Issue #12: Oct 22–Oct 28, 2017

This week, after The Week in Trump, I address the eternal question: How should we handle the Jeff Flakes of the world? And, for those of you in New York: On Wednesday I’ll be holding a discussion with two prominent Buddhists about, among other things, how to deal with Trump in a way that is mindful and consistent with Buddhist values. If you’re interested in attending, you can RSVP here. Feel free to introduce yourself to me afterwards as a Mindful Resister!

Robert Wright 

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Issue #11: Oct 15–Oct 21, 2017

In this week’s newsletter, after our summary of some of the week’s most genuinely important events, I delve into an event that got way more air time than any of them: the controversy over the disrespect Trump showed (or didn’t show, depending on who you believe) toward a fallen soldier while offering condolences to the soldier’s widow. I try to answer the looming question: Was this worth the fuss? I break that question down into a few sub-questions that may be of use in the future as you confront that recurring Trump-related question: Should I get outraged over this? Also in this newsletter, we inaugurate a new (occasional) award: Dubious Viral Tweet Of The Week—which gives us a chance to subject 140 characters or less to longer, and arguably tedious, analysis.

—Robert Wright

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Issue #10: Oct 8–Oct 14, 2017

In this week’s newsletter, we decide what we should and shouldn’t forgive Mark Zuckerberg for (see editorial, below). We also, as usual, offer a pithy summary of Trump’s doings and their significance as well as background readings. But before you dive in, I wanted to call your attention to two pieces I recently wrote—one in Vox, on the meaning of mindful resistance, and one in Wired, on how meditation can erode the cognitive biases that underlie the “psychology of tribalism.”

And as long as I have your attention: (1) Feel free to use the “share” function at the bottom of the newsletter to email the newsletter to anyone you think might like it; (2) Feel free to email us with reactions and ideas at feedback@mindfulresistance.net. We don’t have time to reply to each email, but rest assured that we read each one (mindfully).

Robert Wright

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Issue 9: Sept 30-Oct 7, 2017

In this week’s newsletter, we decide what we should and shouldn’t forgive Mark Zuckerberg for (see editorial, below). We also, as usual, offer a pithy summary of Trump’s doings and their significance as well as background readings. But before you dive in, I wanted to call your attention to two pieces I recently wrote—one in Vox, on the meaning of mindful resistance, and one in Wired, on how meditation can erode the cognitive biasesthat underlie the “psychology of tribalism.”

And as long as I have your attention: (1) Feel free to use the “share” function at the bottom of the newsletter to email the newsletter to anyone you think might like it; (2) Feel free to email us with reactions and ideas at feedback@mindfulresistance.net. We don’t have time to reply to each email, but rest assured that we read each one (mindfully).

—Robert Wright

THE WEEK IN TRUMP

Bump Stock Bipartisanship? The Las Vegas massacre seemed to create a bipartisan opening to ban “bump stocks,” which the shooter used to turn semi-automatic weapons into functionally automatic ones. Even the NRA signaled support for a ban, though Chris Cillizza argued that this was a ploy—that in calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to handle the issue, the NRA was trying to forestall broader action in Congress.

Iran Deal Threatened: Reports indicated that Trump would take “a middle ground of sorts” by not recertifying the Iran nuclear deal but not recommending that Congress reinstate sanctions. The move would increase the chances that Republicans in Congress, most of whom opposed the deal, will at some future date derail it even if Iran continues to comply with its terms. At a hearing on Tuesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis stated that he believed maintaining the agreement was in the U.S. national interest.

Rex Rift: NBC reported that the “rift” between Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had widened after Tillerson failed to deny that he had called the president a moron. Buzzfeed reported that Mattis, Tillerson and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have a “suicide pact … whereby all three cabinet secretaries vow to leave in the event that the president makes moves against one of them.”

DREAM Deal Deferred?: Politico reports: “The White House is finalizing a plan to demand hard-line immigration reforms in exchange for supporting a fix on the DACA program… an approach that risks alienating Democrats and even many Republicans, potentially tanking any deal.”

Contraception Exemption: The Daily Beast reported that the Trump administration was poised to weaken an Obama-era regulation requiring employers to offer birth control coverage. The envisioned rule would allow bosses to opt out of the requirement on “moral” rather than just “religious” grounds.

