A Bit More Dangerous Absurdity

New Year’s Eve wasn’t supposed to be like this. Hollywood has been closed for months. Everything is boarded up. The studios halted production again. And down the street on the Sunset Strip no one is club-hopping. There are no wild parties in the streets. All the clubs have been closed for months. The streets are empty. And of course, this being the end of an awful year, the Santa Ana winds are howling, shaking the windows in their frames – the cold Santa Anas off the now frigid Mojave. This is New Year’s Eve and everyone is hiding.

It’s the same back east:

When the iconic Times Square Ball drops in Manhattan come midnight, it will descend before an unusually small live audience. Most of the confetti will fall to the ground, landing on the shoulders of just a few hundred partygoers rather than the 1 million who typically pack the streets for the new year. When the clock strikes 12, no one is likely to kiss a stranger.

For 2021 in New York and around the United States, it’s out with the old, in with the few.

The coronavirus pandemic has canceled, scaled down and rejiggered New Year’s celebrations across the United States, where virtually no place is safe to gather in groups. And after a bruising year that included not only a global health crisis, but a painful reckoning over racial injustice, devastating natural disasters and a polarizing presidential election, Americans are both hopeful and wary of what a new year will bring.

The rest of this item is anecdotal human-interest filler. There’s not much to say. Everyone is at home, or should be, perhaps thinking about how this year ended. Well, on the final day of they, it ended in a bit more dangerous absurdity:

Vice President Pence asked a judge late Thursday to reject a lawsuit that aims to expand his power to use a congressional ceremony to overturn the presidential election, arguing that he is not the right person to sue over the issue.

The filing will come as a disappointment to supporters of President Trump, who hoped that Pence would attempt to reject some of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college votes and recognize votes for Trump instead when Congress meets next week to certify the November election.

Mike Pence will always remain loyal to Donald Trump. Mick Pence wants no part of this dangerous nonsense that won’t work and will make look like a fool. But he’s not the boss. Trump is. Mike Pence had to turn to the law:

The filing came in response to a lawsuit from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) and a number of Republicans in Arizona, who argued that an 1887 law that governs how Congress certifies presidential elections is unconstitutional. The suit argues that the Constitution gives the vice president, in his role as president of the Senate, sole discretion to determine whether electors put forward by the states are valid.

It asks a federal judge to take the extraordinary step of telling Pence that he has the right, on his own, to decide that the electoral college votes cast earlier in December for Biden are invalid and to instead recognize self-appointed Trump electors who gathered in several state capitals to challenge the results.

While experts agree that the law is vague and confusing, it has never before been challenged; it has been accepted by officials in both parties for more than 130 years as establishing a process in which the voters, ultimately, choose the president.

Gohmert says that’s all wrong. The vice president, in his role as president of the Senate, is the one, the only one, who gets to choose the next president, and the next vice president – him, of course. Pence wants no part of this:

To win a lawsuit, a plaintiff must convince a judge that the interests of the person they are suing are opposed to their own – there must be some controversy or conflict between them that could be resolved through the litigation.

In this case, a Justice Department lawyer, writing on Pence’s behalf, wrote that the interests of Gohmert and the other plaintiffs were not sufficiently opposed to Pence’s own – since they were seeking to expand HIS power – to justify a suit.

“The Vice President is not the proper defendant to this lawsuit,” wrote Deputy Assistant Attorney General John V. Coghlan.

This is not a difficult issue:

“The Vice President – the only defendant in this case – is ironically the very person whose power they seek to promote,” he added. “A suit to establish that the Vice President has discretion over the count, filed against the Vice President, is a walking legal contradiction.”

Instead, Coghlan wrote that Congress was the proper defendant for such a suit.

Congress may be the proper defendant for such a suit but the House is controlled by the Democrats:

Lawyers for the House of Representatives also asked the judge to reject the suit late Thursday, arguing that it called for “a radical departure from our constitutional procedures and consistent legislative practices” and would “authorize the Vice President to ignore the will of the Nation’s voters.” In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the suit had “zero legal merit” and was “yet another sabotage of our democracy.”

But she was not alone:

While the lawsuit proceeded, Republicans continued to grapple with how to handle the congressional ceremony next week.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) called the effort to use the congressional process to reverse Biden’s electoral college victory a “dangerous ploy,” underscoring the challenge Trump faces in persuading even members of his own party to join it.

In an open letter to his constituents, Sasse wrote that there is no evidence of fraud so widespread that it could change the results and said he has urged his colleagues to reject “a project to overturn the election.”

“All the clever arguments and rhetorical gymnastics in the world won’t change the fact that this January 6th effort is designed to disenfranchise millions of Americans simply because they voted for someone in a different party,” Sasse wrote on Facebook shortly before midnight Wednesday. “We ought to be better than that.”

Perhaps so, but his colleagues aren’t better than that:

His letter followed Wednesday’s announcement by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) that he will object next week when Congress convenes to certify the electoral college vote, a move that will force a contentious floor debate that top Senate Republicans had hoped to avoid.

