Strange times. College friends are engaged in a protracted email skirmish over Debbie Dingell. A trial lawyer I know tells me that rude courtroom behavior among her colleagues is on the upswing, a phenomenon she blames on Trump. And random thoughts dance in my cold-addled head instead of the sugarplums that should be there this time of year.
For example, while watching the impeachment debate, one of the odd things that came to mind was a moment in Woody Allen's movie, "Take the Money and Run."
Made fifty years ago (!), it was his first comedy as writer, director and lead actor. Allen plays a bumbling bank robber and convict named Virgil Starkwell. Shot documentary-style, at one point Virgil's parents are interviewed. They've covered their faces with fake Groucho glasses—noses, bushy mustaches and eyebrows attached.
"He was a good boy," his mother insists.
"If he was such a good boy," his father replies, "why are we wearing these?"
Look at the Republican members of Congress and they're all wearing Groucho glasses, insisting that Donald Trump is a good boy but hiding any iota of shame they may feel behind the fake noses and mustaches of abject denial and feigned outrage at Democrats who dare to challenge their psychotic king.
In addition to Wednesday's House vote to impeach Trump, before which there was a right-wing Republican scream fest in the face of the inevitable, one of the other times their fakery was at its most blatant was right at the end of the House Judiciary Committee's session the night of December 12. They had debated the two articles of impeachment for some fourteen hours, with Republicans banging the table, trying to throw in frivolous amendments and doing anything they could to gum up the works.
It became clear that they were creating delay on purpose so darkness would fall and they could claim that Democrats had subverted truth by stealthily voting in the dead of night.
But chairman Jerry Nadler of New York—a place where we know a thing or two about con games and street smarts—caught on, and at 11:15 pm, adjourned the committee vote until ten the following morning. This drove ranking member Doug Collins, the Republican rambling wreck from Georgia, out of his ever-loving mind. Nadler had spoiled the Republicans' plan, and to top it off, the committee's impeachment vote would now be in broad daylight for everyone to see.
"This is why people don't like us," the caught-out Collins sputtered. "This crap like this is why people are having such a terrible opinion of Congress." (He further distinguished himself at the House Rules Committee on Tuesday when he tangled himself in a nasty web of non-sequiturs and incomplete sentences.)
No, Doug, people have a terrible opinion of Congress not because your silly scheme was foiled but because of that scheme and because too many members like you behave like performing chimps when it comes to Donald Trump and the big money campaign checks handed out by the rich and corporate. And also because there's this widely held perception that in Congress nothing much gets accomplished. Which is too often true—but not for the reason foisted by the GOP.
As we slide into the holiday recess, post the House impeachment vote and in anticipation of Trump's Senate trial in the New Year – which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and associates seem determined to blow up before it even begins—the Republicans continue to complain about a do-nothing Congress, one that's stymied, they insist, because Democrats are pathologically distracted by their urge to bring down the president.
This is, of course, baloney. They know damn well that some 400 bills are currently jammed up in the Senate after their passage by the House of Representatives. While continuing to push through the appointments of conservative federal judges—a dozen more in just the last couple of days alone—Mitch McConnell is keeping those hundreds of bills from going to the Senate floor. Even though, according to California Congressman Ted Lieu, a co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, 275 of them have at least some bipartisan support.
Instead, McConnell claimed that congressional Democrats have taken "a one-year vacation from any productive legislation just because they'd rather obsess over impeachment."
In truth, this state of limbo started long before impeachment. And with Democratic control of the House, this year has amply demonstrated the Democrats' ability to simultaneously investigate and legislate.
Republicans want the rest of us not to know that and so they throw up a smoke screen and create other distractions to steer the public away from reality. (And by the way, GOP, when you yell about Democrats using impeachment to undo the 2016 election, keep reminding yourselves that deposing Donald Trump doesn't mean Hillary Clinton becomes president. Your boy Pence assumes the mantle—but you know that, doncha? It's just more sugar-loaded Christmas cookies for the Fox-infected base.)
The Vox website, which has done an excellent job keeping tabs, reported last month, "House Democrats have passed a wide range of bills since they came to power in January, ranging from a sweeping anti-corruption and pro-democracy reform known as H.R.1, to bills to save net neutrality, pass universal background checks for guns, and reenter the United States into the Paris climate accords.
"They have also put a large emphasis on health care, a defining issue of the 2018 election after Trump and Senate Republicans attempted to pass a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Democrats have focused on bills to lower prescription drug costs, protect preexisting conditions, and condemning the Trump administration's legal battle to strike down the ACA in the courts."
And yet, as their politics and policy reporter Ella Nielsen writes, jointly, the House and Senate "passed just 70 bills into law this year. Granted, it still has one more year in its term, but the number pales in comparison to recent past sessions of Congress, which typically see 300-500 bills passed in two years (and that is even a diminished number from the 700-800 bills passed in the 1970s and 1980s)."
With his indecisiveness and chronic fear of alienating the right, Donald Trump also has contributed hugely to the gridlock. No reforms, no infrastructure, no boost to cybersecurity and on and on.
Look at what happened this year—once again—with gun regulation, including universal background checks. The House passed its bill and Josh Dawsey reported in The Washington Post November 1 that after this summer's El Paso and Dayton mass killings, Trump "insisted he was serious about the issue and would release proposals."
But then he was warned by campaign manager Brad Parscale and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney "that gun legislation could splinter his political coalition" and reduce voter turnout next year. And of course the NRA chimed in, too.
Dawsey writes, "The president no longer asks about the issue, and aides from the Domestic Policy Council, once working on a plan with eight to 12 tenets, have moved on to other topics… Four White House officials said there haven't been substantive discussions in weeks." A major GOP donor told Dawsey, "I suspect that was the plan all along."
At least, as Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy points out, hidden through the spending bill that this week managed to get past the House, Senate and Trump's EKG-style signature, there's $25 million for gun violence research, $25 million in violence prevention grants, $78 million to update background checks records, a $100 million increase for the ATF and eight million dollars for "children exposed to violence."
"Progress," tweets Murphy. Cold solace, say I. Strange times indeed. Donald Trump is president, McConnell has a chokehold on the Senate and "Cats" is a movie. You call this Christmas?