Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Sacrilege for Sale

March 29, 2024
Notes
Transcript
The Atlantic’s Peter Wehner joins the panel to discuss Trump hawking a “patriotic” Bible, accusations of lawfare regarding Trump’s trials, and Putin’s war on truth.

Highlights / Lowlights:

Mona— What Would You Have Israel Do to Defend Itself? (David Brooks, NYT)

Damon— Tucker Carlson’s hilariously wrong prediction that Sam Bankman-Fried would avoid justice because he was a megadonor.

Peter— Lowlight: Jesus’s Crucifixion. Highlight: Easter, of course.

Linda— Bridge collapse brings stark reminder of immigrant workers’ vulnerabilities (WaPo)

Bill— Democrat who ran heavily on abortion rights, IVF wins Alabama special election (WaPo)

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
    0:00:09

    Welcome to Beg to Differ the Bulwark weekly roundtable discussion. Featuring civil conversation across political spectrum, we range from center left to center right. I’m Mona Charen, syndicated columnist and policy editor at the Bulwark, and I am joined by our regulars, Will Saletan of the Brookings in institution and the Wall Street Journal. Damon Lincher, who writes the sub stacked newsletter notes from the middle ground, and Linda Chavez of the Nescannon Center. We are delighted this week to welcome as our special guest, Peter Weiner, contributor to the New York Times and the Atlantic.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:45

    Welcome. One and all. We have a lot to get to this week, and I’d like to begin with holy week And with the celebration that Donald Trump is, participating in regarding this religious observance, he is hawking be, quote, only Bible endorsed by president Trump. He calls it easy to read. It has large print.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:10

    And he says happy holy week. Let’s make America pray again, and he wants to encourage everyone to get one. Also, This is the Lee Greenwood version of the Bible. So it not only contains the King James version of the Bible, but it also includes copies of the US constitution, the bill of rights, the declaration of independence and the pledge of allegiance, as well as a handwritten chorus from the Lee Greenwood song proud to be an American. So, Pete, I cannot phrase it better than what Nick Catagio of the dispatch wrote.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:53

    He said, this sales pitch distills the man to his essence in a way that few Trump sound bites do. Simultaneously sinister, amusing, grossly hypocritical, wincingly kitschy, and dripping with raw hucksterism. But you write a lot about evangelicalism and, this does have a lot of, resonance among evangelicals. So I’d like you to talk about that and about the Christian Jonathan Last angle here.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:25

    Sure. Two things, just in terms of what was Trump was doing with selling the Lee Greenwood, Bible. He’s a person of kaleidoscopic depravity. There’s nihilism. There’s cruelty there’s lawlessness of Mendacity.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:39

    I think this is sort of the low rent trump, the crude trump, the person who will peddle anything for for money it’s worth keeping in mind the context in which this took place, which is he’s, gonna raise money off of this in part because he’s paying an astronomically high sum for having found liable of sexual assault with the judge in the case referred to as rape. And next month is going on trial for having paid hush money to a porn star. So this is the character the man who was is hawking the, the Bible, but as you allude to, Monette, this isn’t new for Trump. What it almost always gets back to as it relates to the imports of the countries, what it says about his supporters. And, his grip on them has been a absolutely stunning in some respects and sociologically theologically fascinating thing to see.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:38

    I’d make one point about it, which is if you engage as I do with Trump supporters who are Christians, they will often frame this as a binary choice between Trump, and Biden or a liberal and say that on issues that they care about abortion or otherwise, that tips the needle to trump. What we’ve just witnessed in the Republican primary is not at, you had Trump versus a number of conservatives, including pre eminently Nikki Haley former successful governor, pro life committed, conservative longer than he has been beats by in the polls. And yet by overwhelming numbers, they went not with her but with him, which means that he’s their first choice, not their last, which means there’s something about Donald Trump as a person that resonates with them, even as they claim to be Christians, and that is a crisis for American Christianity.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:34

    So I should explain to people who don’t know you, Pete, that you are a Christian and have been part of this world your whole adult life as I understand it. Though you are now in a very small minority of people who are outspokenly anti trump within that world. So our mutual friend Russell Moore had a piece this week, and I I’d love to hear you on this also because it speaks to the way in which, you know, at the beginning, when Trump first, emerged. The idea was, well, there was a bargain that evangelicals made. They were willing to accept Trump’s hypocrisy and the fact that they understood he was not a sincere Christian or any of that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:18

    They were willing to make a deal that, you know, in return for their support, they would get the policy goals that were important to them. And what Russell Moore is written this week. He said, I guess Ned flanders now goes to strip shows, which is, you know, the idea that, no, actually, what has happened is that the evangelical world or at least chunks of it have come more to resemble Trump’s morality than the other way around.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:44

    Yeah. That’s that’s right. I thought Rosa’s piece was very, very powerful. And it is true. There has been a psychology of accommodate that’s happened within the evangelical world.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:55

    So what things that they opposed eight years ago are things that they embrace now. There’s no question. Some of that’s gone on. I I’d I’d only had one point which I don’t think gets quite enough play, in trying to understand this phenomenon, which is, and Kristen Demay who who you just had on has has talked about this before. In many ways, Trump was the represented the, fulfillment, not the betrayal of certain evangelical values.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:21

    They actually didn’t get much play because there was a lot of talk, personal morality Lint and so forth. The Trump was to them a kind of, spiritual badass as as it’s been said. A perfect fighting machine. And so if you are familiar with evangelical subculture the last fifty years, he was tapping into something. Again, remember The point I made about the primary this year applied to twenty sixteen too, and they overwhelmingly went with him then as opposed to a whole variety of other Republicans.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:52

    There was something about the Trump of what he personified, what he embodies he’s a kind of bow ideal to a lot of them. And, it’s hard to make sense of. It’s certainly from my perspective. And antithetical to to any understanding of of the Bible and the new testament that I have, but it’s out there and it’s doing an enormous amount damage to the country and to the Christian witness.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:13

