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Saturday Q&A

Heavy coverage of Donald Trump's bad behavior? That clearly gets tiresome for the readership. Heavy coverage of his legal woes? Judging by the number of Trump-related questions in the mailbag, perhaps a bit less cumbersome. Something of a schadenfreude effect, we suppose.

Current Events

J.F. in Fort Worth, TX, asks: I've been meaning to ask this question for a while now, but with Fulton County DA Fani Willis indicting a slew of people for election interference, now seems like the right time.

Donald Trump and his supporters claim that in the 2020 election (and, to a lesser extent, the 2016 election), "rampant, widespread voter fraud" occurred. Accusations of people voting twice, dead people voting, pets voting, non-existent people voting, and ineligible people voting have been thrown around to explain why Trump lost.

My question is, Wouldn't almost any amount of "widespread voter fraud" be immediately detected or, at least, easily detected using some random audits? During elections in Texas, the Secretary of State's website publishes statistics of how many people voted each day down to the precinct and, at least in my county, down to the polling place. If one were to attempt to hide tens of thousands (like Georgia's 11,780) or hundreds of thousands (like Michigan's 154,000) of fraudulent votes, how exactly would one go about this?

(V) & (Z) answer: It would be extremely difficult to have nearly 12,000 dead people and/or pets vote in Georgia. To vote there, you need to show a photo ID issued by Georgia or the federal government. If someone wanted to vote as Fido Smith, they would have to carefully craft a fake ID card. With enough time and effort, one could do it. The amount of time and effort needed to do that 12,000 times, however, makes it unfeasible.

In addition, Fido could only vote if he were registered, so Fido's owner would have had to go to the trouble of doing that. Registering requires an address. Having 12,000 people at one address would raise all manner of red flags, so multiple addresses would be needed. If the people trying to pull off the fraud picked random addresses, people there would be getting mail from the registrar addressed to Fido Smith (or some other non-resident) announcing the date and precinct of the election. Some of them would surely contact the registrar about that, which would trigger an investigation. Casting 100 votes for pets and dead people might be feasible with an enormous effort, but 12,000 is far too many and would surely be detected long before anyone got above 1,000.

If you had access to an insider, say the registrar of voters, you might be able to tinker with the numbers to a degree greater than 100 votes. However, it is not so easy to keep such conspiracies a secret, as we are learning with the Coffee County, GA, shenanigans. Further, as it turns out, people are not actually very good at coming up with plausible phony numbers. There are telltale signs when data has been faked, and after an election, there are thousands of math-minded people looking through the voting tallies for oddities. Red flags would almost certainly be discovered, and once again, you end up with an investigation.

In short, Georgia's 11,700 "fake votes" are just not plausible, much less the much greater number that would actually have been needed to make sure the state was in the bag (after all, there's no way to know whether an election will be decided by 5,000 votes or 10,000 or 25,000 or 50,000). And something like 154,000 votes in Michigan is simply inconceivable.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, asks: We've been hearing about the fake electors that Donald Trump wanted to help overturn his defeat in 2020. I know that prior to the general election, both parties submit a slate of electors for each state and D.C., and whoever wins the popular vote in that entity, those electors are "elected" to vote in the Electoral College in December. I'm also aware after the Electoral College voting, a certificate is signed by every elector, the Secretary of State in that state, and the Governor. That certificate is then turned into Congress to be counted on Jan. 6.

My question is twofold: (1) Were these fake electors the same ones the Republican Party chose initially, or were they Trump cronies? and (2) Did part of their scheme include forging the secretaries of state and governors' signatures on a fake certificate to fool the Congressional counters on Jan. 6?

(V) & (Z) answer: The fake electors were not the real electors. There may have been a little overlap, but the fake electors were people specially recruited for their willingness to participate in a scheme that was dubious, unethical, illegal, risky, etc.

You can actually see copies of the fake electors' certificates here. And even a cursory examination makes clear this was a serious, centrally organized conspiracy. The certificates are identical in format, including formatting and font choice. They also deploy the exact same legal fictions, including being "approved" by people who identify themselves as "Chairperson, [STATE] Electoral College." For example, the fake Georgia certificate was "approved" by "David J. Shafer, Chairperson, Electoral College of Georgia," who also served as one of the "electors." Shafer is now one of the 19 people under indictment courtesy of Fani Willis.

This "technique" allowed the fake electors to avoid having to forge anyone's signatures. Of course, for the certificates to be valid, they have to have either the signature of the governor or state SoS or both (it depends on the state). Someone claiming to be chairperson of the state's electoral college, whatever that means, doesn't cut it. In other words, how these folks thought this could actually fly, we just don't know.

D.M. in Edinburgh, Scotland, asks: Now that Fani Willis has made her move against Donald Trump and his associates, I wonder why Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was not included? I seem to remember at the time that he was one of the people leaning on Georgia's officials to subvert the election results.

(V) & (Z) answer: There's been some speculation that he turned state's evidence. He denies it, but he's also an inveterate liar, so take that denial with a grain of salt or two.

That said, it is entirely plausible that Graham—who is a lawyer and considerably smarter than Trump is, not that that is a high bar to clear—was careful enough that he did not leave himself legally exposed. For example, as far as we know, the Senator was not stupid enough to allow himself to be recorded trying to get election officials to commit fraud. Plus, he's got about the strongest arguments of any of the people involved that his words and actions were covered by his official status. So, Willis might have decided that prosecuting him was too much of a crapshoot.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, asks: You wrote: "Pro tip: Her name is pronounced 'fah-knee,' not 'fan-ee.'"

Forget Fani Willis; I want to know how Chesebro is pronounced. "Chess-bro"? Vaguely like "Cerebro"? The obvious, probably wrong, but oh-so-amusing fratboy-esque "Cheese-bro"? ("Hey, pass the cheese, bro!"—Ken Chesebro's future cellmate). Inquiring minds want to know!

(Yeah, I listen to news a lot less frequent than I read it.)

(V) & (Z) answer: It would be a goldmine if it had a funny pronunciation, but in fact, it's Chess-bro.

R.H. in Anchorage, AK, asks: What are the chances that Donald Trump is charged with state-level election-related crimes in states other than Georgia?

(V) & (Z) answer: Not zero, as we wrote this week, but probably not very high. First, if he was being investigated in other states, it would be hard to keep that entirely under wraps for 2+ years. And there's been no indication that he's being investigated in, say, Arizona or Michigan. Second, prosectors always have to decide how to invest their resources so as to get maximum bang for the buck. Going after Trump is going to cost big bucks in Georgia, New York, etc. The four pending cases will either send him to prison for some number of years, or else will prove that he's bulletproof and cannot be convicted. In either scenario, what's the point of investing the time and resources for a fifth case? Either it would add years to his sentences that he's never going to serve, or it would fail.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, asks: By my count, TFG is at 91 indictments in less than a year. Is that a record? If not, who has been indicted more? What are the odds that someone can escape scot free from 91 indictments? Are the international bookies taking bets on either outcome?

