Discover more from The Bulwark
"A Willingness To Do Harm"
Plus: What will Musk do?
By the way, I was serious when I asked on yesterday’s podcast: How does this guy not win a Nobel Prize?
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A willingness to damage
George Orwell reminded us that it’s a constant struggle to “see what is in front of one’s nose.” By the same token, it’s also hard to recognize when something is new, especially when we are caught in an endlessly repetitive doom loop.
But the Wapo’s Paul Waldman highlights what feels like a genuine innovation in our craptacular politics: The willingness of politicians to actually inflict harm on their own constituents.
Before you are tempted to insist that this is just the same old same old because [insert your prior ideological bugaboo] take a moment to consider his point. In the past, Waldman notes, “the threat of economic damage acted as a brake on a governor’s willingness to use state power to attack his enemies, but that’s less true today.”
Exhibit A: Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to create a massive traffic jam at the border by insisting on special “inspections” of trucks crossing the border. The results were (predictably) disastrous.
Produce rotted in trucks, orders were delayed, and the effects cascaded out to the rest of the country. According to a Texas-based economic analysis firm, Abbott’s stunt cost the state’s economy more than $4 billion; the cost to the U.S. economy was estimated at $9 billion.
As Waldman notes, Abbott’s decision was revealing because it “showed a willingness to do harm to his state’s economy to make a political point.”
But this is all relatively new, and the limits of the acceptable are still being tested. Abbott found that broad sabotage of his state’s economy was a terrible idea. Perhaps if he had just gone after a few “woke” avocado importers he might not have had to pull back so quickly.
He sees the same pattern in Florida, where Ron DeSantis has launched an attack against the state’s largest employer. Stripping Disney of its independent tax status is “likely to mean hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new obligations for the surrounding counties,” that could be passed on to property taxpayers.
Again, he writes, “what’s new and striking is the governor’s willingness to attack the state’s most iconic corporation, one that employs tens of thousands of Floridians and brings in billions of tourist dollars to the state every year.”
(BTW: Here’s another indication that DeSantis’s move is a clusterf**k: “The Contractual Impossibility of Unwinding Disney’s Reedy Creek.”)
Even in an age of deplorable, toxic, and increasingly tribal politics, this seems to cross a line that most politicians used to recognize: attack your political opponents, but not your own economy. Wreak vengeance on your enemies, but don’t take it out on your own taxpayers, voters, employers, or workers.
Now all bets are off, especially now that DeSantis “is basking in the glow of nationwide conservative adoration.” So we can expect more of this, writes Waldman, because the rules continue to change.
Exit take: If you need another data point on the “willingness to do harm,’ do you really have to look further than January 6? Or the ongoing attempts to delegitimize the nation’s electoral system?
Be careful what you wish for
ICYMI: Tim Miller dished out generous doses of schadenfreude yesterday: “Musk Twitter Could Be a Disaster For MAGA Grifters and Republican Ostriches.”
Musk Twitter might also be a disaster for a couple of groups who cosmically deserve it:
1) Mitch McConnell and the establishment Republican ostriches who are doing everything in their power to put their heads in the sand and pretend Donald Trump doesn’t exist (unless they need to cash in on his name and likeness).
2) The Nazi grifters who started the various Deploratwitter knockoffs like TRUTH, Parler, and Gettr and are now set to be totally pwned by Twitter offering these very fine people the same freedom to shitpost in front of bigger audiences.
So if the two-faced Trumpists and the worst MAGA scammers are going to suffer, might we consider squeaking out one cheer for Musk. Or a half a cheer? Or even just a mild affirmative grunt?
So what will a Musk-dominated Twitter actually look like?
Charlie Warzel lays out three possible timelines:
(1) The Dark Timeline (“in which Musk goes wild and attempts to turn Twitter into a Truth Social/Gab/Parler free-for-all”).
(2) The Weird/Chaotic Timeline (“lots of quick building, throwing shit at the wall, with very little consideration of the consequences”).
(3) The Recent Past Is Future Timeline ( “the most plausible of the three—is a blend of the dark and the weird ones).
In it, he reinstates some accounts like, say, Trump’s, the platform is fundamentally worse for it, and after a few early wins, he loses interest in the day-to-day operations. His early efforts will be exciting for him and maybe even consequential for us but, if 10 years of following Twitter’s content-moderation and management decisions have taught me anything, I am not sure the things he implements are going to yield the kind of results that can compete to keep his attention alongside everything his other companies are doing. And so some small things change but it's not nearly as dramatic as we envision now.
