Trouble at the neighbours’ Regardless of the outcome, what's happening south of the border is both heartbreaking and frightening
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/11/2020 (701 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On a recent Saturday, a few days before Wisconsin set a record for its highest daily death toll to COVID-19, U.S. president Donald Trump spoke to his flock at a rally in Waukesha, where he told them that doctors and hospitals were inflating fatality figures because they “get more money” for COVID-19 deaths.
That’s not true, but things being true no longer seem to matter. Trump repeated the baseless conspiracy theory again in Michigan a week later. Doctors were outraged, of course, having spent months fighting to save lives only to now be maligned as the pandemic’s scheming villains; otherwise, Trump’s comments barely nicked the news cycle.
It was already an old story anyway, before it had even been told. For four years we’ve gone through some version of it almost daily. The president says something that’s equal parts false and inflammatory. The president pins blame for his administration’s failures on someone else. The president turns entire groups of people into enemies.
This twisted carousel ride cannot continue. It has damaged so much. And yet it can, and maybe will, get worse.
Tuesday is going to be ugly. We know that already. Whatever happens when Americans go to the polls, the aftermath will be a mess. We don’t know how it will reach peak ugliness, or when, only that it will be but one salvo in an ongoing battle over the soul of the nation, and it will make even more clear just how much America has already lost.
The calculation here is simple. When the very foundations of a country’s democracy have been so badly sabotaged, there can be no chance of a non-fractious result. Consider that a non-trivial minority of Trump’s base subscribes to a conspiracy cult that says he’s their sole saviour from a global child trafficking cabal. And they have guns.
Add to that Trump’s playing coy about whether he would accept a peaceful transfer of power in the event of his loss. Add to that a tidal wave of tactics aimed at voter suppression, including efforts to undermine the United States Postal Service in an evident bid to discredit mail-in voting. Add to that Trump outright fanning conspiracy theories.
“This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” Trump said in his first televised debate against Joe Biden, when the moderator asked the candidates how they’d reassure the public about the integrity of the election. If media in the U.S. covered their elections the way they did less-affluent foreign countries, the headlines would be unforgiving.
And on the weekend, the Texas Republican party asked a federal judge to throw out 127,000 ballots already cast in one county — surprise, it’s a majority Democratic one — via its new, pandemic-compatible drive-thru voting booths.
The judge rejected that bid in an emergency hearing Monday. Still, it marked an attempt to throw out the votes of 127,000 people, who had voted according to their jurisdiction’s rules, using a setup approved by the Texas secretary of state and that varied from typical early voting only in that it allowed voters to stay in their cars for safety, with no chance of casting another ballot.
Those who would seek to trash those votes hold aloft the idea of democracy in one hand while stabbing it in the back with the other. But they know exactly what they’re doing. If every American who wants to vote in 2020 has their vote counted, then the numbers suggest Trump cannot win. And winning is all that matters now, no matter the collateral damage.
So let’s go back to this: whatever happens Tuesday, the aftermath will be a mess. Too many conspiracy theories have been sown, too many votes have been suppressed. The battle lines are too deeply entrenched, slicing jagged and impenetrable boundaries through a social and political landscape that was already deeply divided.
That tension is ready to snap. Last week, businesses in cities across the United States boarded windows to brace for post-election riots. The president himself has instructed terrorist groups — sorry, “militias” — that have pledged their support to “patrol” polling sites. In Texas, Trump supporters in pickup trucks swarmed a Biden campaign bus on the Interstate and, at several points, appeared to try and run it off the road.
A Fox News host praised that open act of political intimidation as “ordinary Americans just taking this election into their own hands.” Which is a strange thing to say, when the point of a free and fair election is that it does just that, without brazenly and dangerously harassing an opponent’s campaign. But all is fair game now, it seems.
We keep saying “this isn’t normal,” not wanting to admit that all of this is, in fact, quite normal for a nation whose very fabric is coming undone. This is all exactly what you’d expect in a country where the central pillars of both democracy and the social contract have begun to collapse, and all that remains is at the top is propaganda and power grabs.
In that light, it might be tempting to call the 2020 election a tragedy. But we usually save that word for things that lack intent. And this destruction of basic trust is no accident; it was fully intended by those who stand to benefit the most from fanning distrust and chaos. They will ride the rage they have enflamed as far as they can.
So, let’s take a minute and consider what’s been lost over these last four years, in this war for the soul of the nation. Civility in the political discourse? Forget it, it’s gone. And maybe it should stay gone, where its effect now would only be to give a veneer of respectability to political machinations that are anything but deserving of respect.
Public trust in the election? That’s a more devastating loss. Hard to rebuild once it’s gone, and without it any sort of forward movement becomes nearly impossible. It means another round of the same cycle, of digging in, of bearing down, of demanding voters fall into line behind whoever can win, and ask for little else.
Now, it’s time to brace ourselves for what comes next for our neighbours to the south. There’s no way to know which of the two presidential candidates will win the election, but Americans have already lost. The forces unleashed in the last four years — or long before that — will not quietly go back in their box.
For that, it will take a much longer battle. It’s going to be messy. But there is always hope.
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Monday, November 2, 2020 8:09 PM CST: Puts story in Jumbo format