Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Thursday, January 17, 2019

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

In the contest between crisis and calm, oy has an edge over om. Case in point: Just as I was giving meditation another try to take my mind off Donald Trump, the North Korea fire-and-fury horror show broke out, and Trump’s itchy finger on the locked and loaded nuclear trigger made my strategy for sanity look awfully iffy.

Even so, I’d rather be triggered to think about the risks of nuclear weapons, which don’t distract me nearly as much as they should, than be trolled by whatever random trash talk Trump tweeted 10 minutes ago.

Meditation is all about letting go of your thoughts. That’s hard enough to do for any of us whose attention is the plaything of stress about work and money, love and sex, sickness and sadness, not to mention unwanted desires, unbidden memories, undone to-do lists and other anxieties ad infinitum. Which is to say, just trying to kiss your ordinary, everyday thoughts goodbye is hard enough for all of us.

Now add all-Trump-all-the-time media to the mix, and the stress makes my head want to explode. Within hours of his nuclear saber-rattling, not only did he refuse to call out white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan by name, he located them among “many sides,” setting up a moral equivalence between those thugs and the peaceful marchers protesting those hate groups in Charlottesville, Va. His fake moral leadership 48 hours late only underscored how morally shrunken his own instincts are. What fresh hell is next? Each day’s news rubs our faces in how corrupt, deranged, deceitful, ignorant, impulsive and unfit for office the president is.

That surplus stress we’re under, the Trump news mental health penalty, piled on top of life’s usual worries and distractions, has hijacked my mindful attention, and maybe yours, since the election. Meditating regularly — not sporadically, as I’d lapsed into doing — seemed my best shot at escaping its clutches, short of moving to an ashram or bingeing on “The Bachelor.” But only a handful of days into resuming a daily meditation practice — boom! Armageddon is on the table and the end is nigh. Even for just 20 minutes at a time, try letting go of a thought like that.

The bright side, if there is one: The game of nuclear chicken Trump is playing with Kim Jong-un, despite its toll on our national nerves and its disruption of my try at zen, offers a teachable moment about something we’d all rather not think about.

When I was growing up, I was so crushed when my father showed little enthusiasm for building a cinder block fallout shelter in our cellar that I wrote to the Civil Defense Administration and received the how-to instructions in a self-addressed stamped envelope. His objection was cost, my father said; it’d be money down the drain, spent to protect us from something that was never going to happen.

Looking back, I suspect cost was a proxy for denial. Who could handle the truth about nuclear war? Our saltine-stocked refuge would have been incinerated instantly, along with our family, our house and every other family and house in Newark. Accepting the folly of protecting us from a Soviet H-bomb also would have required admitting the dementia of the duck-and-cover air raid drills my brother and I, like kids across the country, practiced at school.

Today, nine nations possess a total of nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons; the United States and Russia account for 93 percent of them. Protecting ourselves from them is as quaint a pipe dream now as it was during the Cold War. The consequence of those stockpiles: Three risks haunt the earth, and they might get the attention from us they deserve if denial weren’t our default way to deal with them.

The first risk is nuclear terrorism. The collapse of the Soviet Union created a black market in fissile material. Bomb blueprints are posted on the internet. The technology to build a bomb can be had for a few hundred thousand dollars. In former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry’s nightmare, one nuclear weapon detonated on a truck in the heart of Washington, D.C., coupled with nationwide panic sparked by terrorist threats of more bombs in more cities, would bring America to its knees within days.

The second risk is a false alarm, like a spurious warning of an incoming missile attack, which would activate a launch-on-warning counterattack by the (un)attacked nation and a retaliatory barrage by the other. This is not a hypothetical example. In 1980, an alarm at the Pentagon’s Raven Rock Mountain command post in Pennsylvania warned that Soviet submarines had launched 2,200 nuclear missiles toward the U.S. It was caused by a malfunctioning computer chip that cost 46 cents. But no one knew that until only seconds before President Jimmy Carter would have ordered a massive counterstrike. Luck is not a plan.

The third risk is ego. Reckless leaders make escalating threats, masculine identity disorders run rampant, some accident happens — and the adults in the room are powerless to prevent a temper tantrum from blundering the world into millions of casualties. Macho histrionics get airtime and grab headlines, but what really warrants attention, expertise and public support today is the quiet, patient, backroom zen of negotiation, diplomacy and statesmanship.

Ironic, isn’t it, that what we most need now is for the art of the deal to trump Trump.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at

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2 responses to “How To Protect Yourself From Surplus Trump Stress”

  1. Excellent points, and just points out the shallowness of Trump, the GOP, and the Right Wing nut cases. If we review our history since the 60’s, one thing stands out clearly—there have been, and are, those in government with very low levels of emotional maturity, a severe lack of knowledge of even basic science and a lot of other intellectual disciplines, an insatiable thirst for political dominance, and an excessive amount of greed.

    The greed aspect affects both parties, but we see a definite pattern of ignorance among Right Wing politicians and their supporters. I say this based on observation—such as how inarticulate the Right Wing elements are in speaking on any topic outside of partisan machinery and political protocols. It’s as though the vast majority of the GOP have only a Community College level of education at best when it comes to understanding the arts, sciences, history, and cultural studies.

    One glaring weakness of intellect seen among the GOP and its supporters is the thinking that a nuclear blast is little more than a large conventional explosion, and that radiation poison is something we need not fear—that the effects would be confined to a region for “X” amount of days or years. Have no idea of how radiation effects the entire food chain, not to mention hazards from skin exposure. As for the damage to the ecosystem, that’s a matter even so-called scientists who’re Conservative dismiss as of little concern, when it comes to fossil fuel usage and long-term implications.

    Trump is an appropriate icon as a reminder of the level of ignorance and lack of good judgment on the part of the GOP and its supporters.

    On top of that is the GOP’s enormous amount of hypocrisy when it comes to matters of Religion and it’s importance. First of all, they acknowledge its importance in a stiff and perfunctory manner—it’s a duty and not something to take seriously and apply to one’s actions and attitudes. Even the clergy who support the GOP are in a class unto themselves compared to clergy who have the sense to rise above partisan politics.

    With this combination, we add the magnetic quality of attracting White Nationalism to the GOP, Trump of course, and the culture of Greed that permeates everything about the GOP, and we have a demonic entity which is quietly and insidiously poisoning everything and every one who has contact with this pernicious and injurious Party.

    There has never in humankind’s history been a single conglomerate of political figures posing such a hazard to humanity on a planetary scale like the GOP.

    Little wonder that so many are stressed out. And as for Healthcare, the GOP is working hard to deny even that basic requirement, as a “negative” bonus.

  2. Eleanore Whitaker says:

    After almost 4 decades of this pathetic POS in our NY/NJ media, nothing he does surprises me. I’ve worked closely enough with 4 CEOs to know that Lard Ass is addicted to public attention.

    This may be a result of he and his Mommy Mary Ann mugging for the NY media back in his preteens when Mommy thought her fair haired little Donny was “photogenic.” She forgot she had 4 other kids.

    By the time his teen hormones began raging for women, he already had scandals for being expelled from school twice, once for punching a fellow student and the second time for cheating on tests. But let’s pretend he has an honest bone in his body or has any sense of common decency or honor.

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