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The Fantasy of the Reasonable Republican with Fred Wellman
Episode 154. Sun, Apr 30, 2023 2:23PM • 47:05
Fred Wellman 00:00
It’s clear to me that the rising power in the Republican Party is an authoritarian one. It’s a white grievance, Christian evangelical movement. It’s his maniacal, insane, extremist base. They’re more than happy to see transgender Americans suffer and die. They’re more than happy to see women die. They want the hate, they want the racism, they want the bigotry, they want the homophobia, they love that shit. That’s not a culture war, that’s a fucking war.
Sam Goldman 00:50
Welcome to Episode 154 of the Refuse Fascism podcast, a podcast brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I’m Sam Goldman, one of those volunteers and host of the show. Refuse Fascism exposes analyzes and stands against the very real danger and threat of fascism coming to power in the United States. This episode is brought to you by a child coughing directly into my mouth. I promise you, I sound less nasty during the interview.
In today’s episode, we’re sharing an Interview with Fred Wellman, host of on democracy podcast veteran and former Lincoln Project Executive Director. Before we get into it, thanks to everyone who goes the extra step and rates and reviews the show on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. But really, do it on Apple podcast, please. If you appreciate the show and want to help us reach more people who want to refuse fascism, be a gem, go write a review and drop five stars wherever you listen to your pods. I can’t overemphasize what a difference this makes. Please tell the people out there in podcast land why you listen and they should too. Subscribe/follow so you never miss an episode.
And of course, keep up all that great commenting, sharing on social media — love it. Thank you to everyone over on Patreon for supporting the show over $2 a month or more. Thanks patrons. Not one yet? Become one at patreon.com/RefuseFascism. And I wanted to share this sweet message that I got from one of you: “Hi Sam, I’m Justin and I’m from Montana, the shuttlecock in this fascist game of badminton between Florida and Idaho. Thank you for your effort in your show. I enjoy the takes, and ideas shared on the show.” Well, thank you, Justin. Keep listening, keep sharing, keep sending in your ideas.
Sam Goldman 02:50
Today, we’ve got an ex-Republican on. A guest who works to expose the Republi-fascist party — my words, not his — and sound the alarm on the danger we face. I think it’s worth noting that most of our guests bring different perspectives. All too often folks think and act as though, if we’re against fascism, then all our hopes and dreams for society, our understanding of the world and history and our strategies for changing it, all of it is effectively the same. But I want to compel y’all to look deeper, because on the show, we have liberals and progressives, anarchists, Democrats and communists, those with deep religious beliefs, and those with none, and much more variations of viewpoints on this show. I believe all of our guests contribute something important to our collective understanding, but I also think it’s important to be critical, and go deep and search for deeper answers about why we’re in this mess to begin with, how to get humanity free, and what worldview is capable of even leading the fight to stop fascism.
To me, one key questions that end that has come up with many guests is whether, in the face of a rising fascist movement that is overrun the judiciary, rewritten election laws, and gerrymandered states across the country into submission, a movement who has shown their willingness to use violence and mass delusion to overturn any election they don’t win with an empire and system in deep crisis. In the face of all of that, is voting what will determine the future? Or does the action we need to take to defeat fascism lay outside the ballot box, every day, all around us?
We’ve gotta talk briefly about this week’s fascist developments. And then I promise you’ll get to the interview. And it’ll sound a little bit better. After over a decade, fucker Carlson is out at Fox, though not out of the game of hate peddling. We’ll likely have more to say on this in future episodes, but I think that there’s an important object lesson here regarding both Americans famous pragmatism generally, and specifically Trump’s legal issues. It’s clear that Tucker was not ousted because of his fascism. When fascists are outed for scandal or even important things like harassment, that merely lays the groundwork for other fascists to fill right in. Fox will continue to be a platform for fascism, and Carlson will continue to be a rabid advocate of American fascism, probably with even more snot nose resentment. There is no shortcut to politically confronting the threat of a fascist future, and collectively, actively saying hell no.
In the latest in “shut up and smile while we eradicate you,” this past week representative Zooey Zephyr, Montana’s first and only openly transgender legislator, has been censured for saying the truth: that bans on gender affirming care equal death for trans folks. In regards to a bill that would ban gender affirming care for minors, she had previously said: “If you vote yes on this bill, I hope the next time you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.” She was banned for the remainder of the session. This was after several days of silencing her. Supporters of Zephyr brought the Montana House of Representatives to a halt with chants of “let her speak” when Zephyr was not recognized on the floor earlier in the week. She raised her mic in solidarity, and was then censored for doing so.
We salute the folks who came out in protest who risked arrest who took to the streets this weekend. The reality is it should all be shut down. The Republican majority went on to vote for SB99, which denies gender affirming medical care to transgender minors in Montana. It was signed into law on Friday by the governor, making Montana one of the 17 states that have passed laws banning transgender youth from accessing at least some sort of gender affirming care, according to the Movement Advancement Project. Silencing elected officials who are your political opponents is yet another element of the Republi-fascist party gameplan, going hand in hand with voter suppression, gerrymandering, voter Subversion and voter intimidation. Fascism is on the march people gotta wake the fuck up.
