Here’s hoping that by the next time you see my name here, the results of 2020’s Election from Hell will be clear.
We will know if America has listened to its better angels and dispensed forever with this wretched president and his scabrous brood of grimy little thieves and grifters. We will know if America looked at this election as a referendum on the man whose mishandling of COVID killed nearly 250,000 of their fellow citizens through his uniquely toxic combination of ego, deception, stupidity, and political ambition.
More than anything, we will know what kind of people we want to be, and what kind of a society we’ve decided to live in—a democratic republic with a functioning constitutional government or a Trump monarchy beginning in earnest. No, I’m not exaggerating. There is a growing corpus of Trumpish pseudo-intellectualism shoving the old Republican party toward the notion of an all-powerful executive. If you ask the average Trump voter at the grassroots, they’d happily be governed by the dynasty forever.
We will know what kind of role models our children will see for a generation to come. We will understand if we value substance over showmanship and if we prefer competence to clownishness. We’ll have decided if the power of government and the “Justice” Department will be used against the president’s political opponents.
This is the moment of maximum stress for America, and nerves are frayed well beyond the breaking point. No one will sleep much in the next 48 hours. (In the words of the political philosopher John McClane, “Welcome to the party, pal.”) Early, mail, and absentee votes have come in a torrent, blowing past all prior records. Election day in-person turnout is modeled to also be at levels unimaginable in prior years.
For all of the metrics, polling, voter file analysis, psychographic models, and early voting data that people like my pirates at the Lincoln Project grind through every day, too many people live with a constant replay of 2016 in their minds. This leads to the same questions, over and over:
What if the polls are wrong?
What if Trump wins?
What if the worst happens?
What if enough people in the swing states crave four more years with the avatar of their grievances and hatred in the Oval Office and Trump is re-elected?
What if there really is a massive tranche of shy Trump voters—as utterly oxymoronic as that sounds—hiding out there in the polling?
I find this scenario unlikely. Oscar Wilde's lover once described homosexuality in Victorian England as “the love that dare not speak its name.” In today’s America, support for Trump is the love that just won’t shut its fucking mouth. In more precise terms, the statistical maximum for 55-plus non-college white dudes is a known number, and whether Trump can move the unlikely voter cohort in the group is a mystery wrapped in an enigma.
We simply don’t know if there are enough of them to deliver for him on election day in the key Electoral College swing states. Most of the math says no, but the fierce, ardent religion of Trump Devotion is a potent poison. Stop trying to parse it intellectually; there’s no policy, no idealism, and no ideology behind their love. It is the pure, mindless devotion of the cult. We underestimate their religious fervor for their god at our peril.
The most chilling question of all is this: What if Trump declares victory early, regardless of whether he won or lost?
We know what happens then: Fox follows his lead at once. The Trump-right media’s propaganda organs kick into high gear, blasting the joyous news to the eager horde. On Facebook, pro-Trump amplifier system of a million bad ideas, the message will be shared by everyone’s crazy uncle, and the madhouse conspiracy machines of QAnon, Alex Jones, Breitbart, Gateway Pundit, et al. will begin their work of re-educating the Republican masses.
Their legions of flying-monkey lawyers will descend everywhere in an attempt to invalidate votes, disqualify voters, and discredit the last real election we’ll ever have if they succeed. Trump is a gambler, a day-trader. He’ll bet that he can declare himself the winner and get away with it.
Joe Biden’s campaign and every one of his allies should learn a lesson that Republican veterans of the 2000 recount know well: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever concede defeat until the last dog in the fight dies. Never. If votes are still out when Trump declares himself the false winner, the answer is simple: “Fuck you. Keep counting.”
“But Fox declared…”
“Fuck you. Keep counting.”
It’s going to be a long day, a long night, and a long fight ahead. Trump must go, and in the years to follow, so must the pernicious doctrines of nationalist statism and authoritarianism that rest at Trumpism’s rotten core. That fight will stretch for years, as it is part of a global rescission of democratic values around the world.
There’s only one fix, and it’s the one that’s been beaten into your heads for months now: Get out and vote if you haven’t already. Make a plan. Bring water. Bring a lawn chair. Bring a battery for your phone. The lines will be long. The day will stretch as you wait, but the wait will be worth more than you can imagine. For every moment you’re tempted to say it’s too much and head home, I hope you’ll be strengthened by the knowledge that Trump is on the verge of either a humiliating defeat or a victory that will destroy this nation.
If your spirit flags in the last 48 hours of this march, I want you to remember a mantra that has given me comfort these many months: “We will vote. He will lose. He will leave.”
Make it happen. The stakes are too high to do anything less.