Issue #42: May 27–Jun 2, 2018

Note: This is the final issue of the newsletter before our long summer break. As for how we’ll spend the break: Well, we’ll mainly be doing this. But when we’re not doing that, we’ll engage in searing self-assessment—reflecting on the newsletter’s shortcomings and pondering new directions it could take. For elaboration on all this—on the length of the break, the reasons for the self-assessment, and so on, see LOCAL NEWS, below. Meanwhile, if you want to aid in the assessment and you haven’t yet taken our five-question reader survey, please do.

–Robert Wright

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 THE WEEK IN TRUMP

Summit back on: Trump cancelled his cancellation of the June 12 North Korea summit after intensive discussions between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials. Trump—who once said North Korea must dismantle its nuclear weapons before talks could begin—now suggested it would take repeated meetings to make much progress toward denuclearization. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we walked out and everything was settled from sitting down for a couple of hours? I don’t see that happening. I see it happening over a period of time. Frankly, I said, ‘Take your time’.”

Trade war back on: Trump ended the exemptions from steel and aluminum tariffs that he had granted to Canada, Mexico, and the European Union. Canada responded by announcing retaliatory tariffs on whiskey, orange juice and other foods, while Mexico went after pork, apples, grapes and cheese. The EU filed a case against the US at the World Trade Organization while considering its own tariffs. Separately, the White House said it will proceed with the previously announced, but then deferred, $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods. But stay tuned: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is meeting with Chinese negotiators this weekend.

Fleitz of fancy: National Security Adviser John Bolton appointed Fred Fleitz as his chief of staff. Fleitz’s previous position was senior vice president of the far-right Center for Security Policy, which, as the Washington Post puts it, “propagates the conspiracy theory that Islamists have infiltrated the U.S. government in a plot to take over the country.” Fleitz has promoted the unfounded claims that Europe has “no-go zones” governed by Islamic law and that one quarter of American Muslims favor jihadist violence against Americans. He opposes what he has called “the FAKE Iran deal,” which his book Obamabomb describes as “arguably” the worst diplomatic agreement in American history. Fleitz’s appointment was condemned by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, and also by the Anti-Defamation League. On the positive side, National Review editor Rich Lowry argues that Fleitz “is not a neo-Nazi.”

Get-out-of-jail-free cards: Trump pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who in 2014 pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws. Some observers speculated that Trump was signaling to anyone who might consider testifying against him in exchange for prosecutorial leniency that they don’t have to worry about the consequences of prosecution anyway.

Gaza resolution defeated: The US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for exploring “international protection” for Palestinian civilians in Gaza and condemned the “disproportionate” and “indiscriminate” use of force against them by Israel. The US was the only country on the 15-member council to vote against the resolution and the only country to vote in favor of an alternative resolution proposed by its UN ambassador, Nikki Haley.

Drug testing: Trump signed a “Right to Try” bill that will let some patients with life-threatening illnesses take drugs not yet approved by the FDA.

Barr, the door: After Roseanne Barr’s infamous tweet about Obama aide Valerie Jarrett spurred ABC to cancel her sitcom—a show that had been seen as ABC’s outreach to Trump voters—Trump weighed in. Neither defending nor condemning Roseanne, he tweeted that ABC owed him the kind of kind of consideration it had given Jarrett. The network, he wrote, “never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC.” He didn’t elaborate, but the incident became the occasion for Trump supporters to cite various offenses against Trump by media figures who went unpunished. For example, ESPN—owned by ABC owner Disney—is home of Jemele Hill and Keith Olbermann, who have tweeted, respectively, that Trump is a “white supremacist” and a “racist, white supremacist neo-nazi” who is also a “MOTHERF***ING TRAITOR.” As if to ensure that Trump supporters had fresh grievances, liberal comedian Samantha Bee, appearing on her TBS show Full Frontal the day after Barr’s show was cancelled, called Ivanka Trump a “feckless c**t”.

