Roundtable – Two Years In

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 January 6, 2019.

Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor

Hello and welcome to the Roundtable, Torchlight’s discussion of news and events. It’s good to be back. I’m Sr. Managing Editor Josh Kyu Saiewitz, and with me are Jr. Managing Editor David Schmitz, Editor Christopher Dahlin, and regular contributor David Spitzley. Today is the second anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration–or is it? Has it actually been decades? Let’s talk about the administration and its impact on policy and politics over the course of the past two years. How do things feel different now from the way they were in the Before Times?

David Spitzley, Contributing Writer

The biggest change is the new normal. We’re seemingly permanently on a one-and-done cycle of top headlines, and there’s basically no expectation of the Trump Administration stabilizing, i.e., the idea of a pivot is dead.

Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor (aka Christo)

I would say that the most notable positive is that media organizations seem to have finally realized how important they are. They aren’t just soundbyte factories, but defenders of what is actually going on. Which is important when the administration is trying to gaslight us almost universally. They aren’t great at it, necessarily, but they at least realize there is a fight now

Josh

They’re really, really bad at that fight. Really bad.

Christo

Well, yes.

But the first step of solving a problem is acknowledging you have one.

So they should get to the next step by the end of the next presidency! Progress!

David Schmitz, Junior Managing Editor

I have found it interesting that the only thing Republicans could muster as landmark legislation with complete control of every lever of government was temporary tax cuts. After that got through, they ended up all either running deep into their base to fend off moderate primaries or running for the hills and retiring because they knew they’d never win with Trump as their leader with nothing of note to run on. And now with Democrats controlling the House, this divided government is not going to get a single thing done worthy of mention if it can ever be fully reopened anyhow.

Christo

Yeah, for all the talk of how Conservatives are in lockstep and their political cunning and so on, they failed at accomplishing anything of note legislatively, besides giving the rich more money.

Josh

Has one-party rule been ruinous for the Republican party? Or has it merely exposed the fractures that were there before Trump?

Christo

The latter.

David Spitzley

I think it’s an illusion.

The GOP has been colonized by a parasitic fungus with bad hair. There wasn’t much left of the party before Trump except for supply-side fantasists, and the fact that Trump is inside the same corpse as them doesn’t really translate into a functioning unitary party. It’s a sham, and all of the players are aware of it.

Christo

The fracture between the virulent racists and the rich people who want the virulent racists to vote for them has come to the point where the people who are neither are not super enthusiastic about pulling the lever for R. And that’s going to have significant consequences down the line, if it holds.

Also, the other significant thing we learned is that the Republicans’ anti-Russian stance was absolutely all an act.

(We kinda have the same endpoint opinion, but how we get there is different, I think.)

Josh

Let’s turn to the giant list of crimes and scandals for a minute. How does this level of corruption compare historically? Do we think the country will see the investigations completed, justice served, an example set going forward? In other words, how has the administration’s behavior changed the standard?

David Schmitz

It is very difficult to assess the future with so much still unknown about Mueller’s investigation. I have a feeling he’s still holding the big fish for indictments until the politics swings more with possibly the Senate and presidency changing parties next election. And without that change, there won’t be any proper justice served. Things are bad, but they only get better if people vote for a change and hold the winners to the fire to get investigations and trials started. The standards and norms never mattered to Trump or his cronies he filled government with, and so the standards are still there, we just need to hold them accountable for challenging our values. Then we need to codify into law a bunch of things, like say, tax returns being necessary to be public for anyone who wants to run for the highest office in the land.

Christo

I think it’s pretty clear that this administration is remarkably more corrupt, and more naked and brazen about it, than any in recent history. And that dynamic is set by the President.

The only real consequence that might actually happen is maybe three or four elections of Democratic victories. I am not confident that any of these traitors will see the inside of a prison cell.

Josh

Brazen was the word I was thinking of as well. It feels like there’s no sense of shame anymore to restrict behavior, and we’re seeing what happens when shameless people are handed power in a relatively consequence-free environment. (Part of what happens is that they complain about the slightest consequence, like Sarah Sanders being asked to leave a restaurant.)

David Spitzley

As far as whether the administration’s behavior has changed the standard, two notes: one, the Emoluments Clause is now a concern after about 200 years as a non-issue; second, as FiveThirtyEight has been tracking, the rate of indictments is almost off the charts, and is even starting to dwarf Watergate.

These are not good precedents.

Josh

As David Schmitz mentioned earlier, the past two years have seen virtually no significant legislation passed, but that hasn’t stopped Trump from using the power of the executive to enact real policy changes. What’s been the most significant impact on that front so far?

Christo

Absolutely our immigration. Our monstrous new behaviors are extremely worse than our awful old behaviors. We have the modified Muslim Ban. Letting ICE off the leash to hunt down anyone they want, essentially. And also, of course, at least two dead children that we know about, and many more in the most vulnerable state I can imagine. The idea that abuse is not rampant is ludicrous to me.

And then, of course, we come to the wall. Which I’m sure we’ll talk about later.

