National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 40 (October 21–27)
This week’s National News Roundup has an audio link for accessibility! Click here to listen.
This week’s news was a poisoned pill that is very, very hard to swallow for many of us. I don’t think I can do anything that makes this information easier to sit with, so instead I’m just going to tell you that I’m here for you, and so’s your comfort food of choice. (Mine’s ice cream, which is always here for me — until I have eaten it. Ours is a complicated friendship.)
Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m only summarizing the news within my area of expertise. This week’s news contains some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise — I’m a lawyer, not an entitlement! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
This was a frankly unprecedented week of politically-motivated violence in our country, which appears to have been partially incited by the far right. This phenomenon, particularly when Trump also blames the violence on the media, is a serious perversion of our First Amendment rights. I firmly believe this should be treated as related to other constitutional crises, and have included it in this section accordingly. Here are the three big things that happened on this front this week:
- Kroger Shooting in Kentucky. A white man in Kentucky walked into a Kroger grocery store on Thursday and fatally shot two Black people who were shopping there, apparently sparing a third white shopper and telling him, “Whites don’t shoot whites.” Police say the man initially tried to go into a Black church, but entered the Kroger instead when he couldn’t get inside. Combined with the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, detailed below, this stories make four attempted shootings at a place of worship since 2015.
- Literally Explosive Political Attacks. Fourteen different liberal public figures were sent explosive bombs in six locations this week — George Soros, CNN, Robert DeNiro, James Clapper, and the Clintons all were sent one in New York; the Obamas and Maxine Waters were sent one in the DC area; Joe Biden was sent two in Delaware; Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Cory Booker were each sent one in Florida; Kamala Harris and Maxine Waters were both sent one in California; and CNN was sent a second one at their HQ in Georgia. Conservatives spent most of the week as this was unfolding making the absurd claim that the bombs were “false flags,” while Trump complained that the media was somehow responsible. Eventually, police apprehended their primary suspect late last week, which you’d think would slow down the claims that this is all a liberal conspiracy but somehow hasn’t. And meanwhile, the device sent to Georgia happened after the guy was in custody, so if the current suspect did send the earlier bombs, that means we either have a copycat bomber on our hands or this was the work of more than one person.
- Synagogue Shooting in Pittsburgh. On Saturday, a self-avowed white nationalist walked into a synagogue called Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and fatally shot eleven people — eight Jewish members observing Shabbat services and three police officers who responded. The shooting appears to have been motivated by a combination of anti-semitism and anger at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, an organization that helps refugees immigrate to the United States. The suspect is now in custody and facing 29 charges. Trump responded to the tragedy by saying that the synagogue should have had a guard, and eventually followed this up by blaming the media (again). This suspect marks the third person arrested for a violent, hate-motivated crime this week, and the Southern Poverty Law Center observes that this type of hate is becoming an increasingly common motivation for domestic terrorism.
We also saw a couple of instances of Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week, and neither one was especially reassuring against the backdrop above. Here are the main things to know:
- “I’m A Nationalist.” I can’t even believe I’m typing this one, but Trump told people to call him a nationalist this past week, leaving improbable defenders like Anthony Scaramucci to claim he’s just trolling us. Given Trump’s reactions to all of the violence of the past week, I find myself oddly inclined to believe him over Scaramucci on this one.
- China Listening In.* News broke this week that China is hacking Trump’s iPhone, because he’s routinely using a personal device instead of a secure one to call all his old friends (which, as you probably already guessed, completely ignores Presidential protocol). Trump’s clever rebuttal to this allegation? Using his iPhone to tweet that he never uses his iPhone, because apparently he forgot that Twitter records platform information and TweetDeck users can see it. So that’s this week’s episode of Harry Wormwood Tries to Run A Country covered.