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Issue 8: Sept 23-Sept 29, 2017

 THE WEEK IN TRUMP

Weekend Warrior: Trump said that NFL players who kneel during the national anthem should be fired, spurring more players to take a knee in protest. Trump’s intervention turned Colin Kaepernick’s original protest against police abuse of African Americans into a much larger debate about Trump himself and the meaning of free speech and patriotism. NYT’s Ross Douthat noted that “now we’re ‘arguing’ (I use the term loosely) about everything [but] the specific issue that Kaepernick intended to raise, police misconduct…”

Health and Taxes: The effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act was pronounced dead yet again after John McCain and Susan Collins said they wouldn’t vote for the Graham-Cassidy bill, leading the White House and congressional Republicans to shift their focus to taxes. A NYT fact-check of the Republicans’ vaguely outlined tax reform proposal said it would benefit the wealthiest.

Puerto Rico Struggles: On Thursday, after much criticism for not acting sooner, Trump waived the Jones Act for Puerto Rico, making it easier to ship relief supplies to the island. A poll indicated that almost half of Americans don’t know that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens—and that those who do know are much more likely to support aid.

Travel Ban Sequel: The White House announced a new version of the travel ban, adding North Korea and Chad to the previous list, which originally included only Muslim-majority nations. The NYT reported that the inclusion of Chad came at the request of the acting Homeland Security secretary and adviser Stephen Miller, but “over the objections of Pentagon and State Department officials, who argued that alienating the nation, one of America’s more reliable counterterrorism allies in Africa, risked harming long-term national security interests.”

Trumpism Defeats Trump: In Alabama, Luther Strange, the GOP establishment candidate, lost to Roy Moore in the GOP primary for Jeff Sessions’s old seat. Trump, succumbing to establishment pressure, had supported Strange, but Moore was seen by many, including vocal supporter Steve Bannon, as more representative than Strange of the spirit of Trump’s presidential campaign. Bannon is looking to further rattle the Republican establishment by recruiting primary challengers in other states, reports Politico.

Frequent Flier Fired: Or, strictly speaking, he resigned—he being Tom Price, the Secretary of Health and Human Services who had drawn fire for spending $400,000 of government money on charter flights rather than fly on commercial airlines.
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Issue 7: Sept 16-Sept 22, 2017

THE WEEK IN TRUMP

Trump vs. Kim: In his first address to the United Nations, Trump said that if the US “is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” Neoconservative columnist Eli Lake wrote, “For a moment, I closed my eyes and thought I was listening to a Weekly Standard editorial meeting.” On Thursday, Trump signed an executive order widening American economic sanctions on North Korea. Kim Jong Un, whom Trump had called “Rocket Man” in his UN speech, said in response that he would “surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.” Trump then tweeted that the “madman” Kim “will be tested like never before!”

Rouhani the Role Model: Amid the war of taunts between Trump and Kim, Iranian President Rouhani reminded everyone what tough talk by national leaders has traditionally sounded like: firm but vague. After Trump used his UN speech to hint anew that he will find a way to end the Iran nuclear deal, Rouhani said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran will not be the first country to violate the agreement; but it will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party.” The New York Times reported: “Some say the contrast between Mr. Trump’s belligerent-sounding General Assembly speech on Tuesday, and the more measured address by President Hassan Rouhani of Iran on Wednesday, had helped give Iran an unexpected edge: the image of reasonableness in the face of an adversary’s angry ranting.”

Repeal and Replace’ on Life Support: The GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, seemingly dead as of July, returned in the form of the Graham-Cassidy bill. The bill would cut Medicaid by turning traditional funding into blocks grants to the states, would undo the individual mandate, and would “allow health insurers to once again charge people higher premiums based on their medical history,” according to Vox. Friday afternoon, Senator John McCain said he would not support the bill, rendering the GOP effort to repeal the ACA, if not once again seemingly dead, then seemingly on its deathbed.

Mueller Targets White House: The New York Times reported that special counsel Robert Mueller has asked the White House for documents about “some of President Trump’s most scrutinized actions since taking office, including the firing of his national security adviser and F.B.I. director.”

Late-Night Hosts Take Flak: Stephen Colbert was criticized from the left for bringing Sean Spicer on stage for a joke during the Emmys, and Jimmy Kimmel was criticized from the right for forcefully arguing against the Graham-Cassidy bill.

 

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Issue 6: Sept 9-Sept 15, 2017

THE WEEK IN TRUMP

DACA Saved? This week, in a departure from tradition, Trump sparked more intense outrage on the right than on the left. Although the president is wont to change his mind, as of press time he had said he supports a deal with Democrats in Congress that would preserve DACA—thus saving “Dreamers” from deportation—and that would not include funding for a border wall. Important parts of Trump’s base reacted with shock and dismay. “Families of Illegal Alien Murder Victims Confused, Angered by Possible DACA Deal,” said a Breitbart headline. “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?” asked Ann Coulter. Liberal-turned-Trump supporter Mickey Kaus endorsed burning MAGA hats and posting the photos on Twitter.

