The Insanity Is Contagious
Plus: Our weekly Bulwark mailbag
ICYMI: The man is insane. But you knew that.
I really don’t need to parse all of that, do I? The bizarre punching down on a C-level celebrity, who is married to one of his own most ardent turd-polishers? The paranoid, bitter obsession with John McCain? The trip to CrazyTown on the Arizona vote?
Mike Murphy sums it up:
And it is apparently contagious. Here’s the leading GOP candidate for Senate in Ohio. NOT A PARODY:
You might recall seeing this viral video last year:
Tyler Merritt has a new book, and I had a chance to chat with him on our weekend podcast. It really is worth your time. You can listen here, or on the platform of your choice.
And, if you’re interested, here is the NYT article that we both pushed back on… hard.
We Get Mail
Another busy week and full inbox…. A reminder that the comments are open for Bulwark+ members on all Morning Shots (and the conversations have been lively!)
Keep your darts, laurels, rants, and raves coming to email@example.com.
Dear Charlie and all at the Bulwark,
Keep up the good work.
Meanwhile, just to prove how weird things are getting over on the "conservative" side, Rod Dreher published in his American Conservative website an article titled "Putin Gets It. Why Don't We?" And gives, practically verbatim, a speech by Putin, praising it as proof that Putin "gets" Dreher's book Live Not By Lies.
"There are a lot of Americans who will look to Putin and Orban and point to corruption they’ve allowed under their governments, and use that as a reason to dismiss everything they say about wokeness. This is a foolish error. You don’t have to endorse corruption in order to recognize that on these cultural matters, they are correct. "
And ignores the fact that Putin has repeatedly made it clear that he wants to destroy America, destroy liberal democracy (and probably, after that, illiberal democracy) around the world.
"If you haven’t read Live Not By Lies, let me ask you to do so, please. It’s exactly what Putin is talking about here. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Vladimir Putin, but when the man is right, he’s right. Ask yourself: is there a single American conservative politician with the guts to give a speech like Putin did? If not, why not? You see the crisis."
Nice way to plug his book, isn't it? Wrapped up in praise of America's mortal enemy.
Sioux Falls, SD
When 95% of Republicans vote against enforcing a subpoena for a player as lowly as Steve Bannon, it’s time to shed any notion about a link between Republicans and Conservatism. The Democratic Party is the only party with conservative values. It is the only party trying to uphold the rule of law. Sure, there segments of the party that think too progressively for some, but at least it’s not filled with racists, insurrectionists, and wannabe autocrats.
Thanks for the Bulwark. I vote Democratic generally, but have supported Republican candidates when I believe them to be of better character than the opponent. At this point I can’t imagine ever voting for a Republican again. Guilt by association now rules the day for me.
I really enjoyed your podcast discussion with Emma Green "Is the Claremont Institute saying the quiet part out loud?". I was struck particularly with her thesis, which is that the Institute believes that unless individuals adhere to and share "basic principles" of what it means to be an American (which they have helpfully decided upon) - then by definition those individuals "cannot be Americans" in any real sense. This reminds me very much of the reconstructionist theology that was discussed in my very conservative church in college - that only by bowing the knee to God and his law could any society survive (much less thrive), to the point of adopting penal codes which mirror the law of the Old Testament. In similar ways, the reconstructionists of the Claremont Institute seem to see themselves as the knights in an ersatz holy war for the heart and soul of America.
In the interests of full disclosure and candor, I have struggled with indiscriminate pluralism as THE societal ideology. I think the real danger of "woke" philosophy is that it is profoundly self-absorbed, to the point of mentally masturbatory. I get to decide what is or isn't "safe" for me (and usually for you too) and then create societal rules that adhere to my narrow views. One of the benefits of cultural norms shared by all is that they are generally reliable ways to guess human behavior. Even if I'm inherently selfish, I also have my mother or father's voice in my head saying something relatively similar to the voice in your head.
However, this podcast called into question that presumption. I must concede that the danger of seeking a return to "cultural norms" is another way of saying that there are the ones who can be trusted and the ones who cannot be trusted. Apart from the rule of law, which is the codification of cultural norms, I have no business arguing about the voice in somebody's head. So long as they obey the law, and so long as the law reflects agreed upon cultural norms ... perhaps that's all that should be demanded of the citizenry.
I thought the conversation you had with Tyler Merritt was great and an important one to have.
You mentioned quickly that you don’t like the word “privilege.” Other than the example you gave of not being afraid of the police because you are White, I wonder how much thought you’ve given to the zillions of ways White people are privileged in this country.
