Idiocracy, Virginia Edition

Plus: our weekend mailbag

Happy Sunday!

I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow, but this is my latest look at Trump’s new favorite “think tank.”

[It’s] easy to track the transformation of conservativism by tracing the decline of Claremont into Trumpism. It is a dazzling descent.

Once one of the most prestigious bastions of conservative thought, Claremont now spends its time putting lipstick on the Trumpian wildebeest.

Trumpism is, of course, less an idea or set of principles that it is a cult of personality and series of angry impulses. But even the ugliest movements have their pseudo-philosophers and their rationalizers.

And this where Claremont comes in: It is attempting to put a veneer of intellectual respectability on some of the darkest impulses of the right. It’s not at all surprising that Claremont was at the center of the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election….

Claremont’s drift into racism and authoritarianism has similarly not been subtle.

You can read the whole thing here.

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Idiocracy, Virginia update.

Via Rolling Stone.

What could have been a simple high school government lecture on civic duty and participation from a local congressman instead became a Covid-19 misinformation fest worthy of a primetime slot on Fox News.

Congressman Bob Good (R-Va.) encouraged a group of high school students to defy a statewide school mask mandate, and he spread lies about vaccines and how the virus spreads, the Rappahannock News reported.

“If nobody in Rappahannock complies [with the mask mandate], they can’t stop everyone,” Good told a Rappahannock County High School government class of approximately 20 students this week. “If I was ya’ll, I’d say none of ya’ll wear a mask. What are they gonna do? They’re still going to have school.”

Congressman Good is the QAnon-adjacent Republican who unseated Denver Riggleman in that bizarre drive-through caucus vote in 2020.

Denver had some thoughts yesterday:

**

This latest episode of idiocracy comes on the heels of this other one:

(Youngkin later tried to distance himself from the dumbf**kery, saying that it was “weird and wrong” to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to a flag flown at the pre-Insurrection rally.)

**

And then there is this:

I have questions. Lots of them.

But let’s just start here: arresting political foes, seizing property… what does that sound like to you? (Hint: not small government conservatism.)


Speaking of crazy.

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60 Million!

Some other news: Thank you to all of our podcast listeners! Last week we hit another milestone, passing 60 million downloads for the Bulwark podcast.

Make sure you also check out our other offerings, including Mona Charen’s excellent Beg to Differ and Sonny Bunch’s Bulwark Goes to Hollywood, and Sarah Longwell’s new podcast: the Focus Group. Bulwark+ members also have access to the Secret Podcast, The Next Level, and our Thursday Night Bulwark Livestreams. Please consider joining!

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We Get Mail

Another busy week, and tons of feedback, especially to this piece: “The Problem with the “Red Dog Democrat” Thing.”

Bulwark+ members can also leave comments on Morning Shots, and the feedback this week was — as you might expect — lively and diverse.

As usual, keep your rants, raves, darts, and laurels coming to cjaysykes@gmail.com.

**


Dear Charlie

I read your article, "The Problem with the 'Red Dog Democrat' Thing," and all I have to say is: "Seriously, Democrats?!!"

I'm sure that I have serious differences of opinion with many of the more conservative readers and contributors at Bulwark. And honestly, before 2016, those differences might have kept me from having any kind of solidarity with folks from the right. But times have changed, and I agree with many conservative Never-Trumpers that we continue to face an existential threat to our democracy.

This means it's long past time to end the finger-pointing over who enabled whom in the path towards where we are now. In your article, Charlie, you admit that you have past regrets. Well guess what? So do I, even though I might not have had nearly as big of an audience as you did. I look back at some of the bubbles I existed in, and some of the past comments I made, and I often conclude: "What the hell was I thinking?"

It seems to me that our pre-2016 differences have been a major cause of our political problems post-2016. And the very same Never-Trump conservatives that I had little in common with years ago are now the ones who give me hope for the future of this country.

So enough with the focus on who might have said what in the past, or who might have a position on a certain issue that doesn't exactly align with the rest of us. Instead, those of us fighting Trumpism should remind ourselves of the one thing we have in common: we have a democracy to keep.

Mark

Utah


Charlie

As a right-of-center man without a party I understand your antipathy toward the Democrats.  However we are engaged in an existential conflict and, whatever their issues, the Democrats are on the right side and the Republicans are - mostly - on the wrong side.  The allies might have beaten Hitler with out the Russians but it is far from certain and it would have take many more years and many more lives.  

Until the democracy is safe and the authoritarians are sent back to their corner, the alliance with Dems is the best option and we just have to put up with the BS.  Let's put on our big boy pants and take the long view.  It is a small price to pay.

Bill


I just listened to the podcast from Monday titled "Our Divided America" and found it truthfully worrisome.  What baffles me every day is that anyone would think making America great would include more lies, division, and even civil war. 

