Lone Wolves and Sheep — How This Election Can Still Go Horribly Wrong

A contested election leaves us vulnerable. The most dangerous among Donald Trump’s followers will be activated and empowered by that vulnerability.

By Anatole d’Ecotopia

Photo by David Todd McCarty

Donald Trump isn’t the only thing on steroids. 

The accelerating rate of change over the last week alone has reached a point where informed commentary can be obsolete within the hour. What we thought we knew over our morning coffee can be utterly disproven by lunch, utterly forgotten by evening cocktails… which increasingly are a necessity in their own right.

But despite this, there is an emerging narrative that is — at least on the face of things — somewhat reassuring: Joe Biden is polling stronger than ever, with some polls showing a 16 point lead, other polls showing GOP bastions like Texas inching their way into ‘swing state’ status. 

What drives this narrative is nothing particularly new or exciting on Biden’s part (he is, as a politician, largely the antithesis to either “new” or “exciting”); it’s all about Donald Trump — just not in any way Trump would like it to be all about Donald Trump.

But even though Trump’s Wicked Witch of the West-level meltdown has captured media attention and driven the diminishing percentage of undecided voters to wonder what — exactly — they were ever “undecided” about in the first place, we are far from safe. A contested election remains a possibility, so does an aftermath of armed violence. All thanks to lone wolves and sheep.

First, to the sheep. We all know someone who either feels that actually voting would compromise their principles, feel disaffected that their preferred candidate (let’s be blunt: Bernie Sanders) did not secure the nomination, or feel obliged to use their vote to demonstrate a principled commitment to a candidate who will not ever, ever, ever attain the presidency. 

Those who live in solidly red or solidly blue states can excuse this contrarianism with the (largely) correct observation that their state’s electoral votes will go a particular direction, no matter what they do. Those lacking this pretext will exercise the privilege of voting their principles anyway — even though the net effect of doing so is precisely nothing, outside of virtue signalling, self-importance, and contributing to a doubtful outcome. In any ordinary election, such exercises in self-indulgence are possibly a forgivable foible — but this is no ordinary election. 

Regardless the electoral outcome, Donald Trump is going to challenge any outcome that does not leave him in power. The only countermeasure to this is for the popular vote rejection of Trump and Trumpism to be so sweeping that his enablers within the Republican Party see the folly of their continued support. Without the support of those enablers, Trump’s challenge will be seen for the frivolous lawsuit it is… and be abandoned.

In order for this to occur, the rejection of Trump at the polls needs to be a landslide. And in order for that landslide to occur, the sheep who would otherwise not vote or squander their vote in a pointless exercise of principle and privilege need to grow the fuck up… and do the right goddam thing. Never before in any living American’s memory has exercising the right to vote been more clearly both a civic duty and obligation. And never before has the consequence of failing to exercise that obligation responsibly been more starkly and apparently obvious.

But even if we get that landslide vote, we’re still not out of the woods — that’s where the lone wolves come in.

Only in the diseased recesses of Donald Trump’s mind does anyone regard “Antifa” as an organized and dangerous threat to American society. The unanimous prevailing opinion is that the real threat are the “very fine people” on the extreme right Trump is incapable of denouncing — even after they are charged with planning the kidnap/execution of a sitting state governor and plotting insurrection. But the real threat from the far right has nothing to do with any militia, “well-regulated” or otherwise — in fact, no organized group of any kind whatever.

The real threat is the Kyle Rittenhouses, the Dylann Roofs, the Patrick Crusiuses, or the all-too-aptly named Jared Loughner. The actions of organized right-wing hate are, to some extent, fairly predictable. It is rather a given that various Proud Boys, Three Percenters, and Patriot Prayer/Muster/what-the-fuck-ever will be practicing armed intimidation in the guise of “poll watching” as urged by their diseased Dear Leader. It is equally a given that few, if any, of these actions will give rise to unprovoked, unexpected violence. We will all see it coming — and, as amply proven in the recent  Patriot Prayer action in Portland, the threat will far exceed the reality. The “Wolverine Watchmen” are the exception, not the norm.

What we won’t see coming, until it is too late, is the next self-appointed dispenser of vigilante justice, inspired equally by the voices in his head and Donald Trump’s toxic and increasingly deranged Twitter feed. And when it happens, Trump will regard himself just as blameless as he holds himself from all the other madness, death, and destruction he has inspired or caused.

The next three months are going to be revelatory of the American character, the strength of American institutions, the willingness of Americans to accept civic responsibility, and the willingness of Americans to resist authoritarianism. They will be a verdict on the ongoing legitimacy of the United States, a clear indication of whether or not maintaining that union is possible… or even preferable.

The stubbornly indifferent sheep among us need to awaken to the danger — and responsibility — they share with the rest of us. Failing to do so will preserve neither misguided ideologies or even their own lives. Also, the wolves among us, lone or in packs, need to understand that their predations carry a price. Predators are opportunists, after all. Make the price too high and they start looking for an easier kill — or at least leave alone prey that actually fights back.

We can still pull this off — but it is far too soon for either complacency or indifference. No one wants to live in “times that test men’s souls” — but that’s where we are. We will all spend the rest of our lives knowing that we either rose to that challenge… or failed.

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