We're going to start today with a question that we received, in various forms, dozens of times this week. Makes sense; it's a good question.
And this week's headline theme, while doable, has definitely proven harder than last week's theme. Here's the additional clue: Solving the puzzle is a Noble pursuit... but only for people who aren't good at spelling.
P.R. in Arvada, CO, asks: I am curious about Joe Biden's claim he will shut down the border as soon as the border bill is passed. First, doesn't he already have that power? Didn't Donald Trump do that without a specific bill? Second, isn't this all talk? The border is not "open," yet people keep crossing. So, what would actually change?
(V) & (Z) answer: When Biden says he will shut down the border, that is a very simplified way of describing what he would actually do.
The literal meaning of "shut down the border" is... "shut down the border." Nobody crosses it, not legally, not illegally, not for trade, nothing. Think Berlin, circa 1947. Donald Trump once threatened to do this, but he did not follow through, because someone surely told him he'd lose in court, and fast. The only thing Trump actually did in this area was limit asylum claims, based on special authority he acquired due to the pandemic.
Something in this ballpark is what Biden is referring to when he says "shut down the border." Once the number of undocumented crossings reached a certain number each day (maybe 3,500 or maybe 5,000), he would authorize the Department of Homeland Security to expel all people who entered the U.S. illegally without considering their asylum claims. Of course, the vast majority of people expelled like this would just try again the next day.
Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and other Republicans claim that Biden can already do this via executive order, but they are almost certainly wrong, and they surely know it. If Biden were to start expelling asylum-seekers, even if there were too many of them for the government to handle, and even if the expelled people crossed the border illegally, he would quickly be smacked down by a federal judge for exceeding his legal authority. Biden really does need the backing of legislation passed by Congress to be able to do this.
In short, a "closed" border would still be open to trade, to legal crossings, to asylum seekers who present themselves at approved processing centers, and to the first several thousand people who cross the border illegally each day.
J.D. in Cold Spring, MN, asks: Over dinner last night, my adult son said that he would love to see Joe Biden make a major Oval Office speech calling out the Republicans on immigration. His idea was essentially the same as what you proposed. (I did check for plagiarism and found no evidence that he stole your idea!) You described a potential Biden Oval Office address to call out the Republican hypocrites on immigration. As I read your model speech, I found myself agreeing: "yes, yes, yes!" You then concluded: "Will Biden do this? Probably not".
I told my son that my initial reaction was to agree with you: I'd love to see it, but no, probably never going to happen. My son pushed back: Why not?
I mumbled something about the dignity of the Oval Office not being used to score political points and then something about the Democrats always taking the high road. The more I talked the more I realized that I didn't have a persuasive answer. Why wouldn't he do that?
Care to expand?
(V) & (Z) answer: Actually, he might do it. He's already made 30 such speeches to the nation, so he's certainly not shy about doing it.
That said, he can't really do it until the whole thing has played out, and efforts at a compromise have definitively failed. And he could be more reluctant than he would be on most issues, because while he's willing to tell reporters that, say, he is willing to "close down the border," he might not want video of that same statement to be out there for fear of it coming back to haunt him.
M.G. in Boulder, CO, asks: It's a bit early to be nominating a "Story of the Year," but I'm nominating "The Devil Is in the Details," about electric cars. The thing you didn't cover was cost. How much does owning a charger and charging add to the owner's electric bill? How do two-car families handle the charging? If you have to wait 3 hours to recharge, where do you wait? I can see making an appointment, but if you are on the road going from Ashland, OR, to Knoxville, TN, how do you handle waits?
(V) & (Z) answer: There are exceptions to the rule, but in general, a charger costs $300 to $700 and installation costs between $1,000 and $2,500. Many localities have rebate programs or other incentives, so it's not uncommon to get the whole thing done for $1,000 to $1,500. As to electricity costs, that depends on how often a person needs to charge and at what time of day they do so, but the Department of Energy estimates that the average EV requires about $60 of electricity per month. Most EV drivers don't need to charge their car every day, so two-car families can usually manage by taking turns on a nightly basis.
When you are using a public charger, and there is a wait, then you wait... wherever you can. Generally, some form of ad hoc line forms somewhere in close proximity to the chargers. You can, of course, try to relocate to a different group of chargers, but you risk running into a similar kind of traffic jam. And, of course, that option is not available if there isn't another option within range.
As chance would have it, (Z) wrote a fair bit of that item while... waiting for a charger. He had a passenger while driving around that day, and neglected to account for the fact that passengers—especially those that are 6'2", 280—dramatically increase electricity use. After dropping the passenger, he ended up in a part of Los Angeles (Fox Hills) that is something of a charger desert, despite being fairly prosperous. And when he reached the only reachable group of chargers, he was down to 0.0 miles of electricity. The car's estimate tends to be a little conservative, but there wasn't another option near enough to make it worth gambling. Fortunately, (Z) keeps his laptop in his car so that he can get some use out of the waiting time (in that case, a bit over an hour). That waiting time would have been less, but three of the eight chargers were broken.
