5 Predictions For The Dumb 2020 Election Season
If this is going to be your first presidential election, let me just take a moment to apologize on behalf of American democracy. Sure, I didn't invent it, but I didn't really do anything to stop it, either. And friend, what you're about to experience is just stupid as shit.
Here are five predictions for what you'll see between now and November. For reasons mainly related to my own mental health, I'm going to avoid the most alarmist scenarios (ie, Trump canceling the election altogether) but still, you might want to buckle up:
There's A Big Joe Biden Scandal Coming
No, I don't have any inside information about Joe Biden -- I've only met him once, in 2002, when we were both competing in the X-Games. But I know how the news media works. Remember Hillary's emails? You know, when the New York Times and other outlets took a non-story and feverishly covered it as if those emails included pictures of Hillary's human sacrifice altar? And how they created the impression that the 2016 race was between two equally-corrupt candidates?
You'll get the Joe Biden version of this, probably around September. It doesn't matter how damning the actual facts or sources are; it will become the subject of around-the-clock coverage just the same. That's not because of any dark conspiracy on the part of journalists, unless you consider capitalism to be a dark conspiracy (in which case, you know, fair enough). Media outlets need ratings and clicks to keep the lights on and once the summer is over, the "Trump is flailing hilariously" narrative is going to get stale.
The media's biases are driven by their audience and what their audience wants is drama. In an election year, this means they need A) new and fresh storylines and B) a close election. So newsrooms will be digging frantically for something in Biden's past and they'll no doubt find it (if politicians were good people, they wouldn't be in politics). The conservative outlets will pick it up first (maybe Fox News or The Daily Caller) and other outlets like CNN will have to jump on it or risk losing audience. As a result ...
Trump Will Stage A Big Comeback In The Polls
Right now (late June) all of the polls average out to about a 10-point lead for Biden. For context, at this point in 2016, Hillary was up by about six. As for whether Trump can come back by November, well, on one hand, you could point out that he never made up the difference in 2016 -- the final polls still had Hillary up by four and then it turned out they were off by two (Hillary won the popular vote 48% to 46%). But on the other hand, Trump is now the goddamned president.
The electoral college, a system set up so that empty pieces of land get to cast votes, is arranged so that Trump could lose this election by around five points and still get a second term, thanks to the corn fields that love him. So when I talk about Trump making a comeback in the polls, keep in mind that he doesn't have to gain back all ten points (which would require something like Biden admitting he accidentally created COVID-19 while operating a bat-fighting ring in his garage). If Trump can get it back to where he's down, let's say, 48-44, I'd absolutely expect him to win in November.
"But," you say, "doesn't everyone hate him now, after weeks of headlines about COVID-19 deaths, Black Lives Matter protests and *waves hand to indicate the state of the world in general*?" Not really! Trump's approval rating never moves more than a couple of points either way -- the pandemic and the world generally being a shitshow have dropped his approval to 41%, which is actually up a bit from this point in 2017, right after he took office.
He has a rock-solid base of 40% or so, and then another five to six points of "I'll express my displeasure in conversation but really don't want my taxes to go up." Some of those people will start showing for him in the polling once the media narrative flips to "Trump comeback" in the fall. That's when you'll see headlines about a "surprisingly strong" debate performance from Trump, that kind of thing. Again: The media's goal is for it to be anybody's ballgame on election night.
BONUS PREDICTION: Around October, Trump will propose a massive middle class tax cut.
They'll Use COVID-19 To Try To Stop You From Voting
A few weeks ago we saw horrifyingly long lines at Georgia polling places where people waited up to seven goddamned hours to vote. If you follow this kind of thing, you may recognize Georgia as the state where, in 2018, the Republican governor won by 55,000 votes after purging 670,000 voter registrations. Listen up, everybody: This right here is the real battleground.
Restricting voting access has been part of the gameplan for a while, but COVID-19 has given Republicans the greatest gift they could have hoped for: In order to suppress votes in 2020, they can simply do nothing at all.
