Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

Sensemaker: Ahead to impeachment

Sensemaker: Ahead to impeachment

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Iran’s foreign minister asked the EU to mediate America’s return to nuclear negotiations.
  • Joanna Cherry was sacked from the Scottish National Party’s front bench in a sign of deepening divisions between factions backing the party’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, and her predecessor, Alex Salmond.
  • CNN’s John King was nominated for a Royal Society of Television award for his coverage of last year’s presidential election.

Ahead to impeachment

It is remarkable how much quieter things are since Donald Trump was banned from social media – and since the change in the US presidency. Some of the best analysis of the draining experience of following the Trump phenomenon is this foul-mouthed stand-up routine by John Mulaney – which rings truer now that the noise has abated. Trump seems to be behaving himself ahead of his trial in the Senate, which is scheduled for next week. 

It is not expected to succeed: it will take 67 senators to support conviction, which would require 17 Republicans to vote with the Democrats. This seems implausible: last week, in a vote on a motion claiming that the trial would be unconstitutional, all but five Republicans supported dismissing the case. But the case still matters:

  • First, Trump has had to find a new legal team this week. Its strategy will reportedly be to focus on the claim that it is unconstitutional to convict him after leaving office (i.e. the claim Republican senators largely endorsed). If this reflects the balance of their evidence, it is very much an attempt to get off on a technicality.
  • Second, one of the reasons that his lawyers quit was reportedly their discomfort with the former president’s desire to continue to argue that the election was rigged. This will, the NYT ($) reports, not be a major focus of the trial defence
  • Third, this is going to be a trial with a lot of video evidence pulled in. Ahead of publication of key prosecution documents today, the NYT has tried, in effect, to give a view of the case for the prosecution. In a very long article, the paper lays out the links between the mob that stormed the Capitol and the Trump White House.

The process is going to be fraught and difficult. The pressure is on moderate Republicans – and they are fighting Trumpists on every front (efforts are afoot to strip a member of the House of Representatives of committee assignments for her conspiracy theorising). 

It may also be that Trump’s relative calm and good behaviour only reflects his desire not to provoke a conviction. Once this is done he may be back, including on social media. He may start campaigning again and return to the airwaves. One prediction market gives a 75 per cent chance to Trump building a followership of at least 10 million people on a new platform. This isn’t over yet.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Myanmar coup
The coup is holding together for now, but pressure is building for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratic leaders. ASSK has destroyed her own reputation outside Myanmar: since her party took control in 2015, Myanmar remained only a partial democracy – with weak free speech and, most significantly, a government that did not defend its own citizens. She failed to protect the Muslim Rohingya minority from her own state’s vicious cruelty – and defended her army’s crimes against humanity. But other leaders have clearly decided she’s preferable to rule by that military.  With Alexi Navalny’s detention in Russia also a preoccupation of democratic governments, this is a week when people with fairly repugnant views are deemed the lesser of two evils. US president Joe Biden has threatened to reinstate sanctions on Myanmar, saying the military should not “overrule the will of the people”. One measure of the fact that Myanmar had slightly opened up, incidentally, since ASSK’s party took office is how much more we know about what is happening than we used to. 

New things technology, science, engineering

A very of-the-moment event took place yesterday: Elon Musk, billionaire of the week, went on Clubhouse, a brand new social network, and made comments about bitcoin, the digital sort-of-currency. As a result, Musk, who has a long tail of fans (not, readers will know, James Ball) then drove up the price of bitcoin. He was also interviewing the head of Robinhood, the share-trading company that makes it easier for retail investors to get stuck in – and which powered a lot of the madness around GameStop last week, when retail investors ploughed into the struggling company, driving its share price up beyond any sane valuation. Merrill Lynch, the bank, used to be known as “the thundering herd” because it had a network of financial advisers who could direct large flows of cash. It is a suitable nickname for the people now edging around internet forums and jumping on Musk’s pronouncements in the hope of snagging a few big wins. 

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

South African race
The UK government is running ramped-up local testing surges to try to stamp out the South African variant of the disease before it can establish and spread. The Guardian reports that “squads of health officials, firefighters and volunteers have been established to deliver and collect PCR test kits door-to-door and mobile testing units will be sent to each area”. It says even wastewater could be tested to determine the prevalence of the strain. The fear is that the SA variant is both more transmissible than the “standard” coronavirus, and slightly better at resisting the immunological effects of prior infection or the vaccines.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Trade and politics
The decision to pull border inspectors out of the port of Larne in Northern Ireland over security concerns is troubling. Larne is the cutting edge of the new Northern Ireland protocol, and the location of checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, as per the Brexit deal. The point of these checks, you might recall, is that if we want to have no border inside the island of Ireland, we need to check goods that might end up in Ireland at the ports – even if that means checking goods entering NI from GB, ostensibly the same country. The protocol has been the subject of hatred for unionists in the six counties – and the “upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour in recent weeks” that prompted the withdrawal speaks to some very deep-seated worries about the sustainability of the Brexit deal – especially given that the EU behaved so appallingly last week when attempting to stop vaccine supplies to Northern Ireland. 

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Valuing the planet
The UK finance ministry has commissioned an official review of the economics of conservation by Sir Partha Dasgupta, an eminent economist. His conclusion is that the world’s governments need to come up with a different form of national accounting – moving away from GDP towards something that notes the depletion of natural resources. This is a good idea: government accountancy shapes lots of decisions in bad ways. It is run like a business that continuously worries about profit margins and does not notice that its premises are collapsing. But GDP will survive because, ultimately, it’s useful – and helps us understand things we really care about, like unemployment levels and how much tax can be raised. 

Stay safe, wash your hands, open windows when you can. 

Chris Cook


Photographs by Getty Images