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David French: It’s a Cult

November 28, 2023
Notes
Transcript
Don’t underestimate the power of the belief that Trump is part of a prophecy for many evangelicals. And don’t underestimate the general lack of knowledge about Trump’s corruption. Plus, putting pressure only on Israel does Hamas’ work for them. David French joins Charlie Sykes.
This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:08

    Welcome to the Bulwark podcast. I’m Charlie Sykes. There is a lot to talk about today, including loads of I’m saying disturbing polling news about the presidential race, which we will get to in a moment, but we have so much ground to cover so many things that I wanted to bounce off our guests today. David French pinion columnist for the New York Times. Welcome back to the podcast, David.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:27

    How are you?
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:28

    I’m good. Thanks so much for having me back, Charlie. I always enjoy joining you.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:33

    Made a list of things that I wanted to ask David French about. I wanna start off with this passage from Tim Alberto’s Bulwark. About the split, you know, among evangelical, something you have written about spoken about extensively And there’s this one scene that really is kind of haunting. He recounts his father’s funeral. His dad had passed away And they go back with the family to the house, and they’re sort of, you know, in this moment where the church ladies are, you know, taking care of everyone.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:04

    He’s really feeling This is what the church is all about. And he said, you know, most of the folks at our church were humble kindhearted Christians like these women. And just then, He writes. One of them walked over and handed me an envelope. It had been left at the church, she said.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:20

    My name was scrolled across it. I opened the envelope. Inside was a full Page long handwritten screed. It was from a long time cornerstone elder. Someone, my dad had called a friend, a man who had mentored me in the youth group and had known me for most of my life.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:39

    He had composed this note on the occasion of my father’s death. To express just how disappointed he was in me. I was part of an evil plot the man wrote to undermine god’s ordained leader of the United States. My criticisms of president Trump were tantamount to treason against both god and country and I should be ashamed of myself. However, there was still hope.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:03

    Jesus forgives and so could this man. If I use my journalism skills to investigate the deep state he wrote, uncovering the shadowy cabal that was supposedly sabotaging Trump’s presidency, then I would be restored. He said he was praying for me. I felt sick. Secondly, I passed the letter to my wife.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:21

    She scanned it without expression. Then she flung the piece of paper into the air, and with the shriek that made the church ladies jump out of their cardigans cried out. What the hell is wrong with these people? David. Do you have an answer to that question?
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:36

    Oh, man. Charlie.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:38

    I have I have some answers. I have some answers. I have encountered sentiments like that quite a bit.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:45

    Yes. I I know.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:47

    A ton including personal confrontations at church. You know, where people
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:51

    At church.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:52

    At church where people express sentiments similar to that to me directly at church. Not so much now that we go to a different church, but used to be, I would sometimes have to almost brace myself for the possibility every time I went to church. It was not that these encounters would happen every time but they would happen often enough that I had to sort of get in a mindset when I went to church that I might have an unpleasant encounter today. And there are a few common threads that I’ve seen in the kind of people within Christianity who will act like that. And one of them is a lot of these people are heavily influenced by prophecies.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:32

    And when I say prophecies, you should see me as saying that with air quotes, prophecies. In other words, people who purport to be prophets, who are describing what they believe god’s plan to be for this country.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:47

    And Donald Trump is part of god’s plan. Donald j Trump. Yes. God’s ordained.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:53

    Yeah. Now this is something that, you know, even to this days, you know, we’re now eight years, more than eight years past, and Trump coming down the escalator. So
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:02

    Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:02

    Even now, even mostly through a decade of dealing with this, we still don’t fully understand how much of this is motivated by what you would call Pentecostal slash charismatic Christianity or religious movements very adjacent to this. And Yeah. Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity believes in the existence, the present existence of spiritual gifts like prophecy like healing, like tongues.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:31

    Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:31

    And what you’ll find, sadly, in pentecostalism, not universally, but what you will often find in pentecostalism is people become more dedicated to their leaders and to sort of the prophet or apostle who they have followed, then they are to even really understanding I mean, literally the prophet or the apostle is the main person who opens up the scripture for them, who interprets the scripture for them. And so what we saw at the beginning of the trump era was really widespread prophetic utterances within Pentecostalism, essentially saying, this is god’s man to save the country. But it’s even deeper than that, Charlie. It’s not it’s even deeper because what’s even deeper about it, and I’m gonna use a term that our mutual friend Renee Daresta came up with, which I think is brilliant. It’s called a bespoke reality.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:25

    So what is a bespoke reality? So a bespoke reality is essentially when you become so immersed in your political mindset or your religious mindset curating what you read, curating who you pay attention to, curating, who you listen to, And then, of course, all of this gets algorithmically reinforced when you go online because all of these Yeah. Preferences get get expressed in your online activity. So much so that you live essentially when it within a hermetically sealed epistemological environment.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:00

    It’s a cult. Mean, how is this different than a cult?
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:03

