Election Night Fears

A poll worker places a mail-in ballot into a voting box in San Diego, Calif., in 2016. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
Fraud, chaos, the end of the Republic?

Election chaos. That’s the latest thing to fear this week. Trump apparently wants us to fear an inaccurate and fraudulent election, because so many ballots will be mailed in. His opponents apparently want you to fear that the fear he’s ginning up will somehow empower him to reject the election results. And it seems that the media want you to fear an untraditional Election Night and that the counting of mail-in ballots will cause delays, with opportunistic charges and counter-charges of stolen and fraudulent results. Maybe a full-on Al Gore style in conceding could occur.

Ben Smith reports that John Podesta, the former Hillary Clinton campaign manager and blood-drinking cultist — I believe the Internet! — participated in a recent election “war game” in which he, playing Joe Biden, stole some Electoral College votes and depended on the threat of West Coast secession to gain the presidential office he had no legal right to occupy. Hey, maybe the Dems will steal this thing after all! We should fear the process, fear the institutional breakdown, and fear the lack of trust.

Some of these scenarios concern me. But I can’t help but think that all of this is misplaced dread of the election itself.

Here’s what to expect on Election Night: A nation that has grown tired, anxious, and worn out from its own political divisions over the past 20 years, one that is haunted by a fear that its institutions are fundamentally broken and unable to handle geopolitical challenges ahead, will elect a very old man who inspires little more than a sigh of relief that the other very old man didn’t win.

Sure, partisans will try to impose on this event some massive epoch-shaping meaning to it all. If Trump squeaks out another win, his fans will hail him as breaking the back of the corrupt media, beating all expectations, and signaling the illegitimacy of the woke aristocracy that oversees and moderates our national conversation. We can all look forward then to the eventual diminution of COVID-19 restrictions and to a series of new presidential feuds with Joe Scarborough and Peggy Noonan, or something.

If Biden wins, we will be told that it is the beginning of the end of “illiberal democracy” worldwide. His victory will be hailed as a triumph over obscurantism, hatred, and division. But Biden has already announced himself a placeholder or transitional figure, for a future Democratic Party that wouldn’t quite have the mandate a victory gave him. It used to be that Democrats who wanted to avoid getting McGoverned or Mondaled looked to a Southerner. Now, to signal that they aren’t too woke, they must they depend on a man who is older than all the Boomers.

Even a lopsided victory for Biden and the Democrats would leave an uncertain mandate. Four years ago, we know what Trump said he would do: build a wall and rewrite the deals governing America’s trading relationships. He’s taken a few bites at that agenda. What is Biden’s list? There are countless policy ideas on his website, but his campaign gives little sense about how he ranks them. All the background chatter on the Democratic side is about procedural reforms of the Senate, or even reform of the Constitution that would make it easier to pass an agenda. There’s almost no talk about what that agenda is, or why the American people would like it.

The dread is that we are a nation that is divided, but nothing of import can be resolved or reconciled in an election. America will still be at war in half a dozen countries in the Islamic world. No comprehensive strategy about managing China’s power is on the horizon. In fact, all foreign threats or challenges will likely be ranked and reinterpreted as symbols of our domestic politics. We’re going to get stirred up, but for what? A bunch of executive orders and control of the bully pulpit?

The next president will have no mandate to govern. Don’t fear election chaos, fear meaninglessness. These men are placeholders.


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