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On Wednesday, November 4, Matthew McConaughey, Laura Bush and Sean “Diddy” Combs will celebrate their birthdays.
It will be “National Candy Day.” In many respects, it will be another weekday in the midst of a global pandemic.
And yet, people could be waking up to an America on the verge of political transformation if the presidential contest is decided – or one gripped by days or weeks of uncertainty over the outcome. (It wasn’t until the early hours of November 9, 2016, the day after the election, that Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump to concede the race – and this year’s vote counting may well take a lot longer.)
The hopes, dreams and plans of millions will be affected by what historian Manisha Sinha called the most consequential US election in 160 years. What binds this election and the 1860 vote that elected Abraham Lincoln, “is the conviction that it is American democracy – rather than just opposing presidential candidates – that is on the ballot,” she wrote.
“American history is filled with moments of change so fundamental that even in retrospect they seem remarkable,” wrote filmmaker Ken Burns. He compared today’s prospects of change to the 1932 election, where a once-popular President Herbert Hoover was trounced by Franklin Delano Roosevelt because he couldn’t change course to ease the suffering of ordinary Americans in the Great Depression.
“This massive shift in only four years – triggered by the worst economic collapse the country had seen and brought on by huge swings among labor and urban immigrant voters – changed American politics forever and redefined how we viewed the federal government’s role in our lives,” observed Burns.
George Will predicted in the Washington Post that the campaign “seems almost certain to end Tuesday with a fumigation election. A presidency that began with dark words about ‘American carnage’ probably will receive what it has earned: repudiation.”
Tensions are running particularly high in the swing states that will determine which candidate gets to 270 electoral votes. In Florida, Democrat Chris King wrote in favor of Joe Biden’s candidacy, “We need hope. We need leadership. We need a government that can keep people safe and create an atmosphere where everyone – not just the rich – can thrive.”
To Texas talk show host Chris Salcedo and his fellow conservatives, the stakes are also enormous. “Trump was not a lifelong politician or creature of the government establishment. He brought a fresh energy and perspective to politics. And like many of our listeners, I worry that if he loses on November 3, we may never have another citizen president like him again,” Salcedo wrote.
“Elections are choices,” wrote Scott Jennings. “Pro-life or pro-choice. Higher taxes or lower taxes. Support free speech or coddle censorship. No politician ever satisfies me fully, but Trump comes far closer than Joe Biden ever could. There’s room for Trump to improve, but in no way does Biden represent a step in a policy direction that I can support as a conservative.”
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Marc Thiessen, writing in the Washington Post, noted, “President Trump says a lot of things that dismay even his supporters. But what if we turned off our TVs, stopped looking at Twitter and looked at what he has done in office over the past four years? With the sound off, Trump’s is one of the greatest conservative presidencies in modern American history.”
Coverage of the campaign doesn’t always pay a lot of attention to those in the middle, but they are key to the outcome. Daniel Lubetzky, who founded KIND Snacks, describes himself as a moderate. When Trump was elected, he wrote, “I resisted jumping on the bandwagon of the fervent resisters or die-hard supporters and chose to evaluate the facts as they played out. Because I love my country, I hoped that Trump’s competitive spirit would drive him to do well by the American people.”
“Yet, I sit here four years later with my worst fears confirmed,” he added. “My sense of reason has been tested and now pushed past its limit. It is difficult to overstate the gravity of Trump’s polarizing behavior and disregard for constitutional norms.” He said he’s voting for Biden, a “balanced centrist, guided by reason and principle.”
Garry Kasparov sees the stakes of the election as epic: “Trump has spent five years dehumanizing his opponents and painting them as America’s mortal enemies while conditioning his followers to see things as he does. They will not leave the field easily, but leave they must, or American democracy will not outlast them.”
With days to the election, Jill Filipovic wrote, “Everything is terrible and nothing is OK. If you’re feeling depressed and maxed out too, trust that you are far from alone.” Looking past the election results, she wrote, “Real reconciliation and healing is a slow, difficult and intentional process; it won’t happen with Kumbaya cliches or an agreement to disagree. But if we want to stitch our frayed nation back to one, it’s what we will have to do – all of us.
