If Donald Trump wins a second term, it will be an unmistakable countercultural statement in a year when progressives have otherwise worked their will across the culture.
After months and months of statues toppling and riots in American cities and a crime wave and woke virtue-signaling from professional sports leagues and absurd firings and cancellations, the year would end with a stunning, stark rebuke of all of that.
If Trump manages to pull off an upset in 2020, it will be as a gigantic rude gesture directed at the commanding heights of American culture.
It would be hard to understand a Trump victory outside this context.
It’s easy to see what might be the reasons for a Biden victory, which seems much more likely at this point: a massive turnout among Democrats who fear and loathe Trump; a pandemic that still isn’t under control; a lead on almost every issue, especially on health care; enough appeal in the Midwest and among a few erstwhile Trump voters; a promise of a return to normality.
There wouldn’t be as many obvious reasons for a Trump win. Disappointing youth turnout for the Democrats and a massive rural turnout for him, yes. The leftward turn of Democrats would surely have much to do with it, and his lead on the economy would matter.
But it’s not as though he’s run a crisp campaign; it’s been an utterly characteristic series of Trumpian outrages and distractions, and he’s had two campaign managers.
Biden hasn’t had the debate meltdowns that many Republicans hoped for or anticipated.
Trump is not going to be buoyed by personal popularity or respect for his integrity.
His job-approval rating has been under 50 for the entirety of his presidency.
He keeps saying the same things about COVID — we’re turning the corner — that help account for his bad polling on the virus.
If in 2016 he focused on issues that had an unappreciated resonance for voters, this time he’s more focused on his own obsessions — Russiagate, sundry cable-news hosts — that matter to him and a narrow band of his most intense supporters.
No one is voting for his barely sketched-out second-term agenda.
If he wins, it will be despite all that. An enormous factor would be that Trump is the only way for his voters to say to the cultural Left, “No, sorry, you’ve gone too far.”
Besides the occasional dissenting academic and brave business owner or ordinary citizen, Trump is, for better or worse, the foremost symbol of resistance to the overwhelming woke cultural tide that has swept along the media, academia, corporate America, Hollywood, professional sports, the big foundations, and almost everything in between.
He’s the vessel for registering opposition to everything from the 1619 Project to social media’s attempted suppression of the Hunter Biden story.
To put it in blunt terms, for many people, he’s the only middle finger available — to brandish against the people who’ve assumed they have the whip hand in American culture.
This may not be a very good reason to vote for a president, and it doesn’t excuse Trump’s abysmal conduct and maladministration.
It may well be that Biden will get over the top by implicitly promising a diminution in cultural strife, by which he presumably means a slower pace of woke cultural change (with the Left considerably less agitated than it has been in the Trump years).
If Trump wins, though, this cultural element will be the subtext, and maybe just the text — he’d be, even more so than now, the president as affront, and he would be felt as such by all the woke progressives and fellow travelers who are accustomed to believing that they represent a steamroller of history.