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It’s been a busy week, so ICYMI:
The Right Sours On Freedom (Bulwark+)
This week (as usual) we got lots of mail.
Have thoughts, feedbacks, laurels, darts? Feel free to write me at email@example.com.
As you can see, the Bulwark community is diverse, thoughtful, engaged, passionate, and often eloquent.
By the way…
At The Bulwark, we’re not afraid to say we’ve been wrong. We’re happy to learn and grow and—brace yourself—change our minds.
We only ask that you’re willing to go along in the process with us. You won’t always agree with us. We don’t always agree with each other. We don’t even always agree with ourselves over time.
And that’s liberating.
Join us. Be wrong sometimes. Be right in the long run. Be free.
We Get Mail
I am an avid Bulwark reader and listener. I devote a portion of each day to reading and listening to you and the other Bulwark contributors and guests. I see, hear and feel your concern for the direction of the Republican Party and for the future of democracy in America. Your discussions are lucid, rational and thorough in describing the state of our nation. I am not as eloquent nor as knowledgeable as you and the other Bulwark folks or your guests but I have an important question, or maybe it’s a plea. Other than discussing our current plight, informing and educating us, what are you and the other Bulwarkers actually doing about it? What specific actions are you taking or could you take to change the dangerous course we are on?
You and others in your group have the attention of many, many concerned citizens and you have credibility. Isn’t there a way to change what is now just discussion and concern into concrete action to oppose the direction in which we are headed?
Good question. You might want to start here:
The folks from Principles First have some thoughts for the House GOP. You can sign their open letter here. (I did.)
Facts don’t care about House Republicans’ feelings. The election was not stolen; Donald Trump did not win; and the terrorists who attacked our Capitol on January 6th were not peaceful. They deserve no space or apology in American life. Liz Cheney knows that – and any Republican who votes to remove her from House leadership tells the world that the truth doesn’t matter.
We are calling on every member of the House Republican Conference to do three things:
MAKE THE VOTE ON LIZ CHENEY PUBLIC so that your constituents can see where you stand on these critical issues of truth, honor, and our constitutional republic.
PUBLICLY ANNOUNCE YOUR PERSONAL SUPPORT for Liz Cheney continuing her role in House leadership, especially if the conference vote is held in secrecy.
CONDEMN THE BIG LIE. Once and for all, disown the tyranny of lies that led to the tragic events of January 6th and which continues to poison our constitutional republic.
If you fail to do any of the above, the American people can and should assume that you have no respect for facts, no respect for truth, and no respect for our constitutional republic.
Thank you for being; even when it hurts! I am an ex-Pat American living in UK; but never giving up my citizenship so only a ‘resident’ here. So I still vote in USA. Because in early 2020 the UK NHS told me I was “clinically extremely vulnerable” to the pandemic, not only did I masochistically follow the entire pre-election debacle with Trump’s narcissistic rage and rampage, but have been locked in 15 months from Covid as well. And in my early days in states I was very active politically. Enrolled as an Independent, I have have never voted Republican. Am now 83.
Yet somehow Liz Cheney’s heart and guts have caught my empathetic reaction. What can we do to help her be recognised as a strong and determined DEMOCRATIC woman among both calloused and cringing men of that Tea Party party? She deserves so much more than being abused by a narcissistic, unbalanced, greedy, lying creep of a man (as our last quote “president “ has revealed himself to be) along with his apparently narcotized swarm of demented sycophantic buzzards!
Thanks for your article about Liz. What may I do to HELP her fight those swarms of self serving wasps?
Very truly yours,
If the Republicans in the house dump Liz Cheney, from then on they have no grounds for complaining about "cancel culture", since they're cancelling one of their members with the most personal integrity.
Just a couple of things:
Today's podcast with Denver Riggleman was really, really fun. This one was a real "keeper." You guys are a real hoot.
