Love your enemies—it drives them crazy

By Robert Wright, editor of the Mindful Resistance Newsletter

Love your enemies—it drives them crazy: People often quote the Apostle Paul saying, in his letter to the Romans, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.” People less often quote what Paul says next: “For by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”

This passage came to mind after I read an email from Heidi, an MRN subscriber who is doing her best to transcend anger and hatred.

Heidi writes, “I volunteer, politically & socially, but I feel like possibly the biggest contribution I’m making right now is a commitment to be 100% positive online…  I don’t mean I don’t express sadness at events, but I’ve drawn a red line for myself so that I don’t either put out, or pass on, material that is angry, or even snide. I try to encourage and congratulate others, so it’s more than just an absence of negative, but just not spreading nastiness feels like a huge thing right now.”

But Heidi has a friend who tells her that “playing nice” is just “rolling over,” and Heidi has nagging doubts that “maybe my friend is right and I’m simply ceding ground out of cowardice to people who have no problem being angry.”

There are definitely times when skillfully channeled anger does some good. In fact, there are times when unskillfully channeled anger winds up doing some good. Still, it’s worth remembering that transcending anger and hatred isn’t just a mushy moral or spiritual ideal. Sometimes it’s a smart tactic, a way to thwart your enemy’s aims. Though scholars differ over the exact interpretation of Paul’s “burning coals” line, the basic idea seems to be that, as a practical matter, reciprocating antagonism usually isn’t the best way to fight it. Paul’s next sentence is, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” He’s offering a path not just to goodness but to victory—much as the Buddha was when he said, “Hostilities aren’t stilled through hostility… Hostilities are stilled through non-hostility.”

Again, whether this strategy works depends on your situation and your adversary. But when your adversary is a president who loves to be able to tell his supporters that you hate him, and hate them, and loves to depict you and your allies as dangerously uncivil extremists, then defying those stereotypes may indeed be a way to heap burning coals on his head. (And I commend Heidi—who says she thinks we should “impeach with compassion”—for presumably not taking any pleasure in that image.)

By the way, Paul’s observation wasn’t original. He was quoting almost word for word—and intentionally referencing—a verse from the book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible. And Proverbs, I would emphasize, is categorized as part of the “wisdom literature.”

Each week, the Mindful Resistance Newsletter presents a calm and balanced summary of the news along with reflections and background reading about the problem of Trumpism and how to fight it intelligently.

 

Subscribe to the Mindful Resistance newsletter!

 

Robert Wright, editor of the Mindful Resistance Newsletter, is the New York Times bestselling author of The Evolution of God (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), NonzeroThe Moral Animal (named one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review), Three Scientists and their Gods (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Why Buddhism Is True.

Read the latest edition of the Mindful Resistance Newsletter

Want to fight Trump effectively?

By Robert Wright, editor of the Mindful Resistance Newsletter

To impeach or not to impeach? Last month’s BuzzFeed report that Trump suborned perjury led to a new wave of impeachment talk. Then, awkwardly for those doing the talking, the Special Counsel’s office said the story wasn’t entirely accurate.

But rest assured that there will be more impeachment talk. And I’m guessing that when all the evidence comes out, this talk won’t be wholly without foundation. Which raises the question: should you join in the talk? Should you urge your congressional representatives to impeach, and become an impeachment enthusiast, and click on so many impeachment-related headlines that Google starts mainlining impeachment news into your brain?

Your call. I’d just like to lay out some reasons it’s a tough call—why it’s not obvious to me that a drive for impeachment is a good move, and why getting too wrapped up in this issue could be a waste of time and energy.

Suppose, for starters, that impeachment results in Trump’s early departure from the White House. That is: either (1) not only does the House impeach Trump (which could well happen) but the Senate convicts him (much less likely, since that requires a two-thirds vote); or (2) Trump resigns under the pressure of impeachment, somewhat as Nixon did.

In these scenarios, we wind up with Mike Pence as president. Now, in many ways, I find the prospect of a Pence presidency significantly less horrifying than the reality of a Trump presidency. On the other hand, Pence’s governing ideology would probably be, basically, Trumpism—partly because of some of his natural leanings and partly because he would inherit Trump’s base and a GOP reshaped by Trump. Or, at least, it would be Trumpism with a few rough edges smoothed off.

Some of those edges are definitely worth smoothing off (e.g. Trump’s mindless violation of norms, and his mind-numbing day-to-day noise level). But precisely because Pence would in this sense seem like a breath of fresh air, he’d probably be more likely to get re-elected in 2020 than Trump would. So the impeachment of Trump could be good for Trumpism in the long run.

And in some ways Pence could be worse than Trump. Though Trump has largely obliged the GOP’s neoconservative foreign policy establishment, he at least has spasms of doubt about the value of prolific military intervention. These spasms aren’t shared by the establishment and probably wouldn’t be shared by a President Pence.

