2020: The Most Fateful Election in Our Lifetimes (& Quick Notes on the ’20 Debates)

As discussed in an earlier blog post, where I greatly condensed US history, there are certain realignment elections which change the electoral coalitions of the major parties for decades into the future. Our current electoral map, and the parties’ respective positions, were more or less formulated during the 1968 and 1972 elections. These two cycles represented the culmination of the Democrats’ old “New Deal coalition” breaking down. LBJ signing the Civil Rights act alienated certain white populations in the South, which had previously been a die-hard Democratic stronghold, and allowed the Republicans to appeal to this group via their Southern Strategy. Labor unions, another key group in the Democratic base, were losing their strength. The youth (aka the “New Left”) were anti-war and alienated by LBJ’s escalation of Vietnam. Plenty of middle class conservatives were turned off by the more “out there” social movements going on at the time, like the hippies and protests outside the ’68 DNC, and Nixon’s “law and order” appeals were able to sway their vote.

So why am I reiterating all this? Because, I believe we are witnessing a breakdown of this Sixth Party System with 2016 and 2020. I said many times while observing 2016 that the people are fed up with neoliberalism* and being left out of the unprecedented levels of prosperity the stock market and media pundits keep telling us we’re supposed to be enjoying. They’re sick of hearing about shareholder wealth when their communities are wasting away due to a lack of repairs and investment from the powers that be. They’re tired of seeing their jobs going overseas and told “learn to code” when they express concern. They’re upset that we seemingly have all the money in the world to bail out corporations (twice!) and wage endless wars, but somehow never quite enough to get decent healthcare or fix Flint Michigan’s water crisis.

*ASIDE: Neoliberalism, if you remember, is basically the privatization of previously publicly operated services, free trade, and crony capitalism. It has been the predominant ideology guiding both parties since the ’80s. I’ve seen it used erroneously to refer to socially liberal / “social justice warrior” positions by certain laymen and media outlets alike, so I feel it’s very important to emphasize how I’m using the term.

Trump tapped into that sentiment very well in 2016, as did Bernie albeit less successfully. While the primary narrative of 2020 has been “gotta stop Trump, anybody will do” on the left and “law and order, stop the looting” on the right, these underlying issues with the status quo will remain regardless of who wins this November. They desperately need to be addressed, especially as tensions have been inflamed by the coronavirus and its resultant shutdowns of small businesses, job losses and 210,000 (and counting) death toll. I truly believe our country is on the brink of collapse and we cannot wait another four years with an incompetent and/or ideologically misguided person at the helm.

What Pisses Me Off Most About “Trumpism” is…

Now, I’m not here to reiterate that Trump’s “so offensive,” “so mean” or “so stupid” or whatever other narrative you’ve heard a thousand times already. But all the same, I will tell you that Trump dropped the ball in office, I don’t like him, and he deserves every ounce of scorn he gets. Why? Because he had a golden opportunity with his one-in-a-million win and he blew it. He managed to achieve a true outsider victory against the duopoly: the dream of Teddy Roosevelt, Robert La Follette, John Anderson, Ross Perot and a hundred other great men before him. He could have entered office with a unique mandate to do what needed to be done, regardless of political games, regardless of “giving the other side a win” or “pissing off this company that gives us donations.” He could and should have sat down, as a non-partisan arbiter with the unassailable backing of the common people, and met with the leaders of both parties on day one to say:

