Issue #23: Jan 7–Jan 13, 2018

In this week’s MRN (that’s cool-person talk for Mindful Resistance Newsletter), after our review of the week’s main events, I report on the results of our RFI (Reader Feedback Initiative) and announce a new RIF (Reader-Inspired Feature) that will DNW (debut next week). Then we offer links to resources that illuminate such things as: Breitbart’s declining distinctiveness; the connection between workplace robots and support for Trump; evidence of declining support for Trump among blue collar voters; evidence that Trump’s national security adviser is dangerously hawkish on North Korea; and evidence that many of Trump’s tweets are quasi-dictated by his friends at Fox.


–Robert Wright (@robertwrighter)

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The Shithole Hits The FanJust when there were signs that a bipartisan immigration bill might come together—a bill that would be good news for some 700,000 “DREAMers” and for 200,000 El Salvadorans facing eventual deportation—any momentum was stopped by Trump’s now-famous reference to “shithole” countries whose citizens he deems undesirable immigrants. It’s conceivable that the controversy, which featured widespread denunciations of Trump as racist, could ultimately improve prospects for an immigration bill by putting pressure on him to appear humane. On the other hand, his remarks seem to have reflected increasing White House skepticism about the deal, which had been forged by Republican and Democratic Senate leaders. And that skepticism was getting reinforced by vocal Republican nativists. Ann Coulter had called Trump’s meeting with lawmakers earlier this week, during which he showed openness to a deal, the “lowest moment of the Trump presidency.” The next day, after the meeting with lawmakers that featured Trump’s “shithole” remark, she said, “He’s trying to win me back.” 

To Further Complicate Things… Earlier in the week a court ruling had reduced the sense of urgency surrounding an immigration deal. A federal judge temporarily blocked the administration’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which applies to undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children (the DREAMers). Before the ruling, 1,000 DREAMers per day were set to lose protection from deportation starting March 5. Also this week, the Trump administration informed those 200,000 Salvadorans that they would lose their temporary resident status in September 2019 and must by then return to El Salvador. The bipartisan immigration deal that had been taking shape, in addition to providing ways for these two groups to stay in the country, would have provided funds for at least some border wall construction and other border security measures and would have placed tighter limits on “chain migration” and “lottery” immigration.

When Being Poor Isn’t Good Enough: The administration said it would let states require Medicaid recipients to meet work requirements (either have a job or do “community engagement” activities) if they want to keep their health insurance. Kentucky immediately took advantage of the new leeway.

Et Tu, Breitbart? If Steve Bannon was wondering how things could get any worse after last week—after his emphatic expulsion from Trump’s orbit and his disavowal by former financial backers—he got his answer. He was forced out of his position as executive chairman of Breitbart News. For the time being, at least, Bannon’s dreams of being an ethno-nationalist potentate lay in ruins.

Trump vs. Iran (cont’d)Trump issued an ultimatum that made US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal more likely. Trump said the US would withdraw from the deal 120 days from now unless “our allies” agree to an amended deal with broader, tighter, and longer-lasting constraints on Iran. But, whether or not Trump understands this, an amended deal would require the support not just of “our allies” but of Russia and China, since they were party to the deal—not to mention Iran, which, of course, was also party to the deal. All of this means there’s no chance that the deal will be amended as Trump demands, so in 120 days he’ll be in the awkward position of having to either (1) pull the US out of the deal, re-imposing US sanctions while Europe, Russia, and China continue to enjoy the economic benefits of freer trade with Iran; (2) admit he was bluffing; (3) somehow kick the can down the road with a minimum of embarrassment (via, say, a European promise to “study” possible amendments).

FISA Extended: After a spasm of confusion about Trump’s position on the issue, the current counterterrorism surveillance program was reauthorized by the House. Party lines were blurred, as 65 Democrats joined the majority and 45 Republicans defected. The Senate is expected to follow suit. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald noted with disapproval that many Democrats who have warned about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his contempt for the rule of law nonetheless voted against new limits on the program. The program, among other things, lets the government eavesdrop on conversations between foreigners and US citizens without a court warrant.

Map Quest: For the first time ever, a federal court struck down a state’s congressional district map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The state in question, North Carolina, is required by the ruling to create a new map within two weeks, but the North Carolina Republican Party plans an expedited appeal to the Supreme Court.

Drill Baby Drill. Or Don’tInterior Secretary Ryan Zinke granted Florida an exemption from the expanded offshore oil drilling permitted by a Trump administration policy announced last week. The exemption came at the request of Florida’s Republican governor. ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis, alluding to provisions of the recent tax bill that hurt states such as New York and California, tweeted, “We have reached the point where whether you live in a red, blue or swing state determines if the federal government will target you for tax hikes or allow oil rigs on your coastline.” That thesis will be tested: twelve other states, some of them blue, have now asked for the exemption Florida got.

Good Cop, Bad Cop, Good CopTrump gave a wide-ranging interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he (1) toned down his rhetoric toward North Korea (“I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un”); (2) reiterated his threat to “terminate” NAFTA if he couldn’t get a “Trump deal”; (3) but also said he “would rather be able to negotiate” and suggested he wouldn’t force the issue before Mexico’s elections in July.


