“Refuse to Be An Accomplice”
“We should be asking what each one of us can do to assert a fact-based reality at any given time. The great French thinker and activist Simone Weil had a prescription that she wrote down in her journal in 1933: “Never react to an evil in such a way as to augment it.” A few days later, she added, “Refuse to be an accomplice. Don’t lie—don’t keep your eyes shut.””
– Masha Gessen, “In the Trump Era, We Are Losing the Ability to Distinguish Reality from Vacuum”, The New Yorker
In the beginning of the Trump presidency* there was a lot of talk about not “normalizing” him. More than a year in, we continue to see that it’s not an easy task. One reason is fatigue. Recognizing the ongoing insanity he presents is exhausting. Another is that we already have a set of expectations about what “normal” is that are particular to the lives we lead. Journalists, for example, have implicit rules about how to cover the Presidency. To a large extent, these rules fail them with Trump. Jay Rosen gives us an example:
If nothing the president says can be trusted, reporting what the president says becomes absurd. You can still do it, but it’s hard to respect what you are doing. If the president doesn’t know anything, the solemnity of the presidency becomes a joke. That’s painful. If they can, people flee that kind of pain. In political journalism there is enough room for interpretive maneuver to do just that.
If we are to follow Simone Weil’s advice and not keep our eyes shut, we need to be alert to misreporting that frames Trump as truthful when he’s lying, as strategic when he’s impulsive, or as law-abiding when he is criminal. We need to watch out when the language used is too mild to describe the action being reported. We need to pay attention and name what we actually see – for ourselves and for others .
This can be hard, because we have our own expectations for what “normal” is. For many of us, normal used to mean paying cursory attention to political news. It meant that if we voted, we had done our civic duty. It meant that our country could be trusted to pretty much run itself and we would be ok. And all of this meant that we could focus on our work, on our family, on what’s fun. On our lives.
Normalizing Trump in this personal sense means pretending that our world is still safe without our involvement, that somehow everything will still run itself. It means “keeping your eyes shut” – which means lying to yourself. Because our country is in grave danger. If we don’t save it, no one else will. The political has become personal.
As Rosen said about journalists, “That’s painful. If they can, people flee that kind of pain.” But we mustn’t. We don’t dare.
So, perhaps the first, fundamental act of Resistance is Weil’s: Refuse to be an accomplice. Don’t lie. Don’t keep your eyes shut. And the second: don’t keep it to yourself. Insist on the truth and tell it to others. Work to spread sanity and to engage voters. Time is short; we must act now.
“The Stolen Election”
"Surprising even themselves, they swung the election to a Trump win. To conclude otherwise stretches logic, common sense and credulity to the breaking point. Less than eighty thousand votes in three key states swung the election. I have no doubt that more votes than that were influenced by this massive effort by the Russians.”
– James Clapper, Former Director of National Intelligence
Clapper’s bombshell statement this week woke us up to another way in which normalization has skewed our national conversation. Journalists have treated the possibility that the Russian interference in our election was decisive as not worthy of consideration – even as they indulged in endless speculation about what missteps Clinton had made that had cost her the election. Clapper’s interview on PBS reminds us that, while we can’t prove that the attack was decisive, the likelihood is overwhelming. Seen from another angle, this means that we’ve been living in a constitutional crisis since election day, 2016, since our election was most likely determined by the actions of a hostile foreign power, yet Congressional Republicans refuse to act.
"Where Are The Children?”
At the end of the week, two stories became accidentally conflated. The more alarming story is that the Trump administration, having decided on May 7th that it would prosecute every person who crossed the southern border illegally, has begun taking children away from their parents. This fits with Trump’s dehumanization of immigrants as “animals”, with his mocking people with Hispanic surnames as base criminals and with his intimation that all latino kids are gang members in waiting. It’s a horrible, inhuman policy that stains our nation.
