Issue #44: Sept 23-29, 2018

We’re back for season two! And we’re still called The Mindful Resistance Newsletter! (But thanks to those of you who took our survey about alternative names—we’ll keep the results on hand in case we undergo another identity crisis…) So check out our new, modestly revamped newsletter, and see what you think. Feel free to email us with minor criticisms, major criticisms, or (preferably) abject flattery: feedback@mindfulresistance.net. And if flattery is your choice, you might consider going whole-hog and using our handy sharing icons to spread the word on Twitter or Facebook or via email.

–Robert Wright

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 THE WEEK

Kavanaugh vs. Ford: Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teens, an accusation Kavanaugh heatedly and indignantly denied. The committee voted along party lines to send the nomination to the full Senate after GOP Sen. Jeff Flake secured a promise that the FBI would conduct a one-week investigation.

Trump vs. World: In two appearances at the UN, Trump warned that the US wouldn’t tolerate infringements on its sovereignty by other nations and international organizations, accused China of meddling in upcoming midterm elections, and depicted Iran as a dire threat whose leaders “sow chaos, death, and destruction.” He asked “all nations to isolate Iran’s regime.”

World vs. Trump: The EU and Iran agreed to create a legal entity that would facilitate transactions which circumvent US sanctions against Iran. Meanwhile, China, which had already warned that it will retaliate in kind for Trump’s latest round of tariffs on Chinese imports, added that there will be “consequences” if Washington doesn’t withdraw sanctions on China for buying Russian military equipment.

Ask before bombing: Senator Tom Udall introduced a bill that would prevent Trump from taking military action against Iran without congressional approval.

Class-based immigration: The administration announced that legal immigrants who use public benefits such as Section 8 housing vouchers or food assistance can be denied green cards. The new rule would limit the number of low-income legal immigrants.

You’re not fired! Robert Mueller’s boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, met with Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly, expecting to lose his job in the wake of reports that he had once proposed secretly recording conversations with Trump. But he didn’t lose it, and conventional wisdom now says that he won’t lose it until after the midterm elections.

Drug war alliance: Congress has reached rare bipartisan agreement on a bill to address the opioid epidemic by increasing access to prescription treatments and inpatient care for addicts.

Declaring peace in Korea: South Korean President Moon Jae-in capped his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by urging the U.S. to declare a formal end to the Korean War as an incentive for the North to denuclearize.

Venezuelan crisis: Five Latin American countries and Canada have askedthe International Criminal Court to consider prosecuting officials in Venezuela for human rights abuses. Food and medicine shortages have pushed Venezuelan migrants into neighboring countries.

Mass murderer at large in Philippines: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte admitted for the first time to ordering extrajudicial killings in his government’s aggressive drug war, which has killed over twelve thousand people. This admission could bolster two cases filed against Duterte in the International Criminal Court.

THE BOB-O-SPHERE

by Robert Wright

Welcome to the Bob-O-Sphere! This is the part of the newsletter where, each week, I (Bob) will share various things that have been floating around in the orbit of my activity or the orbit of my concern—or just in my head. The good news: I’ll try to filter out things that are in these orbits, or in this orb, but aren’t relevant to the mission of this newsletter, thus sparing you the  pointless meandering that consumes much of my waking life. [Note: The people who help me put out this newsletter are unanimous in hating the name ‘Bob-O-Sphere,’ but my daughter likes it (and in fact thought of it), so they lost the vote by a considerable margin. Feel free to suggest alternatives; if there’s a way to make both my staff and my daughter happy, I’d consider that path.]

Bob-O-Sphere items will be of various lengths, in various genres, and have various degrees of proximity to the mission of this newsletter.

For example:

Here is a video exchange I had with Nikita Petrov, the newsletter’s Russian operative, about how bad Americans are at understanding how America’s behavior is viewed abroad—in, for example, Russia.

And here are three little riffs on the Kavanaugh hearings:

Kavanaugh and tribalism: For the first few minutes of Brett Kavanaugh’s senate testimony, I didn’t understand what he was up to. In punctuating a long, angry diatribe with spasms of weepiness, he seemed to be alternating between one kind of person you wouldn’t want on the Supreme Court and another kind of person you wouldn’t want on the Supreme Court. But then I sensed an underlying strategy: He was going full-on tribal, depicting the Democrats as cruel and unfair oppressors, and doing so with such emotion as to rally the Republican base. He seemed to understand that, the more intense the base’s support for him, the higher the political price paid by any Republican senators who vote against him.

That a tribal performance made sense for Kavanaugh is of course testament to how polarized America is. And so is the intensity of this particular performance; a demeanor that struck Kavanaugh’s ideological opponents (me, for example) as unhinged struck his supporters as deeply inspiring. A Rorschach test that produces such starkly different perceptions doesn’t bode well for the future cohesion of the country.

