Sep 14th 2020

The Armageddon Election

by James J.Zogby

 

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of the Arab American Institute

During the weeks of uncertainty that followed the 2000 presidential election, as the tension grew amongst supporters of George W. Bush and Al Gore, my brother John Zogby conducted a poll to see how Democrats and Republicans were viewing the contested vote. Responses to one question, in particular, caught our attention.

John asked Republican voters if they would view Gore as a legitimate president should he be declared the victor. The reverse was asked of Democratic voters. The answers were disconcerting. Twenty-one percent of Democrats said they would not see Bush as legitimate. More disturbing were the 67% of Republicans who said they would not see Al Gore as a legitimate president.

That year, John coined the now often used term “Armageddon election” to describe feelings of both sides as they considered the consequences of that presidential contest. When we were discussing this last week, John joked that we’ve dredged up Armageddon to describe every election since 2000. While all of those contests have been both critically important and deeply fractious, there can be no doubt that the 2020 matchup between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is the real Armageddon election of our lifetime.

With every passing day it becomes clearer that we are in for a long and rocky ride between now and November. More troubling than the difficulties we will encounter along the way is what may occur after election day. There is legitimate fear that our very democracy, already compromised by hyper-partisanship, may be at risk.

More than just belonging to two opposing parties, we have become two countries comprised of distinct constituencies, each of whom see the world with radically different eyes. Polls show this divide not only on issues like race, gender equality, immigration, and the role of government. The differences are more fundamental with two wildly divergent views of the very idea of America – its history and its future. At times it feels as though the two camps are not only seeing different realities, but speaking different languages.


This is not merely a partisan divide. It’s demographic. One side is dominated by older White voters, a disproportionately large number of whom are “born again” fundamentalist Christians. They are also more male and more rural. The other is largely comprised of more educated and urban voters, young people, and Blacks, Latinos, and Asians.

One side sees promise in recapturing the lost glory of a romanticized past, and​, feeling threatened by the “foreignness” of newcomers​, seek​s to deny entry to those who are seen as “different.” The other thrives on America’s diversity, feels comforted by the notion of integration, and is unafraid of change.

These two distinct worldviews were on display at last month’s Democratic and Republican conventions. Both parties used their week-long “made for television” infomercials to define America as they saw it and to project the America they hoped to create. Both also made crystal clear the dangerous consequences that would result if the other side were to win.

As described by Fintan O’Toole, in a brilliant New York Review of Books piece, the Democratic convention portrayed the stark choice in this election as an “existential struggle” between good and evil, light and darkness – between ending the racial divide, bringing about economic justice, celebrating diversity, and creating a sense of common purpose, or exacerbating social tension and division, and sinking deeper into the muck of hatred, anger, and chaos.

The choices for Republicans were equally existential. They were spelled out by Donald Trump Jr. when he described this election as being between “church, work, and school” and “rioting, looting, and vandalism. In this Republican view, Democrats are portrayed as being captive of extremist socialist forces, manipulated by “people in the dark shadows,” seeking to promote social unrest, weaken police forces, and destroy the middle-class “life-style,” by building housing in White suburbs for poorer people of color.

For Republicans, victory is seen as necessary to save White America – its culture, values, and way of life. And the slogan “Make America Great Again” is understood not so much a vision of the future as it is a last ditch effort to salvage the lost glory of a fictional past.

For Democrats, victory is seen as essential to protect America from incivility, racial hatred, and a dangerous drift toward authoritarian rule.

So for both sides, the stakes are not only high, they are polar opposites. It is if they are saying “should the other side win, all is lost” – it will be “the end of the world” or Armageddon.

More ominous still, President Trump has used Twitter to promote conspiracy theories about dark, shadowy wealthy people working to undermine his presidency and the country. In a recent interview, he declared, without evidence, that he had heard reports of a plane-load of men in dark uniforms, whom he described as “looters, anarchists, rioters...looking to cause trouble.” And, he has taken to retweeting or paraphrasing conspiracy-oriented messages from QAnon – the cult-like group which originated the “​Pizzagate” conspiracy that a Washington pizza restaurant was serving a​s a front for a child sex-slave operation run by the Clintons.

As worrisome, are the president’s increasingly frequent charges that this election will be marred by voter fraud. He has repeatedly claimed that the only way he can lose is if the vote were “rigged” against him. A recent poll shows that already one-third of both Democrats and Republicans are expressing serious concern about the legitimacy of the vote. And he has suggested that in the case of a rigged election his supporters may need to rise up to defend themselves and his presidency from the looters, rioters, and chaos-makers seeking to unravel our country.

In the past few months, we have seen signs of where this might take us. When several states announced strict measures to control the spread of the novel Coronavirus, Trump urged his supporters to storm state capitols to defend their freedom against “lockdowns.” Because he added “defend the Second Amendment,” some demonstrators came armed with semi-automatic weapons of war.

In mid-summer, there was a national mobilization of mostly peaceful protests against the all-too-frequent police shootings of Black ​Americans. In some cities, these demonstrations devolved into sporadic violent looting and vandalism. Sometimes these incidents were spontaneous, in other cases they appeared to be egged on ​by left​- or right​-wing extremists, seeking to create further unrest. This played into the president’s hands. He defended the police and derided the Democratic city and state officials whom he described as “weak.” Once again, we witnessed the appearance of armed White counter-protesters and we heard the president embrace these paramilitary elements as “Great Patriots.”

In response to the violence, Biden issued a balanced denunciation saying, “I want a safe America. Safe from Covid, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops...safe from four more years of Donald Trump.”

For its part, the Trump campaign said, “No one will be safe in Joe Biden’s America...[He will] surrender America and its citizens to the violent left-wing mob...and abolish the American Way of Life.”

All of this serving as evidence of a deeper and more dangerous polarization in American society.

After Trump’s inauguration in January of 2017, millions demonstrated their disapproval. We can expect the same, no matter how this election turns out. With both sides framing this election in “end of the world” terms; with the president calling into question the legitimacy of the vote, even before it happens; and with the president warning his supporters that they may have to take up arms to defend him – we have a recipe for disaster that may occur in the days that follow this election. This may very well be the Armageddon election of our lifetime.

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More Current Affairs

Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "