In this week’s newsletter, after boiling seven days down to ten paragraphs, we brag about the newsletter’s growing circulation, ponder the future of Mindful Resistance, and then put you in touch with resources ranging from analyses of gun violence to an epic think-tank study about “truth decay” to a piece about how a porn technology could degrade politics (or further degrade politics). And we close with some News You Can Use.
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THE WEEK IN TRUMP
Lock and Load: In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Trump aroused controversy by recommending that teachers with proper training carry concealed weapons (and get “a bit of a bonus” for doing so). Arming teachers is favored by the NRA, but Trump also tossed out, albeit noncommittally, some ideas opposed by the NRA, such as raising the minimum age for buying an assault rifle.
In Florida there were other signs that—for the time being, at least—the political climate has gotten less NRA-friendly. Governor Rick Scott—who has an A+ rating from the NRA and spoke at last year’s NRA convention—proposed raising the age for buying any firearm from 18 to 21. And Senator Marco Rubio, at a CNN forum where he encountered some less-than-reverential Parkland high school students, said for the first time that he would consider limiting the size of gun magazines. (A six-bullet limit would have meant that the Florida shooter had to stop and reload five times as often as he did.) A New York Times article argued that the Parkland shooting could pose a more enduring threat to the NRA’s stranglehold on gun policy than past shootings for several reasons, including the “We-Call-B.S. teenagers of Florida.” Several major companies, including big rental car companies, severed ties with the NRA.
A Nation of Natives: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services revised its mission statement, removing the phrase “nation of immigrants.” Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents “get wider latitude to determine whom they detain, the biggest jump in arrests has been of immigrants with no criminal convictions.”
Reindicted: Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued new indictments against Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, former deputy chairman and longtime Manafort associate. Mueller accused them of fraud and money laundering—not to be confused with the fraud and money laundering he accused them of in October. On Friday, the day after the indictments, Gates beat much of the rap by pleading guilty to a small fraction of the charges and offering to cooperate with Mueller, presumably to Manafort’s detriment. As if Manafort weren’t having a bad enough week, Mueller then threw yet more charges at him. If all this pressure leads Manafort to cooperate with Mueller that will likely mean testifying against members of the Trump campaign or administration, and possibly against Trump himself.
Reindicted… and it feels so good: To anti-Trumpers, all this bad news for Paul Manafort naturally felt good. But being mindful means not always accepting your feelings as reliable guides. And it turns out there’s a sense in which bad news for Manafort could be good news for Trump. One thing this indictment and other evidence indicates is that Manafort had serious money problems. Most notably, he seems to have owed millions of dollars to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. And a cryptic email Manafort wrote in 2016 suggests he hoped to use his position in the Trump campaign to get forgiveness for that debt. How might he do that? Well, he might try to get US sanctions against Russia—which hurt Russian oligarchs—lifted. Or he might fight off attempts to insert a plank in the GOP platform that would have been bad news for Russia-backed Ukrainian rebels—as the Trump team in fact did while Manafort was still campaign chairman. (Deripaska might not care much about Ukrainian rebels, but he is a close associate of Putin, and engineering this policy change could have brought him much political capital or even financial capital.) The point is just that, if indeed there was a quid-pro-quo between Russia and the Trump campaign (something that hasn’t been proven), it’s possible that Manafort was the key agent, and he had his own motivations, separate from the Trump campaign’s political goals. As quid pro quo narratives go, this one would be to Trump’s liking; Manafort bartering policies for debt forgiveness is less conducive to impeachment than Trump bartering policies for illicit help in the election.
Because we said so: The Trump administration asserted that it needs no additional authority from Congress to keep American troops in Iraq and Syria indefinitely. It also said that having troops in Syria against the will of the Syrian government was consistent with international law—even if the troops kill Syrians. Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law Professor who worked in the Bush administration, said the Trump administration’s arguments about international law amounted to “a tenuous legal justification atop of another tenuous legal justification.”
Ivanka in Korea: Trump imposed new sanctions on North Korea and warned that if sanctions don’t lead to denuclearization, “phase two may be a very rough thing” and “very, very unfortunate for the world.” Meanwhile Ivanka Trump flew to South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the Olympics and, according to the White House, cement US relations with South Korea. Her diplomatic skills are untested, but it seems safe to say that, so long as she’s in Korea, the US won’t start a war with North Korea. We wish her a long and happy stay.