The Bulwark+ Livestream was also outstanding. It's hard to nail exactly what made it so good so I'll just chalk it up to the group's chemistry. But whatever it is, keep it up.
Keep up the great work!
We Get More Mail
I wonder if the message to the Republican base shouldn't be;
"You were reasonably and understandably pissed off when you were called "deplorable" - the assumption being that because of certain elements amongst Trump supporters (white supremacists, avowed racists, tin-hat conspiratorialists, etc.) that all Trump supporters could be painted with that brush. I don't think all Trump supporters are "deplorable" - but I do think you're dullards. You are willfully blind to his hypocrisy, his inability to speak the truth and insistence that others join him in promoting and believing falsehoods, his willingness to throw anyone under the bus when and if it suits him to do so.
“You have sold your allegiance to a grifter and con-man who sucks up to tyrants because he lacks vision, integrity, or a spine. He will turn on you also, and it is for that reason that your continued worship of him personally makes you out to be a fool. You profess yourself to be wise, but you are a fool following a fool.
“You are not deplorable, but worse."
This is the first time I've emailed you. I LOVE your podcast and enjoyed today's show with David Frum. I did an internet search about the book "The importance of what we care about" that you mentioned. I noticed that this book includes the essay "On Bullshit" with which I was familiar and was later published as a book under the same name. There is a recent article from Esquire by Jack Holmes called "America's Bullshit Tolerance Is Reaching Dangerously High Levels," and it deals with similar themes as "On Bullshit."
As a side note, I'm 34 and was raised in Seattle in a home by Catholic, New Deal liberal parents. I am a devout Catholic and consider myself to be a pro-life-for-the-whole-life, center-left, moderate Democrat. (I've never voted for a Republican president). I say all of this because I would love to hear you give more warnings (on the podcast, in articles, or in Morning Shots) to Democrats about repealing the Hyde Amendment. I have complex but overall pro-life-for-the-whole-life views on abortion, and fear that a push by Democrats to repeal the Hyde Amendment could doom the Democrats in the 2022 election. Any such push is, in all likelihood, doomed to fail in the Senate with the filibuster in place, but I fear that the blowback to such a push would be really severe and could doom Democrats, particularly with rural voters, with whom they need to improve their margins, and voters in swing districts.
Michelle Harn Richardson
I am a democrat and a big fan of the work you guys do at The Bulwark.
I must ask a question that I think deserves an answer from the Never Trumpers, whom again I think of as allies and friends of the cause of democracy.You say in your newsletter this morning, "No stranger to bad takes, the NYT’s Charles Blow argues that all-conservatives-are-evil-especially-Cheneys so we shouldn’t think of her heroic stand as heroic." of Charles Blow.I do not believe all conservatives are evil, but we do have to ask this question. What do we do with all of their bad behavior before January 6th?
January 6th was an awful incident, I understand why Kinzinger or Cheney would want to denounce it and those who instigated it. However, January 6th was not an isolated incident. It was very much in line with everything Trump had done to sow doubt in our electoral system.
Trump was doing that in 2016 with nary a peep from Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger or Denver Riggleman (again, three people I admire and respect). It appears to me, in Riggleman's case, his heel turn took place after losing his primary, not due to his having an "integrity gene" and not a "self preservation gene" as he put it. None of these three people voted in favor of Trump's first impeachment, which as an intelligence officer, Riggleman should've known was richly deserved. Alexander Vindman seemed to understand that.
Accountability has to exist for these people too. I think it's something worth asking these people the next time they're on your show. Ignoring someone's faults just because they're on our side is how we got into this tribal mess in the first place. Again, these people are standing up when others won't, as an American I'm grateful for that.
And my issue with these three isn't based on their stances on issues. My issue is that there were times when they missed the call for bravery too, and that shouldn't be forgotten.Thanks for reading, I can't overstate how much I enjoy the work of The Bulwark.