If indictments are equal to winning, I just want the Treasonweasel to know that I'm not tired of winning yet! Not by a long shot. Let's see if we can break 100 by the end of the year.

(V) & (Z) answer: Trump loves to break records, even bad ones, but he's not close to breaking one here. It's a little unusual that he's been charged with so many different types of crimes in so many different venues. However, it's actually somewhat common for people to pile up 100 charges in a single indictment, as it's a nice, round number, and it's also big and scary, so it theoretically will put the defendant in the mood to negotiate a plea. In these cases, it's usually the same crime (or a group of related crimes) over and over, commonly possession of child pornography or mail fraud. If you want to see examples of people charged with 100 counts in just the last few months, look here, here, here, here, and here.

You didn't ask, but Trump is also not a contender for longest sentence of all time. According to Forbes, in the unlikely event he was convicted of every count, and given the maximum sentence in each case, to be served consecutively, he'd be in the clink for 717.5 years. Nothing to sneeze at, but a positive walk in the park compared to the longest sentence in American history, which is the 30,000 years currently being served by convicted rapist Charles Scott Robinson. Of course, that will get knocked down to 15,000 years with good behavior.

It's not going to be easy to escape 91 indictments, in four different jurisdictions, facing off against prosecutors who cannot afford to screw this up. At the moment, though, the betting world does like Trump's chances. It depends on the book, but the odds being offered right now imply around a 14% chance he's in prison by the end of 2023, going all the way up to a 40% chance by 2026. For comparison's sake, the books also say there's a 12.5% chance he divorces Melania, and a 10% chance he flees the U.S. and takes asylum in a non-extradition country, by the end of this year. Please do take all these odds with several grains of salt; it takes a while for them to catch up with what's going on in the real world, and the bettors are not experts in American jurisprudence, or even in American politics, necessarily.

Incidentally, the books are also taking prop bets on Trump's arraignment this week. For example, there is an over-under bet on how much he'll weigh when he shows up. The over-under (in other words 50% chance of being above, 50% chance of being below) is 273.5 pounds (or 124 kg, or 19.5 stone).

P.M. in Rolling Meadows, IL, asks: TFG is making a big deal about his First Amendment rights and decreeing that the indictments are politically motivated because he is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. I understand that being indicted (or even convicted) of a crime does not disqualify someone for running for president or even becoming president. But running for political office is not the same as campaigning for political office. I'm sure there are plenty of unopposed candidates who don't bother to campaign for the office they are running for.

I know there are campaign finance laws. Is there anything that guarantees a candidate's right to travel, speak, post to social media, and hold rallies without any restrictions, under the pretense of campaigning for office? Just because Trump is a candidate for president, he thinks there should be no restrictions on him. Is there any basis (even the smallest) for that?

(V) & (Z) answer: There is little to no basis for that. Under some circumstances, and when it is possible, courts are mindful of a person's professional obligations. For example, if you're an accountant, and you're going to be party to a trial expected to last 3 weeks, and the judge wants to start on April 10, then they might be persuaded to hold off until the 16th (i.e., after tax day). But they don't have to, and they certainly aren't going to be "flexible" to the extent that Trump is expecting and demanding.

There are historical examples that make clear this is the case, most obviously Eugene V. Debs in 1920. He was in prison that year, charged with and convicted of sedition, and yet he was the Socialist candidate for president. If the government was required to allow him to campaign, they would have let him out. But they didn't (and he still got over 1 million votes).

P.M.G. in Denver, CO, asks: Does the President of the United States need a security clearance to view secret documents, or is it automatic? I ask of course because it seems Donald Trump would not qualify for one, based on federal indictment #1. What would happen if he was elected again, and couldn't get a security clearance?

(V) & (Z) answer: Did you know that King Charles III doesn't have a driver's license (anymore)? Since British licenses are issued in the monarch's name, it doesn't make sense for Charles to extend "permission" for Charles to drive. So, when and if he drives (only on private roads, for security reasons), he does it without a license (OK, technically, without a licence).

Similarly, because control over secure documents flows from the president, the occupant of that office does not have a formal security clearance. They can just look at whatever they want because they're the president. Customarily, ex-presidents retain that privilege, but it's not required, and Joe Biden specifically declined to extend that courtesy to Trump (with good reason, obviously, and not just out of spite). That means that if Trump needs to see classified materials in connection with his trial, it will be done under close supervision, and with constraints imposed by the judge. If Trump were to become president again, however, he would regain the ability to see whatever he wants.

J.H. in Montclair, CA, asks: After being convicted of rape, a very serious felony, in New York, why wasn't Donald Trump stripped of all his perks as a former president, such as all the health care benefits, staff, secret service protection, etc.?

(V) & (Z) answer: First, he lost a civil judgment in New York, not a criminal one. Second, per the terms of the Former Presidents Act, which extends all the privileges you list, there's only one automatic disqualifier: removal from office via impeachment. This is why Richard Nixon resigned rather than allow himself to be impeached and convicted.

It is within the power of Congress to pass a bill that either updates the Former Presidents Act to include any felony conviction as a disqualifier, or that specifically strips the benefits from Trump. Whether 10 Republicans in the Senate would go for that, even if Trump is convicted of multiple crimes, is anyone's guess.

B.C. of Walpole, ME (in the Damariscotta estuary aboard our boat, the Fani Willis), asks: In Media World, at least the parts I encounter (and a I do get around), all talking heads, commentators, opinionators, and interviewees seem to have accepted as established fact that the President of the United States of America has the power to pardon himself. While I understand that the Constitution puts no limits on that power, nevertheless, the greater principle that no person is above the law clearly delimits that power, in my opinion (and I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, and I often read a web site written by two people who are also not lawyers). But am I wrong to assume that if a future President tried to pardon himself, that there would be challenges from the Supreme Court to impeachment?

(V) & (Z) answer: This is a very gray area and, as we've written, it's easy to guess what the framers intended (no man may be his own judge), but it's also easy to see what the Constitution actually says (it places no limits on the pardon power). Did those fellows, sweating it out in the humid Philadelphia summer, just forget to note that presidents can't pardon themselves? Or did they think it was not necessary to state something so obvious?

If Trump were to be reelected, and then to self-pardon, there would be outrage and there would be lawsuits. The first big question is exactly who would have standing to sue. Maybe any citizen, maybe Congress, maybe nobody. And the second is what the Supreme Court would do, if and when it heard the case. SCOTUS has shown no particular inclination to tote Trump's water, but it also does not like to involve itself in political questions. So, it's entirely possible that they could rule that the matter is not justiciable, and that if the self-pardon is not OK, the correct remedy is impeachment and removal.

There's also a workaround Trump could try. Keep reading.

