The Low-Temperature Election

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event in Newton, Iowa, January 30, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
This election year has been rendered inert, frozen by COVID-19 and the presumed nomination of a mid 20th century white ethnic stereotype by the Democrats.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE I ’ve started to wonder if my local election officials will point the laser thermometer at my head before I’m allowed into the voting booth this November, the way that germ bouncers at Singaporean restaurants test every patron before seating them.

Will anyone be disqualified from voting this way? I doubt it. Because, for now, this is the lowest-temperature election of my life.

It’s quite a contrast to the usual sort of presidential election. Every four years there has been a long, semi-coordinated mass panic, full of faked outrage and overeager umbrage-taking known as the presidential campaign. Each one in my life has been a larger waste of money and a more tiresome exercise of everyone’s vocal cords than the last.

Until now.

This election year has been rendered inert, frozen by COVID-19 and the presumed nomination of a mid 20th-century white-ethnic stereotype by the Democrats.

Trump sends out his insane tweets — to which we have all become habituated. And in response, I presume, a secret Red Team of Lucasfilm veterans hired by the Democratic National Committee programs an animation of former vice president Biden speaking from his basement. Cable news occasionally tries to make this an interesting election season. They’ve failed. I’m sure if you go looking for them, a number of sad people are spending tremendous amounts of mental energy trying to find something incriminating about Trump and Biden in Ukraine. My mother used to say: “It takes all kinds.”

It’s as if the coronavirus has taught the American people that we don’t even need the political process as an occasion for venting hatred at each other anymore. An opinion on masks or hydroxychloroquine will do the job just fine.

Before COVID, and when it seemed a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren nomination was a real possibility, I was mentally preparing for an even worse election season than 2016. That summer featured something that veered close to a full-blown riot at the Chicago Trump rally. And the election aftermath led to actual murder sprees and attempted-murder sprees by men who became unglued in that fetid atmosphere.

To be honest, people I know connected to politics and political commentary were starting to think differently about their personal security in this environment, fearing that another round of this insanity would bring about more encounters with doorstep psychos or acid attacks.

But all of that is on hold for now. It’s as if once the immediate stakes of political decisions went up, our political culture immediately became less fraught.

I don’t want to go back.

What do we get from our presidential elections anyway? Bush’s thousand points of light, Trump’s corporate tax cut, and the V-chip. I seem to have lost mine. America’s immigration system is still the mess it’s been for two generations. American income taxation bounces between a Reagan–Clinton consensus. Despite being repeatedly attacked by Sunni fanatics, the United States is still elaborating on Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy of allying with them in the Middle East.

Ah, I almost forgot! The presidential elections produce the philosopher-kings who rule over us in what was once the American judicial branch. These are a necessary thing, as these courts are where Congress and the American people can defer the messy business of political compromise, and instead engage in the miserably high-stakes game of losing or winning outright and on principle.

At some point, this fact will reassert itself into our conscience, the political temperature will rise, and we will realize there is a difference between the old, verbally incontinent Trump and the old, verbally incompetent Biden. Then we can get back to screaming at each other until November . . . through our masks.

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