    Linda, one of the things that you often heard back when I was more in this world than I am now and had more conservative and Christian contacts, the way it was framed was always we’re on defense. You know, it is the liberals who are imposing their values on us, who are not letting us live or worship or be in in a way that we’re comfortable with. And so we weren’t interested in politics. We just were tending our own gardens And they came in with their intrusive governments and and their intrusive culture. And so this is just defensive on our part.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:55

    When do you make of that argument?
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:56

    There’s a certain amount of truth in the fact that the secular world, particularly Hollywood, many elites have looked down their nose at people who are religious and devoutly religious but one can make that criticism and and think it’s a valid criticism and still be horrified. By as someone. I don’t know if it was Peter or someone else who talked about, Trump is sort of, you know, running a picture of the seven deadly sins. I mean, he literally exemplifies every single one of them. I once wrote a column to that effect, and my editor wouldn’t let me include gluttony, because they said I was calling him fat.
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:40

    Well. And I I I was Well, yeah. The one thing
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:42

    you’re not allowed to do is fat shaming.
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:45

    Yeah. Look, it is serious. You know, we’ve had Hucksters in the close of, of, clergymen, you know, for as long as I’ve been alive and even before I’ve been alive. You’ve had it among evangelical Christians. You’ve had it among Catholics.
  • Speaker 3
    0:09:00

    Where you’ve had, you know, people on air sort of, selling things, selling a ideology, and that’s regrettable. But the idea that you can be a faithful believing person and want to exemplify Christlike behavior which is what an obligation of Christians is is to try the best they can to emulate Christ and in their daily lives and then have this man as a paragon and someone you look to. It is horrifying and I will just say about the Bible. I’m glad he shows the King James version, one of my favorite versions, in the Du Eight Reams, which is, one of the oldest, Catholic versions that has the similar kind of poetry to the King James. But the idea that, you know, he put this into a volume, he put the constitution, the declaration of independence, and and other things in it, you know, I’ve always believed that our founders didn’t so want so much want to drive religion from the public square.
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:09

    As they did see that government should not be imposing any particular religious belief, on on Americans. But I don’t like this, kind of conjoining, the two. And one of the things that a friend of mine who’s much more active on Twitter than I am has noted is that trending, on the right in on the political right is the the phrase Christ is king and it is you know this is holy week Sunday will be Easter. It’s the holiest day in the Christian calendar. One would like to think that maybe these people were just talking about that in terms of the week.
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:56

    But my fear is, and certainly if you read the post, the su suggestion is quite different. And that is that they want to impose a kind of Christian Jonathan Last, on America. And that I think is incredibly dangerous.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:13

    Damon, this gets back to a topic that we, discussed with Tim Alberta when he was on about the, really the kind of sacrilegious or blasphemous worship of America, that has become so prevalent in evangelical churches And, frankly, even practically worship of Trump himself, it’s getting awfully close to that. But one, sort of maybe strong the wind from a few years ago. I don’t know if you remember this, but Might have been around twenty seventeen or twenty eighteen, perhaps, but Glenbeck, who initially had backed away from Trumpism. Decided to make a stand and to, at least try to be, Christian as he saw it by bringing supplies to migrants at the border and, showing compassion for people who were in desperate situations. And he specifically framed it as a Christian thing to do.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:16

    And he got so much blowback It was almost as if the Christians were saying to him. Who told you all this rot about, you know, love thy neighbor. Where’d you get that liberal claptrap?
  • Speaker 4
    0:12:29

    You know?
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:31

    But anyway, you know, it is amazing, isn’t it that there is so little sense of sacrilege here that So call believing Christians don’t recoil and say, this is cheesy. I mean, the Lee Greenwood business, you know, it it’s exploitative. It’s cheesy, it’s hucksterism, but instead he’s probably gonna make a big fortune selling Bibles for sixty bucks a pop.
  • Speaker 4
    0:12:55

    Yeah. We I mean, we talked about elements of this as you said in the Tim Albert, episode of the pod, but also when David French was here a few weeks ago. We touched on it again, and it keeps coming up. And it’s I think it’s a really important point that doesn’t get enough emphasis in our general discussions of politics that one way to put it is to say, yes, Christian Jonathan Last is a problem and a threat. But it goes both directions.
  • Speaker 4
    0:13:25

    The way I think liberals often talk about it as if Christianity is this kind of static threatening thing out there, and it’s dangerous because it’s trying to impose itself on the nation. That’s Christian nationalism. But I think what we’re talking about here is actually in some ways the reverse or at least a synthesis of the other side with that, which is a convergence between the understand of Christianity and nationalism so that it’s not Christians imposing their theological convictions on the nation. It is in a lighting of a distinction between Christianity and national feeling such that when you end up with is a redefinition of what it means to be a Christian in terms of what a right wing version of American national namely has defined by Trump and his seething cauldron of passions and impulses. Think it is.
  • Speaker 4
    0:14:30

    And that has been made possible by a lot of trends. Well, some of them go back, as Pete said, into, the history of the distinctive forms of protestantism in the United States. But a lot of it has to do with secularization. It self that it is not that Trump represents pushing back against secularism. He he represents of the form of a certain kind of Christian piety will take in a secular context such that a lot of these people who claim to be Christians, who will buy the fifty nine ninety five Lee Greenwood Bible with the imprimatur of Donald Trump on it are not people who really are reading the Bible.
  • Speaker 4
    0:15:17

    They are not people who are regularly going to church and involved in a church community and engaged in in faith based charity. These are people who now find being a Christian as voting for Donald Trump because he has certain enemies and they have certain enemies and he punches those enemies better than anyone ever did. And so he is now the guy. To be a Christian is to vote for Trump. And and that way, it’s not so much Christianity being imposed on the nation as as Christianity being redefined so that being a nationalist as defined by Donald Trump is what it means to be Christian.
  • Speaker 4
    0:16:01

    And that is a kind of danger. I mean, the last thing I’ll say, I I know I’ve quoted this before. This line, you know, Pete knows my his street better than most people, my own criticism of, the religious right under George w Boyd. And, I broke from the right at that time. I wrote a book about it.
  • Speaker 4
    0:16:21

