2020 or Sixes and Sevens
It seems unusually churlish to have named this year after the definition of perfect vision, as it is hard to think of a time when there has been less clarity.
In general, people are not very good at uncertainty. They seem to like knowing their children will return to school in September and, after the ludicrous efforts to shoehorn them in, that colleges will exist in a form that even remotely resembles what parents and students expect.
This year should have been called sixes and sevens not 2020. By the way, that expression is derived from a dice game in the 1300s, in which rolling a six or seven put your entire fortune at risk.
Right around tax time (or what would have been tax time had it not been moved from April 15 to July 15), I wrote a story called World War Three at a Time. That was 200 days before the election, and we are now more than halfway there.
How’s that war working for us?
At the time I wrote the story, George Floyd had not been killed by Minneapolis police officers and Black Lives Matter was just another movement seeking attention. A fourth front was opened.
The coronavirus seems to be resisting our haphazard efforts to stop it. Five million US cases is on the horizon – or nearer than that. We have passed 156,000 deaths. I have no idea what we should have expected, but those are big numbers. With lockdowns being reinstituted, it is hard to describe that theatre of our then three-front war as going well.
GDP for the second quarter declined at an annual rate of 32.9%. It was the largest decline since 1947 when the government began using modern tracking methods. Not much optimism on that front either.
That leaves the election, which is actually closer than many think. Early voting begins in less than six weeks and Election Day is only three months away. I am trying to recall another occasion in which a President has called for an election to be postponed but I don’t think there are any.
Whatever happens, it seems unlikely to bring us the certainty we might like. Thanks to an anticipated surge in absentee voting, traditional election night television coverage seems a bad bet. Depending on how litigious the two parties decide to be, it could be weeks before we know the outcome.
For what it is worth in trying to guess what comes next, here are some interesting observations from The Coronavirus Election by Doug Sosnik. It is quite a good slide deck and well worth a look.
- 80% of Americans believe the country is out of control. (I have never even heard of pollsters asking that question.)
- About 2/3 of Americans believe the coronavirus is getting worse.
- Earlier in the year, more than half of red or reddish voters were satisfied with the way things were going in this country. That figure has fallen off a cliff and is now less than one in five.
- The right track wrong track question as to the direction of the country has been upside down since President Trump was elected in 2016. Today 72% say wrong track and only 19% say right track. That leaves 9% who are presumably catatonic.
- There is no point in describing the slides on the election itself because nobody wants to think anything that they don’t already hope. There are some useful insights, however that might suggest a reason for the President to tweet about postponing the election. Or merely to fire the head of his campaign.
- Early voting is something to watch. There will be more of it and it will be sooner than ever before. The famed “October Surprise” won’t have much effect on those who have already voted.
- Finally, Republican control of the Senate seems threatened and that is just what a 51% to 40% majority hopes will happen.
If you happen to be an uncertainty junkie, imagine this scenario.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been hospitalized several times in recent weeks with a recurrence of cancer and related health problems.
Imagine if her seat becomes available to be filled by a President who has lost and confirmed by a Senate that will change hands at the turn of the year.
That is not an entirely implausible scenario for November and December of the “perfect clarity” year 2020.