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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 20 November, 2019

Sitdown Sunday: 'What it's like being a Muslim in Trump's White House'

Grab a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. A Muslim in the White House

Trump Navy Trump at the White House Source: Evan Vucci

Rumana Ahmed worked for the National Security Council under the Obama administration. She was the only hijab-wearing Muslim in the building. But once Trump came into power, she only lasted eight days at her job.

(The Atlantic, approx 18 mins reading time)

I told him I had to leave because it was an insult walking into this country’s most historic building every day under an administration that is working against and vilifying everything I stand for as an American and as a Muslim. I told him that the administration was attacking the basic tenets of democracy. I told him that I hoped that they and those in Congress were prepared to take responsibility for all the consequences that would attend their decisions. He looked at me and said nothing.

2. Do you know Robert Mercer?

You might not have heard of Robert Mercer – but he was one of Trump’s biggest donors and has donated tens of millions to political campaigns. Here’s a look at all of the organisations and websites he is involved in, and what it says about his influence.

(The Guardian, approx 20 mins reading time)

Robert Mercer very rarely speaks in public and never to journalists, so to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he channels his money: a series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m model train set; climate change denial (he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute); and what is maybe the ultimate rich man’s plaything – the disruption of the mainstream media. In this he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his media plays.

3. The secret to a happy life? Simplify

shutterstock_569024713 Source: Shutterstock/

Sometimes, we just have bit too much of, well, everything in our lives. Here, a writer looks at ways they tried to simplify their life. You might even pick up a few tips.

(Outside, approx 10 mins reading time)

Research has revealed a troubling paradox: not only is clutter a cause of stress, but so is getting rid of things. For some people, the very act of shedding a possession triggers activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and the ­insula, the same parts of the brain that register physical pain.

4. Trump supporters 

There can be a lot of talk about Trump supporters, but sometimes we don’t get to actually hear from them. Sam Altman went and talked to 100 Trump supporters to find out what they really think.

(Sam Altman, approx 11 mins reading time)

This was a surprisingly interesting and helpful experience—I highly recommend it.  With three exceptions, I found something to like about everyone I talked to (though I strongly disagreed with many of the things they said).  Although it shouldn’t have surprised me given the voting data, I was definitely surprised by the diversity of the people I spoke to—I did not expect to talk to so many Muslims, Mexicans, Black people, and women in the course of this project.

5. The provocateur behind Beyonce 

Music Beyonce Coachella Beyonce. Source: Matt Sayles


Melina Matsoukas isn’t a household name, but you’ve seen her work – she’s the woman behind Beyonce’s album and concept video Lemonade, and has also worked with Issa Rae and Rihanna. This look into her process is fascinating.

(The New Yorker, approx 27 mins reading time)

When Snoop Dogg asked Matsoukas to make a video for a song called “Sensual Seduction,” in 2007, she took the job with trepidation. A few years earlier, Snoop had released a film, called “Doggystyle,” that blended hip-hop and pornography. “You walk into that kind of situation and you’re, like, ‘He’s a pimp—I don’t know how he’s going to react to a female director,’ ” Matsoukas said. She envisioned a video that was radically at odds with Snoop’s usual work: an early-eighties throwback, in which he would dress up in outrageous suits and wigs and perform with a keytar.

6. Stories of solitary confinement

Solitary confinement sounds like a terrifying experience. Here, former prisoners talk about what it is like.

(GQ, approx 44 mins reading time)

In the age of mass incarceration, solitary confinement—the practice of isolating a human being in a cell for 22 to 24 hours a day—has become a punishment of first resort in America. It’s the prison of the prison system, and like the larger institution that feeds it, it is rife with cruelty, racism, and Constitutional violations. Though it was created to reduce violence, solitary increases it.


Even if you don’t know his name, you know Max Martin’s music. The Swedish hitmaker is responsible for some of this generation’s most popular chart hits – he has worked with Britney Spears, Adele and Taylor Swift. But he doesn’t do many interviews, which is why this one from last year is such a treat.

(Dagens Industri, approx 42 mins reading time)

As soon as a brand new Max Martin-tune begins climbing the charts, 10 000 songwriters all over the world immediately try to copy it. There’s no pop music patent. A successful formula might work for a few months, perhaps a year, but after that, it’s spent and can’t be used any longer. In order to stay at the top of the game, you need to continually evolve and reinvent yourself. Old merits count for nothing.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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