    Ross Douthan had this tweet back in the the winter of twenty sixteen when Trump was first winning primaries. And he just said, aimed at people like me who had made those arguments Boy, if you didn’t like the religious right, you sure are gonna hate the post religious right. And and we we sort of have now a kind of religious right that is at the same time post religious, post Christian and has redefined Christianity as that, which is hard to wrap your mind around, but I don’t think there’s any other way to make sense of it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:55

    Bill Goldstein, these couple of quotations leaked to mind. One was, attributed to chesterton, although it may be apocryphal as all great quotes seem to be, but was, when people cease believing in god, they don’t believe in nothing, they’ll believe in anything. But the other is a quote from Donald Trump, who when he was asked what his was speaking of Damon saying, these are not people who actually are gonna read the Bible. Trump was asked, what what his favorite Bible verse was, and he said an eye for an eye, which is
  • Speaker 5
    0:17:28

    Yeah. Sounds good.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:32

    Completely in character, you gotta say. But so there is, again, this theme of sort of reject all of the loving and softer messages of Christianity that have sort of, you know, been arguably, you know, source of success for a couple thousand years. But here’s Charlie Kirk, that great evangelist, who is now saying that theological seminaries are destructive influences because they are creating, quote, weak beta males. Overly feminine pastor men who bring this unclean spirit that needs to be excommunicated. So that, again, is, you know, Kristen Dumez’s theory there that it’s, again, this kind of worship of masculinity instead of god.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:26

    You think this is part of it. And as you look at the polling on where people are religiously speaking, which I know you, you know, you do, a poll about these things. What’s your sense of where all this is in terms of the population at large?
  • Speaker 5
    0:18:41

    Well, I’m tempted to say in the lawyer’s manner, you know, race Ipsa luckitur. The thing speaks for itself. But I guess I’m Judy Bowden as a member of this podcast to go a little bit beyond that. So I will say that, a group that I’m a member of has done extensive polling on the convergence of Christianity at American NASH ism, that we’ve we’ve been talking about. And we have discovered that a substantial number of Americans believe that you’re not a real American if you’re not a Christian.
  • Speaker 5
    0:19:18

    So from that standpoint, it’s not a convergence You know, it is what is considered to be an historical fact, which at one point for all practical purposes was an historical fact. And one of the things we’re talking about is what happens to this definitional sense of the complete overlap of these two things when it ceases to be true sociologically and demographically. What happens when people who used to define the country? No longer do so. You know, they feel decentered.
  • Speaker 5
    0:19:56

    Displaced in a certain way. And, you know, and the again in the famous slogan speaks to people, whether they are working class people or evangelicals or both, who used to feel that they were the center of the American action, the salt of the American Earth, and now they’re not the dominant tone in the court. And I think they feel this loss very keenly. But I wanna go a little bit beyond this presentism, because You know, the question of how we got here really interests me, and I don’t think it’s a short process. So, with your permission, I’d like to pose a question or two to Pete because he really knows what I only suspect.
  • Speaker 5
    0:20:46

    I’ve been alive long enough to see, you know, the moment at which there seemed to be a possible convergence or at least reconciliation. Between a Democratic party that had already adjusted to, you know, the culture wars on the one hand, and yo, and politics on the other, that came during the Carter administration. And my impression is that some things happened during the Carter administration. That moved that discussion onto a different course. And, obviously, Supreme Court decisions on school prayer are part of this, but another big part of this has to do with the clash.
  • Speaker 5
    0:21:29

    Between racial progress on the one hand and the standing of Christian institutions on the other. Right? If you’re a Christian institution, that practices racial segregation, then your definition of being left alone is not having you know, norms of racial equality apply to you. And you may think that you deserve to practice, you know, racial separation as you define it and get a tax exemption. And during the period that I’m talking about, Those practices came under attack.
  • Speaker 5
    0:22:07

    So my hunch, and this is why I’m appealing Pete, is that the sense of government in fruzian on Christian practice has a lot to do with the Bables, not only over school prayer, but over racial segregation. Is there anything to what I’ve just said?
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:26

    Yeah. I think there is, a couple things, Bill. The first is this is actually not well understood. The pro life movement was not a particularly strong movement in the early seventies when Roe v Wade happened. That happened later.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:40

    Southern Baptist convention was actually fine with legalization of abortions. What happened with the Southern Baptist convention was there was conservative take over in the in the early eighties. I think it’s fair to say that race has been a larger factor both in the Republican Party, and within the Christian movement and evangelical movement than a lot of people would like to admit. The degree to which it is is hard to tell, but the effort to try and stop tax exemption for Bob Jones University in the seventies was a a a key moment for a lot of a lot of Christians. And then there’s just the reality that we’re sort of seeing, I would say the southern evangelicalism taking over much of broader evangelicalism.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:27

    And that is still the issue of race obviously was a factor. You know, fifty, sixty years ago, but I think it it still exists. I don’t think that’s all of it. I don’t think it’s primarily that but you’re quite right. If you go back and look at the polling data from Jimmy Carter versus Gerald Ford, they basically split the evangelical vote it was the Reagan election that really was was an inflection point for that movement, but there was something that preceded the Reagan’s election and that was the rise of the moral majority and and Jerry Falwell and Pat Roberts.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:03

    And what had happened was a lot of evangelicals who had been on the sideline of American politics. Some of it grounded in what they believed were theological reasons reversed themselves. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example. He he was essentially anabaptist, Plymouth veteran. The world is to sustain our job is to is to save souls not to reform laws.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:26

    That’s where he was during the civil rights era, even as he was criticizing Martin Luther King junior. And then he flipped. Once they got involved in politics, that began. Now we’re talking fifty years, forty fifty years ago. That began, an affiliation that I think net net has been harmful to both politics.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:47

    And to, end of faith.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:54

    Alright. We will leave it there and move on to our another topic, which is the response on the right to Donald Trump’s legal woes. We, are about to see starting a couple weeks Trump face his first criminal trial, and that is the well, some people wanna call it an election interference case, other wanna call it a hush money for a porn star case, but one thing that you hear a lot is that on the part of the either anti anti trump forces or the or just the outright pro Trump forces is that this is law fair that this is the attempt by, Biden and, the powers that be, the establishment liberals and Democrats to take down Trump, by hook or by crook using any legal means available to them and, that therefore it is both illegitimate and also a terrible precedent. Because now it will open the door to criminalizing every successive administration. We’ll then, you know, find reasons to indict their predecessors.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:17