Because some groups of chargers attract a lot of people, and because other groups of chargers tend to have a lot of breakdowns, and because nearly all chargers have somewhat wonky startup procedures, most people who rely on public chargers develop their own personal network of charging locations where they know what to expect and how to work the equipment. Had (Z)'s car had 2 more miles of electricity, he would have been able to make it to a group of chargers where waiting would likely not have been necessary.
J.L. in Los Angeles, CA, asks: Although I live in Los Angeles, I don't usually think about the chargers (maybe next year). However, your piece about the state of charging stations in the state (and other states) being in a state of continual disrepair led me to ponder a few questions. The first is: who is charged with fixing these chargers? Is it the government, or might there be a cottage industry aborning of entrepreneurial electricians who could make a fast buck doing fast fixes? Could the government subsidize these new businesses with tax incentives and the such to increase the speed of their growth? And how about subsidizing research in faster charging technology?
Also, I wonder whether and how the government could incentivize businesses with parking lots to install more charging stations. I already see some of these chargers in parking lots at crunchy granola places like Whole Foods... not many of them, but it's a start. Who pays to install and maintain a charging station at a supermarket or restaurant that can benefit from having customers come in while they wait for their EV to recharge? Who pays for the electricity used? And are these the kinds of things (installation, maintenance, and electricity cost for chargers on private property) that the government could also subsidize with some of that sweet, sweet Inflation Reduction Act money? Power to the People!
(V) & (Z) answer: In general, the company that owns the chargers is responsible for fixing them. They presumably could farm that work out, and maybe some of them do, but generally they seem to have concluded that it's cheaper to keep it in-house. It probably does not make it easier, from a flexibility standpoint, that roughly half the time the problem is with the electricity delivery (which is a pretty basic issue that a trained electrician should be able to deal with) and the other half of the time the problem is with the payment system (which tends to be proprietary). If the government is going to get involved (and it is already doing so, in some places), it will take the form of regulation, wherein the companies that operate the chargers suffer some sort of penalty if their chargers have too much downtime.
As to faster charging, that is entirely the province of the car companies, as faster charging is a major selling point. Unless it's in the form of NSF grants to people already working on this problem, it is improbable the government will get involved.
And the free chargers you see at some markets and some shopping malls are subsidized in one of two ways. The slight majority are paid for by advertising; in exchange for being able to place a billboard with ads that can be seen by anyone walking through the parking lot, a company (usually one that specializes in public advertising, like Gannett) pays for the charger and the electricity. The slight minority are paid for by the business/university/government office where the charger is located, as an incentive for customers in the former case, and usually to meet government-mandated climate goals in the latter two cases. It is worth noting that these are almost invariably slow chargers, such that a driver gets a little "bonus" electricity while shopping or dining or conducting other business, but does not get a full charge unless they are able to remain parked for 4-8 hours.
The government already operates chargers in some places, but generally it's on government property, quite commonly close to power stations (for obvious reasons). This was more common at the start of the EV age; these days the government tends to prefer to indirectly subsidize chargers by handing out money to private companies that build and run charger networks. Those private companies almost always build on private land, in cooperation with the owner. For example, IKEA locations tend to have a bank of for-profit chargers.
K.F.W. in El Dorado Hills, CA, asks: I'm a skeptic by nature. I also had three graduate classes in statistics. So anything with numbers immediately sets my radar off. You quote a JAMA report: "since the Dobbs decision, the 14 states with the harshest abortion bans have seen roughly 520,000 rapes, resulting in 64,565 pregnancies."
Dobbs came down June 24th, 2022. As academics you know how long it takes to gather data, draft an article, submit it for review and finally get it published. I'll be generous and say the JAMA article had a bit more than a year of "real" data.
520,000 rapes in 14 states since Dobbs? The first item that came up in my Google search was this, which says "On average, there are 463,634 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States." Not ONLY rape, but rape and sexual assault. BUT, according to JAMA there were more rapes than this in just 14 states in about 1 year.
I am no fan of the Dobbs decision, or of the current Republican agenda (or candidates). But I am a fan of facts. My question is: Shouldn't we be a bit skeptical of the JAMA numbers?
(V) & (Z) answer: Sure, we can be a little bit skeptical. That said, we are sure that the authors did not just make things up out of thin air. RAINN tends to use data about reported rapes and sexual assaults. It is well understood that the majority, and perhaps the vast majority, of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported. The manner in which one compensates for the unreported incidents can undoubtedly produce wildly different total numbers.
In the end, we did not dig into the reliability of the numbers in our item. Whether it's 520,000 rapes or 52,000, and whether it's 65,000 unwanted pregnancies or 6,500, the basic point is exactly the same.
S.B. in Winslow, ME, asks: In your item, Nearly 65,000 Pregnancies Resulting from Rape in States with Abortion Bans, you wrote that "since the Dobbs decision, the 14 states with the harshest abortion bans have seen roughly 520,000 rapes, resulting in 64,565 pregnancies." Can I just pause for a moment and reflect... or rather SCREAM... over a HALF-MILLION rapes... in FOURTEEN STATES... SINCE the Dobbs decision (June 24, 2022)??!! W.T.F??? Get the staff mathematician to calculate rapes per day per state average. I can't bear to do it.
