The Best of The Bulwark in 2020

What a year...

This will not be a traditional Overtime. JVL kindly gave me the afternoons off for most of this week.

As I type this, I am editing a podcast. Mona Charen & Co.’s Beg to Differ. You’ll hear it tomorrow. It’s wonderful. We had a little snafu, but we prepared for it.

That’s been 2020 for The Bulwark, at least for me. Preparing. And I’m sure it’s quite similar for you. This was an historic (and I hate that phrase) year. Every year is historic. Some more than others, but this is one we’ll remember more than most.

I’ve been to our Bulwark offices once since the beginning of February. And it was to pick up a desktop computer (that I’m using now) that wasn’t being used. I remember the last time, the end of the “before times” when I last commuted into our office. I wrote about it in this newsletter.

We used to record a lot of these podcasts in person. No more. COVID has changed many things about how we live and work, and many of these will last for decades.

There was a teenaged barista at the coffee shop at the VRE/Amtrak station at the Quantico Marine Corps Base. The news was on in the background, and as she prepared my drink, I remarked to her that this was going to be her generation’s 9/11. She was too young for 9/11, and asked why.

I told her that this will change everything, like 9/11 did for my generation. Not just with air travel, but for every day life. I probably sounded like a lunatic. But I wasn’t wrong. In our pages, JVL has made predictions that earned him a lot of ire from the anti-anti-Trump right, mainly comparing COVID-19 to Vietnam, which is way more intense of a comparison to 9/11.

Sadly, Jonathan was more than right about that. And those who thought the comparison was bad have been awfully quiet in the last eight months.


While it has been a good year for us… It has been a bad year for the country, our democracy, its institutions, and the Republican party. That’s been the case for a lot of people in 2020: some have thrived, others have experienced death, depression, and scars that won’t disappear for years, if ever. We’ve been extremely lucky, and we have you to thank for it.

I know I say “thank you” to our subscribers when I make membership appeals in my newsletter each day, and please know they’re genuine. But they’re also midwestern thank yous. They can be both heartfelt and come as a matter of course. Almost like a Canadian saying “Sorry.” (And to our Canadian readers, sorry. But you know it’s true.)

I wanted to highlight some of my favorite things we did this year, things that you read, shared with your friends, and supported financially. We appreciate when you read, but we know it does take some sacrifice to share some of what we write with your family and friends. Because it might piss them off. We’re all in this together.

But most importantly, my extended thank you is for those who have supported us financially, before or after we launched our Bulwark+ membership program. Times are really tough, and our readers come from all walks of life, parts of the country and world, and a lot of people are hurting. Including many of you that I’ve talked to.


In the past few days where I haven’t written a newsletter… We have published a lot of great stuff. Too much to even list here. And we’ve had some fantastic podcasts, too.

If I listed it all out, your email service provider would probably send it directly to spam. So I’m not going to do that. Instead, I am going to share some of my favorite items we’ve run this year, and some of my favorite podcasts.

ITEMS

There are a lot more. And the good news is that the items we run on our website are free. Please poke around through the archives if you’re not an OG Bulwark reader.

PODCASTS

A lot of my time is spent working on our podcasts. In the two years we’ve been doing The Bulwark as you’ve come to know it, Charlie Sykes has hosted over 500 episodes, and gotten 29 million downloads. Some people couldn’t believe it two months in that we got a million downloads. If they weren’t conspiratorial attention seekers, I wouldn’t blame them.

One of the things we learned, pretty quickly, is that when we weren’t leashed by shortsighted corporate overlords who only wanted podcasts to promote our internal work, is that your numbers flourish. I did podcasts with Charlie at TWS, and also with predecessors of his, and we never got numbers like these. But that’s because Charlie is a natural talent with a keen eye for episode ideas that people want to listen to.

Our most popular podcast was Bill Kristol on Trump’s end game. It was a barn burner, getting triple the number of listens we usually get.

Another personal favorite was Tom Nichols coming on to explain why we should shame the fanatics. This is not a popular take, but it’s one we here at The Bulwark agree with. And it’s been a large ingredient in our success. Periodically, I hear from people who are mad that we use curse words on our podcast. I get it. But another reason for the success of our website (and our podcast) is that if somebody is being an asshole, we’re going to say that they’re being an asshole. People appreciate honesty.

Mark Salter came on to talk about his relationship with John McCain, and it remains one of my must listens.

Also, is JVL on the problem of Anti-Anti-Trumpism on the right. One thing that separates us from our competitors is some of them want to pretend now that Trump is on his way out the door, things will snap back to normal. They will not. And talking about the fence sitters who called balls but not strikes bear a lot to blame. They hope that by not taking a definitive side, maybe that’ll work out for them. Consider me skeptical.

Outside of the Anti-Anti-Trump crowd, there’s a cadre of Never Trump or Trump Skeptical types who recognize “Yes, Orange Man Bad” but question: Do we have to burn down the rest of the party who enabled this? Where do you draw the line? Of course, it varies for everyone, but we’ve been lucky to have our friends Matt Lewis from The Daily Beast and David French from The Dispatch on to talk about where reasonable people might differ.

One of the things that makes our podcast great is that we’ve cultivated a great listener base, and a cast of regulars who enjoy coming on. Whether it’s Josh Kraushaar, David Priess, Kim Wehle, A.B. Stoddard, Jon Allen, our staff, or many of the 180+ guests we’ve had. They’ve made the time and we appreciate them very much.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Beg to Differ… which is one of our free podcast offerings. (I can’t link to the ones in the Bulwark+ zone, sorry.)

One of my favorite guests this year was former Ambassador Eric Edelman, who came on to talk about how Trump was putting his thumb on the scale to mess with the DoD even after he knew that he lost.

Another was Peter Wehner, who has been a keen observer of the madness in the GOP with far more sober analysis (and less bitterness than myself), and one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet.


It’s hard to pick your favorites… From 350+ podcasts, and nearly 800 items. Or 800 or so newsletters.

Rather than a membership appeal, which you’ve gotten (I think you know how to join Bulwark+ at this point without me throwing down a red button…) I just want to reiterate how thankful we are for all of you.

As you know, we don’t have ads. We rarely reach out with a donor appeal (other than today, but it is the last day of the year.) But in the two years of our existence, which we didn’t even know for how long we’d keep this concern going, you’ve been there for us.

You’ve shared our work, donated, wrote us emails, become our friends and pen pals, disagreed without being disagreeable, and we’ve built a little digital community that spans the ideological divide.

If you’ve read this far, please know that I am thankful for you, your friendship, and your support of what we’re doing. If our little experiment failed, I wasn’t worried about what I’d do next. Maybe I’d work at a grocery store or breed West Highland Terriers. Quickly after we started The Bulwark, I knew what we were doing was different, and I was confident that it would endure.

But that you’ve helped us keep speaking our truth, even when you disagree, means the world to us.

Thank you.

We’ll see you in 2021.

—Jim Swift