Don't *react* to Trump (or Farage) and their excesses... but do practice "mindful resistance"
The day after Donald Trump was elected president, the meditation app Headspace had a burst in traffic. It was a very specific burst — a growth of 44 percent in the use of a feature called SOS, which is designed to calm people during times of great stress.
The ensuing months have seen much discussion of Trump and meditation — in meditation circles, at least — and much of the discussion has been along these same lines: using meditation as a coping mechanism, a way to create an island of calm amid the perpetual storm that is the Trump presidency.
Nothing wrong with that. But to leave it at that, to see meditation in the age of Trump as a kind of sedative, is to give the practice short shrift. I think meditation — mindfulness meditation, in particular — can be a weapon against Trump, a tool for active resistance against the forces he represents. I think mindfulness could even help remedy some of the strategic shortcomings of “the resistance.”
For that matter, I think this kind of politically potent mindfulness is something you can cultivate and deploy even if you don’t meditate. I mean, I recommend meditating, because I think it will aid the cultivation. (In fact, I just published a book advocating mindfulness meditation for various purposes, ranging from the therapeutic to the political to the spiritual.)
Still, you can embark on the path of mindful resistance without first embarking on the path of meditation. Just seeing what the word mindfulness means in a Buddhist context — and dispelling misconceptions about the meaning — points to a particular way of confronting the challenge of Trump and Trumpism.
Wright says mindfulness is most useful in defusing our daily response to provocative figures like Trump as being only outraged. Outrage, as a polariser that confirms his core supporters via the contempt expressed by his opponents, is exactly what Trump wants. Here's some precise reasons why outrage doesn't help in sustained resistance:
First, outrage distracts us from the hard work of assessing and addressing the deep forces that got Trump elected. "Globalization, trade, immigration, and technological change have had complex economic and social effects and have fostered politically momentous grievances. (And many of these grievances, such as stagnant wages, extend well beyond Trump’s base, to traditional Democratic constituencies.) Assessing the impact of these forces, and figuring out which grievances deserve to be addressed and how to address them without buying into Trump’s xenophobia and bigotry, take time and work. Getting distracted from this mission by outrage makes it more likely that, when 2020 rolls around, the same grievances that got Trump elected will get him reelected, because Democrats still won’t have a coherent response to them."
Second, outrage gets in the way of empathy for Trump’s supporters. "We can’t formulate policies and rhetoric unless we get a better understanding of the different things going on in the minds of different Trump supporters. And every minute we spend in outrage mode doubly complicates this challenge: not only is it a minute we’re not spending trying to understand these things — it’s a minute that puts us in a state of mind that literally impedes understanding by fostering too simple, even monolithic, conceptions of Trump voters."
Third, outrage feeds the narrative that energizes Trump’s base. "Andrés Miguel Rondón, an economist who lived in Venezuela during the reign of authoritarian populist Hugo Chavez, has given Trump’s opponents this reminder: Chavez-style populism “can survive only amid polarization. It works through the unending vilification of a cartoonish enemy. Never forget that you’re that enemy. Trump needs you to be the enemy, just like all religions need a demon.” Responding mindfully to news about Trump can deprive him of the foil that is essential to the success of his current reality show."
Wright makes a really good clarifying point - that there's nothing passive about mindful resistance, Indeed, the very opposite - it opens up options for action:
One thing you can do with the time saved by fuming less on social media is the kind of thing resisters have long done: figure out what causes deserve your support and support them. Call the politicians switchboard, show up at the local council, show up at protests — even, if necessary, engage in civil disobedience. And spend your social media time spreading the word about these things, rather than spreading facile outrage or arguing futilely (at best) with Trump supporters.
Starting small, Wright is setting up a Mindful Resistance weekly newsletter (you can sign up at the website). His latest book, as mentioned above, is Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.