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

To anybody who watches cable TV news, it’s clear that the nation has embarked upon a great political experiment. Its object would be instantly clear to readers of Neil Postman’s 1985 classic Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

To wit, is it even possible for a democratic country to govern itself when news becomes “infotainment,” and infotainment news?

At any given moment, one of two TV “news” stories predominates to the exclusion of all other topics: Donald Trump and terrorism. CNN has covered almost nothing else since the tragedy in San Bernardino. Tune in any time, day or night, and it’s either Trump, terror, or panels of talking heads discussing them.

Meanwhile, the network had been running a countdown clock in the corner of the screen keeping viewers apprised of the weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds remaining until Tuesday night’s GOP debate—as if it were a moon launch or, more appropriately, a pay-per-view professional wrestling match.

In between live broadcasts of Trump’s speeches, advertisements feature full-screen photos of the contestants dramatically lit like WWE stars, promoting the upcoming Showdown in Las Vegas — the final Republican debate of the year!

Cue Michael Buffer: “Let’s get ready to RUMBLE…”

OK, so there will be something like 84 more debates in 2016. It’s nevertheless your patriotic duty to feel the excitement.

Or not. Actually, I see where the noted scholar and media critic Charles Barkley has beaten me to it. The famously outspoken basketball jock was recently asked his opinion of the GOP debates on TNT’s Inside the NBA.

“To be honest with you, CNN has done an awful job this election, an awful job. They have followed ratings and sound bites this entire cycle,” Sir Charles opined. “I love CNN because they’re part of our company, but they’ve been kissing butt, chasing ratings…. They follow every single sound bite just to get ratings for these debates. It’s been sad and frustrating that our company has sold its soul for ratings.”

(CNN and TNT are subsidiaries of Turner Broadcasting.)

However, it’s not just CNN. The TV networks generally, where most Americans get their news, have abandoned all pretense of public service in the drive for enhanced market share.

Quick now: Which cable network has covered Trump the most assiduously?

Surprise, it’s MSNBC. According to figures cited by Washington Post blogger Jim Tankersley, the allegedly left-wing network has mentioned The Donald some 1,484 times during the current campaign. That’s roughly 100 more mentions than CNN, and three times as many as Fox News.

Like CNN, MSNBC often breaks away from live programming to broadcast Trump speeches live — something neither network does for any other candidate, Republican or Democrat. That’s free campaign advertising no politician can afford to buy. The second most commonly cited Republican, Chris Christie, has drawn 144 mentions on CNN, the rapidly vanishing Jeb Bush, 88.

In a 17-person GOP race (now “only” 14), fully 47 percent of TV mentions have gone to Trump since he announced his candidacy last June. Is there any wonder the bombastic New Yorker is leading in opinion polls? His is apparently the only name many low-information voters can recall.

Look, Trump gives good TV. Under ordinary circumstances, for example, my sainted wife would prefer undergoing a root canal to a GOP presidential debate. I’m forced to record the fool things for professional purposes. Trump, however, she’ll watch, if only in the hope he’ll humiliate some rival fraud. Multiply her by a few million, and you’re talking real advertising dollars.

The New York Times, whose editors apparently have no TVs, recently devoted considerable column inches to the seeming mystery of “High Polls for Low-Energy Campaigners.” 

Specifically, how come Jeb!, who normally does multiple campaign events every day, appears to be getting nowhere, while Trump, a comparative homebody, surges?

Um, let’s see: Morning Joe in the AM; followed by Good Morning America; a sit down with CNN’s Chris Cuomo; a face-to-face with NBC’s Chuck Todd, who basically calls Trump a barefaced liar, but invites him back for Meet the Press; next, a blustering speech covered live by MSNBC’s Hardball; followed by “Breaking News!” of a pre-recorded interview with Don Lemon.

And then to bed.

Would it also surprise you to learn that, according to the Tyndall Report, which compiles such figures, ABC World News Tonight has devoted 81 minutes of programming this year to Trump’s campaign versus 20 seconds total to Bernie Sanders, who arguably has more supporters? (Each man has roughly 30 percent support in his respective party, but there are many more Democrats than Republicans.)

In my judgement, neither Trump nor Sanders has a very good chance of becoming president. But that shouldn’t mean an exclusive diet of Trump’s bombast, braggadocio, conspiracy theories, and bald-faced lies simply because the one-time “reality” star gets good ratings.

Is the United States a democratic republic or a TV series?

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.]