Four Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse

Some News: Introducing Bulwark+

You’ll notice that we have a new look today. That’s because we’ve got some news. We’re growing and building something new.

At The Bulwark, we have three rules:

No partisanship.

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We tell you what we really think.

That’s it. That’s the secret sauce.

What we’ve built with these principles is less aligned along the left-right spectrum, than along the up-down spectrum.

By up-down, we’re talking about the commitment to the principles of liberalism, to civility, to honesty, to gratitude—that’s the “up.”

The “down” is the openness to authoritarianism, the belief that every election is a Flight 93 election being fought against some Other, and the willingness to modulate what you say based on how you’re trying to position yourself.

It turns out that the audience for people on the “up” side of the political spectrum was much larger than we imagined it would be. And this success has made it possible for us to grow even more.

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Up to this point, everything The Bulwark has done has been totally free. No paywalls. No ads. We’ve been supported by thousands of donors. And we are grateful for every one of them. 

But we’re now ready to take the next step and grow even more. To do that, we’re launching Bulwark+.

Here’s what’s going to happen:

The main website here will remain totally free. Open to everyone. No ads.

And starting today, we’ve partnered with Substack to host our newsletters and podcasts. My podcast — the Bulwark Podcast — will remain open for everyone. So will Mona Charen’s weekly roundtable show, Beg to Differ. And so will Jim Swift’s popular daily newsletter, Overtime.

We’ve always tried to do special things for the people who support us. So for people who contribute to The Bulwark from here on out, we’re going to offer you access to Bulwark+.

With Bulwark+ members will get JVL’s daily newsletter as well as my newsletter, Morning Shots. And they’ll also get access to two podcasts—The Secret Show and The Next Level—that will be only for members.

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Here’s the thing: The last four years have often felt like we’re fated to live in the worst possible timeline.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Together, we can build the political future we want. We know you get it, and we hope you’ll support it. If you can’t for whatever reason, we get that too. And that’s why we’re working to keep most of our content free.

But if you’re able and willing, Bulwark+ will be a way to support what we’re doing here, together. 

So welcome to Bulwark+.

Come. Join us.

September 17, 2020

Welcome to the Daily Countdown. We have 46 days to go until election day; and then 78 days after that until Inauguration Day.

We’re waking up to the Four Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: Flooding, Fires, Pandemic, and Unrest. As if that’s not enough, Bill Barr is really going out of his way to tell us who he is; and the president continues to trash the science and bully his own experts.

Let’s start with the dramatic defenestration of Trump’s own CDC director, who dared to tell senators the truth yesterday.

“CDC director says coronavirus vaccines won’t be widely available till the middle of next year”

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted Wednesday that most of the American public will not have access to a vaccine against the novel coronavirus until late spring or summer of next year — contrary to President Trump’s assertions that the pandemic is nearly over.

Predictably, that didn’t play well in Trump’s White House, which is determined to announce a vaccine — any vaccine — before the election. This is not subtle. So obedience was demanded. Trump said:

I think he made a mistake when he said that. It’s just incorrect information. I called him and he didn’t tell me that, and I think he got the message maybe confused. Maybe it was stated incorrectly. No, we’re ready to go immediately as the vaccine is announced. It could be announced in October, it could be announced a little bit after October. Once we go, we’re ready.”

CNN’s Dana Bash’s reaction was direct and withering.

“Wolf, what we just saw and heard from the President of the United States was propaganda. There is really no other way to say it,” Bash said, in a remarkable blunt statement. “It was propaganda, plain and simple. He wants things to be a certain way for his own political agenda and he is saying science be damned. And on both of those issues it was remarkable to see him throw his CDC director under the bus.”

And some folks wonder why there are some of us regard Trump’s declarations about the vaccine with a bit of skepticism.

Also highly recommended: “Ten days: After an early coronavirus warning, Trump is distracted as he downplays threat.”

Speaking of our imaginary politics…

In yesterday’s newsletter, I overlooked Daniel Drezner’s parody of Danielle Pletka’s tortured attempt to rationalize her vote for Donald Trump. Here’s the bit that I found the most interesting:

Biden could get worse. He could replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer with judges of a similar liberal bent. He could defund the police. True, he has expressly ruled that out, but what if there is an alternate-universe Biden with a goatee who has switched places with our Biden? Or what if Kamala Harris does something nefarious — I hear rumors! The risk of these contingencies is just too great to ignore.

That’s the key isn’t it? At the heart of the Anti-anti-Trump panic is an imaginary Joe Biden — “an alternate-universe Biden with a goatee who has switched places” with the actual guy.

More evidence that we are not all in this together.

Tim Alberta’s take:

Bill Barr unplugged.

