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Will the U.S. Even Have an Election Result in 2024?

A strengthened federalism is the solution to whatever outrageous fortune brings– even a protracted and violent election. 

Trump Supporters Hold "Stop The Steal" Rally In DC Amid Ratification Of Presidential Election

What are the chances that the 2024 presidential election will not dissolve into chaos? In our mind’s eye, we can already see it: long lines, delays, grainy video of somebody doing something, court orders, injunctions, amici curiae stacked like cordwood. Protestors and provocateurs. Oath Keepers and Antifa. Thick blue lines of cops, clouds of tear gas, maybe even national guardsmen and federal troops. A culmination on January 6, 2025—or perhaps the turmoil will last longer than that. 

Donald Trump may not accept any result that doesn’t leave him as the winner, yet it’s more than possible that Joe Biden and the Democrats won’t accept an outcome that doesn’t feature them as the winner—especially if it means turning the keys to the republic over to Trump. 

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Already, the Trump-as-dictator, even Trump-is-Hitler, memeing is fast and furious. If it keeps up, by this time next year, the feeling among many/most/all Democrats will be that letting the Bad Orange Man return to the White House under any circumstances is akin to putting an American Führer in power. No Democrat sitting in the West Wing wants to risk being remembered as a dupe, as an American Hindenberg

We know that Democrats and their allies were fully ready to challenge the 2020 election results, had Trump come out ahead. Can we anticipate any less #resistance in 2024? 

For their part, Republicans are scarcely less apocalyptic. Beyond the usual accusations of vote fraud—stoutly denied by Democrats, but look here—conservatives increasingly agree that progressive dark-money forces tilted the 2020 elections. The thinking goes that the left had a Soros-ian “color revolution” in reserve four years ago, and stands ready again to pull the trigger, if need be, this year. 

Come to think of it, do we even know if Trump will be on the ballot in all 50 states? The Supreme Court might bat down, for instance, the Maine and Colorado rulings, but there will be more such Trump-swatting, especially if the 45th president is outright convicted somewhere in the months to come. Does anyone really think that Yale Law School has been graduating all those activists and lawfarers for nothing

But these days, the right has a goodly helping of FedSoc-type smarties, so whatever portside America does to Republicans, starboard America will figure out how to do to Democrats. 

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Already, activists are looking through their loupes for loopholes in the laws. For instance, the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act of 2022 was hailed as a major streamlining of an 1887 statute that had been found wanting. Yet the new rule still requires Congress to affirm the electoral college results, subject to “grounds for objections,” of which there are two gapers: “The electors of the State were not lawfully certified” and “The vote of one or more electors has not been regularly given.” With such elliptical wording, there’s no way that a clever bunch of barristers could fail to kite a legal argument for questioning, even kiboshing, the result. 

So what’s the answer? How to guarantee a fair election and a fair count? Beats me. One is reminded that the mystic chords of memory grow faint unless they are continuously tuned and harmonized—and that’s the sort of civic maintenance best done prior to a national election. In the plaintive words of George Washington University’s Peter Loge: “Democracy exists because enough people agree that it ought to exist...that requires a consensus...that is being challenged.” Speaking of challenges to the system, it’s far from certain that important political figures in either party will vouch for the validity of the 2024 elections. (And on the specific issue of ballot integrity, I do have a suggestion.) 

As for possible further challenges, if any are needed, reporter Catherine Herridge, wired in to the intelligence community (or, if one prefers, Deep State), warns of a “black swan” event.

Indeed, an unfortunate event of some kind is so easy to foresee that it barely counts as a black swan; in its predictability, even banality, it should be regarded as a mere white swan. Moreover, given the possibility of a vote-strong multi-candidate field this year, it’s possible we could see a president winning with less than 40 percent of the popular vote. The last time that happened was...1860. Gulp.

Okay, that’s enough foreboding. If you want more, turn on MSNBC or Fox News. But for a deeper historical perspective, we might recall the 1930 quote from the imprisoned-by-Mussolini Italian communist, Antonio Gramsci: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” These vivid words are something of a cliche, but that’s in no small part because they’re applicable to so many situations—including 2024.

So if we are in an interregnum, complete with morbid symptoms, what’s ahead? One thing’s for sure: There’s going to be no return to the status quo ante Trump. To the bygone political world of George W. Bush, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and John McCain. To uncontroversial trade deals and popular foreign wars. All that, gone with the wind. 

