The election results will not be apocalyptic
The dark times aren't coming after November. They're already here.
No one is going to win this year's presidential election in November. Ask around, and you'll learn that nobody won the last one. The articles written in 2016 about Donald Trump's apparent unwillingness to accept the results could shelf the Library of Babel. As things turned out, it was the other side who ended up spending the next four years arguing that Russia was behind the whole thing, pretending that firing federal employees and making telephone calls are impeachable offenses, and accusing Trump of violating the Logan Act, the Emoluments Clause, and, no doubt, 31 U.S.C. § 5111(d)(2), which expressly forbids leaving American soil with more than $5 in nickels or pennies unless they are for "legitimate personal numismatic, amusement, or recreational use."
Bad faith or not, the scaremongers in 2016 were probably right that Trump and his supporters would not have been gracious in defeat, though I suspect that he would not have waited until the next day to give his concession speech, as Hillary Clinton did, no doubt as a tribute to her husband's vice president. Just as I fully expect another Trump victory to be the occasion for months of lawsuits, I can imagine that the opposite result will mean years of conspiracy theories about mail-in ballots and voting from beyond the grave and goodness knows what else the Deep State is capable of.
Who can blame any of these people? As Thomas Edsall observed recently in The New York Times, both sides have convinced themselves that the stakes in the next election are nothing short of apocalyptic. Trump and his supporters seem to be under the impression that a Joe Biden presidency will combine the worst features of the Reign of Terror and the Russian Revolution: MAGA hat wearers sent to the gulags, the blood of small business owners flowing from underneath rainbow-colored guillotines, NASCAR banned forever. Meanwhile, for Democrats and their allies in the media, four more years of the current president would mean the end of democracy, of America herself, and the inexorable descent of the republic into fascism. (The fact that they were supposed to mean these things in 2016 and that democracy apparently died two Patriots Super Bowl victories ago is irrelevant.)
Both of these pictures are absurd. This is true not only in the narrow sense that, for example, violent unrest is far more likely in the event that Trump is re-elected than if Biden pulls this thing off, but in the broader one that there will be no really meaningful or sweeping changes to the basic underlying structure of American life.
Regardless of who wins in November we will be facing years of lockdown-induced economic downturn. We will still likely be looking at rising crime rates for the foreseeable future. Millions of us will continue to be anxious or depressed. The unworkable public-private hybrid system for the provision of medical care will remain in place. So-called "deaths of despair" will multiply, and the suicide rate will continue to increase. Appalling disparities in wealth, health, and education will persist along racial and geographic lines. Locking people up will be a lucrative private industry, as will the pits of despair in which we place our elderly population. The planet will be despoiled. The most basic organizing principles of our society will still be the consumption of goods made by wage slaves abroad, mindless digital entertainment, and making numbers go up on a screen somewhere. The unborn will be murdered.
The dark times aren't coming after November. They're already here. We're just used to them by now. The laughable fiction that either presidential candidate will do anything to alter this reality is useful for their campaigns and very little else.
Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.