R.F. in Washington, DC, asks: Given how fraught and uncertain a self-pardon would be, I wonder if much thought has been given to the following possibility. Could Trump not, despite a conviction and even an imprisonment, win the presidency, and then after assuming office, have his Cabinet invoke the 25th Amendment to temporarily remove him (because he's in prison and therefore incapacitated, or for any other reason they want), and then have the Acting President pardon him? It seems to me that the VP-as-Acting-President exercising the pardon power would be on stronger legal ground than an attempt at a self-pardon. Curious to hear what you think of this possibility.

(V) & (Z) answer: We think you're right that it's a stronger legal play. And although a second-term Trump Cabinet would undoubtedly be full of loyal flunkies, Trump wouldn't even need to get them involved. A president can voluntarily hand over power, for whatever period of time, just by writing a letter announcing that they are doing so. It's happened three times since the Twenty-Fifth Amendment was adopted; in all cases because the sitting president was going under anesthesia.

If an acting president, under these circumstances, were to issue pardons, it would be really hard to overturn in court. The Constitution makes clear that an acting president has all the powers of the office. And for one person to pardon another does not clearly violate either the intent or the letter of the Constitution. It's hard for us to even think of what valid legal argument might be used against this maneuver (maybe intent to commit fraud?). And even if it did end up before SCOTUS, the judges would surely say this is Congress' problem and not theirs.

J.R. (U.S. citizen presently wandering about) in Montevideo, Uruguay, asks: Having worked and traveled in many place around the world, I have come to the conclusion that it would take an awfully rough prison sentence for me to think about trying to set up house in a non-extradition country, and I am not a pampered member of the monied class (insider tip—these countries are often not such nice places!). Given this, I think it is highly unlikely that the Grifter would resort to this ploy.

Having said that, do you think the Secret Service has been contacted by any court/law enforcement agency regarding making sure that the 4x indictee stays in the U.S.? I would think that it is very likely that the U.S.S.S. itself has had discussions about making sure they don't "lose" their protectee also.

(V) & (Z) answer: The Secret Service is famous for the thoroughness of its preparations, but our best guess is that there's been no explicit conversations of this sort. It goes without saying that he should not be allowed to leave the country unguarded, and it's probably not even legal for him to do so (until such time as he waives protection, the security detail is mandatory). And if Trump tried to sneak away ("Hey guys, I'm going to hop on my plane; you hang out in the airport lounge until I get back!") it would be painfully obvious what was going on.

S.B. in Winslow, ME, asks: There's a lot of speculation about whether TFG will be convicted, go to prison, could serve as president in prison, etc. I have a different sort of concern. What's the likelihoood of violent unrest should he be convicted and go to prison? Seems like 1/6 is a disturbing indicator.

(V) & (Z) answer: The likelihood is not very high. In high-profile cases of unrest, you end up with a bunch of people with a similar set of grievances in a relatively small area (usually a city). Trump's hardcore supporters are just too widely dispersed to come together in that way. Further, there are so many key "events" (indictments announced, arraignments, start of trial, verdict announced... and in four different venues) that it would be hard for the Trumpers to know when and where to come together (by contrast, there is only one day and one place where EVs are counted). We suspect that quite a few Trumpers have also noticed that if they stick their necks out, they might well get popped, and the Dear Leader isn't going to save them.

Thus far, our suppositions would appear to be on track. Although there have been concerns about huge Trumper turnout for the indictments, and possible violence as a result, the smallish number of Trumpers has invariably been dwarfed by the much larger number of anti-Trumpers. And there's been no violence yet, of course.

B.L. in Hudson, NY, asks: Suppose Donald Trump could travel back in time to the 2000 election. What, if anything, do you think he would change? Would he still attempt to subvert the results, or would he grumble but peacefully allow Joe Biden to take over? How would his approach change toward Mike Pence? If he would still attempt the coup, do you think he'd at least try to self-pardon? Or do you think he'd keep everything as it happened and still expect it all to work out in the end? Or some other course of action? I must confess that his puny little mind confuses puny little me!

(V) & (Z) answer: Donald Trump needs to be a WINNER at a very visceral level. He never learned, or at least never accepted, that everyone loses sometimes. Your question presupposes that Trump has figured out, on some level, that his approach did not work out well, and that he has regrets. We really don't think those things are true; he's so skilled at self-delusion that he still thinks he did what was correct and what was righteous, and he also thinks it will all work out in his favor, in the end. Assuming we are right about this, then he would have no reason to change his approach if he had it to do all over.

Oh, and even if you narrowed it down, and said "If Trump were to be given a 24-hour window tomorrow to self-pardon himself, would he take it?" we think the answer is still "no." That's too close to admitting that he lost.


J.J. in Johnstown, PA, asks: I can't recall if you've covered this in the past but this question has been nagging at me more and more as the Hammer of Indictment keeps coming down on Dear Leader: On the Democratic side of things, when is the drop-dead date that the Democrats have to absolutely settle on who the nominee is? My worst fear is that age catches up to Joe Biden and the Democrats are stuck with Kamala Harris. Personally, I like her, but here in the Alabama part of Pennsylvania, the Trumpers obviously don't care much for Biden, but at least he's an old white man. On the other hand, these people loathe Harris—not sure why. So, if the nominee can't be Biden for whatever reason, I'd much rather see Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) step up to the plate. We all know he's going to run in 2028, but I'm hoping he'd be the bullpen this year, just in case. I could absolutely see Trump being elected if Harris ends up as the nominee.

(V) & (Z) answer: As a practical matter, there is no real deadline, because there is no plausible way to throw Harris overboard. If the Democrats did that, they would risk alienating Black, Asian and/or female voters, and the Party just can't afford that.

There are only two plausible ways that Harris is not the nominee, should Biden step aside (or otherwise be unavailable). The first is if Biden vacates in time for a real Democratic primary process to be held. In that case, Harris would have to sink or swim on her own merits, and if she wasn't the nominee, the Democratic Party would not get the blame. The second scenario is that Biden steps aside, and then Harris is convinced to do so as well, for the good of the Party or for some other reason. The ambitious Harris does not seem likely to go for that, but if she does, the drop-dead date is probably somewhere around September 15. That would give time for the DNC to hold an emergency meeting and pick a new ticket, and for states to produce new ballots.

D.K. in Iowa City, IA, asks: What do you think will happen with possible Biden vs. Trump debates. Will Biden be willing to debate Trump if the former president is being tried or convicted or in prison? Will Trump be willing to debate? Will any organization be willing to sponsor a debate? Is there any way to predict this? Biden would certainly have a lot of ammunition.

(V) & (Z) answer: The sponsorship is the easy question. All presidential debates are conducted by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), and have been since 1987. CPD will most certainly do its part if it has presidential candidates willing to do theirs.