“I don’t care whose fault it was, I don’t care what feuds led you both to this gridlock. I’m a reality TV star and the people are so fed up with this shit, so desperate for some kind of change, they chose me over you. Think about that for a second, and consider that if you don’t work with me now, then next time, tensions among the public might be too high for any campaign promises to settle. For the next four years, we are gonna hash out these issues together. I’ve assembled a team of experts who’ve told me what the problems are, how they can be fixed, and I’m willing to work with anybody that has additional input as well as the drive to do what must be done. If this doesn’t work, you can blame it all on me–politics isn’t my career and I’m out in four years. I’m rich, so I don’t care what anyone thinks of me after I retire. But I know all of who have to get elected in a few years, so you can go ahead and use me as the lightning rod should any proposals prove to be unpopular despite their necessity. If this does work though, I’ll make sure everyone who gave me a chance and lent a hand gets credit regardless of party affiliation. You can tell the people you were so embarrassed I kicked your butts in the election that it inspired you all to get off your asses and finally get this shit done. If either side stands in my way due to spiteful partisanship, I will use the bully pulpit and my clout as a neutral, unaffiliated actor in Washington to convince the public that they and they alone are the ones holding back progress. Now, let’s start with the abysmal state of infrastructure…

I truly believe if Trump had been willing to say something along those lines, and mean it, he’d have been celebrated as one of the great heroes of American history regardless of how well things turned out. Everyone would have respected him for injecting a long overdue reality check into the system. It’s something our country desperately needed which only he, as a non-partisan, removed-from-the-system actor could have provided. I believe it had as good of a chance of working then as ever, since many Republicans were desperate to ingratiate themselves to Trump’s base and even some of the Democrats were initially trying to leverage this new status quo to get something done. Trump was a new variable introduced to a system that has been stymied by decades of gridlock–anything was possible.

Unfortunately that’s not what happened, and anyone familiar with Trump’s psychology understands now that things were never going to progress in any other way than they have since he took office. Whether one votes Republican or not, liked his campaign promises or not, thinks acceptance towards transgender people is taking things too far, blames BLM for the rioting and looting…sooner or later we are going to have to accept that Trump hasn’t fixed this country’s deeply rooted problems. The fact is, he got into office with a chip on his shoulder as a result of the fact that so many people did not appreciate his campaign rhetoric. Rather than make the most of the politicians itching to work with him, he lashed out against these people for not being gung-ho supporters from the first. He tweeted about “his enemies,” because he is spiteful against anyone who doesn’t immediately love him. He plays golf all the time because he could care less about the day to day minutia of governing and would rather leave that up to the Republican bigwigs. (Which, in practice, means business as usual.) He’s mishandled the coronavirus from day one because it’s more important for him to project the appearance of success (“no one’s sick! everything’s fine! pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”) than admit the country is unwell and we may have to make some short-term sacrifices for long-term success.

Now, Trump is nowhere near the end-all, be-all source of America’s decline. He is merely the last link in a long line that stretches back from the Southern Strategy, mixing religion with politics via the Moral Majority, the Newt Gingrich era of unprecedented brinkmanship between the parties, the fallout of the Iraq War and misleading the public in the wake of 9/11, lingering resentment over the Wall Street bailouts while Main Street was left to struggle alone, and so on. Nor is he the cause of our cultural malignancy; there too, he is but a symptom of larger problem. Whoever decided we should all be obsessed with celebrities’ lives every second of the day, whoever decided to give equal weight to both sides of every argument even when one is fundamentally misinformed, whoever decided the public can’t handle any discourse more substantial than a 10 second soundbite and whoever decided to treat elections like a reality TV quiz show where you have to describe your entire foreign policy platform in 60 seconds…that asshole is the one who paved the way for Trump. In a certain sense, he is the perfect culmination of all the media’s failings. To put it bluntly, it’s a case of “don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

Nevertheless, Trump is the wrong man for the job, he failed to take advantage of a once in a lifetime chance to fix things. He has consistently mishandled every challenge as well as every opportunity bestowed upon him because he is, undeniably, a malignant narcissist incapable of doing anything that doesn’t glorify his own ego. Now he is instigating a hostile takeover of this nation rather than face the prospect of a loss. (More on that in the next section.) Combined with the underlying weaknesses of America which I have outlined earlier in this essay, I believe this country is in for some turbulent times in the near future and he has to accept a large share of responsibility for that.

