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

WASHINGTON — Our political system is not accustomed to the kind of battle that is going on now. President Obama has been slow to adjust to it. The voters are understandably mystified and frustrated by it. In the meantime, the economy sits on the edge between stagnation and something worse.

The president’s speech to Congress and the Republican presidential debate last week should have taught us that we are no longer in the world of civics textbooks in which our political parties split their differences and arrive at imperfect but reasonably satisfactory solutions.

Now, we face a fundamental divide over the most basic questions: Is government good or bad? Can public action make the private economy work better, or are all efforts to alter the market’s course — by Congress, the president, the Federal Reserve — doomed to failure?

When politicians and their supporters believe the other side is pursuing policies that would destroy all they cherish, compromise becomes not a desirable expedient but “almost treasonous,” to use the phrase tossed about by Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

Under these circumstances, taking enormous risks with the country’s well-being, as House Republicans did in the debt-ceiling rumble, is no longer out of bounds. It’s a form of patriotism. When your adversaries’ ideas are so dastardly, it’s better to court chaos, win the fight, and pick up the pieces later.

And to make matters worse — and more confusing — the two sides are not equally distant from the political center. We are in an age of asymmetric polarization.

Precisely because they believe in both the government and the marketplace, Democrats are always more ready to compromise. Obama’s economic address last Thursday was seen as tough and firm because he finally called Republicans in Congress out. Progressives liked the new fortitude, and also the relatively large sums of money Obama would mobilize to jolt the economy back to vibrancy.

But there was nothing remotely radical (or even particularly liberal) about Obama’s ideas: tax cuts, many of them business-friendly, and new spending for such exotic projects as, well, schools and roads. As the president said, his proposals had all drawn Republican support in the past.

He was, however, talking about a Republican Party that existed before it was taken over by a new sensibility linking radical individualism with a loathing for government that would shock Hamilton, Clay, Lincoln and, for goodness’ sake, Robert Taft.

Thus, the GOP sees the solution to the crisis in the measures its right wing has always favored: gutting regulation, keeping taxes on the affluent low, cutting government programs, and stopping Ben Bernanke and the Fed from doing anything to put the unemployed back to work that might risk the tiniest bit of inflation and thus dilute, even momentarily, the wealth of the already wealthy.

Last week’s Republican debate was instructive in showing how deeply this new orthodoxy has penetrated. Bashing Bernanke and the government was in. Perry joined in the doctrinaire foolishness his rivals displayed in an earlier debate. He echoed them in saying he would reject a budget deal based on $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. (A colleague of mine suggested the candidates should have been asked how they felt about ratios of 20-to-1 or 50-to-1.)

Up to this point, Obama has acted as if nothing much had happened inside the Republican Party. He kept talking about bipartisanship and tried not once but twice to make a big deficit deal with John Boehner. Quite predictably, both blew up in his face.

The president seems to have awoken to the danger he faces. In his speech to Congress, he pointedly addressed those who believe “that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everybody’s money, and let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own.” He added: “That’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America.”

But that is precisely who most of the Republican Party now thinks we are.

The president has offered eloquent defenses of the role of government in the past, only to revert to bipartisan fantasies that, in the end, always make him look weaker. The central question — for his jobs plan and his future — is whether this time he sticks with an analysis of the nature of our political fight that sees it as it is, not as he wishes it were.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne(at)washpost.com.

(c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]