You’ve probably heard a lot in recent weeks about how important this election is. It is contentious, polarizing, omnipresent and chaotic. The stakes are high.
For one: Donald Trump represents the most significant threat to the function of our democracy since perhaps the Civil War. His rhetoric indicating that he may not accept the election result is completely unprecedented. There are scary methods, including the courts, that he may use to retain power at all costs. He will have guaranteed support from an unflappable base and spineless Republicans.
The unrest that could be generated on and after election day is concerning. While a lot of people have already voted by mail, the polls will be active and crowded, and there may be voter intimidation efforts — hence the “stand by and stand back” quote from Trump —with white supremacist terrorist groups potentially active.
We also know that this country has been in a protesting mood the last few months. If Trump wins or the election is in doubt, major streets could be packed. Anti-Trump protests occurred in big numbers after 2016; just imagine what could happen this year, in an even more vitriolic election and in the midst of a major racial reckoning.
Trump winning re-election in the same year as all of these Black Lives Matter protests would be one heck of a paradox. The presence of this man in office, the man who has the support of every police union everywhere and spent years claiming Barack Obama was born in Kenya, was certainly a contributing factor to the BLM protests. Trump’s campaign is based around his opposition to the protests. The RNC denied the existence of systemic racism.
This election reminds of Richard Nixon’s law-and-order campaign in 1968, in the midst of civil rights and anti-war protests. Trump winning would be even worse; it would be like if Barry Goldwater had beaten Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
Johnson, thankfully, won and passed significant civil rights legislation that Goldwater had argued against. Biden is not Lyndon B. Johnson, in case you hadn’t noticed. (That’s part of why this election is depressing.) But Biden winning at least puts a theoretical ally in the White House, someone who will say the words “black lives matter” with sincerity. That is a ridiculously small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
A Trump victory or election uncertainty could spark clashes in the streets. I do not see some organized civil war happening, but I do imagine there will be violence. Remember that the police is on Trump’s side, and is way more likely to commit violence against Black people than white supremacists. Anyone with a brain could have taken that from the summer’s events.
Another part of this election: the, uh, pandemic. If Trump wins, a lot more people are going to die. A lot of people have decided the pandemic doesn’t exist anymore (shoutout Justin Turner). Trump is convinced that he’s immune now that he survived it, and a whole bunch of people are happy to take his survival as evidence that this disease is nothing to worry about, never mind that Trump was hopped up on some Barry Bonds-level steroids to get through it.
Hopefully the vaccine is close on the horizon. But given the Trump Administration’s disastrous efforts at federal cooperation at the beginning of the pandemic, how can we be remotely confident that there will be coherent distribution of a vaccine? In addition, there is a scary amount of morons who will refuse the vaccine.
Four more years of Trump, at this pace, could be disastrous, and I mean disastrous in both the “normal Republican” way and in the “Trump is particularly bad” way. As a Republican, he will take rights from people (Amy Coney Barrett has been confirmed to the Supreme Court) and he will continue to pursue inhumane policies at the border. He will stand in opposition to the reforms that civil rights protestors desire. There is a reason that many people feel legitimate anxiety around the topic of his reelection.
Trump presents a serious challenge to democracy. Most scenarios in which he wins come with him losing the popular vote, which is becoming a Republican tradition. We’d have another minority president. Barrett could wind up delivering a crucial vote in a Supreme Court case that votes on partisan lines to give Trump a win.
It is hard to imagine a Trump concession. This worry, as I’ve said, has never existed before, outside of the first contested elections in American history. Trump has poked at this country’s system for years, and now he is starting to punch at it. There is a possibility, in a tight election, that he will pull out a gun and shoot at it. I don’t think the system has any chance of collapsing in some significant way, but Trump could wrestle power for himself like a dictator, manipulating the systems that are supposed to prevent this. Trump represents the worst fears of all the founders.
As president, given his erratic temperament and general lack of intelligence, there is the enduring possibility that Trump will make some awful decision and create an international controversy. That nearly happened about a decade ago, in January, when he offended a malevolent Iran to the point that everyone joked about World War III. He is not getting calmer with time.
I worry that 2020 isn’t done coming up with terrible things. I think that this year has one last gasp of awfulness to offer. We’ll see if it comes from this immensely important — and generation-defining—election.