The Stakes

We are about to enter the home stretch of the 2020 race for President. In 2016 Hillary had a comfortable lead over Trump on Labor Day. Few gave Trump any chance of winning.  On Labor Day 1988 Michael Dukakis had a comfortable lead over George H.W. Bush. Then came the Willie Horton negative ad campaign. Bush carried 40 states and won by a landslide. A lot can happen in September and October. Remember the Comey, last minute, October surprise in 2016? Biden looks pretty good right now, but we should not take anything for granted. The Republican convention is a signal of the divisive times to come.

What we do know is that in our lifetimes the stakes have never been higher. In some ways democracy itself is on trial.

There are three potential outcomes as I see it:

Biden wins by a comfortable margin. The results are clear on election night even though it will be weeks before all the mail-in votes can be counted. Trump calls foul play due to mail-in balloting and calls for a new election. Weary Republican leaders and confidants say enough is enough and persuade Trump to call it quits. He bitterly protests that he was robbed but realizes he will never win, and his time now can be better spent on reality TV shows and developing new hotels. He bitterly concedes on the third day after election day, vehemently arguing that he really won and that he will go down in history as the best U.S. President ever.

The Democrats also take the Senate and control the legislative branch as well as the executive branch of government.

This best-case scenario results in a Biden mandate and the equivalent of a New Deal ushering in a new wave of progressive legislation addressing climate change, income disparities, universal, affordable health care, fair tax policies, and racial inequities.

This does not mean that it will be smooth sailing. Congress will still be divided; and with the filibuster, it will still be hard to get progressive legislation passed. But compared to what we have now? Oh, my goodness!

Biden wins by a thin margin. It takes weeks for all the mail-in ballots to be counted, and Trump refuses to concede when the final tally favors Biden, who narrowly wins the electoral college while piling up a five million popular vote margin. This results in a Constitutional crisis, and the country finds itself on the verge of civil war. Right wing militias and paramilitary groups take to the streets and  plot ways to reclaim the White House. Trump eventually concedes but urges his followers to take up the mandate and restore his rightful place as president, but for almost two months the country is bordering on anarchy.

Under this scenario, the country continues to be deeply and bitterly divided. The Democrats gain seats in the Senate but not enough to control it. Progressive legislation remains at a standstill. A period of uncertainty follows but gradually improves when it becomes evident to both political parties that the pandemic and the economic crisis are worsening, resulting in more deaths, business failures, massive evictions, homelessness, and despair for tens of millions of Americans. The Democrats ditch the filibuster, enabling progressive legislation to pass, preventing another Great Depression and strengthening the social safety net. The next three-plus years are a slog, but despite conflict, progress is made. Two progressive Supreme Court judges are sworn in, and some progress is made on job growth, tax reform, climate change, mending wounds with our allies, and reigning in the police. The election of 2024 promises to be a continuation of the fight for the soul of America.

Trump wins by a thin margin. Biden wins the popular vote by almost four million votes, but Trump pulls out another miracle win by narrowly carrying four of the six key battleground states. There is evidence of wide-spread meddling by the Russians and other foreign powers along with a successful effort by Republicans to reduce voter turnout in minority precincts, curtail mail-in voting, and disallow tens of thousands of votes from inner city precincts due to slow mail delivery. Trump declares martial law to try to restore order. To save the country from civil war Biden concedes once the final vote tally is in, but it takes many weeks for this to happen, during which time the country is paralyzed resulting in increased rates of infections and more business failures, layoffs, evictions and massive protests.

The second Trump Administration is a continuation of the first except more sinister and corrupt with little or no progress made on fighting climate change, achieving racial justice, reforming immigration, reforming tax policy, creating good jobs, strengthening the social safety net or uniting the country. He disses our allies and cozies up even more with Putin and other authoritarian leaders. Many more than should die of covid-19 absent a national pandemic policy. Two extreme right-wing, Supreme Court Justices are sworn in setting the stage for the end of Roe v Wade.

This time it is the Left Wing of the Democratic Party who rebel. Massive demonstrations take place in the nation’s capital and across the country, some turning violent. Using the Insurrection Act, Trump calls out the U.S. Army to restore order. Under emergency martial law, there are restrictions on freedom of the press. The Left abandons the Democratic Party and forms a new movement, called The Resistance. The Radical Left calls for violence. Some believe the country is already in a civil war. The 2024 election is seen as the only viable way to change course, but now the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is deeply divided. Trump taps his son, Don Junior, to be his rightful heir. Biden announces he will not run, and everything is again up for grabs.

So what is your take on the three scenarios? Can you think of an outcome that has a happier ending? Can you think of a more realistic or more likely scenario? Do you really think that Trump will concede the election without grandstanding or a fight? And what do you think will happen if Trump continues to refuse to step down and there is controversy in key states regarding whether all mail-in votes should be counted? How will the next president be selected when there is no playbook for anything like this?

Where I come out on the three scenarios is this: While the first scenario is a long shot, the other two spell disaster. The Democrats have to win, and we have to win big. Maybe a landslide would do it. Maybe it will be so obvious to Trump and to the country that he has lost to Biden that he will concede on election night or the morning after. Maybe he will rise to the occasion to prevent what could well be a civil war, which would end up ripping America apart. But would you be willing to place a bet on this happening? Would anyone?

