The Democrats may not be able to concede

In presidential elections, once is a fluke; twice is a pattern. I struggle to imagine how, beyond utter shock, millions of Democrats will process a Trump victory. A loss for Biden, after having been the clear favorite all summer, would provoke mass disillusion with electoral politics as a means of change—at a time when disillusion is already dangerously high. If Democrats can’t beat a candidate as unpopular as Trump during a devastating pandemic and a massive economic contraction, then are they even capable of winning presidential elections anymore? Democracy, after all, is supposed to self-correct after mistakes, particularly mistakes as egregious as electing Donald Trump—whose unfitness for the nation’s highest office makes itself apparent with almost every passing day…

If Trump manages to win, recent polling data indicate, he will likely do so despite losing the popular vote. That will fuel disillusion not just with the election outcome but with the electoral system. The popular-vote numbers will be used to argue that Trump won without winning—again. In theory, this could be a good thing, if it birthed a mass movement to change the way Americans choose their presidents. In practice, though, Republicans, after prevailing only in the Electoral College for the third time in six elections, will vehemently oppose any attempt to abolish it, further driving despair among Democrats that change can come about through “normal” politics.

Liberals have convinced themselves that Republicans are, in one way or another, cheating. In addition to all of Trump’s norm-breaking, the GOP is gerrymandering, purging voter rolls, and shutting down polling places in Black neighborhoods. Yet Republicans wouldn’t have been able to do these things if they hadn’t won enough statewide and local offices in the first place. They have put themselves in a position to enact their favored redistricting and election procedures by finding candidates and pursuing policies that made them competitive in formerly Democratic states, demanding a level of party discipline that Democrats can seldom muster, and getting their supporters to turn out for down-ballot races. Republican manipulation is what the democratic process itself has produced, however unfair, and it can be undone only through that same process, however flawed.