David Schmitz

For decades the Legislative branch has ceded power to the Executive with what I would say the most notable being the continued war footing our country has been put on by president after president without official Congressional approval. Of course, that’s not the only overstep, as Christo has pointed out, but for Trump these oversteps have been met swiftly by judicial checks in many cases. The legislature needs to step up at some point before we truly lose the multi-branch government we have relied on in the past to prevent autocratic rule. If it’s not Trump that declares dictatorship, it’ll be someone else later unless something is done to reign in the Executive.

David Spitzley

With Trump’s talk of “national emergencies”, sooner rather than later seems a real risk…

Christo

The coldest of comforts, Spitz, is that he just pissed off the military again.

David Spitzley

I’ll take it.

Josh

That’s an evergreen statement if I ever heard one.

Josh

I definitely think Trump has had the most impact on foreign policy, but there’s a lot of insidious, hard-to-gauge movement on fronts like the environment, Title IX, consumer protection, and net neutrality. Given that the one thing Republicans did pass was their tax cut, I wonder if the combination of that and Trump’s stupid trade war might make the administration’s economic impact really significant.

Let’s talk about the cultural and political impact the administration has had. Studies show anxiety is up, hate crimes are up, wages are static at best. Does the 2018 midterms blue wave in some way make up for the increased political and cultural divisions in our country? Is there more reason to hope or despair, here?

David Spitzley

I think all it did was reinforce that the Trump movement is an overpowered minority. We all know that, the polling has shown it consistently for two years, but our primate danger sensors make it hard to remember. That said, the blue wave doesn’t really redeem the situation in any moral or even point-scoring sense, but it certainly gives a few more handles for grabbing ahold and trying to change it. So I guess I vote hope.

Christo

I think the indication is we aren’t done yet, but we can’t stop fighting. We haven’t lost to those that want to divide, belittle, and exploit, but we were wrong to be as comfortable as we were. I think 2020 is going to be big. If we can’t take the presidency, that will be a massive blow. The Senate map is better than 2018 as well.

Succumbing to despair is premature, but if the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that we’re always one vote away from getting screwed. The next vote will always be the most important of our lifetime.

David Schmitz

I’ll just say that perhaps nationally things are turning in a different direction, but in so many local areas the entrenchment of the right wing is stifling. Folks have been sold that bill of goods about religious conservatism, only to have that used to embolden and enrich the already wealthy and powerful, that as a whole these voters can’t or won’t admit they’ve been bamboozled and so just continue doing the dreaded vote against their own self interest. Either that or they are full-on racists who require people who don’t look like them to suffer just a little bit more than they do to feel satisfied with their own existence. It’s rough out here in agri-land, I tell ya.

Josh

To wrap up our discussion today, let’s pull back to look at the last two years as a whole, even if it feels like ten thousand separate news cycles. Has the administration or our reaction to it changed over that time? And what does that mean for where we think things are headed over the next, and hopefully final, two years of the Trump presidency?

Christo

There is a clip of some coach explaining a loss as “we knew exactly what they were” or words to that effect. I think that’s the most appropriate reaction here. Trump’s racism, corruption, and ineptitude isn’t surprising. He told us all of it up front. He advertised it! He campaigned on it!

We just can’t get complacent, and we can’t treat it as normal.

David Schmitz

Christo

I think that’s it, yes.

David Spitzley

I believe that the Administration is burning out, based purely on the hollowing out it has suffered in the last year. That means it’s simultaneously more dangerous and less effective, so things are likely to go further downhill in 2019. At the same time both the initial blind panic after Trump won the election and the hope for popular outrage to somehow drive him from office have largely abated, so we’re now down to the stage of digging in and preventing as much damage as possible until Mueller, Congressional investigations, 2020, and all of the other countervailing forces can bring this to a close.

David Schmitz

I don’t think reactions have changed much. There’s been a dribble of folks on the right moving away from Trump’s rhetoric but I don’t feel that’s much different than any previous administrations. At least for now. As the 2020 election looms closer and closer, there might be extra movement as the writing on the wall gets more clear. And that’s what is needed to get the change desired, the left must unite behind each candidate that wins the primaries in their races and the tent needs to be large enough to accommodate those in the center and center-right to defeat the gerrymandered incumbents. I’m looking forward to seeing the cameras turned around in the newsrooms to see the reactions as Trump refuses to concede his Mondale-ing. Or at least, I hope that’s the result. We have some work to do.

Josh

I think Spitzley may have hit the nail closest to the head when he said that the hope for a rapid solution has abated. If the left regains power in the next two years, it will be as the result of the long and difficult work of organizing, not because Robert Mueller descended from the heavens with indictments in one hand and a flaming sword in the other and vanquished the Dark Lord Trump. I can’t foresee any future where the victories aren’t narrow, where the contest isn’t harrowing, where society doesn’t continue to degrade in unexpected ways. As Christo said, the next vote will always be the most important of our lives.

I think that’s the only place to end it. Thanks to all once again for a lively conversation, and thanks to you for reading. We’ll see you next time.

You may also like

Popular News