Contrary to what some are predicting, I don’t think this version of Twitter looks like Parler or Gab or Truth Social—I think it looks a lot more like Twitter did in, say, 2016.
This is not a good thing! Twitter in 2016 was often an awful place, especially if you were a woman, Jewish, a person of color, or a member of any minority group. Because Twitter is still an awful place—but one with a lot more tools, like setting who can see or reply to your tweets, that victims of harassment can employ—certain people seem to have forgotten that blatant, vile harassment used to go almost unchecked…
Exit take: Will Trump change his mind an return to Twitter? AYFKM? Of course he will.
Texting an insurrection
As you have undoubtedly heard by now:
CNN has obtained 2,319 text messages [that offer] the most revealing picture to date of how Trump's inner circle, supporters and Republican lawmakers worked behind the scenes to try to overturn the election results and then reacted to the violence that effort unleashed at the Capitol on January 6.
Don’t miss this Instant Classic sent three days before the Inauguration.
Bonus take: This seems like the key point, don’t you think?
Maybe we should hold off on spiking the football quite yet…
Yes, there are reasons for optimism, but make sure you read this word of warning:
Eighty miles north of the city, First Lt. Ivan Skuratovsky, serving in the 25th Airborne Brigade, told POLITICO that help needs to come immediately.
“The situation is very bad, [Russian forces] are using scorched- earth tactics,” the 31-year-old married father of two said via text. “They simply destroy everything with artillery, shelling day and night,” he said via text.
He fears that if reinforcements in the form of manpower and heavy weaponry — particularly air support — don’t arrive in the next few days, his troops could find themselves in the same position as those in Mariupol.
Skuratovsky described his soldiers’ situation as “very desperate.”
“I don’t know how much strength we will have,” he said, adding that the troops under his command around the city of Avdiivka, near Donetsk, have gone without rest since the start of the war.
Germany said Tuesday it would send radar-equipped heavy tanks specially designed for air defense to Ukraine — a major policy reversal that came as the United States gathers military leaders from 40 countries in a renewed push to bolster military support and degrade Russia’s war machine.
1. The Insurrectionists Are Coming
If the Kevin McCarthy tapes taught us all anything, it’s that the man is game to harbor criminals. And once someone with power does that, what won’t they do? Positioned to be third in line to the presidency nine months from now as speaker of the House, McCarthy will lead a conference of radicals, nihilists, and some people who likely committed federal crimes.
Shouldn’t Democrats be talking about this?
This is not the same group of Republicans who Democrats defeated in the 2018 midterms. That weak and compromised conference was in Trump’s thrall, but had not yet tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power. Today there are GOP members of Congress who were involved in what January 6th Select Committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin describes as an “orchestrated, premeditated assault on our system of government.”
And so Democrats campaigning to defend their majority should warn the people they represent about this fact now, rather than just complaining about it next year.
2. In Utah, Democrats Get Serious about Democracy
This is a BFD. Mona Charen, in today’s Bulwark:
The Utah Democratic Party did something extraordinary last week: They threw their support behind a Republican. Well, a former Republican, anyway. Evan McMullin, who ran for president as an independent in 2016, is now seeking to unseat Senator Mike Lee.
At the Democratic party convention, held at Cottonwood High School in Murray (don’t you love democracy?), some delegates were uncomfortable. One told the Deseret News that he “never imagined my fellow Democrats would disenfranchise me,” adding that “Democrats need to be on the ballot.”
But most delegates were swayed by the arguments of former Democratic congressman Ben McAdams, who vouched for McMullin’s integrity and urged that he would help “heal the divide” in Washington.
Besides, he said, McMullin has a real path to victory. The Democrats agreed, and with 57 percent voting in favor, elected to join a coalition that also includes the United Utah party to endorse McMullin.
3. Jared Kushner’s Scandalous Saudi $2 Billion
Nicholas Grossman argues that Kushner’s corruption needs more attention.
He was somebody who, first, could not pass his security clearance applications because of concerning foreign ties. And Trump gave him a top White House position anyway—which is the president’s legal authority to do so. They can give any classified information to anybody at will. That’s within presidential power. So, it’s legal, but it’s really not good for the country. And the way that we saw it was not good for the country is that Kushner became a prominent consumer of U.S. intelligence—of things that didn’t even pertain to foreign policy he was working on—and he ran a sort of shadow foreign policy going around the State Department and the Defense Department.