A Pessimist Case for November


Twenty-twenty was going to be a great year. I think it was the cool number. Much cooler than 1919 or 1818. Ten-ten was just as good a number, but from what we can gather not much of note had happened that year, except for the river Nile freezing over and Vikings trying to unsuccessfully settle North America (just as well since it would be Eric’s and Leif’s statues being pulled down right now on the account of their genocidal colonialism). By 1010, I imagine, people all over Europe were still feeling relieved (or disappointed) that the Christian Millennium and the Apocalypse widely predicted for the year 1000 AD did not materialise. Midway through 2020, on the other hand, it seems remarkably possible.

Even without the end of the world, 2020 is proving to be a bit of a shit year, what with the once-in-a-century pandemic, followed by the once-in-a-century global economic depression; a result of, depending on your point of view, the pandemic itself or governments overreacting to the pandemic, or perhaps a bit of both. Because COVID is a gift that keeps on giving, we also now have a new cold war with China. And as a special bonus for the United States in particular, the political upheaval and unrest where long-standing grievances seem to have been subsumed by the overarching rage against the society as a whole; a slo-mo revolution that is not only being televised but also twitted and Tik-Toked. Like many a radical revolution before (think French or the Bolshevik coup) it is less a matter of the masses rising than the old exhausted institutions folding like cheap chairs before a small but impassioned minority, partly out of support, partly out of opportunism, and partly out of loss of self-confidence.

And, failing a catastrophic asteroid impact, there is the presidential election in November to look forward to.

Unlike many others on my side of politics, I have never been optimistic about Donald Trump’s reelection prospects, seeing him as very vulnerable against just about anyone but Hillary Clinton. The events of the first half of 2020 make me even more pessimistic. In part it’s to be expected; despite gaining some very mild internet fame with my “Good News from Iraq” series, I’m actually rather negative by nature, which many of my friends half-jokingly see as the intersectionality of my Slavic background, Catholic upbringing and a communist childhood. But to paraphrase the famous saying, just because you’re pessimistic it doesn’t mean that the world’s not out there to get us all.

The polling is universally disastrous for Trump at the moment. I know all the caveats: it’s being manipulated to gaslight the population, it was bad in 2016 too, it’s not the first time it’s bad for an incumbent at this time before an election, there are a lot of “shy Republicans” out there, the base is energised (and/or more energised than the Democratic one), the polling doesn’t square with whatever other hard or anecdotal data you choose to put weight on, etc. etc. Maybe. Maybe not. I have seen arguments made on social media trying to downplay the issue by saying that no one who voted for Trump in 2016 will switch their votes to Biden in 2020. That might be true too, but to win in 2020 Trump will need a lot more than just to hold the vote. He might be good at rallying his own base, but four years on I think he’s even better at rallying the opposition against him.

In any case, my musings below are not based on any polls or any public research in particular, but merely my own gut feeling. This is also not a discussion of merits and demerits of Trump – or Biden – or a discussion whether Trump deserves to be re-elected or not (and conversely for the Democrats). I’m only inquiring about whether he will.

There is no doubt that Trump is popular among his base, though his super high popularity rating among the Republicans might be somewhat inflated by the fact that a certain number of traditional Republicans no longer consider themselves Republicans on the account of Trump. But even with that caveat, he clearly generates enthusiasm that transcends politics into the realm of celebrity and show business. Whether it’s because he speaks the language of the common people (without being one) and touches on issues that the establishment doesn’t touch, or for some other reasons entirely, I don’t know. I have no doubt that Republicans and conservatives will turn out to vote. Even those on the right and previously supportive but now disenchanted (there is still no Wall, his performance in crisis has been poor, etc.) are unlikely in my view to abstain, faced as they are with the prospect of the Dems gone crazy.

But as I mentioned before, Trump needs more than just his 2016 base to turn out again (he might or might not have expanded it among, for example, blue collar workers and black voters; he might or might not have also shrunk it among the middle classes and women voters – possibly it all cancels each other out in the end. We’ll find out soon enough). Trump needs badly to boost his own turn out because the Democrats and the broad left who might have been not enthusiastic enough about Hillary to get her across the line in 2016, after 4 years of Trump are whipped up in a frenzy, even if not all necessarily think he’s a fascist dictator, Russian asset, traitor, sexist/racist monster, international embarrassment or a combination of the above. It’s true that the left rages against any Republican who happens to be a current threat, whether Nixon, Reagan, George W, McCain or Romney, but Trump, the anti-politician politician and a non-Republican Republican, is truly in a class of his own. It’s Democrats so by all means expect a massive electoral fraud in November, with armies of the dead and the illegal pressing the lever for Biden, but even that aside, I believe the left turnout will be very strong. I’m not a betting man, so I’m not going to put any money on whether it will a record turnout for the Democrats (“uuuge!”) but I simply can’t see a repeat of the lackluster 2016.

Then there are the Independents, the swinging voters in the middle.