A word of caution
More than 90 million Americans have already voted, a number higher than two thirds of the total ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election – and the early turnout should prompt politicians and the media to do some rethinking, wrote Vivian Schiller. “It’s time to retire the term ‘Election Day’ and replace it with a far more clear and more accurate term: ‘the last day of voting.’ As for the stage we’re in now? Easy: ‘Election season.’”
Still, on Tuesday there will be huge attention paid to what happens at the polls. And election law experts Richard Hasen and Richard Pildes warn us to be cautious. When an election takes place over 50 states and in thousands of polling places, glitches are inevitable – and often innocuous. “With commentators floating the possibility of a Constitutional crisis, a civil war, breaches in our electronic voting machines and other worst-case scenarios, hypervigilant voters and the media must be careful not to undermine our elections by giving excessive play to typical Election Day problems or hastily spreading viral posts before the facts are verified,” they wrote.
“In our polarized, frayed-nerves society, there’s a serious possibility that minor issues will be blown out of proportion and cast in sinister terms, especially on social media. Our advice (to both voters and the media) is to slow down, take everything you see or hear with a grain of salt until it is fully vetted, and keep a balanced perspective on the problems that do emerge.”
While the presidential race dominates the conversation, the 2020 election will have an effect that’s even more long-lasting: the winners of seats in most state legislatures will “be in the driver’s seat for redrawing their states’ (political) maps – which will, in turn, determine who controls the next 10 years on voting rights, gun safety, police accountability, Covid-19 recovery and so much more,” wrote Gaby Goldstein and David Daley. Those district lines will be drawn next year in the wake of the 2020 Census – and will last till 2031.
The courts step in
Republicans and Democrats have flooded the courts with last-minute election-related cases as each side maneuvers for maximum advantage, with a particular focus on the US Supreme Court and the newest member of its conservative bloc, Justice Amy Coney Barrett. She didn’t participate in rulings this week that enabled Pennsylvania and North Carolina authorities to count mail-in ballots received after Election Day.
“Justice Barrett is now part of Trump’s firewall,” wrote Frida Ghitis. “Conservative justices, including three he chose, now hold a 6-3 majority in the court and may help him win reelection. If a Democratic landslide makes that impossible, he undoubtedly hopes they will side with him as he faces a potential tsunami of legal troubles regarding his taxes, business and allegations of sexual assault.”
In the final hours of the campaign, Trump and Biden hopscotched the country, trying to shore up their chances in the swing states.
“We’re getting your husbands back to work,” Trump told a rally in Michigan, in what Kara Alaimo called a horribly misguided plea to suburban women voters, who have turned against the President. “The implications here – that he believes all women have or should have husbands and that workplaces are the province of men – are so sexist and outmoded that they will likely alarm American women who have long become accustomed to inappropriate treatment from their commander in chief,” she wrote.
The closing days of the campaign coincided with a new surge of Covid-19 cases around the country. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “We are not going to control the pandemic,” and in doing so, he summed up the fears many have about Trump’s presidency.
“Donald Trump has surrendered without ever joining the battle,” wrote Jeffrey D. Sachs, calling him the “the greatest presidential failure in American history.” He observed, “Trump’s stupidity came in his false belief that the choice before the country was to let the epidemic rage or to shut down the economy.” (For a look at 12 ways the US response to Covid-19 has failed, read David Holtgrave’s view.)
As Laurie Garrett pointed out, the President signed a little-noticed executive order that could have a profound effect on the future ability of federal officials to freely follow the science on the pandemic. “It appears to stifle the President’s opponents within the government, posing a particular danger should it affect policymakers who are working tirelessly to fight the Covid-19 epidemic.”
The order reclassifies an estimated 100,000 or more federal jobs – it “eliminates the employee’s ability to appeal a dismissal and lumps him or her among political appointees — essentially serving at the pleasure of the President.” Garrett described it as “an edict expected under a dictatorship, a banana republic or a military regime.”
Jared Kushner’s comments to a Fox News anchor that Trump “can’t want” Black people “to be successful more than they want to be successful” also drew criticism. Elliot Williams wrote, “It is hard to see Kushner’s comments as anything other than an attempt to solidify President Trump’s white-male base the week before an election. But it’s remarkable to see how a series of tossed off comments that were supposed to be a list of accomplishments could have been so ignorant, deceitful and insulting to Black people at the same time.”
