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"Drive This Ugly Back To The Fringes"
A dose of hope in our mailbag
Supporters of US President Donald Trump rally at the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, on November 7, 2020, after Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 US elections. (Photo by SETH HERALD / AFP) (Photo by SETH HERALD/AFP via Getty Images)
In case you are catching up on the news, don’t miss the Wapo’s latest reporting on January 6. I regret to tell you that coup-memo author John Eastman turns out to have been even more deplorable than originally believed:
As Vice President Mike Pence hid from a marauding mob during the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol, an attorney for President Donald Trump emailed a top Pence aide to say that Pence had caused the violence by refusing to block certification of Trump’s election loss.
The attorney, John C. Eastman, also continued to press for Pence to act even after Trump’s supporters had trampled through the Capitol — an attack the Pence aide, Greg Jacob, had described as a “siege” in their email exchange.
“The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so that the American people can see for themselves what happened,” Eastman wrote to Jacob, referring to Trump’s claims of voter fraud.
Eastman sent the email as Pence, who had been presiding in the Senate, was under guard with Jacob and other advisers in a secure area. Rioters were tearing through the Capitol complex, some of them calling for Pence to be executed.
This new reporting comes as Eastman is attempting (with limited success) to ret-con his role in fomenting the Insurrection.
The Kinzinger Purge
Adam Kinzinger, who chose country over party, is retiring. This is bad, on a number of levels.
(1) Why are Republicans so obsessed with the past? There was a brief moment when some people believed (or hoped) that Trump’s historic defeat—losing the White House, House, and Senate in just four years—would spur the GOP to purge Trump from the party in order to focus on the future. If I had a nickel for every time I was promised that “voters hate a loser and will drop Trump like he’s hot,” I could buy another Mike Trout rookie card.
Instead, the Republican party is focused on—nay, obsessed with—the past. To the point where there is an actual, say-it-out-loud, purge of any Republican who is not explicitly with Trump.2 traitors down — 8 to go https://t.co/MXZMS7zcDJBREAKING: Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger announces he is retiring from Congress. https://t.co/HSsfwfyRNHElection Wizard @ElectionWiz
That’s a real word with actual implications. And in this climate it borders on incitement.
But note that the “Trump obsessed” thing isn’t some fetish. It’s an observation of a real-world phenomenon. Donald Trump is obsessed with re-litigating the 2020 election. The politicians in Donald Trump’s party are obsessed with purging any remaining members who will not go along with Trump’s lies. And Donald Trump is the prohibitive front-runner to be the Republican nominee in 2024.
These are the central facts of American politics at this moment.
(2) There will be a chilling effect on other Republicans. Part of the reason for the purge against Kinzinger is revenge. The other part is pour encourager les autres. It’s a warning to the Mitch McConnells and Glenn Youngkins of the world about who does what, to whom.
(3) Illinois Democrats are behaving like normal partisans in normal times. It would have been extraordinary for Illinois D’s to try to help Kinzinger keep his seat. It also would have been risky. Had they tried to help Kinzinger, he still could have lost a primary challenge to a MAGA candidate.
But by merging Kinzinger’s district with Darin LaHood’s district, they didn’t even give Kinzinger a chance. Which suggests that they place no value on what he’s done over the last year.
That’s a mistake.
(4) Good people deserve better. Congress is filled with hacks, whack-jobs, and grifters. That the two parties would act in concert to drive out a serious, honorable public servant like Kinzinger, when the place is full of bad people, is a bad sign.
Adam Kinzinger did his bit. When he was put on the spot by events, he chose honor and truth over tribal loyalty and profit. This man deserves better. But us?
I’m afraid that we get the government we deserve.
Meanwhile, in Florida.
The University of Florida barred three faculty members from testifying for plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging a voting-restrictions law enthusiastically embraced by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), which activists say makes it harder for racial minorities to vote. The school’s move raises sharp concerns about academic freedom and free speech in the state.
We Get Mail
Keep your darts, laurels, rants, and raves coming to cjaysykes@gmail. But, also a reminder that Bulwark+ members can comment on any Morning Shots newsletter…
Since we all need a dose of hope, here is today’s featured email:
Charlie and JVL;
I sit on the school board for my local district, in a small Pennsylvania town along the Delaware river, about an hour north of Philly. For three years of my four-year tenure, it was a pretty quiet gig. We had budget issues due to underfunded state pensions, a historically ignored infrastructure that needed investment, and the usual challenges of trying to fund and run a high-performing school district with a very small tax-base. Then COVID hit.
