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Entry 6: In the Political Circus, Does Democracy Die on the Tightrope, or in the Clown Car?

Updated: Oct 30, 2020

I know there are a lot of jokes about what we're all going to do on November 3rd. I know people stocking up on toilet paper (again? really?) and buying Alex Jones' Tactical Bath for their bunkers, figuring out their assets and buying the liquor store out of cheap vodka. 2020 is the year that all Americans got interested in politics - and if you didn't, well, I fear for your lack of empathy.

I'm no different than the average liberal Jewish intellectual weather-controlling, Proust-reading academic, and since 2012, I've been half-in, half-out of my upper middle class white bubble, enduring some anti-Semitism from time to time, half-heartedly attending a protest here or there, and donating to various charities every year, but doing little else. Until this year, when everything with a screen on it is flashing the words "IMPENDING CIVIL WAR" like a neon strip club sign. So, after much resistance, anger, sadness, grieving, more anger, more resistance, and yes, more anger, I decided I'd use my noodle, and get educated on the end of democracy, or whatever this is. It's been a really long, trying, and excruciating journey, but it's taught me almost as much about myself as my now four-times a week analysis (I wonder why I need that!).

In my new political age of enlightenment, I've begun to find different ways to stay educated in the right ways. I've been trying to stay off Facebook a bit more than usual, because short of a few really sweet fellow Mensa members and one of my best friend's daily posts about Halloween, it's really just a cesspool of extremism and misinformation. I'd rather focus on serious discussions about voting with my family and friends, which I did nearly ad nauseam over the summer with my hippie mother and my "Jeffersonian Democrat" father. We wrote postcards to unregistered voters of color in swing states, and had a lot of spirited debates about everything from looting during protests to re-opening schools during the pandemic. I've also been experimenting with reading articles about US history, and watching a lot of John Oliver, whose quarantine format I've learned to absolutely adore, without that horrendous late-night laugh track drowning out his poignant and well-researched arguments. I've tried to take it upon myself to forget the intense, emotion-provoking sentiments that so many of us are exposed to so often, and instead, learn about where we are, how we got here, and what we can do after the election to keep momentum going without panicking.

Seeing as I'm sure most of you are up on the where we are and how we got here stuff, I'd like to posit my two cents on where we're going. However I'm just a US history amateur, and have only recently taken it upon myself to become a thoroughly mindful citizen. I'm probably not saying anything the well-read among us don't already know. So rather than feign knowledge in an area I'm just beginning to research, I'm just going to attempt what I know would be the most useful - using the knowledge that I have to both teach, and reassure my fellow Americans that it'll all be okay. Regardless as to what it feels like, or what people might be saying, it's usually all okay.

Like most people, I'm expecting the following chronology. If you see something underlined, click on it - it's a link to an article citing my sources, by authors much more politically experienced than I:

  1. A bajillion people (figuratively) will vote for the country's new grandpa, Joe Biden. Most of them by mail, which in some states, has already happened. Trump voters, who care less about the, in the words of the imminent Borat, "wuhan flu" will vote in person (as an aside, please go watch the new Borat movie; it's a cultural touchstone). There will be more exposure around violence and disruption in the polls (and on the streets) than usual due to the prevalence of cell-phone video recordings; probably more provocations from people in MAGA hats, and less "how many beans are in the jar" tests like the old days. Honestly, it'll probably just be a hyperbolized version of voter intimidation of yore. But people will start to get really antsy.

  2. Unfortunately, many states begin to count their mail-in votes on Election Day proper - and with a really, really wacked out amount of votes expected, so it could be a while before they're completely tallied. Could be a month. Could be longer, depending on how many votes, and how many issues there are with counting.

  3. Consequently, the in-person votes on Election Day will be for Trump - see above source about percentage of in-person Trump voters, or just look at this Pew Poll (and if I'm wrong here, that would be dope, but it's what most of us are expecting). This is because the majority of Biden's votes won't yet be counted.

  4. Election night: the country will be watching (and probably also drinking, or already drunk). This is where right-wingers and Trump will announce their victory. Some media outlets will also announce Trump's victory, because you shouldn't put it past the media to lie about election results.

  5. Left wing news stations will be like, "uh, guys? Remember all the mail-in ballots?", but I anticipate they'll say it in a much more shrill, panicked, frantic tone - all but the legendary Erroll Louis of NY1, who is the best, most even-keeled political reporter of all time. The media on both sides will ramp-up to the final vote countdown like it's Dick Clark's Rockin' Inauguration Day Countdown. Reporters and journalists will be terrified, because they're as human as the citizens they cater to, and corporate amalgamates will seek to take advantage of our collective panic. We'll see headlines like "TRUMP IS GOING TO BE THE DICTATOR FOR LIFE" or "WE'RE ALL FUCKED! READ THIS ARTICLE TO GET EVEN MORE SCARED". And yeah, people will get scared.

  6. However long after, stuttering blue-collar empath Joe Biden will be solidified as the winner, despite what will most certainly be, judging on a historical basis, a lot of Republican meddling (and guys, that's not nearly the tip of the iceberg - just go to the voter suppression Wikipedia page, for God's sakes). By then, Trump will claim the results are fake, and he really did win. Honestly, I think there's only a slim chance he'll formally contest the election; he'll probably just send out a bunch of pouty tweets. The news media, social media, and any other media you can think of will completely explode, and everyone will run around like chickens with their heads cut off, taking his asinine internet bullshit to an all-too serious degree, as per usual (not to overdo it with the Wikipedia references, but Trump's Twitter is a literal phenomenon). Tucker Carlson and the guy from Mad Money will start a furious joint tirade that ends in passionate kissing, poor Rachel Maddow will mount herself on a cross for millions of spectators to behold, and TV executives will throw a big Epstein-style party celebrating their astronomical ratings. Suicide rates may increase. Substance abuse rates may increase. People won't do well.

