Despite the appearance of certainty in people who are paid to sound certain so they can comfort and then scare us in the never-ending cycle, there is absolutely no way to predict what will happen in November, and anybody telling you otherwise is either lying or too self-impressed to merit your attention. That said, I do tend to agree with a point I’ve heard a few times in the ether: If the election is about COVID-19 and the economy, the Democrats have an advantage, and if it’s about social issues and violence in our cities, Trump and the Republicans have a better chance. Even there, you’ll notice, my language is far from definitive. When it comes to picking a winner, I know what I don’t know, which is “everything that matters.”
What seems inevitable is that the election will be close. Joe Biden will win the popular vote, barring some major error at the debates (the only time the DNC will let him out of the house), but in terms of the electoral college, it’s one giant shrugging emoji. And that’s the problem. The fact that Trump’s imminent eviction from the White House isn’t a foregone conclusion proves a few things that nobody, myself included, wanted to admit.
First off, on a logistical level, we’re beyond screwed. If you want a sense of how badly this can go, look at the nightmare that was the Iowa caucuses, and how even the Democrats flew into the FUBAR zone at the speed of light. And that was just pure incompetence, not malice; when the Republicans get going, you can add intention to the mix. Their voter suppression operation is breathtaking in scope, from voter ID laws to limits on early voting to the elimination of polling places in heavily Democratic cities in order to increase frustration and depress turnout. They’re going to scrounge for an edge anywhere they can, and despite the fact that they’re committing 99% of the fraud, they will be as loud as possible in declaring that Democrats are the fraudsters, that people are voting multiple times, illegal immigrants are voting, that the totals are compromised and wrong everywhere they lose. It’s the pre-emptive “you’re the cheater!” tactic they’ve used for decades, but this year, don’t be surprised if it goes past the election and ends in a chaotic mess when Trump refuses to accept defeat.
You’re going to hear quite a lot about Russian interference in the coming months, since that represents the entire business plan of outlets like MSNBC, but you should realize that a few Muscovites posting memes on Facebook to be read and digested by idiots can’t hold a candle to the damage we’ve done to ourselves. It’s like complaining that the Titanic’s swimming pool is too small as the ship plows its hull into every iceberg in the ocean.
Second, the entire national election system is gerrymandered. It’s tremendously embarrassing that the electoral college is still operational, and that the votes of individual citizens are weighted unequally. There’s no sane reason why a voter in Illinois should have less influence than one in Wyoming, or why only a handful of votes in a few swing states really matter at all. Like many other stupid problems in this country, there’s an obvious solution—popular vote conducted by the ranked choice system—but like all of those other stupid problems, we’re incapable of making the change. To be handcuffed by broken tradition…what better sign that you live in a failing empire?
Third, and most important, we have the people. In a sane country, there would be more than a slim majority hearing alarm bells as one of the most heartless, self-centered men to ever hold power in this nation goes to great lengths to tear us apart. It’s been a horrifying shitshow from the start, but the Republican convention this week distilled everything to its essence: This is a cult of personality, a cult of grievance, a cult of defiant psychopaths who don’t care about the truth, who have no connection to history or the American experiment, and whose foremost enemies, as they perceive it, are their fellow citizens.
They are unhinged lunatics, and they are completely dangerous. They’ve been brainwashed by the likes of Fox News and the other apparatchiks of the churning anger machine that is the cultural cold-but-getting-hotter war, and on an abstract level you can feel sorry for them, but don’t forget what the end result of their fealty to Trump will be. It’s the end of the last federal protections for anyone besides the super-wealthy, the green light for whatever versions of fascism we can concoct here, and the continued hyper-polarization of the American public that can only result in some form of societal collapse. You can throw racism and bigotry in there, but the imagined enemies here are manifold, and aren’t limited to non-whites.
Flanking these lunatics are the Decent Folks that you and I all know, who may not be dyed-in-the-wool hooting Trumpsters, but who support the Republican agenda and have largely been coerced by the media into believing that even somebody like Joe Biden represents a fringe leftist agenda that wants to tax them into the poor home and give their property to immigrants and sex offenders. I exaggerate, but not by much; they might find Trump impolite, or crass, and at some level it might create friction with their deeply held religious beliefs, but neither Christianity nor decorum will stop them from pulling the lever. Whether they care the most about taxes, or if they look at the social changes around them and feel a sense of panic, they’re in his corner too.
The issue is, there are a lot of them. It’s hard for me to imagine how anyone could watch the convention this week and not be appalled at the state of the party under Trump, but it’s been hard to imagine a lot of what we’ve seen in the past four years, and it’s time to acknowledge that for an enormous subset of our voting population, we’ve gone speeding past political accountability and into a shadow region where anything can be rationalized. Where the team—captained by its faultless leader—matters more than ethics, or duty, or the future of the country. They’re beyond answering criticism with anything but a cry of how it’s worse on the other side. I’ve used this word before, but we’re witnessing the product of successful brainwashing on a national scale.
At The National Review, David Harsanyi has pointed out that Biden is currently faring worse in battleground states than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Nate Silver gives Trump a one-in-three chance to win. Other recent polls support this narrative of a tightening race. With riots spreading in places like Wisconsin, and attracting national attention, those numbers could get worse.
I’m not a pundit, and I won’t tell you this spells doom for Biden, but it cements the point: Biden and Trump are close. With so much hanging in the balance, that fact alone is a condemnation. The mania has taken hold; it’s not a temporary state of affairs, or a fever that will break. To survive this, to get Trump out of office, is going to take a tooth-and-nail effort against systemic disadvantages, and it’s going to be harder than many want to believe. But the fact that it’s hard at all might be a disaster that even an election can’t fix.