Trump has repeatedly and falsely suggested that the ceremonial milestone offers a last-ditch way to reverse the election results and is urging Republicans to join his bid.

Trump is not particularly conversant with the Constitution and the law. He’s not impressed by details. He just doesn’t see the problem, and if he doesn’t see the problem, others won’t either:

Hawley, meanwhile, who is believed to be contemplating a run for president in 2024 and is eager to inherit Trump’s base, began citing his plans in fundraising appeals for his campaign committee Thursday.

More Republicans are expected to sign on to election challenges in the House, but their relatively small numbers there mean the effort will amount to little more than a final display of loyalty to Trump.

That may be all this is:

Sasse wrote that his GOP colleagues realize what is happening but fear crossing the president and his supporters.

“When we talk in private, I haven’t heard a single Congressional Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent – not one,” he said. “Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will ‘look’ to President Trump’s most ardent supporters.”

Well, someone will put an end to that. It was New Year’s Eve, time for a fresh start, and Jonathan Swan reported this:

In an extraordinary conference call this morning with fellow Senate Republicans, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his Jan. 6 vote certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election will be “the most consequential I have ever cast,” according to a source on a call and two other sources briefed on the private remarks.

The conference call came in the wake of Sen. Josh Hawley defying McConnell’s wishes and publicly declaring that he’ll object to certifying the electoral votes in Pennsylvania and perhaps in other states as well.

McConnell had previously urged senators not to force this vote, which he believed would put Republicans up for re-election in 2022 in a horrible position – forcing them to choose between defying the most popular politician in the party, Donald Trump, and undermining democracy.

McConnell has made his choice:

His remarks to his conference are likely to escalate President Trump’s anger with him for daring acknowledge Trump’s defeat. McConnell said on the call that the Jan. 6 vote is “a vote of conscience,” these sources said.

A source paraphrased McConnell as saying, “I’m finishing 36 years in the Senate and I’ve cast a lot of big votes.” including over war and impeachment.

“And in my view, just my view,” McConnell said, “this is will be the most consequential I have ever cast.”

“The context was McConnell saying we’re being asked to overturn the results after a guy didn’t get as many electoral votes and lost by 7 million popular votes,” the source said.

And that is too much to ask:

Many Republican senators are furious at Hawley for forcing them to take what Trump is setting up as the ultimate loyalty test on January 6th.

On the call, McConnell asked Hawley to explain what he planned to do on Jan. 6, said a source on the call. Then, Indiana Sen. Todd Young pressed Hawley on which states he planned to contest, and Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey defended the integrity of his state’s elections.

There was just one problem: They were met with silence. Hawley hadn’t dialed into the conference call.

Why would he? He stands with Trump. And he’s ambitious:

Hawley has been fundraising off of his planned objection to the election results, and this afternoon he emailed his Senate colleagues explaining his reasoning and copy-pasting a public press release he issued the day before to announce his decision.

In his email to his colleagues, Hawley made clear he was responding to pressures from his constituents.

“If you’ve been speaking to folks at home, I’m sure you know how deeply angry and disillusioned many, many people are – and how frustrated that Congress has taken little or no action,” he wrote.

Is that so? Paul Waldman has a few things to say about that:

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), positively incandescent with ambition for 2024, has announced that he will bravely raise his hand and cry, in the words heard on elementary school playgrounds everywhere, “No fair!”

This is a fitting end to the 2020 election: pointless, insincere, performative outrage, promising the eternally aggrieved GOP base a victory Trump can’t deliver, contemptuous of the majority of Americans, and propped up by Republicans whose opinion of their own voters could barely be lower.

But there’s no surprise here:

When future students stroll through their virtual reality presentations on the Trump presidency, this will be another of those standout moments, to add to the horror of Charlottesville, the shame of Helsinki, the vulgar corruption of “Do us a favor though” and the shocking negligence of “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” This, they’ll learn, was how the final door was shut on Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election.

Josh Hawley, however, is the issue here:

To be clear, Hawley is perfectly within his procedural rights: If one senator and one member of the House object to a state’s electoral votes, there’s a debate of a couple of hours, and both houses could vote to reject those electoral votes. Which they won’t do.

But for Hawley, the doomed fight is the point, not the outcome. “Somebody has to stand up here,” he said in an appearance on Fox News. “You’ve got 74 million Americans who feel disenfranchised, who feel like their vote doesn’t matter.”

Ah, no, that’s bullshit:

This isn’t disenfranchisement. It’s called losing. The votes of Trump supporters mattered; it was just that there were fewer of them than votes for Joe Biden. That’s what happens in an election: One side loses, and if it was your side, it doesn’t mean you got cheated. It just means you lost.

Not that these people can understand that:

No one seriously denies that the Republican base has utterly lost its mind; the only question is how shamelessly GOP politicians will pander to that lunacy. For Hawley, the limit has not yet been reached. But every once in a while, someone admits the truth; as Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) wrote on Facebook, “When we talk in private, I haven’t heard a single Congressional Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent – not one. Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will ‘look’ to President Trump’s most ardent supporters.”