  7. If our spray-tanned incumbent really does contest the election, there are a couple things that could happen. We could have another Rutherford B. Hayes/Samuel Tilden situation, which back then went something like, "Alright, alright, we win, but we'll concede something because we're good sports. Here, take the entire South. No, no, it's cool. Just do whatever you want with it." I seriously doubt we'll be giving Trump a few states to play with, but I do think that a compromise might work to appease his narcissism, especially if it was financially motivated. This seems like the most plausible to me, and though I may be naive in thinking that there would be a compromise, I think that in this case, greed and ego would win out.

  8. The next option swirling around is that of a contested election, and a Supreme Court vote. Amy Conehead-Barrett's confirmation as the next Supreme Court Justice solidifies their voting in Trump's favor were a vote to take place. But it'll be hard to argue that Biden's anticipated popular vote landslide will be completely invalid (and yes, early forecasts even say he's cleaning house in the electoral college!) and given the Bush/Gore fiasco, it'll be an impossible sell for the lawyers involved that this could be an impartial hearing. For all you young readers out there - yeah, this happened. Pour one out for Al Gore, and his [supposed] 537 vote loss. Oh, yeah, and I forgot to mention - this will also be a complete media shit show, and according to everyone but the gravely somber-yet-supportive Nike and Facebook commercials, evil will win out, and no matter what, democracy will die in this election - because it's unprecedented, they'd say! Because nothing like this has ever happened before! Are we sensing a theme?

  9. And the grand finale: after all is said and done, after we all panic until we can't panic anymore, Joe Generic-Middle-Name Biden will be inaugurated as our next very boring, very milquetoast, very Pennsylvania president on January 20th. Everything will be fine. Fox and CNN's ratings will plummet as people go back to watching The Great British Bake Off instead of "WHEN WILL DEMOCRACY DIE? THE 24-HOUR SPECIAL WHERE WE TAKE NO BREAKS AND SCREECH UNTIL WE FAINT", and every late-night talk-show host will become a depressed alcoholic without their golden goose of weekly Trump material.

Anyway, if you jump back to the beginning, my theory is that it's going eventually be fine. It'll be a long-anxiety provoking road until it's fine, but eventually, it'll be fine. Contrary to what everyone is saying, stuff like this has happened before; maybe not in this exact way, in this exact permutation, but we've had strife, and unrest, hell, even pandemics. The pendulum sometimes swings to the chaos side, and sometimes swings to the slightly less chaos side. But it never goes one way, and stays that way.

I would say that's what I've learned from becoming more civic-minded - both about myself, and about the world. When you don't know a lot about something, it can seem scary, and intimidating, and petrifying. It leaves room only for emotion to overtake reason, and for a false sense of apathy to manifest as a defense against a deep sense of overwhelm. And even if certain policies aren't impacting you at the moment, and you have a steady job, a roof over your head or support for your family, the political realm can be crazy-making, and it's ever the more tempting to pretend the whole idea of government doesn't exist. As it stands, America is ultimately controlled by corporations, by politicians, by Super PACS and by revolutionaries - and if you've been living your life up until this point feeling helpless and useless in the political realm because you feel it's an insurmountable mountain to climb, I don't blame you. There are still days where I hear some corny SNL bit about the dystopia we're living in, and I clamp my hands over my ears and weep. It's an overwhelming time to be alive - and to be surrounded by tremendous, crippling suffering.

But there's solace in the fact that the world has always been like this, and perhaps will always be like this. People will always be greedy, or power-hungry, or cruel or bigoted, especially in politics. But it doesn't take away from the comfort of your favorite show, a kiss from your partner or a smile from your dog. It doesn't even take away from your ability to ingest information, to read, to learn, to be curious and be interested. There are still things in the world that are yours, that politics can't take away from you. Don't let the news, or Instagram, or your crazy aunt Martha tell you that any single political entity is taking your democracy, or your happiness, or your freedom. Because it can't, that's just not the way America was engineered. If things are different now, and this election proves that the billionaires of society can install whoever they want to maintain the power that they're accustom to, I'll stick my foot in my mouth. But seeing the Pete Buttigiegs and the Corey Bookers of the world come out of the woodwork to fight against tyranny within our system gives me a shred of hope that the American people still have a shot of running the show, even if it takes a while for us to regain that momentum.

Fundamentally, this country functions on democracy - where elected representatives speak for the whole population. The whole population meaning you, and I, and everyone else. Which means it starts and ends with you, and with us. If anyone - caustic, manipulative media in the form of fear-mongering articles, talking heads, memes, listicles, reposts or Twitter screenshots - furious red-hatted and red-faced old geezers wailing outside the polls, or your androgynous, overall-wearing anthropology TA lecturing at you about the monstrous unethical weight of post-capitalist political engagement - if anyone, anyone at all wants you to think that democracy is going to die, tell them to fuck right off, because you're an American. You won't let democracy die, because democracy starts and ends with you. Just believe that you matter within the system, and it'll start working for you before you know it, by way of your engagement in it. Don't even sweat it. It's going to be fine.

And if you're going to the liquor store on November 2nd, pick me up a bottle of Titos. It's going to be a long few months.

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