In this week’s MRN, after analytically summarizing another eventful week of Trump-related news, we respond to a few reader emails and then proceed to offer links to background reading on such subjects as left-wing conspiracy theorists, the electoral implications of the #MeToo movement, why blue states turn red, and a micro-secession movement in California that, if it succeeded, would create a micro-red-state. Then, in response to reader demand (or at least reader request), we inaugurate a new section: News You Can Use.
–Robert Wright (@robertwrighter)
THE WEEK IN TRUMP
Shutdown: The Senate failed to pass a spending bill that would avert a government shutdown. As of Saturday at mid-day, it was unclear how the public would apportion blame. The Democrats’ hope—that people will blame the party that controls both houses of Congress and the White House—was complicated by the fact that passage of a bill requires 60 Senate votes. That means Republicans control which bills are introduced but don’t have enough votes to pass them. So by introducing a bill unacceptable to Democrats, Republicans can make Democrats the ones who could have voted to keep the government open but didn’t. Which is what happened Friday night. The lead paragraph of the New York Times account said that “Senate Democrats, showing remarkable solidarity in the face of a clear political danger, blocked consideration of a stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating.”
Less and Less Unfavorable: As the shutdown approached, polling numbers continued a weeks-long drift in favor of both President Trump and Congressional Republicans. According to the RCP poll aggregator, the gap between Trump’s approval and disapproval ratings, which had reached 21 points in mid-December, had dropped to 15. The FiveThirtyEight aggregator showed Trump’s approval rating at 40 percent for the first time since May. Matthew Yglesias wrote in Vox that these trends highlight the difference between what Trump critics focus on and what many voters focus on. “Trump’s opponents should note that the past couple of weeks of intense debate over the president’s ‘fitness’ for office, concluding in a new round of ‘Trump is a bigot’ takes, have corresponded with his approval ratings getting steadily better.” The improvement in Republican polling numbers began around the time Congress passed a bill that cut taxes for most Americans as of January 1.
Staying In Syria: Secretary of State Tillerson laid out a vision that would maintain an indefinite US military presence in a part of Syria held by Kurdish separatists. The stated aims are to prevent the resurgence of ISIS and apply pressure toward peaceful regime change. Syria expert Joshua Landis wrote that the US presence, “by controlling half of Syria’s energy resources… as well as much of Syria’s best agricultural land,” would “keep Syria poor and under-resourced” and serve various administration aims involving Russia, Iran, and Israel. Turkey, a fellow member of NATO, opposes US support for Kurdish separatists and on Saturday, after days of directing artillery fire on Kurdish positions in Syria, launched air strikes against them.
Defining Moderation Down: The Trump administration said it would withold more than half of $125 million budgeted for UNRWA, the UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees. The move, which sent the agency into crisis mode, was depicted as a victory for moderates in the administration; UN Ambassador Nikki Haley had wanted to withold all aid.
Clean Bill of Health: Trump’s medical exam, performed by the same military doctor who did President Obama’s annual physicals, didn’t produce any red flags. But skeptics raised questions about whether Trump’s height and weight were accurately reported, whether he has heart disease, and whether the cognitive exam he took was rigorous enough. Some observers called such skeptics conspiracy theorists—or, to put a finer point on it, “girthers”.
Weathering Stormy: Trump’s porn-star-hush-money scandal (which we at MRN were proud of resisting the temptation to mention in last week’s edition) got a bit more concrete. The Wall Street Journal reported that in 2016, a few weeks before the election, Trump’s lawyer set up a shell company and used it to pay $130,000 to the star, Stormy Daniels, apparently so she’d quit talking about a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.
Fake Fake News Awards: The president’s promised “Most Dishonest & Corrupt Media Awards of the Year” turned out to be just a fundraising poll on the GOP’s website. (MRN staffers went home empty handed and disconsolate after returning their rented formal wear.) GOP Senator Jeff Flake, who is retiring after this term, inveighed against Trump’s criticism of the media in a speech on the Senate floor, comparing Trump to Stalin.
Border Wall’s Immaculate Conception: After reports that Chief of Staff John Kelly called Trump’s campaign rhetoric on immigration “uninformed” and said Trump’s thinking is “evolving,” Trump tweeted that “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it.” This occasioned another round of stories about intra-White-House tensions.
