In New York City, the police have advised store owners to board up their shop windows in preparation for civil unrest if President Trump wins reelection. The plywood is going up in cities nationwide. After a summer of riots and protests, no one believes that peace and tranquility would follow a Trump victory.
If the voters in battleground states give Trump an unlikely win, some American cities probably will burn.
A growing portion of the American populace has come to believe that the country’s political and economic systems are hopelessly corrupt. These Americans feel shut out from a system that they perceive as rigged to exclude people like them.
We call these people Republicans and Democrats.
Despite their countless differences, they share at least one thing in common: a belief that the “system” is indeed rigged in favor of their opposition. And both believe that the only way to save the country is to torch that system.
Call it the burn-it-all-down election.
Three of the president’s favorite slogans from his bid four years ago — “Drain the swamp!” “Lock her up!” and “Fake news!” — very much still remain in his repertoire today. Only the “her” in reference is now a “him.” The unifying thread is grievance against a ruling elite that seeks to govern outsiders while excluding them from power.
Trump has claimed that the election is rigged against him. He has urged the U.S. attorney general to indict his opponent, Joe Biden, who he suggests is part of a “crime family.”
Of late, he has switched his attention from the media (which, it must be said, are extraordinarily biased against him), to Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health professionals who cite data that he seems to think reflect poorly on his record in handling the coronavirus.
Though some of the details have changed, his message is the same: Let’s punch the cultural elites in the eye and take our country back, once and for all.
Among Democrats, the message is the same, only the enemy is defined differently. Instead of cultural elitists, it’s uncultured Bobos who control the levers of power and have manipulated the system to exclude people who aren’t like them.
The presidential nominee says systemic racism exists “across the board,” the vice-presidential nominee says “equitable treatment means we all end up at the same place,” the speaker of the House calls the president and his party “enemies of the state,” and a majority of party members views socialism favorably.
Eliminating the Electoral College and packing the Supreme Court are just some of the burn-it-all-down changes the Left hopes to accomplish if restored to power.
Trump’s camp also strives to redesign much of the American system, albeit in other areas. Trump wants the government to regulate tech giants and the media, control where businesses make products and whom they hire to make them, and generally move cultural and economic power from New York and San Francisco to Washington, D.C.
Both parties are telling the American people that the economy and the political system are rigged. They just disagree about how and for whose benefit. Their solution is the same: Elect us, increase the power at our disposal, and we’ll give you a share.
Both parties have told their bases that losing the election means being locked out of power, leaving the other side with total control of a government that has accumulated unprecedented power over the lives of the American people. The consequences, they tell us, will be disastrous.
It’s no wonder that more than 40 percent of Republicans and Democrats say violence is justified if the other party wins the election, and a third say violence is justified to advance their political goals. They believe the other side has the power to destroy them, and the only way to avoid that is to keep the other party out of office.
Party rhetoric alone is not to blame for this belief.
In 1948, federal spending accounted for 10.8 percent of the U.S. economy. Last year, it accounted for 20.7 percent. The number of employees at federal regulatory agencies has risen from just over 50,000 in 1960 to nearly 300,000 today.
The federal government controls a fifth of the economy, regulates even more, and issues commands (from Congress, federal agencies, and federal courts) that govern huge swaths of American life.
Yet the more it has grown, the more convinced Americans have become that the American system is unfair. 70 percent say the system works only for insiders with money and power.
Some of that has to do with the increasing complexity of modern financial systems and consumer technology. Vast wealth created by a relatively small number of wildly successful tech companies and investment firms gives many a sense that they are locked out of this new economy, which they don’t understand.
But the fact that nine of the 20 wealthiest counties in the United States are suburbs of Washington, D.C., is not lost on partisans of both sides. They sense that the real power today is not in New York City or Hollywood or Silicon Valley, but in D.C.
Who controls Washington controls an ever-growing portion of the economy and the culture. But instead of having one party that fights against this transfer of power to the federal government, we now have two parties that seek to use that power to punish their perceived enemies and reward their friends.
So we have wound up with an election in which both parties promise to burn down the existing system of power and privilege, only to replace it with a system that has even greater power to identify, define, and exclude outsiders.
In such an election, don’t expect unity to follow, no matter who wins.