 The lady that spoke at the Trump rally is not going to "take it anymore".  How about the rest of us that have to sit and listen to them tear our country apart, lie, and spread hate. The MAGA world refuses to listen to any media that is not telling them election lies and making them fearful of everything.   

I just do not understand how a big part of the Republican party can not listen to any truth and reason.  The MAGA population is literally allergic to truth, rational thinking, and civility.  At this point, they have to actually want to be lied to.  I wish there was some way that more Republican voters were hearing hard truths every day instead of constant gaslighting. 

They not only will not listen to people like Adam Kinzinger, Liz Cheney, Chris Krebs, or anyone with any reason right now, they want them thrown out of the party for doing the right things.  I am very thankful that there are people such as yourself that are trying to get people to see reason with honest reporting.  

Amanda


I would agree that there are a number of Democrats who are only willing to engage with Republicans who completely renounce everything they have ever believed in.

Luckily, not all Democrats feel that way, although it's extremely tough for those moderate voices to get any attention in the media or inside the party.

I am a Democrat who considers the "Trump really won in 2020" movement to be an existential threat to the country. But I don't think we need non-Trumpy Republicans to convert to our cause. I would just be happy if more Republicans (particularly elected ones) were as brave in public as they claim to be in private conversations.

Honestly, I miss the old-school Reagan Republicans. I disagreed with a lot of the policies - and I think some of them have turned out to be disasters for the country. But I miss feeling as if my conservative opponents held beliefs that were grounded on core values and not the whims of a former President. Back in the day, I used to do regular shows with a Christian conservative talker and while we didn't agree on much, we both learned a lot. 

There is something to be said for being exposed to other political beliefs, especially if you don't agree with them.

Best,

Rick Ellis


Hello Charlie-

I'm a Democrat. I think you made some valid points in your Red Dog Democrat article. 

I know NTers are still conservatives, but they put saving our democracy first. I understand you will not agree with some of my ideas, but that's part of living in a democracy. 

Can I say something?  Historians say FDR saved capitalism. He saved capitalism by solving problems (Social Security, jobs programs, etc) and by messaging (his fireside chats). Today people talk about saving democracy. In your book "How The Right Lost Its Mind" you talk about the angry white male and how many people didn't ask if he had a reason to be angry. As you know, millions of people were left behind by globalization and automation. 

Is it possible to save our democracy by solving this problem?  How can we bring good jobs with benefits to people and communities left behind?  Is there a health care for all bill that won't break the bank?  If we don't solve these issues, won't people get angrier and won't that just produce more Trump's and more AOC's?? …

I'm a Democrat, so my ideas may be different from yours. There aren't enough progressives for us to solve these problems alone. There aren't enough conservatives for you to solve these problems alone. We are going to have to work together. 

Erich

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Charlie,

This flag at the VA GOP rally that they said the Pledge of Allegiance to that was supposedly 'used' at the Jan. 6 debacle: used by whom? Was it brought into the Capitol from the outside or was it a US Capitol flag that one of them grabbed inside? Was it used to assault any cops? When the insurrectionists exited, did they leave it lying on the floor there, or did some take flags with them, either their own or the Capitol's? If so, did anyone check it for fingerprints? Is it in fact an item of evidence to be used in any criminal trials? And if it is, how did VA GOP get its hands on it?

Just wondering here, though maybe the assertion that it was 'used' on 1/6 is just bullshit & it's just a plain old flag from their stockroom. Anyone test it for bloodstains?

Imagine our surprise if they're just making this up.

Have a great day,

Jane
Clarkston GA


This is no angry email about your pessimistic view of the Democrat's, or Biden's upcoming prospects. 

I'm not angry about your assessment. Your logic is solid. 

I think you could end up being mistaken, however.

I feel like there is a pretty good chance there will be a deal. 

It is nail biting. I won't deny that. 

It is as if the Democrats are "the" two parties...jockeying, positioning, bargaining. You know, the way it used to be?

Only thing is, the real "other" party is absent. It's like they are uselessly consuming needed oxygen or something. 

Larry


Apparently, the Trump base will keep on doing what it does best . My real question is how far independents will go to crazytown as opposed to how many will continue to leave insanity behind them.  I don't think this spells anything good for 2022 but for the 2024 election, I suspect a real difference. Trump now wants public declarations from candidates that he was robbed or he'll essentially campaign against them.  Yowzer!
 
The trouble with that is how many people will continue to maintain Biden as the sane standard bearer. I don't currently think that Harris is going to be attractive enough to beat trump although I thought she would be a shoo-in last year.  Politics don't seem to be based in policy anymore. It seems based in tribal rituals and being a woman running for president is pretty ritualistic based on past experience.  So, I really do worry. I expect Biden to be impeached for no good reason by a republican house in one year. It strikes me that the service of justice on Trump needs to be "Right Now" or the whole thing will get stalled into oblivion. I certainly hope I'm wrong. 
 