Abortion — I wish I had a better segue, or any segue. North Dakota’s Republican governor Doug Burgum signed an abortion ban at six weeks of pregnancy — yeah, well before most folks know they’re pregnant — even in cases of rape and incest as is the norm now into law this past Monday. Now 19 states have restricted or banned abortion since the overturn of Roe. We want to make sure people hear Amanda’s Zurawski’s powerful testimony given Wednesday, April 26 before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the trauma caused by Texas’ abortion bans. As Mark Joseph Stern noted on Twitter: “It’s a horrific story that has played out again and again since the Supreme Court abolished the right to abortion.”
Amanda Zurawski 07:03
My doctors didn’t feel safe enough to intervene as long as her heart was beating or until I was sick enough for the ethics board at the hospital to consider my life at risk. I shouldn’t have had to weigh in anguish for days for the inescapable ill fate that awaited, but this was August 2022 in the state of Texas, where abortion is illegal unless the pregnant person is facing a life threatening physical condition aggravated by caused by or arising from a pregnancy.
People have asked why we didn’t travel to a state where the laws aren’t so restrictive, but we live in the middle of Texas and the nearest sanctuary state is at least an eight hour drive. Developing sepsis, a condition that can kill in under an hour in a car in the middle of the West Texas desert, or on an airplane is a death sentence. And it’s not a choice we should have even had to consider in the first place. So all we could do is wait. I cannot adequately put into words the trauma and despair that comes with waiting to either lose your own life, your child’s or both.
For days, I was locked in this bizarre and avoidable hell. Would Willow’s heart stop? Or would I deteriorate to the brink of death? The answer arrived three long days later. In a matter of minutes I went from being physically healthy to developing a raging fever and dangerously low blood pressure. My husband rushed me to the hospital where we soon learned I was in septic shock, made evident by my violent teeth chattering and incapacity to even respond to questions. Several hours later, after stabilizing just enough to deliver our stillborn daughter, my vitals crashed again.
In the middle of the night, I was rapidly transferred to the ICU where I would stay for three days as medical professionals battled to save my life. What I needed was an abortion, a standard medical procedure. An abortion would have prevented the unnecessary harm and suffering that I endured; not only the psychological trauma that came with three days of waiting but the physical harm my body suffered, the extent of which is still being determined.
Sam Goldman 07:48
In her testimony. She also gives a powerful indictment to Cruz and Cornyn.
Amanda Zurawski 09:55
We’ve heard a lot today about the mental trauma and the negative harmful effects on a person’s psychological well being after they have an abortion, supposedly, and I’m curious why that’s not relevant for me, as well, because I wasn’t permitted to have an abortion and the trauma and the PTSD and the depression that I have dealt with in the eight months since this happened to me, is paralyzing. On top of that, I am still struggling to have children, and I wanted to address my senators Cruz and Cornyn who — neither of whom, regrettably are in the room right now but — I would like for them to know that what happened to me, I think most people in this room would agree was horrific, but it’s a direct result of the policies that they support.
I nearly died on their watch. And furthermore, as a result of what happened to me, I may have been robbed of the opportunity to have children in the future. And it’s because of the policies that they support. What happened to me was horrible, but I am one of many. And quite frankly, I’m lucky. I’m lucky that I have a husband that could take me to the hospital. I don’t have other children that I had to worry about finding health care for. I have a job that was understanding, that allowed me to grieve for three days as I waited to almost die. What about all of the women that don’t have those same opportunities? that don’t have access to health care? that don’t have health insurance? that don’t have a partner? What about them?
Sam Goldman 11:41
We send all our love to Amanda. She has taught us all a lesson in courage. Abortion bans are torture. Honor her and all women and girls by taking to the streets to declare legal abortion on demand and without apology nationwide. See RiseUp4AbortionRights.org to get involved.
We want to take a moment to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Leroy Carhart, who passed on Friday at the age of 81. For 50 years who provided abortion care with compassion and respect. As our friends with Rise Up Chicago tweeted: “He was a courageous man who lived the motto of Dr. Tiller, his friend and colleague, and refused to bow to the threats, attacks and violence of terrorists. “For those who don’t know, Dr. Tiller’s motto was: trust women. With that here is my conversation with Fred.
Today, we’re talking about the fascist threat, as we always are, posed by the Republi-fascist party, but we’re talking about it with an ex Republican. I’m chatting with Fred Wellman. Fred is the host of On Democracy podcast. He is an Iraq war veteran and former Lincoln Project executive director — a different perspective, right. Welcome, Fred. So glad to have you with us.
Fred Wellman 12:54
Great to be here. I appreciate the opportunity.
Sam Goldman 12:55
I guess, first off, what do you see as the current danger posed by your former party?