-Mac D., Toledo, OH
Really enjoyed JVL/Sarah then Charlie/Tim podcasts and want to share an observation as a 68 year old, former Republican, retired teacher, Texan related to those podcasts, and in particular the “small corner” Tim referred to regarding the Republican party stances.
In canvassing for my congressman Colin Allred (swing district north part of Dallas) in 2018 and 2020, when I’d get a Republican “hard no,” I heard three unnuanced justifications: 1) They are Christians, so no abortion. 2) No one is going to take their guns. 3) Police deserve our support. None of those positions have any gray area. At all. No abortion—period. Any gun, any time, no restrictions—period. No criticism of police actions—period.
With these positions, all at no wiggle room level, the Republican party, at least in Texas, has indeed painted itself into a small corner. There is no thinking through those three positions, as they are simple to say and require no additional, complex thought. Decision made.
This is why Republicans will command, over time, a smaller and smaller electorate, because the next generation coming up sees a broader world. My children are having families. Should they be faced with the unimaginable—continuing a pregnancy that will result in an unsustainable life of pain—it should not be that their government will mandate how they handle that awful situation. Yet Texas is passing laws to take control of that decision with the simplistic solution of no abortions, period. We are gun owners, but my state is preparing to pass a law for permit-less carry—we’re increasing the numbers of people carrying guns as we go about our daily lives. This is not a wholesome community culture. We support our police, too, but the generation younger than mine knows firsthand that not everyone has had the same experiences with police that they may have had—our kids’ social groups are much more diverse than mine was at their age. Police departments have work to do.
So, I will tell you that for that next generation, young professionals, they feel that in Texas we’re going backwards in time. The Republican party appears to be a party for which those three values above outrank concern about outcomes like rape victims being forced to carry pregnancies to term, being the #1 state for gun violence, occasional bad outcomes for citizen-police interactions. Those are clearly consequences they are willing to accept.
This just seems tone deaf, because it is, and that’s why my family and I have left the party. One final, most recent story, regarding permit-less carry. Polls show the majority of Texans do not support it. Police chiefs and police associations have urged the legislature not to pass it. The major state newspaper editorial boards have come out against it. But the governor and Republican legislature leaders want it so still plan to pass it. How do they justify that? Well, on 4/30, Governor Abbott declared that the “polls are rigged.”
Narrow minds. Simple positions. No desire to incorporate broader discussion or concerns.
Thanks again for the podcasts this week—they really hit the nail on the head.
Recently I heard you and Sarah Longwell discussing the Biden administration and the topic of bipartisanship came up. Both of you seem to agree that it's very important (not sure I agree) and both of you are really hopeful that we can get some. Sarah in particular is an inspiring optimist, please forward her my appreciation. I lean on people like her when I get despondent. I don't want to be a JVL.
Point is - when you both were talking about this, you both seem to suggest that bipartisanship is the responsibility of the Biden administration. It's possible that this is a knee jerk partisan criticism of them, which I can appreciate, it's probably very difficult to break that habit. But the entire premise of the Bulwark existence is that the current Republican party is insane and needs to be held accountable. How is it then that the Biden administration is supposed to operate in that environment? You both have little respect for anybody in the Republican Senate - which 10 of them do you think are going to buck the party line in order to give Biden a win on infrastructure? Mitch this week said - just like in 2010 - that the GOP is "100 percent" focused "on stopping" President Joe Biden's administration. They do not want anything to pass that voters might like. Zero. And Biden is supposed to find 10 members that will go against Mitch to get a reasonable bill?
Even the GOP counter proposal that was floated in April was 30% of what Biden was looking for in size, and it still only had 3 senators signed on. I'm willing to be that even if Biden called their bluff and offered a package that is 10% of the original ask, they wouldn't get 10 Senators (see: Mitch). And frankly, I don't want Biden to try that. It's a total trap to make bipartisanship some kind of holy grail to aspire to. Particularly since voters consistently say they don't care if it's bipartisan or not, and particularly since we actually have large infrastructure needs that need addressing. Getting a bill is more important than being bipartisan. Getting no bill in order to avoid a bill passed in reconciliation is just plain dumb. Let's not all die (collapsed bridge?) on the hill of bipartisanship.