For more on the election:
Nicole Hemmer: The long history of all-in-the-family political attacks
Dean Obeidallah: Obama gives us one of the best reasons to dump Trump
John D. Sutter: This is the starkest difference between Biden and Trump
Joe Lockhart: The perfect metaphor for Trump’s treatment of his loyal supporters
John Avlon: Why evangelicals should care about Trump’s lies (and other sins)
Michael D’Antonio: On ’60 Minutes,’ Trump acted like an angry boy in the schoolyard
Mark Osler: Get ready for a flood of Trump pardons
What comes next?
In a new series for CNN Opinion anchored by SE Cupp, commentators are examining the issues that should be on the agenda of the next President, regardless of who wins.
Topic A is the Covid-19 pandemic. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who served in former President Barack Obama’s cabinet, and Frances Fragos Townsend, who served in President George W. Bush’s White House, wrote that “the next president will confront a dual challenge: managing the current pandemic and ensuring that the country and the world are better prepared when the next plague strikes – as it inevitably will. It is past time for the nation to make the investments we need to prevent, detect and respond quickly to emerging infectious diseases, like the coronavirus, before they sicken Americans and force catastrophic economic shutdowns.”
Cupp discussed the issue on video with Dr. Leana Wen, historian Julian Zelizer and Tom Nichols, author of “The Death of Expertise.” In coming weeks, the series, edited by Yaffa Fredrick and Laura Juncadella, will look at issues such as the economy and race.
The newly elected President will be faced with responding to a year that “has laid bare, for all the world to see, the depth and breadth of racial injustice in American society,” wrote Peniel E. Joseph. “Regardless of the election outcome, transformational change must be the next step, with racial justice advocates helping all of us to re-imagine American democracy and calling on leaders to repurpose national policy ambitions in service of these goals.”
Climate change will also be an issue for the US, given the “opportunity to substantially reduce carbon emissions while creating millions of new green-tech jobs that could help revive and strengthen the American economy after the Covid-19 crisis,” wrote Michèle A. Flournoy. A key player will be the Defense Department, whose bases could be imperiled, she observed. “Climate change is already causing the armed forces to plan for new contingencies: from being prepared to undertake more frequent disaster relief missions to anticipating instability and conflict created by resource scarcity and population migrations.”
What the world thinks
Four years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime expected and feared that Hillary Clinton would be elected president, wrote Mikhail Fishman, former editor in chief of the Moscow Times. “Clinton was hawkish on Russia and was expected to marshal a coalition of Western leaders to try to isolate Russia,” he noted. Now the calculation is roughly similar.
“A Biden victory could mean the Kremlin will be again facing a more united West – the same threat to Putin’s agenda as four years ago, and in similar circumstances,” Fishman wrote, as part of a number of global reaction pieces curated by Arlene Getz for CNN Opinion.
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri: What India thinks of the US election
David A. Andelman: What Europe fears most about the US election
Kent Sepkowitz: You can buy your own home Covid-19 test at Costco, but what will it tell you?
Ira Helfand: The world is facing an insane danger that’s greater than Covid-19
Lee Drutman and Anne-Marie Slaughter: This one tweak to US elections could change everything
Robert Alexander: Republicans were against the Electoral College before they were for it
Allison Hope: Why LGBTQ families like mine are scared and scrambling
Happy birthday, Kim Kardashian
It wasn’t the idea of a 40th birthday party that riled up some of Kim Kardashian’s more than 200 million social media followers. It was the way she shared it.
“To celebrate, the television personality threw herself a big party on a private island and invited along a few dozen friends,” wrote Peggy Drexler.
“The problem is that she chose, apparently without much awareness or acknowledgment, to share the extravagance of that birthday while so many millions around the world are sick, out of work and going nowhere. Mental illness is at a high; countries are once more closing down.”
To her credit, Kardashian acknowledged “how privileged my life is” and how it is “so far out of reach” for most people.
“Everyone deserves some moments of happiness right now,” Drexler wrote. “We should not all be forced to suffer at all times and in all ways just because others are suffering. But a famous person flaunting privilege in this way, right now, is not necessary.”