Fred Wellman 13:04
It’s clear to me that the rising power in the Republican Party, and the dominant power in the party is an authoritarian one. The authoritarian tendencies towards — and to in use the ‘F’ word — the fascism word, is what they’re doing. There’s this lovely bygone era where conservative meant tax issues, or you know, traditional values, if you will, or defense Hawk — which is how I found myself in Republican Party for most of my adult life. As a soldier, I spent 22 years in the Army before I retired; I did four combat tours.
Many of us were conservative, right, and many of us were Republican, and that was the values of: Like I said, being strong on defense, being fiscally conservative, right, which means my tax dollars should go to things that matter. Ironically, those are issues that generally tend to fall on the Democrats now. What that tells you is the sliding scale of what constitutes a Republican and a conservative has slid so far off to the right that it’s actually fallen off the far side — and it’s falling off the side where we find ourselves with fascism.
What we see now is the rising tide of using government for ruthless behavior; using our government to shut down dissent, use our government to control language, to control what kids can be taught, to control the bodies of those who are subjected to them. That’s all right out of the fascism playbook. I started a project about a year and a half ago called the Beer Hall project. It still exists — it’s a little bit short lived, but these things happen sometimes, but — our focus of Beer Hall project was the idea that the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, 100 years ago, was not the end of Hitler, it was the rise of Hitler, and the failure point was how he was disciplined for it, how he was punished for it, and how it actually added to his aura and led him to power.
So for us — and I say it a lot — is January 6th was in no way, in any form, the end of the Republican movement towards fascism. In many ways, it was simply a step in the process. In many ways, it propelled it further forward. It was funny, I remember after the election — I was still at the Lincoln project, I was the senior advisor for veterans affairs during the campaign, and that took over as Executive Director — I got the idea on inauguration day — I remember talking to people all the time, I thought, well, everything’s gonna be good.
Now, now that Trump’s gone, you know, the Republican Party is going to come to their senses and we can go back to norms, norms and traditions, all Biden has to do is adhere the old norms and traditions — and I was one of the voices early on saying, y’all are fucking idiots, right — you know, are you high? Going back to norms and traditions is gone; those days are gone. What we are facing is a movement that’s gone beyond Donald Trump. Everyone wants to hang on Trump, but I say it often: Hitler did not exterminate 6 million Jews by himself. Hitler did not take over Europe and a global movement by himself. Mussolini didn’t either. There are willing participants who are even more passionate about the topic thing.
Because I do believe in my heart that Hitler and Musolini knew they were full of shit, but their followers believed. That’s Jim Jordan, that’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, that’s the propagandists on TV. All those people are taking his movement well beyond him. I think Donald Trump is going to choke on a fucking Big Mac any day now, and when he does, his movement will continue, because the Republican Party has embraced that movement.
Sam Goldman 16:10
As you were talking, one of the things that stuck out to me about the Beer Hall Project, and the relevance today, is Trump didn’t even get the consequence close to what Hitler got. Hitler [FW: Didn’t get away with it.] was at least put in jail for a few years.
Fred Wellman 16:23
He was arrested that day. [SG: Right] He literally arrested on the spot and thrown in jail. He at least did a year, when he wrote Mein Kampf [SG: Exactly]. Trump’s still running around running for fucking president. And, by the way, that circles right back that nerms and traditions bullshit we hate. I hate it so much: Oh, well, you know, we want to rush to judgment. No. We need to rush to judgment, because our democracy is in danger. This is part of my frustration — and look, I’m being very clear, I support President Biden, I will work with President Biden in a heartbeat, I’m a fan. Is he perfect? No. Am I in a cult? Absolutely not.
But the danger for Mr. Biden, being a senator for so long, and being a man of his generation is: Well, we just want to, we want to let the wheels of justice turn properly. I think somebody did a post the other day, I think it was actually an op ed, where he said that Biden is living in 1999 still. He still believes that there’s a reasonable opposition. He still believes that norms and traditions matter. When we’ve got the president united states selling fucking Goya beans on the desk, the Harry Truman desk, in the White House, and there’s no consequence. When he uses the White House grounds for the Republican National Convention in complete violation of the Hatch Act in every way shape and form that Hatch Act was ever created for, and there’s no consequence whatsoever, we are well beyond norms and traditions being the thing.
We’re well beyond a well-paced and proper wheel of justice turning. We are in danger of losing the whole damn thing. We used to joke all the time in my former position, who we’re going to shack up with in the gulag, and which bunk we get, because in the end, I just worry that people like Mr. Garland and others are gonna be sitting in fucking prison going: Well, you know, at least we adhered to norms and traditions. I’m sorry, when democracy is gone, your fucking norms don’t matter anymore.
