Roundtable – A Shooting, A Hurricane, and Brexit

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 September 2, 2019.


Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor

Hello and welcome to another edition of our Roundtable, Torchlight staff’s discussion of news and events. This week we’re talking about three different ongoing news stories that all share a common theme: how we, and in particular the president, responds to disasters. We’ll start with the most recent one, the latest mass shooting. Once again Texas was the setting, as a man in the Odessa/Midland area was stopped by police just hours after losing his trucking job and responded by going on a spree of violence, ultimately killing 7 and wounding 22 others before he was killed by police. To start off with, how do we feel about the political response to this most recent shooting, either from the Democratic 2020 candidates, the Republican party, or Trump himself?

Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor (aka Christo)

The one making a note for himself is again Beto, but I am not sure exactly how this works presidentially. It does make Beto look more personable, but it seems as if most candidates are just “again…”, just like the rest of us.

Things to note: the shooter was fired that day apparently, and a GOP State Senator swore he would not vote for any gun control measures.

Ann Anderson, Contributing Writer

The Republican party again continues to drop the ball, and it looks both pitiful and ridiculous.  In an interview on, I believe, CNN, when the Republican mayor of one of the two towns was asked what people could do to help the communities, he carefully said to just send prayers. Later on, in the same interview, he talked about how Texas had recently set up a task force to look into some of these incidents. He said they were trying to find some commonality and tried to make it sound like it was a great mystery as to what possible connection there could be between these shootings.  At the same time, since he used the word shootings, he sort of stumbled over this explanation, make it clear he was aware how stupid his comments sounded, i.e., he knew the obvious common point was guns. Duh.

Additionally, the shooting happened just before new, more lenient laws regarding guns went into effect in GOP-lead Texas, ones that allow for more guns in more public places, like schools, places of worship, etc.  The thing is, the presence of open carry in Texas has clearly not acted as a deterrent, but the GOP continues to march to that NRA tune.

David Spitzley, Senior Contributor

Honestly, this shooting just made me feel like we’re having trouble keeping up with current events at the societal level.  I check news headlines multiple times a day, and this story popped up and was largely gone by the next day. I know people have brought this up with respect to previous shootings, but everything seems to be disappearing without a trace in 24 hours or so.  So I think our ability to deal with large problems like mass shootings is impaired, not just because of interference by interest groups like the NRA and the climate denial lobby, but because the sheer deluge of crises that we’ve been seeing under Trump is making it difficult to focus public attention enough for it to translate into pressure for government action.

Christo

I think part of the problem there is that this administration is doing literally nothing about it. Previous admins would at least say something, even if they couldn’t accomplish anything. 

It makes everything more bleak.

Josh

Yeah, Trump’s response was to say that gun control doesn’t work, which is absurd. The fact is that this man seems like he was under stress, having a terrible day, and snapped–and the difference between that being a bad day for him and dozens of people being shot is that he had an assault rifle at the ready.

There’s no amount of mental illness help that will prevent events like that from happening. But we can prevent them from being so deadly. The wide, wide gulf between Beto’s frustrated calling for mandatory buybacks and the new Texas laws actually expanding gun rights, as well as Trump’s shrug, goes to demonstrate just how crazy the conversation on guns is right now–that a majority of the public wants gun safety laws and yet there seems little hope on the federal level until 2020.

Let’s turn now to another disaster, this one happening right now: Hurricane Dorian, currently causing death and destruction in the Bahamas and predicted to head up the southeastern coast of the United States. What would a Democratic president, or even a non-Trump Republican president, be doing differently to help us respond to and prepare for this storm?

David

I mean, to state the obvious, any Democratic President, and even some Republicans (in a hypothetical world where one of them could win rather than Trump) would be working with the world community on global warming.  That’s a longer time horizon, but still an important distinction. Beyond that I assume that we wouldn’t be redirecting FEMA funds to ICE, and (while I haven’t checked staffing levels) I imagine FEMA, OEAA, and a number of other useful agencies in a hurricane would be much closer to fully staffed than they are currently.

Christo

Well, my first suggestion would be to not talk about Alabama if it isn’t threatened. There are enough people under threat (Abaco Island seems to have been and is beeing smashed) that more panic doesn’t help. Also, not golfing right now, even if it is Labor Day weekend. Basically, he could act professionally, but he won’t. Failing that, he could shut up and let professionals do their jobs, but he won’t let anything not be about him.

Also not taking money out of FEMA right when they need it for his racism and xenophobia wall, because no one believes the acting administrator when he says it doesn’t affect readiness.

Ann

To reiterate what others have said, other presidents would not have acted entirely unconcerned when it looked like Puerto Rico might take a hit, but then suddenly become concerned and cancel a trip to Poland only once it looked like their golf club in Florida might be threatened. They would not act like they had never heard of a Category 5 storm before. They would not act like Alabama is on the east coast. They would not be diverting FEMA money and resources to build a useless border wall. They probably would not have spent today golfing. And if they were a Democrat, they might have done more to address climate change while having worked to shore up disaster relief budgets on a permanent basis because that’s our new reality due to climate change.  They would have been able to offer empathy to those who may be affected, including remembering that it’s the entire south-eastern coast that faces danger right now, and that that’s due to numerous threats the storm poses, of which the high winds are just one.

David

Gotta wonder if this might cost Trump just a couple of southern votes in 2020…

Josh

It took Katrina for voters to turn on George W. Bush, but I’m not sure that would even change minds today.

