Lame Holiday Season Looms

A good friend has begun using a terrible, new conversational ice-breaker. “So,” she asks in a breezy tone, “what’s the worst news you’ve heard today?” We’re all hearing news all day long now. Our pocket devices or smart watches give us what we used to get only from our car radios. And more of that news lately has been bad.

This would be difficult to admit in mixed company, but I have come to welcome natural cataclysm stories. They give me a break from hearing about governmental incompetence or corruption.

Natural disasters carry a modicum of pathos, mixed with the pain. Political disasters offer no such relief. It’s getting harder and harder to find sympathetic actors in Washington, D.C. Election-year stories are usually different, but the fatigue becoming overwhelming.

We like underdog stories. They are often “first-ever” stories — first openly gay mayor south of the Mason-Dixon Line, first transgender Congressional candidate, first black female governor. But once the media spotlight focuses on these unknown candidates — once they become known candidates — the new characters begin to resemble the old characters.

Politics attracts politicians. Why should we be surprised?

Election-related stories do offer one bit of relief. We can count on them to be resolved by Wednesday, November 7. Once the elections have been decided, we usually get eight weeks of feel-good holiday stories, without much more than a peep from the political realm.

Whoever won won’t begin work until January and whoever lost is usually happy to be ignored. Journalists on the political beat need the break. The incoming class has nothing to say and the outgoing class can’t be quoted in a family newspaper.

But this year could be different, and so I’m sharing with you what may be the worst news you otherwise wouldn’t have heard today.

As fall turns to winter this year, the stories about elected officials doing their work (or not) may ignore the holiday break. It could be so bad that families feel compelled to keep television news blaring throughout Thanksgiving meals and holiday gift exchanges.

President Trump is spoiling for a funding fight for his border wall, but Congressional leaders have convinced him that a government shutdown before the election would be disastrous for Republicans. Instead, the Senate proposed funding essential services only until December 7.

The House of Representatives would like to pass another huge tax cut that will further the advantages of the very rich. Ballot-counting will be finished, but money-grubbing will continue. The House may pass their plan before the election, requiring the Senate to confirm it before the end of the year.

House Speaker Paul Ryan already has run his last campaign, so he will no longer be counseling caution to Trump and other legislative leaders. His successor with the speaker’s gavel may well be a Nancy Pelosi again, but any Democratic majority won’t take effect until the new Congress convenes in January.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who kept the Senate in session through August to help Republican challengers unseat Democratic incumbents, may see his majority evaporate in 2019. If McConnell sees a Democrat majority coming in January, there’s no telling what he might try to get done before they arrive.

McConnell may use the lame duck session to fill every single judicial vacancy he can. That’s how he busied his Senate majority through what has traditionally been an August recess.

We can’t even be sure McConnell won’t call a vote during the lame duck session for a Supreme Court vacancy. If Justice Kennedy’s seat — or even another, unexpected vacancy — is not filled before the November election, that task may be left to the temporary Republican majority.

Senators who lost their reelection will no longer care about what voters think and those who remain won’t have to face the voters again for at least two years.

If liberal majorities are elected in November, their constituents may find themselves mixing “Ho ho ho!” with “Oh no no!” all through December. Government shutdown, new tax breaks, Supreme Court shenanigans. It could all demand our attention — unless there’s a natural disaster to distract us.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.