Tell a working historian that some events can be accurately described as historic while they are happening and you’ll be told back that you’re a fool tasked with a fool’s errand: predicting history.
But these are not normal times. For a long while now Americans have sensed that the 2020 presidential election was going to be the most consequential in their history, and that, yes, the fate of the American republic — indeed, given the central role America holds in influencing global affairs, that of the world as well — could depend on how they voted. This time around, an ordinary vote by an ordinary American can effect extraordinary change. This time around the country needs Americans on Election Day as it had never needed them before.
Election Day in the US has since 1845 taken place on the first Tuesday after November 1. Why so, you ask? The reasons are anchored in America’s quaint, 19th century socioeconomic and cultural conditions. Tuesday, you see, enabled people at the time to worship on Sunday, ride to their county seat on Monday and vote the following day, all before market day on Wednesday. And November?
Well, November was a month that fits nicely between harvest time and harsh winter weather, which could be especially bad for people travelling by horse and buggy. You might say some traditions — practical in their time and winsome in ours — die hard.
I am writing this column on Monday. Thus I will not run a fool’s errand by predicting the outcome of this pivotal election, but you’ll find me, as you will find every American and his uncle, on Tuesday night settled down in front of my television set to watch the returns roll in from across the country, hoping that, by opting for change, the electorate will save America from itself — an America that never before in its history has been so dumbed down, so vulgarised and so little thought of by the rest of the world as it has been over the last four years.
A lousy date
You hope, in effect, that many of those voters who in 2016 took Donald Trump to the prom and so had to dance with him will now realise that he had been a lousy date and change their minds, casting their votes this time around in a more studied and thoughtful manner.
But what if, I ask myself, the man scores another upset victory in this election? Michael Hirsh, former chief diplomatic correspondent for Newsweek — a professional not given license by his calling to exaggerate — wrote recently in Foreign Policy that, unless Trump was voted out of office it may be curtains for America. As simple as that. And I quote at length from his piece.
“An extraordinary consensus exists among historians, political scientists, diplomats, national security officials and other experts ... that the malign forces Trump has summoned up have already done so much damage to the institutions of US democracy ... that his reelection in November could [destroy] forever the 244-year-old American experiment of a republic of laws.
"After a first term in which Trump openly defied Congress and the courts, twisted foreign policy to serve his political interests, dismissed electoral norms and turned a terrified Republican Party into his plaything, his return to power would, in effect, legitimise the gutting of the institutions of law and what remains of the Founders’ checks and balances. Re-election would vindicate his view that he can, as he said, ‘Do whatever I want’. It would, in other words, [leave] the country as just another abject discard on the ash heap of failed republics going back to Ancient Greece and Rome."
Fulcrum moment for America
Them are scary thoughts, no? But then Hirsh goes on to quote historian Edward J. Watts, author of Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell Into Tyranny, who believes that this is a “fulcrum moment” for America: “There’s no question in my mind that this is the most important election in American history. If Trump is reelected, then I think the norms and restraints of American democracy will disappear completely”. Even more scary thoughts, no?
It appears as if no less than the organisation of the global system and the very tenor of the global dialogue of cultures is also on the ballot this year.
In 2016, driven by my visceral loathing for Hillary Clinton, I threw away my vote by choosing Jill Stein, an obscure presidential candidate who had zero chance of picking up a single electoral college vote. This year, I voted early — for the Biden-Harris ticket, both of whom I equally loathed. Anyone, anyone, but the man who has occupied the White House these last four years.
— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, academic and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile