judges, diplomats and the like. Governors, too—Illinois alone has sent at least half a dozen former governors to the hoosegow.
That means we are only going to consider people who served in the line of presidential succession, and who served at least a month in jail or prison. And there are three such people we know of. In reverse order of how close to being president they were, the list is: Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz (Richard Nixon/Gerald Ford), Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall (Warren Harding) and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.
Hastert, who was #2 in the line of succession, behind only the vice president, is the highest-ranked official to have done hard time. At least, to date. No president has been in the slammer and no veep, either. And in case you are wondering, Spiro Agnew worked out a plea bargain that allowed him to avoid incarceration.
M.S. in Hamden, CT, asks: I'm always on the lookout for Trump-free days here at E-V.com. Many come close, but few clear the bar. On the flip side, how common are Trump-full days, where every post has significant Trump content? If you notice any before posting, could you include a trigger warning?
(V) & (Z) answer: These days, they are very, very rare. We do have days that are pretty much exclusively about Trumpy Republicans (say, a Ron DeSantis item, followed by a Mike Pence item, followed by an item about Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-CA). But almost never do we have six or seven or eight items about Trump. In fact, we used to have a section in the Sunday mailbag every week called "TrumpWorld 2020" (or 2021, or 2022). Now, we almost never do.
Of course, the amount of coverage Trump gets from us is about to increase a fair bit. But he's not likely to take over an entire day, even with his legal problems.
B.L. in Hudson, NY, asks: I've noticed your use of "Boy Howdy" several times in recent months. Yet I don't recall ever seeing that phrase elsewhere. Apparently the expression means about the same thing as "Boy, oh Boy!"
Is this a popular phrase that I just happened to have missed? Can you cite an instance or two of a well-known public figure using it?
Which of you is more inclined toward using it? I'm guessing (Z).
(V) & (Z) answer: (Z) is the only one who uses it. And while he doesn't know any well-known public figures who use it, he does know it entered the pop culture vernacular thanks to the work of artist R. Crumb for Creem magazine:
J.K. in Short Hills, NJ, asks: In your calculation of how many current representatives do not have a Bachelor's degree, did you include the three House members with an undergraduate degree from USC?
(V) & (Z) answer: Yes, we mentioned that five members have an Associate's degree. That is what they give out at Southern California Community College, right?
B.S. in Los Angeles, CA, asks: I know you have set up PayPal and Patreon. Have you ever considered ads or other fundraising alternatives?
(V) & (Z) answer: Interesting you should ask. We are inclined to think that the best way to increase the site's take is to add more readers. And what drives viewership/readership more than anything else? Adult content, of course.
We still want to keep the focus on politics, which is consistent with the main site, and also means we'd be occupying a space that is currently un-occupied. There is the small problem of content, obviously, since we could only get so much mileage out of those Anthony Weiner cell phone pictures, or those photos that forced Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) to resign. But when we wrote the item on deepfakes this week, we could not help but recognize the possibilities that offers.
There are still some significant questions to be worked out. For example, politicians are disproportionately male, so it might work best to target a gay clientele, since we'll be able to produce much more content. Also, do we limit it to actual politicians, or are people in the media fair game? We suspect we could actually get a lot of PR with a pictorial entitled "An Intimate Look at FoXXX." There's also the question of a domain name. The obvious one would be electoral-vote.xxx, but remarkably, someone has already claimed that. Was it one of the readers? If so, please contact us. Whoever it is hasn't been answering our e-mails.
Anyhow, if you are interested in a mockup of what it might look like, see here (don't worry, it's safe for work).
Here is the question we put before readers last week:
J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, asks: We recently finished the excellent Danish Borgen (at least for the first three seasons) and are now in the middle of the Ukrainian Man of the People. What would you rank as the finest political TV shows, American or not, dramas or comedies?
