Dispatches From America
Montana, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, and Wisconsin
Happy first Sunday in December!
Let’s start with some communiques from around the country, beginning with my home state of Wisconsin.
The first note is quite personal for me, since I founded the website RightWisconsin in 2012. When I left radio in late 2016, I handed over the website’s reins to the very capable hands of James Wigderson. Over the last five years, he has tried to keep it an oasis of sanity amid the increasingly bizarre turns of the Wisconsin right. I have to say that I have been amazed at his courage and ability to keep his head when all about him have clearly been losing theirs.
Last week I got his note from him.
After some time away from all the nonsense, I've made a final decision on RightWisconsin: I'm going to close the website. I wanted you to know first, not just because you started and later gave me RightWisconsin, but because of the support you've given me since I took over.
I just can't pretend I'm speaking for, or from, the right anymore. It's like Michael Corleone towards the end of Godfather III (an underrated movie). "Because I can't do it any more." I really can't. And continuing RightWisconsin, even in some modified form, will just pigeonhole me. As it is, I'm either just another Republican media source or "even RightWisconsin editor James Wigderson says..." There's got to be something else.
I just did yet another interview in which I was asked, "what will make the Republican Party change?" And my response was pretty much what you would expect, a cataclysmic loss. I don't think an editor of "RightWisconsin" can continue representing "RightWisconsin" if he really, really wants the GOP to lose.
So I'm launching a new website, jameswigderson.com, hopefully by the end of January. I'm going to do more personal writing: family, travel, culture, life. Still some politics, but I won't have to write about everything that goes on and I don't have to worry about getting other content, too. I'm hoping that this will free me up to write for other people, too….
I'm going to have to change my email signature.
All best wishes, James!
A dispatch from Montana
ICYMI, Steve Bullock, the former Dem governor of the deeply red state has some advice for his fellow Democrats in this NYT op-ed:
To overcome these obstacles, Democrats need to show up, listen, and respect voters in rural America by finding common ground instead of talking down to them. Eliminating student loans isn’t a top-of-mind matter for the two-thirds of Americans lacking a college degree. Being told that climate change is the most critical issue our nation faces rings hollow if you’re struggling to make it to the end of the month. And the most insulting thing is being told what your self-interest should be.
Get out of the cities and you will learn we have a libertarian streak, with a healthy distrust of government. We listen when folks talk about opportunity and fairness, not entitlements. We expect government to play a role in our having a fair shot at a better life, not solve all our problems.
We need to frame our policies, not in terms of grand ideological narratives, but around the material concerns of voters. Despite our differences and no matter where we live, we generally all want the same things: a decent job, a safe place to call home, good schools, clean air and water, and the promise of a better life for our kids and grandkids.
And from Illinois
Dear Mr. Charlie Sykes,
I am a third year economics major at the University of Chicago…
I recently left the [Democratic] Party (though I will still vote Democrat until Trumpism is defeated) because political culture on the left has become increasingly toxic. I cannot consider myself in the same political tribe with people who think that all white people are racist, Israel is a white colonial state, speech is violence, the definition of good policy is throwing enormous sums of money at a problem, and the meritocracy is racist.
Of course, not all Democrats believe these things, but many of my peers do—peers who have the power to cancel me for my centrist views at any time they chose. The final straw for me was during the conflict in Israel a few months ago when many of my Leftist current and former classmates were sharing Instagram posts with rhetoric that could have come straight from a neo-Nazi. As a Jew, I was so horrified by what my supposed political allies were saying that I felt no choice but to disassociate from them and from the Democratic Party as a whole because of its refusal to condemn such rhetoric.
The reason I am writing today is the uptick in violence that we have seen this past year. UChicago is (was) in a somewhat safe neighborhood, Hyde Park, on the South Side of Chicago. However, we have had three UChicago community members murdered in the past year. Three. One grad student, one undergrad, and one recent graduate. This gives UChicago a murder rate of 15 per 100,000, three times the national average. On top of this, there was an assassination attempt of a congressional candidate (we do not know if he was specifically targeted or not) on my walking route back to my apartment. Had this shooting happened half an hour later, I would have been there too. This is not to mention the almost daily armed muggings in the neighborhood. I am terrified to leave my apartment and when I do, I cannot bring anything that I am not willing to have stolen from me. That means I won't bring my computer to class, even though this is essentially a necessity in the modern classroom....