As goes tax-bill sentiment, so goes… When Republicans rammed through a tax reform bill in December, Democrats reveled in the bill’s well-documented unpopularity. Looks like the party’s over. A New York Times/Survey Monkey poll shows 51 percent of Americans support the law, up from 46 percent in January and 37 percent in December. Meanwhile, in the Real Clear Politics poll aggregator, Trump’s approval rating has risen from 37 percent in mid-December to 42, and his disapproval has dropped from 58 to 54. And the Democratic advantage on the generic congressional ballot has fallen from 11 points to 8. Democratic politicians may have set the stage for this GOP boost with misleading talking points: many said in December that the middle-class would face a tax hike but didn’t note that the increase wouldn’t come until 2025 (if then). So when people noticed in January that their paychecks got bigger, not smaller, that was an uplifting surprise even if the increase was small. Lowering expectations is a famous way to succeed, and in this case the Democrats may have performed that feat on behalf of the Republicans.
Blue wave: Democrats continued their recent electoral successes at the state level, as Linda Belcher won a Republican-held seat in Kentucky’s legislature by a wide margin. The Hill noted that this is “the 18th formerly Republican-held district to fall into Democratic hands in a special election since Trump won in 2016, a growing trend Democrats see as proof of their party’s momentum heading into the midterms.” Cautionary note: some of these victories have rested on intense Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts, and in this year’s congressional midterm elections such efforts, while still important, will get less bang per buck since turnouts will be larger.
She’s running: The Washington Post profiled Rachel Crooks, who in 2016 publicly accused Trump of forcibly kissing her in Trump Tower ten years earlier. Crooks is now running as a Democrat to be a state representative in Ohio. Trump tweeted that her accusation was “Fake News”—and, for good measure, followed that up with a tweet calling it a “False Accusation.”
This week the Mindful Resistance Newsletter picked up more than 500 new subscribers—well above our usual weekly pickup of 100-plus.
Our crack data analytics team has identified at least three contributing factors: (1) Readers put the Twitter and Facebook icons sprinkled throughout the newsletter to good use, giving last week’s issue of MRN the second most social media shares in our 28-week history; (2) Tricycle, the venerable Buddhist magazine and website, republished the piece I wrote in last week’s newsletter about mindfully responding to mass shootings; (3) The also venerable and widely followed internet scribe Jason Kottke generously linked to that piece on kottke.org.
The leader of our data analytic teams, asked to assign relative weights to these three factors, replied crisply, “I guess they all had something to do with it, probably. But you never know.”
So I guess we’ll never know. But we do know this: This boost pushed us above the 6,500 subscribers mark.
Which raises the question: Should we start thinking big? Dreaming about the day when Buzzfeed’s CEO looks at the size of our subscriber base and wonders how we manage to rack up numbers like that?
Or, leaving aside the question of whether MRN can become a media juggernaut: Will we someday have so many readers that we could start building some kind of community, a community that actually helps make the world a better place?
It turns out one of our readers is already dreaming that dream. A few weeks ago, Nancy from Wisconsin wrote, “I would like to start a local chapter of Mindful Resistance, and I would appreciate any guidance you can offer, including trainings/training materials.”
We’re flattered. And not just because Nancy thinks MRN could be the seed of a constructive community, but because she seems to think we’re such competent visionaries that we have training materials at the ready.
Alas, we don’t, and that’s partly because, to be honest, we still don’t have a crystal-clear vision of what exactly a Mindful Resistance community would look like.
Nancy herself sounds like she thinks one thing such a community could do is reach across America’s great tribal divide. She says she has been “searching for ways to connect with folks who supported and voted for Trump” but that she has “so much resistance to their opinions that I have trouble even carrying on a conversation with them (about politics/world affairs).”
Well, reaching across tribal divides would certainly be consistent with the spirit of our enterprise. The question is how to do it.
At least, that’s one question. The other question is: Are there other things a Mindful Resistance community could do?
We encourage you to weigh in on these questions: email@example.com.
