Monday, November 02, 2020

Nobody Knows

 So, tomorrow is Election Day, the consummate symbol of the perpetual fact that all Americans have an innate belief in snake-handling, in the idea that if they are only righteous enough, they can handle vipers without being poisoned. Of course, with early voting and and mail-in voting, especially this year, Election Day itself is less important than it often has been. But it's still a fitting time to reflect before things get really interesting.

We do not know who will win. Biden has been polling well, but it's a 'once bitten, twice shy' situation. And it's even worse than that, since no one can honestly believe that pollsters have any certain and reliable way of modeling how lockdown affects their polling methods or the demographics of actual voters. And while Biden has consistently done well in the polls, he has not done consistently well in them; they have bounced around a lot. What is worse, other common indicators are all over the place. Economic indicators have been bouncing around due to COVID; new voter registrations are all over the place (but tend to favor Republicans in swing states); variants of the neighbor question -- who do you think most of the people you know will vote for? -- tend to favor Trump; polls asking whether people have lied or hidden whom they are voting for from pollsters have shown remarkable percentages of people willing to admit that they sometimes mislead pollsters because they don't trust them. We may have our suspicions, but nobody knows.

My own suspicion is based on the sense that, while Biden is a much better campaigner even under these weird conditions than Clinton ever was, Democrats have generally failed to shore up their weaknesses from 2016: they continue to assume without evidence that Blacks and Hispanics will come out enthusiastically in their support, and they continue to assume against all evidence that the working class will hand them key swing states while receiving relatively little in return. I suspect we are in for four more years of Trump. But I do not know; it could be, for all I can be sure, that some other issues will stir up the numbers Democrats need in the right states.

In any case, the Senate is the real focus of this election, not the Presidency. To be absolutely sure of Senate dominance (overcoming current Republican dominance and compensating for losses), the Democrats need to seize six new seats. Fortunately for them, it's a weak year for Republican candidates, so they might do it. Regardless of who is elected president, the next two years will look very, very different depending on whether the Senate is held by the Democrats or the Republicans.

What we can be sure of is that if Republicans do badly we'll have several months of vehement complaints about voter fraud, and if Democrats do badly we'll have months of vehement insistence that due to voter suppression the normal Constitutional procedures are illegitimate, because (as I have noted before) these are the go-to excuses by which the leadership in those parties try to shove off the blame on other people. In both cases people will try to explain that they didn't 'really' lose, due to some set of ad hoc rules they've made up by which they think they would have won. In both cases, people will perform some loosely related symbolic gestures to communicate how serious they are about such things and then do nothing practical to prevent this supposedly grievous problem from happening again. The point is always to find things to complain about, not to solve any real problems. People have never really internalized the idea that participating in an election means accepting the possibility of your loss because elections are more important than your victories. Every loser wants the election to be stolen; many will jump on anything that even vaguely suggests to them that it was. All of this is entirely toxic to a free society, of course; but there are always people who cannot see beyond their own factional concerns to the requirements of a free society.

And it is worth having a bit of proportion. This election year has not been any wilder and more unsettling than any of the times Andrew Jackson ran for president; a single election will not magically turn our country into a totalitarian state (which can only occur, very slowly, from people of whatever party eroding bulwarks against totalitarianism); and, no matter how common naysayers may be today, the US Constitution still provides a structurally sound framework based on much more experience and careful thought than can be found in a thousand pundits and armchair statesmen who may criticize it. Perhaps that is an act of faith, but upholding the ideals of a republic is indeed an act of faith: it is a trust that there is still something deeper and more reliable than any partisan interest.

Whatever ends up being the case, the Gods of the Copy-Book Headings will still continue their work. Partisans come and partisans go, but some things endure forever, and our tasks remain fundamentally the same: to strive to do good for ourselves and for others, and to seek the highest things in whatever way, however muddled and flailing, that we can.