Don’t get me wrong: Like Resisters in general, I feel good when I hear of some new piece of damning evidence about Trump, or when I imagine him leaving the White House in disgrace. But part of the point of mindfulness is to not accept your feelings as guides to thought without carefully inspecting them. When I pause to think about it, I’m far from sure that Trump’s leaving the White House via impeachment in, say, January of 2020 would be better than his leaving via the ballot box in January of 2021 (though, of course, a January 2020 departure has the virtue of precluding a second term in office).

You can play this game of “what ifs” all day. The “What if the House impeaches and the Senate doesn’t convict and Trump doesn’t resign” scenario has all kinds of hypothetical branches emanating from it, ranging from “Trump is usefully chastened” to “Trump destabilizes the world via various gambits aimed at preserving the allegiance of his base during the impeachment drama.”

I hope all this explains why I’m an impeachment agnostic. Emotionally drawn as I am to the impeachment scenario, when I reflect on the matter I realize I just don’t know if impeachment would be good or bad.

Amid the uncertainty, I try to stay true to something I’m more sure of: The ultimate enemy is Trumpism, not Trump. So I shouldn’t let my loathing of the latter undermine, or even distract me from, opposition to the former. Which means, among other things, trying to reduce my loathing level. (And here, actually, Trump’s sheer clownishness can be an asset; I find it harder to hate a malicious buffoon than, say, a malicious mastermind).

I also try to think about what policies best combat Trumpism. If you want to get the biggest picture, longest-term view of what I mean by that, read my aforementioned Wired piece. (Sorry to keep flacking it, but I spent a lot of time on it, and it’s as close as I can come to a magnum opus on why Trump and Trumpism are here and what we should do about it.)

The impeachment whipsaw—first the BuzzFeed story was billed as a nail in Trump’s coffin, after which the Mueller office seemed to put a nail in the BuzzFeed story’s coffin—is, if nothing else, a reminder of one thing: you can save a lot of time by not staying attuned to the ups and downs of the impeachment stock market. And maybe you can use that time wisely.

Each week, the Mindful Resistance Newsletter presents a calm and balanced summary of the news along with reflections and background reading about the problem of Trumpism and how to fight it intelligently.

 

Subscribe to the Mindful Resistance newsletter!

 

Robert Wright, editor of the Mindful Resistance Newsletter, is the New York Times bestselling author of The Evolution of God (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), NonzeroThe Moral Animal (named one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review), Three Scientists and their Gods (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Why Buddhism Is True.

Read the latest edition of the Mindful Resistance Newsletter

Most reassuring email of the week

MRN reader Karen writes, “Trump is a correction, a part of our awakening. Not to worry. All is well.” Well that’s a load off my mind! But, seriously, Karen may have a point. I mean, I’m not as sanguine as she is; I think it will be awhile before the phrase “All is well” springs to mind every time I see Trump’s florid visage on TV. Still, it’s true that Trump is forcing us to reckon with things we should have reckoned with long ago. In particular, he’s helped make “tribalism” a buzzword, and I think pondering tribalism is a good thing, as long as we’re clear on what tribalism does and doesn’t mean.

News You Can Use

The UN estimates that 14 million people are at risk of famine in Yemen—in large part because of bombing by, and an economic blockade imposed by, a Saudi-led coalition that the US supports. If you want to help, check out this New York Times list of respected organizations that provide humanitarian relief there. And feel free to express support for grassroots-funded NGOs that lobby against the Saudi intervention and America’s support for it. These include Win Without War, the American Friends Service Committee, and Amnesty International.

Crazy? Or crazy like Fox?

One unresolved question about Trump is whether his antics and provocations are as impulsive as they seem, or are in fact tactically driven, part of a carefully crafted political and media strategy. Some of both, no doubt, but I increasingly think the second scenario has a lot to be said for it. Consider Trump’s decision to suspend the press credentials of CNN reporter Jim Acosta this week. The story stole tons of oxygen from the much more important story of Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions, and no doubt suppressed attendance at “Protect Mueller” rallies held the next day (though attendance was still fairly impressive, given the short notice).

But that’s only half the story. Picking on a white male reporter allows Trump defenders to argue that his confrontations with female or nonwhite reporters aren’t misogynistic and aren’t racist. And if you don’t think Trump’s Fox News friends will make full use of that opportunity—by, say, mocking a black female reporter for alleging bias—then you don’t know Trump’s Fox News friends.

From Gayle in Santa Cruz, CA

Hello Robert & Crew-

I wanted to provide some input on Living Room Conversations (LRC) as I have
been volunteering with them since last fall. As a member of my local
Indivisible’s Finding Common Ground/Project Connect Teams we have been
bringing LRC-Style conversations to our community. Several Indivisible
groups I am in contact with are using LRCs to reach out to their
surrounding communities.