Trans-Atlantic Trumpism. In Italy, the staunchly anti-immigration League party—which has been championed and counseled by Steve Bannon—joined with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement to form a populist coalition government. This is the second western European coalition government with Trumpian overtones to form in the past seven months. (Austria was the first.) However, the appointment of relative moderates as finance minister and foreign minister assuaged fears that Italy, the third largest economy in the Euro-zone, will abandon the Euro or leave the European Union.

LOCAL NEWS: NEWSLETTER TAKES VACATION, EXPLAINS WHY

This issue of the Mindful Resistance Newsletter is the last one before the MRN staff takes a long summer break. Last week I said a bit about why we’re taking this break, and now I want to say a bit more. But first, I owe you some elaboration on what I mean by “long summer break.” How long is “long”?

One answer—the evasive answer—is: As long as it takes! That is: As long as it takes to figure out what the next stage in the evolution of the newsletter will be.
As for the less evasive answer: My guess is that this will take the whole summer—that we won’t return as a weekly newsletter until after Labor Day.

That doesn’t mean we’ll stay completely silent until then. If we’re going to skip regular publication for a full three months, we’ll make a point of surfacing occasionally. I’m not sure what the occasion for those surfacings will be. Maybe dramatic developments in the world will warrant a “special edition.” Maybe we’ll want to experiment with a new format. Maybe I’ll just start worrying that you’ve forgotten about us.

As for why we’re taking the break: One reason, as I said last week, is that we want to pause and figure out how we can increase the size of our audience and the degree of  audience engagement—and therefore have more impact. The other reason is that we want to make sure the impact is an impact that’s worth having.

In other words: I want the newsletter to do a better job of fulfilling the lofty aspirations that surrounded its founding. If you read those aspirations—right here—I think you’ll agree that (1) they’re pretty lofty; (2) the newsletter hasn’t entirely fulfilled them.

In case you don’t have time to read those aspirations, let me put the point more simply. A forthcoming book by Ben Rhodes, an adviser to President Obama, features the following account of something Obama said in the aftermath of Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 election:

“What if we were wrong?” he asked aides riding with him in the armored presidential limousine.

He had read a column asserting that liberals had forgotten how important identity was to people and had promoted an empty cosmopolitan globalism that made many feel left behind. “Maybe we pushed too far,” Mr. Obama said. “Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe.”

A premise of this newsletter is that people don’t “just want to fall back into their tribe.” Sure, people are tribal, but they can be tribal in various ways. They can strongly identify with their nation, their religion, their race, their vocation, their socioeconomic class, their political party, their local sports team, a non-local sports team, etc. They can even, in principle, strongly identify with the whole human species.

The question of which tribe or tribes they strongly identify with, and the nature of the identification, depends on history and circumstance. Lately circumstances have brought out some ugly forms of tribalism. Not just on the right, but on the left, and not just in America, but abroad. And in some cases these forms of tribalism reinforce one another and bring out the worst in one another.

No newsletter, including this one, is going to singlehandedly assess all the causes of this problem, figure out a comprehensive cure, and set the cure in motion. But this newsletter could make significantly more progress toward that goal than it’s making in its current form.

So we’re going to stop and reassess what we’re doing, and figure out if there’s a way to achieve that within the resource constraints we face (and/or to loosen our resource constraints). We hope you’ll bear with us. And we offer deep thanks for the attention you’ve paid us—and, in many cases, the feedback you’ve given us—so far.

Speaking of feedback: If you haven’t yet filled out our exceedingly short reader survey, give it a shot. The results are proving very valuable as we enter this phase of reflection.

-Robert Wright

SUMMER VACATION TIPS

I know what you’re thinking: If there’s going to be no weekly edition of MRN this summer, how will I spend the time I’d have spent reading the newsletter? Funny you should ask:

Tip #1: Watch the video, taped this week, in which I answered readers’ questions about why we’re taking a break, what changes to the newsletter we’re considering, and what kind of reader feedback we’ve gotten about these changes. Even assuming the worst case—that nothing I say in this video is remotely interesting—you’ll get to see and hear the four of your fellow readers who are asking me the questions.