Olympic Diplomacy: North and South Korea agreed that their athletes would march under one flag at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang. An NYT analysis argued that “the budding détente scrambles [the administration’s] strategy of pressuring the North, with sanctions and threats of military action, to give up its nuclear arsenal.”
Consumer Protection Budget Not Protected: Budget director Mick Mulvaney, in his capacity as Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, of which he is a longstanding critic, made a quarterly operating funds request of zero dollars. This will mean tapping the bureau’s $177 million emergency reserve fund to cover routine expenses.
Reprieve for Gerrymandering: The Supreme Court temporarily blocked a federal judge’s order that North Carolina redraw its congressional districts map. The ruling made it less likely that the map’s pro-Republican bias would change before elections in November.
Among the emails we’ve gotten from readers over the past week or so is one (from Dennis) suggesting that we make a habit of quoting from readers’ emails. (Of course, an email would say that, wouldn’t it?) Well, I’m not sure how habitual this will become, but, sure, let’s do some email quoting.
Who do you think you are—Gandhi? Ray writes that we here at MRN are “not the first… to advocate compassionate resistance. Check out the Quaker’s political action committee… Gandhi… Martin Luther King.”
There’s no doubt that, when it comes to trying to resist a malicious force without surrendering to hatred and rage, Gandhi, the Quakers, and MLK beat us to the punch. But I want to emphasize a sense in which what we’re doing is less ambitious than “compassionate resistance.” I mean, compassion is great, if you can muster it. What’s more, mindfulness—especially if cultivated via intensive meditation—can help you muster compassion. But even if you don’t get as far as compassion—and when we’re talking about Donald Trump, getting that far is a tall order—you can still be a full-fledged mindful resister. You just have to cultivate enough objectivity and awareness to appraise the situation coolly and attentively. You don’t have to get to the point of feeling positively toward Trump, but you have to try to minimize the negative feelings—hatred, for example—that can warp your perception of the world. Peace, love, and understanding are great, but peace and understanding would, for the time being, be enough of an accomplishment. In fact, understanding alone would be an impressive start.
All this said, Ray’s suggestion that we look at “case studies of successful compassionate resistance” and “techniques for respectful listening within families that have different political opinions” makes sense. We encourage you to bring such things to our attention.
By the way, all of this is relevant to the fact that items in MRN’s The Week In Trump sometimes feature a tone of ironic detachment. It’s not that we think this whole thing is funny or without consequence—it’s that we think seeing the occasional glimmer of humor in this big dark mess can help keep us from surrendering to the all-engulfing rage that, however justified, isn’t conducive to victory. And speaking of The Week In Trump:
Who do you think you are—the mainstream media? Readers have differing views on whether TWIT, our pithy analytical news summary, is worth the trouble.
Chris writes: “I’m still struggling with the nature of what you’re offering here… The news items simply repeat what I’ve already read in WaPo, NYT, etc…
My heart is with you, but I don’t get it.”
Mary writes: “I like the factual information devoid of sensationalism. Too much is made of our president’s behavior, tweets, or antics. We need to look behind the moment and see what is happening that his White House is trying to distract us from seeing. I look to you to bring clarity to the events, please don’t let us get distracted.”
Meredith writes: MRN “has been a way for me to process political information in a way that feels contained and structured and less like a deluge…”
Meredith, by the way, says she has disengaged from Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, though she still reads newspapers and listens to news on the radio. I don’t particularly recommend disengaging from social media. But I do think it’s the healthiest path for some people, and probably useful as an occasional one-day or even one-week exercise for most people. And I like to think that if you did disengage for a week, reading TWIT would make it less likely that you’d have missed anything that really mattered, Trumpwise.
How to prevent burnout: No, I don’t mean your burnout. I mean my burnout. This is a subject raised by Dennis, the very Dennis whose email started this whole quoting-from-emails thing to begin with. Dennis suggests that MRN might erect a paywall “if you felt the need to have more staff so you don’t burn out.” Well, burnout could indeed become a problem down the road. But we’ll cross that bridge when we burn it. I mean come to it. And if the way to avoid burnout—or the way to make this whole operation bigger and better—is to ask for money, we’ll make the donations optional, not the price of admission to the newsletter itself.