I’m honestly not even sure how to classify the final story in Constitutional Crisis Corner, because it’s pretty much just authoritarian thuggery at work. I guess we’ll call it Threats to Due Process? At any rate, here’s the short version:
- Julie Swetnick Is Investigated. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and apparent ghoul Chuck Grassley has referred Julie Swetnick, one of Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers, to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation. For those of you playing the home game, why yes, this is the same accuser that the FBI didn’t interview and the panel Republicans took time to slut-shame in the middle of the FBI investigation. Apparently nobody can be bothered to talk to her when a Supreme Court nomination is at stake, but when she has a bad TV interview it’s time to get investigators involved.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Medicare Messiness. Trump offered some pretty wild theories about Medicare this week, which Forbes pretty charitably called “a stunning move” and I might more accurately describe as “a pie-in-the-sky distraction from the gross GOP platforms of removing pre-existing condition protections and blaming the deficit on entitlement programs.” Thankfully, this is one narrative the Dems have no trouble staying on top of, and it seems unlikely this particular strain of gaslighting will be effective.
- Census Update. The census lawsuit suffered a minor setback this week, with the Supreme Court deciding to stay discovery on Secretary Ross’s state of mind until at least October 29 — or, to translate that from legalese to English: The plaintiffs don’t get to ask Ross why he added a citizenship question before the actual trial. That said, this goes in the weird column instead of the bad because they denied every other request the government made, which means there will be a lot of discovery still happening. (And Gorsuch and Thomas wrote a whole opinion about how it was wrong to deny the other requests, which is how we know the government didn’t truly get what they wanted.)
- Dow Droppings.* The stock market continued to slide this week, ending the week at its lowest point since February 2009 — which means bad news for the economy, and given how the GOP has been reacting, potentially bad news for legislation. The shaky ground is prompting some economists to speculate that it’s the beginning of our shift from bull to bear, and I’m no moneyologist but Time’s suggestions for how to handle that transition seem reasonable to me. (For those of us with no investments to speak of, I recommend eating all the Halloween candy on Wednesday by like 7:00 and informing people your costume is a Bear Market.)
- The Ballad of the Bad Ballots. The Missouri GOP acknowledged this week that it sent 10,000 voters the wrong absentee ballot information, falsely claiming a deadline that was a full week too early. Esquire, which appears to be painfully done with this election season as of two election seasons ago, speculates that this is how the deadline is counted in Republican Election Time — “an experimental measure of time that extends from now until the Twelfth of Never.” And in Texas, early voting revealed issues with the voting machines that caused Democrats to vote for Ted Cruz and Republicans to vote for nobody. (On the plus side, at least the machines were equal opportunity saboteurs.) Meanwhile, Georgia’s voting shenanigans have continued so long they’ve been enjoined by a federal court from throwing away any more ballots, and North Carolina is just straight-up admitting that they’re trying to suppress Black votes.
- Immigration Updates. Trump continues to threaten to close our southern border this week, as well as asking the Secretary of Defense to send troops down — which General Mattis went ahead and approved, and then sent more troops down today. And, of course, the misinformation campaign continues unabated, Now With Pictures. Still, the week was quieter than it could have been on this front, so I guess that’s something.
- Trans Discrimination Lookout (continued). In the wake of last week’s New York Times article, we saw some sequel bigotry this week. Lowlight number one is Jeff Sessions is appealing a case that protected transgender people from discrimination in the workplace in the Sixth Circuit, though it’s still unclear whether the Supreme Court will hear his case. And lowlight number two is Trump attempting to remove the word ‘gender’ from United Nations human rights documents, which would serve the same functional purpose as the internal memo, but on an international scale. Because it’s 2018 and our biggest American export is “being jerks.”
- Gillum Gives DeSantis the Business. In a rough week like this one, it’s particularly edifying to watch Florida Dem candidate Andrew Gillum, who has had to field all kinds of racist nonsense from his opponent Ro DeSantis, run rhetorical rings around the dude who has been hitting him below the belt pretty often. If you haven’t yet watched the clip that’s been making its Internet rounds from the Wednesday debate, I highly recommend it; it’s quite edifying.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m so, so sorry. I think it’s fair to say that this week, we all deserve kittens playing in tupperware and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more news, and I hope you will be back as well — but in the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box, which is there for your constructive comments. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me toppings for my ice cream!