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These Are Not Normal Times
Our Sunday Mailbag overflows
“We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green.” — G.K. Chesterton
Yesterday’s pro-sedition rally was a dud, but the Big Lie continues to fester. We have new poll numbers on mask/vaccine mandates; and, since, it’s Sunday, we have a lot of feedback from Bulwark readers.
Do you remember, when wondered what we’d have to write about after the election? How we imagined that post-Trump things would go back to a sort of normality?
But that was before January 6, the metastasizing insanity of the last few months, and the ongoing GOP purge of its sane, decent, and rational members.
Obviously, the fight is far from over… which is why I’m writing this note today.
We’re proud of what we’ve been able to do here at The Bulwark.
Because you’ve been listening to us – and reading our newsletters, and the in-depth pieces on our homepage – you know that we are committed to telling you what we think in a thoughtful, non-tribal way.
We are also not going pretend these are normal times; and we aren’t afraid to try to make a difference.
But we want to do even more, because we think more is needed -- not just in 2022, but through 2024.
We think our democracy faces an existential challenge and we aren’t afraid to say so. And we intend to keep saying so, and providing a voice to those voters who we believe hold the balance of power.
Unfortunately, that sets us apart from many other publications on the right, who have made their peace with Trumpism, or who have settled into a comfortable and undemanding anti-anti-Trumpism.
Over the next few months, we want to beef up our coverage of the upcoming elections, continue to monitor the spread of reckless conspiracy theories, and we hope to add more podcasts and features for Bulwark+ members.
But we need your help to do that.
If you haven’t signed up yet, please consider becoming part of the Bulwark community. If you are already one of our loyal members: Thank You!
ICYMI: The Former Guy apparently really wants to be re-instated. This really, actually happened in real life:
Donald Trump sent a letter to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger asking him to start "decertifying" the 2020 election, on Friday.
The letter, which was posted to Twitter by Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington, claims to have enclosed evidence of "large scale voter fraud" in Georgia.
"I would respectfully request that your department check this and, if true, along with many other claims of voter fraud and voter irregularities, start the prices of decertifying the election, or whatever the correct legal remedy is, and announce the true winner," the letter says.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the reaction from the GOP was… crickets.
Meanwhile, as the GOP doubles down on anti-mask, anti-vax politics, a new poll suggests the strategy may be a stone cold loser. Fox News Poll: Majorities favor mask and vaccine mandates as pandemic worries increase
As usual, our mailbox was over-flowing this week. Please keep the darts, laurels, rants and raves coming: Cjaysykes@gmail.com.
Here’s (a small) sample:
We Get Mail
I just sat down with my coffee while my husband walks our dog.
And I decided to check your Twitter to see how you are doing.
Whoa. The "fan mail" you posted pretty much sums up your point about Trumpers.
These people are so overwhelmed with rage and hate. Trump storm troopers.
I also read Trump's statement to Brad Raffensperger. Trump is seriously off the rails mentally ill. And I think we should all call on his family and lawyers to commit him for psychiatric care.
Of course they won't, but everyone needs to loudly speak out that Trump needs to be committed. If nothing more, it might make his head explode.
Trump is more agitated because part of him thinks today he will be reinstated as president. I am profoundly disappointed the Justice Department isn't investigating him for crimes against the United States.
I'm 73, but I remember the violence I endured as a child in my home. At some point you get over being scared and get angry. That's where I am. I'm tired of these idiots.
Thanks for having coffee with me.
I wanted to tell you about my experience regarding someone who, through circumstances, knows me in a fairly personal way. This person knows I have CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome - which I have been diagnosed with back in the early 2000s), and am 41. It is a condition that has left me unable to maintain a job, and a condition that some Long Covid folks are dealing with. This person is in their early 60s, Republican, Fox News consumer, and ardent Trump supporter. He has a daughter in her late 20s.
In reference to your most recent podcast regarding Stephen Miller, where you mentioned about the hospitals and their resources, I brought up the same thing with this person, as we were "discussing" (I use the term lightly because it became more of a case of me being 'brow-beat' with Fox News talking points) this matter of the vaccine mandate.
I mentioned about lives having worth when I showed him a CNN article on someone who passed away because they could not get care due to lack of ICUs. I looked him straight in the eye and said about a hypothetical, if I would need care, or even if my mom did (she is an RN at the local hospital here in the town I live in, in PA) - that "doesn't my life have worth?" "Doesn't my mom's life have worth?"..."Doesn't this guy's (the one who died) life have worth?"
He looked at me stone cold silent as I looked in his eyes asking these questions. He could *not* however look me in the eye when he muttered that I needed to "get a thicker skin".
