American Hallowe’en, 2020. Is there anything scarier?
As you read this, the last superpower on earth is three days out from an election that will decide whether Donald J. Trump, a reality show businessman who is $900 million in debt and facing investigation by federal and state authorities, deserves four more years as President. The election is unquestionably a referendum on the incumbent, not about Joe Biden’s policies for the next four years. Many American voters on the left and center can’t even name his policies but believe that our democracy can’t withstand another four years of the Trump regime with its smirking, catch-me-if-you-can corruption, raw power grabs, cruelty, and anti-science position in the midst of a pandemic.
This political Halloween weekend has every scary movie trope thrown into one long and it must be said, hardly believable spooky saga.
We have Zombies — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the cadaverous old men of the US Senate, who look like they have crawled out of their coffins. For four years now, the Zombies have enabled an Evil Clown, who himself suspiciously crawled back from a severe case of Covid a few weeks ago.
The Zombies and the Evil Clown do the bidding of a pack of Vampires — bloodsucking dark money libertarian billionaire donors running secret influence campaigns to maintain their power and riches, whatever the cost to democracy and the planet.
We have Covens that meet in the dark — the secretive Council for National Policy, a powerful fringe right wing organization started by white Christian Evangelicals in the 1980s to bring super-conservative moneybags in league with the electoral power of the churches.
We have Ghouls — the nativist Trump advisor Stephen Miller, the young man behind the policy of separation and caging of children at the southern border, and Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, looking more like Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu every year.
We have Ghosts, chief among them Fred C. Koch, the late father of the extremist libertarian billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch — whose lavishly funded anti-government, pro-corporate dream project Donald Trump has finally enabled. The older Koch helped construct a major oil refinery in Nazi Germany, personally approved by Adolf Hitler.
Finally, we have Werewolves, thousands of armed, bearded white men belonging to some 400 or more loosely affiliated independent militia groups, reeking toxic masculinity. Call them Proud Boys or Y’all Qaeda or Vanilla ISIS, this claque of domestic terrorists includes a gang recently arrested for plotting to kidnap and “try” the Democratic Governors of the states of Virginia and Michigan “for treason.”
These scaries and their hobgoblin minions inhabit the haunted house of social media. Facebook, Reddit, Twitter are only the best-known of the platforms that have made new communities of basement-dwelling trolls, misogynistic incels and the armed militia members — people who might never have known each other without the Internet connecting them across our vast and diverse continent.
All these creatures are borne out of the national anxiety caused by demographic changes in our heterogenous national experiment. Our immigrant nation is inexorably moving toward being a country that is not white, not agrarian, and not even Christian — all the supposed symbols of the “greatness” of America as imagined in the 18th Century. In the last hundred years, more Americans have moved to cities, and fewer citizens are white and Protestant. Even fewer work the land. In twenty years or less, America will not be a majority-white nation.
“The mores of the new America created an unbearable tension,” writes Anne Nelson, author of a recent book about the shadow networks that have strategized for years to consolidate power away from the browner, poorer masses. “These demographic trends — and the anxiety they provoked — contributed to the forces that brought Trump to power.”
Finally, just in case all the old-fashioned monsters aren’t enough, an invisible virus is stalking the land, killing people willy-nilly and making a ghost town of the economy. Add in the melted Arctic and record amounts of methane spewing into the atmosphere from the tundra and the fracking accidents and we have a dash of bad 1950s science fiction to complete our 2020 political horror movie.
Like all scary movies, we’re finally at the third act. Phew! Almost over! But wait, one more freakout, and it’s ratcheting up. It’s always the same: There’s a door creaking open. It’s dark on the other side. The heroes are going to open the door. And the audience is yelling, No! Please don’t go in there! Or, the audience is squeezing shut its eyes, huddling down in chairs, shoveling in the popcorn.
Many polls show Trump way behind in too many states he must win. He has been ripping across the continent these last few days, holding crazy mask-free rallies in states where the pandemic is surging, pretending America is “turning the corner” on the virus and spewing other fact-free bromides. He looks like a desperate loser, on the numbers. But nobody trusts the polls anymore, not even the pollsters.
Anything less than an electoral landslide will allow the Trump regime’s battalion of lawyers — thousands of them have reportedly fanned out through the states for months already, identifying anomalies and legal loopholes with which to contest the vote — to raise objections to the results.
If that happens, the American system of government, a system we all thought was a beacon of democratic order, will be revealed to be no more stable than one of the ‘stans, where legislators throw punches on the floors of Parliament as often as their Supreme Leaders throw their opponents in jail.
Is there fear in America this weekend? Yes.
But there’s also courage and energy crackling like a bonfire in the autumn chill. More Americans had already voted last week than the entire number of people who voted in the 2016 election. In a country where half of the eligible voters traditionally don’t bother to go to the polls, that indicates something has happened, some kind of civic awakening, perhaps.
“One week away from the election — many of us are feeling scared. Scared about if we will have a job, healthcare, or autonomy over our own bodies,” tweeted an account called Sunrise Movement, to its quarter million followers. Sunrise Movement is a movement of young people united to do something to mitigate climate change. “But these moments aren’t about ignoring your fear. It’s about turning that fear into the fuel propelling us forward.”
It’s possible that on the other side of the door we are about to open, sunlight will suddenly flood in and the scaries will evaporate, melt, crumble into dust or recede into their holes.
That’s what we want to believe anyway. Tuesday will tell.