Biden's participating is also a pretty easy question. He's a "by the book" kind of guy, and he would not want there to be a million "Biden skipped the debates because he's hiding his dementia" stories and memes. So, he'd be there.

Trump is the wildcard, and he's probably more likely to skip them than not. He hates the debates, including the prep (hard work!) and the actual event (no screaming fans!). He's also terrible at them, and would likely have to play by rules (like his microphone gets shut off when it's not his time to talk) that he doesn't want to play by. Also, he may well be busy with one or more legal quagmires.

P.J. in Denver, CO, asks: I have a good friend who is a pretty balanced person when it comes to politics and life in general. She said to me that Joe Biden lied about knowing about his son's business dealings. She based this on the fact that Joe was on speaker for 20 calls with Hunter's business associates.

I replied that being on the call is not lying. And if it is true that they were just shooting the breeze—not only is there not a crime, he is not lying. And really, we do not know what happened. If there were laws broken, I am fine with the appropriate people being charged.

This conversation somewhat bothered me. I don't want to be too partisan. However, it seems that if the calls were truly innocent (which I don't know), Biden is really being portrayed unfairly. And, I think this is a consistent thing in most media.

What are your thoughts?

(V) & (Z) answer: Barring any new evidence—and if there was such evidence, wouldn't House Republicans have been all over it by now?—we think there's really nothing here.

Joe Biden has been a prominent politician for half a century. Even if we just limit it to his post-Senate career, he's been VP (or former VP) or president for the last 15 years. He famously talks to his kids and grandkids a lot on the phone, and undoubtedly speakerphone is used a fair bit. If Hunter put Joe on speaker roughly once a year, while Hunter's business associates, or would-be business associates, were in the room, does that seem especially corrupt or problematic?

Without having spoken to the people involved, our guess is that Joe feels a lot of difficult emotions when it comes to Hunter, and that Joe wants to see Hunter overcome his demons and live a good and productive life. He would also guess that if a little small talk from Joe is enough to open some doors for Hunter, then Joe is OK with that, as long as no lines are crossed, and as long as Joe is not in any way a part of any business arrangement. It's not especially different from giving someone a letter of recommendation; you might help open a door for a person you like/trust/have a high opinion of, but your involvement ends once they pass through that door.

Again, if there were evidence that there was anything beyond a little friendly chit-chat, we'd be open to revising our opinion. But we don't think that evidence is coming, and we currently see no basis for condemning the President.

J.H. in Boston, MA, asks: In Vivek Ramaswamy's platform statement, (see here, for example, he says "There are three branches of the U.S. government, not four." He's implying that someone somewhere thinks there are four branches of government, and this needs to be refuted. What is he referencing? Who thinks there are four branches? Is he talking about the media, or the deep state, or something else?

(V) & (Z) answer: This is like talking about the "Fifth Beatle," as there are lots of different possibilities put forward by various people. That said, when the term is used by far-right politicians and pundits, it's almost always meant to refer to either the federal bureaucracy as a whole (e.g., the IRS, CIA, State Department, etc.), or to refer more specifically to the independent agencies of the federal government, the ones that exist outside the executive branch (e.g., the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, etc.). So, your guess of "deep state" was pretty much on the mark.

A.S. in Phoenix, AZ, asks: Living as a long-time Democrat here in Arizona is an odd experience. The state has been Red for so long that many of us do not really believe the state is turning maroon, let alone purple (ASU v. UofA reference). However, it is hard to deny when so many of our statewide officeholders are Democrats. It often feels like Democrats win more because of the missteps of GOP candidates.

That said, I just discovered something that surprised even me (a grizzled, former Democratic campaign activist). Earlier today, my daily donation request from the Ruben Gallego campaign arrived on my phone. For some reason—not totally sure why—today was the day I decided it was time to finally commit some money to him. I am pretty much done with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) and really hope she does not spoil the party for the Democrats in next year's U.S. Senate race.

After logging in to ActBlue and searching for Arizona Democratic Senate candidates, I was surprised to see that Sinema has an account for her 2024 senate campaign—as does Gallego, of course. ActBlue is a major platform for soliciting small donations for the blue team and I have always assumed that they were backed by the DNC. However, this cannot be the case, as the DNC surely would not allow Sinema to raise money this way, if it were up to them. What is the relationship of ActBlue to the DNC? Is there a GOP equivalent? I could imagine this scenario on a party agnostic site like Emily's List, but not ActBlue!

(V) & (Z) answer: ActBlue is officially a political action committee (in other words, a PAC) affiliated with the Democratic Party. That means that the organization is not an organ of the Democratic Party, nor does it take orders from the DNC. That said, if DNC Chair Jaime Harrison were to call ActBlue Executive Director Regina Wallace-Jones, and ask her to boot Sinema, Wallace-Jones would surely accommodate the request.

The reason that Harrison has not made that call, and presumably will not make that call, is that there's no upside to it. Alienating Sinema could cause her to respond badly, up to and including an announcement that she will begin caucusing with the Republicans. Meanwhile, just about anyone who's politically involved enough to donate money in Q3 2023 knows what's going on with her. This is why, despite being on ActBlue, her take has been anemic.

And yes, there is a GOP equivalent to ActBlue; it is called WinRed.

J.E. in San Jose, CA, asks: Do you think Oliver Anthony is a right-wing creation or a natural viral success?

(V) & (Z) answer: For those not familiar, Oliver Anthony is a country singer who has gone viral with another one of these angry songs; in his case one called "Rich Men North Of Richmond." In contrast to Jason Aldean's "Try That In A Small Town," the Anthony song largely avoids racist overtones. Instead, it leans into class warfare, with a pretty hefty dollop of "Southeners are the true Americans," and a very faint whiff of antisemitism.

As to the question, we don't think those two things are necessarily in opposition. Anthony and his song first caught on due to being highlighted by RadioWV, which is ostensibly non-partisan, but has a large conservative following. And then the conservatives latched onto it from there.

J.K. in Silverdale, WA, asks: What happened to QAnon?

(V) & (Z) answer: Well, the person or persons who posted as QAnon went silent for about 18 months; roughly January 2021 to June 2022. That said, the primary reason you don't hear much about QAnon anymore is that there isn't much else to say. You can only write so many "Can you believe the nutty stuff that right-wingers are buying into?" stories. The media cranked those stories out, and then basically moved on.

Note, incidentally, that we largely (or entirely) weren't a part of that. We made reference to the QAnon Shaman a few times when talking about the insurrection, and we occasionally wrote things like "[Person] X associates with Mike Lindell and QAnon types," but we are not sure if we ever wrote an item about QAnon itself. Maybe one or two, but certainly not many, and possibly not any. This is because it's not only dumb, it's also not rational. We try to understand what did happen, and to speculate about what will happen, and that can only be done with rational actors.


