2020 Election Liveblog, Part II: But What If…
Despite devoting much of my last post to ridiculing the irrationality of our fears, I’d be lying if I said I never felt it myself, if only for a day or two this week.
Nate Silver framed it best: The more significant the outcome, the more we psychologically inflate low probabilities.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing: Think about all the anti-mask morons that think ONLY 2% is a brilliant rebuttal that makes us look foolish and paranoid; that’s a valid point when the stakes are low, but if the event we’re risking is not only our own death, but the potential deaths of others, 2% is astronomical.
Same with 11%. It can happen.
Which got me going to a very dark place.
What if…he just won?
As I said before, I’m honestly struggling to see a way for Trump to win this without cheating. Yeah, theoretically anybody can lose an election if people just choose to not vote, but probability does not exist in a vacuum. What statisticians call “random chance” isn’t actually random, it’s just a way of saying “there are way too many variables to realistically factor into our model, so we’re going to treat it as though it is actually random.”
Every voter has their own story, and every lost or stolen vote has its own voter. And right now, the entire universe is painting a pretty clear picture about how most people feel about Donald Trump.
But what if he followed through on all his worst threats and, in an act of pure hateful spite, really did proudly steal the election?
Maybe I’m an idiot that’s about to make the same mistake twice, but I’ve never taken much stock in the more paranoid theories of how Trump could hold onto power as anything other than thought experiments.
The way I see it, theories of how Trump could undermine the election broadly fall into two categories:
- Trump loses by a margin too large to overturn with one or two lawsuits, yet continues to claim the election was fraudulent and refuses to accept the results.
- Through some combination of sabotaging the Postal Service, rejecting absentee ballots, and favorable court rulings by loyalist judges, Trump invalidates enough votes to put himself over the top.
The first scenario would be fucking awesome, but it will never happen. It’s pure fantasy. He can bitch and moan on Twitter all he wants, but the second it becomes clear that Biden has won, the gears will already start turning on an orderly transition of power, with or without Trump’s consent. He can be a petty little bitch and refuse to cooperate all he wants, but on January 20th, Joseph Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States and Donald Trump will receive an eviction notice.
Anyone who continues to support Trump as President of the United States in any official context will be committing treason.
So that’s not happening.
The second theory is far more terrifying, because we all know that there is absolutely nothing protecting us from him, that we have no form of recourse and will be branded as “whiners and crybabies” by the proud traitors supporting him.
There would be protests, there would be marches, there would be chaos unlike anything we’ve seen in decades, rioting that would dwarf anything we’d seen this year.
We would make noise.
But then would days pass with nothing changed, no clear endgame for how these protests would lead to Donald Trump or Mitch McConnell suddenly learning the value of democracy.
It wouldn’t matter how blatantly he stole it, what a naked insult it would be to everything this country stands for, because as we saw during Trump’s impeachment and Barret’s confirmation hearings, Republicans have already made it amply clear there’s no American value they won’t betray as long as there are no consequences for them.
Realistically, the only way to fix this problem would be to fundamentally overhaul the entire structure of our government, and this would be a massive undertaking under the best of conditions. But since the fact that millions of citizens were illegally robbed of their right to a voice in our government is what we’d be protesting, it’s absurd to expect any cooperation from the people that just shut us out.
This is what causes riots.
And with every day that passed with Trump still in office, people would grow exhausted, angry, bitter. The protests would gradually die down as people returned to the jobs they’re grateful to still have. As months passed and the midterms drew closer, frustrated activists would shift their focus from “we need a radical overhaul NOW” to “let’s work within the system and use Congress as a check on Trump.”
After the midterms, of course, 2024 would be just around the corner, and our focus would turn towards the next election.
There’s no telling what an empowered God-King Trump would do, knowing that he truly is untouchable. The sole blessing of his first term was that nobody in Trump’s inner circle could pass a high school civics class, so he wasted most of his time and political capital blindly fumbling through the bureaucracy with no real clear goal in mind.
But a Washington staffed with loyalist cronies that actually have law degrees? That is terrifying.
Not just because of what he’d do, although that too would be darker than the blackest night. But because of the catastrophic damage it would do to how we, as Americans, perceive our relationships to our government.
Watergate is often cited as the catalyst for the American people’s disillusionment with our government, the progenitor of the casual cynicism towards the system that we all share. But compared to this, Watergate was proof the system worked. Nixon was caught, impeached, and, facing possible criminal charges, resigned in shame.
Watergate proved America could withstand a shock as serious as having an intelligent criminal at its helm. It showed that while individuals — especially those in power — could be corrupted, our institutions and collective sense of patriotism and duty were powerful enough to overcome the awesome power of the office and hold even the most powerful man on earth accountable for his actions.
Quaint, isn’t it?
Now imagine a totally lawless second Trump term, where 65–70% of the country is sickened by this man, yet is completely powerless to do anything but watch in disgust. Think of the psychological toll that would take on us. Another four years of this shit, but much, much worse.
How could we ever recover from that? How could we go back to normal?
I’m an optimist. I believe that it’s not too late for America to pull itself out of this tailspin and reflect upon these past four years as a scar that will one day fade.
A cool scar, too, one that runs cleanly across the face like Squall in Final Fantasy VIII.
But another term would be a different type of scar, a deep, messy gouge that sprawls in every direction and causes the skin around it to crack and die. Freddy Krueger scarring.
I don’t know how we could ever look at America the same way. It’s like coming home from Colonel Kurtz’s Jungle Of Horrors and buying a cup of Ben and Jerry’s at the gas station.
Normal is no longer normal. Nothing is normal.
What would become of normal, then? The best-case scenario would be that America learns and grows from its collective trauma, vows a serious government overhaul with broad popular support, and holds a Third Constitutional Convention where we all wipe the slate clean, sit down together, and have a calm, rational, adult discussion about how our society needs to be structured.
That will never happen.
Conservatives are too nihilistic, lazy, and easily distracted to do the hard work of reforming a broken government. They’ll just say we’re all betraying the corpses of our Founding Fathers by daring to suggest they were imperfect. (Conveniently, this means they don’t have to put in any work because the thinking has already been done for them, so they can call it a half-day and crack open their 3 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon.)
Nobody will tell them that structuring a society around imaginary conversations with dead bodies is the dumbest fucking idea in the world because we’re so accustomed to it we never bother to point out that dead people are dead.
So we’ll go back to where we started, with a handful of gullible cattle mindlessly parroting the same talking points spoonfed to them by the media, an angry but largely useless activist left that makes a lot of noise but accomplishes nothing, a Republican party consisting of nothing but smug traitors, and Joffrey on the Iron Throne.
Only now Coronavirus has claimed north of 400,000 lives, the economy has cratered, the laws are rewritten to brutalize the poor and lavish the rich, nobody believes in anything, rapists are on the Supreme Court, and life is nasty, brutish, and way too long.
So that’s one possibility.
The other is that America decides it’s had enough and tells these corrupt, useless parasitic pieces of shit to get the fuck out of our house, and every would-be profiteer that planned on sucking the marrow from their country’s bones would spend the rest of their life being hounded by federal investigators and burn through their vast savings frantically hiring teams of high-priced lawyers to get them out of a six-month prison sentence.
And that future is much more likely, because for all our flaws, we are better than that. We are stronger than that. If anyone’s gonna take us down, it’s not gonna be these clowns.