The story after that is exactly what you've seen all over the country. Anti-vax, anti-mask, anti-CRT, etc. Public comments at board meetings became more contentious and more toxic. There were plenty of people who simply had questions and concerns, and who voiced them rationally and respectfully. But there were also increasingly angrier and more accusatory voices--people telling us we were going to hell, people handing out flyers with the Nuremberg laws printed on them--that kind of thing. No violence. No threats of violence. But definitely a lot of ugliness and noise.
In the middle of all of this, I--along with the three women with whom I ran four years ago--decided to run for re-election to provide some continuity (most people, historically, only serve a single term here)--and now we were in a campaign against some write-in candidates who were canvassing aggressively and publishing ugly misstatements about the health and success of the district as a whole. Their supporters started saying nasty things about us on their Facebook pages, or creating mean-spirited cartoons about how we were locking their children in jail. The whole culture of the place was curdling.
And then, last night--our final board meeting before the election--something changed. First, a group of high school students spoke out against one of the write-in candidates, who had apparently copied a photo of one of the girls off of her Instagram feed and used it in his own Twitter feed, with snarly commentary, as part of his campaign. The students were poised, passionate advocates for themselves and their friends, and they spoke out against the ugliness around them in a way that made us all proud. When the student whose photo had been taken finished speaking, she got a standing ovation.
After that, we had a procession of parents and teachers stepping up to publicly thank the administration and the board for keeping people safe, keeping schools open (as much as possible) through the pandemic, and maintaining a positive and collaborative environment. They corrected the record, scolded the write-in candidates for their ugly rhetoric and misstatements, and made sure we all knew who the majority were and where they stood. Towards the end, one mother looked out at the crowd and said, "stand up if you support this administration and this board," and most of the people in the room stood up. It was a very "Mister Roberts" moment (for this middle-aged guy, anyway), and it was lovely. It felt like they had taken back their town.
Of course, we'll see what happens on Tuesday!
It reminded me that here--and in the country as a whole--the majority of people are kind and decent and thoughtful and sane. They've (we've) been drowned out (and sometimes mesmerized) by the ugly and the crazy, because ugly and crazy have a kind of toxic energy that's very seductive and addictive. It can be scary to stand up against that rhetoric, especially if you're the first one. But if enough people stand up and say, "Enough," we can drive this ugly, "burn down the house" behavior back to the fringes where it belongs.
We Get More Mail
This “Open Letter” is very important, hopeful and also deeply depressing. It is heartening to see thoughtful and engaged people from almost all parts of the political spectrum setting aside strongly held policy (and I also suspect personal) differences because they recognize that the very foundation of America is being undermined in countless ways by the Trump worshiping cult that now controls the former Party of Lincoln.
Even those of us who studied the rise of the Fascists and Nazis [I am an American and European Historian] in Europe in the 1920’s and 30’s and the more recent growth of authoritarian parties throughout the world believed democracy and democratic values were strong enough in this country to always keep such parties at the fringe of American politics. Unfortunately that belief was wrong. We should not have been surprised when Trump continued to lie about losing the election. And that he would go on to defy the will of the people and try to undermine the democratic process so he could cling to power. Trump is the only President of whom nothing good can be said. He doesn’t even love his family or his country. He doesn’t care about the Constitution and only loves himself. Yet perhaps one of the worst things of all is the many elected Republicans and other powerful people who actually know how evil and unfit he is and still support his lies and aided and abetted those who literally tried to violently overthrow the Government on January 6th. They will try again. The only hope for our country and the values we cherish is for all good people to remain united and committed to saving democracy. So thank you again for publishing the “Open Letter” and for standing up.
Hi Charlie, been a Bulwark+ subscriber for over a year now and your daily email is a welcome confirmation of the continued existence of sane, intelligent Conservatives. I particularly enjoy the insightful Sunday letters from your other readers. They are kindred spirits. And they make me think.
I belong to what I think is a substantial percentage of Americans (over half, I’m guessing), on the Center-Left and Center-Right, who are not extremists and want to meet in the middle. We are the real “silent majority”. Unfortunately that phrase has been hijacked by the extreme right - who are neither of those things.
I have been thinking about all of the things that reasonable Americans on either side would agree on. There is a lot. I would start with the following eight basic fundamental principles. I think these are apolitical American values. The devil is in the detail, of course, and I have left out an especially contentious issue or two for now (baby steps), but anyone who cannot sign up to these eight American ideals is probably an extremist and a lost cause.
