Thursday, December 03, 2020

The Calmness After The Dread

(Update: Many thanks to Infidel753 for adding me to Crooks&Liars' Mike's Blog Roundup! I need to note Infidel does a weekly roundup every Sunday - included there as well this past weekend, thanks again - so it should behoove you to check that blog every Sunday morning! IO SATURNALIA!)

It's been a month since the Election Night, after all that build-up, all that anxiety, all the stress that the results would be chaotic as hell.

There was, let's admit it, an open dread that the response to whoever won - Biden or trump - would lead to violence in the streets: That protests by one side or the other would lead to riots, police beatdowns, or worse.

Stores in major cities boarded up windows. Social media prepped for long fiery nights.

And... so far, it's been insanely quiet. Oh, trump and his lawyers are still stirring up bullshit over ballot counts and certifications, we've got a number of wingnut demagogues - especially just-pardoned Mike Flynn, who is falling further into seditious behavior - calling for shutting down everything and stealing the win for trump. We've had the pro-trump rallies screaming for arrests and acts of force in places like Georgia where the Senate runoff campaigns retained national attention.

But the oversized fears of nationwide rioting and blood in the streets hasn't happened, and it's looking like it might not happen even when the Electoral College officially calls it for Biden on December 14. (Of course, Gods help me if I've jinxed us all on this...)

It's a bit puzzling that all this brouhaha turned into a meh-haha. Bonnie Kristian at The Week is equally vexxed:

We've weathered four weeks of uncalled races, recounts, lawsuits, and allegations with relative calm. There was some rioting in Portland, where a Molotov cocktail was thrown at police, but tumultuous protests have been a fixture there for half a year now. In Michigan, some chanting Republicans attempted to force their way into a vote counting center but were restrained by police. Demonstrators assembled in other cities, too, and certainly some scuffles broke out. Yet the "dozens" of arrests reported nationwide are hardly the envisioned catastrophe...

I decided to revisit the forecasts. One of the most notable came from the International Crisis Group, a think tank that seeks to prevent war by "sound[ing] the alarm to prevent deadly conflict." Usually this work concerns places that are, well, not here, but for the 2020 election, the group issued its first report about the United States. "The 2020 U.S. presidential election presents risks not seen in recent history," the report said. "It is conceivable that violence could erupt during voting or protracted ballot counts."

The Crisis Group identified 11 risk factors, which it condensed to four larger themes in the executive summary: "political polarization bound up with issues of race and identity; the rise of armed groups with political agendas; the higher-than-usual chances of a contested outcome; and most importantly President Donald Trump, whose toxic rhetoric and willingness to court conflict to advance his personal interests have no precedent in modern U.S. history."

The first of these four is impossible to dispute. We are increasingly polarized and that polarization does involve identity as well as related issues of misinformation, information segregation, epistemic crisis, and institutional distrust spelled out in the longer risk list. With the benefit of hindsight, we also know the outcome has indeed been contested and Trump has missed no opportunity to spread division and undermine public trust and goodwill. The president still has supporters — as many as half of Republicans, per a mid-November poll, the most recent I could find — who believe he "rightfully won" the election and is being defrauded...

And yet, for some reason, the possibility of violence has not turned - not yet, I must caveat - into reality. Kristian considers why:

...One is that some of the proposed conditions went unmet: Trump didn't win; there wasn't a wildcard event; and the election contestation — the real procedure of it, as opposed to vivid nonsense the president and his surrogates have spouted on television and Twitter — has been fairly mundane. We've seen nothing so exciting as Bush v. Gore in 2000. Biden won the closest state races by margins of tens of thousands, not a mere 537 votes.

A second reason, as I wrote before Election Day, is that most Americans (including most Republicans) were prepared to wait for results. Everyone knew this year would be weird. How could we not? Trump's claim that any delay was a sign of cheating and a Democratic attempt to "creat[e] havoc" never made sense, so when the expected delay arrived, nobody panicked.

Or, at least, they didn't panic in real life. Maybe they panicked online, and maybe that, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has theorized, served as a way to "playact extremism, ... to approach radical politics the way they approach a first-person shooter game — as a kind of sport, a kick to the body chemistry, that doesn't put anything in their relatively comfortable late-modern lives at risk."

That brings me to my third and most significant reason: Whether because we're getting our extremist impulses out online (or by donating to Trump's still-fundraising campaign) or because we're among the plurality of Americans who don't align with either partisan extreme, most of us are not actually interested in participating in civil strife...

For all the rhetoric, for all the chest-thumping, for all the loud screams by the extremists that "they" number in the millions... when it comes down it the extremists are an extreme minority of malcontents who overstate their numbers either out of arrogance, ignorance, or projection.

We have strong, albeit violated, norms against political violence in America, and there is little post-election rioting in our national history. Worries about civil war cycle with each election, but that's not the same as an appetite for street fighting, for making your hate tangible enough to shoot your neighbor for putting out the wrong yard sign. Even the alarming willingness to say violence may be "justified" to advance a political cause — which has risen in recent years, though much less than a Politico report initially suggested — is not the same as readiness to personally enact that violence.

Those "armed groups" who want to fight are a tiny minority of dunces. The rest of us may be very angry at each other, but we are mercifully not stupid enough to think violence will help...

