Pro-Trump protesters and Antifa clashed in some pretty ugly scenes this weekend.
After a year of riots, looting, violent clashes, you didn’t have to be a wide-eyed paranoid to worry the runaway passions would lead to widespread violence on Election Day or shortly thereafter. In America’s biggest cities, downtown stores boarded up their windows in expectations of Election Night violence.
And then Election Day came and went with . . . little or no violence. Protests, certainly, but nothing like the widespread rage and destruction that was feared. Not even Portland was as bad as locals expected.
Since Election Night, President Trump has stubbornly insisted he won in a landslide and that the election was stolen from him. We’ve seen a plethora of court cases in several key swing states. We’ve seen former national-security adviser Michael Flynn endorse a call for “limited martial law” and a re-vote run by the military. We’ve seen Texas GOP state party chairman Allen West imply seccession, declaring, “perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution.”
And yet, with all kinds of provocations and outrageous statements and people metaphorically throwing gasoline on the fire . . . by and large, we haven’t seen violence. The clashes in downtown Washington D.C. Saturday night were a pretty rare exception to how most Americans are responding to the election results.
You may recall that one pre-election simulation run by the “Transition Integrity Project” envisioned “National Guard troops destroy[ing] thousands of ballots in Democratic-leaning ZIP codes, to applause on social media from Trump supporters.” Rosa Brooks of TIP concluded, “A landslide for Joe Biden resulted in a relatively orderly transfer of power. Every other scenario we looked at involved street-level violence and political crisis.”
Except we didn’t have a clear winner Election Night (the results looked like they were starting to go Biden’s way) and . . . things turned out more or less okay, at least in terms of politically motivated violence. We’re not in a political crisis. The president is rage-tweeting, Sidney Powell is promising the Kraken will arrive any day now, and Lin Wood is calling for martial law. And yet, for the vast majority of Americans, life goes on. The Electoral College is meeting and voting, and the gears of the presidential transition are turning. The National Guard is not running around, destroying ballots.
The situation is far from ideal — Arizona’s electors met in an undisclosed location out of security concerns. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that things can always get much worse in an unexpected way. But by and large, we’ve gotten through an extremely hard-fought, impassioned, anger-filled presidential election year in one piece. The new Congress will convene January 3, and Joe Biden will take the oath of office on January 20.
When “doomscrolling” or enduring a deluge of bad news, it’s easy to give up on the American people. Our fellow citizens do stupid things all the time, and social media puts the spotlight on the dumbest, most reckless, and most incendiary. But most Americans are not the idiots showing up on your social-media feed. Most people aren’t trying to build a personal brand, stir up an angry mob, or lead a revolution. They’re just trying to live their lives. And thus, we can start to ask . . . maybe Americans aren’t easily led to violence by heated rhetoric. Maybe we’re not tightly wound rageaholics walking around on a hair-trigger, looking for any convenient excuse to smash things. (Okay, maybe a few among us are.) Maybe Americans can be trusted with everything from incendiary political speech to social-media platforms to firearms to the right to vote . . . and things will still turn out okay.
Maybe we don’t need big tech companies, big government, or big media to protect us from ourselves.