Say what what you will, there’s nothing imaginary about Bill Barr. The AG went to Hillsdale, and let it all out.

Attorney General William Barr suggested on Wednesday that the calls for a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were the "greatest intrusion on civil liberties" in history "other than slavery."

The comments came minutes after he slammed the hundreds of Justice Department prosecutors working beneath him, equating them to preschoolers, in a defense of his own politically tuned decision making in the Trump administration.

And, lest we forget, Barr reminded us that in his mind, l'état, c'est moi.

"What exactly am I interfering with? Under the law, all prosecutorial power is invested in the attorney general,"  he said.

And then there is this.

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William P. Barr told federal prosecutors in a call last week that they should consider charging rioters and others who had committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition, according to two people familiar with the call….

The attorney general has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for weeks this summer, according to two people briefed on those discussions. Late Wednesday, a department spokesman said that Mr. Barr did not direct the civil rights division to explore this idea.

Perfectly normal.

You also might want to check out this piece today: “Federal officials stockpiled munitions, sought ‘heat ray’ device before clearing Lafayette Square, whistleblower says.”

Romney, alone. Again.

The Utah senator called out his fellow GOP senators for their transparently political investigation of the whole Hunter Biden-Burisma story. Via Axios:

[The investigation] from the outset had the earmarks of a political exercise," Romney said at a hearing on Wednesday. "I'm fearful that comments made in the media recently have only confirmed that perspective."

  • “It’s not the legitimate role of government, for Congress or for taxpayer expense, to be used in an effort to damage political opponents."

  • "I do believe it's very important that the committees of Congress, and ours in particular, not fall into an increasing pattern that we're seeing, which is using taxpayer dollars and the power of Congress to do political work. That's the role of campaigns."

Fire up the printing presses, again?

Speaking at the White House on Wednesday evening, Trump expressed support — but not an explicit endorsement — for a $1.5 trillion plan unveiled Tuesday by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House. The proposal includes a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks to individual Americans, a provision omitted from an approximately $300 billion plan Senate Republicans tried unsuccessfully to pass last week.

Not holding our breath quite yet.

Worth a listen.

There are 46 days to go.

Quick Hits

1. The Campus Surveillance State

Make sure you read Robert Tracinski in today’s Bulwark on our emerging campus surveillance state.

The real signature of campus “cancel culture” is that it is driven not by any central authority but by students acting as a spontaneous mob.

The thing that struck Peterson most was that none of the crusaders calling for him to be fired bothered to contact him to ask why he was at the rally or to explain his views. Nor has he personally received angry or harassing e-mails. (Displaying more good sense than most of us, Professor Peterson is not on social media.) It’s as if he, as a person, is actually irrelevant to the process. As he told me, “I think they just needed a heretic.”

That leads us to what we agreed is actually the big story here. It’s not the attempted persecution of Peterson. It is another demand made by the woke kids: that blue-collar facilities workers not be allowed to display any sign of their political preferences…

2. You’re Not Batman

Brent Orell in today’s Bulwark:

As the Portland incident showed us, some of those who oppose Trump are thugs and murderers. But the solution lies in arresting, trying, and imprisoning them rather than unleashing vigilantes to combat them. That way lies chaos and a country that is both less safe and less free.

To paraphrase The Hunt for Red October, we all need to turn the temperature down before this business gets out of control, even more people are killed, and the rule of law becomes an after-thought as we settle disputes and disagreements with fists, knives, and guns. Before people succumb to this version of violent and dangerous cosplay, we should try to remember that we’re not living in Gotham City or anything like it, and that Batman is a fictional character not a role model.

Cheap Shots

1. We have a pee tape.

Deep Thoughts

1. What a Post-Trump Conservative Coalition Should Look Like

Shay Khatiri in this morning’s Bulwark:

Recreating the conservatism of 1955-1991 in the post-Trump era is untenable. Its good parts are useless and its bad parts should have never been there. The old model of conservatism served its purpose. It is gone, and that’s just a fact that must be accepted.

But while that conservatism is gone, some of the truths for which it stood remain. The U.S. Constitution is the greatest governing document that man has created, and it is worth protecting. Individual liberty must be protected. The institutions of civil society, especially the family and organized religion, are necessary for a nation to function, as are traditions. Market economies are still the best way to prosper. America still occupies a unique place in the world as a guarantor of order and an inspiration for people everywhere who long for liberty.

A new coalition, whatever one might call it—the new right, the future right, the new Whigs, the liberals, the centrists—should still adhere to these five broad principles and apply them to the problems of today. And its litmus test for who should count as a conservative ought not to extend far beyond adherence to these five principles, creating a big tent for difference and compromise within the coalition, both of which are necessary for governing.