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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

H.L. Mencken

As Election Day approaches, I often find myself thinking of H.L. Mencken. Particularly during off-year contests. “The Sage of Baltimore,” as he was known, expressed lifelong disdain for politicians, and his mordant wit made him very funny about it. “Democracy,” he wrote, “is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Mencken’s heyday was the 1920s, in the shadow of the Great War. Unlike most contemporary pundits, he felt no need to express false pieties or flatter his audience. “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people” he argued.

Decades before the birth of Donald Trump, he anticipated the great man’s arrival on the American scene:

“As democracy is perfected, the office [of president] represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people….On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

And an ignorant blowhard at that. If that opinion makes you feel personally affronted, well tough. Send me an insulting e-mail if it makes you feel better. But there won’t be much point arguing about it until 2024—assuming we’re both still here and that Trump himself hasn’t dropped dead or gone to prison.

Because the real deal on the mid-term elections is that they just don’t matter a whole lot in terms of serious changes in the body politic. The U.S. Constitution is pretty much set up to prevent it.

A recent, typically solemn New York Times headline: “Democrats, on Defense in Blue States, Brace for a Red Wave in the House.”

“Reality is setting in,” reads the subhead.

Meanwhile, what’s a near-certainty is that neither party, in either the House or the Senate, will win anything close to a veto-proof majority. So that even if Republicans do take over the House of Representatives—as the opposition party normally does during midterm contests—all they’re really going to do over the next couple of years is put on a show. A Fox News-themed extravaganza.

They’ll shut down the January 6 House Select Committee in favor of investigating Hunter Biden, the president’s troubled surviving son. You’ll learn more about Hunter than you ever wanted to know. There are even said to be titillating videos, although their provenance is unclear. The younger Biden’s purloined laptop was out of his hands for more than a year, making suspect any revelations it holds.

What relevance this has to the actual governance of these United States—unlike the Trump offspring, Hunter Biden holds no public office and has never been taken to meet the Queen—will likely also remain unclear.

Theatrical indignation, however, is almost certain. Look for putative Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy to do the job President Trump tried to strong-arm Ukrainian President Zelensky into performing. He won’t be able to help himself. They could even end up turning Hunter into a sympathetic figure.

Did I say “Speaker McCarthy?” There’s even loose talk among GOP stalwarts of electing former President Trump as Speaker of the House. There’s no constitutional requirement that the Speaker be a voting member, nor free of criminal indictment, for that matter. So, it’s theoretically possible, and if the Big Man wanted it, I can’t imagine GOP congressional invertebrates denying him.

Yowza! Talk about getting value for your entertainment dollar What a spectacle that would be.

Back in what passes for the real world, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), currently the third-ranking Republican in the House, has expressed enthusiasm for the idea of impeaching President Biden for crimes as yet defined. QAnon-friendly Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), of “Jewish space lasers” fame, has reportedly filed five congressional resolutions to that effect.

On his part, Kevin McCarthy has said he doesn’t believe the public would tolerate a presidential impeachment.

As there’s zero chance of getting 67 Senators to convict, impeaching Biden would seem an obvious non-starter.

But that implies a degree of political realism that may or may not be found in a Republican Congress. Even so, far more likely are what Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times calls “government shutdowns and debt-ceiling hostage dramas.” Several GOP congressmen have made it clear to reporters that they will demand deep cuts in domestic spending, which they say are needed to shrink the federal budget deficit and stifle inflation.

Never mind that the Biden White House recently announced that the budget deficit this year dropped by $1.4 trillion—the largest annual decline ever. Last year it fell by $350 billion. Under Trump, of course, the budget shortfall increased by $400 billion annually, due to his corporate and millionaires tax cuts—pretty much his only legislative accomplishment.

But GOP voters either don’t know that or refuse to believe it, so it looks like we’re in for another fiscal high-wire act.

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