And here some of the answers we got in response:
C.H. in Raymond, NH: The 2016 show BrainDead, by the creators of The Good Wife, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Tony Shalhoub, is really excellent. It's a bit silly and science fiction (bugs from space are eating congressional brains!) but the acting is great, it is brilliantly funny at turns, and it does a good job of showing the behind-the-scenes mess of work during the 2016 government shutdown. It was canceled after the first season, but wraps up that first chapter nicely.
M.K. in Munich, Germany: I submit the HBO miniseries Chernobyl. Maybe it is not a pure "political drama" series, but politics, politicians (of the former Soviet Union) and related themes play a sufficiently central role to qualify for this category. The show is extremely well cast and acted, the mood deftly captures the tension and sense of danger and the production values are excellent.
J.D. in Concord, NH: The answer has to be Veep! Julia Louis-Dreyfus at her best, in her prime! Seventeen Emmys (and 59 nominations) over seven seasons! And oh so hilarious! If you haven't seen it yet, please binge watch it over the weekend—you can thank me in next Sunday's mailbag!
J.L. in Los Angeles, CA: Hear me out on this one. Two of the finest political television shows of all time aren't what you would expect: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) and Babylon 5, both sci-fi franchise series that began airing in 1993 and both set on board space stations that became crucial points of conflict and controversy affecting many different races (countries) throughout the galaxy.
DS9 began its run showing the effects on a "third-world country" planet when an occupying imperial force withdrew. Think: Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union or, more appropriately for some episodes, the aftermath of the defeat of the Nazis as the Jews and Germans had to each deal with scars and lingering resentments. Eventually, DS9 evolved into a TV series dealing with a devastating four-year war that drew in races from across the galaxy.
Babylon 5, meanwhile, was set up to be a "United Nations in space," a last-best hope for peace after a long war between Earth and the Minbari, where five "super-powers" and multiple weaker alien races could come together to work out their differences peacefully. It failed.
To illustrate why each of these science fiction series were so successful at telling political stories (although not all of their episodes were focused solely on politics), let me provide two eerily prophetic examples...
In the fourth season of DS9, a two-part episode, "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost," told the story of a terrorist attack on Earth itself. At the time, there was a quiet fear of a newly-contacted race of shape-shifting changelings known as the Founders and their mysterious and powerful ruling force from the Gamma Quadrant known as The Dominion. War had not yet broken out, but it would shortly after this terrorist attack. The immediate result of this attack was for the United Federation of Planets to become extremely paranoid, fearing the shape-shifters had infiltrated everywhere and not knowing when the next attack would happen or who would be hurt or killed. Draconian security rules were put into effect everywhere, with Starfleet forces now implementing an almost martial law set of protocols as citizens willingly gave up their hard-won freedoms in order to feel safe and protected.
Considering how science fiction is often inspired by real-world events and controversies, one might suspect that this two-parter was written and aired shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. But in fact, these two episodes aired in January of 1996!
As for Babylon 5, a storyline that unfolded over the course the second season involved the start of a war between the Centauri Republic and the Narn Regime. Up until recently, the Centauri had been a strong, proud, and powerful empire stretching across the galaxy, like Rome or the Soviet Union. But like all mighty empires, Centauri Prime fell into corruption and decay, losing many of its former holdings... like the Narn homeworld. This fall from power and status was unbearable for some, and so an attack on the Narn and their territory is ordered to recapture former glory, drawing the Centauri Republic into a new war to reclaim lost territory. For the Narn, the war is purely defensive, and they beg other races for help...which is, sadly, very limited in being offered. The Narn must fight alone to defend themselves and their homes. For the Centauri, it is both a war of aggression and propaganda, publicly promising that no civilians will be harmed and then killing them by the thousands, kidnapping children and taking them back to Centauri Prime and elsewhere under the guise of "protecting" them. The lies coming from Centauri Ambassador Londo Molari deny atrocities by the Centauri that seem to know no bounds, as a power-hungry emperor orders attacks designed to devastate the Narn homeworld. All the while, the Centauri forces are aided by "shadow" players out to support the aggression for their own nefarious and selfish reasons.
