Today, July 4, 2020, Spirited Reasoners are celebrating the 244th anniversary of the signing of our nation’s Declaration of Independence. Having lived for 68 of those years, including 17 presidential elections (two of which, admittedly, I was too young to remember), this Spirited Reasoner feels qualified to assert the following: This year’s campaigns, conventions, and voting procedures promise to be the strangest in our collective lifetimes, perhaps in the history of the United States.
Let’s start with the campaigns. While President Trump insists on holding his usual rallies in the face of a rapidly escalating COVID-19 pandemic, Joe Biden seems content to conduct a virtual campaign via social media and television. I’m reminded of a video in high school featuring Marshal McLuhan, where he expounded on his famous quote, “the medium is the message.” Colors, lighting, and shadows around his face all morphed while he was speaking, thus emphasizing his point. Now, it’s as though we’re seeing that video again, only this time there are two faces: the Trump medium being his face posed against those atop Mt. Rushmore; the Biden medium being his face covered in a mask.
Contrasts between the two messages could not be clearer. Trump, through his actions, is telling voters, “Look how great I am! Look how great this nation is! Keep doing what you’re doing. If you get sick, no problem. Most people will get well. Don’t worry! Be happy!”
Meanwhile Biden, through his actions, is telling voters, “Let’s not be foolish. We can beat this virus, but only if we’re smart.”
Thus, the Trump campaign is betting most Americans are willing to ignore the virus. The Biden campaign is betting most Americans are smarter than that.
But don’t expect the party conventions to follow suit.
Most Republican lawmakers across the country—i. e., the ones who would normally populate the floor at the Republican National Convention—may not be as willing to risk their lives and health as are the few thousand rabid Trump disciples who seem willing to follow their unmasked savior wherever he goes. Trump will be forced to ask himself, “Which would be worse? To give my acceptance speech in front of a bunch of people adhering to proper social distancing and wearing masks? (In essence, mocking me.) Or to give that same speech in front of my screaming fans?” Spirited Reasoners should not be surprised to see him, once again, ignore party protocol in order to grab a better photo op. He might very well select an unorthodox venue that will allow him to give his party’s acceptance speech not in front of Republican Party leaders, but in front of his most faithful followers.
Meanwhile, Democrats may have seized upon a clear advantage, having planned for weeks to hold a virtual convention. No matter what Donald Trump decides to do, this contrasting medium will permit Joe Biden to be viewed as the more responsible candidate, merely by accepting his nomination in a manner less likely to spread disease and death to his fellow Americans. Although the result might be a speech less exciting than a stump speech, Americans might be ready to accept boring as better.
Which brings us to the actual November election. Or, oops, make that September, October, and November, because a number of states will be mailing out early ballots to ensure timely and accurate counting. What that means is that, by the time televised debates are held in late September through mid-October, many Americans will have already voted.
Spirited Reasoners of my generation remember 1968 as the most tumultuous election year in American history. Children coming of age in 2020 are witnessing something far more outlandish.