We are almost at the end of a four year political stretch that has been akin to a roller coaster ride during an earthquake while a gigantic asteroid simultaneously impacts the planet earth—wild and crazy, to say the least. Election Day is certain to offer new lessons in anger, outrage, regret, misery, joy, and every other emotion sandwiched between. I have read that police departments around the nation are bracing for violence and protests during and after our votes are cast; this is a smart but unbelievably sad and scary precaution.
Four years ago I made a prediction on this blog that I was told was sheer craziness: I believed that Donald Trump would win. I thought he had the advantage because he was the ultimate outsider running against the consummate Washington insider, so he could present himself as the best hope for reform. Whether he has delivered what his voters expected—and whether they are ready for more—is a riddle that pollsters and pundits claim to have already cracked (“He’s toast!”), but all we know for now is that no one really knows.
Four years ago Mr. Trump played the media like a fiddle, keeping himself front and center while whipping up a wicked anger against his many opponents. His 2016 victory was a textbook example of a political guerrilla insurgency that stunned the comfortable elites and brought a sharp-elbowed and disrespectful tone to every facet of our national dialogue as the “Resistance” mobilized to cripple his Presidency. The pre-election polling this year almost seems like, as the inimitable Yogi Berra once observed in a different time and circumstance, a case of “déjà vu all over again” in terms of predicting a crushing defeat for President Trump.
To presume that pollsters have a clue, particularly after the mistake of presuming “President Hillary Clinton” was a lock for a landslide victory, may be simply repeating the many, many, many premature predictions of Donald Trump’s political demise that have haunted the elite opinion makers during his Presidency. Given his propensity for making the conventional wisdom of the conventional experts seem unconventionally foolish, it would be unwise to bet against his incredible skills at escape and survival this time around. Donald Trump has spent the last four years lashing out at his opponents with all the vigor and indelicacy one would expect of any born, bred, and bombastic New Yorker, never surrendering an inch to his equally implacable enemies, which has turned our nation into a toxic brew of insults, unsubstantiated charges, and the vilest possible hatreds of one another.
So what can we expect next?
This time around you can, as the Great Yogi pointed out, “observe a lot by just watching”. The enthusiasm gap between boisterous Trump supporters lining roads or filling airport tarmacs and Joe Biden’s carefully curated appearances in front of friendly scripted groups led along by even more friendly scripted reporters provides a ready contrast between the organic and the manufactured. Perhaps this will not translate into votes, but it is difficult to believe that it will not. Like so much of our world today, the old rules of political campaigns might be meaningless, but I will continue to bet on exuberant screams over polite applause.
The supporters of Mr. Biden rely on appeals to fear to rouse their supporters that seem awfully short on any specifics—beyond promising voters that he is not Donald Trump. This is exactly the same rhetorical trap that Hillary Clinton stepped into 4 years ago, a campaign short on promises but long on lashing out at her opponent’s supporters, the “basketful of deplorables” that she assiduously alienated in key states like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. It’s a little eerie to see the same dynamic again, and I know I am not the first to observe this. If you don’t provide a persuasive reason for voters to support you, all that is left is another Yogi Berra pearl of wisdom to describe your failure: “You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you.”
Americans will, of course, not actually know how this will play out until the Election Day voting first fires up—and possibly not even for days beyond that. The heavy reliance on mail-in ballots this year is going to mean long nights for countless Election Judges squinting at paper ballots in order to discern the intentions of voters—all while the craziest possible rumors ricochet around our nation and rub our nerves raw. Woe to any candidate in a close race.
This difficult and protracted dynamic will play out in every federal, state, and local election under a hot glare of suspicion unlike any we have seen before. Conspiracy theories spread on social media and cable news broadcasts by deeply partisan “journalists” will only further delegitimize whatever results are eventually certified and provide fuel for the never ending anger of voters whose preferred candidates did not win. Democracy will despair under a cloud of the deepest and darkest distrust.
My election prediction (for whatever it is worth) is this: Donald Trump will win the Presidency again, but the down ballot results will be a jumble that will leave us with governance that is divided and, to be frank, at odds with itself. The obvious downside is that we are going to face ever more divisive partisan conversations while the processes of democracy stumble toward a consensus.
We will, in addition, continue to see individual states diverge from one another as federal powers wane in the face of implacable opposition to national solutions. Therefore, policies regarding immigration, abortion, taxes, social services, education, and a host of other issues are likely going to vary wildly depending on zip code.
Another Yogi-ism might best sum up the future that lies ahead for America: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” The differences that exist—culturally, politically, racially, religiously, socially, and economically—between Americans seems incomprehensibly large at the present time. Our daily disagreements play out in uncountable ways, and the middle ground on any issue is often microscopic at best.
Divergent opinions are naturally to be expected in a nation as heterogeneous as America, but recently our heterogeneity has mutated into abject polarization that harms us all. Our nation has, if one is to be honest, always been filled with struggle and strife as individuals and groups claw for wealth and power however they can, but our differences are now exaggerated by provocateurs both inside and outside government who foment dissent both to grab power and line their own pockets. While a small but insane minority is interested in armed revolt, most Americans prefer wars where the weapons are restricted to words.
We may come apart, but I believe—or simply prefer to believe— that sheer weariness will prompt us to coalesce around some compromise that allows everyone except for the most incredibly disaffected to declare victory before withdrawing to lick their wounds. An exhausted moderation might be the magic that yanks us back from the abyss. We’ll know more in a few weeks, a few months more, and several years thereafter.
And remember one final, stupendously wise bit of wisdom from Mr. Berra: “It ain’t over ’till it’s over.” This was never more true than it is this troubled year.