Thanks to all the MRN readers who responded to my appeal for feedback about the newsletter two weeks ago. I promised I’d reply in video form, and I’ve done that—in concert with fellow MRN contributor Aryeh Cohen-Wade—here. (The audio version is available at a podcast app near you, on both the feed and the Wright Show feed.) But for those of you who don’t have time to listen to an unrehearsed, and correspondingly meandering, 69-minute discourse, here are the key takeaways:

1. News you can use. A number of people suggested the newsletter might include more in the way of constructive guidance. For example, Brad asked for “examples of mindful resistance in action, beyond checking our propensity to react to Trump and his supporters. What positive actions can we do?” Elizabeth, putting a finer point on it, wrote, “I can make phone calls. I can write emails.” And Skylar suggested we offer “tips on directly applying mindfulness practices to daily life in Trump’s America (exercises, mantras, etc.).”

Well, suggesting mantras is above my pay grade, but it does seem to me there are two kinds of things we can do that fall somewhere along the Brad-Skylar spectrum: 1) Make readers aware of opportunities for constructive political engagement—protests, get-out-the vote operations, etc.; 2) Offer tips—or steer readers to places that offer tips—on how to preserve mindfulness, and mental health more generally, in Trump’s America. 

If you’d like a slightly clearer idea of what I mean by the second of those, you’ve got company: So would I. It’s a slightly vague category, and I won’t know if it’s a viable category until we’ve tried to put some content in it for a while. But I would imagine that it could include things like dealing with troublesome emotions, navigating social media skillfully and wholesomely, better understanding people who support Trump, seeing the forest, not just the trees, etc. 

Meanwhile, here’s the plan: Next week we’ll inaugurate a new section of the newsletter called “News You Can Use.” I’m not sure if it will appear every week thereafter—I’d rather skip a week than fill it with filler—but when it does appear it will include at least one item that belongs somewhere along the Brad-Skylar spectrum, the spectrum that extends from political activism to what you might call political self-help—or might call something else, depending on what this new section evolves into.

2. User-generated content. I’m happy to report that none of our readers actually used the phrase “user generated content,” as this would suggest a more clinical, less communal, conception of this enterprise than I favor. But, out in Silicon Valley, that’s the term for everything from guest posts in a weekly newsletter to comments in a comment section—which were, in fact, two of the things that our readers proposed.

Thus, Dave favors an “opportunity for lay people such as myself to submit to your newsletter. Not that I would but someone else might. :-).”  And David (not to be confused with Dave) suggested a couple of things: 1) that MRN might “grow into a blog” that could be open to guest contributors; 2) that we add a “comment section” or some other means for reader input and for readers to “digitally meet up.” 

Dave’s and David’s ideas sound good to me and the other folks who put out MRN—in principle, at least. But when you get down to implementation, questions arise. Should the comment section be on Or on reddit? Or should we start a Facebook page for this purpose? And do we really need a blog, or is it enough for the most appreciated comments to be “upvoted” (as on reddit) and rise to prominence that way? And should some of these comments appear in the newsletter? And so on.

So we’re going to think about this for a while. But we plan to have some sort of new feature in this realm to announce in six to eight weeks. And we hope it will be just the beginning. Indeed, we hope that, before too long, there will be a clear connection between “News you can use” and (if you’ll pardon the expression) “user generated content.” In other words, readers will be providing each other with news they can use. 

But building a robust version of this kind of “platform” (as they also say in Silicon Valley) will take time. Meanwhile, in the nearer term, we’ll (a) launch the News You Can Use feature next week; and (b) try hard to announce some new avenue for reader input/communication in six-to-eight weeks. Meanwhile, feel free to share ideas about either (a) or (b)—or ideas about anything else—by writing us at

PS: Readers came up with a number of other good ideas—for example, that we systematically feature perspectives that are right-wing and/or pro-Trump—but for now we’ll try to work these into the texture of the newsletter rather than turning them into whole new features.

—Robert Wright (@robertwrighter)


Three Washington Post reporters tried to explain why many Trump supporters don’t view Trump’s “shithole” comment as abhorrent—and, perhaps predictably, were criticized by guardians of outrage for this exercise in perspective taking.

In The Washington Post, Nicole Hemmer says that the once-distinctive Breitbart News now “feels a lot like run-of-the-mill conservative media, not so different from Fox News or talk radio”—and argues that this reflects Breitbart’s “triumph.”

In Politico, Matt Gertz documents the suggestive correlation between (a) Trump’s tweets and (b) comments made on “Fox & Friends” not long before them. For example: Trump’s denial, on Friday, of the “shithole” comments came in reaction to “Fox & Friends” commentary, Gertz suggests.

The Center for American Progress makes the case that imposing work requirements on Medicaid recipients is a bad thing.


In the New York Times, Thomas Edsall observes that Trump voters were concentrated in areas where the most workers have been displaced by robots and concludes: “the two generalized explanatory realms—the one focused on race and the other on economic shock—overlap. It is not either/or but both that gave us President Trump.”

The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein, citing previously unpublished survey data, observes that Trump has lost support from some blue-collar whites, but has increased support among some men of color.

In Defense One, Uri Friedman explores the question of why National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster believes “that Kim Jong Un must be denied the capability to place a nuclear warhead on a missile that can reach the United States, even if this requires initiating a military conflict with the North that could devolve into a cataclysmic war.” One close colleague finds it “absolutely inexplicable—not in keeping with the man I know, with his writing, with his thinking, with the sense of responsibility he feels for preserving peace and security and innocent life.”

—by Robert Wright, Aryeh Cohen-Wade, and Brian Degenhart

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