I am also on the Better Angels Mailing list and follow what they are up to
relatively closely. They are based in the mid-atlantic/midwest region I
believe; or at least that’s where many of their events seem to have
occurred thus far (I live in Santa Cruz, CA).

What I admire about the Better Angels process is that it is a deep-dive
into the topic and a day-long event. I have a background in diversity
training and I am pleased to hear that Better Angels uses an exercise where
they deal with and speak out about the stereotypes (they are well aware of)
that exist out their about their group (Red or Blue), and they get to speak
out about this in a safe forum and give voice to how hurtful this is to
them. This is exceedingly rare and dare I say could be healing? Hence the
change in demeanor noted by David Brooks in his article.

The barrier to entry, though, is high in terms of getting involved with
Better Angels. Again, they have not yet made it out to my neck of the
woods. They require (necessary) training to become a facilitator or
trainer, although I believe it is free of charge to be trained once you are
accepted. In terms of participating in a workshop I’m not aware of any
costs, it would just entail gathering a group of 5 reds and 5 blues plus
the possible cost of bringing in a certified facilitator and trainer unless
one lives near you. Also, perhaps the costs of facilities rental/food.

The Living Room Conversations (LRC) model has about the lowest barrier to
entry out there. It’s open source and they encourage you to either start
with a conversation guide they’ve already created for over 60 topics (The
American Dream, Guns & Responsibility, Money in Politics) or they offer
guidance on how to create your own customized topic/questions. You can
also adapt one they’ve already created.

The approach is that two friends of differing political persuasions invite
two other friends and they meet for 1 1/2-2 hours in someone’s living room
or a coffee shop (or online) after agreeing on a topic. The conversations
are ‘held’ together by a 6-part conversation agreement that is reviewed at
the beginning in order to create ownership and buy-in for the guidelines.
The conversation can be hosted by the group as a whole via the guidelines
or sometimes by a designated host who completes a one hour training.

The intention is to understand; not debate or attempt to change minds. You
sometimes find yourself sharing your deepest values and may even see (for
the first time) how events in your past have led to the opinions and
perspectives you hold today. You often find common ground where you may
have thought none existed.

The challenge in some communities (like mine) with LRC is finding more
conservative conversation partners. There are some ways around this; some
topics taken up by even a mostly left of center group (To Vote or Not to
Vote; Affordable Housing, Status & Privilege) illustrate the differences in
opinion from center to far-left. Addressing these differences on the left
eventually could help one to hone skills to reach towards the right. I
have also participated in many LRCs online via zoom and have experienced
more diverse groups for conversations, some with whom I have met with 2-3
times on various topics.

April 20-28 is the National Week of Conversation (NWOC) sponsored by
several of the Civil Discourse/Dialogue & Deliberation organizations
including LRCs. Some of the events are in person but several are online
https://nationalweekofconversation.org/events/ and all appear to be FREE
of charge.

NWOC is sponsored by The Bridge Alliance https://www.bridgealliance.us/
comprised of over 80 member organizations. They are all working harder
than ever to elevate common decency, listening first, and putting country
above party.

Thank you,
Gayle
Santa Cruz, CA

Issue #17: Nov 26-Dec 2, 2017

In this week’s newsletter, after our summary of an especially eventful seven days of Trump-related news, I examine a proposal that was floated this week: that all anti-Trumpers put aside their ideological differences, and refrain from debating policy, so long as Trump is in office. Conveniently, this gives me an opportunity to remind you what a menace Bill Kristol is. Then, in our background section, we steer you toward arguments for taking impeachment more seriously; for getting Democrats back in touch with religion; for worrying that a reportedly impending change of leadership at the State Department could make things even worse than they are; for both hope and despair about the Mueller investigation; and so on.

—Robert Wright

Continue reading Issue #17: Nov 26-Dec 2, 2017

Issue #16: Nov 19-Nov 25, 2017

HOLIDAY EDITION

This is a holiday edition of the Mindful Resistance Newsletter—which is a euphemistic way of saying that the first third of the newsletter is missing. Since it’s Thanksgiving week, I wanted to give our hardworking MRN staff (including me!) Thursday and Friday off, and those are the days when The Week In Trump (the missing third) is usually assembled. But rest assured that the third of the newsletter—the background links—can be found below. And as for the second third—the part where I typically reflect on something or other: well, that starts right here.

Continue reading Issue #16: Nov 19-Nov 25, 2017

Issue #15: Nov 12-Nov 18, 2017

In this week’s newsletter, after our review of The Week In Trump, I weigh in on a recent controversy over “Safari journalism”—reporting done by journalists who venture into Trump Country and report back from the wild. Then we steer you toward interesting pieces on things ranging from a Roy Moore thought experiment to Elon Musk’s bad news for truck drivers.

–Robert Wright

Continue reading Issue #15: Nov 12-Nov 18, 2017