Before we start: Come hang out with me tomorrow night at Thursday Night Bulwark. I’ll be joined by Bill Kristol, Tim Miller and guest Laura Field. We’ll talk about her giant, definitive piece on the Claremont Institute and if you have questions, you can ask her in the chat.
As always, TNB is only for members of Bulwark+. If you haven’t signed up yet, this is a great time to come and be part of something cool.
1. “Ally?” “No, not Ally.”
Remember Single White Female? It’s one of those little iconic thrillers from the ‘90s about a woman named Ally who posts a classified ad looking for a roommate. Hedra answers and the two become fast friends. Until Hedra starts trying to take over Ally’s life and assume her identity. And kill her.
Well, we’ve reached the point in 2024 where Ron DeSantis has cut and dyed his hair and if Donald Trump isn’t freaked out, he should be.
Have a look at this:
Yup. That’s a flag you can buy from the DeSantis online shop. Maybe put it on your boat. You know, when you take it out for a parade.
I WISH I HAD YOUR LIFE, DONNIE!
Where have you seen this design before? Hard to put your finger on it . . .
Now, there is a lot of Trump merch out there, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the genuine stuff from the knock offs. That flag above there is sold at Wal-Mart, so I assume it’s authentic. But you never know. The design elements on Trump merch are always in motion.
Here’s the flag that Trump is selling right now on his official site:
You see the subtle differences, yes? No vertical red rules to complete the rectangle. Three stars instead of five. Slightly different fonts and kerning.
But when you look at the branding DeSantis is using, it’s clearly the Trump house style. So much so, that I wondered if DeSantis is paying licensing fees for it.
I’m kind of shocked that Trump would be okay with DeSantis infringing on his mark like this if he wasn’t being compensated. I would have thought he’d reserve the brand identity solely for Trump family members.
If Trump isn’t going to protect his mark, will other Republican candidates use his house style for their campaign branding?
Are we heading toward a world where MAGA candidates distinguish themselves by having their logos all done in the style of the Trump brand? Like little local franchises?
It’s an appealing idea, from a graphic design view. As Hannah Yoest said to me, “All branding is about giving people recognizable sign posts to guide them towards a sense of belonging or exclusion.” Putting “DeSantis” in Trump style is the easiest possible way to tell voters who you are.
This is Josh Mandel’s home page. Look at how hard he’s working to signal to his audience that he’s the true Trump champion in the Ohio Senate race.
That’s a lot of images and a lot of text with no single, unifying mark.
Why not just throw “MANDEL” into a blue rectangle, put thin red lines around the border, add three stars, slug “Fight for America First” at the bottom, and tell J.D. Vance
Something else Hannah said really stuck with me: “It’s extra rich that Trump’s style was born in the commercial market and was originally suited for branding hotels and wines and steaks and not political identity.”
2. What Rad-Trads Want
Last week, the American Conservative published what might be the most grotesque piece I’ve seen in years: An argument that the Catholic residential schools in Canada were good.
If you haven’t been following this story from up north, the thumbnail version is this:
More than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend the institutions from the 1870s until the late 1990s, and many were abused physically and sexually, forced to learn English and violently prevented from practising their cultural traditions and languages.
This ugly period is in the news because ground scans performed by Canada’s First Nations have found a large number of unmarked graves where children who died at these “schools” were buried.
And the detail you need most is that in many cases, these children were forcibly taken from their parents.
But the American Conservative says that you’ve got to break a few eggs if you want to make some baptisms happen.
Anyway, my friends J.D. Flynn and Ed Condon wrote a response to this monstrosity and I don’t want you to miss it. Here’s the key point, though:
To pretend that coercive residential schools were an unqualified source for good, while they decimated cultures and families, is not only unjust, and not just uninformed. It betrays the fundamental principle of the Church’s missionary impulse:
The messengers of Christ suffer for the conversion of those to whom they preach, not the other way around.
This episode reminds me of another bit of tradenning from a few years back when First Things ran a piece on the Mortara incident, in which a Jewish child was secretly baptized by his nanny and subsequently kidnapped by the authorities so that he could be raised as a Catholic.
First Things defended this practice.
Put these pieces together with the rad-trad fetish for Donald Trump and “integralism” and what do you have?
Well, there’s a thru-line: A thirst for authority.
The same authoritarianism which attracts the rad-trads to Trumpism is what they love about Catholicism. When they look at the Church, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Divine Mercy—all that stuff is just window-dressing. What gets them all tingly and excited is the magisterium and the dogma, papal authority and the idea that, if the right person was put in charge, he could just . . . fix everything.
This strong man tells people what to do. And then the people—especially the people the rad-trads do not like—well, they’d have to do it. Because it’s the Church!
That’s what these guys love about Catholicism and it’s why they’re in thrall to Trumpism, too.
The love affair between our budding theocrats and the most hedonistic, amoral, irreligious president in American history is not a contradiction.
On the contrary: It’s all of a piece.
Fantastic essay in the new Believer:
Survivor Jane is not what I expected. Her auburn hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and her lips are painted tomato red. She wears a khaki button-down shirt, fitted cargo pants, and sturdy leather work boots snug on her petite frame. Survivor Jane steps out from the podium to hype us. She has the swagger of a woman still glowing in her fifteen minutes of fame from being featured on a 2015 episode of the National Geographic Channel’s “Doomsday Preppers” along side her husband, Rick “The Survivalist Gardener” Austin.
In her perky rural drawl, Survivor Jane cheers, “You’re ready, right? For when the SHTF (shit hits the fan)?” This is the first session of Prepper Camp, founded by Jane and Rick who are hoping to save the world one ill prepared soul at a time. Their website promises that Prepper Camp “is a total immersion event in preparedness, survival, camp craft, off-grid living, and homesteading skills.”
A burly man dressed head-to-toe in camouflage sits in the tent’s front row and yells ‘yes!’ Jane high fives him. The rest of us, twenty would-be preppers on folding chairs sinking into the mud, halfheartedly nod. “Now,” Jane challenges, “You turn off all your electricity and electronics and spend a weekend holed up in your homestead.” No one cheers at this. “You’ll learn a lot. About yourself. About what you need and don’t. About what you’re willing to do.”
My parents are seated two rows in front of me. Mom is taking notes. Dad has his arms crossed over his chest and hides behind his sunglasses. I’m attending Prepper Camp as research for my next novel; Mom and Dad are actual preppers. I don’t yet know how seriously they are taking their stockpiling but Dad told me how easy it is to build a false bottom in his truck with cases of beer and enough food, water, and tools to shelter in place for months. Mom catalogs their food stores and regularly rotates canned goods. She wishes I would do the same and worries I won’t be ready.
Don’t forget: Big Thursday Night Bulwark tomorrow where Laura Field will talk about the Claremont Institute and the fall of conservative intellectualism.
Only for members of Bulwark+.