Amidst the current morbidity, the most visible Democrats have cantered toward woke intersectionality, while Republicans have stepped toward populist anti-establishmentarianism. To be sure, plenty of middle-of-the-road figures still abide in both parties. It’s just that they are less visible on TV, or on X, the successor technology. As an aside, when Elon Musk made Twitter into X, he dashed the hopes of liberal gatekeepers who thought they could keep control of internet discourse by censoring “disinformation.” As for the censorious fist of artificial intelligence, its full effect, whatever it might be, is waiting to be born. (If conservatives are smart, they’ll figure out how to birth their own version, rather than leaving themselves at the mercy of San Francisco–made algorithms.) 

So what’s coming after the current interregnal morbidity? After the hurly burly of 2024 is lost and won? On the assumption that someone will be sitting in the Oval Office in 2025, it seems likely that half the country is going to be outraged. If Blue wins, Red is mad. If Red wins, Blue is mad. Cries of national divorce will fill the airwaves—and maybe the streets. 

Come to think of it, maybe that’s the new normal. And maybe it can even be managed. Here and here for the The American Conservative, and elsewhere, this author has described how red states and blue states might peacefully divide, constitutionally coexisting in North America. Such agree-to-disagree separation would depressurize the 2028 presidential election by lowering the stakes of national affairs—the less decided in Washington, D.C., the more room for the states to do their own thing. 

That’s the hope, because strenuous opposition to federal-government-imposed one-size-fits-all is already here, and it’s getting stronger. So it’s best to devise parallel turbines of co-generation, as opposed to orthogonal engines of war. 

We can point to one looming conflict best finessed with nuance: mifepristone, aka the abortion pill. The Biden administration’s Food and Drug Administration has declared the drug to be “safe and effective,” while Republicans seem destined to overturn that decision if they take control of the FDA. If that were to happen, how would Blue react? New Jersey’s Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, has pledged to make the Garden State an abortion citadel, stockpiling the pill if need be. He has even suggested he would defy an adverse Supreme Court ruling. 

There’s a word for this defiance of federal power: nullification. Yes, that’s a concept associated with John C. Calhoun and the right, and yet Thomas Jefferson used the word, approvingly, when he was vice president of the United States. So the concept actually has a broad pedigree. And as to anything to do with abortion, if there’s one lesson of the last two years, since Dobbs, it’s this: Both sides are dug in. The chances of either side being dynamited out are, well, de minimis. Closer to de zero. Practicality commends an armistice, leaving both camps in place on their turf. To both sides of the abortion debate, the other side is reprehensible, even despicable. But since neither is going anywhere, best to have two sides, safely separated from each other. 

In fact, many other issues, too—from guns to gender to climate change—defy the pacific imposition of a central solution. So whoever is in charge in D.C. will see half the country in righteous outrage. Maybe the anti-federalist right will use “Calhounianian” as a contra-D.C. rallying cry, while the anti-federalist left will use “Jeffersonian.” To lovers of live and let live, decentralization, by any name, will smell as sweet.

By this reckoning, the white and black swans of 2024 will give birth to newly robust red and blue swans in 2025 and beyond. And this birds-of-a-feather sorting could be accelerated, even outright cemented, by changes in voting and balloting. Vote by mail? Vote by app? Vote only by paper? Vote only with valid ID? The franchise for felons? The undocumented? It’s not so hard to see Blue and Red working their respective state systems to preordain the partisan outcome. 

In the meantime, we could see exciting experimentation among the states. Could a state create a Nevada-ish enterprise zone for some new technology—be it crypto, medical, or Mars-bound? Could a state venture into some sort of post-liberal integralism? Or, at the other end of the social-issue spectrum, could a state make itself into a haven for polyamory and transgenderism

Of course, this much state-by-state diversity could confound, even anger, many. So most probably, to stave off trouble, the blue states and the red states will form themselves into blocs for the sake of solidarity and self-defense. 

But what of the national government? What of the federal income tax? What of U.S. foreign policy? All weighty questions, for sure. Yet the best answers for Americans will come from where they’ve always come: from freedom. Two and a half centuries ago, Americans started this great experiment with no destination in mind, only optimism that the future could be made better. We have never stopped experimenting since. So there’s no reason now to stop pursuing the right mixes of life, liberty, property, and, oh yes, happiness. Admittedly, at times the situation might look morbid, but our history tells us there’s good reason to expect a new flush of health. 

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