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Stupid Culture Wars (The Secret Podcast PREVIEW)

September 1, 2023
Notes
Transcript
You should be alarmed.

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NOTE: There is no Sunday show interview this week because of Labor Day weekend. They will return next week!

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
    0:00:00

    Hey there. It’s JBL. On the Secret Show today, Sarah Longwell was out, and I sat down with Bill Crystal. And we talked about a a whole lot of deep dark stuff. It’s it’s a journey.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:14

    Here’s the show.
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:20

    So,
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:20

    I wanna talk is, so we’re recording on Friday, September one, and I wanna talk about a piece in the New York Times in the op ed section a woman named Bridget Xman, and she is a, assistant superintendent in Iowa who has written an op ed explaining their attempt, to to remove books from their school libraries in her district. And, what it’s a fantastic piece I I will put a link to this in the show notes. People should go and read it. But which says is, like, I would just pass a parental rights rights bill. At the end of May, it went into effect July one, and it told school teachers administrators that school libraries may only contain age appropriate books free of any descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:18

    And it holds individual teachers and school librarians legally accountable. For any any violations found. And so all of this is done with, again, as all these laws are done, incredibly broadly written, the state department of education refused to give any guidance to individual school districts. And so teachers had basically eight weeks and teachers administrators to go through all of their libraries, which includes not just the school system libraries, but individual classroom libraries, and another provision of the law I gotta find this here for it, is that the teachers had to have read every book in their libraries and be able to call details of every book and libraries. So this puts another, like, layer of accountability and accountability and air quotations on it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:12

    And so, you know, among the books that they had to pull, they had to pull the color purple, they had to pull beloved, they had to pull, I know why the cage bird sings, the handmaid’s tail, And it’s it’s pretty bad, I think. And what she says is that, they wound up using AI to try to narrow the list of books that they really had to look at, which is what they got sort of briefly famous for. But here’s the the thing I wanna zero in on. And here’s here is, I think, the most important line in in her piece. Our district has not had a formal challenge to a book in our libraries in over two decades.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:54

    Indicating that parents are not worried about what is on the shelves. So they they have a process in place for parents to ask keep them to reconsider books and instructional materials, and nobody’s doing it. So this just jumped out to me as like this culture war run amok for no reasons. And I don’t what are your thoughts on all this?
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:19

    It’s a very interesting piece and raises some of the interesting questions about the character of this culture war. We’re in the the the way in which the authoritarian right is trying to, win battles or make progress, not by actually passing, you know, thought through laws that might change things in school libraries or other places and setting up presumably boards that would, we we can consider the books every three year. You know, there are obvious ways you could do this in were normal in a sort of administratively sensible way. But by empowering individual complainants in this case, we see this in a million other cases, Texas with the abortion. Legislation is up with to kind of, and both empowering individuals who complain.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:00

    Not they don’t even have to be individuals in the district, I guess. And also putting criminal penalties on teachers or on others as a way of sort of bludgeoning them into being understand, but this is very true on abortion, of course, doctors, but also people who refer other people or fight transportation for other people criminal penalties on them, so they get, understandably scared and, and sort of cave in, to the demands of of of those who are pushing this, this agenda. So, I don’t, you know, it’s so it’s both irresponsible, obviously. It raises real rule of law kind of questions. But it also yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:42

    As you say, it’s it’s sort of it’s kind of a top down semi fake cultural war in a sense. It’s not clear that all the stuff is bubbling up from dissatisfied parents. There’s some of that, obviously. And of course, it’s a bit of a catch-twenty two because once you start fostering this stuff and stirring the pot, of course, people are gonna show up and say, oh, I’m upset about this. I’m upset about that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:01

    But, I think it raises very interesting question with it. What is this moment we’re in? Is this really a massive culture war of Rod Brownstein’s compared it to the 1850s? And there are certainly elements of it to feel like that. And we’re going towards if not a civil war.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:15

    I don’t think we are that. But to real chaos and violence and and and red state, blue states, Med States and Blue States going in wildly different directions. And always, at some point, perhaps saying to the federal government, we don’t accept your laws on this. We’re doing our own thing. I can certainly see that post a trump victory or a trump defeat, incidentally, depending on which, you know, different states would do that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:36

    Right? That’s a bigger discussion, but but but, are we in that, or are we just in some fake kind of culture war that honestly could subside, I guess, if it really is sort of fake and just a bunch of agitators whipping it up.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:53