I appreciate Sarah's optimism, and I appreciate that you both long for the "good ole days" when bipartisanship was common. But those good ole days were when exactly, a few votes in the Clinton administration? The Iraq war? I do think Biden should try to be bipartisan, which he has said repeatedly he prefers. If you want him to just accept the Republican offer from April, just say so. I think you know that number was way too low.
Put the blame where it belongs. Stop demanding that Biden deliver a bipartisan compromise when you know good and well Republicans won't play ball. Misplaced criticism actually undermines your perfectly valid criticism of Biden in other areas.
Keep up the great work!
I listened to your conversation with Robert Tracinski with interest, because I am one of the people who has been critical of Never Trumpers for “having built that”. I fully understand the argument about “crying wolf”, but I think in part this is a straw man. Not because I think you all are racists and fascists—that is clearly not the case. If you have read my prior letters, you know I am not a down-the-line liberal. But I have always recognized that elements of the Republican policy platform were, effectively, a bludgeon used against poor and brown people. The myth of “personal responsibility” was a weapon used against a class of people who, on average, work like dogs and are structurally prevented from reaping the rewards. When Limbaugh et. al showed up openly connecting old conservative tropes with race-baiting and xenophobia, a lot of people including me were not surprised—the connection had always been obvious, but we had been labelled paranoid for pointing it out.
Yes, it matters that many of you were not in fact racist or fascist. However, it also matters what comes next. For conservatism genuinely to shed the mantle of racism and fascism, it is going to have to come to terms with the actual costs of 40 years of Reaganism and the Friedman doctrine, which led directly to the awful, and worsening, disparities in our society today. I am not suggesting abandoning conservative ideals. I am suggesting that the doctrine needs to be updated to account for the real world.
And Even More…
As a liberal, I love the honest and thoughtful soul searching about what happened in the conservative movement and the Republican party. And I appreciate the challenge that real conservatism presents to the overreach on the liberal side. Government without good governance tends to lead to waste and failure and increased cynicism – probably a big contributor to how we got to where we are.
I especially appreciate the courage of Charlie Sykes as he asks how far the current craziness goes back, even if it goes back far enough to raise questions about his own endeavors. The conversation today with Peter Wehner touched on this as Wehner makes the point that one way of looking at the modern Republican party is that the likes of Richard Viguerie have won. Bingo.
Sometimes when asking the how-far-this-goes-back question, it seems Sykes is wandering in the wilderness, when the destination is right there. The conversation with Wehner today illustrates the blindspot. The Republican party like all parties is a coalition, in the case of the GOP, has always been in coalition with hateful culture warriors, especially since the southern strategy, disturbed at what a multicultural democracy means for them. The pattern of campaigning to those fears while delivering tax cuts for the rich goes very far back, and raises this question: could the conservative movement have ever really sustainably won elections without juicing those fears for turnout? Didn’t even the great Ronald Reagan kickoff his campaign in Philadelphia Mississippi thundering about states rights.
This wink and nod points to the fundamental dilemma of the Republican coalition. The conservative economic agenda has had its moments of popularity, but has failed to command a governing majority by itself. As the culture has moved on, the base of the party has had to rely more and more on steroid injections of ginning existential fear. At first it was relatively low key – the silent majority, the moral majority. Eventually it evolved to the total war of Newt Gingrich. Then attempts to soften and broaden – a thousand points of light, compassionate conservatism.
Through it all, the fact remains. Republican majorities in Congress were the exception since the New Deal until Gingrich, and only became common with the advent of total war ginning up existential fear. But what do we expect the outcome to be of decades of steroid injections – campaigning on fears but delivering – wait for it – tax cuts. There just is no governing majority for the conservative economic agenda. And given the choice between evolving that agenda (can you say national health service) and the drug, the party chose the drug.