It is for these reasons and too many more to go into now, that I officially extend the humble endorsement of the Carbon Freeze, inconsequential though it may be, to Joe Biden for president. I would have preferred to remain at least somewhat neutral on this site regarding political elections, but considering the uniquely dangerous circumstances this time around, I feel it is my patriotic duty to do so. That said, my support does come with significant reservations, which I will share in the next section.

It’s as I said the night of the election, four years ago…

The Coming Realignment

Let’s back up for a minute and return to what I was saying before about realigning elections. While 2016 and 2020 certainly represent the beginnings of a shift in the political makeup of this country, I feel to dismiss what’s happening as a simple realignment is to downplay the significance. In many ways, I feel what we are witnessing is a second 1860, which has up to this point remained the most fateful election in American history. Tensions had escalated so high, the issue at hand was too polarizing to compromise on, and violence had already broken out between the pro-slave and pro-free factions in John Brown’s raid, Bleeding Kansas and even among sitting Congressmen with the caning of Charles Sumner. This culminated in an election where half the states simply refused to accept the results and decided to walk away from the Union altogether.

I no longer feel it’s a hyperbole to suggest that we are witnessing a second instance of half the nation rejecting the results, whatever they may be, with 2020.* In 1860, the South seceded in the interim between the election and Lincoln’s inauguration, despite his promises not to interfere with the “peculiar institution” of slavery where it already existed. They did not trust him to act in their self-perceived best interests since the ideological divide between North and South had grown so vast by that point. I have seen many of my friends who are Democratic and/or Left-leaning feel the same way about Trump, that he will not act in their best interests as President. I will even put my cards on the table and admit I’m one of them. I don’t trust him to tell the truth considering how often he lies, I don’t trust him to navigate complex life-or-death issues considering his spectacular mishandling of the coronavirus, I don’t believe he can hold nuanced opinions considering his heavy-handed anti-protester rhetoric and finally I believe he’d sell me out to die as a member of the LGBT community to shore up the evangelical vote. His administration has frequently antagonized “Blue states” during the pandemic as well, which begs the question why half the country should stick around only to be his punching bag.

I do have friends with more Right and/or Right-Libertarian views who express fear regarding their perceived frequency of riots, which they blame on “the left.” They’re convinced gun-happy lunatics like Kyle Rittenhouse and the St Louis couple were justified brandishing their guns and even murdering protesters. (Which is their right, but I and many others believe the polar opposite in these and other crucial matters.) Frankly, I think these people are missing the forest for the trees, and those who genuinely believe in QAnon or some kind of Democratic coup despite the madman right in front of them are so misguided by FOX, rightwing talk radio and online misinformation I almost don’t know what to say. But that’s perhaps an essay for another time.

In short, whoever wins, at least 40% of the populace will feel slighted and unsafe. That is not a tenable position for any country, and to quote Lincoln** himself: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” At the risk of winding up on a watchlist somewhere for treason, I’m at the point where I feel America ought to formally split in two. I know the true divide is between urban and rural, but this is still pronounced along the North/South border. Or, alternatively (and preferably,) I hope we learn to implement some kind of asymmetric federalism so that beneficial Federal programs, like single payer healthcare and universal basic income, need not be delayed just because Mississippi doesn’t approve. Let the blue states and red states cooperate on certain programs and policies they agree on without having to involve the other side in everything. If Nebraska doesn’t want to pay for healthcare and UBI, they can sit it out with the understanding their citizens shall receive none of the benefits either. If we end up going the former route with a complete separation, I of course would want the transition from one America into two be done as peacefully and orderly as possible.

Unfortunately, it’s a moot point because nobody in government right now has the humility or the imagination to pull off any kind of reforms of such scale. Either they’d want to keep being in charge of a mighty empire, however weak its foundation, or like a bitter divorce they’d rather sabotage the other side than let them move on. I truly believe Trump is laying the groundwork for a coup*** and I know Biden and the mainstream Democrats will continue to play nice, assure themselves they can still work with Republicans, pretend everything’s fine in this toxic relationship, and refrain from even trying to push through any meaningful reform. One way or another, from malevolence or misguidedness, the current crop of Republicans and Democrats will stay in this miserable marriage and hold each other back from achieving what the other wants.