    Oh, it’s very, very, very similar to a cult. It’s very similar. And both in these hermetically sealed environments, there’s sort of two ways they’re sealed. One is the way they view the world. America’s on the verge of catastrophe where, you know, it’s six minutes to midnight.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:20

    Everything is falling apart. That’s one part of the sort of the bespoke reality.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:24

    Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:24

    And then the other part is here comes the savior. Here comes the person as unlikely as it is, a real estate developer, reality TV star, to come in to save the day, and in weird ways, the very unlikeliness of Trump, the very extraordinary sort of lack of qualifications of Trump or all of his, what they would call sort of his being rough around the edges. Only reinforce the prophecy because this is an unlikely hero. It’s an unlikely savior. So you have this incredible catastrophe, unlikely hero, And then everyone who’s not participating in this movement, then therefore becomes part of the enemy.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:05

    So we’ve talked about this before, but in this view, God has ordained Donald Trump, yeah, to save us. So what is god thinking do they think? Why Donald Trump, and he is coming to do what to save us from the immigrants, the gays, the what?
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:25

    Yes to all, Charlie. Yes to all. Save us from it all. No. But again, even the very unlikeliness of Trump, the very
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:34

    struggling.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:35

    Weirdness of trauma becomes in its own way a reinforcement of the prophecy because under what circumstances would this normally arise Charlie. This is so unusual.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:46

    There must be divine intervention. Yeah. So, I mean, this is called like behavior, and one would hope that the church broadly speaking would have an immune system to protect it against this cultic attitude. You actually have the tradition. You have the scripture.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:07

    You have the value system. What happened? How did the immune system break down in such a large portion of the church?
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:16

    The general answer to that is I I think Number one, the church has done spiritual formation in the world of politics extremely poorly. It actually has done spiritual formation in the world of politics differently than the way it’s done it in almost any other area. So I’ll give you just to sort of make it concrete. Let’s say you’re talking to a Christian businessman and their business is failing. That means their personal finances are in shambles, They may have to move out of their dream home.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:46

    They might have to take their kids out of a good school. Their marriage is under strain. But you go to a Christian businessman, even in that point of crisis, and you say, you know what’ll pull you out of this? It’s a little light consumer fraud. Well, The Christian businessman who’s had any kind of spiritual formation would say, no.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:05

    God’s gonna protect my family. I’m not gonna engage in consumer fraud because we’ve got this emergency.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:10

    Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:10

    Let’s say, opposed to someone says, well, okay. You don’t wanna get your hands dirty. But here, you can hire someone. You don’t have to lie, but you can hire someone and they will lie for you. The Christian business man would say, no.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:22

    I don’t get excused from sin by delegating it to somebody else. Right? Mhmm. And so you can start to see some of the parallels here. In business, Christians are not taught that the ends justify the means that even an emergency justifies lies or cruelty.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:37

    So we do save our lowest possible standards for politics. I think of politics as being separate from all of this. There’s a discontinuity of some sort.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:47

    Well, the formation for years and years and years has been Christians are concerned about these issues. So a Christian involvement around politics isn’t a match of virtuous ends and virtuous means. It is Christians seek to pursue these issues, their pro life, their pro religious liberty, but there isn’t any real discussion for Christian young people, especially growing up in churches and youth groups and Christian colleges, about how to operate as a Christian in the political context. Just almost none. They’re taught emergency.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:27

    And then these policy solutions, and you’re electing a president not a pastor. And so that one sentence has sort of justified sweeping under the rug of enormous amounts of corruption.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:40

    Okay. So this is not the the entire churches, not all evangelicals. I mean, there is just even among conservative evangelicals, and I wanna play for you an interesting clip because One of the most influential evangelical leaders in Iowa is a pastor named Bob Vanderplatz
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:55

    Right.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:55

    Who has endorsed Rhonda Sanders as opposed to Donald Trump. And, of course, Donald Trump, being Donald Trump, has lashed out and attacked this very, very well known evangelical leader And, I think it was over the weekend. He basically is is laying it all out and makes a critique of of Donald Trump that I wanna play. Part of this is political And then it goes to the the issue of character and and morality. So let’s just play this.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:20

    And again, keep in mind that Bob Vanderplatz is a big player in evangelical politics in Iowa, and evangelicals are very, very influential and important in Iowa Republican circles. Let’s play this.
  • Speaker 3
    0:11:32

    And what you’re seeing from the former president is character being revealed. Character being revealed first of all with Governor Reynolds and what he did by cutting a video against her two of the most popular governors and the most results producing governors in the country. The governor of Florida Ron DeSantis, the governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, and you completely throw them under the bus and you call them names and that just because they don’t bow the knee to you. Yeah. That’s not leadership.
  • Speaker 3
    0:12:01

    The number one hurdle for Donald Trump is I’ve never met a dad or a mom or a grandpa or a grandma’s have told me they want their son or daughter grandchild to grow up to be like him. That’s a big deal. Trump deserved to lose my endorsement. Matter of fact, I’ve never endorsed him. But he proved he was not worthy of the endorsement.
  • Speaker 3
    0:12:20