There’s a reason the republican base rejected the autopsy from 2012 and chose Trump – the terror of permanent minority status with no end in sight. Reagan couldn’t win the Republican nomination, as Sykes rightly points out. But if he did, and he tried to resurrect the Reagan coalition, he would lose, by a lot. There are plenty of recipes for conservatives to win majorities in other western countries – they just involve a degree of self-awareness that seems to evade their US counterparts. Over the decades the country as a whole is moving on. Charlie Sykes and the rest of the Bulwark should too.
Noel C. Albertson
Loved the Thucydides quote you passed along from Prof. Muse (seemingly preordained by the fates to become a classics professor, with that name).
Ashame we're backing away from teaching history and the classics-- because as you and Sarah discussed yesterday, these are manifestations of the human condition, of group dynamics that can predominate in any time or place.
We saw it here in the US, in the run-up to invading Iraq.
It's quite striking how much the W. administration has been airbrushed from history. I don't think his name was mentioned in your discussion with Sarah, nor your interview with Peter Wehner from the day before. I'm sure you're sick of "I told you so's" on this from liberals; but we can't talk about and understand the Tea Party without considering what the Tea Partiers were doing during the W. era, when the man himself had been "the movement and the cause," per Bill Kristol.
Their sudden outrage about the deficits their party had created should have raised red flags from the outset, that the "Tea Party is the GOP base playing dress-up with old hats."
And that's what longitudinal polling found: "the Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today. ... They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do."
Which brings us to Paul Ryan.
Maybe you have the understanding that can only come with personal knowledge of the guy; and maybe my distance here lends itself to easy comment-thread cynicism more than useful perspective.
But, it seems to me, that for a guy who voted for all the stuff in the W. years that turned the Clinton surpluses into deficits, he was treated with an awful lot of unwarranted credulity in the Obama era.
He made his choice long ago, it appears from afar-- if resentful white populism was the only way to tilt the system to the wealthiest, then he'd ride it for all he could. And after the Tea Party era, he accomplished it, with the signature legislative achievement of the Trump years.
Your comment on Ryan yesterday that "history's not done with you" is depressing and revealing-- there are almost no Republican politicians who have History in mind as an audience. (Mitt Romney is the obvious exception; Liz Cheney might be working her way there).
Republicans' mental audience consists of Lachlan Murdoch, the few dozen people like him who fund the party and its think tanks, plus the people he pays and entertains.
Maybe you're right to think there's hope for Paul Ryan. But going from past history, I have none.
Thanks for reading.
Dear Mr. Sykes,
I read your Morning Shots article on Monday, and listened to your discussions with Peter Wehner, Joe Scarborough and Nicole Wallace the same day on the state of the Republican Party and the despair that you all feel (and we do too) of the continuous and deeper embrace of Trumpism post election- the non-acceptance of the election results, pushing aside of rational voices in the party, and the extreme rhetoric of the GOP politicians and right-wing media in propagating the Big Lie. You worry about the serious threats to democracy this poses, and rightfully so. I am not a political pundit, but if you think about it purely from the perspective of the struggle to regain power, it all seems to make sense. The last election was not a runaway for Democrats. Joe Biden won by a narrow margin in the electoral college votes and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are very narrow. The GOP politicians look at this and think that after all that happened in the last four years, including the disastrous pandemic response, a majority of Republican voters are still with Trump and the party. There is a good chance to regain power in the House and the Senate in 2022. Can they really manage to achieve that going agaiinst Trump? Even when they know in their hearts that Biden won fair, accepting that and speaking for democrcay and conservative values will not bring out Republican voters as much as propagating the Big Lie would, repeatdly telling the voters that the election was stolen from them and keeping the base angry enough to turn them out in large numbers.
