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There’s a chance we look back on this and laugh, right?

Another Pyramid contributor challenged me to a simple contest: predict the outcome of today’s election and whoever is closest gets, you know, the honor of being closest. While he took the Road of Uncertainty, I’m making the bold prediction that by the end of the night, we’ll have three answers to three questions. And, sure, none of them are who will the president be next January? but you can’t expect me to work miracles, folks.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Question 1: What did the 2016 election really mean?

As political buffs, we here at Pyramid have a soft spot for Nate Silver and his misfit squad at FiveThirtyEight. One of the big proclamations in the wake of their disasterous prediction of the election – you know, the one that didn’t actually happen – is that the 2016 election showed that there were shy Trump voters who voted in such massive numbers that they swayed the election, but that were too timid to tell pollsters that they liked Trump and so either lied and said they’d support Clinton or gave no clear answer.

Yet throughout 2020, as Trump voters swarmed to rallies despite the warnings of medical experts and held ill-fated regattas around the country, it became clearer than ever that the shy Trump voter tale is a myth. Most Trump voters are not particularly shy. In a 2017 poll, fewer people expressed pride in Trump than voted for him in 2016, which could have been an indication of shy voters, but probably wasn’t. Instead, it was probably an indicator of the general malaise around Hillary Clinton’s campaign, particularly in states like Michigan.

The real message of the 2016 election was probably about the Democrats taking states like Michigan for granted, something Biden’s 2020 campaign has been careful not to do. The Pennsylvania-born vice president has even made several stops in Pennsylvania because it’s considered a must-win state and, though Biden performs well there in nearly every poll, he isn’t willing to assume Keystone Staters will vote for their native son unless he puts in the work.

It was probably also about a willingness to go for the anti-establishment candidate no matter what. In 2020, anti-establishment means voting against Trump, especially for suburban voters who see Trump’s rhetoric as the big issue with his administration.

By the end of tonight, we’ll have a clearer idea: did 2016 really show the beginning of a super-nationalist Trumpist revolution or did it show more mundane discontent with the Democratic party?

Question 2: How popular is Donald Trump, really?

Donald Trump is the most unpopular president in American history. As we approach the end of his first term, Trump has never obtained a 50% approval rating. That’s unusual.

Keeping with the shy Trump voter myth, though, is this idea that maybe Trump actually is a popular president, but people are afraid to say it. Why they would be afraid to say it is unclear. Is it because Trump is consistently racist?

Trump is already in a small group of presidents who won election while losing the popular vote (although he claims to have won the popular vote because the very act of voting for Hillary Clinton is proof of voter fraud, I guess?). Even if he wins re-election tonight, he will almost certainly lose the popular vote again, making him the only president ever to serve two terms while never winning the popular vote. If he loses, he’ll be the first president ever to lose to a former vice president; that, too, carries a certain air of unpopularity to it, the kind of historic first that suggests just how deeply disliked Trump is. Either way is kind of unpleasant for him.

Question 3: Will this system hold much longer?

My prediction for the 2020 electoral college result. My colleague, P.B. Wiele, made his prediction here.

Questions about the impartiality of the Supreme Court, the ability of jurisdictions to get votes counted by the federal deadline, the president’s false claims that the deadline is actually tonight and not in December, and other election-related mysteries all hang in the air. Downtowns are boarded up in fear of election-related violence, which is the kind of thing that you usually wouldn’t expect in a functioning system.

Of all the questions, this is the one we might not get answered tonight, but we’ll certainly have a clearer understanding. Will the election tip towards Joe Biden, prompting an authoritarian response from the White House? Will the election tip towards Donald Trump – by a margin too narrow to responsibly claim victory, and yet the president does it anyway? Will the election tip solidly towards Donald Trump, something that liberal and leftist voters might see as an illegitimate result?

For that matter, for the first time in modern American history, will either side see a victory by the other an illegitimate result? And if so, what can we do about it? Whether this is the start of the Biden administration or the continuation of the Trump regime, it is by no means the end of our long national nightmare.


In the Our Long National Nightmare Facebook group, we’re challenging our readers to try their hand at predicting the outcome themselves, with the prize being an as-of-yet unreleased t-shirt (you can see our released goods in the Pyramid Consumer Experience).

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