Title IX Controversy: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that the government would roll back Obama-era changes in how colleges treat accusations of sexual assault—changes that were recently critiqued in The Atlantic.

What Happened Happened: Hillary Clinton returned to the national stage to promote her memoir of the 2016 campaign, reopening old wounds within the Democratic coalition and giving Trump the excuse to once again tweet about “Crooked Hillary.”

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Issue 5: Sept 2-Sept 8, 2017

THE WEEK IN TRUMP

DACA Decision: Trump rescinded protections that had been granted to young undocumented immigrants by Obama in 2012. But he seemed to distance himself from his policy by having Attorney General Sessions announce it—and by postponing its implementation for six months, during which Congress could render it moot by passing legislation that would protect DREAMers. At the urging of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Trump tweeted “For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about – No action!”

Debt Ceiling Deal: Speaking of Nancy Pelosi—Trump shocked Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell by striking a deal with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on funding for hurricane relief and suspending the debt ceiling until December. This led to positive cable news coverage that Trump seemed to like.

North Korean Nukes: North Korea tested its sixth nuclear weapon, and this one may have been a hydrogen bomb. In a departure from tradition, no Trump national security aides played good cop by adopting a strikingly less incendiary tone than his. Trump’s famously belligerent words (“fire and fury”) from last month were reinforced by Defense Secretary Mattis (who warned of a “massive military response” to any North Korean threat to the US or its allies and said that aggression by North Korea could lead to its “total annihilation”) and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley (Kim Jong Un was “begging for war”).

Irma’s Epistemological Challenge: The approach of yet another epic storm raised again the issue of climate change, which President Trump has been dismissive of. It also raised again a rhetorical problem for people concerned about climate change: though experts say climate change increases the likelihood of powerful storms, no single storm can ever be confidently attributed to it.

 

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Issue 3: Aug 19-25, 2017

THE WEEK IN TRUMP

Raising Hell in Arizona: At a rally in Phoenix, Trump delivered an unscripted, crowd-pleasing oration, complaining that (for example) the media is unfairly critical of him. Much of the media reacted by being critical of him. One conservative observer tweeted, “the CNN panel: every one is in disbelief. upset. angry. Translation: mission accomplished.”

Afghanistan Mini-surge: Trump announced in vague terms a new Afghanistan policy that reportedly will send an additional 4,000 troops to the 16-year-old war. The once-again Bannon-run Breitbart.com accused Trump of a “flip-flop” that betrayed his “ ‘America First’ base.”

Donald vs. Mitch: The New York Times reported that Trump’s relationship with the Senate Majority Leader has deteriorated so much that the two men haven’t spoken in weeks.

Arpaio Pardon Pondered: In Phoenix Trump signaled, without explicitly saying, that he will pardon controversial former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a fierce opponent of illegal immigration and fierce proponent of birtherism. CNN reported that the White House had prepared the paperwork for the pardon.

 

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Issue 2: Aug 12-18, 2017

THE WEEK IN TRUMP

Charlottesville: Hundreds of protestors, including Klan members, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, marched with tiki torches to protest removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. There were chants of “blood and soil,” “You will not replace us,” and “Jews will not replace us.” The next day, “antifa” counter-protesters clashed with the protesters—it’s unclear which side initiated the violence—and police declared the assembly unlawful. That afternoon, a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one person and injuring 19. His allies claimed the incident was triggered by counterprotestors’ descending on his car.

Trump reacts: Trump condemned “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” He was widely criticized for seeming to suggest moral equivalence between white supremacists and the counterprotesters, and multiple CEOs resigned from White House advisory councils, leading to the disbanding of those groups. Trump then said in a combative press conference that “not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch,” and that there were “very fine people on both sides.” He criticized the “alt-left” for violence at the rally.

After-effects: A crowd of protesters pulled down a Confederate monument in Durham, North Carolina. Arrests were made. An NBC/PBS News Hour/Marist poll found that 62 percent of American adults believe statues honoring confederate leaders should “remain as a historical symbol”.

Barcelona: A van driver in Barcelona killed 13 people. The attack, claimed by ISIS, prompted Trump to tweet: “Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!” This is a reference to a false story about Pershing soaking bullets in pigs’ blood to put down an Islamic insurgency in the Philippines.

Bye-Bye Bannon: Friday saw the exodus of White House strategist Steve Bannon, who reportedly had incurred the enmity of such White House aides as Jared Kushner, John Kelly, and H.R. McMaster. Ironically, the departure of Bannon, long identified as an ethno-nationalist, came the week Trump was seen as speaking sympathetically of the white nationalists in Charlottesville. Some aides who favored the ouster of Bannon are said to have blamed him for encouraging this kind of reaction from Trump.

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