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This Week In Garbageville

Trump seems to have changed his long-held position about U.S. policy on Syria 180 degrees in the course of about 36 hours

As you may have noticed this week, everything is garbage.

If it's not a potential war with Syria (and the use of chemical weapons), it's Steve Bannon calling the president's son-in-law a “globalist,” or masking (or unmasking), or Bill O'Reilly being a whale-faced sexual harasser. It's not raining, it's not pouring, it's monsooning, and it's monsooning trash.

Bring an umbrella.

With Syria, Trump colors outside the lines

On Tuesday, the Syrian government used sarin gas on civilians. As the world took in the horrific images, Trump was so moved that he tweeted some photos of himself speaking at a “CEO Town Hall,” along with a video of his speech to the North America’s Building Trades Unions.

But by Wednesday afternoon, Trump had apparently seen the gruesome images from Syria himself. In a joint press conference with the king of Jordan, he expressed something like bewilderment at the atrocity, marveling:

When you kill innocent children, innocent babies — babies, little babies — with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was — that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line. Many, many lines.

Some took his clearly disgusted reaction as “hinting” at a possible U.S. response, maybe. Just last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that the U.S. had no interest in doing anything to influence the Syrian government: “The longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” What’s more, Trump has been a vocal opponent of military action in Syria for years. He warned as recently as October 2016 that “if we listen to Hillary Clinton” — who has favored intervening in Syria for as long as Trump has opposed it — “you’re going to end up in World War III over Syria.” But then, on Thursday night, Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian base. There are still a lot of questions about what this means for foreign policy going forward, and about the actual impact of the attack on the Syrian government’s actions. Only one thing is clear: Donald Trump seems to have changed his long-held position about U.S. policy on Syria 180 degrees in the course of about 36 hours.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Oh boy, yes.

I'm just unmasking

There's a fantasy scene in Stephen King's The Shining in which the guests at a macabre and grotesque masquerade ball shout “Unmask! Unmask!” at the stroke of midnight, as if urging protagonist Jack Torrance to reveal his truest, darkest desires. I have to think that's what's on the minds of Trump supporters when they gripe about Susan Rice allegedly “unmasking” the identities of Trump transition officials that may have been picked up during routine national security–related surveillance of foreigners.

Because unless they're King fans, there's nothing inherently sinister about “unmasking.” The names of American citizens are usually censored when intelligence is disseminated because intelligence agencies are supposed to take greater care with our rights to privacy. When officials determine that knowing who was speaking is important context for the conversation, they can request that the identity be revealed. There's no law governing the process, so it's impossible for the unmasking to be “illegal” in and of itself. When Trump (without any evidence) declared that Rice committed a “crime,” it's unclear what law he thinks she broke. Leaking classified material to the public is a crime, but doesn't seem to be what Trump was talking about. Not in this case, at least. (He's been tossing around plenty of other accusations about “leaking,” to be sure. And, um, some people have made some leaking-related suggestions about him.)

Now, there is a long-running debate among national security hawks and civil libertarians about whether agencies should be more careful with protecting people’s identities and if, in practice, they really are more careful. That is a debate worth having! It is usually Republicans arguing, “If you have nothing to hide, why should you care if we watch you?” so their newfound respect for privacy rights seems pretty convenient to many observers. Except, of course, that they don't want to extend it to, you know, women and their bodies or your internet search history or the laptops of people entering the country ...

Guys, I think they might not be completely sincere.

Should I be paying attention to this?

No. Take a break from real-life horror and read The Shining instead.

Bill O'Really unpleasant

Bill O'Reilly, the Fox News host known for claiming that slavery may not have been that bad and writing terrible and inaccurate books, has been very busy lately. Mostly with being accused of sexual harassment in lawsuits that have already cost Fox roughly $13 million in legal fees and caused over 55 companies to pull advertising from The O'Reilly Factor.

Bill O'Reilly is probably very upset that businesses and corporations are boycotting his show, as he believes doing so is “fascist.” Unless, of course, one were to demand that Pepsi drop its sponsorship of the rapper and film legend Ludacris for demeaning women. Because demeaning women is wrong, and no means no, according to Bill O'Reilly, the same person up to his ears in sexual harassment lawsuits.

Oh, and yes, Donald Trump thinks that Bill O'Reilly did nothing wrong. In case you were curious.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Only to read articles on the subject, then repeatedly sigh and look out the window.

Steve Bannon and the no good, very bad week

Steve Bannon is not the president, or a mind-bending genius. The self-described “Leninist” and former publisher of a website with a “black crime” vertical is just a guy, a guy who mildly resembles an old couch, a guy who, as of this week, is no longer on the National Security Council. He has been replaced by Rick Perry, which is sort of like trading in a 1985 Toyota Corolla for a 1992 Toyota Corolla — slightly better, but not great.

A brief side note: Why was Steve Bannon — not a national security expert — on the National Security Council in the first place? His allies said it was to keep an eye on Michael “Lock Her Up, and By Her, I Mean Me” Flynn — the former National Security Advisor who may have lied to Mike Pence about his communications with a Russian ambassador. This excuse would make sense if it didn't imply that the White House knew Mike Flynn was sketchy but put him a position critical to America's security apparatus for ... reasons? Even the Trump White House's attempts to not seem stupid are stupid.

Anyway, one reason Bannon lost power is because Trump wants to be seen as the man in charge. Another is that apparently there is an ongoing battle between Bannon and Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, who is currently tasked with solving both the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and the opioid epidemic before enjoying a light lunch at the Palm. Jared Kushner is many things — unqualified for all of his jobs, a beneficiary of nepotism, someone who thinks that the newest Bonobos chinos collection is a little too “out there” for his taste — but he is not Steve Bannon or a Breitbart-style nationalist. Therefore, allegedly, Steve Bannon hates him, and calls him a “cuck” and “globalist” because being racist and anti-Semitic isn't just for weepingly pathetic Reddit forums anymore. Now Bannon is telling people he “loves a gunfight” despite looking like someone who hasn't fired an actual weapon since Cat Stevens changed his name, while Jared Kushner is in Iraq wearing the J.Crew “Fallujah” collection.

Should I be paying attention to this?

No. Go outside.