I do not believe there is a Lincoln or an FDR waiting around the corner to lead us out of this dark period in our history. Perhaps Bernie or Andrew Yang could have been such a figure, but our broken primary system, which grants unwarranted favoritism to the conservative Southern States (who no longer vote Democrat anyway), gave us war-hawk Hillary and now centrist Biden. So, as it is, I feel America will continue to chug along for as long as possible with the current status quo of privatization and neoliberalism until people get so desperate and poor that they have nothing to lose. I certainly hope I’m wrong with that prediction, of course.

Assuming peaceful, democratic government persists in America, both parties need to understand that their current trajectories are doomed to failure in the long term. Democrats need to ditch the neoliberals who are increasingly drawing scorn from the younger generations and even several Boomers I know. And Republicans need to understand that doubling down on xenophobia and willful ignorance will only create a top-heavy stratification between the haves (rich old white men) and the have-nots (everyone else) who increasingly have nothing to lose. Historically, that’s a recipe for revolution and violence, and we’re seeing the first stages of such societal breakdown already. Humans are not ants, and large institutions like government and society are made up of individuals with their own set of wants and needs outside of what’s good for the system itself. When those individual needs are no longer being met by the system, the people have no reason to support its continued existence.

*I would argue that the violence in the streets, however overblown it may be by the media, as well as at right-wing rallies, represents our Bleeding Kansas. I believe the attempted abduction of a sitting governor and the incivility between sitting Congressmen are also clear signs of escalating tension.

**I will be very surprised if we don’t see a shifting consensus from historians in the next few decades regarding Lincoln’s legacy as current events unfold. I feel as time goes on, more and more Americans are going to openly question why we didn’t just let the south go.

***To anyone who would accuse me of exaggerating with this remark, I refer you to these events:

The Season Finale to the Worst Year Ever

What about the immediate aftermath to the ongoing election? Well, here’s my “hot takes” on that…

I believe if Biden wins we will see more rightwing violence and terrorism as has been developing with increasing frequency since Trump took office. His administration will be hampered by the same Republican obstructionism as plagued the Obama administration. Unless he has the guts and political capital to pack the courts, any significant attempt to address election reform, constitutional reform, environmental protections, healthcare reform, etc will be blocked in the courts which Republicans have politicized via their shenanigans regarding Merrick Garland. Since outrage at the Trump administration has brought together a rather large tent of otherwise unaffiliated people, Biden will inevitably disappoint a significant number of previous supporters after we no longer have Trump to unite us in opposition. If Biden tries to balance the interests of everyone, his administration will be a self-sabotaging mess. If he is unable to address the deep well of problems facing this country, he merely delays the inevitable explosion by another four years, but ensures it will be bigger when things finally erupt. I think Biden’s a well meaning person and I don’t consider him to be as condescending or harmful as Hillary would have been, but I do not see him pulling off what he needs to do to save America.

If Trump wins, his victory will forever be questioned due to his own meddling with the post office and mail in ballots. There will be well-founded accusations of more Russian collusion, people will point to election tampering on the state level as well as Republican lawmakers openly disdaining democracy. There will be damning anecdotes about his goons showing up at polling stations in crypto Nazi regalia to intimidate dissidents. It will send the message to malicious actors in our government that elections can be corrupted on a scale and with a bold disregard for even the appearance of fairness which no one had previously thought possible. Everyone will make note of the many polls showing Biden far ahead for the entire race, just as they do in other corrupt countries where dictators win with impossible margins. Trump’s victory will be challenged as illegitimate, and if the now-packed Supreme Court takes his side, no one who is not already firmly in Trump’s camp will ever trust the impartiality of US institutions ever again. It will plant the seeds for the death of democracy just the same as if Trump outright losses but refuses to vacate in January. The peaceful and consistent transition of power among competing factions which has been our greatest achievement since 1800 will be no more.