1. America is capitalist. Always has been, always will be. Throughout our history we have been the standard bearer for capitalism. Many other nations have joined this club – an outcome that we fought hard for, through hot and cold wars. The democracies of Europe, our closest allies and ideological cousins, all have capitalist economies. They are not socialist (even if they are sometimes ruled by political parties confusingly calling themselves “social democrats” or some variant thereof). We have seen the grim, ruinous consequences of actual socialism and communism – mercifully from a distance, most of us.
2. Government has a role in our capitalist economy. Unrestrained runaway capitalism can only end badly. But the goal must be government minimalism. We should regulate only to the extent needed to maintain the stability, security, fairness and overall long term viability of our capitalist system.
3. Taxation is a legitimate, necessary means of funding our government within the bounds defined above. Economic equality is incompatible with capitalism, and is not our objective. But those of us with the means have an obligation to contribute financially to meet our legitimate government financing needs without triggering levels of national debt that will unfairly burden our future generations.
4. Employment is undergoing unprecedented change as a result of globalization and automation. Consistent with our capitalist ideals, we must help prepare our workers for these inevitable changes with the goal of maintaining their gainful participation in the workforce. Those who are forced out of the workforce because their skills are obsolete must be assisted with retraining and not left to fend for themselves.
5. Immigration defines us as a society. Despite periodic bouts of political unease about immigration, immigrants have successfully assimilated and positively contributed to our country throughout our history. Our economy depends on the continuation of immigration. But we cannot have open borders. We must regulate and optimize the quantity and quality of our immigrants to match our needs, but we must do it in a way that is consistent with our human rights ideals.
6. Discrimination against people on the basis of nationality, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation is unacceptable.
7. The right to own firearms for self-defense and other legitimate purposes is established by our Constitution and ingrained in our culture. But we also have an obligation to restrict the dangerous and illegitimate use of guns. Maybe rural people, who have legitimate self-defense concerns, should be exempted from certain gun control measures designed primarily for urban gun problems.
8. America is a global force for good. Our historic world leadership has served us well overall, despite episodic missteps. After our victory in World War II we shaped much of the world in our image in terms of democracy, freedom, human rights, capitalism, technology, finance, security and popular culture, and reaped major economic and political benefits as a result. The US-built global order, while inevitably evolving, must be defended and nourished to preserve our influence – for our sake and the world’s. Yes, and our allies must do their part.
Thanks for all you do!
Somewhere in Southern California
I was struck by the anger of the man featured who wondered when do they get to start killing people.
My first thought is how can he be so angry?
If he was in my shoes he would be even angrier.
In less than twenty years I saw two republicans elected with less than a majority of the vote. One of those got to pick three people to join the SCOTUS. Some of which will outlive me.
I have seen a senate that is represented by a minority of the voters ram through legislation that I find appalling.
I have seen states, like your home state of Wisconsin, send more Rs to DC than Ds despite getting less votes.
It pisses me off, but I have never wondered when I get to kill people over it.
This guy is a typical GOP snowflake.
Michael D. Sullivan
Your podcast with Tom Nichols today was so good I listened to it twice. Really. Your exposé of the dangerous crazy from all corners on the Right is so spot-on. I just wish we could get more “used-to-be-sane” Republicans to wake up and see the crazy. I want to shake them and say, “REALLY? Is this the team you want to be on? The team that sends death threats to the children of election officials who honestly counted the votes? The team that likens a four-decade public health official to Nazi ‘doctors’? The team that is itching to use their guns against Democrats/their fellow Americans? The team that refuses to wear a mask in the office of a Democratic lawmaker currently in cancer treatment? The team that yells ‘F*ck Biden’ at the President while he is on a playground with toddlers? The team that cheerleads for the rioters who assaulted police officers and smeared feces on the wall of the Capitol? The team that stacks lie upon lie in a way that would embarrass even North Korean ‘news’ anchors? REALLY? Are you proud to be on this team? Does it reflect your values?
“If not…if you are having second thoughts about your team…please join OUR team. Despite what you’ve been told, we actually do love America, and we want to preserve its values (you know, what was promised in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution) for everyone. If you think that those are principles worth fighting for, please join us.”
Alas, it is hard to reach these “used-to-be-sane” people. But more podcasts like yours today is a start. Thank you.