Sam Goldman 18:05
They lit that rulebook, if you will, on fire. Or they change the rules into instruments of terror [FW: Exactly], and I think that what we’re seeing now is no matter how much the opposition is vilified, no matter how much the Democrats are called traitors or enemies, no matter what they’re called, they continue to cling onto, like, this is the way we do things, as the Republi-fascists have said, we don’t do that anymore. Elections? [FW: Don’t care.] We lose them, they don’t count. I think that that is a very dangerous situation, in which your analogy is very apt.
I’m wondering how you got to the place that you’re in now? Where so many other Republicans are still Republicans. Where so many who seem to be [FW: Reasonable] smart are still going along with, now, a party that is openly fascist, that does not care about the norms that have cohered this country for over a century, that do not care about democratic or civil rights for anyone. You are able to see this in, as I said earlier, a way that oftentimes people who have been, like, staunch Democrats have not been able to see as clearly. How did you come to this understanding? What was that process like for you?
Fred Wellman 19:30
I have felt myself less and less welcome in the party over time. After I left the military, especially, and I really kind of saw the politics for what it was, I realized there’s less less of a place. But there was a time in the early 2000s, especially, where you could be a pro-choice, I don’t give a shit who you marry, Republican, you know, as long as you’re still, like I said, fiscal conservative and a defense hawk, there was a place for me there. We used to joke about it. There’s a whole term — what was it? — a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, or something like that, right. There was a time when that was a thing. Now [chuckles], that’s a fucking joke.
I maintain my position as a Republican, if you will — and again, I was not a political activist, I’m not gonna claim to be like my colleagues, the Lincoln project who were actually paid consultants and strategist, or worked in a Republican White House — I was a soldier for 22 years, I left that I got a job as a civilian, I was a voter. I had a PR, and my PR firm was focused on veterans issues, and that’s really where I was at heart. So I went into that, probably in 2010, when I launched my firm, I was still Republican, very much. Matter of fact, it’s funny story, when I hired a young woman in DC, she got a message from another veterans advocate who said: How could you work for that right wing nut job Wellman? True story. It’s like 2011, and I’m like, that’s kind of fucked up.
And then shit changed. For me, it was a gradual change. What happened was I got involved in veterans advocacy with the Obama administration, Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden did a thing called Joining Forces. I was very skeptical when they launched it. It was in military initiative out of the First Lady’s office that focused on veterans and military families, and helped them. I was like: Ah, this is just their way to try and make people think they love veterans and military. And then they actually did good shit. They actually stuck with it for years, and they did things that were really good. They invited me to meetings to talk their staff and give them my input based on my expertise in homelessness issues and others, and they didn’t ever ask me what my party was. They didn’t look at my Twitter feed. It was just they want to get things done. That was a big part.
And one of these guys has a very pivotal moment. For me, the pivotal moment was when Donald Trump appeared at the family values conference, and said that John McCain was not a hero just because he got captured, and he’d liked those who don’t get captured. That was bad. That was Donald Trump. Many of us who’ve known Mr. Trump for years knew he hated the military anyway, he had smeared anybody who served he thought we were losers. That was common knowledge, contrary to popular belief. But here’s what the key was: He said that, and my gut that night was, I tweeted, like: Oh my god, this guy, he’s done, this is it.
The veterans community and the Republican Party supports the troops. They’re going to turn those guys so fast, this is finally the end of the Donald Trump campaign, because he basically said, POWs are failures. But do you remember what actually happened? Nothing. Nothing happened. The other candidates were running for fucking President bitched and complained and said things, but the party erased them. No one said he’s done. None of the big thinkers in the Republican Party wrote pieces saying: Oh, that’s it, we can’t have a president thinks POW’s are losers.
No. Instead, what came out was: Well, you know, McCain, isn’t that great. Or: You know, he’s the guy that helped Obama. Just these excuses. And for me, the final straw was my own veteran community, which I was a part of, which I had spent, at that point, years supporting professionally and personally, they’re like: Whatever — they embrace it — we don’t care, we like him. And the most galling thing of them all was — people don’t realize this who aren’t in my world — there used to be a thing called Rolling Thunder, which is still kind of in existence, but nothing like it used to be.
Rolling Thunder was a huge motorcycle rally that rolls through Washington DC every year, Memorial Day weekend, honoring POWs, and MIAs, missing an action troops, put together by a Vietnam veterans who organize the whole thing; it’s a big fucking deal every year. That year, not three or four months after Donald Trump said I like people who aren’t captured, they built a stage in front of the Lincoln Memorial and made Donald Trump the guest speaker at the end of Rolling Thunder — a guy who never served a day in uniform. A guy who dodged the draft five times. A guy who said POWs or losers was an honored guest at a rally to honor POWs and MIAs. That was the day I said: Shit, I’m not welcome here. I’m done.
For me, it was the final straw. My last vote as a Republican was — I’m not gonna tell you it was, it’s so embarrassing — but it was a guy who’s very short. It was a toss off vote as my last chance to be Republican. And that was it, I voted for Clinton, and I’ve never gone back, and I have no regret. I was a little unusual at the Lincoln project when I was there, at the time, called themselves Republicans, I was like: Nah, bro, I’m out. You know, and that’s it. I’ve embraced Democratic campaigns. I’ve worked with Democratic candidates. I’ve worked with Democratic PACs. I’ve worked the Democratic leadership to try and perpetuate our mission because, you know, it was an easy shift for me. That’s my journey.