    I don’t know. And it’s, it’s It’s very hard to get your arms around because you see it at, like, all the different levels. As you said, there’s like the Texas bounty abortion law. I well, just as an aside, the very funny aspect of conservative people who want to hold teachers criminally accountable for books on the stands and their high school libraries, but do not want to end qualified immunity police officers who may kill people in the courses. Like, it’s it’s insane.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:28

    Right? The weirdness of how account ability is.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:31

    But that’s what a culture war is. Right? I mean, it’s not about let’s have more or less accountability for public officials. It’s not about here’s a rational way of comparing these two types of jobs and what kind of accountability is appropriate. It’s going after your enemies and and leaving and and excusing not just leaving your friends alone, but but going up betting over backwards to excuse the people who are on your side of the culture war.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:54

    So in that respect, it’s bad. I mean, that’s, that is that intensifies. It seems to me it it can be start with a bunch of agitators to use a term that George Wallace used and I guess the Southern is used in the 1850s, you know, but it it it that has a certain momentum of its own. And and it really replicates sort of at the state local level and and suddenly. So I I think it is yes.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:15

    It’s it’s a mistake to dismiss this. It’s just ridiculous stuff that’s happening, though in some ways, given that none of the parents in this district district complaint, it is kind of ridiculous, you know, stuff that’s happening.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:27

    It, and it goes against the, I I mean, the entire conservative ethos of subsidiarity, right, where you wanna to delegate decisions to the the the bodies that are closest to the actual people. Right? This is, as you said, it’s a very top down thing. And I don’t know. I so I I talked to yesterday in, yesterday’s trial.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:49

    There was there was a pullout about American’s satisfaction with schools. And Americans are on the whole very dissatisfied with school. Only thirty six percent of the country, says that they are satisfied with schooling in America. However, among parents with children who are currently in k to twelve, seventy six percent of them are satisfied. It’s like I don’t know how to I don’t know how to absorb something like that because it’s like the the the survey is showing that people hate Congress and don’t trust Congress but love their own congressman.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:26

    Or the survey is saying, the economy is people will say the economy is terrible and it’s in the toilet, but my personal economic situation is better than it was a year ago. Right. Like, how like, I don’t what the hell is happening?
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:42

    No. Well, I mean, I think you pointed that out yesterday. That that survey’s so interesting. The boomers who don’t have kids in the schools and some of them maybe have grandchildren, but they’re getting, as a grandparent, I can say that you’re getting kind of very, you know, fragmentary, secondhand accounts into some ways of what’s happening there. They’re all obsessed and the actual parents are making it work presumably at a reasonably satisfied.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:04

    So which way does that cut? Are the one one wants to say, well, that just it’s just as they say agitators, troublemakers, dissatisfied observers weighing in, in in unhelpful ways. God knows. But, you know, ultimately, it’s sort of an amazing amount of it can be damaging, but It it’s not fundamental, you know, which it would be if seventy percent of the parents were unhappy with their kids’ schools or if there was a unbelievable number of complaints and a huge chunk of school districts for actual parents in those districts to continue on the education side of things, but the same would be true in a in other areas. So on the one hand, what could say, well, it’s, it’s, it’s, it is surfaced.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:41

    On the other hand, I suppose if one looks at history, it looks at the history of civil wars and pretty, and conflicts that have really spiraled into very nasty conflicts. They probably start with a bunch of, you know, it’s not clear that everyone in Yugoslavia was hating each other in nineteen hundred. I’m sorry, nineteen ninety. I mean, there was a huge amount to venture. The communities were interpenetrated.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:05

    There was, you know, intermarish and so forth. They lived next to each other. One could have said it could go on as it had with some tensions, but nothing. And then it takes it takes him a loss of bitch. It takes some agitators.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:16

    It takes a slow you know, it takesrebrenica, and you have, you know, civil war for most of a decade. And and real slaughter and real violence. I don’t think we’re quite at that, but but that’s what, I guess, the question, and there’s so many historical examples. It’s not most people that I’m gonna make this up, but most people in Europe in the seventeenth or eighteenth century were sitting around whether they were as Catholics or protestants and thinking, you know what? I really wanna go after those protestants a hundred miles away and change their, you know, force them to convert or or push them back.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:43