This should not overlook the actual history we have with politically-motivated violence. We've had mad bombers and street shooters fighting over arguments - usually race-related - for decades. Redeemer governments of the late 19th Century - well into the 20th Century in some counties - made ready use of guns and rope to enforce their will. There's still a possibility that violence over who won the 2020 Presidential election - hint, Biden - can still erupt.

What's happening right now is that the fighting over this election is still relatively early, and it's focused mostly on courtroom battles where trump and his team of irrational lawyers keep losing their cases due to the simple fact they can't produce any actual evidence of voter fraud. There isn't necessarily any panic buttons getting pushed right now. Most of the trump supporters are still happily spinning conspiracy bullshit that once this all gets to the Supreme Court, trump's hand-picked Justices will SAVE 'MURIKKKA, nullify 80 million votes, and hand trump a gift-wrapped stolen election.

So what happens when all of trump's half-assed court appeals reach the Supreme Court... and a solid majority of Justices all say "This Court can only rule on the appropriate legality of the lower court rulings, and they were all relying on your evidence you never produced, there's nothing we can do, by the way where's the damned evidence?"

When we get to that moment, we may indeed see violence in the streets from the extremist trumpsters unable to cope with reality. But how bad could it get?

The scary news is that so far there's about 73 million Americans who voted trump. That's a lot of people to be worried about.

The good news is that - as Kristian pointed out - a vast majority of Republican voters are not extremists or violent towards their communities. I've noted before, most Republicans are hard-wired to vote Republican but are otherwise honest, decent people (who can't accept the fact their own party is led by crooked, vulgar people). If trump flashes out a Tweet for WAR to foment a coup takeover, many trump voters will shake their heads and mutter "okay, that's a little too far."

What we have to worry about are the trump extremists who have crossed that line of morality. The guy making pipe bombs in trump's name, for example, or the gunmen caught plotting to kidnap and kill governors.

We're not talking millions of Americans at this point: These numbers are mercifully few and far between - they have to bus in people from out of state to make their wingnut rallies number in the thousands, after all - but there's still enough of them to make the days between now and January nerve-wracking. All it will take is just one of them packing enough firepower to wipe out an entire city block to ruin everybody else's day.

Even with that dread, I am tired of talking like a Debbie Downer. There may be a nice little silver lining to celebrate in this: That in the end, a sizable number of Republicans - even ones who for godforsaken reasons VOTED FOR trump - are still able to respect the civil norms of a democratic-republic nation the same way a sizable number of Democrats do. 

Now if we can just get everyone to WEAR THE DAMN MASKS (and over the nose, everybody!) we can save our United States of America...


Infidel753 said...

A couple of things come to mind here.

First, no one really has the motivation to riot at this point. The left doesn't, because Biden won, even if the downballot races were somewhat of a disappointment. On the right, the wingnuttiest wingnuts, the ones most likely to actually turn violent, still think Trump is going to turn this thing around and emerge as the winner (I read some of their blogs and "news" sites). They're not yet reacting to a defeat because they haven't assimilated the fact that their guy lost.

Second, even after they do -- when Biden is sworn in or whatever -- the problem with resorting to violence is the lack of obvious targets. Yes, there are people who like smashing things up for the sheer hell of it -- we're plagued with them in downtown Portland right now -- but people who launch political violence generally expect it to actually accomplish something. If they just want to lash out at generic liberals, they could shoot up a library or a vegan grocery store or something (and there may be a few incidents like that), but not many of the real political crazies would do that, because they know it wouldn't achieve any result they want. It wouldn't get Trump back into office or change government policy. Even if they succeeded in assassinating, say, a Democratic state governor, it would produce no political results, and they know it.

What I'm seeing on their blogs is fantasies about violence, but largely defensive violence. They're expecting mobs of black people to attack their neighborhoods, or maybe (if Biden does "steal the election") storm-troopers to come and try to take their guns away, and they'd have to fight back. Time will pass and those things won't happen, and once again all their violent talk will prove to be just talk.

dinthebeast said...

Most of the loudmouth right wingers aren't really willing to risk arrest and incarceration to make a vague statement with violence.
Some might be, but probably the more likely they are to act out in violence, the less likely they are to be able to do much damage.
The smarter ones self-select away from shit that will likely go poorly for them.

-Doug in Sugar Pine

Paul said...

Infidel, some replies to your thoughts:

You are right to note that the Far Right are holding from overt violence right now, because they're buying trump's BS fantasy that he'll get the state legislatures - and then later, the GOP-packed courts - to flip the Electoral votes on their own. When that DOESN'T happen, we could expect the acts of violence to erupt.

What I'm worried about is that the Far Right WILL have certain targets in mind: Don't forget the wingnut militia who plotted to kidnap, judge, and execute Got. Whitmer in Michigan (and plotted to kidnap the Virginia governor too). If trump doesn't "win," we could expect attacks on the state officials who "betrayed" trump, even if they are Republicans themselves. They could target Biden and Harris, or Democratic members of Congress (especially ones in Red states that they think will get replaced by GOP governors to flip control of the House). There are a number of targets to them that they'd consider "viable," and ones that the Far Right media will have an easy time dumping on - as socialist librul baby-killers who got what they deserved - if they get killed.

I haven't given up my dread about this, not until December 14th. Part of me is convinced trump is going to try and subvert the Electoral College the day before, declare it illegal, arrest the electors, something like that. The threat of coup isn't gone yet...

Paul said...
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