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No Country for Old Democrats

This essay is part of a periodic series on the 2020 presidential election. Some earlier pieces can be found here.

Even if Joe Biden is somehow put in the White House (all those combinations of winning Arizona and finding 700,000 spare ballots in Pennsylvania), he will still have lost this election.

Come 2021, the Senate will remain under the thumb of the Dickensian Mitch McConnell; the Supreme Court will begin construing its original intent constitutional theories (a cross between the Torah, Ten Commandments, and sharia law); and House Republicans can begin their live feeds to the QAnon web site (free pizza with every subscription).

***

At the moment, Biden’s chance of eking out a presidential victory rests on the following alignment of the stars.

Biden holds on in Nevada, wins in Arizona, runs to daylight in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and finds deliverance to the White House in a sack of Wayne County (Detroit) ballots that turns up near second base in Comerica Park, allowing him to carry Michigan.

I see little hope for Biden in North Carolina or Pennsylvania, even though some one million votes have yet to be counted in Pennsylvania.

In theory, the uncounted ballots are from the Philadelphia and the Main Line suburbs, but something tells me that Biden can’t go home again—in Scranton or anywhere else in Pennsylvania.

Sadly, there’s too much Rabbit Angstrom (John Updike’s Rabbit, Run) in Biden—another guy from the coal seams who spends his time reminding everyone of his scoring average (basketball et al.) in high school. I think he’ll lose the state.

***

On the off chance that Biden were to win an electoral majority from the surviving electoral races, Trump will immediately air his Great Drive-By Proud Boy Open Carry Recount Jamboree and Legal reality show, which for the next two months can suck the air out of every American conversation and focus the eyes of the world on his gilded ego. What more could he want? (We’re not an electorate; we’re a studio audience.)

Threatened with defeat, Trump can hold press conferences, summon lawyers, file motions, call in to Fox, preen on television, consult with Mitch, diss Pelosi, and treat the democracy as if it was yet another Atlantic City creditor trying to collect on an unpaid debt (that Trump has no intention of repaying).

The only way to have avoided Trump’s coming election-by-lawsuit would have been for Biden to have won the Senate and a convincing majority in the electoral college.

That was beyond Biden’s drive-in movie theater campaign, in which the only idea he articulated was not to ban fracking in Pennsylvania. (Maybe that’s why he’s losing there?)

In the end many swing state voters decided they would rather die of Trump’s virus than to live on Biden’s hollow words.

And while loyal Democrats turned out for the party—if not for the memories of FDR and JFK—young people and Latinos especially wanted little to do with Biden’s country club economics.

***

That various state and federal judges will scoff at Trump’s legal pretensions hardly matters, as the president’s goal will be—in the event he looks like an electoral loser—to have the state mail-in ballot cases settled by the tilted wheels of the Supreme Court, which at this point is little more than a Trump personal injury law firm (“Jacoby, Meyers & Barrett…I think I’ve lost an election….”).

Even if Trump were to fail in some lower courts—as he will—he would become a winner if he could delay states such as Wisconsin or Michigan from sending its presidential electors to the Congress in mid-December, in which case the incoming House of Representatives would be asked to decide the election.

With each House delegation getting one vote, and with Republicans having gained ground in Congress, Trump would be back in office, despite the Democratic majority in the House.

***

If Biden were to prevail in winning some combination of Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia, he would still enter the White House as a dead duck.

With Mitch McConnell back on his throne of ease, Biden’s presidency would be a re-run of Obama’s, at least those parts that could not get anything done.

The only thing on Biden’s desk would be Trump’s poisoned chalice (the pandemic, a bankrupt economy, etc.), and copy of the pardon that Trump would have issued to himself.

What chance would Biden have to reform health care, rein in military spending, or look after the climate (this assumes he would want to, which I doubt), if the Senate was in firm opposition and if he was reviled in his own party for having blown the election (even if, by a miracle, he ends up in the White House).

It’s not much of a winning formula, with Biden’s governmental authority limited to executive decrees and photo ops with French President Emmanuel Macron.

***

If, come January 2021, Trump is out of office, he will still have his placemen in the Senate and on the Supreme Court, plus his Twitter handle and some leased jet to get around to rallies.

He would love it, and he could position himself or Ivanka to run again in 2024.

Whether Trump is in office or out, work can still begin on the Trump Memorial, perhaps on some mountaintop in the Black Hills of South Dakota, on which can be inscribed Trump’s parting words to the republic, that he will have done so much to tear down.

The inscription can quote from his election remarks delivered at 2 a.m. on November 4, 2020, when he said:

This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election. So our goal now is to ensure the integrity for the good of this nation. This is a very big moment. This is a major fraud in our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the US Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at four o’clock in the morning and add them to the list. Okay? It’s a very sad moment. To me this is a very sad moment and we will win this. And as far as I’m concerned, we already have won it.

Requiescet in pace (rest in peace), American democracy.

Matthew Stevenson is the author of many books, including Reading the Rails and Appalachia Spring. His most recent book, published this summer, is The Revolution as a Dinner Party, about China throughout its turbulent twentieth century.  

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