Women's health and safety issues have long been back-burner'ed or ignored. While the pregnancy/abortion issue is horrific, I can't help but be taken breathless by the amount of pure violence against women. Rather than rant on, I do have a two-fold question.
How does the U.S. stack up against other countries regarding rape and is there ANTHING happening in our government to protect women's health and/or safety? Seems like a @#$ more important topic than impeaching DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
(V) & (Z) answer: It is virtually impossible to compare rape statistics across countries (or, for that matter, across U.S. states), for a variety of reasons. Among them (warning: some readers may want to stop reading here):
- Rapes and sexual assaults are less likely to be reported in countries where victims believe they will be shamed or won't be taken seriously.
- Some countries count reported rapes, others only count those that were prosecuted.
- Some countries recognize spousal rape, others do not.
- Statutory rape is handled in different ways; in some countries it is ignored, in some countries it's treated as a separate crime and not included in overall rape statistics.
- Some countries recognize only rapes that involve vaginal penetration, others recognize other forms of penetration.
- Some countries only recognize male-on-female rape.
- If, say, a person rapes the same family member 10 times, some countries count that as 10 and others count it as one.
- Some countries count gang rapes as one incident, others count it as X incidents, where X is the number of people who participated.
Consequently, if you look at the worldwide statistics, you will see that western industrial democracies—particularly the U.S., the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries—are the most rape-prone in the world. However, what's really going on is that those countries keep the most honest and robust statistics, and they tend to be the most supportive of reports from rape and sexual assault victims.
As to the U.S. government, the FBI works to compile statistics about rape and sexual assault, and to make sure that they are widely available. However, rape is generally a state-level crime, leaving the feds little room to get involved directly.
G.M. in Ponte Vedra, FL, asks: Why do you think the D.C. Circuit Court is taking so long to decide the issue of Trump's immunity? The answer seems like a no-brainer, and every day of delay makes it more likely the issue of Trump's guilt (or innocence) regarding the events of Jan. 6 will not be decided before the election.
(V) & (Z) answer: The optimistic guess is that the judges are making sure to dot every "i" and cross every "t" so that the Supreme Court can quickly dispense with the inevitable appeal. The pessimistic guess is that one of the judges is in the bag for Trump and is deliberately dragging things out. Maybe we'll learn which when the decision is announced, maybe we'll never learn.
A.H. in Newberg, OR, asks: I can't remember why I put it on my calendar to follow up on, but on today I have a note "NY Pyramid Scheme." As near as I can recall, it has something to do with a scam where the Orange Menace and his spawn were promoting some video phone "opportunity" for suckers to get in on a ground floor investment. Kinda like the Trump College, or Vodka, or Steaks, or Wine or scheme du jour. I haven't seen anything on the internet tubes lately about it and was just curious if you or any of the other members of the commentariat might have an insight.
(V) & (Z) answer: The plaintiffs were trying to launch a national class-action suit, and the judge dismissed the case without prejudice, and told them to refile in state court.
C.F. in Waltham, MA, asks: I think the most likely scenario in 2024 is Trump/Biden with Biden winning the general election. It is also very possible Biden will get a trifecta, given Trump's track record. If that happens, do you think Trump will lose any sway over the Republican Party? Will he be the nominee for 2028?
(V) & (Z) answer: Events have made very clear that nothing will reduce Trump's sway over the Republican Party besides his becoming unavailable to run for office. His death for sure, and maybe his incarceration. But maybe not. Eugege Debs rans for president while in prison in 1920 and Lyndon LaRouche did it in 1992.
If Trump loses in 2024, we think it is more likely that he WILL NOT be the nominee than he WILL be the nominee. The odds are not overwhelming in either direction; it's probably something like 60% not, 40% will. No amount of losing is going to cause the base to abandon him, just as no amount of losing weakened William Jennings Bryan. However, 2028 allows for 4 more years of mental and physical decline, and 4 more years of potential criminal convictions.
O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, asks: It seems like the general assumption is that 2028 is going to have new candidates from both parties. You suggested that this is also your assumption in your response to B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, when you said "...the primaries are going to be jumping on both sides of the aisle in 2028" and in another response, you made mention of "DeSantis/Greene" in 2028. But why would anyone assume Trump won't run again in 2028 if he were to lose in 2024? There is certainly a good chance that he wouldn't run for various reasons but it seems strange to simply assume he wouldn't be running.
(V) & (Z) answer: He may very well run again, but there are also reasons he might not (see above). And even if he does run, he'll have even greater weaknesses than he does this year, which will encourage even more Republicans to jump in. Some of those Republicans are not going to play nice, the way they pretty much all did this year (until the last month or so of Nikki Haley). Govs. Brian Kemp (R-GA), Chris Sununu (R-NH), and Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) are all potential candidates who are a lot younger and fresher than Trump will be in 2028.