    A me of the ministry and by extension, the broader body. And I believe I will rise up. I believe I will send a message on January fifteen because I think they’re seeing through this as well. This is smoke and mirrors. This is not leadership our country needs.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:38

    Okay. So what what are we hearing here? This this is clearly an evangelical who’s willing to call out Donald Trump on the issue of character and that point he makes that he’s never met a parent or a grandparent that wants to use Donald Trump as a role model for their own children. I would think that would be a much more powerful and resonant message than maybe it’s been so far. What do you think?
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:59

    Nope. Nope, Charlie. Nope. I say nope for a couple of reasons. One, because nothing.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:06

    Nothing. He said was knew. And in fact, you know, when he talked about what was really making him angry, notice the massive amount of corruption he left out.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:17

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:18

    He said mean things to Kim Reynolds. I mean, this is on the on the scale saying mean things to Kim Reynolds. It doesn’t even measure. Compared to impeachment one, impeachment two.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:30

    Sedition insurrection I violation of the espionage act racketeering, paying off porn stars
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:36

    We have seen this in some folks, like a Jenna Ellis, for example, who all of a sudden wow. Donald Trump’s not a good guy. Okay. Hello. Welcome.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:47

    You know, look, I don’t wanna be one of these people who sort of, like, is there walking down to the front of the church to repent for past sins to, like, swap them with the church program and say, why didn’t you come sooner? No. We have to welcome all folks to this cause, obviously. And I welcome his moral clarity in this moment, absolutely without reservation. But there are a couple of factors here, Charlie.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:10

    Nothing he said is new. Every evangelical critic
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:14

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:14

    Of Trump has made this point for eight years. So nothing he said breaks new ground. Number two, Every political cycle, some of the activists in these early states kinda have their moment in the sun, and a lot of people come from outside the state and they go, oh, I’m talking to this person who’s extremely influential.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:34

    Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:35

    Now I’m not saying he has no influence, but one of the things that we learned in the Trump era how little influence the various kinds of GOP activist gatekeepers have. Almost none. Trump did not ride their wave. Into the presidency. He rode his own wave.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:52

    And then the last thing and this is really important, I think, for your listeners to understand. And that is You and I, your listeners, are extremely up to date on all of the terrible things that Trump has done. We know them all. We can cite them chapter and verse. You move one inch out of our own sort of political reality.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:14

    And you start to talk to folks who are in Maga America, they will know only the smallest fraction. About Trump. The smallest fraction. They live, and again, this bespoke reality, and one of the ways this bespoke reality is maintained is by gatekeeping. And so how much will the big universe of Maga Media cover Bob Vander Platts?
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:39

    To the extent that they do, it’ll be in the most negative way possible. So a lot of really profoundly negative events are terrible things that Trump says or does to this day, his supporters don’t know about it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:56

    Okay. So let’s switch gears completely. I wanna come back to that when we talk about where we’re at in the polls and Trump’s rise and Joe Biden’s fate. But I wanted to get your as as a lawyer, your take on this, speaking of the things that the Trump is saying here. AP has a very serving story.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:11

    Trump hints at expanded role for the military within the US. I think he’s more than hinting it. He, is, you know, talking about you know, how urban areas are crime dens. And he says that, he was stopped from invoking the Insurrection Act in sending in, active army units into the cities. He said the next time I’m not waiting, one of the things I did was let them run it And we’re going to show how bad a job they do.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:35

    Well, we did that. We don’t have to wait any longer. The AP says Trump has not spelled out precisely how he might use the mill cherry during a second term, although he and his advisors have suggested that they have wide latitude to call up units while deploying the military regularly within the country’s borders would be a departure from tradition. The former president has already Will Saletan aggressive agenda if he wins from mass deportations to travel bans, etcetera. Then it talks about the insurrection act.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:03

    This is what I wanted to ask you about. This is a law first crafted in the nation’s infancy. Gives Trump as commander in chief almost unfettered power to send in the military The insurrection act allows presidents to call on reserve or active duty military units to respond to unrest in the states, an authority David, that is not reviewable by the courts. One of its few guardrails merely requires the president to request the participants disperse The principal constraint on the president’s use of the insurrection act is basically political. The president’s don’t wanna be the guy who sent tanks rolling down Main Street said a national security expert with the Brennan Center, there’s not much really in the law to stay the president’s hands.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:51

    Okay. So is that your read of this that Trump two point o will have figured out I have this weapon. I can deploy the military domestically, and the only restraint is really political. And the fact is that politically, Donald Trump probably doesn’t think this is a negative to send the tanks into the streets.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:13

    Yeah. So, unfortunately, that analysis is pretty much correct. I mean, it is. Yeah. It’s pretty much correct.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:21

    Now there’s basically three instances in which the president can call out the troops. Number one is probably not gonna be a factor, and that’s on the request of, say, the state legislature or the governor of a state. Now I could imagine a red state governor doing that, but many of these big blue cities are also in big blue states, and you would not have Right. The governor and the legislature asking for it. But there are other parts that don’t require on the governor or legislature to say anything at all.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:50