And of course, to Trump himself…

Sources say Trump, before his vacation, brought the matter up to the vice president and has been “confused” as to why Pence can’t overturn the results of the election on January 6. Pence and White House aides have tried to explain to him that his role is more of a formality and he cannot unilaterally reject the electoral college votes.

But Trump still has faith in the power of chaos to give him what he wants. On Wednesday, he tweeted in all caps, “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!” to encourage his supporters to descend on the city for a protest. Perhaps he’s hoping that his good friends in the Proud Boys will once again rampage through the streets of the capital, starting fights and destroying property at Black churches.

That might be the plan, but not everyone wants the rioting-for-Trump that day:

The point of rituals like the one that will take place at the Capitol on Jan. 6 is to demonstrate the power of the system under which we all live, to show us that it is larger than any one person or any one party.

That is the wall against which Trump will beat his tiny fists next week, with the help of Hawley and a few members of the House Chucklehead Caucus. For all the damage he has done to American institutions and all the systemic weaknesses he has revealed, this is one place where Trump will fail spectacularly.

And that may be a good thing:

So bring it on, Mr. President, and Sen. Hawley, too. Take your spectacle of sore loserdom to the floor. Show us how pathetic you are, one more time. We’ll all watch while you make a last attempt to bend the system to your crude and selfish will. At a time of so much misery and despair, the sound of that gavel banging down will give us something to feel good about.

That’ll start the New Year right, perhaps. Jennifer Rubin thinks so:

What is particularly reprehensible about Hawley’s move is that, unlike some of the deluded House members who signed onto the lawsuit, he knows his complaint is groundless. He is a graduate of Yale Law School, the former attorney general of Missouri and a law professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. He clerked for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and subsequently wrote Supreme Court briefs. He knows that what he is doing is antithetical to the Constitution, his oath of office and his obligations as a lawyer. Yale should ask for its diploma back; the Missouri bar should move to take away his license. Georgia voters should send Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the U.S. Senate to deprive Hawley of the gavel on any committee and his party of the majority.

In fact, this may be a turning point:

Whenever the MAGA set whines over someone calling for the Republican Party’s demise or keeping track of the politicians who betrayed our democracy, one need only point to the fleet of prominent Republicans who have demonstrated their contempt for democracy. This includes Hawley; the 18 state attorneys general who filed suit to overturn the election; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who volunteered to argue that lawsuit before the Supreme Court; and the 126 House members who supported that lawsuit.

A party that celebrates such characters is unworthy of holding power; the people who have rushed to incinerate our democracy deserve not merely to be thrown out of office, but to be shunned by patriotic Americans.

That might happen, or not. Ruth Marcus adds this:

While irresponsible, this is not necessarily a terrible development. It forces a vote that will have the salutary effect of requiring Republican members of Congress to decide – and to put on the record – whether their loyalty is to President Trump or to the Constitution. Better to know than to guess. Better to inflict some accountability rather than to enable dodging.

Put another way: Any vote that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fervently wishes to avoid is one I’m for. Put every member of the House and Senate on the record, and let them reap the consequences, for good and for ill, in the short term of political fallout and in the long view of history. Those who vote against certifying Biden’s victory can explain it to their grandchildren.

That may be too late:

Protests planned in support of President Trump on Jan. 6 are multiplying by the week.

Four seemingly competing rallies to demand that Congress overturn the results of the presidential election, which their participants falsely view as illegitimate, are scheduled on the day Congress is set to convene to certify electoral college votes…

Formal rallies are planned most of the day and will draw pro-Trump demonstrators to the Washington Monument, Freedom Plaza and the Capitol. But online forums and encrypted chat messages among far-right groups indicate a number of demonstrators might be planning more than chanting and waving signs.

Threats of violence, ploys to smuggle guns into the District and calls to set up an “armed encampment” on the Mall have proliferated in online chats about the Jan. 6 day of protest. The Proud Boys, members of armed right-wing groups, conspiracy theorists and white supremacists have pledged to attend.

That’s another way to start the new year, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog adds this:

I hope turnout in the streets is small, violence is isolated and contained, and the protest in Congress looks like a sore losers’ hissy fit.

I hope there’s some accountability, as Ruth Marcus expects. But I can’t imagine a single Republican losing support for this act of sedition, because so many voters in red and purple states consider it an article of faith that Democrats are the dangerous radicals, and that a vote for Republicans is a vote for patriotism, normality, and stability.

I’ve grown tired of waiting for Americans to grasp the extent of the GOP’s radicalism. I’ve grown tired of waiting for Democrats to make a habit of pointing out that radicalism. The most I can hope for is that we get through the vote-tallying process with minimum damage to our country.

And perhaps that is all any of us can expect from the new year. This new year might not be any better at all.

But it’s almost midnight here in Hollywood. And there’s that new bottle of excellent very old single-malt scotch. Here’s to the new year.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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