    So, Damon, I’m gonna come to you first. You were, of course, as everybody knows, very dubious about the, strategy of indicting Trump at all, but what do you make of this argument about law fair?
  • Speaker 4
    0:26:32

    Yeah. It’s it’s interesting how these things work in the kind of political ecosystem of, like, punditry and stuff because I had I hadn’t heard anyone make this exact argument until a friend of mine, who who has a lot of ties to kind of Trump world. Is an old friend of mine. He he deemed me on Twitter X about, I don’t know, six or eight weeks ago when the nine digit fraud penalty was announced. And he was just very beside himself about this and and he used the term law fair.
  • Speaker 4
    0:27:07

    In this way. And I hadn’t heard the argument before. Now, you know, it’s been made, Rich Lowry is is making the argument the national review and others are doing it online all the time. And his argument was very simple. He just said, Do prosecutors regularly look at the books of very wealthy businessmen, real estate developers, in order to search for this kind of fraud where you basically inflate the value of your properties for the purpose of getting loans, and then you under state the value for the sake of avoiding taxes.
  • Speaker 4
    0:27:44

    If this is not a regular thing that is done and they’re going after Trump for it, that is itself an attack on the rule of law because it shows that they have double standards and they’re being unduly harsh to this one guy and it’s for political reasons. And my answer to him is actually not that complicated. It’s have you ever talked to anyone who understands politics about how they talk to candidates who propose running for president. If you do, they will say the first thing out of their mouth is gonna be. Have you done anything that will get you in trouble because they are going to find it and it will destroy your candidacy?
  • Speaker 4
    0:28:32

    And probably your marriage and your business and everything. If you either your choices, if there is something like this, you either come clean about it up front and hope you can write it out, or you don’t run because they’re going to find it out. So my answer to my friend about Trump is Trump could have remained a crook. He just had to not run for president. He ran for president, and that put all the cleag lights of the media, journalists, and prosecutors on this guy.
  • Speaker 4
    0:29:09

    And it’s now been nine years since this hole started in the summer of twenty fifteen, and he’s running again. And it took a long time to get this far. It’s good that the legal wheels, you know, move slowly. It takes a long time to investigate and make judgments about what to charge the guy with. And then as we’ve seen in all these trials, you know, the the, defendant gets to raise objections and and make motions to delay it or to dismiss charges.
  • Speaker 4
    0:29:41

    And so forth, so it takes a long time. But the fact is this is happening not because the law, the law enforcement arms of our government at state and and federal levels are singling Trump out it’s happening because he singled himself out by running for the nation’s highest office in the land. That’s gonna happen when you do that. So it doesn’t mean in any particular case, maybe a prosecutor goes too far, and we should always be open to such objections. That’s why you’re allowed to appeal.
  • Speaker 4
    0:30:16

    But the fact that he’s being scrutinized in this way, and they are finding bad behavior, misdeeds and crimes is because he has committed them or at least has been alleged and it has to be examined in a court of law. It’s his own fault. Again, it’s probably true. He just would have been a billionaire who gets written up on page six in the New York Post and and get some attention from doing his his, reality show stuff on television. If he had chosen to do that, they probably never would have looked into it.
  • Speaker 4
    0:30:50

    And that’s not a great thing that you can get away with that kind of stuff if you’re just an average rich person. But it’s certainly you don’t solve that by saying, yeah, but we shouldn’t go after the guy running for president either. That’s the that’s that’s not a very good argument.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:04

    I would just add he’s not just accused. He’s an adjudicated
  • Speaker 4
    0:31:07

    crook. There there are so many charges and so many trials.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:10

    Yes. Yes. Yes. But in but but in the civil fraud case, most recent recently, he he was adjudicated to have, defrauded, the state of New York and a lot of other people. So, Bill, picking up on Damon’s point.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:22

    I would just say, here’s the counterargument. People would say, well, sure, if you run for president, you expect scrutiny, but usually it’s the press that will uncover damaging facts of your life and destroy your reputation, perhaps, or but it won’t be a prosecutor that is coming after you. And Latitia James specifically promised to go after Trump, which is not something that attorneys general or prosecutors are supposed to do. So how would you react to that?
  • Speaker 5
    0:31:56

    Well, I react to that by saying that there’s probably some truths to that. Latisha James is you know, a partisan who doesn’t hide a partisanship. I think it’s fair. I think it’s fair to say. But here’s what’s for me the deeper point.
  • Speaker 5
    0:32:14

    As is almost always the case, Donald Trump leaves us with no good choices. On the one hand, He’s a crook. On the other hand, going after him for the crimes that he’s committed, will have the knock on effects, that a lot of people are warning about. It will, in fact, you know, whether rightly or wrongly contribute, I think, to the temptation, not to be resisted, to retaliate in kind. And so whether or not you tolerate his not only excesses but also breaches of law or don’t you end up contributing to the degradation of the American political system.
  • Speaker 5
    0:32:59

    And so I can take on board Every jot and tittle of Damon’s argument, and still accept the consequentialist argument. That this process of this legal process directed to Trump will invite a damaging equal and opposite reaction or maybe more than equal. Is that a compelling reason not to do it? No. But to repeat, the essence of Donald Trump is that he leaves everybody around him with no good choice.
  • Speaker 5
    0:33:36

    And here we are.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:38

    Yeah. So that’s, let me just take a red marker and underline what Bill just said because the logic of Rich Lowry’s piece, and others who’ve made this case where he says, okay, you know, you, you’ve asked for it now. If Trump is reelected, he should indict Biden because that’s the new standard, and he should tell Robert Her to go ahead. And bring charges against Biden for mishandling classified information. So, okay, What then do you do about the fact?
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:13

