Despicable He

Plus: Our weekend Bulwark mailbag

(Photo by Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

A tale of two speeches:

Via Axios:

Former President Donald Trump struck a divisive tone as he visited New York City on Saturday, opting not to participate in the official ceremony at Ground Zero honoring the victims of the terrorist attacks.

Why it matters: The 45th president's remarks were in sharp contrast to the calls for unity from President Biden, Vice President Harris and former President George W. Bush, who alluded to the Capitol insurrection and the dangers of homegrown extremists in his own remarks in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

How despicable was TFG’s performance on 9/11? This…

The rest of his day? A speech to the Moonies, drunken Rudy, commentary on a fight, a brief moment of being presidential, and some lashing out.

In contrast: Here was George W. Bush at Shanksville.

Bush used the opportunity to pay tribute to the heroes of 9/11. But he also called out the violent insurrectionists of January 6:

[We] have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders but from violence that gathers within.

There's little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard of human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit, and it is our continuing duty to confront them.

Here is the part that some of us once thought we were signing up for:

Malign force seems at work in our common life that turns every disagreement into an argument and every argument into a clash of cultures. So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together.

I come without explanations or solutions. I can only tell you what I've seen.

On America's day of trial and grief I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor's hand and rally to the cause of one another. That is the America I know. At a time when religious bigotry might have flowed freely, I saw Americans reject prejudice and embrace people of Muslim faith.

That is the nation I know.

At a time when nativism could have stirred hatred and violence against people perceived as outsiders, I saw Americans reaffirm their welcome to immigrants and refugees.

That is the nation I know.

At a time when some viewed the rising generation as individualistic and decadent, I saw young people embrace an ethic of service and rise to selfless action.

That is the nation I know.

Predictably, MAGAWorld was triggered.

ICYMI: Here is some of The Bulwarks’ coverage of the 20th anniversary:

Bill Kristol: 9/11 Passes into History

Mona Charen: On 9/11, The Political Was Personal

Tim Miller: 9/11 Up Close. But from a Distance.

Matthew Rees: From Horror to History

We Get Mail

[This is, without doubt, my favorite email of the week. On Friday’s podcast with Tom Nichols, I mentioned that young people were still singing songs — in this case White Rabbit — from 1967, which was 54 years ago. And I wondered, were kids in 1967 singing the greatest hits from 54 years before that — which would be 1913. Tom and I discussed. You can listen here. One of our savvy listeners begged to differ… and I stand corrected.]

Perhaps you can forward this comment to Charlie Sykes regarding today's podcast

I know that Charlie was just picking a year out of the air to contrast with 1967, with its great explosion of great rock-and-roll classics, but 1913 was a particularly unfortunate year to pick. What was my first thought? Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which premiered in in Paris in 1913 with choreography by Nijinsky. If you had to pick the single most consequential piece of music written in the 20th century, this would probably be it. What's more, it has all the qualities that Charlie was (rightly) praising in "White Rabbit" and all the other great hits of 1967 produced by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, and the Beatles. The Rite of Spring is all about sex, group intoxication, the sacrifice of the one for the many, and primitivism/naturalism. What was 1967 about? Both are amazing years for music, but the influence of the Rite of Spring remains every bit as vital as that of the summer of love.

I won't even get into the other music written in 1913, but the first decades of the twentieth century really were radical, formative, and exciting, not only in music but in literature. Those decades invented modern love/sex.

I write this as a professor of Renaissance literature, not a student of the twentieth century, but credit must be given where credit is due.

Best wishes,

Blair Hoxby

Professor of English

Stanford University

Dear Charlie,

The Bulwark (and +) has been outstanding this week! Please pass along.

As I watch the tension escalate on masks and vaccines I think - How wonderful it must be to grow up in a world without polio, smallpox, measles, chickenpox......Where you can survive childhood without paralysis or lifelong scars. It must make becoming an anti-vaxxer very easy.

I look at the parents yelling and screaming about freedom and I shudder to think where this road goes. In three years, will all vaccine requirements for school disappear? Will we return to the "good ole days" of measles and polio? And will there be any grandparents and great-grandparents around to offer advice on how to live in that world?


Good evening from Hawaii Charlie!

I just want to say that I really appreciate the discussion you and Tim had today on The Pod about abortion. I really thought your views about how you framed the decision to not have an abortion was valid and fit perfectly fine with the belief that women should be able to choose what option is best for you.

I am married to an OBGYN and we both believe abortion should be available and legal to women but it is not something to be celebrated. It's a sad thing that should be taken very seriously and I think your framing of the pro-life side of things captured that very well.

I do have one qualm with the decline in number of abortions and your theory on why they have gone down. While your hearts and minds campaign probably did sway a lot of minds, I think the access to cheap birth control and the continued development of IUD's has helped drive down the number of abortions as well.

Just a little side story: I went to college at Marquette and spent a total of 6 years in Milwaukee between college and working after graduating. During this time I went from considering myself a pretty conservative republican to being a center-left independent (I did vote for McCain). I never listened to you on the radio because I was over talk radio at that point, but I believe I did see you at a bar on the east side of the city one night smoking a cigar. Just a funny evening I think of every now and then when I listen to the show. (This would have been around 2010 or so)

Thanks again for all the great content. After growing sick of the Pod Save America boys, I re-found you in the last month of the weekly standard and was thrilled when you started The Bulwark. I listen to nearly every episode and I always listen to the show when Tim is on.