K.G. in Columbus, OH, asks: I read the article you linked from Politico concerning the low probability of Trump becoming a dictator. It is a well-written and convincing argument, except for one faulty assumption—that if Trump returns to the presidency, he has only 4 years to do his damage. Don't you think that one of the first things Trump will do is attempt to declare the Twenty-Second Amendment invalid? If he has a Republican-controlled House and Senate, there could easily be enough momentum to do that, through eliminating the filibuster and packing the Supreme Court with loyalists, for starters. What would stop him?
(V) & (Z) answer: First, and we've already written this many times, he doesn't have the spine for that. Every single anti-democratic thing he has done, or contemplated, has nonetheless remained within the framework of the Constitution. For example, if someone is willing to be dictatorial, then they can just fire the entire federal bureaucracy, and they don't need to mess around with Schedule F nonsense.
Second, you make a big assumption that the Congress and the courts would play along. Yes, some members of each branch have done so thus far. However, the power of both groups derives from the Constitution. If Trump sweeps the Constitution aside, and starts ruling by fiat, then those folks not only lose their power, they are also first in line to be arrested (or put up against the wall) because they are the greatest threats to Trump. They are not going to help him become an absolute ruler.
Third, people who have assumed dictatorial powers in recent memory have done so in very unstable contexts—vast social, economic and political turmoil, far worse than the present-day United States. And even then, they had to move cautiously, assuming dictatorial power in steps. Adolf Hitler, for example, tried the "quick" route in 1923, and ended up in prison. When he got out, he switched to the gradual route—building support, getting himself appointed to office, arranging to be successor to Paul von Hindenburg, and then declaring himself dictator after von Hindenburg died. That process took roughly 12 years, and even the "in office" part took 2 years.
By contrast, if Trump tried to set the Twenty-Second Amendment aside, he'd be making himself a de facto dictator in one fell swoop. There would be riots in the streets. States would not accept his authority. He might well be arrested. Remember that his first Cabinet was all people he deemed "loyal," and yet a great many of them reacted very badly to the events of 1/6. It only takes one AG or one Secretary of Defense or even one DHS secretary to order that Trump be arrested and imprisoned for violating the Fourteenth Amendment.
J.M. in Sewickley, PA, asks: Do repeated appointments of a single person to a single position within the same Congress require multiple senate approvals?
If not, couldn't Alejandro Mayorkas simply resign each Friday night at 11:59 pm and get re-appointed on Saturday morning at 12:01 am?
And, if that were the case, wouldn't the articles of impeachment be voided each week upon his resignation?
(V) & (Z) answer: This would not work, for three reasons. First, once someone resigns, they do indeed have to be re-confirmed by the Senate.
Second, even if that was not true, Mayorkas would not play this game, as it would make it look like he's guilty of something, and is trying to avoid facing the music via Trump-style trickery. He'd much rather go before the Senate, where he'll be acquitted.
Third, a person need not be in office to be impeached. Naturally, if they are not in office, they cannot be removed from office. But they can still be disqualified from future officeholding.
D.R. in Phoenix, AZ, asks: I read the House is going to take a 10-day break, having just returned from a long holiday recess, I guess for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. TEN days? I've never been able to take that one Monday off, let alone make a vacation out of it. Now they're leaving for another "lengthy recess" soon—what, for Valentine's Day? Why in the hell can't they stay in Washington for more than a few weeks at a time and get some work done? What is the deal and how can they expect Americans who toil for 50 weeks a year, often five or more days a week, to respect them? Especially when they keep leaving critical items unfinished? It's infuriating. My representatives should have to work at least as hard as most full-time employed people do.
(V) & (Z) answer: While we understand your frustration, you really shouldn't think of a recess as a vacation. Some members have to take business trips (say, to meet with officials in Israel), and they use these recesses to do that. Most of the rest return home and work out of their district office—meeting with constituents, drafting legislation, holding town halls, doing interviews with local media, hosting fundraisers. Some of them goof off, certainly, but not many.
Keep in mind also that most of these people are not permanent residents of Washington or its environs. So, these recesses are their opportunity to sleep in their own bed, see their families, etc. And given the travel time that some members face (i.e., 12 hours to Alaska, 13 hours to Hawaii), the whole setup only makes sense if the breaks are somewhat lengthy.
M.P. in Ft. Worth, TX, asks: As someone who came of age in the Show Me State, I've been thinking of U.S. Senator Jean Carnahan, who passed away this week at the age of 90. Following the death of her husband, Mel—who was posthumously elected following a fatal plane crash mere weeks before Election Day—Carnahan was appointed in 2001 to serve in the role. In doing so, she became Missouri's first female U.S. Senator.
Have there been other instances where a woman has become the state's first female United States Senator, Congressperson, or Governor through appointment, rather than election?
(V) & (Z) answer: To start, a person cannot become governor by appointment. If the office is vacated prematurely, some other elected official succeeds to it, usually the lieutenant governor or speaker of the state House. And a person cannot become a representative by appointment, as the Constitution requires a special election to be held.