    So for example, it says Whenever the president considers. Now that’s your key language. Whenever the president considers. That unlawful obstructions, combinations, or privileges or rebellions against the authority of the United States make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any state by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings. He may call into federal service, such of the militia of any state, and use such of the armed services.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:17

    As he considers necessary to enforce those laws.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:22

    But this is not reviewable by the courts? The I mean, this is a unilateral power that he has.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:27

    I mean, the court may choose to say this is non justiciable. In other words, what the statute itself says whenever the president considers. So this is very poor drafting. And so we’re we’re looking here at it a terrible sad irony, Charlie Sykes, because this is a post civil war act that’s obviously designed to deal with any future insurrections or rebellions akin to the civil war.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:55

    Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:56

    The closest we have come to that is January sixth. Right? The closest we’ve come to an actual, say, coup against the United States government since the civil war is January sixth. And there’s actually provisions to deal with that, which is the section three of the fourteenth Amendment, which should tell us that Trump is ineligible to be president. Here’s the sad irony.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:18

    He may escape entirely the actual consequences of post civil war measures designed to keep people like him out of office. And then sees the reins and sees control over broad post civil war statutes that give him the authority to deploy the military. No. And this is where we are. And Charlie, I don’t want to pollute your feed by promoting my own podcast, but on my legal podcast, it Please do.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:45

    Advise your opinions with, with Sarah Longwell, we have talked about the persistent problem of terrible congressional drafting for years. This is a more than decades long problem. If you go back to example the electoral account act, before it was amended. It was an unbelievable match.
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:06

    Total cluster.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:06

    You
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:06

    know, if you talk about going back to the Muslim man litigation, Trump relied on an extremely broad, poorly drafted statute. Supreme Court couldn’t redraft the statute It was terribly drafted by Congress. This is as well. And what both the the statute enabling the president in the Muslim ban cases, and this statute, what they share in common is Congress essentially placing in the office of the presidency an enormous amount trust. These statutes were written as if the president was presumptively trustworthy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:44

    And That’s bad drafting. That’s bad statute making. That’s bad law making to draft statutes, placing trust in the character of a president. Do not do that. Now the sad thing is, Charlie, we don’t have a Congress right now.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:01

    That can revise that statute because a lot of members of the Mag of Congress would be happy for him to invoke the Insurrection Act. They want him to do that, to wield the full power of the state against protesters. And now, to be clear, opposing the instruction act is not supporting violent riots, but you can deal with rioting short of the hundred first airborne.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:24

    To your point here. And that and I think this is something that a lot of people have come to grips with. Because we’ve gotten, you know, tangled up in the is Donald Trump a fascist? Is he not a fascist? You know, should we use the word fascist?
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:37

    The reality is that there’s a large number of Americans that like the idea of the strong man, of the man of action. Of the man who will, in fact, impose discipline and order. And that Donald Trump has kind of tapped into that he kind of understands that whatever you call it, that there is a an appetite for the man of act who is going to sweep aside the ineffectual norms of a liberal democracy who will in fact deal with the vermin you know, within society who will deal with the people who are poisoning the blood that this, in fact, is not disqualifying. I think there’s a lot of people in our world who think that if you point this out, people will go, my god. This is terrible.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:23

    This man is a fascist. When a lot of Americans go, you know, I actually like the idea of the wall. I want I wanna restrict immigration. I know I I do think that the greatest enemy, you know, threat to America is fellow Americans. And so let’s not dance around this moment.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:37

    I’m looking at the AB Stoddard’s piece in the Bulwark this morning. We are about to descend into some dystopic rank punditry. As president Joe Biden continues to lose support, former president Donald Trump has never had more. It’s not just because of inflation and age, many disillusioned Biden voters say they will not vote next year. Trump is also winning converts.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:00

    A lot can change in a year, but the electorate is shifting. And the anti Maga coalition is splintering. Trump now leads Biden national polling and swing state polling. Biden’s overall approval hovers around thirty nine percent, nowhere near what is required for an incumbent to win. A new democracy core battleground survey released Monday shows Biden down five points to Trump and battleground states six points down when accounting for independent candidates.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:26

    The poll found the voters Don’t wanna hear about job growth, dipping inflation, rising GDP, or the recession has been averted. So let’s talk about this moment we’re at. We’re Donald Trump. Despite, you know, more than ninety felony indictments, despite the fact that on a daily basis says something that is deranged and demented. Is rising in the polls and now appears poised to go for a second term.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:54

    David, what is happening? Have people just tuned out a lot of this? Have Americans become bored? Has this become just something that is you know, baked in that, okay, Trump is trump and he’s all this stuff, and that we’re not scare. I mean, what is this moment?
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:09

    How do you process this moment?
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:12

    It’s multi factor analysis, Charlie.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:15

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:15

    So number one, again, I have to circle back to something I said earlier. You and I, and your listeners are not representative Americans and our knowledge of Donald Trump. We know a lot more about Donald Trump’s wrongdoing than the vast majority of Americans. So vast majority of Americans don’t know chapter and verse it. Don’t who he is or what he’s done.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:37

