Surprise, it’s not the coronavirus that has me terrified. It’s the election. But you probably know that. The coronavirus is a huge inconvenience. I’m saddened by the deaths and mismanagement, I’m tired of it, and it’s not going away. I want to go to a store and buy things, but that’s dangerous, and I live in a retirement community. So bringing home a virus in addition to what’s in my cart would put people I care about at risk. I’ll wait.
Our invisible enemy, which has upended the world, is nothing, in my mind, compared to the visible enemy who spends his days finding new ways to dismantle America. I seem not to be the only person who thinks he can find a way to engineer victory on November 3, 2020. People who bet on such things are unanimous in their current expectations that Trump will carry the day.
They could be wrong. But I’m terrified.
I don’t personally know any of the people who judge these odds. But I have the same sinking feeling I had the weekend before the 2016 election. Even though Clinton was favored, even by the odds makers, I spent the weekend before the election immersed in Trump campaign video ads. They were selling lies and fear, they succeeded in scaring enough people in the right places, and Trump won the Electoral College.
Trump’s Doomsday Inaugural Address set the stage for everything to get better under his administration. By several metrics, he was succeeding. Unemployment continued its decade long decline, some wages inched upward, and the Dow set record after record. Other metrics were not so favorable; Trump, himself, never attained an approval rating higher than 50%; and now we have the pandemic.
Trump is not handling the pandemic well. His job approval rating is even more negative regarding his handling of the coronavirus. One might think that a challenger would be heavily favored in the election, but one might start thinking about ways Trump handles any threat. As we saw during the 2016 Republican Primaries, Trump can come up with a belittling nickname and strategy to handle any opposition.
There are those who think that Joe Biden is especially vulnerable to these Trumpian tactics, but I am not one of them. I absolutely believe that any one of the Democratic primary contenders would have faced this tried and true tactic – because it works. Trump has never relied on the truth, he has never relied on his accomplishments, and yet he succeeds because lies are hard to disprove and fear trumps hope every time.
What lies will Trump use in the 2020 election? We’re already seeing a key element of his strategy: Obamagate. If you think this scandal is blatantly bogus, I encourage you to poke around the pieces of this puzzle. (Search the term if you’re complacent.) One easy resource for this background reading is the Real Clear Politics website. RCP, funded by the Real Clear Foundation (who is this?), claims to offer unbiased information, but unless truth is not our friend, it doesn’t feel unbiased to me. Still, it does offer links to a mixture of red, blue, never-Trumpers, and fence-sitting sources.
The sad truth is that truth is hard. It doesn’t fit into sound bites, it’s nuanced, complex, has bits of bad news in with the good, and seems to always involve trusting people we know only by reputation. A person such as myself is so far removed from the inner sanctum of political power that I can never “know” the truth. (To be honest, this challenge of knowing the truth in today’s media landscape has lead me to question the long-term viability of democracies.)
I believe that Trump could very well succeed in convincing enough people that the Democrats misled people in 2016 and cannot be trusted to tell the truth in 2020. Beyond that, I believe that Trump will sow enough distrust of our election results that he might well refuse to leave the White House if he loses.
How’s that for terrifying?
Unfortunately, I fear the same issues. Trump’s middle school tactics work because they tap into the middle school mindset of a lot of Americans who can relate to the “smart alecky” approach to issues. It makes them feel included, part of the boisterous team.