As to U.S. Senators, however, this is fairly common. Last year, when Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) had to fill Dianne Feinstein's vacant seat, he worked very hard to find someone who would not run for reelection so that he would not step on anyone's toes. And that's not a new phenomenon; governors have often looked for "neutral" picks who will not run for reelection. For many years, a woman (often the spouse of the departed senator) was the ideal choice, because "of course" women would not presume to run for reelection in their own right. That was not the key consideration in all cases, but it was certainly the key consideration in many, including the appointment of the first female senator in U.S. history.
Here is a list of all the women who became their state's first female senator by virtue of appointment:
- Dixie Graves (Alabama, appointed by her husband in 1937)
- Lisa Murkowski (Alaska, appointed by her father in 2002)
- Martha McSally (Arizona, appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey in 2019)
- Hattie Caraway (Arkansas, appointed to replace her deceased husband in 1931)
- Rebecca Felton (Georgia, appointed to a one-day term to appeal to newly enfranchised female voters in 1922)
- Rose McConnell Long (Louisiana, appointed to replace her deceased husband in 1936)
- Muriel Humphrey (Minnesota, appointed to replace her deceased husband in 1978)
- Cindy Hyde-Smith (Mississippi, appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant in 2018)
- Jean Carnahan (Missouri, appointed to replace her deceased husband in 2001)
- Eva Bowring (Nebraska, appointed by Gov. Robert B. Crosby in 1954)
- Jocelyn Burdick (North Dakota, appointed to replace her deceased husband in 1992)
Note that McSally took office on the same day as (duly elected) Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), so that one's actually a tie.
S.S. in Koloa, HI, asks: You wrote: "the South had concluded, with good reason, that both politically and economically, slavery could only survive if it kept expanding to more states and territories." I can understand the political reasons, but what were the economic reasons that slavery could not survive without expanding?
(V) & (Z) answer: Because a major part of the slave economy was the sale of enslaved people to new slaveholders. For that market to thrive, it was necessary to constantly bring new lands under cultivation by slave labor.
J.E. in Boone, NC, asks: Civil War histories often seem to point out the incompetence or reticence of the Union Generals until Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as the head of the Union Army. (Let's also recognize Sherman's aggressiveness as well.) What impact do you think it would have had on the war if Lincoln had, early on, appointed Grant or Sherman as head of the Union Army?
(V) & (Z) answer: Well, there were opportunities, most obviously at Antietam and Gettysburg, to crush the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV), and to effectively break the backbone of the Confederacy. George McClellan (Antietam) and George Meade (Gettysburg) failed to seize those opportunities. Grant or Sherman would not have made that mistake, and so it's entirely possible the war would have ended more quickly. That's the most likely outcome.
That said, to play devil's advocate, part of the reason for those opportunities was that Robert E. Lee and the other commanders of the ANV knew they were up against second-rate talent, and so took some big risks. Maybe Lee would have been more cautious against a better opponent. Also, it could be the case that it required 4 years of suffering to really and truly cause the South to yield. It's possible that even if the ANV, and even the Confederate government, had collapsed in 1862 or 1863, the remaining Confederate armies would have turned to partisan (guerrilla) warfare, and would have dragged things out until, or even beyond, 1865.
J.B. in Hutto, TX, asks: Did George McClellan ever seriously consider carrying out a military coup against the Lincoln administration? He was commander of the Army of the Potomac, whose officers and men were fiercely loyal to him. He did believe that Lincoln's gradual embrace of abolitionism and the increasing influence of Radical Republicans on the administration meant disaster for the republic. In some letters to his wife, McClellan gloated about messages he had received from people telling him to seize power. He intentionally disobeyed orders to reinforce John Pope during the Second Bull Campaign, leading to the latter's defeat, which is hardly the behavior of a patriot who respected civilian control of the military.
Was a McClellan coup ever a realistic possibility?
(V) & (Z) answer: No, it wasn't. To start, like Donald Trump, McClellan could talk big but he didn't have the stones for something like this.
On top of that, the Army of the Potomac (AoP), on the whole, loved McClellan. But that wasn't universal, and it was also a sentiment rooted heavily in the fact that "Little Mac" did not put his troops in harm's way. It is doubtful that his troops would have supported a coup, since most of them were volunteers who specifically signed up... to put down a coup.
And even if the rank and file of the AoP was willing to play along, the vast majority of Union troops (90%+) were in armies OTHER than the AoP. That includes the troops who were specifically tasked with guarding Washington against invaders. The Washington guard would have engaged McClellan, and would probably have beaten him, since they would have been fighting from fortified positions. Certainly, there would have been enough time for Abraham Lincoln and his administration to decamp to some other city, like Philadelphia.
