On the Edge of a Knife – The Election of 2020 (so far)

The Vote And Voting Problems, Pre-Election Day 2020 | FiveThirtyEight

As I write this, at 8:32 AM Central Standard Time in the United States, the election is still ongoing, with 69,542,451 votes for Biden and 67,087,070 votes for Trump. Yet at 2:30 AM this morning, Trump made a statement against the mail-in voting process yet again, threatening the use of the Supreme Court to stop counting the votes in order to declare himself the winner.

This would not necessarily be unheard of in American history, where in 2000, in an infamous recounting event in Florida, the Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Gore to stop recounting due to what the court saw as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

It was likely to be a problem either way. Either Bush was going to lose by a hair’s breath, in a time when Democrats have won the popular vote since 1992 (2004 being Bush’s subsequent election exception). In each of the elections after that, the Democrats have had either a narrow or wide popular lead, which means that many votes counted would likely have favored Gore (though it was no guarantee).

No one could have predicted the September 11th attacks, or the war in Iraq and Afghanistan that, though a clearly sordid ordeal in U.S. History, brought the country together in a solidarity unseen in some decades. Instead, in 2000, there was a fear that Bush would have a difficult presidency if it felt illegitimate.

But using the Supreme Court to prevent the democratic process from taking its course was also an ugly decision, as for now until forever, the country is unsure if the sitting president in fact has the total votes required for popular majority and for the electoral college win threshold.

Now it seems we are poised to enter another such measure, and we’re in for a long amount of American in-fighting over the final counted votes. Georgia still has 4% of its votes, Michigan has 6% left, and has quickly surpassed the gap to Trump. It is unlikely that Pennsylvania will pull back to Biden, even if only 64% of the votes have been counted so far, he is still short by 600,000. Nevada, a blue state in 2016, is likely to remain that way. But either candidate needs 270 electoral votes to take the cake. So strap yourselves in.

How Was It This Close At All?

There is still some question on why it had to be this close of a race at all.

1932 United States presidential election - Wikipedia
1932 Presidential Election Results

In another moment of economic downturn, such as the 1932 election in the wake of the Great Depression, the country made an almost unitary effort to dethrone Herbert Hoover. How was this race so blindingly close? Even with a raging coronavirus, high unemployment, not to mention a year of intense hurricanes and wildfires, how did we get here?

On the one hand, Donald Trump was an incumbent, and in American history, there have only been 10 such occasions, of the 45 presidents who have served, who have failed to win a second term. The first was President John Adams in our second election, the most recent was George H.W. Bush in 1992. Which means that we’ve gone 28 years without a president winning a second term. Even in the midst of a virus, it was going to be difficult to uproot a president.

And the results have been shockingly close to what occurred in 2016. The biggest flip has been Arizona, where it seems Donald Trump’s harsh comments on the grave of Senator John McCain was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Another point to mention is that, despite the coronavirus making television broadcasts like no other as we enter what is likely to be a very painful and deadly second wave, the amount of cases stands as of November 4th as 9.4 million. That is not even 3% of the country. I myself am capable of envisioning the amount of death that 230,000 people implies, if the open graves in New York were not enough.

And apparently they were not.

People still voted for Donald Trump regardless of the many reports of the virus being downplayed, and for a haphazard federal response amounting to going 40 days without a reliable test, which turned out to be the most consequential mistake. Unfortunately, voting seems to be a more intuitive guessing game with people looking at their own immediate surroundings. And the truth is that, even in a pandemic, achieving herd immunity for a virus takes a long time, not to mention that our measures to protect ourselves from the virus – using our own social distancing measures – may have made the president look good, despite his dismissal of mask wearing and suggesting we shove disinfectant into our orifices.

People still voted for Trump despite his desire to interrupt the Democratic process, for months, even publicly on television in the first debate with Joe Biden. Trump has used the presidency to discredit the electoral process. Yet even with all these statements, almost half of the country was willing to vote their ability to vote away. As Timothy Snyder writes in On Tyranny, few people, when they vote, believe they are voting for the final time. It is shocking to me that his repeated statements on ending democracy in the United States, and refusing to step down if he loses, would be grounds to vote for him anyway.

Even in a world where Biden wins, which is certainly more possible even as I write this, we still must contend with a strange voting base that is unapologetic. While Michigan and Wisconsin are turning the table for votes in the midst of a virus, North and South Dakota, two states with a higher density of virus cases than the entire world, voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. The denial here is eerie. Ostensibly, it means that we as a country were willing to make sacrifices on our health in order to stay normal, whatever that means in 2020. We were willing to let old people die in order to keep our society running in its broken state. Even now, with several months of transitioning to go until Biden could assume office, they are likely to be some of the worst months of the coronavirus. With families gathering for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, I shudder to imagine what a lack of testing means, as those who assume they do not have the virus are actually asymptomatic carriers. And with 45 of the 50 states above a threshold of 10 per 100,000 for infections, contact tracing has been all but impossible. It is unlikely that Donald Trump, in his perhaps short time left in running the country, has any intention of getting a handle on the virus’s spread. And with split power in the Republican held Senate and the Democratic House, it may prove difficult to provide aid to schools and businesses, which has been a sort of embarrassment of federal rule all its own.

The Future

What explains our democratic diet in the United States? Michael Sandel, Harvard Professor, has discussed the “tyranny of meritocracy” and how it disproportionately affects those without a college degree here in the United States. Those men in our country without a college degree split rather cleanly in voting for Trump compared to those with a four-year college diploma. Our inability to sympathize with our poor and uneducated and unemployed has been shameful for some time, as I have seen teaching young boys in Title I (impoverished) school districts. Many of these boys feel hopeless, dejected, and they have little guidance except the kind that video games provide.

But what is strange is how voting for Donald Trump seems to be, to them, the correct decision. It is hard to blame them, as the Clinton administration winked to American workers but behind its back actively sought to globalize with measures like the North American Free Trade Agreement, leaving our manufacturing centers gutted without any recourse in re-education and retraining. And with exponentially rising tuition costs for college, young men are between a rock and a hard place.

Another possibility has been a populist movement that exists just as starkly in Europe. In the United States, foreign-born populations have been increasing steadily since 1990, perhaps as the beginnings of global capitalism rendered unstable several surrounding countries and their industries. While immigration has unique benefits to an economy, it seems, much like the early 1900s, that too much immigration too fast leads to a xenophobic backlash, which has been the case in countries like the United Kingdom, going so far as to lead to a successful Brexit vote to leave the European Union.

We seem poised to create plenty of change for the United States, but the change required will be painful, as it will require spending to update our infrastructure, to update to renewable energy, to provide aid to those unemployed by a pandemic, and to pay schools and businesses to continue working under strenuous conditions. The definition of reality, I thought, was “something that a person could no longer ignore.” What I had not counted on, in the years since social media’s introduction, was that people were more than willing to create their own reality. And as a result, it makes denial that much more easier than acceptance.

Even if Joe Biden wins, we still have a long road ahead of us.

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