The Bulwark Gets Mail
A special weekend newsletter
Happy Saturday and welcome to our special weekend newsletter featuring select emails from Bulwark community members.
“Have thoughts, feedbacks, laurels, darts? Feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
As you can see, the Bulwark community is diverse, thoughtful, engaged, passionate, and often eloquent. My inbox is overflowing — with opinions on everything from voting rights and guns to civil war and dogs.
Please consider joining us.
ICYMI, here is our weekend podcast:
Tim Miller joined me to discuss cancel culture, the Dominion lawsuits, and how the Big Lie continues to corrupt the GOP.
I'm a Bulwark Plus member and fellow Wisconsinite, although I live in Colorado now... and:
1. I am embarrassed of my home state more routinely now than ever before in my life. My foam cheese head sits abandoned in the darkest recesses of my closet. I hope that at some point I'll be able to go back to just being mildly uncomfortable about being from America's Dairyland instead of experiencing the full-on shame of my kinfolk attempting to overturn elections and doubling down on Q-Anon. Remember the days when we could disagree on politics but still all agree that Illinois sucked and the Happy Schnapps Combo represented the hopeful second coming of polka?
2. Here's the key to ending the gun fetish... it involves legislation, but no infringement of 2nd amendment rights: Mandate at the federal level that every firearm produced or sold in the US for the civilian market (non military or law enforcement use) must be bright PINK and feature either floppy bunny ears on the front of the barrel or a picture of Elmer Fudd in a prominent location. Modern gun rights appear to be all about the photo op and the image. Take that away, and people have to return to looking at guns as a tool... which is far less exciting. No way a self respecting militia member is going to post a picture of themselves on Facebook holding a bright pink AR-15 with a picture of Elmer Fudd on it and in the same breath credibly intimidate anyone. If we can take the stream of toxic masculinity and point it at the stream of gun fetishism, I think some matter/anti-matter thing will happen and maybe a black hole will form somewhere in the center of the country.
Anyway, keep up the great work. You and the team have been keeping me sane over the last year or so. Thanks to all of you!
PS - It's unquestionable that if America needs saving, dogs will be involved. If it was a requirement that every state had to send two Senators AND two dogs to the Capitol, I can guarantee you that things would have been very different on Jan 6. 100 dogs would have made a dent in those rioters... or at least forced some of them to put down the bear spray so they didn't hurt Fido. Cats? Please.
I have read with a mixture of amusement and dismay the state of what passes for Conservative thought these days. For a reader of John Lukacs it is a dismal panorama - one that he might have predicted.
You are going to have to do a massive purge and build again. When you do, you might keep a lookout for these troublesome recruits:
1) Underpants gnomes: The ones whose business plan is 1) Steal underpants 2) ???? 3) Profit!! Basically people who have no idea of intermediate steps or who believe that the first step is the one that matters. Revolutionaries tend to be underpants gnomes. Not everyone is as wise as Eamon de Valera who told his followers not to worry about taking power - that was his department, but that he wanted them to learn how a government worked. When neither the French revolutionaries nor the Russian ones did this you could predict that it would turn out like a Three Stooges movie.
2) People who have no idea what a deadline is: You come to them with an immediate problem and they give you a long term solution - which might be a good idea but only after the immediate problem is solved. I once talked to someone who opposed a landfill expansion as it was about to overflow, because the solution was to reduce waste, like too much excess packaging. It took quite an amount of willpower not to jump on his throat and try to strangle him while screaming "what are we supposed to do with the waste in the meantime?
3) People who have no idea what a Plan B is: I ran across several libertarians who if you talked about global warming or now, the spread of COVID they tended to deny that the problem existed. And if you pressed them, they questioned your motives or your wicked ideology. I finally caught on that they had to deny because THEY HAVE NO PLAN to do anything about it. Their schemes are all rosy scenarios. The idea that things can go South in a moment's notice does not register. So there is NEVER a Plan B.
Once you make sure that these people are only assigned menial tasks until they come to their senses you can start rebuilding the Conservative thought.
Adriana I. Pena
Started listening to the podcast a while back and was pleasantly surprised, so I am now a regular listener. Disclaimer: I am a veterinarian; I like all animals equally, and I like most animal better than I like most people. I ask that you reconsider this dog/cat war you are waging. The former president so aggravated the discussion that everything became an inflammatory, adrenaline rush.
