The candidates are winding down their campaigns as Americans on both sides warily await tomorrow’s election results, wondering if chaos will follow: it’s the calm before the storm.
After nearly four years of this Administration’s policies and pitfalls, in the midst of a pandemic, the candidates are making their closing arguments, and early voting has begun. Americans across the spectrum have staked out their positions, whether they believe that Black Lives Matter or prefer that they would matter less, whether they believe the Thin Blue Line stands between civilization and chaos or is indicative of a growing fascist threat, and whether they believe a former reality TV star (and now reality TV President) can save America from the same troubles unleashed upon us during his term, or whether we need to return to a neoliberal “normal” not unlike the conditions that enabled Trump’s rise in the first place. The chess pieces are all in place, and now we wait to see what happens. It’s the calm before the electoral storm and almost certain turmoil in the days to come.
If you’re of a certain age, you may remember Dan Rather, the prime-time newsman who spoke to us with the calm, confidence-inspiring voice, reporting on the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, the Challenger disaster, and the Iraq war with the kind of gravitas often missing from today’s soundbites. Rather, having moved from TV to social media, speaks of these times with the long view of one who has observed decades of modern history. “We are on the precipice, of that we are sure. Of what exactly, there are hints and whispers and clues, but the haze of the future is unknowable… the cone of uncertainty at this moment is so wide that it seems to stretch in almost every conceivable direction,” he wrote on Facebook recently. “This nation will have to find a way to heal, no matter how improbable that seems today.”
Today, healing seems far away indeed.
On Friday, the Biden campaign visited Texas, which has suddenly become a swing state with polling only barely favoring the incumbent in this perennial Republican stronghold. Between San Antonio and Austin, the Biden bus was surrounded by a blockade of pickup trucks, many flying Trump banners. Perhaps responding to Donald Trump Jr.’s urging them to show the Biden campaign “a nice Trump Train welcome,” the drivers slowed down ahead of the bus, in what a Biden staffer said appeared to be an attempt to stop the bus or run it off the road. One of the Trump trucks sideswiped a vehicle in the Biden caravan, seemingly deliberately. Police eventually escorted the bus to safety, but an event in Pflugerville was canceled. Texas GOP Chairman Allen West called the blockade story “fake news,” while the President praised the truck drivers, later claiming that they were “protecting” the bus.
Other incidents abound. After all the pearl-clutching about voter fraud, Texas Republicans asked a federal judge to invalidate about 117,000 ballots from Harris County, an area that leans Democratic, because the votes were cast by Texans in their cars (a pandemic safety measure) rather than standing on their feet.
In New York and New Jersey, Trump fans blocked traffic on roads and bridges to support their candidate (a move that many of their peers condemn when it’s done to protest racial inequality or climate change).
In Alamance County, NC, a diverse array of about 200 Americans participated in a symbolic walk to their polling place, complete with a police escort. After the calm of a moment of silence devoted to George Floyd, police ordered the marchers to move, and with no delay to allow for compliance, the pepper spray came out.
Idaho’s Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin drove around her state with a Bible and a gun to protest the state’s coronavirus restrictions, which shouldn’t even be political, but here we are.
This year, 25 Americans have been killed in incidents related to political unrest. Instead of trying to bring the nation together, the President has only sought to divide it further, with appeals to violent right-wing gangs like the Proud Boys and dog whistles like “law and order.” He appears unable to reach past his die-hard fanbase to create any kind of coalition, so sowing chaos and making things up seem to be his desperate gambit to remain in power despite his deep unpopularity outside the MAGA bubble.
If the calm of the moment feels fraught, that’s because it is. The United States used to be the international model of free and fair elections, and now we need observers to insure ours are run properly. Fears abound on both sides (some founded, some not) that the election will be rigged, an assertion ironically pushed by a President whose party carefully blurs the line between “election security” and “voter intimidation.” The risks of electoral violence, a coup attempt, or an election win litigated by a Supreme Court stacked by the President who stands to benefit, are real.