    If that’s the standard you’re you’re going to employ, Does that mean that what Trump did in the classified documents case where he willfully withheld the most secret kinds of documents involving national defense information, nuclear powers, etcetera, etcetera. Obviously obstructed justice attempted to destroy security tapes that would show him hiding the boxes etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Again, as Bill says, he puts you in an impossible position because then by Lowry’s logic, I guess, you really can’t bring charges against Trump for this flagrant, flagrant criminal behavior because it might encourage irresponsible people to do something to retaliate.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:04

    Yeah. I think it it bores on absurd to think that Donald Trump would need a pretext to indict Joe by nor do anything
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:11

    that
  • Speaker 5
    0:35:12

    is Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:13

    You know, just assume that that this never happened, that he was never indicted on on legitimate grounds. Does anyone think a man with his sociopathic tendencies wouldn’t act in any event. Of course, of course, he would have. So I I just think the premise itself is flawed. The second thing I would ask Rich is, where were you when you, in in the late nineteen nineties when you wanted Bill Clinton convicted on and impeached on perjury charges?
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:40

    Think there was a legitimate case to be made, but I’ll also say this. If you compare Bill Clinton to Donald Trump, Bill Clinton is a boy scout.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:47

    Absolutely.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:49

    So you know, the people that, I suppose, if you wanna use that argument that catapulted law fair, into our American politics in a big way were Republicans, in in the nineties with, with with with Clinton. So they they should probably reflect on that before, before they make the the the arguments that riches against people who are going after a man of extraordinary depravity.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:15

    Yeah, Linda. Well, you know, if we were all those of us who think that Trump is not fit to be president, were all powerful and had, you know, great strategic minds and we were all sort of plotting how to get him. The first thing we would have done was to sit down and say okay there are some cases that should go first and probably the financial shenanigans case and the Stormy Daniels case should not be the first two cases that the public is presented with. We ought to go with the January six case and the documents case. So This idea that somehow this is some grand conspiracy that we’re all involved in of engaging in law fair.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:55

    It is nonsense. But I think there’s a bigger issue and that is essentially what Pete was suggesting but also others and that is how do you let him get away with some of the things that he has done? You know, on the documents case, reality winner. I think she’s still in jail for having taken a couple of documents and posted them on a gaming site. She shouldn’t have done that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:22

    It was wrong. She probably should still be in jail. It was a serious crime. But how do you compare that? To what Donald Trump did.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:31

    And how do you say that he should not in fact suffer the consequences, not just in terms of his insisting on taking this stock which he had no right to whatsoever. But even more importantly obstructing justice when The archives came after them, when the government, Department of Justice came after them, and when the FBI showed up with a legitimate search warrant and searched his his property. So I think that going down the path of looking the other way for everything that Donald Trump does because it might be politically disadvantageous. It’s really dangerous. And Pete is exactly right.
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:15

    Donald Trump has already announced and been announcing for some time, and he did it the last time around as well. That he’s gonna go after people with the law when he gets to be president again. If he gets, I hope, not when, but, you know, He is engaged in using the judicial system to punish people. That is not what’s going on here particularly not in the two Jack Smith cases. These are serious crimes that he is accused of.
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:46

    He must be held accountable and in our system that means presenting evidence to a jury of one’s peers and letting that jury decide. Guilty or not guilty. And it’s really unfortunate that that does not appear like it’s gonna happen before the election.
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:04

    Yeah. We can just throw in. Maybe we’ll talk about this in a coming episode, but, it sure does look like Aileen Cannon. Has managed to screw things up badly enough through both incompetence and probably bias in Trump’s favor that that case the far and away strongest case against Trump will not come to trial before the election. And that is just terrible, terrible miscarriage of justice right there.
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:31

    But let me just, take my this opportunity as somebody who does have a law degree to just make couple of just legal points that I think are useful here. So one of the arguments that I think needs to be rebutted is this notion that The Latisha James Civil fraud case is illegitimate because there were no victims here. And that, you know, the the banks loans were repaid. And so the fact that she is bringing a fraud case of this magnitude is just completely out of bounds. Well, The fact is that a state attorney’s general have the power to bring lots of different kinds of cases where you could say there are no victims or where the victims are too diffuse to bring the cases themselves or when it would be too onerous for victims, and we see this all the time.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:23

    You see it in, for example, when a whole consortium of attorneys general sued the tobacco companies. And, that that was, you know, again, you could say it was victimless in the sense that every person who purchased a pack of cigarettes got what they paid for, but there was a larger harm It happens in antitrust cases. And, you know, if you want a more recent example, it happened in the Trump University case. Another case for which he was found liable. Again, there were many, many victims, and it was they didn’t individually bring, cases against him or some might have attempted to.
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:02

    But in any event, the it is in the interests of justice for a state attorney general to lay down the law and say fraud is something that harms the larger workings of our economy and our society, and therefore, the state has an interest in cracking down on fraud and is empowered to do so. So I think it’s worth keeping that in mind too. Alright. Let us turn now to mister Putin. Trump’s mentor.
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:33

    Who, you know, there was a there was a terrible terrorist attack in Moscow. It turns out that the US warned Putin about this, the possibility of this upcoming attack. Putin dismissed it being the total cynic and bitter nasty piece of work that he is. He assumes everybody else operates on the same principles they he does. And so he called it disinformation, just rich, because he does peddle disinformation everywhere, and he assumed when we were giving him true information that we were lying to him.
  • Speaker 1
    0:42:09

    He does admit that it was because ISIS K took credit for the attack, and so Putin does, admit that it was, that it was Islam, but Will Saletan, he says that they were acting at the behest of Ukraine and Britain and and the United States. And that this is part of the West’s war on on Russia. I just am curious, you know, whether you see as much as I do this parallel, where the forces of disinformation, and and authoritarianism are so alike. I mean, they will use any crisis or any atrocity or whatever to so division and to enhance their personal power. We used to be able to say, boy, those Russians are really screwed up.
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:03

    But now you look at it and think, Yeah. I see where they’re getting their, their guidance from. What do you think?
  • Speaker 5
    0:43:09

    I don’t think this lifelong KGB agent needs a lot of instruction from anybody in the west.
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:16

