On the Election, Democracy, and the Mob

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs, explosions, and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, ideas, and prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.” -Rod Serling, The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street (The Twilight Zone)

With the 2020 United States Presidential Election upon us, it seems as if the country is on the brink of a New American Civil War any time now. Many blame increased “polarization” of the politics in our country, as if that has any real meaning in the world of ideological politics. Those on the left and right of the political spectrum are purchasing guns, ammunition, and supplies. Even while participating in the supposedly sacred democratic act of voting they surreptitiously glance at their neighbors standing in line. Judgements are passed for [wearing/not wearing] masks, and labels are assigned accordingly [sheep/inconsiderate asshole].

It’s not that these are new impulses — homo sapiens have always dealt with times of societal strife in a similar way. When the existing social order is threatened, grand ideas such as the country, city, and community erode and we revert to the smallest cohesive units i.e. small tribes, families, and even the individual. This experience is deftly shown in several episodes of The Twilight Zone, such as “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” and “The Shelter”. In the former, fear of a potential invasion by alien body-snatchers drives a suburban street to chaos. In the latter, it is the imminent threat of global nuclear war that leads to a neighborhood collectively losing their minds. The similarity of the themes is unmistakable. Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, has a specific, urgent message for all of us that still rings true: With their back against the wall, neighbors and friends will turn against each other and abandon all rationality.

With both sides of the American political divide predicting a [Red/Blue] wave in this election, it is inevitable that roughly half of the country will have their worldview shattered this week. A highly possible outcome is Trump leading in votes counted on Election Day, declaring victory Tuesday night and ordering the stoppage of absentee ballot counting. States may or may not follow this directive and the electoral vote count totals could flip towards Biden in the subsequent days, resulting in widespread confusion and anger. These feelings could turn to riots, destruction of property, and even political violence. Domestic terror seems to be having quite a moment among the fascist-sympathizing right wing, and this week will surely feature some flashy attempts from groups looking to make a name for themselves by showing their loyalty to their dear leader.

A Second American Civil War would look nothing like the first, with its two clearly defined sides and officially-sanctioned military units acting in a coordinated manner. The Troubles of Ireland might be a far more realistic model for the violence likely coming in the next few weeks, months, and years. Seemingly random acts of terror and killing by small factions of highly ideologically motivated individuals may become the norm. God forbid it should devolve into the chaos of something like Syria. Regardless, Americans are not mentally or emotionally prepared for the major shock to the system we are staring dead in the face.

We can only hope that the election is resolved quickly and in a clear, decisive manner for it is uncertainty that dissolves the bonds between friends, neighbors, and countrymen.

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