“Hope for the best, expect the worst,” is a maxim that crops up regularly in Angela Carter’s exuberant 1991 novel Wise Children. The novel’s two main characters, twin sisters Dora and Nora Chance, keep repeating this to themselves so that they remain grounded and their heads stay screwed on while they negotiate the highs and lows, the euphoria and tragedy, of life during eight decades of the 20th century.
It’s also a maxim I think is worth bearing in mind as we approach the American presidential election on November 3rd, little more than a fortnight away. Yes, I know the polls indicate Joe Biden has a solid and stable lead over the current, revolting incumbent of the White House. But of course four years ago Hillary Clinton was supposed to have a similarly commanding lead over the Orange Hideousness and we know what happened then.
One thing I suspect is overlooked in these polls is what is known in the UK as the Shy Tory factor. Wikipedia describes this phenomenon as “so-called ‘shy Tories’… voting Conservative after telling pollsters they would not.” Presumably, they lie to the pollsters because they’re too embarrassed to admit they intend to vote for a chancer like Boris Johnson. As a result, “the share of the electoral vote won by the Conservative Party” is “significantly higher than the equivalent share in opinion polls.”
And I imagine you’d feel embarrassed too if you admitted to a pollster that you were going to vote for a crooked, racist, narcissistic, tax-dodging, pussy-grabbing, pig-ignorant malignity like Trump who shrugs off the deaths of 220,000-and-counting American citizens from Covid-19 with the glib platitude, “It is what it is.” Thus, I have a horrible suspicion that the Shy Trumper factor will confound the pollsters’ predictions come November 3rd.
And that’s before we consider the USA’s idiotic electoral college system, which means that one vote cast in the least populous state, Wyoming, carries three-to-four times the influence of one vote cast in the most populous state, California, and Trump only has to edge it in a few crucial swing states to win. Like his hapless predecessor Clinton, Biden could very well win the popular vote and still lose.
Also, there’s the sad fact that voter suppression has been rife. This has been done quietly through the gerrymandering, trimming of voter rolls and removal of polling stations by Republican administrations in various states, and noisily through Trump’s attacks on the legitimacy of ballots submitted by mail. All have been designed to reduce the numbers of voters likely to vote Democrat.
Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be surprised if voting on the day itself is disrupted by Trump-supporting fascist gangs and militias such as the Proud Boys, whom he recently instructed on TV to ‘stand by’. And it’s certain that in the aftermath of an election result that, ostensibly, he loses, he and his lickspittle Republican enablers will use every trick and machination in the legislative book to have votes nullified and overturned so that he manages to grasp that all-important number of 270 electoral college votes.
So with Trump back in the White House for another four years, how bad will it be? Very bad, I’d say. I expect the USA to become at least a semi-totalitarian state where announcing yourself as a dissident – a Democrat, a liberal, a Black Lives Matter or LGBTQ activist – becomes increasingly risky. Perhaps Trump’s official state apparatus won’t arrest or hurt you, but his unofficial army of gun-toting admirers, the white supremacists, militiamen and QAnon-obsessed conspiracy-theory fruit-loops, will take the law into their own hands and go after you themselves. And should any of his right-wing terrorist fanboys be caught in the act of snuffing out his critics, I sure Trump will bend over backwards to ensure they are treated leniently. Witness how quick he was to defend the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse, the delusional 17-year-old who gunned down two protestors during anti-police demonstrations in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Leniency will also be shown to bad-apple cops and right-wing goons who rough up another group whom Trump despises, journalists working for mainstream and liberal news outlets. During the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year, police emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric were already assaulting and harassing reporters and camera crews. And not long ago, Trump expressed his delight that Ali Velshi, an anchor with MSNBC, was hit by a police rubber bullet while reporting on a protest in Minneapolis. “Wasn’t it beautiful sight?” he crowed at a rally. “It’s called law and order.”
Elsewhere, expect a nationwide ban on abortion. I’m sure, though, that Trump’s wealthy elite will be quietly allowed to purchase super-expensive drugs to combat Covid-19 that have been developed with human cells taken from aborted embryos. The Affordable Health Care Act, hated by Trump because it was an Obama initiative, will go and won’t be replaced. Environmental protections, already trashed, will be trashed further. The forests on the west coast will continue to burn and the White House will react only with schadenfreude because everyone in the fire-zone votes Democrat anyway.
Science will be denigrated and ridiculed. The evangelical Christians who loyally vote for Trump, even he obviously despises them, and even though a less Christian specimen of humanity than Trump is difficult to find, will be rewarded by having science removed from school syllabi, textbooks and museums in favour of their own primitive doctrines about how the world was created and how it functions.
Hundreds of thousands more Americans will die from Covid-19 while Trump, flaunting his supposedly macho disdain for mask wearing and social distancing, will continue to blame China, the WHO and Democrat state governors. People of colour will continue to be murdered by the police, protests against these murders will continue to take place, police will continue to attack protestors, militiamen and looters will continue to take advantage of the chaos, and American cities will become ever-more dystopian.
Interviewed recently in the Observer, Martin Amis observed, “This election is going to be a referendum on the American character, not on Trump’s performance.” As such, it’s tempting to dismiss a second Trump win as an America-only problem. If Americans are dumb and immoral enough to vote for this nightmare, then it’s on them. They own it. Unfortunately, a second Trump presidency will impact hugely on the rest of the world too, via his hostility towards NATO, the EU and the Iran nuclear deal, and his disorientating mood-swings regarding China, and his penchant for being a lapdog to authoritarian dictators while insulting and belittling the leaders of long-term democracies (especially if they’re women).
Of course, the biggest and most disastrous impact of four more years of Trump, who’s pulled the USA out of the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, will be on the environment. His refusal to take man-made climate change seriously may well scupper any chance humanity has of lessening its worst effects. Trump doesn’t care about the millions – billions? – of people who could lose not just their livelihoods but their lives as average temperatures rise, huge areas become uncultivatable and possibly uninhabitable, rainfall patterns change disastrously, coasts disappear under rising sea levels and climate refugees take to the road in vast numbers. Those are the problems of the little people, the losers, the suckers, and Trump only likes WINNERS.
I fear that already we’ve passed a tipping point and our species is inevitably facing catastrophe, that the damage we’ve wrought on our planet’s climate is now embedded in the system and will lead from one devastating consequence to another. But if we haven’t already reached that tipping point, it’s likely that we will have by 2024 or whenever it is that Trump leaves the White House. (Though don’t be surprised if by 2024 he and his minions in the US Senate and Supreme Court have re-engineered the constitution to allow him to remain in power indefinitely.) By the way, Trump’s re-election will only goad the Brazilian fascist Bolsonara further in his efforts to torch the Amazon rainforest.
And yet, I believe that when future historians look back on this period and wonder how humanity managed to trigger such an ecological, political, economic and social horror show, they won’t finger Trump as the main culprit for all this. No, the title of Most Villainous Human Being on the Planet in 2020 will surely be awarded to Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire has been instrumental in preparing the way for and then enabling Trump – just as it’s done for climate-change denialism, Brexit and most other things that suck in the modern world. A Trump re-election will be largely due to Murdoch’s Fox News, a sealed-off bubble and echo-chamber for millions of American right-wingers who only want to hear their views confirmed, never challenged.
Future historians? That’s me suggesting humanity has a future, where there’ll be historians. Evidence, I’m afraid, that I’m hoping for the best rather than expecting the worst.
© Reuters / Jessica Rinaldi