    No. He’s giving the instruction.
  • Speaker 5
    0:43:18

    So he’s giving the instruction.
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:20

    Our authoritarians are learning from him?
  • Speaker 5
    0:43:23

    Perhaps, although I think we’d be on safer ground to say that internal forces within the United States have proved adequate to this new lost for disinformation practices. Because as a matter of fact, this may sound harsh But I think there may be more internal forces for disinformation in democratic societies than there are in authoritarian societies where the default setting is that nobody believes a word that the government is saying. But you know, however you trace the causal arrow, this is one more step down an incline at the end of which Nobody believes what anybody says about anything. Right? I’m sure if you did a That’s
  • Speaker 1
    0:44:14

    a real problem.
  • Speaker 5
    0:44:15

    I’m sure if you did a secret poll of Russians. Do they believe that Ukraine, the UK, and the US, are behind this this Islamist catastrophe? I don’t think you get a majority saying yes, and I don’t think that Putin is really trying to persuade them otherwise. This is a classic diversionary move, you know, to try to put his external enemies on the defensive. And, of course, to some extent, it’s bound to work because if you allow these farcical allegations to go unchallenged, well, then it it may seem to some as though you’re acknowledging them.
  • Speaker 5
    0:44:57

    So you’re forced to respond. And at that point, you’re playing Putin’s game. So once again, like Trump, in this respect, his willingness to employ these tactics leaves the people on the other side of them with no good options. This is one element of hope. There may be some Putin admirers in Western societies who will have to say to themselves that he’s jumped the shark here, you know, that, you know, that he’s made claims that no one can believe, and that he doesn’t believe, obviously.
  • Speaker 5
    0:45:37

    And, that maybe that will cast a retroactive light for them, the validity of some of Putin’s other claims. I mean, that’s possible. I’m not saying it will happen, but it could. So I’m not sure what else there is to say, except once a KGB man, always a KGB man.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:57

    So Pete, it’s, of course, very difficult to determine what average Russians really think about anything because it’s not a free society. And, you can’t trust polling, etcetera. But I I’m not as confident as Will Saletan that if you took a poll that were an honest one, that you wouldn’t find a majority of Russians siding with Putin here. You know, we all rem maybe we don’t all remember, but all remind us of, what happened in what was it? Nineteen ninety nine or two thousand when Putin was just coming to power and there were a series of apartment bombings in Russia that were blamed on the Chetchens.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:41

    And then later, it turned out that we had testimony from a Russian police officer that FSB officers had been seen delivering explosives to these buildings. Right. And, the people who got this information out or assassinated one by one. And, you know, this could very well have been I mean, can’t say for sure. It could well have been Putin’s way of, again, you know, creating, in this case, really in the most sinister way possible, actually blowing up Russians in the apartment buildings, to gin up hatred of the other and strengthen his, his hand politically.
  • Speaker 2
    0:47:24

    Yeah. I, I think that’s that’s a that’s fair point. I mean, it’s impossible to to to tell, of course. Because it’s a totalitarian society. So we don’t know how much the Russian people disregard what Putin says and how much they they believe, I do think that that amount of disinformation in a society like Russia has profound malformation effects in all sorts of ways.
  • Speaker 2
    0:47:47

    Not just on information flow, but the the moral malformation of people. You know, when I was thinking about this story, I mean, the thing that that struck me about it is the first is that, Donald Trump, while he wasn’t a KGB agent, has learned those tactics. I I really can’t find much of a distinction between what what Putin does and what Trump does. In terms of the, kind of misinformation. The difference of course is that in this country we have countervailing.
  • Speaker 2
    0:48:18

    Sources of information, as well. But when you’re talking about the people on the right, you know, Bill’s thesis is an interesting one. Maybe there is a lot of count factor that goes on because they’ve been under that society, some version of that society for well over a century now. In this country, it is different and what is striking to me having had a lot of conversations with Magga supporters and Trump supporters is a lot of them believe it. A lot of them, have adopted the conspiratorial mindset, and that’s not gonna end anytime soon.
  • Speaker 2
    0:48:55

    So this epistemological crisis that we’re in is very, very difficult to know what to do about it because the disorientation that it creates the incapacity for persuasion is something that we’ve not experienced in this in this country. Elements have always existed. I mean, people have have challenged facts, certainly challenged narratives before, but the degree to which is happening in this country is new. And I think that’s part of why, people aren’t quite sure what to do about it because the phenomenon is not one that we’re that we’re familiar with.
  • Speaker 1
    0:49:32

    And right as we’re so unable to deal with this, incomes AI and deep fakes and the rest. So, it’s only, gonna get more challenging. Linda, there’s an aspect of this that I’d be curious to hear you on because Putin has been open now in this instance about the brutishness of the response. So the suspects in this bombing, we don’t even they haven’t been tried. You know, we don’t know if they’re the real guys or not or just four guys, whatever.
  • Speaker 1
    0:50:06

    Even if they are the real guys, they were beaten up. One of them had his ears sliced off, and it was shoved in his mouth. The videos of these have been circulated throughout Russia. And I have a sense that because of the propaganda and the the heated you know, stimulation of of hatred that the Russian press has been engaged in now for two years because of the war on Ukraine, that it has sort of lowered the, resistance of the Russian people to that kind of brutality. And I’m just curious about what what you think of that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:50:45

    And do you see any parallels here with Trump saying, you know, He should they should beat him up. They should they should shoot shoplifters, etcetera.
  • Speaker 3
    0:50:53

    Yeah. No. It it is sort of hard of horrifying. I mean, look, this attack was terrible. I think there are legitimate questions that have been raised by people like Gary Kasparov and and Brett Stevens about, you know, if it went exactly as, described because it took over an hour apparently after after the attack, the perpetrators or accused perpetrators got away.
  • Speaker 3
    0:51:17

    So I, you know, this idea that it might be similar to the blowing up of of the apartment buildings, in Moscow back more than twenty years ago. I and we have to be at least open to that possibility, but that’s not the point you’re What you’re making is how Putin responded and how he uses that basically to gin up his people. And to increase the support. And it’s kind of the bloodlust, that it is so really immoral. I mean think about the United States on September eleventh two thousand and one.
  • Speaker 3
    0:51:57

