No Time Like the Present: America’s Existential Election

The ballot question in the 2020 United States presidential election is democracy versus authoritarianism. It only follows that Kamala Harris’ birth certificate has become an issue.

Joe Biden Flickr

Lisa Van Dusen/For the Hill Times

August 20, 2020

If you’re a columnist writing regularly about U.S. politics, one of your lazy, go-to tropes is the Schoolhouse Rock song I’m Just a Bill (on Capitol Hill). But since this is a column not about tactical intractability and how the bill has been bound, gagged, drugged, and tossed into the path of a Capitol Hill subway car but about how this presidential election is different from every previous presidential election, we’ll invoke the Sesame Street “One of these things is not like the others” PBS jingle-based cliché.

Having covered, columnized and/or desked a few U.S. elections in my career, I can definitely say that this one is not like the others.

For starters, no other U.S. presidential election has involved an incumbent who’s lied 20,000 times in office and yet continues to be covered as though the next thing that comes out of his mouth might be the first truth, in a sort of wholly unwarranted deference-driven, benefit-of-the doubt extravaganza of perpetual, inexplicably suspended disbelief.

Also, no other U.S. presidential election has involved an impeached incumbent. That this incumbent’s impeachment rarely gets mentioned, including by the incumbent himself in one of his ass-backward, liability/asset-twisting inanities—“I’ve been impeached! Joe Biden couldn’t get impeached if he tried. TOO SLEEPY!!”—is a testament to the propaganda mastery of the fraudulent Ozzes who’ve deployed him as an anti-democracy wrecking ball.

No other U.S. presidential election has involved a systematic attack on the U.S. Postal Service in a flagrant attempt to disenfranchise voters and sow chaos through the breathtakingly corrupt, deceitfully discrediting, and thuggish sabotage of the most un-hackable vote-delivery system, producing headlines reminiscent of banana republic pre-vote criminal vandalism like, “USPS Removes Mailboxes, Shuts Down Letter-Sorting Machines as mail-In Voting Looms.”

No other U.S. presidential election has involved the apparent inability of the American justice and intelligence establishments to protect the Constitution they’ve sworn to uphold and the democracy they supposedly have an interest in defending from a rampaging performative lunatic. It’s enough to make you nostalgic for CIA-backed coups that produced regime change.

No other U.S. presidential election has unfolded against the ghoulish backdrop of a pandemic body count inflated daily by the subterfugelies and agent provocateur manipulation of the incumbent. While the 2008 presidential campaign did see an outbreak of fainting at Obama rallies, (I myself swooned during a rally in Allentown, Pa., during the health-care reform portion of the stump speech and was revived with smelling salts administered by a volunteer from Altoona named Todd), no presidential candidate has ever proactively, avoidably amplified a deadly, pre-election plague.

No other U.S. presidential election has ever combined all of these unprecedented, anomalous elements within the global context of an undeclared war on the liberal world order waged by geopolitical, political, and covert players now power-jonesing for an endgame to which the destruction of American democracy would add a decisive blow.

No other U.S. presidential election has been an elaborate deception operation requiring a diversionary focus on the granular by parties overwhelmingly invested in an irreversible existential outcome. It obfuscates the stakes and occupies content space that would otherwise be filled with the kind of entirely justified alarm and outrage produced when people look up from the latest shiny object on their screens and face an unscrupulous, reprehensible heist being perpetrated.

Which is why the hourly content path to Nov. 3 is being strewn with the tinsel trash of birtherism and the misdirectional conspiracy porn of QAnon; like pickpockets on the Titanic who get you so distracted fumbling for your wallet that the horizon never crosses your mind.

Lisa Van Dusen is associate editor of Policy Magazine and a columnist for The Hill Times. She was Washington bureau chief for Sun Media, international writer for Peter Jennings at ABC News, and an editor at AP in New York and UPI in Washington.