“These last two weeks have been the hardest of the pandemic,” The Fabulous Wife said yesterday. I readily agreed. In addition to casting pallor on the world around us, unhealthy levels of pollution from the wildfires have exacerbated the mobility restrictions imposed by COVID-19. I’ve had to seriously curtail exercise — and am going bonkers as a result.
There’s more to the gloom, though. On a personal level, a close friend of The Fabulous Wife received alarming medical news. And on a societal level, the two parties’ national conventions ended and the presidential campaign commenced in earnest.
Now that’s depressing.
Six weeks ago I predicted the campaign would have little to do with reason and that both sides would rely on pathos, or emotional appeals. For once I got something right. The Democratic convention stressed ad nauseam Biden’s empathy and compassion. The Republican convention stressed ad absurdum fear of others.
And now, after an inexplicable police shooting of an African-American man in Kenosha, Wisconsin and an ensuing confrontation that saw a white teen vigilante shoot three demonstrators, killing two, Trump is amping up the fear because, according to his just-departed apologist, Kellyanne Conway, “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is” for his re-election prospects.
Trump’s neo-Nixonian cry for law and order has gained a bit of traction. He’s narrowed Biden’s lead in the crucial states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. More ominously, he’s made strides in Minnesota, where George Floyd’s cold-blooded murder by the police sparked the nationwide protests further fueled by last week’s tragedy in Kenosha. If Trump wrests Minnesota from the Democrats, he can lose Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin and still win the Electoral College (assuming Biden doesn’t win any other states Trump won in 2016.)
But the Trump camp’s calculation that civil disorder works to its advantage may be fallacious. Heeding smart advice (usually an oxymoron when referring to Democratic campaign strategy), Biden used just 39 words to distinguish protest from violence and dismiss claims he condones the latter: “Protesting such brutality is right and necessary. It’s an utterly American response. But burning down communities and needless destruction is not. Violence that endangers lives is not. Violence that guts and shutters businesses that serve the community is not.”
And then, as if an in-house psy-ops team had game-theoried the next step, Biden went on the attack. “I condemn violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right. And I challenge Donald Trump to do the same.”
Which, almost certainly as predicted, Trump couldn’t — because even when it’s to his advantage to say otherwise, he can’t help but characterize those protesting the modern version of lynchings as thugs, anarchists, and agitators and the armed provocateurs menacing those protesters as victims.
Biden’s call-out of that Confederate-style double standard may reverse Trump’s gains. As David Graham notes in The Atlantic, while Trump’s approval rating remained steady through an impeachment, a botched pandemic response, and an economic calamity, it fell in the wake of the George Floyd execution, when Trump refused to acknowledge America’s continuing legacy of racial injustice: “The fact is that voters don’t like the way the president talks about race, and the moments when his disapproval spikes are often those when he is stoking racial division.”
Perhaps I’m investing too much faith in Biden and team — and in the American public, most of which has so far resisted Trump’s pathetic appeal to racial animus — but I’ve needed something to brighten a stretch that’s been literally and figuratively dark, so I’m choosing this. I’m hoping that in the next week or so Graham’s analysis proves correct. I’m also hoping the wildfires are extinguished and The Fabulous Wife’s friend makes a light-speed recovery.
We’ll know soon enough whether that hope is justified. But even if it is, the debates come soon . . . and probably more fires. 2020 will not let us be!