The pessimist reads about a bipartisan trend toward acceptance of violence if their side loses and plans for a bloody season. A pessimist hears Anthony S. Fauci say that we’ll see no “semblances of normalcy” until 2022, and sinks into despair. A pessimist expects President Trump will do everything in his power to ruin a peaceful transition of power, should Democratic nominee Joe Biden win.
All of these outcomes are possible to varying degrees. But it seems just as likely that if we assume these doomsday scenarios are inevitable, we unconsciously contribute to their greater likelihood. In the same way that markets rise and fall in response to emotional or psychological cues, political behavior fluctuates in response to our hopes and fears.
Face it: We’ve spent the past four years looking at a man who never smiles. Who wouldn’t be depressed? Like an unloved baby, we’ve become a nation that’s failing to thrive.
As a non-pessimist, I take a slightly different view of what is inevitable. Free will, people. Some of the folks who make the predictions and organize the surveys often have a point they want to make and then go find the evidence to prove their hunches. Even the most dreadful scenarios are often qualified with qualifying modifiers that suggest the possibility of an entirely different result: If current trends continue . . . then, take your pick: Thousands will die, cities will burn, Trump will create foreign entanglements to snare his successor, or what have you.
But let’s assume that current trends don’t continue. Let’s pretend for a moment that we’re a nation of strong, rational, reasonably informed folks who understand that our democratic republic is only as functional as we are. That is, we’re in charge of what does or doesn’t happen.
Obviously, we all need to be current on covid-19 statistics and trends, such as encouraging people to (religiously) wear masks, socially distance and avoid situations where contagion is more likely. This isn’t hard.
We all need to vote. Again, not hard, though it is getting late.
Perhaps of greatest concern is the specter of post-election violence, regardless of who wins, but this fear is probably overblown.
A recent Politico opinion piece, whose authors combined separate data sets, found that roughly 1 in 5 Americans who identify as Democrat or Republican believe either “a lot” or “a great deal” that violence is justified if the other side wins the presidency. That figure, however astonishing, has actually remained mostly flat for the past year, the authors go on to note. The most interesting takeaway is that extremists on both sides of the spectrum apparently feel this way. The broad middle does not.
If both sides think that the other is planning to steal the presidency, it may owe something to Trump’s frequent allegations that the electoral system is corrupt or that mail-in ballots can’t be trusted. Democrats are equally distrustful of Trump’s familiar lack of impulse control and his authoritarian tendencies. This lack of faith is further aggravated by fears about what a defeated Trump might do during the lengthy span of time between Election Day and Inauguration Day. Mischief by the departing tenant, especially in foreign policy, isn’t unprecedented, but Trump’s norm-busting habits ratchet up the possibilities.
On the other hand, Americans have the option of taking good care of their country, of signaling to each other that violence is stupid and won’t be tolerated, as Biden has said, and that covid-19 won’t have the last word. Leadership is needed, surely, but each of us is the leader of his or her own life. Vote the bastards in or out, but let’s not sink our own ship.
So, cheer up. Take a deep breath. Smile when you answer the phone. And, as I used to say to my young son whenever he walked out the door: Remember who you are. Besides, what’s more fun than proving the pollsters wrong?