His apparent view was that the gov't, presumably because of the Dems being "in control" with Biden as pres., was "playing God".
He also tried a bit of sophistry with me when I mentioned about the flu vax, which I do not get, and my condition was - I believe - caused by the flu. He said, "I can turn your logic against you.", yet later admitted that the flu vax has a low percentage effectiveness rate (compared with the Covid vax).
Charlie, as one who has CFS and has had it for half my life, I cannot "depersonalize" what this virus is doing. My mom has been on the Covid floors to help patients. I see the mandate as creating a sort of multi layer "defense":
1) personal protection
2) protection for those who cannot get the vax due to medical issues (disclosure: I got the J&J one in early April, after being hesitant initially and trying to read up on how I may be affected as one who has CFS)
3) protection for the kids who cannot (yet) get it
4) saving hospital resources (including manpower) for other emergencies
5) possible prevention of having more people wind up like me with CFS and needing to go on disability or SSI (I am on SSI) - so it helps with saving the "workforce" power of the U.S.
So...apparently, lives are worth nothing (not the man who died, nor mine, or my mom's), and...I have to "get a thicker skin". I hope that when more people who are disabled from this virus need gov't assistance, that the Republican’s are able to "get a thicker skin", cause they're gonna need it.
Take Care and Keep Up the Good Work
I’m so happy to be part of The Bulwark—by far the most intriguing commentary on today’s news. For so many years you were not my guys (although I always admired the writing) and now we’re mostly on the same page! Twists and turns…and I look forward to taking them in my Bulwark T-shirt with all of you leading the way.
New York, NY
I enjoy all of your podcast guests, but I especially enjoy hearing from Tom Nichols. Because he clearly and unambiguously says two things that others only hint at.
1) We are no longer a serious country: Or perhaps it’s just that we have become immature. I don’t think that there is any question of this being true and two events in the past few years illustrate that.
The first is the election of Trump.
Without rehashing all that has been written about Trump, suffice it to say that a person like Trump personified just about everything that his supporters would have found almost repellant a few years ago. But they were willing to overlook his manifest flaws simply because he “owned the libs” and conned them into thinking that he was on their side in the culture war. That made them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. That’s not a serious way to decide on who the President should be.
There were those in 2016 who said that people voted for Trump because they were “mad”. My response has always been that there is a class of people who do counterproductive things because they are “mad”. And they are called children.
And nothing says childish like the current vaccine debate. I think that it’s instructive to look at how the country reacted to the COVID vaccine compared to the polio vaccine. First, some facts. The first polio vaccine was released in 1955. According to the CDC, in the prior year, there were 38,475 cases of polio and 1,368 deaths. Contrast that with the year prior to the COVID vaccine being released (I chose March 1, 2020 to March 1, 2021 as the time period just to get an equivalent number of months). In that year span, there were 28,000,000+ cases and 515,124 deaths.
And how did the country react to these two scenarios? I am old enough to remember being given the Sabin polio vaccine shortly after it came out (I’m pretty sure that they gave it out in school). And I don’t remember any arguments against taking it. In fact, I only remember people being happy that such a miracle drug was available (I think that pictures of people in iron lungs will do that for you.). No one accused the medical authorities of crimes against humanity. No one claimed to have been magnetized by the vaccine. No one accused J. Paul Getty (the richest man in America in 1955) of trying to profit from the vaccine.
In other words, as a country, we acted like adults.
And what about 2021? Here we were faced with a disease that caused 376 times more deaths than polio (and was more transmissible to boot). And a vaccine with a 90%+ effectiveness was being given to us free of charge. Yet armed with that knowledge many of us decided to do our own “research” and then decided that we weren’t going to take the vaccine because we believed it was somehow designed with evil intent or (at best) was going to cause more harm than good. How did we know that? Because as TN has noted we have seen a “collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers - in other words, between those with any achievement in the area and those with none at all”. So a lot of people simply decided that they knew more than the medical experts, or they simply searched for someone who would confirm their already-held beliefs. And in 2021, there’s always someone.
And, of course, it wasn’t just the vaccine. We reacted to simple mitigation steps like wearing a mask as if we were being forced to crawl across broken glass on our hands and knees. We weren’t about to eat that broccoli.
Serious countries don’t react like we have.
2) It’s the voters, stupid. None of the recent turmoil and insanity in the country would have been possible without the complicity of the voting public. No one held a gun to anyone’s head to force them to vote for Trump. And the idea that foreign actors unduly influenced us is just acknowledging that the voting public doesn’t have enough sense to separate fact from fiction.
