If you’re reading this on Sunday, November 3rd, then it’s exactly one calendar year to the presidential election. That’s 366 days (recall, 2020 is a leap year) until Tuesday, November third, two thousand and twenty. Whatever the date, it’s time to start thinking about the future and what unexpected eventualities the future could hold for us. If you think you know what’s in store you are mistaken; there are too many variables for a single human mind to compute the future with accuracy, and people who claim they already have based on a past positive outcome have always been more lucky than prescient. The only thing we know for sure is the past, and we have more than sufficient experience with it to avoid certain obvious mistakes.
But there is no experience so horrible that someone somewhere won’t fail to learn from it. For example, if anyone ever tells you that a particular Democratic presidential candidate is “just as bad as Trump,” then I encourage you to receive that bit of wisdom with the appropriate awe and wonder it deserves: you are in the presence of a man or woman for whom ignorance is no mere hobby but a positive art form. I can only guess at the deep resources of will and effort necessary to sustain an ignorance that profound.
But when Michael Moore “predicted” that Donald Trump would win in 2016 he was probably (rightly) thinking about just that kind of ignorance. Even so he played an ancient but effective parlour game. First he shocked us to attention with a disturbing possibility. Once he had our attention he gave us five plausible reasons for his belief that Trump would win. Once he’d done all that, and this is the part where he tricked us, he gave us a roadmap for a way out of the mess. In other words, he hedged his bets. It was a win-win for Michael. Obviously the biggest win for Michael Moore happened when Trump won. But Moore had a potential consolation prize in that had Trump lost, he could say it was because enough Americans followed his roadmap, or some other roadmap very like it.
But what he didn’t know was how big a help the Russians were going to be in getting Trump elected. Or to what extent Facebook would hold the door for them. Or the last minute false and wholly unnecessary announcement by James Comey that Hillary Clinton was still under investigation. And he didn’t know to what lengths Republicans would go in suppressing votes from certain demographics, and so on. In other words, he didn’t really know anything at all about what we now know to be true. So he was just guessing. And the election was a true squeaker that could have gone either way. It was far from a fait accompli.
But, you might reasonably ask, what about some of those people who accurately predicted the outcome of elections and were right every time? What about them? In a world where there are (literally) thousands of people who predict election results there will always be some obscure professor somewhere who will get it right – for a while anyway. That isn’t the result of skill or even extraordinary luck, it’s just the unexceptional result of any large statistical sampling over time. Somebody is going to get it right, just like some people ignorant of football sometimes guess right in the office pool. I can’t even begin to tell you why we are always surprised by stuff like that.
Right now we don’t know what’s going to happen. It certainly is true that Trump could resign tomorrow, or that the impeachment inquiry will lead to a fast trial and faster conviction in the Senate and Trump could be out by March. We just don’t know. But one thing I do know, we need to be ready for 2020 and this time we need to get it right. We can’t afford to console ourselves with the belief that Trump will lose. We already made that colossal error. We have to approach 2020 with motivating terror.
The stakes are simply too high to get it wrong. There are too many things that could go disastrously wrong if the world has to endure an additional four years of Trump. Like I implied, I’m in the cautionary business, not the future prediction business. But one thing I will say about a second Trump term with perfect confidence: it would be an unqualified disaster. I want you to think that way too. We have only one planet and no room to gamble with it. This time it’s personal.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.