Roundtable – One Crazy Week

The Roundtable is Torchlight staff’s discussion of news and events. The text has been lightly edited for clarity, and some links were added after the fact. This conversation happened on March 18, 2018; due to technical difficulties with the site, we weren’t able to post it on Monday, as we usually do. 

 

Tom Rich, Editor-in-Chief

Welcome to the Roundtable, where Torchlight staff discuss the news and events of the past week. We’d love to tell you what today’s topic is, but this week has been a bit chaotic for political news. Rex Tillerson is out at the State Department, a significant Trump aid was fired for financial crimes, the UK officially blamed Russia for murdering that spy and his daughter… it’s exhausting, and were it a novel I’d tell the author to drop about half of the plot threads just so the reader can keep track. But part of Torchlight’s mission is to sift through the noise to bring you the signal, so my question for the table to start out is: which stories were the real deal this week? What was actually a significant development on a matter of national import, and what was just more puff and bluster?

 

Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor

“I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid…” This cheerful slogan became more poignant this week as—just kidding, Trump is going to fire Mueller. He’s going to fire Mueller and Republicans won’t do anything and the rule of law in this country will be suspended until further notice. I believe the Tillerson and McCabe firings are Trump limbering up for the big one. From his perspective, the noose is tightening. He’s not just going to stand there and let Mueller hang him.

 

Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor

Speaking of Tillerson, our Department of State is completely denuded of power. The impression I had of him is that he had no idea what the fuck he was doing, but by the end at least realized he needed to be pro-American (lowest of bars, I know). Anyway, the story is how badly our soft power has been sabotaged (between this and the tariffs…), and how our State Department will take a very long time to recover.

 

David Schmitz, Junior Managing Editor

Was it this week that our democratically elected President sent his daughter on a diplomatic mission? I can’t remember when we became a dictatorship, but it sure did feel like it this week more than previously. McCabe being fired hours before full retirement is the thing that drills directly into my brain.

 

Christo

Yup.

 

Josh

This week was a year long but yes, that happened. Not just any diplomatic mission but to South Korea.

 

Christo

Because why do we need people who know what the fuck they’re doing over there?

 

Tom

I had completely forgotten that Ivanka was sent to South Korea. It dovetails into Tillerson’s hatchet job at State. The Trump mindset can’t acknowledged that there exists expertise in particular fields, so it just assumes you can throw whoever you happen to like or want to reward at a problem and everything will work out. I suspect the South Korea team will run rings around her.

But I think the Tillerson and McCabe firings were the big story, for the reasons Josh outlines. Both demonstrate another failing of Trump, which that he doesn’t know when to not slap a guy. McCabe was probably going to talk to Mueller anyway, but now that Trump publicly humiliated him and messed with his pension he’s got no reason to be in any way, shape, or form loyal to Trump. If he’d just quietly let McCabe retire, it’s possible, though not certain, that McCabe would’ve just quietly retired. Now, though? If I were McCabe, I’d be actively looking for ways to help Mueller. It’s the same with Tillerson. If he had to be fired, fire him in a way that doesn’t make him likely to lash out at you and aid your opposition.

Presidents have enough opponents and foils by default; you don’t need to go around making more of them by being callous.

 

Christo

I think the McCabe firing is actually more dangerous for Trump, because no one actually liked Tillerson. He was bad at his job, and treated the department like shit. McCabe was literally 26 hours from retirement, so that angers all the people working for pension, the IC careerists who do not like to be screwed with and so on.

 

Josh

The Tillerson firing was more humiliating and more concerning when it comes to policy, since McCabe was on leave until his retirement and Tillerson was fired by tweet on the toilet in the middle of a number of delicate diplomatic situations. Also because Tillerson’s replacement might very well be John “The Iraq War was a good idea” Bolton, which could be catastrophic for our country even if we weren’t on the cusp of a Constitutional crisis.

 

Christo

True.

 

David

I still think this all comes back to Trump being an idiot and firing James Comey. If he had never done that, the dominoes would not have fallen on starting the Mueller investigation which is what he is desperate to stop. It was revealed just recently that the Trump lawyers were given an idea of the questions that Mueller’s team want to ask and that’s when the hammer came down on McCabe and this most recent Twitter blathering from Trump. It’s too late for Trump to take any of that back and it’s too close to the next election for any action he takes not to negatively effect the cushion of Republican power he currently reigns within.