Sam Goldman 24:00
Why do you think that Trumpism, which is more than Trump, was so embraced?
Fred Wellman 24:07
This is gonna be something weird, give Donald Trump credit for things. Number one: He is a master marketer. Donald Trump has spent his entire life marketing Donald J. Trump. He knows his audience. He knows his customer base. I hate his guts. I’m not his fucking customer. I’ve never been his customer. He’s always been a master of finding his customers, giving them what they want, and selling him. Now, there’s been multiple failures, so people will like to criticize his failures. I was a businessman — you know, you learn in business? You fail. You know, failures teach you things, and Donald Trump’s many, many failures taught him — they taught him how not to, right?
And so we have a man who has been a master marketer of his own persona for his entire adult life, and he’s gotten good at it; he knows his audience. When he came down that elevator and said: Oh, yeah, the Mexicans are bringing rapists and stuff, and people went fucking nuts for it, he’s like, uh, noted — got it, okay, got it. We’re gonna Make America Great Again. Make America Great Again! I love it. Oh, MAGA, that’s my thing now. Look at how he did it. There’s a deep audience. There’s a wellspring in our country, unfortunately, of people who feel aggrieved, people who feel: I hate this guy. Oh, fuck, this guy hates him too. That’s my guy.
The Republican Party has become in many ways a minority party of a shrinking star. As my colleagues in Lincoln project call, like a star that’s failing — you know, it becomes hotter and smaller and then explodes. In many ways, that’s the project that was the Republican Party is. It’s a white grievance, Christian evangelical movement. We have a major political party United States now, that is more than happy to let us eat each other live. They’re more than happy to see transgender Americans suffer and die. They’re more than happy to see women die because their Christian evangelical base is like: I love it, you know, that’s the price we pay for freedom. If a mother dies while giving birth, if a 10 year old child dies in childbirth, well, that’s good because we got a baby. [mocking childish voice] We saved the baby.
It’s this maniacal, insane, extremist base. Which is why I wrote a piece on my Substack the other day, FPWellman.Substack.com — gotta plug it. On my Substack, the other day, I wrote a piece called: Oh, hell no. This is the piece about the fantasy, if you will, of the reasonable Republican. And one of my last points there was there are no fucking reasonable Republicans to vote for them. The idea that a guy like the Governor of Maryland or others — my friend, Michael Steele — could get elected in this party is farcical to the nth degree. They simply don’t do it.
My example I use, if you remember the piece, was Marjorie Taylor Greene, I worked for her opponent, Marcus Flowers. She had at least three to four reasonable Republican opponents, and they got their asses handed to him because nobody wanted them. They want Marjorie Taylor Greene. They want the hate, they want the racism, they want the bigotry, they want the homophobia, they love that shit. They gerrymandered that district to make sure people like her got elected. So this idea that there’s somehow this wellspring of reasonable Republicans, who are gonna just suddenly come out of the dark and save the party is so farcical you might as well look for a fucking unicorn in your backyard, because they’re just as much a real thing as a reasonable Republican at this point.
The reasonable Republicans, the people like me, got the fuck out and we went to become Democrats, because the Democrats at least, for all their challenges, welcome us, and are willing to have me have different opinions and then them. The party has become a small, hot, evangelical, far right movement that is willing to do anything to control and maintain their power. And that means taking away our rights to free speech, taking our way of rights to bodily autonomy in every way. I live in Missouri. The fucking corn pone, jackass Governor of Missouri, says he wants to call a special session of the legislature to outlaw transgender sports participation and transgender health care in any way for adults and children. He wants to make a law that essentially removes transgender Americans from our society in every way.
Missouri is 39th, an education. Missouri is in the bottom tier in infrastructure improvement. Missouri has outrageous gun violence. But what’s he want to have a special legislative session on? By the way, do you know how many kids who are transgender have participated in sports in the history of Missouri? Four, and the majority were female to male. That’s where we are. These lunatics are willing to call a special legislative session, spend taxpayer money for their bigotry. That’s a scary place to be.
Sam Goldman 28:28
It’s really heartbreaking. [FW: People will die. That’s what bothers me. People will die.] For all these kids, my heart breaks for them. [FW: Yep] It is hard to be a kid at all. It is hard to be in middle school for anyone [FW: Right]. It’s terrible, then to lose part of what makes you you is disgusting.
Fred Wellman 28:48
It’s unAmerican. We have to say it that. We have to admit that that this is unAmerican; that what they’re trying to do goes against the very values we were founded upon — the idea that you could have the freedom to make your own decisions for yourself, the freedom to make your own way in the world. We came to this continent and bulldozed our way across it because the very idea of the American dream is open to everyone, no matter where they’re from and who they are, and these people, while they wrap themselves in the flag, while they outlaw the existence of fellow Americans just for existing — just for existing! It’s sick.