A shortage of poll workers, plus infection precautions slowing everything down, means November will be a mess unless we let people vote some other way -- most Americans can't afford to spend an entire work day standing in line. Meanwhile, Republicans have exerted legal and political pressure nationwide to prevent any expansion of voting by mail (acting under orders from Trump himself, who recently claimed mail voting would allow evil foreigners to steal the election).
There are thus all sorts of complicated legal battles playing out in various states. Take Florida, a state that Trump literally cannot win without: Voting rights groups have already filed a lawsuit there demanding a bundle of changes to overcome limitations caused by the pandemic. For example, COVID-19 has seriously screwed over the normal processes for voter registration (often done door-to-door or at public events) so changes would need to be made just to maintain the status quo. To keep turnout down, the Republican governor there can simply make some accommodations while quietly refusing others.
In an election that is destined to be close in the electoral college (all presidential elections are close these days) and even closer when it comes to the Senate, a hundred thousand blocked votes in minority neighborhoods is all it will take to change world history. Stopping those votes requires nothing other than inaction. It's kind of like that scene in Breaking Bad where Walter White kills Jesse's girlfriend by just standing by and allowing her to choke on her own vomit.
Trump Will Try To Create Some Foreign Policy Drama
"Three U.S. aircraft carriers operating on doorstep of South China Sea", says the headline from June 21st. "Deployment -- first of its kind since 2017 -- likely intended to send a message to Beijing." Get ready for a lot of that between now and election day.
I don't think Trump will start an all-out war just to win an election. I actually don't think he wants to fight a war in general (remember when pundits insisted the assassination of Qasem Soleimani meant we were in all-out war with Iran?). But he can still do something that generally shifts the national mood onto some kind of war footing, thinking that Americans will rally around the flag (and, by extension, their current president).
If I had to guess, I'd say it will involve China somehow, complete with lots of talk about how every American COVID-19 death is really China's fault (they've actually been beating that drum for a while). Whatever he does, it doesn't have to include any cruise missiles taking flight; it just has to dominate headlines for a few weeks (pushing aside whatever scandal he has going at the time) and make Trump look Strong and Presidential to his fans. Lots of tough talk, some warships moving into disputed waters and a resolution that Trump can spin as China backing down. Maybe they'll sink a boat at some point, like a small one or something.
Fox will eat it up, then MSNBC will howl that this is WWIII. Trump will then spin the outrage into, "Democrats are rooting for China!" It will all be stupid as hell. That, of course, leads me to the one prediction I'm most confident about:
This Will Be The Dumbest Shit Any Of Us Have Ever Seen
As many of you know, I write sci-fi books about how dumb the future will be which is a good career to have if you'd personally like a future full of strangers mocking you for being wrong. The future is, after all, always crazier than we think -- remember all of those year-end 2019 posts making predictions about 2020, or even dumber, the whole next decade? Did a single one predict a pandemic? Well, let that be a lesson to us all: What dominates headlines in October will be something so asinine that no one could have guessed it in advance.
This is the world's safest bet. At the end of the day, the media just can't help but operate on Trump's not-quite-human wavelength, engaging in a petty back-and-forth that always winds up helping him. Mockery of his weight, skin tone or how he drinks water just boosts his image as a regular guy who's getting picked on by the media elites. Journalists, meanwhile, still think they live in a bizarro world in which catching Trump making racist jokes or sexist boasts actually hurts him in the polls. Anyone who thought the Access Hollywood tape would sink his chances was badly out of touch with middle America and probably still is.
The result is a president who thinks/knows that the media's obsession with the Dumb Bullshit of the Week makes him their puppet master, so he's motivated to keep pushing it further and further. He'll repeat outrageous lies, he'll continue to perform everyday tasks in a way that makes him seem like an alien wearing an ill-fitting human suit. Only he's sensing that he's in the endgame now. All bets are off.
Trump rode to the White House on a simple machine: Intentionally doing or saying outrageous things, then playing the victim when the backlash comes. Now there's nothing for him to do but keep the pedal to the floor until the engine explodes. All we can do is hang on.You can pre-order Jason "David Wong" Pargin's book Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, or any place books like this are sold. You can also follow him on Twitter, his Instagram, or Facebook, or Goodreads, or any of the many accounts he's forgotten about.