In addition, I do not trust Trump to act in good faith in the lame duck period between election day and inaugural day should he lose. He is not mentally all there anymore, and no one in his administration or the Republican party seems willing to hold him accountable for his actions. I foresee many ways in which he could sabotage the Biden administration before it even starts. Possibly, and this may sound hyperbolic (but so did Trump winning and here we are) depending on how bad his narcissism and dementia have become I could even see him rage quitting the Earth itself and launching nukes. He’s old, he lived his life and there’s nothing good waiting for him on the other side. Trump is not a rational actor, he’s a cornered beast, and under those circumstances anything is possible.

I’m sure Trump supporters and right-leaning outlets are laying out the same horror story but with the roles reversed. And that just further proves my point: we are living in two fundamentally different realities as a country that can no longer be reconciled. Sooner or later, something’s gotta give. As I see it, asymmetric federalism, which I’ve advocated on this blog previously and outlined as part of my Constitutional reform project, is the best way to smooth things over peacefully. Barring that, I would sincerely prefer an amicable divorce between the states to the continuation of this outdated and wholly unproductive Union.

Quick Thoughts on the 2020 Debates

I’m not going to do dedicated, in-depth play by plays for the 2020 debates the same as I’ve done for every previous cycle. I just don’t see the point, and there are far better things to devote my time to. I did watch the first, and perhaps only, standoff between Trump and Biden with my boyfriend. My biggest takeaway? By the 15 minute mark or so, around when Biden finally snapped “will you shut up, man?” I had to leave the room to get a few beers. It just doesn’t seem to be worth anyone’s time to write 5,000 words about how annoying Trump’s interruptions were and how he lied about everything. I did not watch the VP debate and have no plans to do so for the foreseeable future. Judging from the overabundance of fly memes, I don’t think I missed much of substance.

I do want to say that I think people are being far too hard on Chris Wallace as moderator. I said it in my 2016 debate reactions, and stand by the opinion today, that he was maybe the best moderator the Presidential debates have ever had. (Granted that’s not saying much, because the vast majority are pretty bad.) He did a great job keeping Trump in line last cycle, unlike Lester Holt, without debating on the Democrats’ behalf as Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz descended to. He failed to hold Trump to the rules in 2020 but I suspect no man alive could have either; Trump has become noticeably more unhinged since his inauguration.

Besides that, I think it’s worth noting that Biden independently came to the same conclusions I had regarding why Hillary lost in 2016, and did exactly as I recommended. That is, don’t even acknowledge Trump any more than you have to; talk directly to the American people and answer their questions as best as you can. The reason why Biden didn’t get too dirty is because he refused to sink to Trump’s level any more than absolutely required. Multiple times, Biden looked directly into the camera, gestured as if reaching out to the people on the other side of it, and spoke to them. Hillary made the mistake of rolling around in the mud with a pig, she tried to fight back barb for barb and looked petty and childish as a result. It’s theoretically possible that a stronger debater, with the charisma and oratory skills of a JFK or Obama, may have been able to handle Trump using such a strategy. Hillary just didn’t have the chops to pull it off, and she had at least as many skeletons in her closet for Trump to hit back with for every insult she threw his way.

That’s not to say Biden’s performance was perfect, or even particularly great–far from it. But he handled Trump much better than his predecessor, and managed to tap into the sense of empathy and decorum which many of us greatly miss from the role of a President. (Myself included.) In that aspect, and considering his opponent was pitching a temper tantrum all night, Biden absolutely won the debate. There’s really nothing more to be said about it.

1 Comment

  1. I cant say that anything in this essay is new to me, We have been discussing this topic in person for months now. But I will say that you did an excellent job in organizing your thoughts and ideas. While I sometimes don’t agree with you and we have had some heated debates on some of these issues, I find you a clear thinker who uses reason and logic in your debates. You have swayed my option in many ways. This essay is a valuable work by someone who is living through these trying times. Like all your stuff it is very well written. And as usual makes me proud to have such an intelligent articulate woman as my best friend. Good job as usual Cassandra.

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