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Letter sent on May 12, 2017

‘Democracies rely more on norms than laws’

There aren’t any new takes on Trump firing Comey, so I won’t add my own. Instead, I’ll share three that were instructive for me this week. The main thing to remember here is that while Trump’s behavior may or may not defy the law, it certainly defies norms, which, as Chris Hayes and Vox point out, are the real pillars of functioning democracies.

I also enjoyed Benjamin Wallace-Wells’ short comment in The New Yorker. Remarking on Trump’s method of firing Comey (in a bizarre letter delivered to FBI headquarters by his personal bodyguard), Wallace-Wells wrote, “Even for this White House, though, Comey’s ouster was remarkably ritualized and medieval: a Corleone gesture, the loyalist sent across town with a letter in his hand.”

The last thing is a bit of wisdom from a friend and former editor of mine, Jonathan Foerster. On Facebook, he remarked on this report in The New York Times about how Trump’s supporters view the Comey dismissal. Foerster observes: “The vicious circle we have gotten ourselves into politically is really just because neither side will ever admit to being wrong nor has a sense of irony.” How do we escape the circle? Foerster offers these tips to his left-leaning friends:

1) Admit when we are hypocritical. Because there are plenty of times when liberals are. Most of us thought that James Comey should have been fired. It’s the timing that has everyone up in arms, but those aren’t the first words out of people’s mouths. So be honest about that.

2) Stop using hyperbolic language. I swear that the words constitutional crisis get thrown around just about once a week. Things are bad, and Trump is not a good president by any stretch of the imagination. But we don’t know what is behind the curtain, so we can’t say that it rises to Watergate levels. We need to be sober in our language. And that goes for me. I frequently use overheated rhetoric.

3) Use intellectual rigor in our arguments. Emotion should be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

4) Be respectful of opposing viewpoints on issues that are not related to civil rights (in the broadest sense of that term). The saddest part of that [Times] story is that we automatically demonize people without listening. But listening to them is how we win the argument. Because if you show you are considering their perspective, then they are more receptive to you poking holes in it.

5) Get out of the echo chamber. Talk to people who disagree with you about more than just the things you disagree about. Talk about all the things we share in common so that we can have ground to stand on together when we disagree.

So there you have it. Just because Trump resents us doesn’t necessarily mean we should resent each other. Have a great weekend, everybody.

Ben

PS. The summer issue is shaping up. We should go to press by the middle of next month and have magazines in the mail by the end of June. I think you’re going to enjoy it. More soon.


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