Broadly speaking, this hearing followed the pattern of the Clarence Thomas hearing: credible-seeming woman makes such damning allegations that the nominee seems doomed, only to resurrect himself via angry indignation. But I’m old enough to remember the Thomas hearings, and believe me: though both nominees exploited tribalism, today’s tribalism is much more raw and volatile. And we are much closer now to a day when large chunks of America view the Supreme Court as an illegitimate institution. So this newsletter, whose founding aims include combatting the psychology of tribalism, has some work to do…

Kavanaugh, egos, and mindfulness: It’s tempting, if you’re of my ideological persuasion, to dwell on the self-centeredness of Senate Republicans. Obsessed with re-election, they let crass political calculation override doubts about Kavanaugh’s integrity that Ford’s testimony (IMHO) should inspire in any reasonable person. Indeed, a number of them even granted Ford’s credibility before ultimately siding with Kavanaugh!

But I don’t think Senate Democrats did a better a job than Republicans of transcending their egos. By and large, they seemed too busy being performative to focus on the actual vulnerabilities in Kavanaugh’s testimony. For example, Kavanaugh repeatedly said things such as:

“Dr. Ford’s allegation is … refuted by the very people she says were there, including by a long-time friend of hers. Refuted.”

And:
“The core of why we’re here is an allegation for which the four witnesses present have all said it didn’t happen.”

This is manifestly untrue. What three of the four said is that they didn’t remember being at a social gathering that was said to have happened 36 years ago—not that the gathering hadn’t happened, much less that the sexual assault hadn’t happened. The only possible “witnesses” to the assault itself—the people Ford said were in the room when it happened—were the alleged perpetrators!

You might expect a Democratic senator to subject Kavanaugh to a sustained grilling on this point: A Supreme Court nominee had, under oath, said factually untrue things, and he had said them about something a Supreme Court justice needs to handle with utmost care: testimony. Almost enough to make you wonder if he’s qualified to be on the Supreme Court!

But, no, the Democratic senators weren’t focused enough—weren’t aware enough, weren’t mindful enough—to see the opportunity and seize it. Corey Booker came close, noting in passing that the “long-time friend” of Ford who had “refuted” Ford’s allegation had in fact said she believed the allegation. But no one really drilled down on Kavanaugh’s consequential untruths.

I’m not saying Senate Democrats, or Senate Republicans, are worse than the average Joe. All but the saints among us jealously guard our professional and social status and show off to that end—and do these things at the expense of clarity and focus. Still, during bursts of idealism I sometimes imagine that maybe we could somehow populate high public offices with better-than-average, even more-mindful-than-average, people.

And here’s why I think this is not too wild a dream: If any Democrats had mustered the presence of mind to drill down on Kavanaugh’s manifest misrepresentations, they’d be lavishly rewarded for it! They’d be instant YouTube stars, the talk of the town, maybe even overnight presidential candidates. When we encourage more mindfulness, we’re not asking for complete transcendence of self, for transformation into a fount of infinite altruism. (I mean, that would be great, but let’s take this one step at a time…) We’re just asking people to proceed with more attention, care, and wisdom in ways that can ultimately be, if you’ll pardon the expression, self-serving. Surely we can convince politicians to become more effectively self-serving! Then, as they get clearer and calmer, maybe they’ll focus a bit more on serving others— even, occasionally, at the expense of serving themselves. (And, hey, we do have at least one avowed meditator in Congress. It’s a start!)

Kavanaugh and #MeToo: In the immediate aftermath of the hearing, when Republicans seemed poised to push the nomination through, and Jeff Flake hadn’t yet suddenly and dramatically slowed that momentum, I was visited by two basic sets of emotions: first, anger mixed with disgust—evoked particularly by the memory of Kavanaugh’s (as I saw it) performative indignation, and by the thought of (ditto) how various senators, Republican and Democrat, had performatively ill-served the nation’s interest; and, second, sadness mixed with despair—evoked particularly by the image of Christine Blasey Ford reluctantly, earnestly telling her story, telling it courageously but apparently to no avail. Kavanaugh’s confirmation, it seemed, would be a setback for the core message of the #MeToo movement: various kinds of indignities and abuses that women used to suffer in silence are no longer acceptable.

But then I had two thoughts:

1) Look at the silver lining! If Kavanaugh triumphs it won’t have been by mounting a “boys will be boys” defense—saying that, hey, he may have gotten a bit out of control but not as out of control as Ford claimed, and anyway, he was young and zany. In other words, Kavanaugh didn’t challenge the vital principle that no degree or form of sexual coercion is acceptable.

2) November is just around the corner! Many people think that if Kavanaugh is confirmed, the ensuing anger will bring Republicans a world of trouble in the midterm elections. If so—if Democrats retake the House, conceivably even the Senate, and analysts plausibly attribute this in part to Kavanaugh-induced rage—that will mark a kind of reinforcement for the MeToo message; the party that pushed a credibly accused sex offender onto the Supreme Court will have paid a price for it. Christine Blasey Ford will not have suffered in vain.

In sum: The Kavanaugh affair, as it stands now (1) drives home how much work we need to do on the tribalism front; (2) drives home the need for more mindfulness in politics (as elsewhere); and (3) may yet contribute to our society’s further moral evolution.