    And people say, how can that be possible? You’ll never lose money betting against the civic knowledge of the American people.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:46

    Okay. But people do know at least enough to know that there’s something problematic about Donald Trump. They know that he’s faced this. And they they either don’t care or I mean, good. Some of them don’t know.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:59

    But obviously, some of them know, and they do not care. Or they think that this is more of a reason to support it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:05

    Right? So a big chunk of people believe this is just weaponized justice department. So Right. This is all cooked up, banana republic stuff. So it makes them want to support him more to defy this weaponized DOJ.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:17

    So
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:17

    you got a a chunk of people there. Then you have a chunk of people who don’t know what to think about it. But for the time being, they’re sort of labeling it under the category of it’s just politics. Or they’re not plugged in, they’re not thinking about it very much at all.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:30

    And it doesn’t affect them. Right? It’s not it doesn’t affect my life in any way.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:35

    Exactly. What does this have to do with inflation? What does this have to do
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:38

    with war
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:38

    in Europe or Israel? You know? And so then part of it is huge chunk of Americans don’t have a full understanding of Trump’s corruption as hard as that is to believe. It’s true. Okay.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:49

    Another thing is
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:50

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:50

    Frankly, Charlie, you got a lot of pre pandemic nostalgia. People remember the time before the pandemic as being peaceful and prosperous, rightly so. It was peaceful and prosperous. And they’ve given Donald Trump a pass for the pandemic.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:06

    Yeah. They have.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:06

    Which to me is inexplicable because A lot of people have confronted me and they said, you know, before the pandemic, the country was doing pretty well. And I’d say I had a lot of problems with some of Trump’s directions, but, yeah, it was prosperous. We were peaceful. And then the pandemic. And I said, well, hold on.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:23

    Don’t we judge presidents by how they handle crises? Isn’t that really the ultimate judge of a president is how they handle a crisis? And you can’t say, well, a crisis up and where you’re not gonna judge how he responded to that, that’s exactly how you judge a president. A crisis came up, and he except for the vaccine, which he’s now kinda flirts with sometimes and sometimes keeps it arms length, I mean, he was a miserable leader during that time, just a miserable leader. And so the sort of idea that, well, Trump was a good president prior to the vaccine, even if you grant that, which I do not.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:03

    But even if you grant that, he flopped and handling a giant crisis. And yet he’s given a total pass for that. And then the final factor is, and I just wish Democrats would listen to this instead of doing what they so often do. And I’m talking about partisan Democrats.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:21

    Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:22

    When you point out that people don’t like their candidate, They will say it’s your fault, and they’ll yell at you until your morale improves. I know you’ve experienced this Charlie. Mhmm. I’ve experienced this. You point out issues that are real issues.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:40

    And the response isn’t Oh, yeah. Joe Biden needs to do better. Or, yeah, I see that as a problem. It’s I don’t wanna hear another word about Joe Biden’s age.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:48

    Don’t wanna hear about inflation. I don’t wanna hear about crime. I don’t wanna hear about immigration. I don’t wanna hear about any of these things. These are non issues because And this is what Reiteshara has called the I think the Fox News fallacy that if if the right wing thinks something is an issue, there then becomes this you know, counterweight say that, okay, we can’t treat urban crime as an issue.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:09

    We cannot treat the immigration issue as a crisis. We can’t acknowledge weaknesses in the the economy. Right? We we have to pretend that these things just do not matter. And if we don’t talk about them, or if we engage in better messaging that somehow they’ll be fixed.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:26

    Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:27

    Right. And then they run around happily shooting the messengers who tell them Hey, this is a problem. This is a problem. This is a problem. No.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:35

    How dare you? And then Right. Hillary Clinton loses. And they’re like, how did this happen? I don’t know, guys.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:42

    Maybe you ran the second least popular politician in the history of favorability poll for president of the United States and then tried to claim that the people who didn’t like her were just misogynists. That doesn’t Bulwark. Heckling people out of positions you do not like does Bulwark. And this is part of that online poison that we see that teeps into both movements. Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:06

    It’s a weakness with Maga. It’s a weakness with Maga. It’s one of the reasons why they’ve underperformed election after election after election is because they’ve adopted the bully slash heckle approach to politics, which is if you say something we don’t like, we’re gonna make your life miserable. And call that winning until they lost winnable election after winnable election, the Democrats are prone to do that as well. They have been better about it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:31

    Since twenty sixteen, I’m really worried about twenty twenty four that there’s a lot of people who are back into heckle mode.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:37

    It does feel like kind of a flash back, doesn’t it? Do you feel a little bit of twenty sixteen PTSD? Because I I sure do.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:44

    It really is starting to have Ecca. I mean, it’s like the zombie of twenty sixteen is crawling its way out of the grave. Many of the same mistakes are being made. And those mistakes include How dare you raise this or that problem with our candidate when the other guy is Donald Trump. Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:02