Sam Goldman 29:22
What I love about this show is that we can have very different views. I think that this is American to a tee. And we can you know…
Fred Wellman 29:31
I may not argue with you, I mean, we did have that whole genocide of Native Americans.
Sam Goldman 29:36
That’s a beautiful thing, that we can unite about a lot of things, and I think that stripping people’s humanity away [FW: Yeah] is just American. This is a country that was founded on slavery and genocide. You know.
Fred Wellman 29:49
I’d have a hard time arguing with you again.
Sam Goldman 29:50
Yeah. I wanted to talk about that article that you were bringing up, the reasonable Republican one on your Substack. I think that one of the most dangerous apart is that this comes from DNC leadership, straight from the mouths of Pelosi or Biden. In that recent piece, I think it’s your latest, in regards to the Tennessee three, demanding Biden and company fight back against fascism isn’t blaming them for fascism, you wrote that making those demands and criticizing them when they don’t do that is “holding them accountable to mount a serious and effective counter offensive.” I was wondering how you see such a counter offensive playing out beyond elections. What do you think it would take — you no more military terms than I do — but push it all the way back?
Fred Wellman 30:41
Yeah, well, we have to fight back. So, what I say is they do need to do their part. My frustrations with the left when I complain about things often is: Well, the reasonable Republicans need to stop this. I’m like: There aren’t any. Nazis didn’t stop Nazis, we did. So it takes many forms. First of all, I’m a big believer in the bully pulpit. I gave the example with the reason that came out was the night of the Tennessee three being expelled — two of them being expelled. I just tweeted: Jesus Christ, where the hell was the Biden ministration? What are you doing?
It wasn’t just the Tennessee three situation, it was the idea that these issues that are called culture wars are unimportant — that it’s more important that the economy does great, it’s more important that the world thinks we’re awesome. I’m like: But, people like me who live in a red state know people are dying. So your fucking culture war — it’s a war, and people are dying. Women are dying of births that go awry. There was just a story yesterday, I think was Oklahoma, a woman had to wait in the parking lot while her pregnancy failed enough that her life was actually in danger before the hospital had the courage to give her the proper abortion treatment she deserved.
Obviously, transgender kids committing suicide is common. Or even worse, here in Missouri, they doxed all the doctors of the transgender care clinic, and so they had to go into hiding because their lives are in danger of being threatened. That’s not a culture war. That’s a fucking war. People in Washington, DC, some names you mentioned, Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Schumer, unfortunately, Mr. Biden sometimes, seem to not get it, that out here in this part of the country, people are in fucking trouble. So that day, what I said specifically was: Get on Air Force One and fly your fucking ass to Nashville and land and do a rally on the damn tarmac, and say: I’m here because what’s happening here is unAmerican, it’s unacceptable and I want these people to know now. Having said that, I don’t know what happened, I do know that some people saw it, and what do you know, Vice President Harris showed up the next day, which is pretty fucking cool. I would like to see Mr. Biden. That’s the number one, the bully pulpit is incredibly powerful. Obama knew it. Obama went places he wasn’t welcomed, and he did it on purpose to make a statement and to hold them accountable. I
just believe the President of the United States showing up in these places and calling them out, showing up in Florida and saying: Hey, you guys hear what’s going on here? Let me show you. Because he brings the national press with him. Bullies don’t want the spotlight. They want to do their bullying and their fascism as under the radar as far as they can. That’s number one. Use the power of the presidency to shame these people.
Number two, we’ve got that thing. What does that organization, they don’t do much these days, the Department of Justice, that’s what it’s called. I’d Love to see this thing called the Department of Justice do, like, I don’t know, justice shit. And that means stuff like, I don’t know, using the Civil Rights Division to defend fucking civil rights. And now there is encouraging signs, so I have to do the whole walk back thing that I do a lot, which is fine, because I don’t know if you saw it today, but the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division did file a lawsuit in Tennessee, saying the new Tennessee Transgender Law does violate the 14th amendment. Thank you very much — because there’s that whole fucking constitution thing and as the Department of Justice and these state legislatures — I don’t know if you saw on Texas, they’re going to try and say that the Ten Commandments is the basis of America, is what they’ve tried to fucking say. A 2000 year old religion, and there’s literally a Supreme Court case that said no, fuck you, you can’t do that.
I don’t want the Department of Justice to do their bullshit where it’s two fucking months from now. File the stay motion now. Get in the fight. So that’s my urging as a lone voice with a small platform to say: Get in the fucking game. Get in the fight. There’s the famous Man in the Arena, Teddy Roosevelt, The Man in the Arena speech. I came back to my home state about a year and a half ago for a lovely human being who brought me here — I swore I’d never moved to Missouri, then I’m here, and I’m staying because I see what’s going on in these states. I see the lunacy firsthand.