Let’s turn finally to a different kind of disaster, this one economic and impending. Brexit, the term for the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, has been impending for years now, but as time goes on this has somehow gotten worse; now current Prime Minister Boris Johnson seems poised (at the end of October) to complete a “no-deal Brexit”, in which Britain will instantly remove itself from the EU without any kind of agreement in place to manage that transition, let alone replace the trade benefits that come from being in the EU’s common market. This shock could leave British citizens scrambling to find food and medicine in the immediate aftermath and quite possibly precipitate a global recession. Yet Trump, who calls himself “Mr. Brexit” and does seem to be concerned about how an economic downturn could impact his re-election chances, does not seem terribly worried. What should America be doing now that we’re not in reaction to the imminent no-deal Brexit, and what do the political failures in the UK that have led to this point have to teach us across the pond?

Ann

I think the big lessons to the U.S. from the original Brexit vote was don’t let fear mongering determine your vote — do some fact-checking.  Also, if one can legally vote, one should, always and seriously. But neither of those lessons were taken to heart enough in the U.S., and we ended up with Trump as president. I guess another lesson in this is about attempts to take the “me first” attitude when it comes to economic and political matters on the global level usually come back to bite us. Again, it’s not one I see a significant part of America, and certainly not Trump or his supporters, being willing to embrace.  Meanwhile, Boris Johnson right now is trying to suspend Parliament to get his way, a point that has created rebellion in his own party. It’s my understanding he has threatened his party with October elections if they don’t toe the line. It sounds like he’s learned a few lessons from Trump as well.

Josh

I mean, the basic problem (and a major difference between Trump and Boris) is that not only is Trump an egomaniac who is only interested in the grift and punishing minorities based on animus, racial or otherwise, is that he has no idea how government actually operates. (He also doesn’t care) He thinks he can order companies to do his bidding if he uses the shibboleth “hereby”. He is completely and purposefully ignorant of what he is supposed to be doing and how to do it, which is a problem when he is POTUS.

David

So, a few thoughts: it’s clear that Trump is drooling over the potential of a non-EU U.K. like a dude asking “are you gonna eat that?” to neighboring diners at a lunch counter.  He is utterly convinced he can squeeze them with a unilateral trade deal. I doubt he’s right, particularly given their currency will probably slide downhill for years, making their exports increasingly cheap compared to US goods.

The second issue is Trump is completely delusional about how the world economy works, but generally that would have limited impacts beyond the individual winners and losers of his trade war.  But we are running with effectively no backups in the face of a recession: interest rates are so low the Fed has nothing to work with to boost the economy, and politically the only options for stimulus spending are going require either getting a tax-cuts only GOP to actually spend money on things like infrastructure and extended unemployment benefits, or cutting a deal with Democrats, which doesn’t seem really likely, does it?  

That all said, it isn’t immediately obvious how the U.K. situation would trigger a global recession (they aren’t that big an economy), but things are so unstable right now it’s probably a sucker bet to assume it won’t.

Josh

What strikes me most about the UK’s current troubles is that they are also dealing with a regressive party in power who is flaunting norms in order to game the system to enact policy with minority support. Johnson extending a Parliamentary break to give them almost no time to stymie his efforts to no deal feels similar to some of Mitch McConnell’s tricks, or Trump using emergency powers to fund his wall even after Congress said no. It’s scary to see in action the new reality, which is that if enough of your party supports you, there simply aren’t any brakes on your ability to take authoritarian actions that will harm the country. Worse still, an election now is only like to shore up Johnson’s power. And far from helping Britain through this time, Trump is egging him on.

Final thoughts on the various disasters that have or may soon threaten the security and prosperity of the United States, and how our president and his party have dropped the ball in dealing with them?

Ann

I feel like I am watching a rubber band being pulled back to the breaking point. To the GOP and Trump supporters, everything looks fine because the rubber band hasn’t snapped yet. However, the rest of us can see the tension things are under and how close it all is to flying apart.  Meanwhile, Trump himself is oblivious to everything unless it impacts him in some way, or he believes he can use it to aggrandize himself. Things are busting, breaking, getting out of control. The time to address them is before the rubber band breaks, not after. But that’s not what’s going to happen, and it’s hard to be forced to watch with little we can do.

David

I’m personally expecting a recession before the election, to a large extent because it’s been 11 years since the last one, even aside from anything Trump has done.  I also expect some sort of emergency response failure akin to Katrina between now and then, largely due to the increasing nastiness of coastal weather and Trump’s disregard for any parts of government that don’t tie into his personal hobby horses.  I would like to think that these crises will have some political consequences to him, but who knows in the current political funhouse environment.

Josh

There’s a phrase that went around early on in the Trump administration, and that I still see every now and again: “luckily, Trump hasn’t had to deal with a crisis not of his own making.” But of course it isn’t true. Yes, there hasn’t been a new war or a 9/11-style attack. But from the effects of climate change, to violence, and political upheaval overseas, every day seems to bring a new problem that demands careful attention and sincere action from our leadership, none of which is happening right now. The world is a complicated and dangerous place, and our president is both malevolent and incompetent. He is an ongoing disaster all on his own, but a significant part of the problem is how poorly we’re dealing with all the other problems our country is facing and will continue to face.

That’s all the time we have today. Thanks all for a lively discussion!

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