Discover more from The Bulwark
A Message from MLK, Jr.
Plus: Dark Brandon's bad week
Last week was a reminder why we need to measure politics in dog years. At the start of last week, the GOP was in disarray, Dark Brandon was on a roll, with his poll numbers ticking up, and a re-election announcement on tap. And then the doc story hit; a special counsel was appointed and more docs were found.
Catch up with the heavy-hitters:
The Wapo’s Dan Balz: “Biden, Trump cases aren’t alike. The political system doesn’t care.
Politico’s Playbook with three storylines to watch. (1) Rising frustration among Democrats, (2) How it affects 2024, (3) GOP investigations are inevitable, and they will be ferocious.
Reuters: “Biden documents bungle seen as political black eye before 2024 launch.” Dem guru Axelrod tells Reuters that the story “is a huge gift to Trump."
"He's been on a huge run here. And he had a lot of momentum going, and this is a bump in the road," Axelrod said.
Puck: The special counsel appointed to investigate Biden’s classified docs fiasco is “as tough as they come,” according to a former colleague. “He should scare the shit out of people.”
CBS: “Total number of Biden documents known to be marked classified is about 20, source says.” One Democrat tells CBS: “They’re trying to put lipstick on a pig. The problem is this week they got handed 50 pigs and one stick of lipstick.”
Bonus: Garland’s Catch-22?
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
A football confession
As I binged on Super Wild Card Weekend (some of the games were fabulous), it was impossible not to think about Damar Hamlin and the non-fluke fluke injury that nearly killed him.
It’s actually quite amazing that there are not horrific, body shattering, career-ending injuries on every play. The players are so big, so fast, and every play involves blows that would obliterate normal mortals. And in football, violence is the point, and extreme violence is what we expect from our gladiators.
But I watch anyway. Please pass the guac, because this is my favorite part of the season.
We are not, of course, uniquely blood thirsty in this respect.
The Roman stoic pundit, Seneca, commented on his countrymen’s insatiable demand for entertaining carnage. Pompey, he noted, felt it was necessary to stage an exhibition pitting elephants against unlucky men in a mock battle. Even though he had a reputation for “kindness of heart,” Seneca wrote, the Roman grandee “thought it a notable kind of spectacle to kill human beings after a new fashion.”
Do they fight to the death? That is not enough! Are they torn to pieces? That is not enough! Let them be crushed by animals of monstrous bulk!
The ratings killed, I’m sure.
[BTW, it’s worth remembering that for much of his life, Seneca worked for the Emperor Nero, first as a tutor and later as a trusted adviser. In time, however, Nero stopped taking his calls, and eventually ordered him to commit suicide, which seems to have been the inspiration for modern corporate HR policies, and some of the bosses I’ve had.]
To be sure, we do not have pay-for-view lions-tearing-men-apart shows; and our gladiators are rather better paid, and die much less often.
We can also be smug about the lack of elephant-crushing festivities, but how far have we really come?
We still thrill to the sight of blindingly fast elephantine players hurtling toward other men, and love the highlight reels when they crush them. And they are getting bigger all the time. Last year, the Baltimore Ravens drafted a 6-foot-8, 384 pound offensive tackle.
Not at all, the same thing, you say, but I hope you take the point. The dangers of our entertainment are well-known:
Head injuries like concussions are common, and repeated blows can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain condition often marked by aggression, depression, memory problems, and impaired judgment. Longer-term, it can promote early-onset dementia and has been associated with multiple NFL athletes' suicides.
There's also the chronic pain afflicting current and retired NFL athletes, due to muscle overuse and musculoskeletal injuries. It's a condition that can have cascading consequences, like opioid overuse, depression, and aggression.
We would like to think we are shocked and horrified when anyone is injured.
But we keep watching, and the NFL keeps giving us what we want. Maybe that’s just hypocrisy, or our well-honed powers of denial and rationalization. Or maybe it’s just the way we are wired.
BONUS: St. Paul was actually way ahead of the psychological curve when he admitted “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Romans 7:15-19
Worth keeping mind in other contexts as well.
MLK: Loving Our Enemies
Thought for the day: Compare Christianity’s impact on American politics in 1968… and 2023.
Taken from a sermon, November 17, 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama:
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. —Matthew 5:43–45
Certainly these are great words, words lifted to cosmic proportions. And over the centuries, many persons have argued that this is an extremely difficult command. Many would go so far as to say that it just isn’t possible to move out into the actual practice of this glorious command. They would go on to say that this is just additional proof that Jesus was an impractical idealist who never quite came down to earth. So the arguments abound. But far from being an impractical idealist, Jesus has become the practical realist. The words of this text glitter in our eyes with a new urgency. Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.
Now let me hasten to say that Jesus was very serious when he gave this command; he wasn’t playing. He realized that it’s hard to love your enemies. He realized that it’s difficult to love those persons who seek to defeat you, those persons who say evil things about you. He realized that it was painfully hard, pressingly hard. But he wasn’t playing. And we cannot dismiss this passage as just another example of Oriental hyperbole, just a sort of exaggeration to get over the point. This is a basic philosophy of all that we hear coming from the lips of our Master. Because Jesus wasn’t playing; because he was serious. We have the Christian and moral responsibility to seek to discover the meaning of these words, and to discover how we can live out this command, and why we should live by this command.…
Within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls “the image of God,” you begin to love him in spite of – no matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never slough off. Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate him, find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.
Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system….
If your neighbor is doing wrong to you, just keep loving them, and by the power of your love they will break down under the load.
The first reason that we should love our enemies, and I think this was at the very center of Jesus’ thinking, is this: that hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil. And that is the tragedy of hate, that it doesn’t cut it off. It only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love….
There’s another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates. You just begin hating somebody, and you will begin to do irrational things. You can’t see straight when you hate. You can’t walk straight when you hate. You can’t stand upright. Your vision is distorted. There is nothing more tragic than to see an individual whose heart is filled with hate. He comes to the point that he becomes a pathological case…. So Jesus says love, because hate destroys the hater as well as the hated.
Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you. Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.
Ron DeSantis, Chris Rufo, and the College Anti-Woke Makeover
In today’s Bulwark, Cathy Young writes about the Florida governor’s plan to transform a liberal school into a political kickball.
The latest battle in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s ongoing crusade against “wokeness”—or, if you prefer, the latest maneuver in his march toward the 2024 Republican presidential nomination—is getting a lot of attention. After earlier attempts to clamp down on progressive left ideologies in schools, colleges, and other institutions via legislation, DeSantis is moving to reshape a state college in a more conservative image by overhauling its leadership. On January 6, he announced the appointment of six people to vacant seats on the thirteen-member board of trustees of the New College of Florida, a small but highly rated and politically progressive liberal arts school in Sarasota, Florida.
The most prominent among the new trustees is also the youngest: Manhattan Institute fellow and anti-woke culture warrior Christopher Rufo, who told New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg that he plans to conduct a “a top-down restructuring” of the college—and that he sees it as the first step in a broader plan for conservatives to “reconquer public institutions all over the United States.” Most of the other DeSantis appointees are in the same ideological mold. Once approved by the GOP-dominated state senate, they will likely form a solid conservative majority on the board, with two allies who are already on it and with the filling of another vacancy by the heavily pro-DeSantis Florida Board of Governors.