I think Trump has done a dismal job with them, in a sense of progressively whittling away and destroying any promise and potential there was in expanding his initial support among this cohort and building the new mainstream anti-left electoral coalition. This is tragic – not just for the Republicans but for the country as a whole – and represents an opportunity badly wasted. Perhaps it’s a tragedy in the classical sense of the word, in that it was inevitable. For while there are potentially many points of the policy where the Independents might agree on with Trump, I increasingly believe that his temperament and his style, while red meat to the base, is really turning the swinging voters off him. And of course he can’t help himself; he is who he is, and while some love him and others loath him for it, I think the majority of the Independents now see their President as un-presidential, a figure of ridicule rather than respect, a divider rather than a uniter, and a deeply flawed human being who is touchy, boorish, vulgar, undignified, simple and a caricature without gravitas and, increasingly, answers. Sure, Trump’s supporters will argue that such view is itself a caricature painted by the left and the media (but I repeat myself), but in the end it’s the perceptions matter rather than how they are formed.

Some people think that 2020 will be a repeat of 1968 (or 1972 to some extent), where the country faced by the anarchy and craziness from the left swings towards the side of traditional law and order; the Silent Majority reasserting itself against the loud extremists rampaging on the streets.

I think that as tempting – and reassuring – such comparisons might be, there are two crucial differences between then and now. Firstly, the society in the late 1960s used to be instinctively much more conservative than it is now, And secondly, and this is partly another way of putting the first point and partly the explanation for the change, all the major institutions and industries across the country, particularly those opinion making and shaping, are now under near complete dominance of the left; the counter-culture is now the establishment. As a result, not only is the country as a whole much more supportive of at least some parts of the left’s (and the far-left’s) agenda, but more pertinently for the November election, I don’t think there is a Silent Majority any more in a sense of conservatives united with sensible centrists against the ravages and the madness of the left. It’s silent alright, at least for the most part, but it’s an electoral minority. The missing part of the coalition are the Independents – on the one hand increasingly receptive to the siren song of the left and on the other repelled by Trump. It’s a perfect electoral storm.

The practical result is that, unlike in ’68, the Independents no longer instinctively reach out to the Republicans as those who will restore the social sanity and peace. And it’s not strictly that, as some Never-Trumpers have argued, Nixon was an outsider coming back to rescue America after eight years of Democrat upheavals while Trump is the incumbent who has been in charge as country descended into chaos. More to the point, I think the Independents, the middle-of-the-roaders, the swinging voters, the apolitical (or a-ideological) voters, whatever you choose to call them, largely see Trump as a symptom of the malaise rather than a solution to it. Rightly or wrongly, he’s perceived as being part of the problem; the left might be bad, but to some extent they are so because of Trump. Both are pathologies that feed on each other and the country suffers as a result. So the answer is not more Trump but no Trump. Not another four years to vanquish the left and drain that swamp, but some sort of clean break to return to the normalcy of traditional politics. It has not been the Democrats’ intention or a conscious strategy but the social upheaval, far from rebounding on them, might have actually succeeded in blackmailing the voters: make the bed men stop by making Orange Man Bad go away.

Again, please remember these are not my personal views on the matter, only what my gut tells me the majority of the Independents are feeling at the moment. Hence I neither endorse or dispute such thinking (if I’m correct that is, and this is the thinking), as my interest here lies in justifying my pessimism to my readers rather than trying to persuade voters in general how they should cast their ballot in the best interest of their nation. Last but not least, I’m not actually an American voter (though that wouldn’t necessarily stop me if I were a Democrat), just an interested by-stander and a friend. For the record, if I have been a voter, in 2016 I would have likely stayed away. Temperamentally, Trump is just not my kind of a guy, which is just as well because I don’t idolise politicians and they’re not my preferred dinner guests. I agree with some of his policies and disagree with others, which I guess makes me, as Ben Shapiro once quipped, Sometimes-Trump. But then I’m generally Sometimes-[insert the name], while considering myself Always-Right(-Wing). I certainly get much joy from how much Trump drives the left frothing-at-the-mouth insane. Yet for all my numerous reservations about Trump’s personality, behaviour and policies, if I were an American citizen this year, I would crawl through the proverbial broken glass (of which there seems to be non-proverbially a lot on the American streets at the moment) to vote for him in November. This is because I believe he is the only on the best thing we have at the moment standing between us and the utterly insane and repulsive Democratic Party and the broad left. Both are increasingly in thrall of ideological extremists and increasingly hell-bent on a radical transformation of the United States into some sort of a Woketopia, which I, as someone who has already ticked “living under socialism” off my bucket list, find surreal and chilling. I certainly cannot recall ever being angrier and more exasperated about politics than I am this year.

It’s a cliche to describe an election as the most important and consequential in a living memory, but I think 2020 will be it. More’s my fear for the future of America, because, as important as that is in and of itself, at the time of global economic and political upheaval it’s not just the future of America that is at stake comes November. Twenty-twenty better get better.