R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: There have been many instances of the vice presidency being vacant for several months. Presumably, these vacancies were due to the process of replacing a veep who had been elevated to the presidency or left office for any number of reasons. However, there are several instances of the vice presidency being vacant for several years. Why did this happen, or why was allowed to happen?

(V) & (Z) answer: Because until the Twenty-Fifth Amendment became part of the Constitution on February 10, 1967, there was no procedure for filling the VP job if it was vacant. Lyndon B. Johnson was the last VP to go un-replaced, and Spiro Agnew was the first VP to be succeeded by an appointee (Gerald Ford). The only other VP to be succeeded by an appointee was... Gerald Ford, who tapped Nelson Rockefeller to fill the job upon Ford's elevation to the presidency.

A.S. in Bellevue, WA, asks: Although Donald Trump's indictments are sucking up all the oxygen, I'm curious on your thoughts about how politically risky it might be for the appropriate Senate committee to request Clarence Thomas' federal tax returns to see if bothered to report the value of the "gifts" received from his various billionaire benefactors. Can Supreme Court justices be impeached? Is the process similar to impeaching a president?

(V) & (Z) answer: It's entirely appropriate for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), chair of the United States Senate Committee on Finance, to ask for the returns. In fact, there's a decent chance he's done so already. If he calls up IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel, and says "Hey, Danny boy, shoot me over a USB drive with the last 10 years' worth of the Justice's returns!" there's no obligation for them to announce that to the world. The only reason the status of Donald Trump's returns became such a big story is because Trump fought the release.

And if this already happened, or if it happened in the future, and the news were to come out, we don't really think it would be risky, per se. Certainly, the Fox hosts and the Freedom Caucusers would scream bloody murder. But they are always screaming bloody murder about something, so what's the difference?

And yes, any federal judge can be impeached by the same process used for the president, excepting that a presidential impeachment is overseen by the Chief Justice, whereas any other impeachment is overseen by the VP in their capacity as President of the Senate. That said, only one Supreme Court justice has ever been impeached, and that was over 200 years ago, and he was not convicted and so was not removed.

P.D. in London, England, UK, asks: The continuing shenanigans surrounding Joe Manchin's future have gotten me thinking about how an Independent senator or representative is replaced mid-term.

I know that the States have various rules of their own. Many require that the replacement be from the same party as the departing office holder, but what happens when that person is an independent?

To complicate matters, there are those people who were elected as independents, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and those who ran on a party ticket and then cut the ties, like Kyrsten Sinema. Would the rules differ in these cases? Also, what would happen if the person was ejected from both their party and expelled from Congress (looking at you, Rep. "George Santos")?

Can you throw some light on this area of confusion, please?

(V) & (Z) answer: Let's start with the two easiest parts of your question. First, since there is no party membership in the U.S., a person cannot be ejected from a political party. If someone says they are Republican, then they are a Republican until they decide otherwise and re-register as a member of some other party (or as an independent).

Second, by the terms of the U.S. Constitution, vacant seats in the U.S. House cannot be filled by appointment, only by special election. This means that your question only applies to three people right now, with a possible fourth to join the list. That would be Sanders, Sinema, Sen. Angus King (I-ME), and maybe Sen. Joe Manchin (D?-WV), one of these days.

Most states actually don't place limits on the appointee, leaving it up to the governor, to a greater or lesser extent. Among the states that have no restrictions are Vermont and Maine. So, if Sanders or King was to exit prematurely, then Govs. Phil Scott (R-VT) and Janet Mills (D-ME) would be free to choose as they see fit. Mills would surely choose a Democrat, and the centrist Scott might very well do so, too. When Pat Leahy was looking like he might not make it to the finish line, Scott said that he'd fill a vacancy with a Democrat.

The relevant Arizona law, which does place limits, is written in a manner that anticipates the Sinema situation. It says: "If the person vacating [a U.S. Senate seat] changed political party affiliation after taking office, the person who is appointed to fill the vacancy shall be of the same political party that the vacating officeholder was when the vacating officeholder was elected or appointed to that office." So, if Sinema exits her seat, Gov. Katie Hobbs (D-AZ) would be required to pick a Democrat, which would be fine and dandy with her.

The trickiest situation, at the moment, is in West Virginia. However, our guess is that even if Manchin switches to independent, and even if he then leaves the seat vacant, Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) would choose a Democrat to replace the Senator. We say that for two reasons. First, the relevant West Virginia law reads thus:

The Governor shall make the appointment from a list of three legally qualified persons submitted by the party executive committee of the same political party with which the person holding the office immediately preceding the vacancy was affiliated at the time the vacancy occurred. The list of qualified persons to fill the vacancy shall be submitted to the Governor within 15 days after the vacancy occurs, and the Governor shall duly make his or her appointment to fill the vacancy from the list of legally qualified persons within five days after the list is received. If the list is not submitted to the Governor within the 15-day period, the Governor shall appoint, within five days thereafter, a legally qualified person of the same political party with which the person holding the office immediately preceding the vacancy was affiliated at the time the vacancy occurred.

If Manchin was to become an independent, there would be no "party executive committee" available to submit a list of replacements. So, the 15-day window would lapse, and that final clause would come into effect, instructing Justice to pick someone from Manchin's "affiliated" political party. Clearly, there's no argument that Manchin is/was a Republican, so Justice would have to either pick an independent or a Democrat. We'd say there are pretty good arguments for both interpretations.

However, that brings us to the second consideration. Justice just so happens to be running for that very Senate seat right now. Again, he can't justify picking a Republican, so he can't name himself. That means he would want to pick the person least likely to be a threat in the 2024 election. And an unknown Democrat is far less a threat than an unknown independent. The only Democrat who can win statewide in West Virginia, it would seem, is Manchin. But an independent who gave a really impressive audition in their 6-18 months might just cobble together a viable electoral coalition of Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans.

Note that the whole "the governor must pick someone from the same party as the departed senator" thing is fairly new, and is still not that widespread. So, there's never been a case where someone was elected to the Senate as an independent, and then had to be replaced by a governor in a "you must pick a senator from the same party" state. If that did happen, we'd be in a brave new world. That said, the state legislature of the state would probably just quickly pass a bill addressing the situation.

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, asks: I thought you might want a break from all the questions about Trump's indictments (the greatest biggest most beautiful indictments you've ever seen of the best most stable least racist president ever) and talk about something completely different.

I was shocked to read on the site that Mississippi had not ratified the Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery, and only recently ratified it. How on earth was this not known already? Who keeps track of which states have ratified which amendment? Do any states automatically ratify amendments once they have been formally added? Do any ratify amendments retroactively (e.g., the Bill of Rights)?

(V) & (Z) answer: By the terms of the Constitution, an amendment becomes official once three-quarters of the states then in existence ratify it. At that point, it does not matter what the other states do (or don't do). It also doesn't matter if additional states join the union; the First Amendment, for example, is not invalidated because it was only ratified by 13 states (i.e., less than three-quarters of the current total).

