In The Spectator, Lionel Shriver discusses the potential outcomes in November 2024, and the reality that at least half of America’s voters will be unhappy afterwards. He then examines which half’s unhappiness would be most dangerous to the nation. He writes:
Over a leg of lamb, I joined five other expat Americans for Christmas. Our topic du jour was which faction in our homeland we were most afraid of. Revisiting that boisterous conversation appeals, because in this re-enactment, I’m the only one who gets to talk.
With forbidding rapidity, one armchair assertion has gone from audacious augury to trite truism: that whichever party wins the presidency, a substantial proportion of the losers will not accept the result as legitimate. Imagine, then, that it is Wednesday, November 6, 2024, and a presidential victor has been declared. Whose indignation would pose the greater threat to American civic order — the left’s or the right’s?
Now, much could happen in the next ten months. Should Donald Trump keep leading in the polls, especially in swing states, I wonder if Democratic apparatchiks won’t manufacture a last-minute “health emergency” in the White House, even if they have to bash Joe Biden physically over the head — thereby necessitating a hasty presidential switcheroo on the ballot. But for now, let’s assume our current president defies all rational medical expectation and remains upright. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court invalidates any clumsy, bad-look judicial attempts to keep Trump from running at all. So we’re looking at a car-crash redo of 2020.
Unanimously, my all-liberal company at Christmas agreed that a Trump loss in November, however desirable, would threaten the more dangerous and destabilizing fury on the ground. “They have the guns,” someone noted. Having grown up in a conservative small town, one diner regarded the threat of white supremacists as all too real. Another guest threw in: “Look at January 6th.”
OK. Let’s do look at January 6th. After all, we already know how Trump supporters react when their man loses and many of them believe the election was “stolen.” The invasion of the Capitol was an ugly business and carried enormous symbolic weight. I was personally horrified. But that crowd was unarmed. It’s obvious from CCTV footage that those protesters didn’t expect to so readily overcome the building’s defenses and had no grand plan. Most wandered the halls with gee-whizz-isn’t-this-super-weird expressions while posing for selfies. As “insurrections” go, this one was pathetic; if you’re seriously intending to overthrow the US government, you don’t dress up in cow horns and raccoon tails. (Fun fact: after serving 27 months in prison, the infamous “QAnon shaman” has got a haircut, put on a shirt and repented; he’s now running for Congress in Arizona.) The one person killed was a protester. Participants have since been prosecuted to within an inch of their lives, right-wing reaction to which has been restricted to grumbling about the unfairness of it all on Fox.
Guns? In a few dismal respects, the US is still a free country. Last I checked, you didn’t have to be a registered Republican to buy firearms. Lethal violence is a few hundred bucks away from everybody.
As for those “white supremacist” whose definition has spread like maple syrup on a pancake until it’s now just a synonym for “whites”: for most of its history the US has harbored a recalcitrant rump of genuinely right-wing, genuinely racist nuts. They’re still out there, often building survivalist shelters and stockpiling tins of baked beans for the End Times. But Democrats have elevated these scattered fringe groups to the number one threat to American democracy, which Biden asserted unequivocally in his inaugural address. So badly do our recently minted “anti-racists” need racists to justify their cause that they will clearly invent a vast, shadowy movement of bigoted domestic terrorists if necessary. If the menace of “white supremacy” isn’t greatly exaggerated for political convenience, where’s all the white nationalist terrorism, then — the “far-right” 9/11? Did I miss something?
There have been isolated incidents: Charleston in 2015, El Paso in 2019, Buffalo in 2022 — massacres all driven by racist ideology. But in 2023, the US suffered more than 630 mass shootings. The overwhelming majority were attributable to mental illness, personal grudges, family discord or workplace resentments. If “white supremacy” is its greatest threat, American democracy is safe as houses.
What needn’t we go scrounging into the bowels of the internet to find? What in this still-young decade was illustrated at scale? What pops into most people’s heads as an example of contemporary American “civil unrest” (the most understated expression in the political lexicon)? Left-wing violence. Following George Floyd’s death, more than 140 cities across the country erupted, sometimes for months on end. Businesses, often black-owned, were looted; crowds of hooligans ravaged down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, smashing windows and grabbing electronics and high-end trainers. Arson and vandalism were rampant.
Sections of Portland and Seattle became police no-go areas; in Seattle, the cops moved in only after the inhabitants of the self-proclaimed Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone started killing each other. Once the dust settled, prosecutions were few. For the most part, municipal authorities sat back and let the mayhem happen.
Both Trump and Biden supporters think they’re right. Both sides prefer their candidate and dread the opposition’s. But the American left is fired by far greater sanctimony and sense of entitlement. The Black Lives Matter anarchy of 2020 has set a precedent. Law enforcement’s often passive response to city centers in flames has encouraged progressive activists to believe they have the moral and logistical license to express their consternation in as destructive a fashion as they see fit.
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