And for further proof, you need look no further than the plethora of the most insane conspiracy theories imaginable. It’s hard to understand how anyone could believe them. Yet large swaths of the voting public do. And they believe them because they want to. They want to be misled.
If you want to believe in QAnon and vote accordingly, that is certainly your right. But that just means that we get the country we deserve.
It’s time that we stopped giving voters a pass by blaming foreign actors or a biased media. It’s time that we put the blame where it belongs.
Keep fighting the good fight.
I can't stop thinking about your conversation with George Will. On the surface, it was hard for many of us to hear. I can't entirely agree with some stuff but acknowledge my lack of age and experience.
However, I think a sober reflection should consider what Mr. Will says after his years of excellent writing, keen insight, and observance of America.
The impetus to act out of fear of a fixed human nature, I believe, comes out of a trauma many marginalized groups feel based on the way laws and human nature have shown their ugliest sides within our communities and histories.
If there is any way to bring the nation back through storytelling (my favorite trade), it would have to be through a local lens.
I finished Colin Woodard's American Nations discussing regional cultures, and I remember one of your older pods saying you thought our divisions were more cultural than ethnic. I'm open to that idea. Understanding America as a nation of people challenged by so many dimensions of governmental and human inadequacy that have mired other societies is essential. So far, we have done a pretty job until Trump.
When I heard "new rights," I was a little taken aback. But I thought about it more and understood Will to be somewhat of an originalist weary of anything not explicitly delineated in the original document, which philosophically contends with human nature and oppressive government.
Addressing the trauma mentioned above means thinking about what makes it hard for many people from marginalized backgrounds to enter the philosophical plane when discussing the constitutional because of the pragmatic inequities that caused pain and poverty still evident today.
I know you're busy and don't have a lot of time to respond. So I hope you get this, and I can add some more thoughts to this remarkable dialogue.
We Get More Mail
They want the Diaper God back because they want their "country" (i.e. sense of entitlement) returned. I could flood this email with links, but you know exactly what "Make America Great Again" means.
We can go through the elements of fascism, but one critical notion is the idea that a halcyon era of perceived perfection can be returned. The great historian H.W. Brands once pointed out that the USA was in a remarkably favorable position after WWII. He's right.
I grew up watching "I Love Lucy", and "The Honeymooners." Millions of GIs went to college, and many other millions got good-paying union jobs without college educations. It was "Leave it to Beaver" with white picket fences. Eisenhower (by far this LibDem's favorite GOP Pres.) built the interstates, and suburbs exploded. Airstream trailers were everywhere.
All you have to do is watch the Hallmark Channel to revisit this vision of America. Even my parents who came over here in boats from India in the 1950s loved the musical "Oklahoma." (The LP is one of my most treasured items, since they passed away many decades ago.)
These MAGA folks were *shell-shocked* when Obama was elected President. What had happened to the America of Jackie Gleason and Lucille Ball, that they had so much known and loved. And what about the "end times" ... was the election of Obama an omen? Surely the Great War of Armageddon would occur, and Christ the Savior would return. Those who were "left behind" and not "raptured" may (eventually) have their souls saved.
I am a person of Asian Indian origin. Most folks here in my home state of Indiana assume that I'm African-American. (Which doesn't bother me, anyway I'm basically an ugly old bald man, so who can tell?)
And since I might be the most prolific canvasser ("door knocker") for the beleaguered Indiana Democratic party, I will close with my funniest canvassing story.
In March 2008, I was trying to choose between Bill Richardson (I liked him a lot), Hillary, and Obama. What pushed me over the edge was Bill [Clinton's] Claim that Obama won the SC primary b/c of his ethnic group. I recall asking my FB friends - "Was John Edwards Black when he won SC in '04?!"
Now, I understand why those of you who are current or former Republicans may not immediately react to Bill's statement. But many folks in my party reacted emotionally. We were *extremely angry*. This is NOT OUR party - how dare you say such a thing, doggonnit?
In March of '08, I knocked the door of this couple. They appeared to me to be somewhat working class, but they were open to speaking to a policial canvasser. [I always wear my buttons/stickers etc., plus I carry a clipboard. At the very least, it's a good way to minimize the likelihood of getting shot. It's the first thing to explain in canvasser training.]
The couple came out together. They were open to speaking to me. But here's the punchline: the woman said "you're just campaigning for Obama because you're Black." I pulled up my sweatshirt and and showed her the hair. I said: "My parents came here from India on a boat in the 1950s. I live on 9th St. Have you ever seen an African American with hair like this?"
