The Big Lie is Spreading
Plus: Bulwark readers sound off
Happy Sunday. Let me start with an apology (again): We got so much mail this week that I can only include a small sample here.
But please keep your rants, raves, darts, and laurels coming to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheney Orr / Bloomberg via Getty Images
My latest piece is a Sunday Special:
Two developments over the last week or so have signaled how the political ground continues to shift under our feet.
The first was former President Donald Trump’s fulsome embrace of the Ashli Babbitt-as-noble-martyr narrative. The second was the push by Pennsylvania Republicans to conduct a forensic audit of the state’s 2020 presidential election.
The two events are linked by the same impulse: to retroactively revise the history of the insurrection and the Big Lie in order to further weaken our democratic safeguards. Attention needs to be paid….
The insurrection is being recast as a patriotic uprising; the rioters are being transformed into heroes and martyrs. This does not just revise the past; it sends a clear signal to groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers about the future: Stand by to fight again — because there might be a next time.
So what does all this ultimately mean?… it means the attack on our democracy is ongoing. And January 6 may have merely been a rehearsal for something even worse.
Former Congresswoman Barbara Comstock made a savvy point about MAGAWorld’s strategic silence about… Rosanne Boyland.
The anti-vax madness.
In my Friday newsletter, I admitted that I was struggling to come up with an analogy to the performative demagoguery of the anti-vaxxer left:
Try to imagine, for example, a campaign to mock attempts to improve airline safety in the wake of a crash that killed hundreds. Or try to envision a political class that would ridicule and undermine engineers who were trying to shore up the foundations of condominiums in Florida in the days after a horrific building collapse there.
None of that, however, even comes close to the genuine depravity of the current burst of performative anti-vax demagoguery we are seeing right now.
A reader offered this:
How about being anti-blackout curtains during German night raids on London?
ICYMI: JVL made this crucial point in his Friday Triad newsletter:
If you’re trying to stop a course of action that will save lives and has nothing whatsoever to do with you—and you’re doing it purely for political self-interest—what other word is there?
And when we talk about lives being saved or lost, we’re not talking about some far-future actuarial abstraction. We’re talking about 200 people a day, every day, right forking now.
But the piece that really gets me is that every single one of these people describes themselves as being “pro-life.”
They’ll rail about bureaucratic abstractions such as the Hyde Amendment or the Mexico City Policy as being moral evils so total that they couldn’t possibly support any Democrat who is for them because they care so much about “life.”
It’s almost like “life” isn’t really the point.
Bonus: They’re just making shit up now. (And, yes, I know that bit not just now.)
We Get Mail
First of all thanks for all you do.
Second, I know I am a Lutheran pastor but I will Guaran-DAMN-tee you that all these anti-vax No Talent Charlatans (Owens, Kirk, Shapiro, etc) have gotten their vaccinations.
They say what they want because sadly the Right have become a bunch of sheep who have given up on a Conservative ideology and replaced with an “OwnTheLib”ology.
I hope you have a safe and blessed weekend.
Charlie recently asked a guest if the authoritarianism, grievance, and overt racism displayed by MAGA world was always there or a recent phenomenon. I can offer an answer from blue-collar America that may not be accessible to Bulwark writers.
The hatreds, prejudices, scapegoating, and violent hostility toward elites have been around all of my life (61 years) and expressed freely by white working-class people in the building trades, landscaping, restaurant, and other workplaces I've had to work in.
The difference is that more of these people vote now and have found a cure to their apathy from a party that embraces the ugliness fully. Many of these folks did not feel represented or respected by Reagan, Bush, McCain, and Romney Republicans. They've finally found their champion in a resurrected George Wallace.
J. D. Vance was attractive to Never Trumpers in 2016 because he seemed like a reliable voice from hardscrabble America. Please try to find other blue-collar voices who may be better guides to the world of white resentment. Voices who are not running for office, selling a book, or otherwise profiting off an agenda.
Subscriber and full on fan girl here! Love the podcast (although I would be fine without sound bytes from Carlson or MTG) and your newsletter.
Now the criticism. Your inability to see how emotionally driven the VAST majority of humans are is your blind spot (or maybe it is simply a rhetorical device) Just about every human being wants to be acknowledged, validated, noticed and confirmed in their existence. (look at the success of FB, Twitter, Insta, et al) Some human beings achieve that by reflection and internal investigation. Some human beings just climb over other "weaker" ones.