The counseling graduate program I attended before becoming a therapist required many hours of work helping us understand our own attitudes, beliefs and prejudices. This was done so that we could help clients come to their own answers and understandings and we didn’t guide them to what we thought their answer should be. This training helped me understand how many times a day I, as a White woman, operate without fear. It was truly eye-opening.
After that training I was more aware of how many people I know resent the idea of White Privilege because they want to believe that their accomplishments are their own and not due to any systemic advantages. They don’t like the idea of affirmative action because they think it only keeps Whites out: they don’t see the flip side, that without it, people of color don’t get a fair shot.
I hope your conversation with Tyler encourages more honest conversations about race and privilege. May you have many more episodes that address this issue that has made the GOP lose its mind.
I can attest that Virginia is indeed far more tolerant of Red Dogs than Wisconsin appears to be.
I myself was an early switcher. I left the GOP when Trump was nominated and joined my local Democratic Committee the month after he was elected. I assumed any advice I gave about winning over center-right voters would be more well-received if I was inside the party rather than outside. I was welcomed with open arms. I even found a fellow actually-liberating-Iraq-was-right activist (and those were rare even in Republican circles here).
I was active locally a few years…until COVID made me extra-extra cautious (it could kill my wife). I still work with them virtually, though.
The McAuliffe campaign also keeps in touch. They insisted I could still be part of a “Republicans for Terry” group since I was a local Republican nominee in 2009.
Fwiw, I don’t think it’s just Virgina. Even my Carolina lefty friends react to Bill Kristol these days with an if-he’s-working-with-us-we-have-a-lot-to-unfuck-together vibe.
Normally, the Bulwark is what gives me hope. I am happy to attempt returning the favor.
We Get More Mail
Every day I have an almost overwhelming urge to write a comment about something I have read in the Bulwark. Should I give into that urge, my comments would be almost universally supportive of what you and the other Bulwark writers are saying,. This is a very strange position for someone who can say that in 57 years of voting, I have voted for a Republican candidate two or three times at most. (Tom Ridge twice and Tim Murphy once.)
Your podcast yesterday with Charlie Warzel was particularly valuable. It helped me clarify why these times are so parlous. We do face existential threats to our democratic system, to our liberal ideals of rational discussion based in fact, and to our planet’s health. And we face these grave issues with a divided people and a sclerotic political system. Also TFG and his enablers. Talk about hyper!
Like you, I have been at the five-alarm stage for a long time now. I think that what The Bulwark does for me is reassure me that I am not alone in feeling a sense of underlying panic. For this, I thank you and your colleagues, Your clear-headed analysis is much appreciated.
Suburban Rationalist Grandma here.
Just listened to to your discussion with Charlie Warzel and found it incredibly spot-on and inciteful - a little sorry to hear Charlie left the Times and went to SubStack only because his insights and experiences as outlined in your discussions might not be as extensively, and should be extensively, at everyone's ears and eyeballs.
Finally a word to encapsulate the overwhelming confluence of 'UGE seemingly incomprehensible and intractable disasters proceeding apace in the world - while acknowledging the frustration of but nothing I do changes anything! Whilst the SHOUTING NEVER STOPS. How do people sustain the outrage? Or the whiplash?
I look for hope for my rationalism within your reasonable discourse with a bit of snarky Tim for comic relief. Crossing my fingers for the ongoing unification project - how about dropping the identity politics in favor of defeating the common enemy (fascism in all its forms)
Keep 'em coming
We need to take a page from coalitions that have had success beating back or overturning right-wing populist govts. From the get-go they listed topics to avoid in order to prevent splintering.
In the US we are used to binary party choices. No room for nuanced views on divisive topics. Democrats and conservatives are both guilty of spiking the football when they have a preferred outcome in court (gonna be a lot of that this term).
Preferably influential politicians would meet and make a stmt saying they will avoid certain divisive topics going forward, in order to hold the coalition together. Especially topics that have little hope of being tackled legislatively should the coalition take power.
Much easier said than done of course, and abortion is arguably the most emotional and divisive topic of all. If the Bulwark’s main goal is providing a forum for those interested in saving democracy, personal stances on abortion and other culture war issues should be avoided at all costs, except for glaring anti-democratic events where the benefit of attention is greater than the possible cost. Not sure how that should work for you and the Bulwark gang on Twitter, etal, but keep it outside the public sphere if possible. Abortion is only the most recent example. Biden‘s decision to touch the Hyde Amendment is an example on the other end.
There is literally nothing to gain and everything to lose if we get bogged down with culture war issues subject to the whims of lifetime jurists.
I wish we all had enough grace to seamlessly agree to disagree but I think we the people have forgotten how to do it.