Published at the Leftist rag The Atlantic yesterday:
In presidential elections, once is a fluke; twice is a pattern. I struggle to imagine how, beyond utter shock, millions of Democrats will process a Trump victory. A loss for Biden, after having been the clear favorite all summer, would provoke mass disillusion with electoral politics as a means of change—at a time when disillusion is already dangerously high. If Democrats can’t beat a candidate as unpopular as Trump during a devastating pandemic and a massive economic contraction, then are they even capable of winning presidential elections anymore? Democracy, after all, is supposed to self-correct after mistakes, particularly mistakes as egregious as electing Donald Trump—whose unfitness for the nation’s highest office makes itself apparent with almost every passing day.
Liberals had enough trouble accepting the results of the 2016 election. In some sense, they never really came to terms with it. The past four years have witnessed the continuous urge to explain away the inexplicable, to find solace in the fact that the voters betrayed them. How could so many of their fellow Americans side with a racist…
That was then. This time, it would be worse… Because Biden’s poll numbers this year have mostly been higher than Clinton’s were in 2016, a Trump victory will be even harder for the left to absorb.
If Trump manages to win, recent polling data indicate, he will likely do so despite losing the popular vote. That will fuel disillusion not just with the election outcome but with the electoral system. The popular-vote numbers will be used to argue that Trump won without winning—again…
Accepting the things that never should have happened is far more difficult. A certain kind of cognitive dissonance—the gap between what is and what should be—can fuel revolutionary sentiment, and not just in a fluffy, radical-chic kind of way. In such situations, acting outside the political process, including through nonpeaceful means, becomes more attractive, not necessarily out of hope but out of despair.
This distance between what a society should be and the tragedy of what it actually becomes is less of a problem in democracies, because democracies are supposed to be responsive to voters’ demands and grievances. But they aren’t always. The gap will grow larger under a Trump presidency than a Biden one, and this has implications for mass unrest and political violence across American cities. For democracy to work, the losers of elections need to believe that they can win the next time around. Otherwise their incentives to play the spoiler increase. A breakdown of democracy is always a possibility, but the country is more resilient than it may seem, and consolidated democracies seldom break down in any circumstance. That said, this is one of those propositions that is better left untested.