    And in the aftermath. I mean we saw those airplanes crashing into buildings. We we lost thousands of people we had you know, it was a catastrophic, event. What did president George w Bush do afterwards? Did he even, you know, I we soon learned that it was islamist extremist that had done it.
  • Speaker 3
    0:52:19

    You know, did he try to whip the people into a frenzy to, a send descend on mosques around the country and start beating up Muslims and holding them responsible. No. Now, you know, a lot of people criticize him for talking about Islam as a religion of peace and one could, you know, make an argument against that. But what he did was to try to not have collective guilt, particularly of the people in the United States who were who were Muslim. That is so different than what Putin did.
  • Speaker 3
    0:52:54

    I mean, displaying these videos of ears being cut off and shoved into people’s mouths. This is this is just obscene and it is very dangerous And what is most frightening about it is you can imagine all the Tucker Carlson fans out there just eating this stuff up. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:53:13

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:53:14

    You know, Donald Trump egging them on. Boy, there you go, you know, flat.
  • Speaker 1
    0:53:19

    He’s been strong.
  • Speaker 3
    0:53:20

    He’s been a strong man. I wish, you know, and the the way in which he admires Kim Jong un who starves his people and prisons them, kills them tortures them. You know, he wants our people to be respond more like that North Koreans do well. I mean, I think he would love to be able to do this if he could get get away with it. It’s it’s just demoralizing.
  • Speaker 3
    0:53:40

    Our nationalization, literally. So I I’m very upset by it, and I think we don’t know right now. The full story of that attack. We may find out more. It may be exactly as it was presented.
  • Speaker 3
    0:53:53

    It may have been these guys. They may have been, simply you know, expressing their Islamist extremism, ISIS K. But there also may be more to the story than we yet know.
  • Speaker 1
    0:54:06

    Damon, any reaction from you?
  • Speaker 4
    0:54:09

    Well, I guess, there is a difference between I think the way a lot of us imagine kind of the totalitarian, outlook on truth, which is as propaganda, that there is truth out there, but then there’s what this totalitarian government gives as a counter truth. And it tries to in insist that the people in that regime believe that counter truth instead of the real truth. Whereas, I think what Putin often plays with and what I think Trump often plays with in a way that is very, very dangerous is actually slightly different. And to make that point, I actually wanna quote, a friend of the pod and Alpobaum, who’s also a colleague of Petes at the Atlantic, I actually wrote this down because I liked the quote so much when she said it on a Sam Harris podcast. She was talking about the downing of, an airliner over Ukraine in twenty fourteen, and three hundred people died in this in this crash on the plane.
  • Speaker 4
    0:55:14

    And and and the way, Anne talks about, how, Putin handled it, this is a quote from her. The Russian media didn’t say we didn’t do it. No, instead it released literally dozens of different explanations. There was one explanation that the Ukrainian shot them down because they were trying to hit Putin’s plane. There was another explanation that said a lot of dead bodies were put on the plane on purpose, and it was crashed on purpose to discredit Russia.
  • Speaker 4
    0:55:46

    Many of these explanations were absurd, but the proliferation was such that it created mass confusion around the event. Radio free Europe did a very good series of interviews in Moscow just afterwards, and they asked people on the street. Why did that plane crash? And overwhelmingly, people said things like. Oh, we’ll have no idea, and we’ll never know.
  • Speaker 4
    0:56:07

    It’s impossible to find out the truth can’t be known. The effect of Putin and Putin’s press with this multiplication of explanations was that it obfuscated the very idea of truth. And that’s very useful to a dictator. Putin doesn’t want people to believe anything because, you know, maybe somebody will print how much money he really has. What Putin wants is for all these stories to be undermined.
  • Speaker 4
    0:56:33

    If you tell lots and lots of lies, then people don’t know what to believe. And that is the threat. And as you mentioned, mounted on with AI and deep fakes, this is only gonna get worse. And it is It is distressing, and I think liberal societies have barely begun to figure out what the hell to do about it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:56:53

    Exactly. Alright. With that, let’s turn to our highlight or low light of the week, and we’ll start with you Linda this week.
  • Speaker 3
    0:57:06

    So, those of us who live in the, DC, Maryland area were very focused this week on that horrific collapse of the Frances Scott Key bridge. In Baltimore, I for one someone who has crossed over that bridge hundreds of times. In my life here. It happens to be on the way to, my doctors, in in to more. So I’m very familiar with that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:57:33

    It was just such a shocking event. But what I want to focus on is really a series of articles about the workers who were killed. There were six men who were working on the bridge. They were fixing potholes. It was cold, very, in the middle of the night, one, one thirty or so in the morning.
  • Speaker 3
    0:57:56

    And who were these workers they were immigrants. At least one of them, family has said that he was an undocumented, worker. I suspect that more than than one of the six, were here and and undocumented. And one of the things that strikes me about this is that if you look at the demographics of of Baltimore, immigrants are not nearly as common in in Baltimore as they are, say, in the district of Columbia where we have huge numbers of, of, immigrants, particularly from Central America. But these workers were there because they were doing dirty, dangerous jobs that other people don’t wanna do.
  • Speaker 3
    0:58:38

    And they are part of that essential workforce that we have in America that is made up of people who are not born here but see the chance to do these dirty dangerous jobs as their foothold in having a better life, not just for themselves, but more importantly for their families. So I wanna pay tribute, to these men who gave their lives. I think we shouldn’t forget, you know, when you got trump out, you know, banging the drums for, rounding up and throwing these people, kind of people into detention camps in the desert shipping them off, without any due process at all. If he becomes president, I think it’s it’s important to remember that these people are good people doing important work and it’s often work that Americans don’t want to do.
  • Speaker 1
    0:59:29

    Thank you, Bill Goldstein.
  • Speaker 5
    0:59:32

    Well, my highlight for this week, and it is a highlight, is a woman by the name of Sarah Longwell Lance. She is not a household word, but maybe she should be. She won a special election for a seat in the Alabama Senate. By twenty five percentage points, having lost by seven percentage points in her previous run for exactly that same seat. What was the difference?
  • Speaker 5
    1:00:05