R.S. in Ticonderoga, NY, asks: As the questions and discussion revolving around the American Civil War continues, I'd like to ask about the term "Radical Republicans." This term was used when I was in high school history classes in the late 1970s and in college (as a history major) in the early 1980s. While I don't have a 2024 history text, I recently perused a 2015 AP US History Text (Eric Foner) and saw the term was still in use then. My question—is this term part of the "Lost Cause" interpretation of the Civil War?
I'll admit that, even though I grew up in northern New York, I was taught that people like Robert E. Lee were good men standing up for states' rights and for their states, that their actions were understandable and noble, if wrong. I remember reading John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage and that Lucius Lamar was one of those profiles because, even though a Republican, he voted to acquit Andrew Johnson and prevent his removal from office. He saved Johnson from the "unjust" actions of the "Radicals" who were going too far.
In my interpretation, "radical" means "extreme," and in a negative way. Did the "Radical Republicans" embrace that term, or was it applied by others? Was/is the use of that term even today problematic when considering who those Republicans were? Did/does tagging them as "radicals" continue to provide sympathy for the "Lost Cause" school of history?
(V) & (Z) answer: The Radical Republicans chose that name for themselves, and considered it a badge of honor. That said, the word "radical" did not have quite the same connotations then that it does now. Back then, it meant something like "proponent of immediate change."
The enemies of the Radical Republicans, including the Lost Cause writers, did have a nasty name for the faction: Jacobins. This was obviously meant to link the Radical Republicans to the most horrific, violent elements of the French Revolution. That's pretty ancient history in 2024, but for people in 1860, the French Revolution was about fresh in memory as the horrors of the Holocaust are today.
Historians are very unlikely to decide a new name is called for, because it is very gauche to decide that people in the past did not know enough to choose their own names for themselves. Further, if such a decision were to be made, it's hard to imagine what the new term would be. The obvious choice would probably be Liberal Republicans, but the problem is that the name "Liberal Republican" is already in use... by the faction that opposed the Radicals in 1872. Similarly, Progressive Republican was already claimed by Theodore Roosevelt and his ilk. So, Radical Republicans they will remain.
T.J.R. in Metuchen, NJ, asks: I caught part of Bonnie and Clyde on TV the other day. This is one of those films that was revolutionary at the time, but I believe it is hard for modern viewers to grasp how influential it was because its themes and techniques have so infused what followed. Anyway, it got me thinking of the outlaw mythology, not only Bonnie and Clyde, but John Dillinger, Billy The Kid and Jesse James, among others. I feel these figures have been romanticized where I feel they were fairly horrible people. I was wondering, could Donald Trump fit into this mythology and therefore partly explain his mass appeal?
(V) & (Z) answer: The Robin Hood archetype, which includes all of these folks, along with Robin Hood, Zorro, Batman, etc., invariably involves people who faced an unjust world (socially, politically, economically, etc.) and who turned to outlawry as their only means of fighting back. That description might not be an accurate description of some of these peoples' careers, but it's nonetheless the archetype that they've been squeezed into.
It is very doubtful that people do, or will, think of Donald Trump in this way. The archetype just doesn't fit. First, it is not clear what injustice he is facing, either on his behalf, or on the behalf of his admirers. Undocumented immigration? The Deep State? Second, he may be an outlaw, but he and his followers don't think so. And outlawry is where the rebellion and the romance are.
M.M. in San Diego, CA, asks: As far as I can tell, Huey Long was a close approximation to Donald Trump politically, with a similar base of support as Trump's. After Long's assassination, how did his supporters react? I know that there was a popular assumption that Standard Oil was behind the murder. Was there grumbling and threats of civil unrest, or did his supporters quietly melt away once their mouthpiece was gone?
(V) & (Z) answer: Huey Long had a giant funeral, and there was a cult of personality that sprung up thereafter, and produced a bunch of statues and things. But there was no meaningful unrest after his assassination.
D.E. in Lancaster, PA, asks: OK, as they say, in for the penny, in for the pound. Since you gave us the Cliffs Note for one of Harry S. Truman's antiquated phrases, let's go the rest of the way.
- Why is "eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay" in quotes and why exactly is it an insult?
- Was there some kind of insult involved in saying the review was in the back section of the paper?
- Am I correct in assuming that Hume being off his beam was Truman saying he was out of his mind?
- Again with "at least four of your ulcers are at work," what is it with Truman and ulcers?
- Who or what is Pegler?
- Was Truman making some sort of racist/off-color comment when he referred to Hume's ancestry?
(V) & (Z) answer: Here you go:
- Truman was paraphrasing something he heard from Stephen Early, who was Franklin D. Roosevelt's press secretary. Harry S. is suggesting that Paul Hume (the critic he was angry with) had the attitude and bile of a stressed-out corporate bigwig, despite being a low-ranking underling.
- Yes. In newspapers, then as now, important stuff is in front and less important stuff is in the back.
- Yes. "Off his beam" meant exactly the same thing back then as "off his rocker" means today.
- People who have one active ulcer tend to be cranky, because it hurts. People with two active ulcers are even crankier, because it hurts more. And so forth.