Pete VanderLaan
Chocorua
New Hampshire


Hi Mr. Sykes,

I am sorry to have read about your experience today with the Republicans for Biden event.  I honestly don’t know how people can be so stubborn as to not let bygones be bygones.  I am from Wisconsin, grew up on a farm near the Dane/Iowa county line, I’ve lived here my whole life.  What I am trying to say is I understand the bitterness people feel here.  I come from a family of rural Democrats (used to be a relatively common thing) but I myself have voted Republican a few times in the past but probably not much for the foreseeable future.

I remember Act 10 and when the bitterness really started, I saw the protests in person and walked through the capital rotunda one night as they were at full force.  I did sign the recall Walker petition and never once voted for him…I couldn’t stand him to be honest.  I also couldn’t stand Ron Johnson and voted for Feingold both times that I could.

I have read about you and I know your history in our state and in the conservative movement, at least as relayed by google.  I can say I probably would have found you insufferable back then.  I do not begrudge you any of it and no one should.  You were fighting for ideas you believed in and you are clearly a man of principle.  I will never not support you and others like you despite what some on the left may say, they are simply wrong.

My wife and I now live in Poynette. A month or so back Lt. Governor Barnes was in Portage to talk about a book that the Portage Library Book Club had read on race in America.  In the article, carried by the Portage Daily Register, he was quoted saying something to the effect that those who deny that systemic racism exists are themselves being “sociopathic” and “racist” simply through the denial.  I’m not saying systemic racism doesn’t exist, but that kind of language and shutting down of the conversation will not fly well in rural Wisconsin, or with swing voters generally.  I can already see the loosening grip the Democratic Party has on my rural but liberally inclined family.  I am personally terrified for the future if they continue down the path the far left has set them on.

I’m 34 years old, I haven’t seen a world not in turmoil since September 11th 2001.  I just want the future to be alright, I desperately want free society and democracy in America to survive.  My wife definitely falls into the category of “Red Dog”, I myself am more of a “blue” or “purple dog” sticking with the color theme, and we appreciate what you and the Bulwark folks are doing.  Those that won’t accept former conservatives and Republicans will eventually have to accept you or they will come to regret the fact that they didn’t.  Those are just the cold hard facts of the situation we are in.  Keep up the good fight.

All the best,

David


Charlie,

First and foremost, thank you for being an absolute lifeline to sanity for me over the past 18 months. I am a Texas suburban mom surrounded by Trumpers and Anti-Anti Trumpers. It's an exhausting environment and the Bulwark podcasts/newsletters have been a respite for me.  Since you highlighted my town in your newsletter this morning, I decided it was finally time to send you a note.


Sometimes I think the Bulwark people are the only people who understand me. On one podcast, Tim Miller described me to a T. Voted for Evan McMullin, Beto O'Rourke, and Biden, but still wouldn't call myself a Democrat. The Republicans continue to make an excellent case every day for me to do so, but there are some fundamental Democratic ideas I can't get behind. At this point, it's just crazy vs non-crazy. Again, thank you for understanding.

I intended to write about Afghanistan weeks ago, but that now seems like ancient history.   I was going to say that I don't hear anyone talking about Afghanistan except my 75 year old father who watches Fox News 24/7. Most of the fellow moms, of like mind, are consumed with the everyday worry of sending their kids to school in a maskless environment. It's amazing to see accomplished, educated people turn their back on science and tempt fate like this.  Do I think any of these people care about Afghan interpreters when they don't care about fellow Americans? No, I don't. I don't see Afghanistan playing any kind of role in the midterms. It's a tragedy, but it's not going to move many, if any, voters. 


Some things I think will have an impact (but obviously these too could fade quickly from memory) are the labor shortage and women's rights. On the labor shortage, I am hearing A LOT of people blaming the labor shortage on the eviction moratorium and the pandemic unemployment. I don't think this bodes well for the Democrats.

There is a perceived link between the job shortage and the Democrats being socialist. The job shortage is real. For example, my kids' school bus driver was out with Covid last month and there were not enough substitute bus drivers in our school district so I had to drive my kids to/from school for the two weeks. Working parents scrambled to cover carpools.  Most of the parents around here are blaming the "workers who will stay home to collect unemployment" instead of the no-mask policy that may have led to his illness.  I have heard repeatedly that the pandemic unemployment is the reason "the lines are longer at Starbucks and why they can't hire more people at doggie daycare". I could not make this stuff up.  Real or not, this is the link people are making and I fear it will change some swing voter minds.