    It’s it takes a few leaders and a few demagogues and a few ambitious politicians. And suddenly you’ve got wars all over the place. So, over simplifying a little, and I think those religious divisions are deeper, I guess, than our divisions, though, on the other hand, Jonathan Swift satirized them, in the early eighteenth century. Think it was big egg and little egg, and let’s fight a war about which side, you know, whether the the egg should be put in its in its, the hard boiled egg, I guess, soft boiled egg should be putting and it’s a little cup up, you know, big side up or smaller side up. And, I mean, in some ways, those were also, you know, so you this is what worries me the most, I think.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:20

    The the I used to think, who it’s it it’s not slavery. It’s not the 1850s. It’s not even we’re not we don’t have a great depression. It’s not the nineteen thirties. We didn’t have World War one.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:29

    So it’s also not the 1920s and thirties in that respect. I mean, how what do we, you know, the country’s in decent shape surely all this stuff, which is unpleasant and bad, you know, is is kind of the surface. But at some point, the if if the surface gets roiled it off, I suppose, and and and and people get worked up enough, you can have very bad things happen even though sort of thirty thousand feet perspective, you look at it and say, why, why is this happening now? I mean, what, what, you know, what are the underlying, is it, is the hollowing out of such middle America? By globalization that bad is the culture or the cultural change is that threatening.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:05

    Can you not live as a conservative, heterosexual? Church goer in America today because, you know, somewhere else a hundred miles away, some trans person is being it differently or or a gay couple lives, you know, down the street. I mean, I it is, and I guess I’ve come more to the view that this is very dangerous. So, I mean, it doesn’t take that. It takes a fair amount to disrupt the big, what was once a big, reasonably healthy country, like the United States, but presidency for four years, a huge, media and political and institutional echo chamber that has a huge interest in this now.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:44

    The the sense that you get away with and get rewarded for the irresponsibility. I think that’s very important. You don’t pay a price So you just keep pushing it and the next generation looks up and says, well, that person did pretty well pushing this. I’m gonna go even further and push that. And and I I I think it’s it’s it’s mostly on the right, obviously, there’s some of this on the left, but, I don’t know.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:05

    I I think it’s it’s worrisome. It goes beyond just you know, winning the selection here or defeating this bad piece of school board legislation there.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:15

    So I wonder if the part of the answer here isn’t the imposition of consequences. So yesterday, we had the sentencing of to the Proud Boys leaders. We’ve had a whole lot of January sixth, insurrectionists who have have, you know, wound up in jail or still are involved in trials. We have, The nineteen defendants in Fannie Willis’s District in Fulton County, Georgia. We have we have criminal prosecutions of Donald Trump.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:45

    Be part of what My my thesis in all of this is that this culture war is a result of decadence because we have it so good. Right? And that everything is people don’t have to worry about anything. I’m I’m gonna mention this later today in in my newsletter. Boat sales are an all time high.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:07

    And these are not like blue state New York yacht boat sales. These are middle America I bought my bass boat type things. And it’s precisely because people aren’t really struggling, and people aren’t like, things are actually pretty okay right now. The people feel like they have the space to do this stuff because it’s performative and it’s cosplay, and there are no no consequences to it. You can say whatever the fuck you want.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:34

    And people are like, yeah, sure. Whatever. You wanna say the Earth is flat. That’s funny. There are a lot of flat earthers who have used successful YouTube channel.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:40

    Right? You wanna say that you’re gonna get your gun and go down to the Michigan State House. Well, that’s
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:45

    a, you
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:46

    know, and we need to start having some more consequences for people, and maybe that will help out. I don’t and I don’t know what that means when I say consequences.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:56

    Look, I think that’s very, very important, and I totally agree. And I think the consequences could be both putative consequences. I do think it’s inch just about what after all the January six you know, the the people who stored the capital, some of us were saying, oh, shouldn’t they also go after the top characters? And they have done that now. But but I think just locking up a lot of these people who actually invaded the capital beat up cops and so forth.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:19

    Probably has deterred I, you know, what could have happened last November when they were close elections? I think if you were thinking of storming the Arizona capital after Carrie Lake is contesting extra. Maybe you think twice when you see, you know, gee, I can be, like, five years in jail. It’s not just not just, you know, kind of the time, you know, having my picture in the paper for one day in a in an embarrassing way or not embarrassing way, but you could turn that to your advantage on conservative social media, but, you know, jail term. So I think very important I always say this when I got to Washington at eighty five, we got our little ethics briefings.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:50