- Pegler is Westbrook Pegler, who can be very accurately described as the Tucker Carlson of his day (albeit as a newspaper columnist rather than a cable TV personality). Pegler wrote all sorts of obnoxious columns, the most notorious of them being the one in which he lamented that the 1932 assassination attempt against FDR was unsuccessful. He was also a white supremacist who thought lynching was an excellent way to maintain social order.
- Truman's reference to Hume's ancestry is not racist; it's fairly common midcentury code for "you're a bastard" (i.e., your parents were unmarried).
S.W. in New York, NY, asks: It appears to me that two good things came out of the disastrous Vietnam War: the end of the draft and lowering the voting age to 18.
In 1968 (and earlier) people who were 18, 19, and 20 years old (the vast majority of them being against the war in Vietnam) could not vote in that election. The running grievance among this age group was: males can be drafted into the war at 18 years of age but they can't vote and have a say-so in the decisions about this war until they were 21. It's unfair and wrong.
Do you think if people of this age group could have voted in that election it would have changed the results—that Humphrey would have won instead of Nixon?
(V) & (Z) answer: It might well have changed the result, as there were plenty of close states.
That said, it is improbable that young voters would have put Hubert Humphrey over the top, at least not by themselves. Because George Wallace took a bunch of EVs that otherwise would have gone to the Democratic candidate (i.e., Humphrey), the Minnesotan was pretty far from 270 (191 EVs). However, flipping a couple of flippable states (just California, or maybe Illinois and Alaska, or maybe New Jersey and Ohio) would have sent the election to the House, where the Democrats controlled 30 state delegations.
B.L. in Hudson, NY, asks: Do you have any data you can share on how American pro athletes align politically? I'd be curious to know how Major League Baseball players tend to line up, and National Football League players too, as well as members of the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League. Which of those sports includes the most Trumpsters, would you say? Also, do you think that the romance between Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift might have much effect on other NFL players, and/or possibly their fans?
(V) & (Z) answer: This is a difficult question to answer with hard data, since most athletes don't want to share their political affiliation openly, and since the pool of players in any particular professional sport is constantly changing.
That said, the information available—occasional political statements, FEC donation records, players who become more frank about their views after they retire—makes very clear that MLB is the most conservative and Trumpiest league of all, and it's not really close. The NFL is pretty evenly divided, while the NBA is far and away the most liberal. It is not a coincidence that the NBA is predominantly Black, the NFL is about even between Black and white athletes, and the MLB is predominantly white and Latino.
The NHL is a little trickier, because it skews conservative, but Canadian conservative. So, not quite as extreme as MLB.
It is doubtful that Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift, who are obviously both left-leaning, will influence any NFL players. However, there is every chance that Swift will influence her fans.
P.F. in Fairbanks, AK, asks: I suppose this isn't a directly political question, except that it relates to Fox "News," where all content is somehow toxically political: What is Fox's beef with Wheel of Fortune? I browse the headlines pretty regularly just to see what I'm supposed to be scared of each day, and I've noticed several articles that make Wheel of Fortune out to be "shocking[ly]" rigged and make Pat Sajak seem cruel and incompetent. This one, for example, was posted to the site this week, and a quick use of their search tool shows seven Wheel of Fortune articles since the first of the year.
Is there something about the left-wing conspiracy that involves Pat Sajak that I'm missing? As a Republican and a veteran, one would think Fox would want him looking as good as possible.
(V) & (Z) answer: Fox is not anti-Wheel of Fortune, per se. However, Fox is very good at finding stories that: (1) address subjects familiar to their (somewhat insular) audience, and (2) get readers' blood boiling. Wheel of Fortune attracts the oldest audience of any show on TV (average age: 65.5 years) and Fox attracts the oldest audience of any cable channel (average age: 64 years). Both the game show and the "news" channel are set up to appear "smarter" and "more intellectual" than they really are. In other words, there's big overlap between Wheel of Fortune viewers and Fox viewers, which means that Wheel of Fortune is a good choice of topic for Fox's "news coverage."
J.R. in Harrogate, England, UK, asks: I have an issue with this item, where you very sneakily and with unbridled aplomb discuss staffing changes at E-V.com.
When the hell did we get a staff chronicler and why wasn't I notified? Obviously the staff mathematician took a serious pay cut to make this work, and I am not at all happy with the fact that this will certainly impact their impressive work rate as we approach the election.
(V) & (Z) answer: How do you know that the staff chronicler isn't just a new title for an existing staffer? Staff dachshund Flash is VERY good at keeping track of time, particularly dinner time.
Here is the question we put before readers two weeks ago:
B.B. in Pasadena, CA, asks: I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the why evangelicals could ever support the orange messiah. What I'd like to know, and certainly this is the premiere site for such a question (well, for many, in my mind), is what other "leaders," "despots," "dictators" (and all other similar terms) have "taken in" (hoodwinked?) a religious sect in order to gain power?