Meanwhile, I’d make this appeal to people who feel like sending money: Stop! Don’t do it! Instead of sending money, just help us out by sharing the newsletter (or, via our impressively nuanced social-media icons, sharing one of its sections) on Facebook or Twitter. And if, like Meredith, you’re currently disengaged from social media in hopes of preventing your own burnout, you can use such archaic information technologies as email, oral communication, or cuneiform.
PS: Thanks to all who have sent us emails. Keep ‘em coming: feedback@mindfulresistance. (And a particularly emphatic expression of appreciation from a couple of people whose emails offered particularly emphatic expressions of appreciation: Thomas M., a retired teacher, and Lyon, who teaches college in South Texas—where I went to high school, assuming you count San Antonio as part of south Texas).
PPS: Speaking of me: If you missed the bloggingheads.tv mindful resistance dialogue between me and fellow MRN scribe Aryeh, it’s here. And if you can think of better ways to spend your weekend than watching me talk, there’s this written summary of the dialogue’s key takeaways, published in last week’s newsletter.
—Robert Wright (@robertwrighter)
In Politico, Political scientist Joseph E. Uscinski writes that “girther” suspicions about Trump’s medical exam are just one example of recent conspiracy theories on the left. Uscinski explains why “electoral losers” tend to be susceptible to conspiracy theories.
Sixteen states are projected to run out of federal Children’s Health Insurance Program funds this month, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Democrats have long advocated putting a CHIP extension in the government spending bill that would keep the government open, and Republicans included it in both the House and Senate versions of the bill.
The DACA program, which allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as minors to stay here, remains in effect for now thanks to a judicial injunction. But its beneficiaries (“DREAMers”) worry the protection won’t last. Vox’s Dara Lind explains the program’s precarious legal status.
In The New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes that jockeying among prospective Democratic presidential candidates is pulling Democratic rhetoric leftward, to the possible disadvantage of some Democratic congressional candidates.
Thomas Edsall, writing in NYT, questions the common view that issues raised by the #MeToo movement will help Democrats in November and examines the possibility of a backlash from conservative voters.
Some conservatives in California want to secede from the state and create “New California” out of the state’s inland and rural areas.
Last week, we linked to a liberal think tank saying Trump’s recent Medicaid directive, which lets states establish a work requirement for Medicaid recipients, was a bad idea. Here’s a conservative think tank, the Heritiage Foundation, saying it’s a bad idea.
Back in 2015, journalist Alec MacGillis wrote a piece called “Who Turned My Blue State Red?” that explained why areas with lots of low-income residents sometimes support politicians who want to dismantle social welfare programs.
NEWS YOU CAN USE
The Mindful Resistance Newsletter is non-partisan. Our goal is to resist Trump and Trumpism, and politicians from either party can in principle do that. But, since Trump is a Republican, and Republicans in Congress and elsewhere have overwhelmingly chosen to support him, fighting Trumpism in the near term often means supporting Democratic candidates in congressional and other races.
If you feel like working toward that goal in particular races, you should know about Tony McMullin, aka Tony The Democrat. He started something called Postcards To Voters, which orchestrates the sending of postcards that encourage Democrats to get out and vote. And not just any postcards: hand-written postcards, which presumably are more likely to get a voter’s attention than standard mass-mail postcards. The postcards are handwritten by a network of tens of thousands of volunteers. That’s where you can come in, if you want. Here’s the web site for Postcards To Voters, and here is its Facebook Page.
Postcards To Voters sent 347,000 postcards to voters in Alabama during the Doug Jones-Roy Moore campaign, and Jones’s margin of victory was around 20,000 votes. PTV is active in many less-publicized races, including state legislature races. So there’s pretty much always a postcard you could be writing…
Note: If you want to nominate things for inclusion in News You Can Use, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and put NYCU, or some such thing, in the subject heading. Here is a description of the range of things that might qualify for inclusion.
—by Robert Wright, Aryeh Cohen-Wade, and Brian Degenhart