The worst part is that when we students expressed our fears and demanded more policing of the neighborhood to keep us safe, left wing student activists called us racists and demanded, once again, that the campus police department be defunded. Similarly, Democrats in office refuse to believe that there is a crime problem and won't advocate for any policies that would make us safer because this opposes the interests of the Democratic base. UChicago’s President says that he will “work with the mayor” to reduce crime in the neighborhood, but for once I agree with Reagan: the most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the Chicago mayor’s office, and I’m here to help.”
To summarize where I think we are: our democracy is under threat from the Right and our freedom of speech is under threat from the Left. The Right is advocating for political violence and the Left is advocating for policies to increase crime that threatens my life and the lives of my peers at UChicago.
The Right houses anti-Semites like the “good people on both sides” at Charlottesville and Marjorie Taylor Greene, while the Left houses anti-Semites who attack Israel’s right to exist and promote deranged conspiracy theories and neo-Nazi tropes. The Right ignores policy problems that are important like climate change, while the Left promotes policy solutions where the only metric of success is the price tag. The skit from SNL from two weeks, “Republican or Not,” sums it up pretty well. My question to you and the Bulwark team is, how am I supposed to vote for someone (like Mayor Lightfoot) whose policies make me too scared to leave my apartment? How am I supposed to vote for someone (like Ilhan Omar) who votes against foreign aid to Israel and promotes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that could potentially endanger my life when I go to Shabbat? I hate Trump and Trumpism as much as you do. I hate this current Republican Party as much as you do. I miss 2015 before I even knew who Trump was and took joy in learning about politics and supporting Democratic causes.
In today’s world, there has to be another option. I will continue to vote Democrat as long as the Republicans pose a threat to the Republic, but I should not have to vote for people who I believe are dangerous to myself, my friends, and our country. I think the answer is structuring a non-partisan, pro-democracy coalition that endorses good, moderate candidates from both sides of the aisle while opposing the dangerous ones. Admittedly, they would be supporting basically a handful of Republicans and most of the Democrats, but this might be a force that independents and centrists could attach to, ultimately bringing the parties closer to the center to gain this endorsement.
This email is much longer than I intended, so I will just conclude by saying once again how grateful I am to you and the team for the excellent work. You are making a difference both to me personally and to the rest of us who no longer have an ideological home.
I pass this along so you’ll have it for your files. Here is the link to the open letter that Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of school shooter Ethan Crumbley wrote to Donald Trump..
“Mr. Trump, I actually love that you are a bad public speaker because that showed sincerity, and humility,” she wrote. “You changed your mind, and you said ‘so what.’ You made the famous ‘grab them in the pussy’ comment, did it offend me? No. I say things all the time that people take the wrong way, do I mean them, not always. Do I agree that you should of [sic] shown your tax returns? No. I don’t care what you do or maybe don’t pay in taxes, I think those are personal and if the Gov’t can lock someone up over $10,000 of unpaid taxes and you slipped on by, then that shows the corruption.”
Crumbley went on to tell Trump that she hoped he would “really uncover the politicians for what I believe they really are,” and that he might “shut down Big Pharma, make health care affordable for me and my MIDDLE CLASS family again.” She was in favor of Trump’s long-promised border wall, and noted that she was “not racist” because her grandfather “came straight off the boat in Italy.”
“As a female and a Realtor, thank you for allowing my right to bear arms,” the letter continued. “Allowing me to be protected if I show a home to someone with bad intentions. Thank you for respecting that Amendment.”
She complained about parents at other schools where the “kids come from illegal immigrant parents” and “don’t care about learning.”
It was signed, “A hard working Middle Class Law Abiding Citizen who is sick of getting fucked in the ass and would rather be grabbed by the pussy.”
And from Kentucky
Posted by GOP congressman two days after the Michigan school shooting.
And, finally, yet another dispatch from the Idiocracy
We Get Mail
Keep your rants, raves, darts, and laurels coming to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s a sample from this week’s mailbag:
I listened to your and Tom Nichols' good faith discussion on abortion on the Thurs pod. I have also listened to your deeply felt pro-life, culture of life viewpoint a number of times.
Just want to respond to a couple of points. I had an abortion in my mid-late 20s (married, contraception failure). I had no doubt that abortion was the right path, and while I took the decision and process seriously and was not 'proud' of having an abortion, neither did I anguish over it, as Tom suggested all 'adults' would/should do. Nor have I ever regretted my decision. I recognize and appreciate that every woman's process is specific to her. I hope that you can recognize that as well.
I have two perspectives from which to discuss Roe.