What I suspect is a 'tongue-in-cheek' war, comes off to me as belligerent, overwrought, and not funny. These are all god's creatures, all wonderful. In the interest of calming things down, would you reconsider this war for the sake of the animals and for the sake of the general tone of our rhetoric? Thanks!
Flavia Zorgniotti DVM
I'm fed up by grieving mass shootings without saying something to someone with a microphone and keyboard.
My grief hits me from both sides of this issue.
I always grieve first as someone who identifies with the victims. Columbine occurred when I was a high-schooler. Virginia Tech happened when I was an undergraduate. It's easy for me to see how those could've happened to me at the time. Same with many others. Aurora? Didn't we all go to the movies in the not-so-distant past? Las Vegas? Well, live entertainment shared among a crowd of music-loving folks sounds like a blessing I'd cherish, especially these days. The DC sniper? I have a car that runs on gasoline, so going to a gas station is a thing for me. This game could go on for much too long if we wanted to.
But I also find the space to go back to the moment that I was informed that someone I knew--someone I looked up to--committed such a crime. Wielding a gun, he harmed several people he never knew in a public place. I think of him, too: a young man who had much promise, a friend who showed himself friendly, a great sounding board who provided good perspective. And yet, in the end, he was clearly a man who should have never owned a gun. I still pray for his victims and wish there was something--anything--I could've said or done to prevent the harm he did to himself and others.
After Sandy Hook, I got tired of the politically correct thoughts and prayers. And I'm even more tired of the shield the Republican party keeps around mentally disturbed people. Has it not been on full display for years? The people who were misled into believing that it was impossible for DJT to lose the 2020 election were coaxed into breaking up a lawful Congressional assembly to count electoral votes. We also run into people who don't wear a mask in order to remind us that in the land of the free and home of the brave, we can unequivocally exercise our right to be stupid and selfish. (Earth to idiots, all of those ideals you espouse are all mutually exclusive from wearing a mask in every Venn diagram one could create when it relates to the public good in the midst of a pandemic.) And for the umpteenth time, this week we were reminded that the GOP has decided to protect not only the 99.99999% (or so) of law-abiding, decent Americans who choose to own guns, but also the 0.00001% of the people who shouldn't have access--let alone legal access--to a gun. Why is requiring a mental assessment to own a gun so impossible to imagine? Is it because too many Republican gun owners are actually too ill-equipped to pass such an assessment? I don't believe that is true, but there is evidence...
I live in Georgia, and I know hunters that share bonds over annual hunting trips with their families; these people should continue to embrace their rituals and own guns as long as they don't have the propensity to turn them on law-abiding people. I live in metro Atlanta, and I know people who own guns to protect their homes. This rationale increasingly appears to be a good idea based on the trends in our local crime statistics; as long as these gun owners never point a gun at a law-abiding citizen, I will always respect their right to buy and own a gun. I'm not anti 2nd Amendment, I just don't believe that it applies universally. The Constitution is not gravity. I'm not in the minority in this belief, either. I just wish we could all think outside the box and agree that a good guy with a gun cannot be the only solution to a bad guy with a gun. Sadly, Officer Talley, his community--and worse yet--his family all have to pay the worst imaginable price to show this false.
May God bless the victims of this tragedy. And may God bless you, your growing family, the Bulwark community, and this nation that we all share.
Please put this in line for the next time you publish letters from the community. I am yet another lifelong liberal supporting you folks. I remember back in the 70's and 80's when debates with conservatives were civil and occasionally informative and have watched with horror as our discourse has deteriorated.
When I explain to people how we got here I go two dimensional. The usual one-dimensional spectrum of left versus right does not capture enough detail to explain our shifting political coalitions, but I can do it nicely with a magic square chart a la Gartner. I divide the polity by two criteria: nationalist vs. internationalist and capitalist vs. socialist:
| Nationalist | Internationalist |
Capitalist | Conservatives | Big Business |
Socialist | ??? | Liberals |
If you unwrap this you get our classic spectrum with big business in the center between liberals and conservatives, if you ignore our mystery group in the lower left corner. They have been disengaged from mainstream American politics for some time, so I don't have a good label for them. Some have been called Reagan Democrats, since many switched parties out of FDR's coalition to vote for him, but that's not the whole group. Marx referred to them at one point as lumpenproletariat. I'll try to avoid labels by contracting Nationalist and Socialist and referring to them as NASO's for now.