Her eyes widened. She *literally* rubbed her fingers over the hair on my arm as a proverbial "Doubting Thomas." I am no fiction author. This stuff can't be made up. I still find it quite hilarious in retrospect :)
BTW I have no idea whether I got their votes. One never knows when one volunteers for the Party. But I know what is needed and what I must do.
Dear Bulwark Crew,
The September 9, 2021 TNB [Thursday Night Bulwark Livestream] was your very best episode ever. I've been awaiting a discussion from all of you as to the evolution of the state of the Republican Party over modern history, which, for me, is from the 1970s to the present.
A bit of my history: I am South Dakota born and currently reside in Nebraska. I am 64-yeards of age, and a Democrat, but have voted across the aisle. It was not until Donald Trump's presidential run beginning in 2015 that I finally understood my neighbors in both states. They never were so outspoken until Trump came along (there's something to that).
Suddenly, the people I thought I understood to be Republican because they believed in slow, incremental change (and resisted change), began talking loudly. I was somewhat surprised, but I did know they'd chomped at the bit for years about political correctness and knew that in back rooms they likely retained racial resentment over "those people" getting a break, while they did not, despite the fact they already had all opportunities at their fingertips. What did shock me, however, was their talk about their hatred of Bush I and Bush II. They discussed their disdain for Reagan. I was shocked, and very confused until I heard more from them as the Trump days as president began to pass.
They are nativist, racist, populist, and anti-war. It is baked into their DNA. You can choose to ignore this, or dismiss it as extreme and inflammatory, but to do so is a mistake. When Trump ran, they let it all out. Now, I am frightened for our democracy. These are middle-America relatives and neighbors. Some, used to be friends. I consider them acquaintances now and interact with them far less often. Why? I am afraid. So is my 90-year-old mother, while, in church, she reads the t-shirt of a 50-year old man that reads: "My God, My Gun, and you can keep the change (with photo of a penny)." This, in a tiny Catholic church of a town with a population of 90 people. They represent roughly 30% of the U.S. and hold the electoral college captive in the United States. Remember Waylon Jennings' song, "Good 'Ol Boy?: -->> "He's just a good old boy, never meanin' no harm..." Ole' Waylon was wrong.
Your discussion was excellent and affirmed what I learned in 2015-2016. What I would like to hear discussed in an upcoming episode is, in your wisdom, how do we directly deal with what has been unleashed? Do we put pressure on FOX, CNN, and MSNBC? This is not solely the fault of Republicans, as Democrats are at fault as well. I only defend the Democrats on the same grounds as I would the Nazi Resistance in 1930s Germany. Nonetheless, we are all, in a manner of speaking, "at war" with outrage and pitted against one another….
A very frightened citizen, hoping to save our democracy (LOL, so hyper and sensational... but, is it?)
Thank you so much Amanda Carpenter for your perspective on the Texas law. I have often expressed the same idea that a woman can basically have one child per year while a man can theoretically have hundreds of children a year.
I am one of those children you talked about. My “father” wanted my mother to have an abortion. When my mother refused, he ended up paying child support, but I never met him. Not only did he not have to worry about my daily existence, but he never taught me the things a father should teach and model for a daughter. I felt so ashamed I didn’t have a father, when I was young. I am now 62, and things just don’t change. Single mothers still carry a heavy burden.
Thank you again for your message today and hearing me out.
I listened to your podcast with Stuart Stevens, and was reflecting on the role political strategists have played in US elections over the years (and in helping to warp the political discourse) and then heard this insightful interview on PRI's The World.
That term, 'electoral autocracy', strikes me as a very insightful one, and it provides linkages between what is happening in Russia and other authoritarian states and what the Republican party in the US, as it behaves now, is trying to do in the US.In 'electoral autocracies', the ruling party can neither end elections nor win them fairly. So the trick is to come up with a result that is not unbelievable (as it was in Belarus in their last election). I have seen this in action myself.
From all I read about Texas, though I am not an American, it strikes me that what the Texas GOP has achieved is equally an 'electoral autocracy'. And what the GOP nationally seems to want to achieve. At the same time, I think people in North America have an unrealistic idea about the nature of societies like Russia, and the role of the opposition. I have met people working hard in such societies to present another point of view, to insist that elected legislators do their jobs properly, and they are not cowed by the threats they face. In fact, the threats may well not be severe unless they are seen as a real threat, as Navalny, so the process may not look that much different from politics in the US. (And then, the threats can be deadly.)
Listen to what the political scientist says in the interview. She is going to vote, rather than boycott, because it is important to her that she have someone she can talk to in the Duma. Because individual legislators have power and can use it.And do start to use this term 'electoral autocracy' when you are talking about GOP-controlled states like Texas, because it is an extremely useful concept for people to understand.