Sol Villarreal knows a thing or two about socio-political bubbles.
He grew up in rural Texas as a religious conservative and voted for George W. Bush before undergoing a “full liberal conversion,” as he puts it. He later became an unlikely campaigner for Barack Obama in 2008 and then a community engagement coordinator for notoriously liberal former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.
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These days, Villarreal is best known for “Sol’s Civic Minute,” a weekly email newsletter boiling down Seattle city news and politics. In addition to distilling local news for busy readers, the email also helps Villarreal market his business as a real estate agent.
Now Villarreal is launching a new email newsletter, this one strictly a passion project. “Last Week in Trump” is a weekly email with all the Trump news fit to print — including reports from both liberal and conservative news outlets.
“It’s an attempt to cut through all the noise that surrounds coverage of Trump on both sides while also building some badly needed empathy between liberals and conservatives,” Villarreal said. “Having lived large portions of my life in each bubble, I truly believe there’s more that unites us than there is that divides us, and the more we’re capable of seeing each others’ shared humanity, the better American democracy functions.”
Villarreal has been testing the email in beta for the past few weeks and is officially launching this weekend, following Trump’s inauguration.
“Last Week in Trump” is Villarreal’s answer to the question many asked themselves after Trump’s surprise win in November: “What do I do now?”
Villarreal isn’t the only Seattleite trying to make sense of the crush of Trump news we can expect for the next four years. Microsoft vet Jan Miksovsky, with a group of volunteer Seattle techies, are launching their own attempt this week. They’re rolling out Presterity, a news portal that aims to solve the Trump information overload and “document and inform, ideally limiting the damage Trump can do.”
“Last Week in Trump,” like Presterity, is strictly a volunteer, not-for-profit endeavor. And in Villarreal’s case, it’s a solo mission. He’s hoping to get the time commitment to about 10 hours a week. The newsletter goes out every Sunday morning, just like his “Civic Minute” email.
His mission is to help readers get a more accurate and complete understanding of Trump and bridge the partisan chasm. Villarreal believes Trump’s divisive rhetoric and hyper-partisan media helped him secure an unlikely win.
“The way Donald Trump won this election is by further dividing us even more than we were already divided,” said Villarreal. “That is how he wins, period … This is an attempt to bring us a little bit closer together.”
The newsletter includes a brief summary of the week’s news, followed by Villarreal’s neutral take on each story, and then reactions from liberal and conservative news outlets. The email purposefully excludes a huge source of Trump news: Twitter. Villarreal doesn’t mince words, describing Trump’s noisy Twitter presence as “garbage,” “stupid,” and “a waste of time.”
Instead, he spends several hours a week reading through news from outlets on the full political spectrum. He excludes the most extreme sites, like “InfoWars” and “Occupy Democrats,” but includes sites like “Breitbart” and “Daily Kos.”
A self-proclaimed liberal, Villarreal found the experience of reading hyper-partisan conservative news enlightening.
“‘Breitbart,’ to my surprise, is like the ‘Daily Kos’ of the right,” he said. “Extreme. If you’re a ‘Daily Kos’ reader and you read ‘Breitbart,’ you’re not going to like it. But there are actual journalists doing journalism there. They’re reporting on things. They have an extreme editorial bent but it’s an actual news site.”
Overall, the feedback for “Last Week in Trump’s” beta phase has been positive. But, Villarreal says, some members of his community take issue with presenting any perspective on Trump other than outrage. That kind of reaction is precisely why Villarreal believes the newsletter is so important.
“My goal is definitely not for people to get a better appreciation for Trump…it’s for them to have a more complete understanding of him,” he said. “My goal was not to humanize him. It’s to make sure you know what’s actually happening. Because there are a lot of distractions on both sides.”
Listen to a podcast interview with Villarreal above, and subscribe to Last Week in Trump here.