We Get Even More Mail
So Tim Miller's piece - 'Political Speech for Human Dingleberries...', although (sorta) light-hearted, nevertheless wonderfully encapsulates what we've long been saying about tech - not that what we've been saying is in any way an extraordinary epiphany. 'Democratizing' free speech - which is more or less (distilled) the social media platforms' self-proclaimed (and exculpatory) ethos - without any bridles is, it turns out, threatening to the practice of democracy. And possibly its survival.
Thanks to their whistleblower, and its size/sway/profitability, Facebook is the pinata of the moment. Ironically/alarmingly, it's hardly the worst of them. But it will do as the pinata, because it perfectly illustrates the cynical hypocrisy of its self-excusing (and massive) PR and K-Street defense. Clearly, its self-touted efforts to be a 'responsible steward' of content are naught but a shallow gesture - insufficiently executed, staffed, funded, effective, consistent - and in hopeless counterpoise to its central business purpose... Which is to catalyze the relentless expansion of users' engagement and connections by introducing them to whichever lunatics (and bots) - and beckoning them down whatever rabbit holes - its insidious algorithms suggest may possibly tempt them. ...At global scale.
BTW, as the imbroglio over the psychic damage Instagram was fostering amongst teenage girls revealed, Facebook knows - and its algorithms are tweaked to prey upon - something FOX (I'm looking at you - Tucker) and propagandists have long heeded... Psychologically and physiologically, the human brain/corpus reacts automatically to certain social stimuli... embarrassment; outrage; grief; fear; envy; compliment etc. Basically, these stimuli will provoke endocrinal release of neurotransmitters like glutamate; dopamine, adrenalin and endorphins. And whether the effect is experientially pleasing or unpleasing, it tends to be incrementally addictive. Like narcotics, ever larger doses of stimuli are required to accomplish the same, or heavier effect.
Facebook isn't a 'town square'. It isn't really even a social media platform. It's a drug dealer. I just wish we knew what the .. heck, anyone can do about it.
I just wanted to thank you for Monday’s podcast with McKay Coppins and let you know that as a former journalist (I worked in TV however), that I have seldom been as angry and sad as I was about the future of journalism as I was listening to the podcast.
You made an excellent point about the drain of institutional knowledge at newspapers and this is a major issue at TV stations as well, especially ones in smaller markets where the typical reporter is right out of school and seldom stays in the market for more than three years. This was a big problem at my former station and made covering stories that might need to be followed over several years increasingly difficult.
In addition to the lack of institutional knowledge, it’s harder for smaller to midsize markets to get new journalists as well, especially because the pay is so abysmal. A friend of mine at a competing station could not afford to pay for heat and had to stay at a warming station during his tenure in this small (but still a top-100 market). The Cronkite Center has an interesting piece about this: [which you can read here.]
Thanks so much for your hard work and great conversation,
I just read the Waldman article, and others, from your Morning Shots mail for this wonderfully crazy day. It looks as though the infection continues to spread. From Arizona to Florida and on to Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and elsewhere. Forget about Idaho, Utah and others because they were already encompassed in that cabal. Now, in Wisconsin, the Republican Party is banning any number of words because they might invoke evil and pretentious thoughts about race, equality, slavery and other oh-so-out-of-favor ideas. And in Texas there are some 850 books that are also problematic. My grandkids now might have to deal with alternate histories to the Holocaust - for the love of God, where are these people leading us (either by the nose or in chains)? What’s next? I never could have conceived the party I was glued to for almost 50 years could be so “changed”.
It’s true we shouldn’t dwell on the past, but we also have to remember the good and bad we have done as a people. "The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it” - Walt Disney. Maybe Disneyland and DisneyWorld are bastions of wokeness (whoops, not supposed to be using that word these days) and should be censured. Slavery legally lasted 244 years in what is now the United States of America, and its fallout continues in other shapes and forms. White supremacy continues unabated.
We have people being recorded asking, begging, wanting to get their guns and go out and kill their supposed enemy - their fellow Americans!
There was no robbery, no steal. The only thing stolen is the love and respect we used to have for our country, for the constitution, which not just a simple document written by a bunch of long dead guys who had their own problems and issues, but an idea, a blueprint for the greatest democracy ever envisioned. The destruction of that idea began some years ago, but it’s hit a fever pitch the last four years and 11 months.
I’m in my 70’s, so I probably won’t be here to see the final whimper, but my kids and grandchildren will. I dread the moment the purge becomes an all out killing spree and the camps are set up and the brown shirts come for those who would have been my friends and loved ones. Tough to think about that right now.
Well, my rant has run dry. I’m off to my church to pray.
Steven B. in Florida.