    The huge controversy over IVF prohibitions in the state of Alabama. And by extension, the very, very restrictive anti abortion regime that Alabama has set up. To the best of my knowledge, every single election since dobbs where this issue was central has gone extremely badly for whatever unfortunate Republican found him or herself on the other side of the argument. I don’t know what kind of impact this is going to have in twenty twenty four, but I confidently predict that it’s going to be measurably greater than zero. And if I were Joe Biden, and found myself debating Donald Trump, I would beat him over the head with this issue because he’s all Trump is all over the map.
  • Speaker 5
    1:01:02

    He doesn’t know what he thinks, except that he doesn’t wanna get caught in the political undertow, and I think that he will probably reveal himself. In the course of trying to evade discussion of this issue. This is not a small matter.
  • Speaker 1
    1:01:20

    Thank you, Pete Weiner.
  • Speaker 2
    1:01:23

    Yeah. My, low light and highlight are in the same week. So I’ll just speak here as a person of the Christian faith. This is the most sacred, week for those of us, who are Christians, holy week. And the low light comes, on Friday, which, Jorgen Molton, a theologian called the crucifixion of God.
  • Speaker 2
    1:01:41

    That is when Jesus, is on the cross, and dies, for our sake. The highlight gives gives way to Sunday and the resurrection. And that for those of us, who who are believers in the Christian story is when death gives way to life and justice is restored and all things are made new again. So, it’s it it’s a big low light and a big highlight and a compressed period of, of, of, of time.
  • Speaker 1
    1:02:10

    Thank you for that. Damon Lincoln.
  • Speaker 4
    1:02:13

    Well, hard to follow that one, but I’ll do my best. So, Sam Bankman Freed, was sentenced to twenty five years in prison. Those who don’t know his name, he was convicted of stealing eight billion dollars from customers of his FTX cryptocurrency exchange. And, no, I don’t really have strong enough feelings about this guy for this to be my highlight or low light of the week. However, I do have very strong feelings.
  • Speaker 4
    1:02:45

    About Tucker Carlson. And so in light of that, I would like to quote Tucker Carlson. From November tenth, Twenty twenty two. He had this to say, quote, Biden’s justice department seems not very interested in a man called Sam Bankman Freed Why is that? Well, because he was the Democratic party’s second biggest donor, no warrant has been issued.
  • Speaker 4
    1:03:09

    Why well, because he’s a political ally. So there we see, Tucker’s, excellent prediction about, this individual’s fate showing that yes, of course, the Democrats are at least as if not more cynical than Republicans and therefore this guy will walk scot free. They’ll never give this guy a hard time. Well, he was wrong about that too. Yeah, twenty five years wrong.
  • Speaker 4
    1:03:42

    Twenty five year. He could have been sentenced for a hundred and ten, but I’d say twenty five years still a very
  • Speaker 1
    1:03:47

    long time to
  • Speaker 4
    1:03:48

    go to jail when no one was killed.
  • Speaker 1
    1:03:50

    Yes. Exactly. Okay. Thank you. I would like to draw tension to a piece that ran in the New York Times by David Brooks.
  • Speaker 1
    1:04:00

    Last week, we devoted, a fair amount of time to discussing the war in Israel and Gaza and some of the things that we think Israel is doing wrong and right. David has a long piece. It’s entitled what would you have Israel do to defend itself, where he goes through the challenges, the particular challenges of this war, of trying to fight an enemy that has three hundred miles of tunnels below ground, and that, as we all have said multiple times, has a tactic of specifically putting its civilians in harm’s way, hides behind them. This isn’t in David’s piece, but I would just say parenthetically, you know, there’s this reporting that, you know, I was listening to the BBC about the fact there’s reporting on, there’s fighting at El Shefrajas And the way the BBC presented it was, you know, for some reason, the Israelis are attacking a hospital again, those damaged rallies. Well, the fact is, that, you know, Hamas has moved back into Shifra hospital, which they had been in before.
  • Speaker 1
    1:05:01

    And that’s why there’s a gun fight, a huge fight going on in that hospital again. But anyway, David goes through some of the difficulties. He consults a lot of military experts. He talks about, the challenges, he’s, you know, it isn’t uncritical of Israel. He does think they need to do a better job about you know, humanitarian aid or at least presenting the challenges.
  • Speaker 1
    1:05:25

    But he says this, and I think this is a, quote, give you a flavor of some of the things he concludes, he says Israel has done far more to protect civilians than the United States did in Afghanistan and Iraq. Spencer. This is one of the people he consulted, reports that Israel has warned civilians when and where it is about to begin operations and published an online map showing which areas to leave. It has sent out millions of pamphlets, texts, and recorded calls warning civilians of coming operations. It has conducted four hour daily pauses to allow civilians to leave combat areas.
  • Speaker 1
    1:06:04

    It has dropped speakers. That blast out instructions about when to leave and where to go. These measures have telegraphed where the IDF is going to move next and have prolonged the war. So it’s important to keep this in mind as opinion in the United States appears to be moving very sharply against Israel because of the daily photographs of Palestinian’s suffering. I I think that’s understandable.
  • Speaker 1
    1:06:34

    I do fault Israel for not doing a better job at public diplomacy. I think Netanyahu in particular is very truculent. In his, presentation. But David’s piece really does lay out the facts on the ground and why you know, many of the proposed solutions, including that Israel simply not invade Raha, and let things go the way they are would be a catastrophe because it would be a victory for Hamas if they were to do that. So it’s a very, very tough situation, but I this is one of the most clarifying pieces that I have seen on the war.
  • Speaker 1
    1:07:13

    So, David Brooks, what would you have Israel do to defend itself? With that, I want to thank our guests, Pete Weiner. Thank you so much for joining us. Also, all of the regulars and our producer, Jim Swift, our sound engineer, Jonathan Last, and of course, our wonderful viewers and listeners, and they differ will return next week as every week.
An ad-free version of Beg to Differ is available exclusively to Bulwark+ members. Learn more here.