First, I grew up in a very conservative, Catholic home and went to college in the mid 70’s. My parents were strict but didn’t give me advice that would prevent me from getting pregnant. Fortunately, a friend’s mother worked at the local Planned Parenthood and told me that I MUST get contraception at the PP clinic once I got to college. I took her advice and never had an unwanted pregnancy. For that, I will be forever grateful to PP. They clearly stressed the importance of preventing pregnancy.
I knew so many young women at my Catholic college that had abortions because they didn’t get the advice I got about PP. Rather than accept their sexuality they preferred the romantic notion of getting swept off their feet and taking their chances.
To me, the GOP seems to be all about being anti-abortion but if there is not a serious effort to offer sex-ed and contraception, is it really about “pro-life” or is it all about controlling women, particularly, poor women? After all, women with means will always be able to obtain abortions, it’s the poor women who will really be affected.
Second, I worked for many years at a local Catholic Charities as an in-home therapist, working with families involved with the child protective services or the courts. This gave me a clear look at just how difficult this issue is and how many factors come into play. I worked with so many women who were totally trapped by the welfare system, which cut all benefits once they got a job but did not help with child care. They were totally trapped by life circumstances and even I, a real problem solver with a community agency and contacts behind me, could not help.
I never worked with a woman who had kids just to get government benefits.
At Catholic Charities I worked with many, many people who had been adopted or had adopted children. It is not as easy a situation as Amy Coney Barrett breezily offered. As good a life as an adopted child can have, some level of abandonment issues can arise at every developmental stage.
I could go on but this letter is long enough. If we really want to reduce the number of abortions, how about some consequences for the men involved? Do we ever hear a peep about the men who get the women pregnant?
I'm updating James Carville's summation about what wins. Today's economy is bangin' and yet people are crabby and pissed off. "It's the masks" is oversimplifying, but if you want a condensed symbol for why Biden's approval is cratering it is masking requirements.
I'm with you--I took this seriously. I washed my groceries. I made cloth masks when real masks weren't available. I got the vax as soon as I could. I got the booster as soon as I could. I have been masking dutifully. After a glorious month getting back to the gym, when Delta showed up I quit going again. I put up with the "sip and slip" insanity on a flight--I got reprimanded for not putting my freakin' mask back on between sips of my Diet Coke.
This is completely fixable. We have boosters. We have one antiviral that just got approved and another, more effective one, close to approval. This is time for BIden to quietly convene a call with Democratic governors and tell them to lift masking requirements and any other restrictions and to furnish them with talking points.
Talking points should be written by JVL (haha I kid) but basically "we have given you vaccines, we've given you pills, we have a supermajority who have been vaccinated so we are going to lift restrictions. We have done everything we can do in a free society. If you choose not to be vaccinated or wear masks, go on with your bad selves. Peace Out."
I bet his approval rating would bounce up.
Hey Bulwark Team!
Let me start out by expressing my gratitude for the important, excellent, and potentially dangerous work you guys do. I've been a daily listener almost since the beginning and I'm a ride or die Tim Miller fan!
The episode with Tom Nichols Thursday was fantastic, particularly because you're starting to ring the alarm bell about the potential for violence. I'm not saying I'm the fucking Oracle at Delphi or anything, but I've been seriously worried about that possibility ever since QAnon emerged in - what, late 2017? Whatever. I was so, so happy to hear you guys getting serious about this shit, because none of us are taking the danger seriously enough at all. Your estimates of the percentage of Trumpists who would commit political violence were sobering, but they were TOO LOW.
These are people who have already shown themselves literally willing to die for Trump on multiple occasions. Trump's Nuremberg Rallies in 2020, vaccine denial, January 6. A LOT OF PPL PARTICIPATED IN THOSE THINGS - WAY MORE THAN YOU'RE ESTIMATING. (I'm not screaming at you, I'm just trying to attract your attention in the hopes that you read this :) I'm extremely relieved that you guys are stepping up and starting to seriously warn people, it's exactly the kind of patriotic action I expect from and love about you. But I'm just not sure your warnings are going far enough.
The language they are using is extremely dangerous.