    I was in the education department then at eighty nine in the White House, bigger ethics briefings. It was important. People didn’t necessarily dwell on this, but it was important for us mentally that in seventy five, the Watergate conspirators. Nixon had been pardoned, obviously, but it’ll go forced from office. And then the, you know, Hallderman Erlichman, John Mitchell, We had gone to jail.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:12

    And what had the sense that I’m not saying this was the top of my mind. I hope I wouldn’t have committed ethics violations anyway nor most of my colleagues. But, and it wasn’t at the scale and so forth. But what had the sense that, you know what, you could really pay a price if you just ignored certain laws about what you can and can’t do as a federal government official. If you try to use the FBI to inappropriately and stuff, I wasn’t really should do.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:33

    That’s something I don’t wanna compare myself, but I I I mean, I just think people had that sense. And even Iran Contro, which wasn’t quite the same thing, and it was more of a muddied water. People had been indicted and prosecuted, and maybe unfairly by Lawrence Walsh in some cases, I think. But still, there was a sense that you can’t just do stuff that’s contrary to law, that’s contrary to to, that that’s just, really just shows contempt almost for the line. Look at and the last bunch of years on that have just been terrible.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:02

    I mean, you know, the Trump administration, hatjack became a joke. The hatjack was a pretty serious piece of legislation to try to make sure that when you elect when someone has a government office, he doesn’t use that office for political purposes. Otherwise, it tips the playing field.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:16

    Otherwise, you’re convention at the White House.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:18

    Yeah. Otherwise, you’re Orabonds. This is what, you know, wasn’t the perfect legislation, but it is sort of one way of preventing us from becoming Orabonds, Hungary, let’s say. The power the party that holds the government that has power, and the government has a massive advantage over the with the out party. And obviously, and and all of that has become so, there are no consequences.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:39

    It’s not just punitive consequences. It’s sort of policy consequences. The shootings. There’s something pathetic about, you know, gut control is a complicated issue in terms of actual legislation. But the idea that one of our two major parties now almost uniformly has a view that there’s this shooting after shooting, and we don’t even have to pretend take it seriously as a public policy matter.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:01

    And in fact, we’re gonna just keep going down the path of, you know, permitless,
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:06

    constitutional carry.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:08

    Yeah. Constitution carry. Open carry. And and we’re gonna pretend that actual real events leading to the real deaths of real Americans don’t require some rethinking of the current public policy structure. I think that’s very damaging and dangerous.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:23

    Now, again, one could end up having a big debate and not passing that much legislation. But one side of a healthy system is you if there’s a problem out there, And it can be exaggerated, and it can be misunderstood incidentally, and so the legislation can be wrong, but it’s a healthy situation. If there’s a problem, people try to address it. And what’s striking here is, as you said, they’re, you know, there are these area they don’t seem to be consequences in that public policy sense as well as in the more criminal justice sense. And I think that combination leads to a kind of fatalism.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:55

    The other side becomes in a way made more extreme and and and because it doesn’t see much point, and there isn’t much point, honestly, in trying to build a consensus for a, b, or c. I mean, look at all these. I was true in education, true in gun control, kinds of sensitive areas. Out of the question intellectually that there could be a medium, you know, a ground that would, satisfy both most of both sides But once you don’t get in the habit of being serious about either, criminal consequences, but also policy consequences of reality, You really, you’re on a bad, you’re on a slippery slope to I don’t know what exactly, but, I mean, to just what’s the performer to politics where being more radical just pays off because you don’t pay a price. You don’t get you don’t get sort of marginalized for your radicalism.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:43

    You don’t get a excluded from anything. You don’t become an ineffectual member of Congress. You become actually more attention is paid to you, and you become a more effective member for Congress. It’s Roger Taylor Green a less effective member for Congress than some quiet Republican who’s probably behind the scenes trying to do some useful things, but doesn’t have the courage to really stand up to marjorie Taylor Green. No.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:03

    So I I mean, I think, you know, a kind of, yeah. I mean, the there needs to be a culture of responsibility, but that culture then has to be a culture that shames and blames, and in some cases, actually penalizes irresponsibility, and that we don’t have.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:23

    Hey, again. It’s JBL. The conversation goes on from there. If you want to hear the rest of the show, head on over to Bulwark plus and subscribe. We’d love to have you.
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