Happy New Year, dear readers. It’s comforting—no, wait, what’s opposite of comforting?—to see that, despite still being able to laugh at Oregonians and gas problems and accidental movie reference mix-ups in news reports, 2018 actually got off to a terrifyingly fast start. Even though we took a week off for the holidays, everything you’re about to read has happened in the past seven days. Whatever happened to starting things off nice and slow, huh? Turns out that never happens on the internet. So here, as always, are the craziest things that went down online in the last week.
What Happened: Everyone who had “the specter of nuclear apocalypse will be heralded by penis envy” in the How the World Ends office pool, congratulations. It might have happened decades later than expected, but it’s on, apparently.
What Really Happened: So. North Korea’s Kim Jong-un delivered a New Year's speech early last week that was filled with mixed messages for the international community. On the one hand, he suggested that North Korea would be open to negotiations with South Korea and participate in the upcoming Olympics. On the other, he also said that it was “not a mere threat, but a reality” that he has a nuclear button in his office, and that “all of the mainland United States is within the range of our nuclear strike.”
OK, so that’s not good. It also, naturally, provoked a response from President Trump.
Yes, that’s a real tweet from the real President of the United States, something that Twitter tried hard to understand and contextualize after it happened…
As the media tried to come to terms with Trump’s tweet, one wonderful fact started to become clear: Despite Trump’s boast, there is no button. (It’s actually a suitcase that contains the launch codes.)
The Takeaway: After it sunk in that Trump threatened nuclear apocalypse over a mine's-bigger-than-yours argument and some non-existent buttons, people moved on to being concerned about his state of mind.
Cover to Covered
What Happened: Early snippets of a new book about the first year of the Trump administration began hitting the internet last week. They did not come and go quietly.
What Really Happened: Perhaps the strangest story last week started with a pre-release news report about Fire and Fury, a then-upcoming book by journalist by Michael Wolff covering the early days of Trump's administration in which former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was quoted saying some quite inflammatory things. In particular, that Bannon called the infamous July 2016 meeting between Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer "treasonous" and "unpatriotic."
That was, of course, the same meeting that has been repeatedly downplayed as entirely innocent by the White House, despite it clearly being anything but. Unsurprisingly, social media was here for the Bannon talk.
Those of you thinking “I bet Donald Trump didn’t take that well,” you’re right. But, surprisingly, he didn’t respond via Twitter. Instead he replied via an official White House statement, which just so happened to sound like an overlong tweet:
Of course, the White House wasn’t always quite as dismissive of Bannon’s contributions, as many pointed out.
But it wasn’t enough to call Bannon mentally unfit. After all, surely there were other ways to try and neutralize him as a potential threat to the Trump regime?
That’s certainly an option. But back to that Michael Wolff book, which had three lengthy excerpts published across Wednesday and Thursday last week, ahead of its planned release, one of which even preemptively tried to head off criticism about Wolff’s sources.
Of course, that didn’t stop criticism of Wolff’s reporting from appearing. There is a step beyond simple criticism, though, as everyone was reminded when Trump’s lawyer hit Wolff's publisher Henry Holt with a cease and desist notice. And how did that go over?
Well, that all worked out perfectly, then.
The Takeaway: Remember: This is just one of the upcoming Trump books in the pipeline…
Air Traffic Control
What Happened: While the President of the United States is undoubtedly powerful, does he really control the safety of all the commercial flights in the entire world? The answer might shock you, if you’re Donald Trump.
What Really Happened: Elsewhere in the world of What Is Donald Trump Tweeting About Now?, the Aviation Safety Network revealed last week that 2017 had been the safest year in aviation history, with zero passenger flight crashes throughout the entire year around the world. It’s undoubtedly great news, and something that Trump couldn’t help but comment upon.
Twitter, have you got this?
All of this might have you wondering: Hey, who is in charge of aviation safety, anyway? To wit:
The Takeaway: While we’re on the topic of safety in 2017, here’s something the president might want to comment on—even if he likely never will.
Down, The Hatch
What Happened: Utah made a surprisingly early bid to become the Battleground State of 2018.
What Really Happened: It wasn’t just presidential politics that started 2018 fired up and ready to go. On January 2, the number of Republican figures planning to escape Washington increased yet again.
OK, it’s not like this was entirely unrelated to the president, given that Hatch famously called Trump’s reign "the greatest presidency we have seen, not only in generations, but maybe ever" back in November. And, as the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman points out, Hatch’s retirement could be seen as a loss for the president…
…but Trump played down that possibility when responding to the news, nonetheless.
On a practical level, Hatch’s retirement would mean more than simply a new face in the Senate, as was pointed out by some on Twitter…
…but that wasn’t necessarily all it seemed.
OK, maybe he’ll go too. But then who follows?
And who could end up replacing Hatch?
Huh. Wonder what he has to say for himself…
The Takeaway: Looks like there is political life after a failed presidential run, after all. Well, at least for some people.
Logan Paul's Very Bad Vlog
What Happened: Meanwhile last week, a YouTuber discovered that filming in a place known as "suicide forest" is not in good taste. This should probably have been obvious.
What Really Happened: In… well, not exactly lighter news, but certainly not political news, YouTube star Logan Paul dominated the start of the year by posting a video of himself in Aokigahara, the so-called “suicide forest” on the slopes of Mt. Fuji in Japan. The 15-minute video—since deleted—blurred out what appeared to be a corpse, before Paul told the camera “suicide is not a joke,” and that the video—which was “supposed to be a fun vlog”—had “obviously just became very real.”
Too real for many, it turned out.
The backlash led to Paul deleting the video, and posting an apology to fans.
It’s fair to say that people weren’t too impressed.
Others, meanwhile, turned their attention to YouTube and its part in hosting the video, and controlling the subsequent conversation.
And then … he was gone.
The conversation and controversy, of course, continues.
The Takeaway: Remember when we were all so much more innocent?