Hi Charlie,

I agree with most articles I read on your site, but I am wondering about the abortion issue. I am 78 years old and remember well  pre-Roe days. While I prefer birth control, etc., my life experience and religious beliefs make me firm in supporting abortion as a matter between a woman and her doctor. I have two grown daughters and a 12 year old granddaughter. What they choose for reproduction and their future is their own business.

Like most people, I have friends and relatives who are vehement about heart beats and murder. I do not agree with their beliefs and am tired of their and others incessant attempts to make others abide by them.

If one can be stereotyped, I would consider myself an Independent Classic Conservative.

Are any of your people of a similar mind?

Mary Devaney

Hi Charlie.

I’m obsessed with The Bulwark podcast, and have a general soft spot for all honest discussion amongst reasonable Republicans who are just as distressed as I am - a Democrat - that the Republican Party is clearly exposing itself to be anti-democracy, anti-environment, anti-government, anti-science, and anti-sense.

I have an earnest question about your pro-life position, if you’ll indulge me. I love that you think it’s a hearts-and-minds topic, I love that you are appalled by the Texas ban and bounty law, I love that you are open to policy solutions for life beyond birth, etc………Here’s my question: let’s say your granddaughter grows up to be a brilliant aspiring astrophysicist or virologist or biochemical engineer, a once-in-a-generation mind to help solve the existential problems of the future. Let’s say she gets pregnant accidentally - sex too soon with someone undeserving. Would you honestly advise her to keep the baby and pause her aspirations?

We find common ground around rape, incest, health risk, etc - but if it’s your brilliant gifted granddaughter at a cross-road of her life, what advice would you give her? Keep the baby, we’ll help you raise it, your life can wait?

Policy positions in the abstract are fine, but if you can imagine a scenario where you’d want an exception carved out for a specific scenario for a loved one, how is that fair to push pro-life positions - the naturally desired outcome of which would have to be zero abortions. Which the Texas shitbags have in effect established.

Smooches to you and the whole Bulwark crew!

-Lena DerOhannessian

We Get More Mail

Voter suppression means that it's harder to vote. Voter *NULLIFICATION* is precisely what GOP legislatures are attempting to do. These GOP legislators want to toss out the votes in certain precincts and counties based on hogwash allegations of "voter fraud" or "irregularities." I was listening to the 9/8 pod and while I think highly of Amanda and the guest (Ashley Allison) they don't quite get it.

Toss out the votes in a few precincts or counties and there it is. That is EXACTLY what the Republicans are trying to do. Trump has explained that this is what's nec'y. Why the heck don't we get that??

Raj Seshu

Dear Charlie:

I read Tim's and Jonathan's articles and their commentaries that they seem to be upsetting everyone on all shades of the political spectrum. I understand and sympathize. I think of myself as a moderate Democrat. I have some conservative positions. I have some liberal positions. Basically, I think government should function and it should be paid for. That makes me a socialist in my family while my leftist friends think I am a hawk and are appalled that I think a good government has limits.

Years ago, I read a dissertation that distinguished between common goals and common means. Most of the time, we think of cooperation as happening when people agree on common goals. Sometimes, though, we are agreeing on the means and not on the goals. It allows for fragile cooperation and tries to explain why one party would renege on a deal (once they have achieved their goals). The context for the dissertation was on environmental issues. 

The same analysis may be applied to what we are experiencing now. Democratic norms are means, not ends. This theory explains why center right parties and center left parties are more likely to partner with the more extreme parties on their political spectrum (either straight right/straight left or far right/far left) than they are to partner with each other, even when the center parties are not that far apart politically. Their stated goals are more aligned with other parties on their side of the political spectrum. 

It also explains why there are real fractures in the pro-democracy coalition in the USA right now. Democratic norms are the agreed upon means for deciding what our goals should be and how we will achieve them. It is one of those weird things where how we get there is more important than where we are going. It is hard to keep to that commitment when someone vehemently disagrees with the outcome (think: climate change, abortion, or the Afghanistan war, to name a few issues.). 

Once side (the Republicans) have decided that they cannot achieve their goals using the common means, so they are reneging on the deal. The other side (the Democrats) have not quite reached that point yet, but they are getting closer. At some point, I fear that Elizabeth Warren statement that there cannot be one set of rules for Republicans in power and another set for Democrats in power will become an argument for the Democrats to also abandon democratic norms. 

The only way to avoid that trap is for the center right and the center left to stick together. We need to be able to talk about the differences and find a path forward on some issues some of the time and to be okay with that.

In other words, keep up the good work. You are occupying a difficult space and doing it with grace and style. #teamdemocracy. 


We Also Get Some Flak

When I signed up for Bulwark Plus a year ago, I made a bet with my husband about how long never Trumpers would stand by Joe Biden if he won. No need to praise him or approve of his performance, nor to refrain from criticism. But how long you could go without declaring his a failed presidency?

I just lost the bet with your [Bret] Stephens mention today.

So the war between the student council and the mafia rages on, with you all munching your rancid popcorn.

Signing out of your project. Your being witty, informative, and well-educated just doesn’t cut it. At some point you are just lobbing water balloons and worse.

I actually believed that I could win this bet and that you all could make it a year without an RIP Biden Admin nod.

We are all very stupid to have hope these days.