    Well, okay. Look. I’ve been never trouble forever. I understand where you’re coming from, but you have to win an election and that means persuading people. That means offering what they view as better alternatives because that’s the key.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:20

    They have to view it as better alternatives. So you have to go out and reach people who are either leaning toward Trump right now or have thrown their hands up in the air about both of them and reach them and greet them and meet them on their own terms and pull them in. You don’t yell at them. That’s Twitter behavior. And Twitter behavior doesn’t work offline.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:42

    It doesn’t work.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:43

    Who would imagine that denial is not a viable strategy and that heckling does not actually raise morale. I mean, I see these are radical ideas. Okay. So in the time we have left wanted to talk to you about a really remarkable thing that you wrote in your newsletter, and this is the Times newsletter. And now we’re switching gears completely to talk about what’s going on with Israel and Hamas.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:05

    We could talk about the upsurge in any Semitism. Actually, let’s do that briefly here. I don’t think of myself as a naive person And I don’t think of myself as overly hypersensitive about this, but I am genuinely shocked by the spike in anti Semitism And I’m sorry for the people who don’t like to hear the words both sides. I am shocked by the left wing anti Semitism and the inability of many progressives to cope with that. Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:30

    And I shouldn’t be shocked, but the the virulence of the rights sort of, you know, ancient antisemitism, the way that that has come up at the same time. It’s a remarkable moment that we’re in, and you’ve written about this Yeah. Rather extensively.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:46

    A lot of people get mad at me when I use the term horse shoe theory, Charlie.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:50

    That was in the back of my mind there, ma’am.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:52

    Yeah. But I’m gonna keep saying it because it’s true. And one of the tenets of horse shoe theory is that when opposing sides become increasingly radical. They become more like each other. So sort of the paradigmatic example of horseshoe theory would be pre World War two, Europe, when you would have the red shirts and the brown shirts fighting each other in city streets.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:14

    Mhmm. Now the brown shirts, the fascists, and the red shirt the communist saw an awful lot of difference between those two movements or they wouldn’t have been fighting each other tooth and nail. So that’s the source of the real anger you get. How dare you compare to the people we’ve sworn blood oaths to destroy. Yes.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:30

    But what was similar about fascism and communism is both the means of their combat and essentially the miserable ill liberalism that would result from either one of their victories.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:42

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:42

    Okay. And so what you see here in the United States at the moment, thankfully, we don’t have full scale red shirt, brown shirt, combat, and streets. We’ve seen elements of it already, but What you’re seeing are two essentially illiberal movements
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:57

    Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:57

    That employ many common tactics And the more radical they get have common underlying belief systems, even if one illiberal movements idea of solving the problem, as maybe more socialist than the other ones than the, you know, sort of the authoritarian capitalism of the other movement That doesn’t mean that they aren’t quite similar in many respects. And conspiracy thinking goes along with radicalism. Ron DeSantis Semitism goes with conspiracy theories. These things just kinda follow each other. The more radical a person gets the more prone they are to conspiracy theories, the more prone you are to conspiracy theories, the more prone you are to antisemitism.
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:39

    And I hadn’t really seen that just constant omnipresent connection between conspiracy theories and anti Semitism until, you know, a number of folks who are scholars in this area had begun to point it out. And once you see that, and a lot of listeners are saying, duh, David, everybody’s known that who studied anti Semitism. I’ve not been a scholar of anti Semitism in my life, but you now see when conspiracy theories rise antisemitism rises right along with it. And so what are some of the hallmarks of the modern and liberal right? Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:16

    Of course, it’s a liberal. It’s also extremely conspiracy focused. Mhmm. Extremely. And so even though some of these individuals who said pretty blatantly antisemitic things in the last month.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:30

    Even though two, three, four years ago, you might say, to that same person. Would you do you believe this? And they’d go, no. Are you kidding me? That’s anti Semitic stuff.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:41

    More time down the rabbit hole, their little bespoke reality, more time down that rabbit hole, and the more prone they are to conspiracies, and the more prone you are to conspiracies, the more antisemitism rears its ancient ugly head, and Charlie, these pop culture figures in American right wing infotainment, like a Tucker Carlson like an Elon Musk, like a Charlie Kirk, so many others, they are extraordinarily conspiratorial. So none of this. None of this. Should surprise us.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:11

    No. And, of course, they’d have to keep turning the dial up on the conspiracy theory. Okay. So I wanna get back to, your newsletter you wrote there should be more public pressure on Hamas. And and you start out this newsletter noting that when you were deployed in Iraq in the summer of two thousand eight, There was a wave of suicide bombings in province north of Baghdad.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:30

    The bombings were hitting cafes, medical clinics, and weddings, and there was an intelligence tip that one of the leaders of the suicide bombing cell was operating out of a hospital. Your unit had to search every square inch of the building, and you were the unit jag officer, and you were asked beforehand to review the request to send troops to go into the hospital. Now, obviously, they’re asking going to be legal because there might be collateral damage. If you go into this hospital and search room by room, there might be fire fight in the middle of a hospital full of, sick and wounded civilians. So talk to me a little bit about that because these are incredibly difficult decisions.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:08