 

Josh

From Trump’s side of things, every day he doesn’t fire Mueller and flee the country is a mistake. Thank God he’s been an idiot for this long. If they can keep him golfing until November we might have a chance to resolve this without a true crisis.

 

Tom

Regarding Tillerson’s firing, there’s an exceptionally thin silver lining there in that, assuming it’s not John Bolton, his replacement might be somebody who thinks we should have a State Department that does things. We can’t count on having a State Department that does what we want, since Trump will still be dictating policy, but a different Secretary might be able to begin to repair some of the institutional damage Tillerson did so that the next President doesn’t have such a heavy lift to put State back in order.

Typing it up, I kind of feel like I’m grasping here, but LET ME HAVE THIS.

 

Christo

Whatever Mueller has, whatever McCabe has scares the bejesus out of Trump. This cycle seems new to me, and when Trump gets backed into a corner, he may try something drastic.

The other thing to note is the Republicans have always been saying they don’t need to do anything to protect Mueller until he is threatened, so expect a hot load of nothing to continue to come from those quarters.

 

Tom

The Mueller team, of course, was characteristically quiet this week. I don’t think we learned anything significantly new about that investigation, did we?

 

Christo

The questions to Trump were new. It’s also hard to remember what happened in this year long week

 

Josh

It came out this week that the grand jury has handed down a bunch of sealed indictments, and we also know that Mueller is basically finished with the obstruction part of this (except for McCabe, as Trump just can’t stop obstructing).

 

Let’s take a step back here. What we’re seeing this week is the administration take another set of wobbling, toddler steps toward dictatorship. The Mueller investigation is not a he said, she said situation. The left’s position broadly is that Trump and his crew is obviously, blatantly guilty of multiple serious crimes, but that we’re willing to wait until Mueller’s due process is wrapped up. The right’s position, as indicated by Trump’s actions, his tweets of late, and the near total silence of the Republican party in Congress, is that Mueller is a Democrat (he’s not), that the FBI and DOJ are corrupt (nope), that the investigation is partisan and that it was founded by Hillary Clinton based on a fake dossier (none of that is true). They’re either lying or delusional, they’re in charge of the country, and they’re in charge of whether the investigation into them is allowed to conclude properly. This is extremely fucking serious and I don’t know what will happen if Trump continues, as he has been increasingly, to interfere with the rule of law.

 

Christo

Basically, we need November to happen sooner rather than later. And people need to vote.

 

David

Yes, indeed, we need the elections to correct this mess. But if China can have a President for life, what’s to stop us? I haven’t checked, how did that Russian Presidential election go this weekend? We need our elections to check this power play by Trump but we also need the mechanization of the rule of law to persist no matter who is in charge and at all times otherwise those elections may never happen.

 

Christo

Turnout was over 50%.

 

Josh

There really are no steps between Trump firing Mueller—“No, you are not allowed to investigate me”—and Trump suspending elections, “No, you are not allowed to vote me out.” The country needs to recognize that Mueller’s firing would be a red line. There are snap protests being planned, and I think that’s our best option. If this happens, the nation needs to simply shut down and take to the streets. If we let our best hope for the rule of law be circumvented, we’ve already lost.

 

Tom

I agree with you guys that we’re in a very serious and dangerous moment in our history; let’s not lose sight, though, of the fact that there are historic numbers of Democrats running, and running effectively, all over the country, that many of Trump’s efforts have been blunted not only by his own ineptitude but by motivated opposition, and that said opposition has been sustained for over a year now. The political picture didn’t feel like a non-election year last fall, and it doesn’t feel like a typical midterm right now. I’m hopeful for November, personally.

But that bumps us up against the end of our time today; final thoughts, everyone?

 

Christo

The only saving grace we have is that Trump is a bumbling idiot. Now we need to crush that shit out.

 

David

Hopium injection from Tom, thanks! I am interested in how, when we get through all of this and have a functioning government again, things will be made differently. What norms will get codified. What things that were allowed previously will be stricken from possibility in this country’s future. Gotta get there first though.

 

Josh

There is reason to hope. The special election in PA tells us that Dems have a chance to win back maybe 100 seats in the House come November, along with a lot of state and local races. And Trump’s actions this week show that he’s increasingly worried about the fact that Mueller is closing in. But there’s also reason to be deeply concerned. Make your signs now, people, and get on your protest shoes. One way or another, this is going to be a fight.

 

Tom

And make sure you’re registered to vote, and will have time come November to hit the polls. We’re out of time for the Roundtable today; thanks as always, everyone, for a lively conversation!

 

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