1) Dehumanizing opponents
2) "they are coming for you" "they're going to destroy the country" "they hate you" "they want you dead" etc (and all of this is common)
3) portrayal of themselves as the "real" victims
Everyone rolls their eyes at me, but I don't care. This type of language has and does precede atrocities. In Rwanda, in Serbia/Bosnia/Herzegovina, in Myanmar, in Cambodia, in Armenia, and yes, in Nazi Germany, those three narratives existed prior to genocides/ethnic cleansings. I know you said JVL was dark, but I'm a lifelong SJW who lives in rural KY, and this is my version of dark:
A fascist embedded within a KY government elections institution gives the local militia the names and addresses of any registered Democrats in my county (there aren't many), and one night my husband and I are dragged out of our home, I'm gang-raped, we're possibly killed, possibly detained, our possessions are stolen, etc. And, thanks to encrypted apps and social media etc, this could be organized on many different scales. This is the kind of thing many Trumpists are capable of. I'm not saying they're necessarily bad people as individuals, but they are ideologues, white supremacists, misogynists, homophobes, fundamentalists, and they have been continuously groomed for DECADES to fear for their lives. And we are likely talking about mob and/or group violence, which tends to distort human behavior in unpleasant ways.
We could be really, really fucked, and I'm legitimately frightened.
Thanks again for all that you do, and I wish you all the best of health and happiness.
As a non-Christian, I am beyond sick of these “Righteous” Christians with their Guns: YES. Don’t touch my rights to own guns. Abortions: You have no rights to what you do with your own body…. NOT A CHANCE. And MEN who are against abortions…. don’t get me started. You are against abortions? Well then, don’t get one the next time you get pregnant.
Anger doesn’t even come close to what I’m feeling. So I’m going to make Chicken Matzo Ball soup and Latkes, and I’m not even religious but at least it will provide a moment of comfort in a country I no longer recognize.
I'm pro-choice but I have great respect for your position on abortion. Your discussion with Tom Nichols on the issue is subtle and constructive. What would a compromise look like? Abortions limited to first trimester? I bet a majority would support that…
On the other hand, I have heard interviews with women who have had late term abortions – owing to the fetus being brain dead etc – so I don't understand why this sort of case is odious to you. It ain't "abortion on demand" it's a tragic situation for a mother who WANTED TO GIVE BIRTH. I'm disappointed when you slide into sophistry.
Charlie, I was *shocked as can be* when I heard about the recent school shooting in Michigan. Yes, I know that school shootings are considered - uh - is the right word "normative" in this country? Between Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland (or Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. the Tree of Life Synagogue, etc.) I suppose the tendency here in the US is to end up in our political corners by way of reaction/response. "Thoughts and prayers."
The behavior of Ethan Crumbley's parents (James & Jennifer) is something *else* entirely. In cold blood, Ethan Crumbley killed four of his fellow students and injured several more. He's 15 years old. I'm no mental health professional, but it's unclear to me whether a child of his age has any functional concept of what the death of a human actually means.
Which brings us to the conduct of his parents - who just happen to be in their 40s - roughly they're about the age of any children that I might have. 15-year old Ethan's father *bought him* a 9mm Sig Sauer SP 2022 according to WaPo. This is no pop gun. It's not a hunting rifle. It was apparently a *gift*. When Ethan was discovered searching for ammunition online, his mother texted him "you have to learn how not to get caught." (There are other extremely alarming aspects of his parents' misconduct.)
Since I've lived in a partly rural/partly exurban part of Indiana for many years, I understand that there's a long tradition of younger children (mostly boys) shooting errant coyotes or wolves with a rifle on their parents' ranches. Maybe it wouldn't shock me if a 14 y.o. boy drove a tractor briefly on a country road in order to get between fields. I see nothing wrong with parents taking younger children to shooting ranges or on hunting trips . (Hunters who cull populations of feral animals such as hogs and deer do us all a favor IMO.)
However I do not want to live around children who (*unsupervised*) carry guns designed to kill humans off the farm - courtesy of their parents. Is that any rational adult's idea of the Second Amendment?? How would you feel if 15-y.o. Ethan's father had bought him a pickup and handed the keys to Ethan with no apparent driver training or supervision whatsoever. What if Ethan had mowed down four innocent pedestrians in a fit of road rage? (Ethan had owned his gun for four days - BTW how much gun safety training do you think he was able to get during that period?)…
As we speak on Friday 12/3, Ethan's parents are on the lam. My understanding is that four counts of negligent homicide (each carrying a penalty of 15 years) are currently pending against them. With consecutive sentencing, they may not get out of prison until they're north of 100 years old. I can't say that I'm sorry about that, because folks like the Crumbley parents constitute a clear and present danger to the life of every citizen - regardless of what you may think of the Second Amendment.