There are three possible reactions to a Trump victory, I think, at least from those of us who badly want him to lose. The first, and undoubtedly the one I’ll choose as a person approaching 40 with a family, is to simply breathe a heavy sigh, let your anxiety spin out of control for a few days, and give up on the idea of America as a place that can be rescued from its headlong fall into the arms of anger and paranoia and delusion and basic tribal bigotry. It’s the point at which you realize the inmates run the asylum, there can be no coming back, and you choose to go on living life in the hope that the remnants of democracy and society keep the worst effects of it from slouching toward your doorstep.
The second option is feckless mass demonstrations, of the pussy hat variety, that make people feel good but have no practical effect because the people in charge only respect power and could care less what the people want. And even in terms of empowerment, or the vague sense of it, it’s all diminishing returns this time around, since we’ll know for sure that it made no difference the first go-around. Lowercase r “resistance” will feel about as empty as making a wish.
The third option is street violence, and that will look especially appealing in the likely case that a Trump victory comes with a stolen election. It doesn’t take a genius to know how this one plays out—images of kids in hoodies throwing molotov cocktails on your TV screen, militia types riding into cities to “safeguard” private property, suburbanites getting scared, and a newly re-elected Trump using it as justification for more intense crackdowns.
And we’ll watch it all go down over the ensuing years in Congress, the hollow fights, the endless defeats for Democrats, useless craven dinosaurs like Dianne Feinstein complimenting subhuman lickspittles like Lindsey Graham and whatever latest cultist Trump foists onto the Supreme Court.
Well, you get the picture. Total spiritual defeat, meaningless displays of hollow protest, or ugly counter-productive violence. Those are the futures that await us if Trump can pull off another win on Nov. 3, and while the title of this post seemed hyperbolic to me when I first thought about it, now it practically seems understated. The potential combination of all these sad, scary reactions…well, what does it mean, if not the fundamental end of belief in the concept of America? You can say that America was never great in response to the MAGA cheer-heads, but at least it was held together by some measure of group identity and, if not the “shared purpose” of political speeches, at least the shared goal of maintaining some societal legitimacy. A country without belief in itself forfeits this luxury, and from there it’s a short ride to some version of collapse.
We’re hanging by a thread here, and though Joe Biden is almost nobody’s idea of a perfect (or even good) candidate, for him to lose plunges into darkness. Needless to say, it’s going to be even worse in the likely case that a Trump victory itself looks illegitimate. Republicans have been in open “steal the vote” mode for years, and now that they’ve fast-tracked Amy Coney Barrett onto the Supreme Court, they’re poised to decide several pending cases in swing states in favor of vote suppression, not to mention anything that comes up after the election. It’s a foregone conclusion that Biden will win the popular vote and Trump will lose it, again, but even in the case of Trump winning the electoral college under those circumstances, the closest states may hinge on legal and judicial maneuvers that Trump’s people have been coordinating for months and years. Imagine a Trump “victory” in which he didn’t even really win by the skewed rules of the electoral college—one in which he lost the popular vote and also stole a key state or two.
From the Republican perspective, they see this as a last-ditch effort. The writing is very much on the wall for the party as a whole, and its underlying hyper-capitalist ideology. The last three national elections have been a strong response to the 2016 Trump victory, and even as his approval rating has remained more or less steady, the fact that he sits in the oval office has mobilized the opposition to the extent that he’s been handed successive defeats by voters. If you believe the polls—and you can be forgiven if you’re a bit leery this time around—it’s going to happen again. With their base skewing older, and younger people leaning progressive, it’s easy to imagine their power waning over time, and the Trump presidency being a last hurrah. If that’s the case, they want to get their money’s worth. He’s already been able to place three Supreme Court justices, and if you don’t believe that’s important, believe Mitch McConnell, who wasn’t even trying to hide it anymore during the Amy Coney-Barrett debacle: “We made an important contribution to the future of this country. A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
There you have it. Make hay while the sun shines is the GOP modus operandi now, and viewed from that angle, why wouldn’t they try everything in their power to steal this election? If it’s all going to come collapsing down soon, there’s no reason to play by the rules, and no future retribution to fear. They’re ready for a knock-down, drag-out fight, and if you think there’s a limit to the depths they’ll descend to, you’ve got another thing coming. Regardless of how the political future of this country plays out, they’re already seeing 2020 as a last stand, and they’ll do anything to win the election, including an outright theft. And if it happens, the strife of the past four years will seem like model U.N. compared to what’s coming.
And of course the practical effects of a Trump victory merit mention. We’ll go nowhere on climate change, first and most pressingly. The new Supreme Court is likely to strike down the Affordable Care Act, to be replaced by nothing. Forget the social safety net, forget police reform, forget any immigration policy that isn’t dreamed up in Stephen Miller’s cruelest fantasies, forget curbing the white nationalist movements, forget ending the mad sprint to wild wealth inequality. It’s four more years of hell at a time when we can’t afford it.
This country, as far as I can tell, had almost exactly enough energy to tolerate and resist four years of a Trump administration. Every ounce of forbearance has been held in place by the knowledge that on Nov. 3, 2020, there would be a chance to turn it around. If that chance comes and goes, and the same man sits in the same office, there is no dam strong enough to hold back the torrents of rage, of despair, of collapse. One election, on one day, is all that stands between America and the spiral.