The Thirteenth Amendment became the law of the land on December 6, 1865. From a legal standpoint, Mississippi did not matter one way or the other once that happened. The state was supposed to ratify, as a symbolic statement to make clear that residents had "learned" the lesson of the Civil War, and were on board with the new order of things. It is not too surprising that the Mississippians did not make a point of taking care of business, and eating that particular slice of humble pie.

These days, responsibility for tracking ratifications rests with the Archivist of the United States. That position did not exist until the 1930s, however, and so in 1865 the job belonged to the State Department. Record keeping wasn't great back then, a lot of stuff was going on in 1865 and 1866, and the federal bureaucracy was much smaller. So, it's not that strange that nobody caught Mississippi's "oversight."

And it's actually somewhat common for states to ratify amendments retroactively, even if it's only symbolic. To take an example, the Nineteenth Amendment (women's suffrage) became law on August 18, 1920, when it met the then-requirement of 36 votes (thanks to Tennessee). There were a couple of states who ratified soon thereafter, and then another 10 who ratified years or decades later. For example, Virginia finally signed up in 1952, Florida in 1969 and North Carolina in 1971. The last state to ratify, at least so far, just so happens to be Mississippi, which didn't do it until 1984. Now, the only two states that have not ratified the Nineteenth are the two that did not exist when it became law, namely Alaska and Hawaii.

P.R. in Saco, ME, asks: I haven't read anything about how one senator (Tommy Tuberville, R-AL) can have the power to block all of the military appointments and promotions. I thought the Democratic Party was in the (very slim) majority. Please enlighten me as to how this too-many-games-without-a-helmet fool acquired this much power.

(V) & (Z) answer: We actually have answered this question before, but we get it a lot, so we'll answer it again. In order for the Senate to do all the things it has to do, many pro forma tasks are handled by unanimous consent. Essentially, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), or his deputy, says "Does anyone object to [this action]?" If nobody objects, then it's a done deal, and the whole thing is over in a few seconds. That is how nearly all military promotions are handled.

What Tuberville is doing is refusing to participate in unanimous consent. In that case, promotions have to be handled as part of regular order. That means a 4-8 hour process for every single one. There are roughly 300 promotions backlogged right now, so that would be on the order of 1,800 hours of working time, or 45 weeks at full-time hours (with no allowance for committee work, breaks, trips back home to do constituent work, etc.).

Schumer could pick out a few key posts, like Commandant of the Marine Corps, and just handle those through normal order. But he does not want to do that because he does not want to make it easier for Tuberville to hold up the other 280 or 290 appointments indefinitely. The only way the dam is going to break is if it is under maximum pressure.

V.F. in Orlando, FL, asks: Why won't Chuck Schumer & Co. just change the rule that one senator can block a military promotion?

(V) & (Z) answer: The problem is that, per the answer above, they would have to completely rewrite the rules regarding unanimous consent (while also changing the name, since if something can be done 99-1, it's no longer "unanimous"). And there are situations where most, or possibly all, senators want to be able to singlehandedly block an appointment or a promotion or something else. They just don't want abuses like the one Tuberville is committing.

Even if Schumer was willing to pursue a rule change (and he might not be), the odds that he could find 60 votes in support are low. There are plenty of senators, both left and right, who regard this as an important tool in their toolkit.


J.H. in Boston, MA, asks: In recent years it seems that the political machine has decided not to bother with competitive primaries for incumbent presidents. Serious candidates don't run, and some states don't even bother holding a vote. That's how the Republican primary was in 2020 and the Democratic primary in 2012.

I know that Lyndon B. Johnson was damaged goods facing a competitive primary. How many other incumbents had one since?

(V) & (Z) answer: There's a certain amount of judgment involved here, but we (and most political historians) would say that it's happened to two incumbents since LBJ. Gerald Ford faced a fairly serious primary challenge from Ronald Reagan in 1976, and Jimmy Carter faced an even more serious primary challenge from Ted Kennedy in 1980.

K.M. in Tacoma, WA, asks: While it's common for politicians to spin and tell half truths, has there been anyone in U.S. history who has lied so blatantly as Donald Trump, and with such grave consequences for the country? If so, were there any consequences for that politician when the truth was evident to their followers?

(V) & (Z) answer: The obvious answer is Richard Nixon, who badly undermined faith in the presidency and the government, and who was eventually abandoned by many of his followers (though he did rebuild his reputation, to an extent, later in his life).

There's also Senator Joe McCarthy, whose lies about alleged communist ties both drew upon and further heightened domestic paranoia, helped trigger the Korean War, and led to the ruination of hundreds of lives. He also suffered a fall from grace, and there was no chance for him to bounce back, because he died not long thereafter.

And then there is John C. Calhoun, whose extremist rhetoric played a significant role in laying the groundwork for the Civil War. His dishonesty was not so much that he said things that were false, it was that he pretended to be a loyal public servant and vice president publicly, while behind the scenes he was fomenting rebellion. Among "his people" (white Southerners), he remained a hero to his dying day.

That said, these folks are merely in Donald Trump's ZIP Code when it comes to dishonesty, and the resulting damage. There is no American, past or present, who is his equal, and we can't even think of someone who's even in his ballpark.

A.P. in Kitchener, ON, Canada, asks: You recommended Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States for those interested in a leftist narrative of United States history. I decided to pick up the book for my summer reading. As a Canadian with only a passing knowledge of American history, I'd appreciate your thoughts on the accuracy of the book. While parts of it are clearly Marxist interpretations (eg "The Founding Fathers... created the most effective system of national control devised in modern times"), I am wondering if the quality of the research the book is based upon is sound?

(V) & (Z) answer: Tough question. Zinn's research is solid, and he certainly didn't make anything up. If he did, it would have been exposed long ago. That said, his interpretations were aggressive, and tended to lack nuance. Also, he was prone to relying heavily on dogmatic sources, and also to excluding incidents and examples that would undermine his narrative. So, the best thing to do is to get a second, more middle-of-the-road textbook (like this one), and to read the corresponding chapters in both books. It's a great way to see how the same events can be understood when viewed through different lenses.


B.C. in Phoenix, AZ, asks: It seems like my e-mail to the comments e-mail address are being redirected to a weird site. Is it just me?

(V) & (Z) answer: As far as we know, it's just you. We haven't had any other reports like this, and we certainly don't do anything to re-route incoming e-mails.

M.G. in Stow, MA, asks: Do you answer any reader questions that you do not include in the Saturday posting? I'm wondering if you ever answer questions via e-mail that you don't think the readership will be interested in as a whole.

(V) & (Z) answer: On occasion, particularly if it's something brief. That said, going down that rabbit hole can quickly become a big time suck, so we don't do it a lot.