JD Vance wants to matter. JD Vance wants to be a power broker. JD Vance wants to get back at all those liberals he felt were looking down on him. JD Vance created a myth of boot-strap success that he fully believes. JD Vance realizes that in order to matter he needs the R base that is fully in the hands of Trump. JD Vance's supposed "principles and values", the very scaffolding of his boot-strap success will simply have to take a back seat if he is to be embraced.
I read Hillbilly Elegy when it came out. I saw it as a window into one very chaotic and sad family. I could never get over the fact that he held his mother to account for her awful parenting and yet revered his Mee Maw. The very same Mee Maw that poured gasoline on her passed out drunk husband and lit him on fire in full view of their children. That woman may have helped her grandson find a way out, but she did enormous harm to him in the process. Harm he has chosen to ignore.
Thank you for The Bulwark.
We Get More Mail
Unless we were prepared as a nation to stay in Afghanistan for the next century and beyond, the Taliban was always going to take over the country.
Trump gave them credibility when he negotiated with them rather than the Afghan government. But beyond that, the Taliban was never going to accept any foreign influence in their country.
If our mission was to capture or kill OBL, then we should have left after he was killed in...Pakistan. We have been in Afghanistan for twenty years. If the Afghan army hasn't progressed to the point they can defend their country after twenty years, they never will.
As we were leaving Vietnam, the Viet Cong were moving in. Were all the American lives lost in Vietnam worth it? What did we accomplish? What did we change?
We talk about the Afghan citizens, but we've stood aside and watched Syria murder men, women and children for years. They continue to do so.
Look at China. They're putting Muslims in internment camps. They've smothered out flames of democracy in Hong Kong. But corporate America and the movie industry court them like prostitutes for a big pay day.
I'm sorry for the Afghani people. Just like I was sorry for the Montagnards in Vietnam and the Kurds in Syria when we left. I'm also sorry for the Muslims in China and the dissidents in Russia. I worry about people in Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Staying twenty more years wouldn't have changed any of this. It was time to come home.
I'm watching you on Deadline Whitehouse. I agree that Democrats do not seem appropriately energized with respect to the assault on voting rights in numerous states. (I was especially disappointed with the low Democrat turnout in the recent special election for Texas' 6th Congressional District where they had a chance because it was a jungle primary.) Increasing voter turn-out is always good and I agree with Matthew Dowd that we simply have to vote Republicans out of power, but it may not be enough given the nullification provisions in many of the laws that are being enacted.
I haven't heard much discussion about what Democrats can do given their razor-thin majorities in Congress or other options they may have. Perhaps you can have someone on the podcast to realistically discuss those options and what efforts may be underway. I'd also like to hear from Mark Elias or other election lawyers about the various legal challenges that can be made and whether there is any hope of success.
I'm now listening to another guest saying that Democrats still have the option of passing legislation to enhance the voting rights act. Really? How? By getting rid of the filibuster? When pigs fly. I will never be a Republican again but Democrats can be very frustrating sometimes.
Thanks for letting me vent. Keep up the good fight.
I'm a Bulwark+ subscriber and I've listened to a lot of the discussion about the ranked choice vote for NY Mayor and the issues around it. Here in Ireland we have always used ranked choice, or Proportional Representation (PR) as we know it.
During our general elections the constituencies/districts are multi-seat elections, for example my own constituency of Dublin South West is a 5 seater. You might have 8 or 9 parties and independents running so that's when you see vote transfers and potential governing coalitions begin to take shape. This is where the value of the system lies, our current government is a 3 party coalition. Whereas in a single party primary like the NY Democratic race it's utility is less clear, though obviously the democratic party is really a spectrum of political outlooks crammed into one entity.
This week we have a by-election (think special election) ongoing in Dublin Bay South due to the retirement of a sitting TD (think MP). Just to give you an idea of the transparency around the vote count in a PR election I thought I'd share this link with you. This was created by an irish journalist Gavin Reilly but it shows the real time vote tallies (all hand counts) for each round of the ranked choice count. It also shows the quota required to be elected and district by district ballot numbers etc. This election is unique in that it is only for one seat and this constituency would ordinarily have 4 seats up for grabs in a general election. But you will see how the transfers come into play. Ivana Bacik, an opposition Labour party candidate, is expected to take the seat based on transfers from other left candidates.
Anyway just thought you might be interested to have a look given that it was a hot topic recently.