The story became confused, however, with a report that nearly 1,500 children who had been in the care of the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, which handles kids who came on their own, not with their parents, had been “lost”. The children were placed with immediate or extended family, or with people with whom the children had a relationship. While the ORR wasn’t able to locate them, no extensive effort was made, since they were presumed to be in safe hands. Furthermore, in today’s climate of ICE intimidation, it would be reasonable for people not to want to return calls from the ORR. So the “missing children” aren’t the terrible story they were initially assumed to be.
However, the kids being ripped from their parents are. And, no, we don’t want those kids lost. The policy must be stopped, now. Instead, Trump is blaming it on the Democrats. This is a lie.
In Other News
- Trump continued to peddle an insane conspiracy theory that an FBI informant had been placed in his campaign to undermine him. In reality, an informant had been engaged because the intelligence community was picking up signals that Russia was trying to interfere in his campaign. Using an informant was the least disruptive way to determine if something was happening and, if so, to stop it before it became a problem. In other words, this was intended to protect the Trump campaign and our country at the same time. Trump, now desperate as the evidence grows that he was in deep with Russia and other countries to undermine the election, is trying to create a false narrative to undermine the truth. Treason is an impeachable offense.
- Dems have been poor at countering this message and telling the truth. The exception was Adam Schiff, who has begun speaking up. We need to amplify his message.
- Trump cancelled his summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, sending him a breakup letter worthy of a junior high school crush. No advance notice was given, either to South Korea or to American reporters in North Korea, who could have been endangered by the announcement. While Trump is now supposedly trying to revive the talks, whether they will happen is anyone's guess. Our diplomacy and standing in the world are in tatters, but the commemorative medallion made to celebrate the aborted summit is becoming a collector’s item.
- Adam Serwer, in The Atlantic, argued that, as complex as it all seems, there is really only one Trump scandal: “the corruption of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability.” Yes, indeed.
- Trump doubled down on protecting Chinese phone maker ZTE from sanctions. In related news, China’s still investing $500M in Trump’s Indonesian development. Oh, and did I mention Ivanka's Chinese patents? Bribery is an impeachable offense.
- Trade talks with China are a mess. Maybe that’s what happens when you have a leader who insists on doing everything himself but isn’t interested in understanding any of the issues he’s facing.
- Department of Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen told CNN’s Manu Raju, when he asked her about Putin’s effort to help Trump win, “I do not believe that I've seen that conclusion. ... That the specific intent was to help President Trump win? I'm not aware of that.” Either she’s mad or she thinks she’s only talking to Trump when she’s on tv. And she’s the one who is supposed to protect our elections this year.
- Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is being sued, accused of concocting a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to weaponize vast amounts of user data and force rivals out of business.
- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos advocated for having ICE seize undocumented kids from schools.
- Finally, some good news: Democratic women were significant victors in Tuesday’s primaries. Standouts included Stacey Abrams, running in Georgia to become the first African-American woman governor in history, and Amy McGrath, an ex-fighter pilot running for Congress in Kentucky. As the Cook Report’s David Wasserman wrote, the drive to elect women is defining this year’s Democratic primaries. Yes!!
Next Tuesday is California’s primary and the Resistance needs your help. Because of our top-two, “Jungle” primary system, there is a danger in several House districts that no Dems will make it through to be on the ballot in November. It’s an embarrassment of riches problem. So many people are running in certain districts that they may end of splitting the vote, allowing two Republicans to get through. What can we do? Turn out as many Democratic voters as possible. We’ll do this by text banking, phone banking and, if you’re really all-in, traveling to endangered districts this coming weekend to canvass.
– Tom Benthin
A reminder: a key resource for tracking all the abnormal events from the past week of the Trump presidency is Amy Siskind’s Weekly List: theweeklylist.org .
Before the disaster of the 2016 election we could follow the events that affected our lives by checking the news or seeing occasional posts on Facebook. Since then, with Trump’s erratic, aggressive and autocratic behavior and the Republicans’ unceasing attacks on our government and their efforts to transfer ever more money from working Americans to the rich, it has become much more difficult – and more important – to find our way through the weekly onslaught of news. To get ourselves grounded in the facts and to prepare for the week of action ahead, we provide this weekly summary of critical events to help us cut through the distractions and stay focused and informed as we fight to preserve our democracy.