The only way to turn this around is sound election defeat for Republicans and for Trumpism. Again now this rests with the Biden coalition of Democrats, Independents and right-minded Republicans coming together to win in 2022 and 2024, That depends on how well Biden governs, and hoping that unforeseen events and missteps are minimal and well-handled.
Thank you and please keep up your good work.
Geetha Srikrishna, Baltimore
The Bulwark is very good at identifying the rot that pervades the congressional GOP and the national party.
I only wish more could be done to identify the rot that has taken hold at the local and state legislative level.
Unfortunately, the reform Republicans may succeed at cutting off the head of the zombielike GOP that now predominates. However, the body may very well be there to regenerate.
For that reason, I wonder if the Republican Accountability Project is considering holding meetings across the country as COVID-19 diminishes to encourage readers not just to read and contribute to RAP and The Bulwark but to get involved in fighting to reform the party at the local levels. Bringing like-minded people together might
help create added synergy to challenge the Trump-minded local parties and their officials.
Admittedly, there is a risk because in bringing together a diverse element of people united in opposition, there may be an inability to achieve an overall consensus.
Nonetheless, I remember in the late 1970s and 19980s the great emphasis placed on training conservative activists. It was not just PAC money and TV advertising.
Perhaps the rubric of just getting a responsible opposition party will be enough. In any event, the RAP democracy ratings might be useful to be done at the state legislative level too.
To Charlie Sykes,
I was first introduced to you on the Weekly Standard. As a social libertarian and fiscally rational person, I’ve not had a clear party affiliation.
I’ve always appreciated rational discourse among people who do not agree or do not need to state whether they agree or not but can engage in the subject matter on an informed basis and intellectually consistent manner.
So I’ve followed you to the Bulwark and am a daily listener to your podcast. I’ve been impressed with your willingness to acknowledge your personal blind spots and where you may have gone off on a wrong tangent in the past. Something that’s hard for any of us to do and even more so to do it publicly.
I don’t always agree with you (that’s not the point) but can usually follow your line of reasoning which helps me see different sides to an argument minus the often vitriolic or mind numbingly deductive stance of “whatever opposes the other side”
Thus I’ve been somewhat puzzled and maybe chagrined to hear your thoughts on systemic racism since Biden was inaugurated. In particular, in the Friday’s episode with Tim Miller, you both lauded Biden’s response to “are Americans racist?” as being correct and on point and yet you criticized the usage and positioning of “systemic racism” as evidence of how the left are overstating it. So if racism in America is neither a product of its people nor an outcome of its institutions and system, where is it possibly be coming from? Also why does systemic racism seem to be such a hot button, almost like it’s a proxy to a veiled accusation that needs to be rejected at all costs? When housing laws, tax code, school funding and many other “systemic” pillars are biased against one group of people, isn’t it a factual statement to say the bias is systemic?
I think much of what non-white people experience in America is genuinely new and news to you and you are appalled by it at a deeply humane level, so clearly you acknowledge the extent of racism, yet you seem so resistant to the notion that racism is baked into the cake.
One of the things that has been revelatory to me in the time of Trump is how much the American narrative and media are intently focused on finding a reason for the Trump supporters that is sympathetic and respectable. It’s apparently ok to call a spade a spade except for when people, many of them white, are being racist or at a minimum accepting a grotesque level of racism to achieve whatever their stated goal may be. First it was economic insecurity (remember all the indignant news reports about how these hard-working, rule-following white people have been dealt an unfair hand and living with so much insecurity and their support of Trump was elite’s fault for not seeing and fixing the crisis already?), then it was about religious liberty, cultural insecurity, cities vs rural communities, judges, regulation, tone-deafness of others. Essentially, a veritable buffet of fill-in-the-blanks with anything so long as no one even hints at there being racism in play.
I am genuinely curious how you are thinking about this but either way, I enjoy your work and appreciate your steadfastness and sense of humor with which you treat the subjects.