Again, one might assume this plot to be quite relevant to what Russia is now doing to Ukraine, and likely inspired by it. Relevant? Definitely! Inspired by? Not so much. Season two of Babylon 5 aired back in 1994-1995.
G.R. in Clive, IA: A lot to choose from for this question, but—and I recognize this isn't exactly going out on a limb, but being obvious doesn't make something wrong—I'll go with The West Wing. It is 100% a liberal fantasy, but between Aaron Sorkin's writing and the uniformly excellent performances (my personal top choice would be Richard Schiff's Toby, but you really couldn't go wrong with John Spencer, Allison Janney, or Bradley Whitford, either), it was exceptionally entertaining while also managing to be informative. I would not be surprised to learn that for a lot of Americans, the show's reference to Osama bin Laden in the season one episode "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" was the first time they'd heard of him.
I should probably clarify that my choice ends with the end of the fourth season, when Sorkin left the series. After that, it became merely a decent television drama. But for those first four seasons, it was not only the best political show on television, it was simply the best show on television.
P.B. in Lille, France: The West Wing, obviously. No question about it, it's a fact. Period.
M.W. in Northbrook, IL: I'd like to mention another Aaron Sorkin show: Newsroom. While it wasn't primarily a political show, one of the key subplots was conservative anchor, Jeff Daniels, dealing with what the Tea Party was doing to the Republican Party. I can only imagine what he would have thought of the MAGA movement.
K.S. in Baltimore, MD: Hands-down winner: The Handmaid's Tale. Shows the worst enemy is within, shows how the worst could happen, shows American defiance and protest against tyranny. Even shows Canada as a refuge! They're too nice to invade us, but if they did, they'd bring syrup and poutine.
I.R. in Zurich, Switzerland: While much can be argued about Kevin Spacey the Human Being, there can be no doubt that in his prime he was a fantastic actor, and this on full display in House of Cards. Like many series, it went on for too long, but at least the first 2 seasons are near-perfect.
As a less obvious answer, I would add The Wire, which of course is mainly about police, but with a big helping of local politics, at least in some seasons.
M.K. in Toronto, ON, Canada: As far as political comedy goes, I don't think anyone has ever surpassed the classic British 1980s show Yes Minister (or Yes Prime Minister in its later series, as one of the main characters got a promotion). It explores the relationship between politicians, represented by a U.K. cabinet minister named Jim Hacker, played by Paul Eddington, and the career civil service, represented by the manipulative bureaucrat played by Nigel Hawthorne. Hawthorne's character, Sir Humphrey Applebee, is always controlling the minister while maintaining the appearance of following instructions. The third character, played by Derek Fowlds, is Hacker's private secretary, sometimes aiding Sir Humphrey but also showing loyalty to the minister. The style is minimal: Most scenes involve only those three characters, with only occasional appearances by guest characters. Hawthorne plays the bureaucrat with devilish charm, Hacker has a wonderfully comedic expression of helpless frustration, and the writing is informed by a knowledge of the workings of the government (the writers had secret informants).
J.L.C. in Longview, TX: Britain's Yes Minister. While those "elected" get the headlines, it's the civil servants who are responsible for implementing the idiocy of the policies. Substitute "staffers" and I suspect it's Congress rather than Parliament.
F.L. in Denton, TX: I watched Zelenskyy's Servant of the People. Having been married to a Russian woman for 20+ years, there were a lot of cultural jokes, so some people might not appreciate or get some of the inside humor. It was quite good comedy and, although surreal at times, pretty close to the mark.
Here is the question for next week. Yes, it's a little offbeat, but it fits today's posting:
K.H. in Ypsilanti, MI, asks: What tattoo should/will Donald Trump get in prison?
Submit your answers here!