    And, of course, Israel is wrestling with this, you know, under the glare of, you know, international criticism for the way that they are handling hospitals in Gaza and going after Hamas, which has embedded itself in the civilian population.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:21

    Yeah. So let’s just sort of break this down step by step under the laws of war. Under the laws of war, a hospital is a protected place. So Typically, if you have two combatants who are fighting each other and they are both complying. They’re treaty partners.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:36

    They’re, you know, they’ve both signed all into all the relevant treaties regarding the law of armed conflict. They abide by customary international law. They’re not gonna blow up hospitals. Hospitals are protected. It’s one of the reasons why you see, for example, medics will wear a red cross armband often when they know they’re confronting a complying party an enemy force that complies with the laws of war, you’re not supposed to shoot medics.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:59

    You’re not supposed to shoot down Metavac choppers, things like that. However, if a protected person or a protected place shifts its function or combines functions. So for example, if a Medevac chopper starts shooting rockets at the ground, right, then you you can take aim at that chopper. If someone opens a command post or stores munitions in a hospital, then the hospital starts to lose its protected status. Now what’s important about this Charlie Sykes not entirely.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:33

    It’s not the case that sort of you can say, well, we have intelligence that there is a hospital employee who’s running a suicide bombing ring out of the hospital, which is what our intelligence indicated. Therefore, we can drop a bomb on the hospital. No. No. Other rules still apply because you want to abide by the rule of proportionality.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:53

    Can you drop a bomb on a building that contains maybe hundreds of people to kill one person. That’s disproportionate or distinction which requires you to distinguish between military and civilian targets. If there’s one military target in a building full of civilians, How do you distinguish between that one military target? So I said yes to the raid. I said the raid was fine because with intelligence indicating that someone’s operating a military operation out of a hospital, that meant that the hospital lost some of its protection.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:25

    But no one asked to bomb it. No one tried to bomb it. No one asked to bomb it. No one asked to go in with guns blazing because other elements of the loss of war. And so we complied at each stage.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:35

    We had a careful review to determine whether it was okay to go in the hospital, then we planned how we were gonna do it carefully. To make sure that we did it with minimal disruption to medical services. And we did it with minimal disruption and Unfortunately slash fortunately, he wasn’t there. Unfortunately, because we wanted to catch him, fortunately because the last thing we wanted was a firefight. In the hallways, we later caught him at his home once we found out where he lived.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:04

    But that’s sort of this the step by step process Is it a protected object? If yes hands off, but if the other side uses it for military purposes, then it also becomes a military target or a military object.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:19

    You said you shared this Iraq war story to ask readers about their reaction. Do you have greater horror at the thought of heavily armed Americans pouring into an active hospital, or at the thought that a terrorist was coordinating a wave of violence while sheltering among civilians in a site ordinarily protected from harm. And this is the dilemma. So and the IDF has to deal with that on a regular basis. So let’s talk about your argument that world pressure should be focusing on Hamas because it does seem as if most of the protests and a lot of the Pearl clutching is putting pressure on Israel.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:52

    Have a ceasefire or to not do this as opposed to the pressure on Namos. So talk to me about what kind of pressure the world should be putting on Hamas right now.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:03

    Well, you know, look, we’ve seen what kind of pressure. Take all the the hundreds of thousands in the streets protesting Israel flip that around and have hundreds of thousands protesting Amaz, release hostages now, lay down your arms. Now that doesn’t mean that grants Israel or permission structure to engage in lawless armed combat. Israel under all circumstances is bound by the laws of armed conflict. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:30

    However, what you have to understand and what listeners have to understand is All of that pressure you’re seeing placed on Israel. Hamas depends on that. That is an indispensable element of the Hamas strategy. So Hamas does a couple of things that these protests are, yeah, even as well meaning as somebody might be, seeing all the civilian death in Gaza. And look, I look at that civilian death in Gaza, and it is horrific.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:59

    All of us should recoil at this.
  • Speaker 1
    0:42:01

    It is. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:02

    But let’s remember a couple of things. One, Hamas violated the laws of war when it launched an aggressive attack on Israel that included intentional attacks on civilians. Hamas violated the laws of war when it took civilian hostages. Hamasas violates the laws of war when it embeds in the civilian population and hides amongst civilians. All of those things are violations of the laws of war.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:27

    Israel by contrast is responding according to its right under the laws of armed conflict to defend itself against aggressive attack. So the only party here operating under the umbrella of legal right is Israel. Everything Hamas has done has been illegal. So why? If one party is lawless, The other party is responding according to its legal rights.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:56

    Why is all of the pressure on Israel?
  • Speaker 1
    0:42:59

    Part of this is the asymmetry that you’re describing here, where Israel is actually vulnerable to public opinion to this world pressure. Yeah. Because it is part of the community of nations. It is part of the less legal infrastructure. It has to respond to public opinion in that way in a way that Hamas does not, because Hamas is a terrorist organization.
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:21