And who are those four readers? That leads to our next vacation tip:

Tip #2: Consider joining a virtual meetup. Two of the four readers are Isaac, who initiated the world’s first-ever MRVM (Mindful Resistance Virtual Meetup) and Dylan, who was the meetup’s other participant. The other two readers were Chris and Landon—who had expressed interest in joining Isaac and Dylan for the next virtual meetup. (Just FYI: If they have a meetup every week, and the number of participants continues to double each time, then within 33 weeks the entire population of Planet Earth will be participating. At that point we’ll consider starting a Patreon page.) If you’re interested in participating—either definitely interested or maybe interested—just let Isaac know via this discussion thread. Which leads to our next summer vacation tip:

Tip #3: Participate in non-video discussions, via plain old writing. As it happens, the aforementioned discussion thread is not the best place to do that. We set that up on the Disqus platform, and it turns out that Disqus software doesn’t make it easy to expand the functionality to permit richer conversation—to let readers start new conversational threads on whole new subjects, for example. So it would take some rapid-fire R&D to come up with a full-fledged forum in short order. However:

The same person who delivered that bad news to me—Tech Guru Brian—suggested a substitute: reddit, the famous discussion site that, at its best, features very high-level conversation. It turns out there is a little-known, little-used “sub-reddit” with this URL: https://www.reddit.com/r/robertwright/. In principle, MRN readers could go there and talk about mindful resistance and related matters. (And when you think about it, a lot of matters are related.)

If you’ve never used reddit, don’t worry—it’s not rocket science. The site is basically a bunch of message boards organized by topic. You don’t need an account to read messages, but you need one to post; you can set up an account at reddit.com/register/. Aside from posting, the main way to contribute is by upvoting or downvoting posts (via up and down arrows to the left of each post)—which is an important act because it influences the relative prominence of the posts.

Tip #4: Watch or listen to bloggingheads.tv or meaningoflife.tv, brought to you by the same people who bring you this newsletter. You can check in on those two sites at any time, or subscribe to their channels on YouTube, or subscribe to the audio versions on your podcast app. You can also subscribe to the podcasts of individual shows—including, ahemThe Wright Show, which deals fairly often with issues this newsletter deals with.

–Robert Wright

BACKGROUND

In Politico Magazine, Nelson Cunningham, a former federal prosecutor and Senate staff attorney, predicts the course of the Mueller investigation—from its envisioned wrap-up by this fall through a constitutional crisis that, Cunningham says, Mueller’s report will trigger.

The New York Times posted a video about Razan Al-Najjar, a young Palestinian medic who on Friday was killed by the Israeli military while she was tending to injured demonstrators along the Gaza border.

In Bloomberg News, Melvyn Krauss argues that Trump’s tariffs on the European Union may have ulterior motives—specifically, getting European nations to increase NATO spending and cooperate with him on the sanctions he wants to impose on Iran in the wake of his pullout from the Iranian nuclear deal.

At Townhall.com, Matt Vespa accuses liberal media outlets of using Roseanne Barr’s fateful tweet as an occasion “to smear Trump voters.” The Daily Caller zeroes in on a CNN guest who suggested that all Trump voters are racist.

The Trump foreign policy team hasn’t reached consensus on what would make for an acceptable nuclear deal with North Korea, reports Nahal Toosi in Politico.

On bloggingheads.tv, Robert Wright talks with Shireen Al-Adeimi, who grew up in Yemen, about the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen and how the US abets it. An earlier bloggingheads diavlog featured Rania Khalek explaining how the US and its allies contributed to the chaos in Syria.

Early this week the New York Times reported deep divisions within Google over work the company does for the Pentagon that could be used to help target drone strikes. Two days after the Times story appeared, Google said the contract for the work wouldn’t be renewed.

study published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that more than 4,600 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico in September. The official death toll was 64. Thousands of residents are still without power as the 2018 hurricane season begins.