Love the podcast and the site,
All the best
I was reading your newsletter, and I read Mona Charen's piece, and I realized that one of the problems in America involves rights. Specifically, the understanding of what they actually are and how they exist.
The rhetoric from the most extreme parts of the right and left is always about how their rights are being trampled, whether it's the far left talking about race and gender or the far right talking about whiteness and working class people. But both sides have, perhaps unconsciously, internalized an understanding of rights that doesn't actually exist.
By which I mean, humans do not innately have rights. Rights, as we understand them, are not self executing; there is no invisible hand that punishes others if we do not give them rights. This is why the declaration of independence is such an important document; it codifies the idea in law that yes, humans have rights innately, and that it is obvious that this is so.
But even that didn't give everyone equal rights. Slavery was still a thing, and slaves did not have rights despite the fact that they were people. But, then the question is, how do people get rights? How do people who do not have rights acquire them?
This has been the narrative, in my opinion, of America since its founding. In the beginning, only white men with property could vote. In the state I was born in, Maryland, the revolutionary war increased the amount of things you could vote for from one to two. Not a democratic state by any stretch. But the increasing of rights has always occurred when those on the outside have convinced the majority that there is some benefit to extending them.
To put it another way, all men didn't get the right to vote until they convinced the landed class that it was beneficial to them. Women didn't get the right to vote until men decided to allow it. Africian Americans didn't get the right to vote until white people decided it was a good thing. To put it another way, slavery ended because white northerners decided slavery was a moral evil and needed to be stopped.
This is not a popular way of thinking on the right or the left. But we can see what happens when people do not believe people have or deserve rights. States like Apartheid South Africa. States like China, who puts Muslims in concentration camps and go out of their way to ethnically cleanse Tibet. Look at Myanmar, a place where Buddhists are committing genocide against Muslims.
Ultimately, people do not have rights unless there is collective agreement that we do. Which is the power of the United States. We, because we believe in our founding documents, that all men are created equal, have strived to make that the case. That has not always been quick, or even proactive. But we continue to do it.
But my point is that people now fail to grasp that convincing people who do not agree is the bedrock of our nation. The ability to say 'we deserve rights, just like you, and it benefits you to give them to us.'
I admit, I come at this from the perspective of someone with Jewish heritage, who can point to grandparents who disappeared and were never heard from again in Europe. And I can say that the narrative that we fought WW2 because of the Holocaust is false. People knew about it, and they didn't care. It was the wisdom of Jewish people to say to people who weren't Jewish 'aren't you ashamed that this happened? Is this not wrong?' And that ability has codified the very idea that anti-Semitism is not just wrong morally, but is inherently evil.
It is here that I believe that both the right and left have not inherited that ideals of our forefathers. That is not to say they are equal. The left seeks to expand rights, the right seeks to curtail them. But both of them fail to ask the obvious question: why is denying people rights wrong?
The left does not ask it because they think it is obvious. The right does not ask it because they think it is inconvenient. The left used to understand that it was worth asking why things like racism and anti-Semitism and homophobia were wrong: because it makes people realize that they are so because to express such sentiments is akin to denying the humanity of the person. And if humans have rights, then denying them their humanity is to deny them rights.
The right, the extreme parts, does not ask this question because they seek to deny people's humanity and thus deprive them of rights; it ridicules the woke, the trans, the immigrant so that they can justify treating them inhumanly. When the right shrugs at kids in cages and makes racist remarks at Muslims, it does so with the specific intent to deny that these people are human, to justify the notion that these people are not 'men' and thus not created equal. It has been doing this since our country was founded.
We should, I think, make the implicit explicit once again; we should force the far right, the insurrectionists, the MTG's and the Hawley's of the world to explain why they believe that people are not people. It is not enough to say they are racist and anti-Semitic. We must overtly affirm why these things are wrong once again, because people have forgotten.
We assume, wrongly, that rights are self-executing and innate to our beings. But they are not. And what makes America what it is is that we understand that our country is founded on the notion that all people have rights, even if we haven't always lived up to that. That's what makes us different from the China's and the Russia's and the Hungary's of the world.
All people are created equal. And there is no greater moral failing, no greater failing of patriotism, than to deny this core truth to our country. That all people, regardless of your personal feelings, possess rights because they are human. There is nothing more unamerican than to believe that this is not so, to believe that rights are merely a thing that exists for those you like and can be stripped from those you don't.
And it's time people remembered this, and said it again.