In this week’s newsletter, after our review of the week in Trump, I try to explain what the point of our review of the week in Trump is. So if you start reading The Week in Trump and find yourself overwhelmed by ennui, just skip ahead.
Iran: The next Iraq? The probability of a war between the US and Iran seemed to grow as Saudi Arabia accused Iran of an “act of war” after a missile was fired toward Riyadh from Yemen. Trump joined Saudi Arabia in blaming the missile attack on Iran, though the regional commander of the US Air Force said only that the missile, launched by Houthi Rebels, “bore Iranian markings.” The US has supplied arms with which Saudi Arabia has since 2015 conducted a bombing campaign against Houthis in Yemen, killing hundreds if not thousands of civilians.
Harbinger hoped for: Democratic victories in state and municipal elections were seen by many Democrats as a rebuke to Trump. The most salient election saw Virginia GOP gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie lose after making a hard move to the populist right on immigration. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver sees a blue wave building: “[Democrats] got pretty much exactly the results you’d expect when opposing a Republican president with a 38 percent approval rating.”
Roy Moore’s past and future: Reports that Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore had a sexual relationship with a fourteen-year-old girl while in his 30s put pressure on Republicans to dump him. Trump said through a spokeswoman that “we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life” but that Moore should quit “if these allegations are true.” Options being pondered by senior Republicans ranged from supporting a write-in campaign for a different GOP candidate to having Alabama’s Republican governor postpone the election, now scheduled for Dec 12.
Trump on China: Trump, who signaled an aggressive posture toward China during the presidential campaign, eschewed confrontation during his visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. (He opted for “flattery,” reported CNN.) But, while not blaming China for taking advantage of American trade laws, he used a subsequent speech in Vietnam, in the presence of Xi, to sound an economic nationalist tone and insist that he “won’t let the United States be taken advantage of any more.”
House and Senate Diverge On Taxes: The Senate’s tax reform proposal differs from the House plan in several ways, noted the NYT, including “a one-year delay in President Trump’s top priority of cutting the corporate tax rate … which could rankle the White House.”
Church massacre: After a gunman slaughtered 26 people at a Texas church, Trump argued gun control would have made the attack worse: “Instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead.”.. Trump was referring to the fact that an armed neighbor wounded the gunman as he exited the church, after which a chase ensued that ended in the gunman’s death.
SO REMIND US WHAT THE POINT OF THAT WAS?
Some weeks ago we got an email from a confused reader of this newsletter. I don’t mean he was a confused person who reads the newsletter—I mean he was confused by the newsletter. He didn’t see how the newsletter merited the name “Mindful Resistance,” and he seemed especially puzzled by the “Mindful” part. He wrote:
The newsletter seems to be a brief summary of the week’s events culled from various sources. Those of us consumed by Trump’s dismantling of our democracy are already acutely aware of these events. I was anticipating the newsletter would provide a mindful way to respond to these daily horrors. Perhaps I haven’t read the newsletter deeply enough. So my minor comment is to say that I was slightly disappointed by not seeing how mindfulness can help us cope with current tragedies plus some ways of bridging the tribalism you describe at the end of your recent book.
Before I reply to this email, let’s pause to praise it. This newsletter is evolving, so all feedback is welcome, certainly including feedback that prompts us to critically reflect on our work and try to articulate our mission more clearly. If you’re confused about what we’re up to—or if you’re not confused but have an idea about how our project should evolve, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now for the reply:
The closest thing to a manifesto for Mindful Resistance is this piece I wrote for Vox. Part of its point was that the modern-day conception of mindfulness as “living in the present” and savoring the moment doesn’t do justice to the meaning of the term in its traditional Buddhist context. A mindful person, I wrote, is “an acutely aware person, a person who proceeds with careful attention to all relevant factors.” Broadly speaking, this newsletter tries to foster an approach to the problem of Trumpism that is mindful in this sense: attentive, clear-eyed, unclouded by emotion.
The newsletter (at this stage in its evolution, at least) has three sections: The Week In Trump, a middle section (which you’re reading now), and background links. The middle section is typically written by me, and lately I’ve often used it to comment explicitly on how to be mindful while doing things like processing the news or using social media. But our confused newsletter reader focused his concern on The Week In Trump, which indeed has a less obvious link to mindfulness. So let me try to point to some non-obvious links between mindfulness and what we’re trying to do in The Week in Trump:
1) We try to choose, from among the many outrageous things Trump says and does, those that seem most genuinely significant. And we prefer noting the outrage of the outraged to indulging in it. This doesn’t mean we don’t share the moral judgment that leads to the outrage. It means we think the emotion of outrage can cloud our vision and have other unfortunate effects, and that plenty of outrage is being stoked via media and social media as it is.
2) We try to highlight important events that we think are getting less attention than they deserve (sometimes because they are crowded out by less significant events whose coverage is outrage-fueled). For example, the chances of war between the US and Iran have grown appreciably but have gotten relatively little notice—so this week we reported an event that may have raised those chances.
3) We try to convey the perspective of Trump supporters. So, for example, after the recent terrorist attack in New York, we noted that Trump supporters saw the attack as vindicating Trump’s stance toward immigration from majority-Muslim countries. A mindful perspective, involving, as it does, attention to all relevant factors, entails understanding the psychology of people on both sides of a tribal divide. It is my firm belief, for reasons I articulate in the Vox piece, that clearly understanding the perspective of Trump supporters can aid the resistance.
4) When we report the same news everyone else is dwelling on—for example, Democratic victories in last week’s elections—we try to do so objectively and pithily. We like to think of The Week In Trump as an efficient way to review the week’s most important Trump-related developments. In fact, we try to make it such an efficient summary that you could use it as an excuse to spend less time absorbing those developments in real time on Facebook and Twitter. And since our version of events won’t get you quite as emotionally worked up as Facebook and Twitter might, but will steer you toward issues of central concern to an effective resistance, maybe that would be a good idea!
This short list doesn’t exhaustively explain the purpose of The Week in Trump, and we may update it from time to time. As for the newsletter’s third section, background links: its purpose is presumably pretty clear. But if you’re confused about it—or about anything else related to this newsletter—do let us know.
The Washington Post showed with maps how polarized Virginia’s electorate has become, as evinced by last week’s gubernatorial election.
Some Republicans crowed when the Tax Policy Center, a think tank, admitted a math error in its not entirely flattering assessment of the House tax bill, but the corrected analysis shows that 25 percent of Americans will end up with a tax increase.
The New Republic’s Jeet Heer counsels liberals not to reflexively oppose Trump on foreign policy: “Trump indicated an openness to negotiating with [North Korea] … Liberals should welcome such news rather than hunting for pseudo-gaffes.”
Think before you retweet: You may have seen a viral tweet saying that Trump didn’t understand that Japanese automakers manufacture cars in the U.S., or that he embarrassed himself in Japan by dumping a bunch of fish food into a koi pond. As it turns out, neither was accurate.
Politico’s Michael Kruse traveled to Johnstown, Pennsylvania to talk to Trump voters a year after the election: “Their satisfaction with Trump now seems untethered to the things they once said mattered to them the most.”
Vanity Fair’s Michael Lewis dives into what’s happening in Trump’s Department of Agriculture: “…this was the place that, back in the early 1940s, had taken Alexander Fleming’s findings and effectively invented penicillin … If the Trump administration were to pollute the scientific inquiry at the U.S.D.A. with politics, scientific inquiry would effectively cease.”
—by Robert Wright and Aryeh Cohen-Wade with contributions from Brian Degenhart