In the Dallas Morning News, a musician who performed 70 concerts in Iran last summer explains why Trump’s “abrogation of the nuclear deal with Iran is sad news for the vibrant segment of the Iranian civil society that I encountered in my concerts.”

DEEP BACKGROUND

The Washington Post examines a study in the journal Social Forces which found that opposition to welfare programs has grown among white Americans over the past decade and that opposition has been in part a result of increased racial resentment.

Democratic voters—especially young ones—have been moving to the left on such issues as immigration and race, according to data analyzed by Tom Edsall in the New York Times. One explanation: it’s a reaction against Trump.

In Just Security, legal scholar Adil Ahmad Haque challenges arguments that US drone strikes which lack authorization from the government of the country targeted can be justified under international law.

report by Caroline Flintoft of the International Crisis Group finds that high levels of displacement and hunger around the world result not just from war and violence per se but from “the manner in which many actors – whether leaders, governments or non-state armed groups – are pursuing military and political objectives.”

In the National Interest, Ryan Costello rebuts the Trump administration’s claims that the Iranian nuclear deal led to a big Iranian military buildup and a more aggressive foreign policy.

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver and his team finds polling accuracy has been “all right” in general, and offers rankings of prominent pollsters.

In Wired, Antonio Garcia Martinez offers a dark assessment of life in the age of “the algorithm,” when companies like Facebook select the news we see on the basis of our personal proclivities. He says the current age “will be the best-documented period in American history, but nobody will agree on what happened.”

In Aeon, Bastiaan T. Rutjens argues that political ideology has been overrated as a cause of skepticism about science. In the New Yorker, Alan Burdick explores the subculture of people who believe the Earth is flat.

Three years ago, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Robert Epstein and Ronald Robertson provided evidence that search engine algorithms can significantly influence elections.

In the journal Democracy, historian Sean Wilentz, a self-described liberal, reflects on the meanings of “liberal,” “progressive,” and “socialist.”

In Dissent, Jedebiah Purdy argues, as he put it in a tweet, that “the crisis of democracy that Trump embodies… is deep, long-running, and will require radical imagination in response.”

 NEWS YOU CAN USE

You may be among the millions of social media users who saw reports that the Trump administration has lost track of 1,500 immigrant children after separating them from their parents. It turns out the story is more complicated than that.

It’s true that Trump administration policy is leading large numbers of children to be separated from their parents at the border. But none of those children are unaccounted for. The “missing children” are children who came across the border alone and were then placed in the homes of relatives or sponsors. According to the administration, they are “missing” only in the sense that their guardians “did not respond or could not be reached” when a check-in call was made. Cecilia Muñoz, an Obama immigration policy advisor, has explained why this isn’t especially surprising or alarming.

However, Muñoz also says that Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents “puts us in league with the most brutal regimes in the world’s history.” She notes that “in many cases, these are people who are fleeing because of violence in their home country. The responsibility of the United States under the law is to determine who has a well-founded fear, who might qualify for political asylum… What this administration has chosen to do instead is to terrorize these families in the hope that that terror will deter them from coming in the first place.”

According to the New York Times, this Trump policy has resulted in over 700 children being separated from their parents since October 2017—and at least 100 of them were under the age of 4. Department of Homeland Security officials claim that this practice is done for the good of the children, but it is an idea that Trump chief of staff John F. Kelly, back when he was head of DHS, proposed as a way to deter illegal immigration.

If you’re concerned about all this, you might consider making a donation to Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). KIND is a national organization that provides children in the immigration system with free legal counsel and social services and advocates for policies that protect children who migrate alone. If you favor a more hands-on approach, consider volunteering with Freedom for Immigrants, which tries to reduce the isolation and abuse of people in immigration detention through visitation programs across the country.

—by Robert Wright, Aryeh Cohen-Wade, Brian Degenhart & Colin Pugh

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