One of the reasons that history likes to rhyme is intergenerational forgetfulness. Ideas that are thrown out of the political mainstream - often for very good reasons - like to return seventy or eighty years later because the people who witnessed them fail are gone. The new generation has no experience with them and they seem fresh and untried. In the case of the NASO's, I suggest we look back at the 1940's, just beyond the range of living memory, to see if there are any historical events which led to their defeat and suppression. For instance, we could ask why Charles Lindbergh never became president on a very Trumpian platform.
I’m listening to you and Tom Nichols talk about the article in The Claremont that essentially argues for civil war. As I’m listening, I’m simultaneously horrified by the author’s contempt for Biden voters and yet struck by own contempt for Trump voters and my feeling that I don’t particularly enjoy sharing a country with them, either.
We all know how much the American political system is tilted in favor of the right in almost every conceivable way. Liberals must overcome insane odds to win elections—but even if we somehow do overcome those odds, the other side won’t accept the results anyway. Harmless centrist Democrats are vilified as socialist monsters who aren’t even legitimate presidents anyway, because they’re foreigners or were elected by fraudulent votes or [insert Fox News conspiracy theory here]. They would rather throw out the whole system via coup than allow someone from the blue team to occupy the White House for a handful of years. It’s like playing Monopoly with the most insufferable children on Earth. You’re letting them cheat (because you’re scared if you make the rules equal, they’ll go nuts and bite you), they have hotels on almost every property on the board and it’s clear they’re going to win in the end, and yet they still throw the pieces across the room if you somehow manage to purchase one of those relatively-useless light blue spaces. It’s one thing to live in a country with minority rule; it’s another to be tormented by that minority, who feel entitled to 100% of what they want instead of a measly 95%. This is what happens when partisans expect to win whether or not their candidates do that thing called “receiving more votes.” Like poorly parented children, they have become entitled, detestable brats.
So, to the folks at The Claremont: the feeling is mutual. But at least while you throw your temper tantrum about the centrist in the Oval Office, you know you have every structural advantage you could want. When you get another guy from Team Red in the White House you’ll be happy again, feeding on liberal tears about our broken system that once again put the electoral loser in charge of the executive branch. The anger and resentment simmering among liberals, however, is much deeper and isn’t solved by temporarily having our guy as president.
We Get More Mail
Totalitarianism only thrives where either; (a) there is sufficient prosperity and (limited) freedom to satisfy the population or (b) there is sufficient propaganda and repression to quiet the population. Examples of the latter include the adoption of "sluggish schizophrenia" as the preferred diagnosis for dissident individuals within the Soviet Union. The totalitarian government in Soviet Russia invented a mental illness to lock up resisters | by Stephanie Buck | Timeline Examples of the former include the "bread and circus" distractions of Ancient Rome.
The current Republican Party, by and large, seems intent on dabbling in both ponds. We have the "bread and circus" of owning the libs - a faux (and ultimately self-defeating) empowerment premised upon the mockery of others, and the perils of "TDS" which although presented as tongue in cheek is not dissimilar from the circular reasoning that sent people to the Gulag.
Stripped to the bone, the accusation of Trump Derangement Syndrome is that the speaker has lost perspective and critical thinking to an obsessive delusion that sloth, sedition, cruelty, xenophobia and racism, and pandering to despots are really bad things. The diagnosis of "sluggish schizophrenia" was premised upon turning realization of objective facts (soviet communism was a failed system of repression and preservation of the state) into the mental delusion of failing to see and support the utopian wonder of that same failed system. It was "the emperor's new clothes" plus Orwell and sedatives.
Having now graduated to voter suppression as a way to deny the people actually don't like you ... how close is the Republican party to adopting the policies of another Soviet satellite lead by Nicolae Ceaușescu?