I just feel like maybe my voice can count more by staying here and saying: Y’all you’re not gonna believe this shit today. Again, I wouldn’t have known about Governor Mike Parson, this corn pone jackass — who only got the job because Eric Greitens was a fucking criminal — deciding the most important thing for his his state is outlawing four kids from playing sports. He’s willing to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for his little political cool points so that his shitty Secretary of State could get the governorship.
I just feel very strongly that there is just so much the power of the federal government could do to do this. They could use the budget, by the way; we’re gonna delay construction of X federal facility in your town if you decide that my transgender employees aren’t welcome. We’re not going to expand Fort Leonard Wood if it’s dangerous for female service members and transgender service members and homosexual service members to even serve your state because their very existence is against the law — we’re not going to build your military base, we’re going to go somewhere else. Because believe it or not, right now, there are military service members who are afraid to transfer to Texas, to Missouri, to Georgia, to Florida, because their rights to exist are being outlawed.
I want to see more. I want to see the Department of Defense do that. But again, all these fucking people hide [behind]: [nasal voice] Well, norms or traditions. Look, Republicans don’t give a shit about that stuff. The Republicans, when Trump was in power. They used the power of the government to do whatever they fucking wanted. We’re going to have to be ruthless. It’s time to start fighting like our enemies do. You’ll notice, every single thing I’ve listed is perfectly legal, and perfectly within norms and traditions. I’ve written people that I know in DC and said: Look, what do you fucking doing, man? It’s kind of funny, because I think they get mad at me because they expect me to be a cult and be all: [singing] Everything is awesome when you’re part of a team. No. That’s not not who I am. I’m not here to be your cheerleader. I’m here to hold you accountable.
Sam Goldman 36:09
That’s it. I think that you talked about leaving, and being in a red state, and the role that people can play in speaking out sometimes in an outsize capacity in those situations. I think that there’s a lot of validity to that. While I understand people having to, sadly, perhaps, flee if their [FW: For their health, for their survival.] very existence is under threat. I totally understand that. I think there’s a responsibility for those who aren’t yet [FW: right] to make sure that we’ve refused that fascism.
Fred Wellman 36:55
Use your platform, use the power you have.
Sam Goldman 36:59
There was — maybe this one was your latest piece, but — on Substack, where you hit on what I think was really important point that many decent people in this country have become convinced that Democrats just have to do the real work of running the country, that this is what politics is really about, and someone else can fight for a more just future, or whether we’ll have a future at all. No. You’re just idolizing bureaucracy while the world burns around you. How do we get people to pull their heads out of the sand when they’re the ones burying them there?
Fred Wellman 37:36
How do organizations — how do people like us grassroots organizers and others — convince people that there is a danger to their existence? There’s historic precedent here, right, Sam? Who can forget the poem, right: When they came for the socialists, I wasn’t a socialist… came for the Jews, I wasn’t a Jew, you know. History is rife with examples of those who thought they were immune to the danger, but then when your young wife gets pregnant, has a frickin ectopic pregnancy, and may die, well all of a sudden they’re pro-fucking-choice, aren’t they?
So we have to teach people. I’m a big believer of storytelling. I’m a big believer that if we effectively tell the stories of people who are suffering, the people who are in danger, and reach the hearts of those who are sitting on the sidelines, it will work. I’ve seen it happen in my professional life and I’ve seen it happen in my personal life. Right now, someone I’m very close to has 80 year old parents who are just lovely, lovely people, but they’re lifelong Republicans. The father is a Trumpist, but the mom’s like seeing the reality of it, and even she has said to my friend: Gosh, you know, have you seen what’s going on in Florida? She’s a former music teacher. They’re banning books, like: Why would we do that?
So if we tell the story and bring it home to… There’s good people. I do believe there’s good people. I do believe There’s people who remain the Republican Party because they just always have them. They haven’t had the catharsis that I had. They haven’t had the influence of Gen Z kids like mine, who dragged me kicking and screaming into the modern world, to see what was really happening. Then I take hope — and that’s probably my last bit — my last piece of hope is Gen Z. This is a very different generation, they and Millennials, but especially Gen Z, these are kids who grew up wired with the rest of the world.
My own son playing Xbox Live at eight years old with his best friend in Germany. [When] I was eight years old, my best friend lives in next street over it. If he was in the next subdivision, it was too fucking far away. So this is a generation who feels these attacks. They feel. I had a guest on my show a little while ago now, John Della Volpe. John is the head of polling at the Institute of Politics at Harvard. He is the expert. He has been polling since the millennials, every year. John describes this so well, he goes… They did a poll recently and they asked Gen Z, what do you think about when you go to the voting booth, and they think about:
I think about my friend who’s gay and is going to lose her right to talk about that. I think about my aunt who needed an abortion and couldn’t get one. They’re a generation who’s thinking beyond themselves, because they’ve always is thought beyond themselves. So I take hope and solace. I’m actually an adviser to a group called voters tomorrow, which is a Gen Z voting group, and I do it for no other reason that it just gives me hope. Because they’ve got it. They know what the hell they’re doing. So, the two piece puzzle, we have to convince people, we have to reach their hearts to understand the danger to our democracy and to them — because it has to reach them.