Folks, we are in desperate, trying times. We are facing the greatest domestic crisis since the Civil War. What can we do?  Certainly, giving money to Biden and to Democrats in key Senate and House races is important. In these covid times, house to house canvassing is for many people not practical, especially for old folks like us. (Embry and I have done this in N.C. in the last three presidential elections but not this year, thanks to covid-19.) Calling and helping out with phone banks might help; but, frankly, I have to admit that I am sick of getting on average about six telephone calls a day along with 10 emails, text messages, and letters from Democrats begging for money. Embry and I are writing postcards in support of a progressive woman running for a house seat in the NC legislature. Will that help?

We know that voter turnout is the critical factor. Getting Democrats and independents and anti-Trump Republicans to vote and making sure these votes are counted will determine the outcome. There should be opportunities to help here—poll watching, driving people to the polls, telephone and email reminders. Will it be enough?

I want to be optimistic. I want to be hopeful. I do believe in America. We are a good people. We have been a beacon of light and hope for so many countries despite our many failures—especially in the areas of race and class. We can do it. We can beat back the nativists and those turning our country toward totalitarianism. We won’t succumb to these forces of darkness as did those in Germany, Italy, and Japan in the first third of the 20th Century.

But then what if Trump wins?

We will win this fight, won’t we? Tell me we will. The thought of failure is simply too much to bear.

The stakes have never been higher.



Practical Things You Can Do To Make A Difference


  • If you are voting by mail, do it very early to give it the best shot of being counted.
  • Give generously to the Biden/Harris campaign. If you have already been doing this, you know that they will continue to badger you on a daily basis for more money. No good deed goes unpunished. But keep doing it anyway.
  • Give to Democratic PACs and advocacy groups like Move On and the American Way. The Lincoln Project (Republicans who hate Trump) is also worth supporting.
  • Give to the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) and the DSCC (The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee). They know the best places for your contributions to produce results.
  • Give money to the Senators who have the best chance of being elected in elections that are now too close to call or where the Democrat is at least given a fighting chance: Doug Jones in Alabama, Mark Kelly in Arizona, John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Jon Ossoff in Georgia, Theresa Greenfield in Iowa, Barbara Bollier in Kansas, Amy McGrath in Kentucky, Adrian Perkins in Louisiana, Sara Gideon in Maine, Joe Kennedy III in Massachusetts, Debbie Peters in Michigan, Tina Smith in Minnesota, Steve Bullock in Montana, Ben Ray Lujan in New Mexico, Cal Cunningham in North Carolina, and  Jaimie Harrison in South Carolina.
  • Give to Democratic voter turnout efforts in the six most critical states, all of which went for Trump in 2016: North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Wisconsin. Biden has a fighting chance in every one of them.
  • Give extra money to defeat Lindsley Graham and Mitch McConnell.
  • If you live in one of the key battleground states or know anyone who does, talk up Biden and the Democratic candidates and the need to vote. Speak up. Use social media. Tweet. Blog. Tik Toc. Whatever it takes. Do this even if you don’t live in a battleground state.
  • Give even more money to defeat McConnell and Graham.
  • Contact the state Democratic Party in the state where you live and ask what you can do to help. They may need help on voter turnout on election day and on poll watching. Consider door-to-door canvassing if you believe the health risks are manageable.
  • Don’t give up. Never, never give up!




4 thoughts on “The Stakes

  1. I am hopeful because DJT respects one thing: tv ratings. I am hopeful the fact that his Convention ratings were lower than the Dems and Biden’s will open the door to his accepting Perhaps a bit more easily the outcome of the election.

    As for donating, I am following your advice.

  2. A good clean summary of the realistic out outcomes and stakes. Thanks for writing it. It’s hard to know where best to concentrate our efforts–for our part, we’re working for Doug Jones in AL. I think the Senate is key as a backstop to the potential catastrophes with the White House.

  3. Great post, Joe – and FANTASTIC action list, thank you!

    My only tweak would be to not devote much time or resources to the Senate races in MA and MN, as they are likely safely in Democratic hands. But the rest is essential!

    PS – Never give up!

  4. Taking a closer look, these 8 races are currently the closest U.S. Senate races based on the latest polling:

    – Sara Gideon in Maine
    – Jon Ossoff in Georgia
    – Theresa Greenfield in Iowa
    – Barbara Bollier in Kansas
    – Amy McGrath in Kentucky
    – Steve Bullock in Montana
    – Cal Cunningham in North Carolina
    – Jaime Harrison in South Carolina

    ALL of them are currently held by Republicans and ALL of them could easily go either way…

    Democrats need a net gain of three seats to flip the chamber if they also win the White House – since the vice president would break a tie – or four seats if Trump is reelected.

    We will be focusing our resources on these Senate races before all others, which are less in question.

    Were Doug Jones (D – AL) to lose his seat, then with a Biden win the Democrats would need to win 4 of the above 8 races. Very, very achievable.

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