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

Recent weeks have seen a decline in the kinds of abusive reader emails that keep a columnist feeling feisty. It’s a long time since anybody informed me that I’m a cowardly elitist doomed to spend eternity in hell watching NBA games with Barack Obama.

So to stir the pot, here’s a brief selection of heterodox opinions:

**As a New Jersey expatriate — my sons used to call All in the Family “The Man Like Grandpa Show”—people keep asking me what the George Washington Bridge brouhaha says about Governor Chris Christie’s presidential hopes. What hopes? Christie never had a realistic shot at the GOP nomination anyway. He’s merely a noisier version of “America’s Mayor,” Rudy Giuliani.

Christie’s whole act, pointing at people and yelling—not to mention cozying up to Barack Obama—won’t play with GOP primary voters south and west of Trenton. For the longest time, it was impossible to take the bridge thing seriously because nobody could possibly be that petty and stupid. Now that we’ve seen the incriminating emails and heard Christie’s alibi that he was betrayed by disloyal staffers, all that’s lacking is what thriller writers call “the McGuffin”—the ultimate prize these jokers were chasing.

Ultimately, Jersey political intrigue always involves a shakedown. If anybody solves the puzzle, it’ll probably be Steve Kornacki, an excellent reporter who knows the territory even if he does work for MSNBC.

The novel version is Robert Penn Warren’s classic All the King’s Men, even though it’s set in Louisiana in the 1930s.

**Speaking of Louisiana, I wrote a while back that an ill-advised publicity stunt by Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson would probably backfire. Condemning gays to hell won him short-term notoriety.

“Longer term,” I wrote, “unapologetic bigots always fade into obscurity, basically because they embarrass people.”

Sooner rather than later, it turns out: Ratings for the show’s season five premiere were down 28 percent from last year.

**As a recovering testosterone addict, Frederic Poag’s Daily Banter article “The Myth of the Good Guy with a Gun: How I was Almost Curtis Reeves” struck me as exactly right.

Curtis Reeves is the Florida ex-cop who shot somebody to death for texting in a movie theater. You pack heat, you’re apt to run into some jerk that needs killing—or so you might think for the two enraged seconds it takes to destroy his life and yours.

** So how can it be a bad thing that Iran has shut down its uranium-enriching centrifuges while it negotiates with the U.S. and allies? Here’s syndicated columnist Paul Greenberg agreeing with a reader that negotiating with Iran is worse than handing over Czechoslovakia to the Nazis.

Unlike Britain and France in 1938, see, “the United States and its allies are fully capable of exerting the necessary military power to preserve the peace…. Iran, like North Korea, is the international equivalent of a little bully whom the big boys ought to be able to dispatch with ease—and the very fact that they are not willing to do so signals a supine posture even worse than that of Munich in 1938, and therefore a much more craven act of appeasement.”

Or to summarize in strictly Orwellian terms: War is Peace (“exerting the necessary military power to preserve the peace”). Also, Strength is Weakness. Precisely because Iran poses no serious threat, failing to attack shows cowardice.

Its proponents call this style of thinking “neoconservatism.”

**Meanwhile, the anti-gravity left has gone over the edge regarding Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations. There was zero chance that President Obama’s recent proposals to safeguard Americans’ privacy would meet with the approval of the Snowden-Glenn Greenwald axis. They are not of this world.

“The objective of the NSA and the U.S. government,” Greenwald has written, “is nothing less than destroying all remnants of privacy. They want to make sure that every single time human beings interact with one another, things that we say to one another, things we do with one another, places we go, the behavior in which we engage, that they know about it.”

Historian Sean Wilentz has aptly dubbed this style of thinking “paranoid libertarianism.” Even so, I was astonished to find Digby Parton, normally one of the most incisive online political writers, praising the brilliance of the blogger Emptywheel‘s analysis of President Obama’s speech.

Martin Luther King, see, once warned that American arrogance might cause God to “break the backbone” of our power.

Emptywheel explodes the metaphor: “Not only does it [arrogance] threaten to break the ideological backbone of our hegemony—replacing our liberties with our policing—but it quite literally threatens to balkanize the communication backbone we’ve exploited to become that policeman.”

Read that again. Read it six times. How is it possible to literally “balkanize” anything, much less a metaphorical backbone that’s also a policeman?

When intelligent people emit sheer gibberish, it’s a good sign nobody’s thinking.

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

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.]