Some of Sightline’s staff, fellows, and I have been reading voraciously and swapping articles as we try to draw the right lessons from the November US elections. We must have circulated, read, and debated a hundred articles as we sought to understand the implications of the astounding events to Cascadia’s east.
Today, my personal highlights from this reading blitz, starting with pieces from inside the blue bubble: George Packer wrote a superb portrait of the US political zeitgeist just before the election and Dave Roberts wrote a summation of many post-mortems just after it. They are the best syntheses I read for capturing what people like me think happened.
Now I want to get to my real recommendations: things from outside. I’m not saying I agree with everything the following sources say. Not at all. I’m saying I learned a lot by reading them. They challenged me. So if you’re game, you might try clicking X on the New York Times/Guardian/Nation/Economist/Globe and Mail/whatever-exact-flavor-of-blue-bubble-outlet fills your Facebook feed and consider these arguments in addition. They’re made by people who are wickedly smart but may not share your worldview, or at least they don’t share mine.
One of the clearest lessons of the election was just how powerful groupthink is. The entire political-media establishment of the United States was convinced it knew what would happen. It was completely wrong. A powerful antidote to groupthink is to pay attention to reasoned and documented critiques of your group’s thinking, such as these:
Will Wilkerson’s “A Tale of Two Moralities,” published by the libertarian Niskanen Center, documents the emergence of two somewhat independent but interlacing politico-cultural archipelagos:
“The United States may be dividing into two increasingly polarized cultures: an increasingly secular-rational and self-expression oriented “post-materialist” culture concentrated in big cities and the academic archipelago, and a largely rural and exurban culture that has been tilting in the opposite direction, toward zero-sum survival values, while trying to hold the line on traditional values.”
This blogger, no fan of President Trump, challenges the blue bubble’s assumptions about the president’s racial politics. Relatedly, Glenn Loury, a decorated scholar and professor at Brown University, offers in his online video interviews progressive but bracingly non-conformist perspectives on the campaign’s racial politics.
Among the figures most reviled by the left in the Trump Administration is Steve Bannon, who advises the president. (You can find the in-bubble interpretation in this New York Times profile.) You’ll find his own words in this interview and this speech. His thinking is a heterodoxy of left, right, and unexpected. He attacks crony capitalism, financial and cultural elites of “The Davos Party,” even capitalism itself (for dehumanizing workers).
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Best for last: this extraordinary piece by Dominic Cummings. It’s not even about the US election. It’s about the Leave campaign in the UK’s Brexit referendum, which Mr. Cummings managed. Well, it’s sort of about that. It’s also about lots of other things, like democracy and public opinion and elites and the media and physics and political science and management. Still, by analogy, it may be the most insightful of pieces for understanding what happened in the US election. The whole thing is worth pushing through, despite the patches of inside-baseball commentary on UK politics. Here’s a taste:
“Generally the better educated are more prone to irrational political opinions and political hysteria than the worse educated far from power. Why? In the field of political opinion they are more driven by fashion, a gang mentality, and the desire to pose about moral and political questions all of which exacerbate cognitive biases, encourage groupthink, and reduce accuracy. Those on average incomes are less likely to express political views to send signals; political views are much less important for signaling to one’s immediate in-group when you are on 20k a year.”
Because I’m committed to continuing to challenge my own groupthink, I welcome readers’ suggestions of what to read.
I finished Robin DiAngelo’s What Does It Mean To Be White?: Developing White Racial Literacy this weekend and highly recommend it to anyone trying to better understand racism and white supremacy, their pervasive and systemic nature, and how to interrupt and work against them.
Also see Rachel Aviv’s devastating account of the long solitary confinement of Angola 3 member Albert Woodfox. It is a gripping and upsetting testament to the way America’s prison system treats people of color, perhaps with particular cruelty for those who are determined to advance the power and dignity of Black people.
Inspired by the success of the Women’s March on Washington, a group of scientists and science advocates are planning a Scientists’ March, with the goal of “address[ing] issues including government funding for scientists, transparency, climate change and evolution”.
“There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives,” according to the organizers. “The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution. … An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.”
And speaking of scientists speaking out, in response to the Trump administration’s gag order on several federal agencies, a number of “rogue” twitter accounts have popped up, to spread the facts and information that the administration is trying to silence. The rogue accounts include NASA, National Park Service, US Forest Service, and the EPA, and they have taken advantage of the opportunity to unabashedly tweet out information related to climate change and the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, among other things. The resistance, apparently, is social.
Are you getting a bit overwhelmed by the political climate but still want to stay engaged and active on issues you care about? There are apps for that!
- Countable gives you clear, concise summaries of bills going through Congress. And you can take action and call/email your reps with one click.
- Here’s an app for Daily Action alerts.
- The SixtyFive gives you scripts and phone numbers for pressing issues and bills.
- Spend five minutes, make five calls.
- And Swing Left is a way to find your closest swing district to focus your energy where it might count more.
Have another resource? Please share in the comments below.
And here’s more proof that urbanists and climate hawks need to work together to fight against climate change. Well-crafted density is a key tool to reduce energy use in a rapidly urbanizing world.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray called Wednesday “the darkest day in immigration history” since the internment of Japanese-Americans as President Trump signed an order cracking down on sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants. Worried about the United States’ exclusionary history repeating itself, I went down a rabbit hole this week and learned more about Japanese-American experiences during WWII and the decades of discrimination that lead up to it. A great resource is Densho, a local Northwest nonprofit that collects stories of Japanese Americans incarcerated during WWII.
The 75th anniversary of the Executive Order 9066 (the WWII order that lead to internment in America) is coming up in February. KUOW posted a great interview with Mayumi Tsutakawa, a local writer and Humanities Washington speaker who shares her personal connections to internment and how this terrible time in US history can help educate about modern prejudices. My grandpa was incarcerated during WWII and I never had the chance to ask about his experiences. It’s important to revisit this troubled history now, more than ever, as deep concern grows for our immigrant and Muslim neighbors in America.
There are books that you connect with, and then there are books that pry you open, take out your insides, rearrange, and fit you back together again. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur is the latter. Her debut book of poetry is a pure and vulnerable reflection on femininity, abuse, love, loss, and healing.
I read Milk and Honey directly after participating in the Women’s March on Washington, and thus it tore through my soul in the most beautiful way. It had me weeping on an airplane of all places! If you enjoy poetry, love, women, or just beautiful words then add this to your reading list as soon as possible.