Reader Question of the Week

Here is the question we put before readers last week:

S.B. in Winslow, ME, asks: With another year of record hostile weather conditions, what will it take for the country to make climate change a serious priority?

And here some of the answers we got in response:

C.A. in Morrisville, NC: To many people, climate change is still a nebulous, abstract concept. Until it effects them directly, they will not take it seriously. Hurricanes that swamp coastal communities... "they shouldn't live so close to the ocean." Colorado river drying up... "mismanagement and people using too much water." Snowstorms in Texas with people freezing to death... "the power companies were unprepared." And so on. To me, one huge benefit of the widespread record temperatures this year is that so many states and people are being affected. I hope this serves as a wake-up call.

R.M. in Pensacola, FL: There is really only one thing that I can think of: Famine.

There are currently too many incidents that, while clearly the result of climate change, are isolated. Think "nuisance flooding" in the Miami area. Drought in the Southwest. Wildfires in Maui. Yes, it's all very serious, but it's all localized and doesn't impact very many people, especially across the country all at one time.

But at some point, we will see major crop failures. Imagine going to the grocery store, and there are no products there made with wheat because the wheat crop largely failed for 2-3 years in a row and prices went through the roof because only 10 percent of normal annual amounts were available. Maybe throw in corn or barley and imagine the shortages that would produce.

Think something such as that would get people's attention? Of course, it's probably too late at that point and as a society, we will have bigger problems to face. But I think nothing will significantly change until our hand is forced and by then, it's too late.

D.S.R. in Tempe, AZ: My brother has been saying for years, "When it starts raining in Aspen in February they'll do something about climate change." We are close.

R.S. in Durham, England, UK: The answer is not a matter of science or science communication. Climate change caused by fossil-fuel emissions was theorized in the mid-19th century, settled science by the early 20th century, and modeled with incredible accuracy by the mid-20th century. Reducing fossil fuel emissions is still well-understood but harder: Progress toward using clean electricity for given uses ranges from surprisingly substantial (e.g., steel) to technically feasible but barely started (ground transportation and home heating) to virtually impossible with current technology (cheap air travel, concrete production). The hardest part is trying to accelerate this energy transition enough to avoid catastrophe, as it will require substantial government intervention. In contemporary U.S. politics, that realistically means a Democratic trifecta with a very changed Supreme Court in the 2020s.

I could see this happening through an unrelated collapse of the GOP, perhaps due to nominating Trump, him running from prison, and losing 60-40 with concomitant Congressional losses. But this seems unlikely. Another way to produce a majority voting bloc willing to both: (1) accept some personal sacrifices, and (2) heavily regulate the entire economy against corporate opposition and over and above other political priorities.

Sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson began his book about a global effort to solve climate change with a heat wave that overwhelmed the Indian power grid and led to the deaths of millions of people. Disasters more local to the U.S. that could spur real change might include an atmospheric river flooding San Diego or Los Angeles, a heat dome event leading to a lengthy and deadly heat wave, a sudden coastal flood from an ice sheet collapse, food shortages from a drought... or all of the above. I desperately hope it won't come to that.

But it is also important to note that it's never "too late," in the sense that climate change is a cumulative spectrum of bad effects: +1.5C (current absolute best case) is better than +2C (net zero before 2030) is better than +4C (business as usual). Stopping any amount of carbon emissions at any time is good. The question is how many dead there will be before that happens.

K.C. in Austin, TX: Here's one thing that will finally change conservative hearts and minds on climate change: when Houston is flattened by the worst hurricane ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is already measuring the warmest temperatures on record—the amount of energy stored in all that water is astounding, and has to go somewhere—but why Houston, specifically?

Houston is one of the 2-3 largest ports in the U.S. The disruption to the import and export of goods, specifically including oil, will make the supply chain issues of 2021 look like a toddler fit.

Hand-in-hand with the above, Houston is the largest single point of failure for the U.S. energy sector. Dozens of refineries, storage facilities, and corporate headquarters will be destroyed, and gas prices will skyrocket along with prices for all petroleum-derived products.

Texans (and many others from the red South, I'm sure) consider themselves old hands at weathering and bouncing back from hurricanes. A storm that dwarfs the hurricane that practically wiped Galveston off the map in 1900 (an event that still resonates today in Texas) as well as several more contemporary disasters will carry particular weight. My sister was a climate skeptic until Harvey put seven feet of water in her house. Funny, that.

In short: It's the economy, stupid, and the never-ending need to blame something, anything, when it happens to you. Texas is a proudly red state full of climate deniers, starting with our local denier-in-chief. Some of them will have no choice but to confront reality, an effect that will ripple outward into the U.S. at large as the massive costs come home to roost.

T.F. in Albion, IN: First, the idea that we need to "save the planet" is kind of beside the point. Earth has experienced far worse cataclysms that radically altered the environment and redirected the course of evolution... yet the planet is still here and full of life. There is a very high probability, even under the worst climate scenarios, that humans will continue to exist in at least a few places, albeit in much reduced numbers. The essential idea that really needs to be conveyed is "saving civilization" and the thousands of years of human progress and accomplishments it has brought.

Second, change starts at home. One person starting a compost pile, adding insulation, or biking to work won't make much difference, but 5 billion people doing these and other things will. It's a matter of simple math—kind of like voting. The solution to climate change requires everyone to accept simpler, more mindful lives (and dare I say, more meaningful ones), lived close to home, and with less "stuff." Can Americans adapt? I'm skeptical, but time will tell. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Finally, we live on a planet with finite resources (few things in life are guaranteed, but as a geologist, I will absolutely guarantee this one, despite the happy talk from elsewhere). Whether water, fossil fuels, arable land, or critical minerals, each imposes its own limits. Therefore, it's time to awaken from the fairy tale promoted by politicians and economists that the solution to our economic and environmental problems is... more growth. Unlimited exponential growth on a finite world is mathematically and ecologically impossible. Either we as a species start acknowledging this fundamental reality, or the iron law of ecology (when an organism exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment, its population crashes) will see to that.

R.T. in Arlington, TX: The simplistic answer is broad economic prosperity, domestic tranquility, and world peace, so that climate change is the most pressing problem left. Realistically, I think we are in a long cycle that parallels the civil rights quest. That fight evolved over around 60 years (roughly 1950's to 2010's) from a violent struggle to civil disorder to accepted "political correctness" wisdom as the children who witnessed the violence grew to adulthood and became the core voter demographic.

For climate change, the 2020s are parallel to the 1970s for civil rights, where some laws have been passed but they haven't been fully implemented and the generation that cares most about the issue hasn't grown enough in political might to make climate protection an orthodox viewpoint. The 2010s provide a cautionary tale for climate change activism from the realm of civil rights. We learned that there was a smoldering bed of racism underneath the political correctness and that if someone dug down to expose it and give it oxygen, it could come back into flame. Anthropomorphic climate change deniers won't go away, but they might shut up for a while.

