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Four Truths To Keep In Mind Before The Counting Begins

In this combination of file photos, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020, left, and President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington on April 5, 2020. (AP Photos)
In this combination of file photos, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020, left, and President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington on April 5, 2020. (AP Photos)

As a nation, we’ve not been getting much quality sleep these days. Election season is always a tense time, of course. But this year, we’ve got a deadly virus ripping through our country as never before, and a president addicted to stoking fear and division.

It wasn’t always like this. Americans on the eve of previous elections feared defeat. Right now, both sides of our political divide see an apocalypse in the offing.

I wish I could say something to allay this anxiety, but this is the logical endpoint of our current regime. Over the past four years, we’ve seen lies, racism, corruption, domestic terrorism, sadism and mass death normalized.

We now face a sitting president who hopes to escape accountability for his abject failures by undermining the very foundation of democracy: free and fair elections. There is no other honest way to look at what’s happening.

As we brace for the next few days and weeks, it’s important to keep in mind a few essential truths.

There Is No "Election Day” This Year

Thanks in part to the expansion of early voting, more than 92 million Americans have already voted. That’s more than two-thirds of the total vote four years ago.

While it’s familiar and comforting to think about Tuesday as “election day,” it’s also imprecise. What tomorrow represents is the final day of voting and the first day of counting.

I’m putting that phrase in italics, because I think all of us — especially those in the media — are fostering a dangerous myth by using the term “election day,” one the president is eager to exploit. Namely, that all votes cast before November 3, and those counted after November 3, are somehow illegitimate.

Like the rest of us, Trump knows that he’s likely toast in any free and fair election. Having spent decades trying to keep poor and minority voters from exercising their agency, and having gone so far as to attack the Postal Service, he and his allies have now shifted to a strategy of seeking to invalidate cast ballots using legal challenges.

Because more of his supporters are likely to vote on November 3 itself — and because those votes will be counted first — he wants Americans to view the election as a one-day event, rather than what it truly is: a process that lasts several weeks.

Don’t feed that myth.

Barring a Biden Landslide, Trump Will Declare Victory

Just as bad poker players have “tells” — unconscious ways in which they signal their bluffs — so do bad presidents. Trump’s signature move is to fail wildly, then declare victory.

He does this whether he’s launching casinos and bogus universities, building a border wall or fighting a pandemic. Last week, his press office had the gall to list “ending COVID-19” as a top accomplishment, even case numbers skyrocketed.

So don’t be surprised if Trump declares victory Tuesday night and seeks to halt further vote counting by suing in multiple jurisdictions.

Knowing Trump, he will also lean on his Attorney General, William Barr, to investigate potential “voter fraud.” He may encourage even more radical measures, such as encouraging National Guardsman to destroy ballots from democratic areas, or urging armed, far-right extremists to intimidate local election commissions.

Media outlets who soft-peddle these actions as “political disputes” are not practicing journalism. They are nurturing the subversion of our elections.

It Remains Difficult to Steal a National Election

Having by now panicked you (and myself) beyond reason, let’s take a deep breath and remember that presidents do not conduct or administer elections. That duty falls, thankfully, to thousands of election officials, spread out over all 50 states, almost all of whom are deeply invested in providing a full and fair count of votes.

What’s more, most of those election officials are well aware of the efforts Trump and the GOP have mounted to shrink the vote count, because they’ve been at it for months.

I’m not suggesting that Trump and his minions won’t seek to create discord. They will. They may also win some legal fights to discard ballots, given the hard-right lean of the federal judiciary, which already has helped them impose limits on voting.

But everyone is already on high alert for this kind interference: state and local election officials, journalists, voters themselves, and certainly the democratic campaigns, which have been prepping for post-election shenanigans.

Nobody will be caught by surprise when Trump starts amplifying paranoid conspiracy theories and blustering about Antifa and voter fraud. Nor when Fox News, talk radio, and his army of online trolls, amplify this propaganda.

This means that a replay of the 2000 election, in which a bunch of Republican operatives stormed the board of elections in Dade County, Florida and staged a fake “riot” that managed to halt a crucial vote count, is unlikely.

Americans, even conservatives, recognize what’s happening. You can only fight a free and fair count for so long. 

The Only Foolproof Cure for Election Anguish Is Action

To put it simply: if you have time to doomscroll, you have time to phone bank. Or text bank. Or make your own plan to vote. Or reach out to friends and relatives to make sure they exercise their franchise. Or donate to a candidate or cause you support.

This is literally the only thing I’ve been able to do to soothe my frayed nerves.

Why?

Because what really troubles us deep down, as citizens, is the feeling that we have no control over our destiny, that we’re at the mercy of cynical politicians and demagogues.

By taking whatever political action we feel we can manage, we reclaim a feeling of volition. Two days remain. We can still make a difference.

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Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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