Dear Mr. Sykes,
I was interested in the letters published in Morning Shots and thought I would add my own perspective. I was a lifelong Republican until the November election; my history included service in the Nixon and Ford administrations (including several challenging months in the White House Counsel's office during the Watergate investigations). In recent years, I found myself out of step with various Republican orthodoxies and would have been derided by some as a RINO. In 2013, I decided to convert that slur to a badge of honor, and began publishing RINOcracy.com. But still I remained a Republican
I was among the first to see the menace of Donald Trump and before the first debate wrote a blog urging the other Republican candidates to refuse to share the stage with him. Needless to say, they did not hear, let alone follow, my advice. Still, even after Trump's election in 2016, I remained a Republican though a preponderance of my blogs offered criticism of Trump. As the 2020 election approached, I hoped that it would give Trump so crushing a defeat that he and Trumpism would disappear, paving the way for a reformed and rebuilt Republican Party. Obviously, that did not happen and I decided to change my registration, even before the horror of January 6. But where to go?
Registering as Unaffiliated was an obvious choice, but was somewhat unappealing. I felt that a registered member has more of a voice (largely theoretical, I admit) in party policies and primaries. As a Republican, I had been a member of a Bipartisan Committee to Elect Joe Biden, so, when Biden was elected, it seemed not too difficult a step to register as a Democrat. As a Democrat, I will oppose some of the policies pressed by the progressive wing or even Biden himself. (For example, I thought and wrote that the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill was too large and too untargeted.)
My course may not suit others but, so far, it works for me.
Douglas M. Parker
And Even More….
I’m a raging liberal in my 30's but I love reading the Bulwark to remind myself that there still exists a sane, rational portion of the conservative populace and to challenge my own beliefs. However, there’s one thing that keeps bothering me: abortion. I imagine most of you are pro-life, I know Mona is in particular, but what seems to never be discussed is that no one is really wants an abortion, they simply don’t want a baby.
Instead of framing this as a debate on whether we should ban abortion, we should all agree that both sides want to prevent abortion. There’s no one out there getting pregnant just to have an abortion. It’s a false choice the GOP has weaponized to own the debate: you want to murder babies we want to save them (right up until they’re born, then they can just go fork off).
What really exposes the dark truth about the Republican position on abortion is that they also want to ban any chance to prevent an abortion in the first place by neutering family planning services, sex education, and open and free access to contraception. They don’t want to prevent abortion, they want to force young and poor women to have babies (and a cynical person like me would suggest their position might come from a nefarious opposition to feminism in general).
Abortion will always be available to those of means, and the women most likely to need one are exactly those who can least afford to have one. It’s time to face reality: the practice will never stop, it will just be forced into the dark corners of society and punish those already hurting the worst (I mean this isn’t a guess, we literally watched it happen for decades). So I propose we stop fighting about outlawing abortion and instead focus on what we all want: making it unnecessary.
Anyway, just my 2 cents. Keep it up, you all are truly doing the Lorde's work.
Your friendly neighborhood millennial gay liberal:
PS: If you want a gut punch reality check on what happens to poor women when you outlaw abortion, I highly recommend the BBC series “Call the Midwife” (available on Netflix) based on the real-life memoirs of a midwife in the 50’s & 60’s East End London. An alternative title could be called “The Tissue Slayer”.
I’ll keep this short as I know you get a lot of mail. Watching and reading the media lately, the one question that occurs to me over and over again is – where have all the grown ups gone? I’m not saying they are extinct, but there really do seem to be a lot less of them around than there used to be – and that applies to all political persuasions. Nowadays the norm in “discussions” seems to be talk and talk and talk so that nobody else gets a chance to express their view, regardless of whether they are speaking or not. Someone disagrees with you? Don’t argue! – get ANGRY! And if you can’t get what you want – get violent. Disregard all measures put in place for your own safety, and cry because you can’t do what you want to do.
All these behaviors should have been left behind by age ten, max. I’m not saying that twenty years ago everybody who hit twenty was incredibly mature. But it worries me that nowadays we seem we have so many children in adults bodies – and not just in government positions.
Dear Mr. Sykes,
I have been a long-time listener of your podcasts, I am a Bulwark+ member, and I read your morning shots regularly.
I am a registered Democrat who also voted for Larry Hogan for Governor, so I support good policies and people whichever side of the aisle they fall, as long as they stand for the greater common good.