And here some of the answers we got in response:
R.T. in Arlington, TX: An argument can be made that Ronald Reagan co-opted what became the Christian Coalition, and Richard Nixon (circa 1960) co-opted Billy Graham and his associates, but I think the causality arrow in the question is backwards. You can't scratch an itch that isn't there, so a religious sect has to already have an itch, perhaps unarticulated, until the right person arrives to scratch it. I watched Tim Alberta on Firing Line a couple of weeks ago and he pointed out that evangelical Christians already had an apocalyptic mindset of a battle between good (themselves) and evil (secular progressivism) before Trump arrived and they had already conflated worship of America with worship of God. The chemical ingredients were already there, only missing a catalyst. You can't hoodwink a sect or claim its moral leadership, but you can leverage one politically to your advantage if you can get them to accept that the end justifies the means. Remember that the characters that tried to take leadership in the other direction, like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan, never made a dent in American politics.
R.G. in Phoenix, AZ: Assuming we are not limited to the United States, I would nominate Narendra Modi. He has used a version of Hinduism called Hindutva to accumulate lot of power throughout his career. Hindutva (a form of Hindu Nationalism) is an ideology started by Vir Savarkar, a man who admired Hitler and wanted to treat Muslims in India similar to how Jews were treated in Germany.
Early in his career Modi was the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat. He did nothing, or maybe even actively encouraged, the massacre of Muslims at the hand of 'Hindutva' rioters. His tenure as the Prime Minister of India has been marked by a sharp regressive turn towards Hindutva. This has led to systematic violence against any minority who does not fit in with the vision of Hindutva, including Muslims and Sikhs.
Modi is a true fascist. He and his wealthy cronies control almost all of the mainstream media. There is no institutional resistance left. He openly bribes opposition politicians into joining his party, to the extent that there is no credible opposition party left in India. His aggressive Hindutva ideology makes Donald Trump look like a moderate liberal.
M.B. in San Antonio, TX: Though it's hard to know his motivations, Roman Emperor Constantine certainly took over Christianity, first with the Edict of Milan in 313, but especially with the Council of Nicaea in 325, which essentially tailored the nascent and disorganized religious to his own political power. Whether he was sincere or he "hoodwinked" the Christians is probably unknowable, but also largely irrelevant. Thereafter, all the Roman emperors benefited from their roles as (political) leaders of the Christian cult, in the process boosting the stature of the church, so that when the Empire fell in 476, it became the controlling institution in Europe for the next millennium.
D.C.B. in St. Louis, MO: L. Ron Hubbard famously said (in a science fiction novella) that the quickest way to get wealthy is to invent a new religion. Lo and behold, a couple years later he was the founder of Scientology. Coincidence? I think not!
M.M. in San Diego, CA: False prophet perfectly describes Osama bin Laden's distortion of Islam and the doctrine of jihad.
W.B. in Salamanca, Spain: Vladmir Putin comes immediately to mind. He used the Russian Orthodox church to help cement his power (although he is an absolute savant at playing everyone against each other as well). He knew that after decades of oppression, using the newly allowed religious freedom could be a tool to help support his power. Marx's quip about the opiate of the masses used with precision.
For a non-religious example, I think Nick Clegg did something similar, as well. He rode dissatisfaction with both the Tories and Labour to a hung parliament and the ability to play kingmaker, largely by courting the student vote, and making them enthusiastic enough TO vote. Of course, the second he formed an alliance with the Tories, his true colors came out quickly, and his party was absolutely decimated in the next election.
W.M. in Philadelphia, PA: Adolf Hitler persuaded the Centre Party to vote for the Enabling Act of 1933. Hitler gave "assurances of the Centre Party's continued existence, the protection of Catholics' civil and religious liberties, religious schools and the retention of civil servants affiliated with the Centre Party." In return, the Centre Party gave Hitler... absolute power over everything for as long as the Third Reich lasted.
I wonder, at what point—and I'm sure that it must have varied by Centre Party delegate—did they begin to regret that deal?
D.K. in Chicago, IL: The most obvious case from the past 100 years that comes to mind is the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Due to anti-Catholic legislation and violence by the Spanish Left, Catholics allied with Francisco Franco (who, at last report, is still dead). This included a 1938 Vatican ban on Catholics from supporting the Republican government.
J.E.K. in Philadelphia, PA: Look to Turkey. Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen was an active supporter of the present strongman of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and helped the AKP party get into power in the early 2000's. Around 2011 they had a falling out and Gülen's supporters were/are actively persecuted (and are actively blamed for the recent coup.) Fethullah Gülen remains in exile in Pennsylvania.
The reality is that the Faustian bargain between "the devout" and "the abhorrent" has a long history. Yes, religious leaders get burned sometimes supporting less than cogent leaders, but the reward is too tempting. This relationship is not unusual, it is de rigueur.
Here is the question for next week:
T.P. in Cleveland, OH, asks: You wrote: "...Sesame Street, which is in the running with Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and maybe 60 Minutes for the television program that has done the most positive good for the world."
OK, I'll bite. Fellow readers, what is the television program that has done the most positive good for the world, and why do you say so?
Submit your answers to email@example.com, with subject line "The Show of Shows"!