We have to bring up a generation that’s active and involved and willing to fight for their rights, which is what drove the entire thing of the Tennessee three; kids walked out of their schools and showed up at their state legislature. If you don’t think those kids saw their reps get punished for it, you’re delusional. If you don’t think kids are seeing [Rep.] Zooey [Zephyr] in Montana get silenced, they’re seeing it. This is gonna be the fall of the Republican Party because these idiots think they’re gonna get away with this shit. These idiots think they’re going to just sneak it through and it’s no big deal. The idiots in Washington think: Well, that’s Montana, nobody’s paying attention to Montana. Let me tell you, man, no fucking boomers are paying attention to Montana, but I goddamn tell you the 20 to 25 year olds, they know what’s going on Montana.
I believe our time will come back because throughout history it has every time. Now, I hear all the time… I remember when I started the Beer Hall project, I would say Hitler did this or that, and I would literally have people go: Well, we know what happened to him. Yeah, after 18 million fucking people died. Oh, yeah, well, Mussolini got hung by his heels. Yeah, after you destroyed his country. You know what, let’s cut to the chase and not let 18 million people die. You know what I mean. Literally, people said to me. It’s like: Well, yo, he ended up getting hung. Yeah, it took a bit. Let’s end this before people start dying.
That’s my belief. It’s a running joke, if you ever watch my podcast, that I had this weird optimism considering I was a soldier for 22 years, and then a political activist, and a PR guy. I am actually optimistic. I believe we’re winning. It sounds counterintuitive, based on all the things I’ve said for 45 minutes, Sam, but I do believe we’re winning, because I have hope in the next generation as I work with them. I end this conversation, probably, with an optimistic streak, which is, time is on our side in a lot of ways.
So in the end, I think we continue to do what we’re doing. We fight. We do things like this, Sam. We have these conversations. We reach people’s hearts and their minds, say: Look, this is what’s happening, I want you to see it. The real way they get away with this stuff is in the dark. Jeff Bezos of all people, but democracy does die in darkness. People like us who are shining a bright light on the end of democracy, I do believe, will chase the cockroaches back where they belong, and hopefully they’ll die back in the basement where they belong.
Fred Wellman 39:12
Thanks so much, Fred, for coming on and sharing your perspective and time with us. [FW: Thank you.] I want to give you an opportunity to plug away [FW: Oh yeah.] Where are the places we should go?
Fred Wellman 42:44
Well, this is like my full time job now. I’ve given up PAC life. So, my main home is the On Democracy, the F.P. Wellman podcast. It’s available on all the platforms. Specifically, though I’m broadcast each Friday night at 11pm Eastern on the Meidas Touch Network; 1.1 million subscribers and wonderful place to find some really thoughtful and funny people. You get the whole range from people like me who are cranky old men to young people like I am politics girl telling you how screwed up you are. We also are, of course, on Twitter. I live on Twitter, @FPWellman, on Instagram @FPWellmanOfficial, and then of course my Substack has really become my home for where I put a lot of my thoughts down.
Sam, I can’t say how gratifying it is that you actually highlighted some of my writing. I’m humbled by that. I appreciate it. That, of course, I mentioned, FPWellman.substack.com on Substack. It’s growing fast. It’s just got a lovely following. It’s a mixture of my political stuff, but also I tried to write a story every Sunday from my past. I’ve got a long career of seeing some stuff, and if I can share that there, I will.
Sam Goldman 43:39
Thanks so much. [FW: Thank you.] I wanted to comment on one part of this interview that really struck me, where Fred’s talking about veterans organizations embracing Trump back in 2016, directly after Trump disparaged veterans. I think it really shows the willingness of the fascists in this country to put white supremacy, patriarchy, American chauvinism before anything, even before themselves. If they can’t have their America the way they want it, they’d rather just burn it all down.
But, while I see this as an interesting exposure, it was almost invisible compared to the anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, anti-Black agenda that Trump had already made clear. His attacks on dissent and the press and civil liberties and all the things that Trump shared with the rest of the Republican Party over the last decades. But this meant something very different to Fred. It was a key factor in breaking his allegiance. I think this is reflected in different ideas of what Fascism is, where today, his concern over the cruel and brutal future Trump and the GOP represent for the US runs deep.
I also think that he does not share my view that the US military has been guilty of imposing similar nightmares in other countries. On the other hand, I think Fred sees a lot of things that some of our guests who’ve been vital parts of the Democratic Party base do not see as clearly, including key facets of the fascist movement and about the need for action and what that entails. So, thanks again, Fred, for coming on and talking with us. And thanks to you for listening to Refuse Fascism.
Sam Goldman 45:14
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