B.B. in St. Louis, MO: Upton Sinclair is credited with saying "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it." This country will not make climate change a serious priority until major portions of our economy are no longer dependent upon the fossil fuel industries.

S.M. in Pratt, KS: I say we keep doing what we're doing. It seems counterintuitive, but I'll attempt to explain.

Much ink (or probably pixels) has been spilled talking about the climate case won in Montana. Many people are celebrating this as a great victory. But what is going to be the most likely outcome? A backlash where Republicans will just change the state constitution.

Here in Kansas, electricity generated by wind is more than 50% of the total, with another 5% set to come on-line before next summer. Coal is now less than 30% of our state's power source, and falling. A recent article quotes state officials saying that the number of EV's in the state is likely to triple in the next five years. One of, if not the, largest solar farms in the country is in the early stages of being built near the town of DeSoto, which will be home to one of the largest EV battery factories in the country.

If any of the hype surrounding grid-level battery storage turns out to be true, then the acceleration towards green energy will progress just that much faster. Once the financial types realize that they can buy energy for little, or nothing, during slow times, and sell it back during the peak price they will jump in with both feet. Buying low and selling high always seems to guarantee a profit. And since the cheapest electricity comes from renewables, they are the most likely to continue to be built.

Since conservatives don't seem to be interested in anything except culture war issues these days, let's keep changing the real world behind their backs. At some point they will look around and realize what is happening, but by then I think we will have made too much progress to be stopped, and can just go ahead and finish the job.

S.C. in Mountain View, CA: The answer is easy, but getting there is not. It will require all of the following:

  1. Democrats retaining control of the White House with a pro-climate-change-action President (as President Biden seems to be).
  2. Democrats retaking control of the House of Representatives with a pro-climate-change-action majority.
  3. Democrats retaining control of the Senate, but with a pro-climate-change-action majority that is willing to create a climate-change carve-out to the filibuster, if not eliminate it entirely.

Achieving (3) will be the hardest, as it will require either replacing Senators Sinema (I-highest bidder) and Manchin (?-Coal), or electing enough other Senators that the votes of Sinema and Manchin won't matter, or both.

A.L. in New Brunswick, NJ: Dearth of homeowners' insurance.

I teach a course on the physics of climate change and while it is mostly about blackbody radiation and IR scattering and climate modeling, there is a small module at the end where we discuss exactly this question. Here is the consensus: increased frequency of hurricanes, wildfires, heatwaves, famines is not going to change group behavior. Jared Diamond's book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed showcased groups such as the Greenland Norse that preferred to die out rather than change how they lived in the face of increasingly obvious natural calamity.

One thing a few of my students did bring up was homeowners' insurance. Many middle-class families on the East Coast own or share a house at the shore. A lot of them are or will become un-insurable, especially houses built on barrier islands. Families will be unable to sell their property if the new owners cannot obtain insurance easily. The financial shock will penetrate where nature could not.

M.D.H. in Coralville, IA: I think what is needed to make that happen is already beginning to occur: insurance companies looking at increasing risks and either raising rates in high-risk places or, if state officials won't let them raise rates enough to avoid losing money, pulling out of particular markets. No business can be forced to lose money indefinitely, and the insurance industry's core competency is risk assessment.

Future historians might actually say "Actuaries saved the planet."

B.N. in Chicago, IL: Economics and time. It will have to be cheaper and easier not to pollute than to pollute. For example, Cleveland Cliffs, the largest producer of flat rolled steel in the U.S., produced steel with hydrogen instead of natural gas last quarter, but hydrogen costs 10 times more than natural gas. Cleveland Cliffs' demonstration was subsidized by the federal government. They can't do it commercially until hydrogen is cheaper, which requires nearly free electricity—hydrogen is just water plus electricity. Once the economics shift, then it takes years or decades to replace the installed base with the new technology.

In short, it is too late to stop climate change, but not too late to slow it down and make the world a better place for the grandkids.

J.C. in Westminster, VT: The answer to this question depends a great deal on what it means to take global warming seriously. If it means simply deploying more and more wind turbines, solar panels, heat pumps and electric cars, it's already beginning. We do "more" quite well in this country. But many of us who have been studying global warming for decades came to the conclusion long ago that switching from one form of energy to another is necessary but it is not sufficient. Nothing short of dramatic decreases in energy and material consumption can truly be considered taking global warming seriously. At minimum, we need to drastically reduce our consumption of meat, stop flying everywhere, stop driving so many cars and trucks (of any kind), and stop shipping so much unnecessary stuff such long distances.

Taking this seriously means being willing and able to alter many of our fundamental assumptions about what makes a good life. It requires us to live very differently, more simply and locally, than we do now. That, in turn, requires setting aside many societal norms and familiar habits of thought and behavior. It also means coming together despite our political differences. No easy task, so it's not really surprising that we have not been able to make it happen. We (especially in the United States) believe too stubbornly that we have unlimited power and ingenuity. We think we can always find ways to avoid having to change how we live. For many in this country, individual rights are non-negotiable, and that means the right to do whatever the hell I want, Earth and everyone else be damned. Humility and contrition are not our norms. So we will probably only change when we are forced to change by Earth having been pushed beyond its limits, setting the terms of our survival.

We could take a path of simplicity before conditions force it on us, but after 30 years of trying to get this message across, I am at a loss to see how that will happen in this country. It's humanly possible, but it is not culturally possible where self-serving consumption and individual rights are defended with religious fervor. So the culture must change profoundly, and profound cultural change never comes easily or without sacrifice. Even after this tragically deadly summer, when so many thresholds have been crossed, too many of us still think we can continue on as if nothing has happened. We should, and probably will, do the culturally achievable things, like installing solar panels, which might make things a little less bad in decades to come, but that won't mean that we are responding to this catastrophe with the seriousness it demands.

K.B. in Hartford, CT: I don't think this country will ever take climate change seriously. It would mean a substantial reduction in energy and material consumption, and Americans are not willing to make the necessary sacrifices to carry that out. Add in the vested interests that powerful corporations and individuals have in fossil fuels, the rejection of science by too many, and our dysfunctional political system, the best we can hope for are a few mitigation measures, which won't do the job.

J.L. in Paterson, NJ: The big problem is that the global climate crisis increases the frequency and severity of hostile weather conditions, but there's nothing that can be unequivocally attributed to it. There've always been SOME heat waves and floods and fires and whatnot. I'm a pessimist—I can't think of anything that might happen that would shake the climate change denialists.

J.M.M. in Scarsdale, NY: Revolution.

Here is the question for next week:

T.B. in Detroit, MI, asks: Okay, I'll bite. What was the most interesting presidential election ever? And why?

We almost wrote an answer to this, but decided it would be more interesting to turn it over to the readers. Submit your answers here!

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