Yesterday the Atlantic published a piece by Shadi Hamid which makes the argument that if Trump wins the 2020 election, Democrats are not going to handle it well. The basis of his argument is pretty simple. Democrats didn’t handled the 2016 loss very well:
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 and a fabulist, someone so callous and seemingly without empathy? It was easier to think that those Americans had been lackeys, manipulated and deceived, or that they simply hadn’t understood what was best for them. Moreover, the Russians had interfered, and tipped the balance in an extremely close election through propaganda, fake news, and collusion with the Trump campaign. Perhaps, as former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid suggested, the Russians had even tampered with the vote itself.
From the moment the results were in Democrats started chanting “Not my president!” in the streets. Paul Krugman called the result “illegitimate” in the NY Times. The Women’s March became the largest national protest in recent history. As recently as last year, Hillary Clinton said the election had been “stolen” from her. So it really is a given that Democrats didn’t handle the 2016 loss well. But Hamid argues that if Biden were to lose this year things would be even worse:
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?
I get what he’s saying but to be fair, Democrats fully expected to win in 2016 as well. Hillary was similarly up in the polls and the best case for a Trump win at the time was that he had something like a 15% chance. But I guess it would be worse in the sense that all of the anger they’ve built toward Trump over the past four years would appear not to matter. Hamid says the results of that could be violence in the streets:
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.
Last time Democrats lost they started The Resistance which resulted in a wave of death threats against GOP office holders in 2017. If they lose again, it will be worse. More on the left will embrace antifa tactics, i.e. beat up those who disagree, burn down anything that stands in the way.
Needless to say, some on the left didn’t appreciate the article:
The Atlantic has become such a weird publication. On the one hand, Ed Yong's brilliant reporting on the pandemic; on the other hand, this piece of tripe that basically encapsulates everything that's wrong with smug entitled guy opining. https://t.co/S7hIhUxJXE
— Lisa Goldman (@lisang) September 13, 2020
But he defended his work in a way that’s hard to argue with:
Whatever else you think about the argument, it's a fairly mild claim to say liberals had trouble accepting the results of the 2016 election. The evidence, on display the past four years, is overwhelminghttps://t.co/wbpBYfuTLT
— Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) September 13, 2020
I think he’s right to expect the worst from the left if Trump wins but that doesn’t mean that, even if his prediction comes true, it will be seen by people as what it is, i.e. a continuation of bad behavior that started after the 2016 election. If Trump wins, we’ll have wall-to-wall media coverage of what went wrong (starting with the presumption that his win is wrong) and more pressure to change the electoral college. No one at CNN or MSNBC is going to admit the left is behaving badly and failing to accept the results.
How do I know? Because no one really made this point in 2017 (except people on the right). More recently, the media has spent the entire summer trying to downplay far left riots as not significant or not worthy of national coverage. If Trump wins, Brian Stelter and people like him will redouble their efforts to downplay any threats of violence or even actual violence, just as they’re doing now.
This is the difference that having a left-wing media makes. The right is denounced in advance on the expectation that they won’t behave themselves. The left isn’t even denounced in real time as they do the very thing the right is criticized for maybe thinking about doing. With that kind of advantage, the left is rarely held accountable for their behavior.