    What would they care about a hundred thousand people turning up in in downtown Chicago or Los Angeles or New York or London or Paris. Why protest against Thomas since they don’t care. They’re not going to respond. All they’ll care about is if the Iranians, for example, pull the plug on them.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:39

    Yeah. But I will tell you this. What all those protests do is they tell Hamas is strategy is working.
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:46

    Yeah. So Mhmm. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:48

    We have to look zoom out a little bit here. Because so what’s Hamas is trying to do here is not just kill Israelis. It’s not just to destroy the Jewish state. It’s of course, that’s ultimate aim. That’s its ultimate aim.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:02

    But it’s trying to separate Israel. From and isolate Israel from the world community. Exactly. And so all of the protests our demonstrations that it’s working. And so it wants to put Israel in an untenable position.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:18

    And the untenable position is Well, if we let Hamas continue to survive in the Gaza strip, then our civilians are at risk of mass murder. Okay. If we remove Hamas from the Gaza trip, then we’ll face the scorn of the world and be isolated in the world and be left more vulnerable within the world. So they’re trying to put Israel in an absolute no win position. Let us live, and Hamas can live to kill again.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:50

    Drive us out of Gaza, and Israel will have lost something perhaps just as valuable, the ability to have relationships with the neighboring Arab countries, the ability to be a full part of the international community, And if it can’t defeat hamas, that weakens Israel. But if it does defeat hamas, yet isolates Israel that weakens Israel. And so that’s what Hamas is trying to do and flipping and putting the pressure on Hamas at the very least, Charlie Sykes if Hamas won’t lay down his arms, will say Israel will not suffer consequences in isolation from the international community for responding under the laws of war to an aggressive mass slaughter of its own civilians.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:33

    It’s hard to see what the endgame here is that is positive, though. It’s hard. Again, it’s important to remind people that from us, is, not in favor of the peace process, is not in favor of a two state solution. No. That Hamas is committed to wiping out Israel’s in the Jewish population from the river to the sea.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:53

    And I don’t know how you negotiate. I don’t know how you come up with a peaceful solution. That’s about, I think, a problem for the people who are, you know, putting pressure on Israel saying, you need to have a ceasefire and then what happens? And then you negotiate with Hamas, and then you come up with some way of living with Hamas because I think that what October seventh proved is that There is no coexistence. There is no formula.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:16

    There is no peace process that is gonna enable Israel to live side by side with a highly armed Hamas. It just cannot happen.
  • Speaker 2
    0:46:24

    Yeah. You know, I know there are for those listeners who who are middle east experts. There are many differences in origin between Hamas and ISIS. However, after October seventh, there are no moral distinctions. Between Hamas and ISIS.
  • Speaker 2
    0:46:41

    And so my view is you cannot coexist with ISIS. Now what follows is gonna be messy and difficult and uncertain. But one thing you do know is you cannot coexist with ISIS. The best book written about the fall of the caliphate is called, they will have to die now, and it’s by my Times colleague. He’s on the news side, James Verini.
  • Speaker 2
    0:47:04

    And what Iraq realized before it went into Mazul. So the the battle for Mazul was the biggest battle of the anti ISIS war. What Iraq realizes you just cannot coexist with ISIS.
  • Speaker 1
    0:47:17

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:47:17

    You cannot. And so we went in with our Iraqi allies, our Iraqi allies took the vast bulk of the ground fighting burden. We provided air and artillery support, and we went into methodically over nine months cleared Isis out in Azul. And it was terrible, Charlie. It was horrible.
  • Speaker 2
    0:47:36

    There was nothing neat or clean about it. It took place outside of the attention of the world, but the best estimates were more than ten thousands of in casualties. Roughly ten thousand Iraqi security forces casualties, unknown numbers of thousands of ISIS fighters, But there was no option, but to clear ISIS out of Mozul and then start over. And I think that Israel is in that same position. I don’t think they credibly have a meaningful now they make shoes, a ceasefire, and then to four to five, four to five, four to five, But then you just go back to the situate the incredibly unstable situation you had before October seventh, where Israel has to have constant constant constant vigilance A must just has to get lucky once or twice, and it can inflict massive amounts of damage on the Israeli life.
  • Speaker 2
    0:48:28

    And so I don’t see how it is a wise or prudent option for Israel to choose to leave Hamas in control of the Gaza trip as awful as that is.
  • Speaker 1
    0:48:37

    I agree. I I just don’t see that as viable in any possible scenario. David French, thank you so much for coming back on the podcast. David, course, as an opinion columnist for the New York Times co host of the advisory opinions Secret Podcast. It’s always a pleasure to talk with you, David.
  • Speaker 2
    0:48:52

    Charlie Sykes, it’s always great to chat with you.
  • Speaker 1
    0:48:54

    And thank you all for listening to today’s Bulwark podcast. I’m Charlie Sykes. We’ll be back tomorrow. We’ll do this all over again. Bohr podcast is produced by Katie Cooper, and engineered and edited by Jason Brown.
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