On the flip side, what is happening with abortion rights in Texas could drive women to the polls for Democrats in record numbers.  A lot of us may be personally anti-abortion, but realize that the government doesn't have a role in making medical decisions.  The women I know are upset and animated by this and I never knew their stance on abortion before. I think this could be an issue that a lot of conservative women break with their husbands, but not until they get into the voting booth. 
Lastly, I would like to offer to volunteer for any campaign in which Sarah Longwell would run for public office. We need more people like her to step forward and run. 


Thanks again,

Ashley

Southlake, TX 


And Even More…

I understand all the concern about the moves the GOP is making regarding voting etc., as well as the potential threats to Democracy.  However, as a counter view, I am not entirely sure how large a threat these moves are.

The one, major point, that many in the press overlook (and I do understand the Press made HUGE amounts of money off Trump, and that controversy sells), is that the GOP is a shrinking party.  Not only have they driven away "classic" GOP members, suburban women, etc, they are also killing off their most dedicated supporters.  In the end, 85% of 25 million is still smaller than 50% of 50 million.

Beyond that, the crazies are ascendant in the GOP, and they do the extreme crazy to win in the primary.  However, can they win in the General.  Do you honestly think Abbot will be reelected?  The GOP will run wacko Candidates, and one REALLY needs to wonder if anyone outside the hardcore GOP will vote for them and their extreme positions.

Lastly, as to the state GOP overturning the elections.  In most cases, they would have to say, fuck it, we don't like the results, and so we are going to throw them out and pick who we want.  It would be a 50-50 toss up as to whether the SCOTUS would allow that to happen.

I do however, have complete faith in the greed and selfishness of our Billionaire Overlords.  At the point of the GOP tossing out results, the Oligarchy would step in to stop it.  They would undoubtably realize that if the GOP were willing to stage a coup, they could come after them and their money.  The GOP has already hinted at sanctioning 'disloyal" corporations, so the fear would be reasonable.

So, while I am not optimistic about the future of America, I am not entire freaked out as much of the press/punditry seem to be.

Thanks, and keep up the great work.

George R. King, Ph.D.


Hello Mr. Sykes,

I write to you today in the hopes that I can respond to the issue you raised today in your newsletter regarding the criticism you and other members of the Never Trump crowd are receiving from the left.

Before I begin, however, I should disclose that my sympathies lie with the Democratic Party, and that I have advocated for Democratic policies even before the Trump-era began. I supported Democratic candidates because I believe a progressive system of taxation will promote the circulation of funds throughout our economy in a manner that is more efficient than a system that works under the assumption of trickle down economics; because I do not believe that life begins at conception and that women should be able to have the final say regarding decisions about their reproductive rights; and because I believe that racism has plagued our society since the time of our founding, and while there is no one right answer as to how to solve that problem, the GOP seems to have all the wrong ones.

But if I have one belief that supercedes all others, it is that I know that I do not possess a perfectly right answer to every problem that currently plagues our country.

The idea behind the First Amendment--and the substantial safeguards it gives to core political speech--is that by allowing a broad discussion over matters of state and society, we can enlighten ourselves by juxtaposing our ideals against competing theories, and then ultimately reach a more refined conclusion. Justice Holmes articulated this concept in a far more eloquent way than I have done here, and in doing so, created the basis for our modern understanding of free expression:

"But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.”

By incorporating itself not in the Democratic Party but rather the broader pro-democracy movement that understands that Democratic governance is the only vehicle by which we can advance the idea of self-government, the Bulwark--and Never Trumpers in general--continues that proud American tradition by offering our movement the chance to test the validity of its theories and beliefs against competing proposals and ideas. To view the inclusion of Never Trump individuals into our ranks as simply a marriage of convenience would be a mistake; aside from allowing us to defeat a man whose defining feature was his signature blend of ignorance, incompetence, and cruelty, the addition of Never Trumpers provides us with more ideological diversity that will ultimately result in a more refined understanding of key political issues. This benefit is especially important now, as our ability to repel the far-right authoritarian movement that is the modern GOP is dependent on building as broad a coalition as possible. Refining our arguments through repeated discussions and debates will yield the dual benefit of better policies and broader political appeal. 

I should admit that I did not always feel this way in the past. I frequently rejected conservative arguments on fiscal and social policy because I believed both in the superiority of the Democratic agenda and the fact that conservative arguments were made in bad faith by political actors who put their own interests above the needs of their fellow Americans. What differentiates our Never Trump allies from the broader conservative movement, however, is that I believe that they are acting in good faith to better the country we all call home….

In other words, my fellow Democrats, I ask that we do not succumb to those traits that have consumed the GOP: the hubris to believe that only one opinion can be correct, that policy is black and white, but never gray, and to view those with different opinions as enemies. 

The fate of our democracy--and with it our ability to speak freely on matters of public concern, our right to choose our representatives, and the liberty to check actions against those interests at the ballot box--hinges on us remaining free of those traits in order to advance the idea of self-government across one of the most ideologically diverse coalitions in American history. 

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely, 

Michael Alexander