And if these questions sound too daunting, here are some related but perhaps less daunting ones: Suppose that, in your community, you had a meetup with a few MRN readers. What would you talk about? What kinds of experiences would you share or ask about? Would you want to plan activities? Or at least plan regular meetups? And if so, what would you hope to get out of those regular meetups?
And one more question for a select subset of our readers: If you live in the Madison, Wisconsin area, where Nancy lives, and you want to be put in touch with her, let us know, and we’ll make the connection. Maybe you can start with a meta-meetup—a meetup to figure out what the point of meetups would be.
My guess is that we don’t yet have enough readers to generate a meetup group in Madison, or in many if any other cities. Having 6,500 subscribers isn’t the same as having 6,500 people who are meetup-inclined.
But my guess is that once we enter, say, the 10,000-12,000 subscriber range, meetups in at least some cities could become feasible. And if we have a few more weeks like this last week, we could reach that zone by summer. So don’t just sit there—go click one of our strategically located Facebook or Twitter icons, and share the whole newsletter or one of its sections! But if you can’t do that because you’re too busy writing us an email that will help us flesh out our vision for the future of Mindful Resistance, that’s an acceptable excuse.
—Robert Wright (@robertwrighter)
A radiologist who examined CT scans of the Parkland victims wrote for The Atlantic about why AR-15 rifles are so lethal.
In The Wall Street Journal, Arian Campo-Flores and Nicole Hong wrote an illuminating account of how and why high school students in Parkland, Florida, unlike students at Columbine High School in 1999, have turned themselves into a concerted force for gun control.
In Politico Magazine Bill Scher warns that we shouldn’t unduly raise expectations for the teen activists from Parkland, “for their sake and ours.” He recalls various “this time is different” moments in the history of gun control that haven’t turned out to be all that different.
Also in Politico Magazine there were dueling op-eds (here and here) over whether or not we should be expecting Mueller to find proof Trump colluded with Russia. At Vox, Matthew Yglesias chimed in.
Laura Putnam and Theda Skocpol wrote a deeply reported piece for Democracy Journal about thousands of middle-class, college-educated women who have gotten involved in grassroots politics since Trump’s election—a development whose significance, they say, has gone ungrasped by the Democratic Party.
A Rand Corporation report explores the causes and consequences of “Truth Decay,” a trend that fosters a “diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life.” It’s a massive study, and the physical-book version costs $37, but the pdf version is free.
In co.design Katharine Schwab looks at how ProPublica is trying to decipher one of the most powerful and least understood forces in the world: Facebook’s Newsfeed algorithm.
At the Lawfare blog, two law professors examine “deep fakes,” hyper-realistic videos in which a celebrity’s face is seamlessly grafted onto someone else’s body. The technology is currently being used for pornography but could soon be helping nefarious actors create fake videos of politicians.
NEWS YOU CAN USE
If you’re a proponent of stronger gun control and other steps to reduce gun violence, this is your moment. Here are some links that may be useful:
On March 24th members of March For Our Lives, a group formed by survivors of the Florida school shooting, will march in Washington DC to demand changes that reduce gun violence. You can find out here if you’re near one of the more than 60 (and counting) local marches scheduled for that day and, if so, sign up for it.
The Senate is considering a bill—the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act—that would allow people with concealed carry permits issued by one state to carry a concealed weapon in any other state, even states that have more restrictive gun laws. The bill would also allow concealed weapons to be carried on federal lands, including national parks. The House passed its counterpart, H.R. 38, in December. If you oppose the bill, you can contact your senators and tell them that.
The Center for Responsive Politics has a page that helps you figure out which members of Congress in your state get NRA money and how much they get. FollowTheMoney.org has more powerful search capabilities but a more complex interface.
There are a number of gun control groups that offer other avenues for activism, such as Moms Demand Action, which was formed after the Sandy Hook shooting, and Everytown, started by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
And, finally: If the Florida shooting, Donald Trump, and things in general have taken a psychological toll on you, MRN reader Jason suggests “spending some time with an old friend”—Mr. Rogers. This week marked the fiftieth anniversary of the first episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and you can listen to his 1984 interview with Terry Gross here. And here is a kind of scrapbook of the show.
—by Robert Wright, Aryeh Cohen-Wade & Brian Degenhart