Welp, 2018 is going out with a bang. In the last week, America got a reminder that Russia hacked the 2016 US election by hijacking social media; acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker rejected legal advice to recuse himself from overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe; drones attacked British airports; and California dealt with potential UFOs. Actually, considering how the rest of the year has gone, that’s not much of a bang at all—just a standard week in 2018. But what else are people talking about on this wreck that is the internet? Let’s find out, shall we?
Trump’s Big Move
What Happened: President Trump announced the US would be pulling troops out of Syria, leading to some instability, to say the least.
What Really Happened: Trump’s surprise holiday gift to the Middle East arrived early Wednesday, as reports surfaced suggesting that the United States was about to withdraw troops from Syria. Those reports were soon confirmed via Twitter, because of course.
No, wait; I mean these tweets—but please remember that Trump announced that the US has defeated ISIS all the same.
It was, to put things mildly, not a popular decision, even within Trump’s own, traditionally kowtowing–no–matter–what party.
The decision came as a surprise to many, with a lot of people unsure how, exactly, the decision had been reached, especially considering the president’s own national security team was apparently against it. Others believed that he had a pretty good idea.
So, if his own defense secretary had no say, who exactly was consulted?
OK, sure; for any other administration, that would seem like a wild conspiracy theory. However, when you look at who benefits from this decision, you do start to wonder just a little…
Funny thing about those actually arguing in favor of this move: the president doesn’t seem to be aware that it’s happening, judging by his public statements.
Wait. They have to fight ISIS? Wasn’t ISIS defeated, according to a tweet made by exactly the same person just a day before? Man, international politics moves so quickly these days.
The Takeaway: An unexpected casualty of the decision might point to larger problems with Trump’s attitude towards geopolitics: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned Thursday over the matter, penning a letter that makes his feelings on the matter clear.
The Incomplete Sentencing of Michael Flynn
What Happened: Just in case anyone forgot: There’s still an investigation into potentially illegal activity surrounding the presidential campaign of the man currently in the White House, and it’s continuing to bear strange, surreal fruit.
What Really Happened: As if anyone could forget the ongoing legal trouble surrounding the Trump administration, this week saw a sentencing hearing for one of the president’s former advisors—in this case, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. If it seems like it was just last week that one of Trump’s former advisors had a sentencing hearing, that’s because it was. But like the seasoned pro he is, the president was eager to get out in front of the story.
Still, it’s just a sentencing. How exciting or surprising could that be, unless you’re Michael Cohen making statements about being free once you get three years in jail? Turns out, the answer was “very surprising.”
These would be the circumstances alleged by Flynn’s lawyers that he was, essentially, hoodwinked into confessing because no one at the FBI told him that lying to the FBI was a crime. Things only continued from there.
Well, yeah; that sounds pretty wild, especially the whole not hiding disgust thing. But that was just the start.
So, that was a surreal event. Who saw an abrupt postponement coming? Definitely not Flynn’s attorneys, who were judged to have badly miscalculated by the media. But, at least it ended well, at least in regards to the irony of the whole thing.
Roll on, March, I guess?
The Takeaway: When it comes to the surreal developments in a legal case like this, there’s a sensible response and a non-boring response. Guess which one this is.
Paul Ryan’s Retirement Party
What Happened: Paul Ryan is just days away from retiring as Speaker of the House, so clearly it’s time for a farewell tour that perhaps doesn’t get the response he’d like.
What Really Happened: We’re not saying that some politicians have an exaggerated sense of their own importance, but outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had a “farewell address” at the Library of Congress last week, and the invitation looked like this:
Actually, never mind the invitations, the actual speech didn’t look too much better—
—but let’s not think about the optics. Let’s focus on the substance, shall we? Ryan complained about the “broken politics” of Washington, while congratulating himself on a tax bill that hurts the poor. So, you know, pretty much what you might expect, all things considered.
Let’s just say that not everyone was impressed with Ryan’s speech—or, for that matter, his legacy as a political figure. Headlines like “Good Riddance, Paul Ryan,” “So Long, Paul Ryan, You Won’t Be Missed,” “Paul Ryan Is the Biggest Fake I’ve Ever Seen in Politics,” and “Paul Ryan Was a Villain and No One Will Miss Him”—all of which are actually real, and from a 24-hour period, amazingly—might give that away.
In fact, we’d go so far as to say that some were particularly unimpressed.
So, uh, happy retirement…? (We’ll always have your creepy workout photoshoot, Paul. Nothing will ever take that away from you. Sadly.)
The Takeaway: Meanwhile, the woman who is likely to replace Ryan had perhaps the greatest response to the entire thing.
Shaft the Messenger
What Happened: You weren’t being paranoid after all; someone else really was able to get access to all your messages on Facebook. Doesn’t that make you feel better?
What Really Happened: In case you thought that things couldn’t get much worse for Facebook considering its recent public relation woes, guess what: It could get much worse. Take it away, New York Times.
Yes, you read that right, as unbelievable as it may sound.
Not enough yikes for you just yet? Oh, just keep going, because it gets worse.
Many people were wondering what the solution was. A recurring theme kept popping up.
Meanwhile, the media took a different, and far less surprising, tack, with everyone talking about deleting Facebook a lot.
How serious was this as a threat? Well, Facebook released two different responses to try and clear up rumors … by pretty much confirming the reporting. That’s almost a start, kind of?
The Takeaway: On the plus side, at least this was the only PR disaster for Facebook this week related to other people having access to private information on the platform.
The Shutdown Looms
What Happened: It’s been teased throughout 2018, but as the year draws to a close, perhaps the US has finally reached the point where the government is going to shut down. Just in time!
What Really Happened: The US government has been wavering around a shutdown for some time now. There have been short-term fixes and last-minute deals for months in an attempt to ensure that there isn’t what Rep. Nancy Pelosi memorably called a Trump Shutdown. Last week, for example, with just days to go before funding ran out, there was a move towards one more before-the-buzzer save—not that anyone seemed to think it would work.
Funny story; it never even got a chance to fail in the Senate.
Yes, it’s Paul Ryan again, a day after bemoaning “broken politics,” helping politics be that little bit more broken.
So … maybe the shutdown is back on?
Well, perhaps not…
President Trump, at least, spent Friday morning doing what he could. Which is to say, he tweeted about the subject a lot.
People were not incredibly impressed.
At the time of this writing, it’s not been voted on by the Senate. But here’s a funny story: the president is refusing to sign a bill that doesn’t fund the border wall that was, originally, going to be paid for by Mexico (hey, remember those days?), but … what if there was an alternative? What if someone else wanted to pay for the wall so that the government could stay open?
Well, that seems entirely legit.
It’s surely a sign of 2018 that it’s actually impossible to reject this plan entirely out of hand. Maybe we should just run a GoFundMe to keep the government open? Oh, no, wait; that’s called paying taxes.
The Takeaway: Assuming that we are almost certainly going to have a shutdown for the holidays—everyone’s favorite gift—let’s just take a moment to appreciate what’s happening, shall we?
See you all in 2019!
More Great WIRED Stories