Pre-emptive defense: Sorry if I sound more partisan about the Kavanaugh thing than somebody whose supposed mission is combatting tribalism should sound. But, just to be clear: For me the question isn’t whether Kavanaugh has been proven guilty. Obviously he hasn’t been and won’t be. I think the question—for him and for any Supreme Court nominee—should be whether there are reasonable and serious doubts about his integrity, which, in my view, there now are.

Speaking of combatting tribalism: This week I crossed America’s big tribal divide and had a conversation with Fox News commentator Greg Gutfeld. And, as a bonus, we talked about tribalism!

P.S. If you want to hear me talk about how hard I found it to stay mindful while assimilating the Kavanaugh controversy, I talk about that here in the aforementioned conversation with Nikita. We also discussed how the growing tension between Iran and the US illustrates the two different levels at which mindful resistance is needed.

TRIBALISM IN THE WILD

Rorschach test: Look at this (doctored) image and reflect on how you are meant to understand it. Is Trump helping hurricane survivors? Or is he just handing them MAGA hats? Or both? The image was shared more than 275,000 times on Facebook. It’s not clear how many people shared it earnestly (thinking Trump was actually helping out) and how many people shared it ironically (realizing the image was doctored, and perhaps noting the MAGA hat). What is clear is that New York Times tech writer Kevin Roose, by tweeting about it in a way that gave short shrift to the latter interpretation—and thus suggesting that there were 275,000 clueless Trump supporters who fell for obvious fakery—managed to get himself 12,000 retweets and God knows how many new followers.

BACKGROUND

In Wired, Emma Grey Ellis compared the way liberal and conservative media depicted the Kavanaugh hearings and found narratives that are “wildly, maybe disastrously, different.”

In Slate, Lili Loofbourow says that the kind of sexual assault Kavanaugh is accused of has less to do with rampant lust than with wanting to “be one of the guys.”

The Intercept obtained a DHS memo showing that, in April, immigration officials had pushed for family separation policies in order to deter future immigrants from crossing the Mexican border. The administration hadn’t officially acknowledged this motivation.

In a Lobelog piece about the official US list of state sponsors of terrorism, former intelligence official Paul Pillar writes that the Trump administration is using the list to “stir up as much hatred as possible against Iran rather than to convey an accurate picture of international terrorism today.”

A Wall Street Journal piece (here summarized in the Intercept, in case you can’t breach WSJ’s paywall) reports that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed continued support for Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen “over the objections of staff members after being warned that a cutoff could jeopardize $2 billion in weapons sales to America’s Gulf allies.”

On Bloggingheads.tv liberal Bill Scher and conservative Matt Lewis civilly present contrasting views of how, over the past few decades, Supreme Court nominations became so polarizing.

The Blaze recounts how a piece of anti-Kavanaugh fake news spread rapidly through Twitter, after which some prominent spreaders, including Lawrence Tribe and Matt Yglesias, admitted that they’d erred in uncritically retweeting it.

The editors of America Magazine, a Catholic (and specifically Jesuit) publication, explain why they withdrew their previous support for Kavanaugh’s nomination.

The New York Times reports on how readers abroad are assimilating the Kavanaugh controversy.

DEEP BACKGROUND

The research group Data & Society released a report on how the “reactionary right” operates on YouTube. Eric Weinstein of the “Intellectual Dark Web” challenged the report’s conclusions.

Google admitted that it’s developing search software that will comply with Chinese censorship laws and thus allow the company to once again operate in China.

In The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum describes how authoritarian populism has grown in Eastern Europe. She focuses on Poland, where her husband was once Foreign Minister.

The Chicago Tribune prints a refresher on what happened in 1991 when Anita Hill testified that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her.

The deplatforming debate that is playing out in America (Google “Alex Jones” and “Facebook”) is also playing out in Britain, and here a Guardian columnist argues that the BBC should be more selective about whose voices it amplifies.

Two Yale law professors argue that Trump’s trade wars not only are economically disruptive, but seriously threaten global stability.

In The New Republic, Lee Drutnam argues that, contrary to conventional Democratic wisdom, moderate Democratic candidates “could safely move left on economic issues and still win the suburbs.”

Last week Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, made her debut as a New York Times columnist, arguing, among other things, that “resistance is a reactive state of mind” that can, if we’re not careful, make us “forget our ultimate purpose and place in history.”

In The Atlantic, Peter Beinart argues that America needs “an entirely new foreign policy.”

A 2017 Pew study found that, the more extreme the ideology of members of Congress (whether on the left or the right), the more Facebook followers they have.

 NEWS YOU CAN USE

Over 400,000 people have RSVP’d for one of the nearly one thousand protest events set to take place if Trump fires Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or takes other action that would jeopardize the Mueller investigation.

 

–Edited by Aryeh Cohen-Wade with contributions by Colleen Smith,
Brian Degenhart, Nikita Petrov, and Colin Pugh.

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