For the last five years, neither me nor my family members, including our son who normally avoids politics, had slept well- right from the time of Trump’s run and nomination as the GOP candidate, until Joe Biden’s inauguration this January. The day after Trump won the Indiana primary in May 2016 and became the presumptive GOP nominee, I had accompanied my husband for his clinical appointment. The friendly medical assistant at the doctor’s office seemed unusually dull that afternoon, and did not seem to engage with us in one of her usual friendly chats. We thought that she was either unwell or too busy- and the doctor’s office of course is one of the unlikeliest of places to discuss any politics. So, it was a surprise to us when she finally turned to us and asked “Are the Republicans really going to nominate this guy for President?”. That seemed to weigh on her so much as it did on us. In subsequent visits, especially after the 2016 election, we came to know that many patients had called their doctors to express their anguish, and voluntarily brought up Trump’s election during visits to tell their physicians how stressed they were about him. I do not believe that any Democratic voter would have been so stressed out about a President McCain, or a President Romney.
The 2016 election was a severe gut punch. It was not only hard to accept the fact that thanks to the quirks of the Electoral College one of the most qualified and experienced candidates- and a woman- ever to run for the highest office, was beaten, after handily winning the popular vote, - but beaten by someone who was crass, ill-suited, and openly authoritarian. Any hopes that the weight of the Presidency would sober him, or that his advisors would channel him in the right direction were dashed to the ground. We convinced ourselves we will take it day by day, but every single day of his Presidency was painful and scary. Even after he lost, we were quite convinced he would not really leave. Our fears came to full reality on January the 6th. That we all collectively survived Trump is indeed a miracle.
To understand why Trump won in 2016, and how to prevent him from winning a second term, in 2017 I started turning to podcasts and opinion articles. Podcasts like Pod Save America started looking at mistakes from the Democratic voter angle- whether some democrats stayed home, or voted for Jill Stein, or even for Trump as an anti-Clinton vote, whether the Hillary campaign did not campaign hard enough in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and how to overcome those, discuss issues that people care about and win in the mid-terms, but the question of why so many Republicans nominated and voted for Trump still remained unanswered. So, I also started turning to the opinions of principled conservatives like David Frum, David Jolly, Michael Steele, Bill Kristol, Joe Scarborough, George Conway, Tim Miller, Nicole Wallace, and a former conservative radio talk-show host from Wisconsin named Charlie Sykes, who gained national recognition with his prodding interview of Donald Trump. All of you, along with Sarah Longwell, Amanda Carpenter and others who served in Republican campaigns or served and left the Trump administration have remained steadfast in your righteous stand against Trump.
You might not know how much your voices meant for anguished Democratic voters like me during these tough years. (I spend a few months in India every year to help family – I have the option to work from there- and even while in India, I listened to the Bulwark podcasts every day- while traveling in a train, or in the kitchen cooking for the family or doing chores!). Your steady and principled voices against Trump helped in a big way for Biden to win the Presidency.
What is still deeply puzzling, and worrying though is why 75 million voters (mostly Republicans) still voted for Trump knowing how utterly crazy the Trump years were, even after no meaningful laws were passed, even after promises of jobs restoration and lifting of working families went to waste despite majorities in Congress, knowing how Trump messed up a great opportunity to unite the country during the pandemic and following George Floyd’s death- and how he politicized the pandemic, bungled the response, leading to tremendous loss of lives, livelihoods and upending of families. Has this got to do with immigration, VP candidate Harris being one step away from the Presidency, “scary liberal talk” like Green New Deal and Defund the Police, economy, taxes, judges, or pure tribalism? What is it? At least was there a shift in Republican opinion after the election with Trump’s destructive behavior and the Insurrection? The party, at least the GOP politicians seem to have quickly coalesced around this loser and Trumpism. Trump’s loss was so narrow that I am worried that either Trump or a more Trumpian-like figure will win again in the future. As you will agree, this cannot all be on Democrats to take on the weight of sustaining the norms of democracy, truth, decency, and the common good. I am still looking for answers and guidance from you and the Bulwark team and the Republican Accountability Project going forward on the restoration of democracy and decency.
Thank you so much, and please keep up the good work.