10 min read

Does Trump Really Have a 2/3 Chance of Winning? Plus, Why Liberalism Feels Soulless Now, and The World’s Authoritarian Wave

Does Trump Really Have a 2/3 Chance of Winning? Plus, Why Liberalism Feels Soulless Now, and The World’s Authoritarian Wave

I’m Umair Haque, and this is The Issue: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported publication. Our job is to give you the freshest, deepest, no-holds-barred insight about the issues that matter most.

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Hi! How’s everyone? Welcome new readers, by all means introduce yourselves in the comments, many thanks old friends, and a Big Thanks again to all who’ve joined this little caravan of light piercing the heart of darkness. 

Today we’re going to discuss…take a deep breath…you might need it.

Does Trump Really Have a 2/3 Chance of Winning the Election?

That startling new statistic doesn’t come from me. It comes to us from the august pages of The Economist. Or should we now rename it The Alarmist? I kid, I kid. 

I chose it because the Economist does intelligent work when it comes to this kind of thing. Probably better than its American counterparts, who’ve been sort of notoriously very wrong in the recent past. So how did they get there?

What the Economist’s done to arrive at this figure isn’t just a poll, but rather a detailed model, breaking down likelihoods of swing states going in certain directions, and how that affects America’s convoluted Electoral College system. Then they factor in a bit of economics, and on top of that, they run what appear to be Monte Carlo simulations, and don’t worry if you don’t know what those are, it’s just a way to sort of reality check a model by running it over and over again, to weed out outliers and errors. 

In other words, it’s a pretty rigorous model—perhaps the most rigorous one.

So how realistic is this number? I’d say that…it’s pretty realistic.

You’ve heard me say over the past few months that the risk of a Trump landslide is rising. And that’s sort of what the Economist is saying, too. Its model right now is kind of concluding that Trump will carry many of the swing states, and hey presto, that way, you get to this rather striking result, that he has a 2/3 chance of winning right about now.

I say striking because it is striking, and we should all see it that way. Let me try to put it my own language. I used the terms “the risk is rising,” and that’s how to interpret this, think about it. And to see the sort of way that risk has accelerated, consider it in terms of recent history. Just a few years ago, Trump’s chances were widely assumed to be very, very small, maybe 1 in 10, or less. And yet they rose and rose. And now, Biden’s are—if we take this model seriously, which we should—just 1 in 3.

In other words, the Economist’s predicting that Biden has just a 1 in 3 chance of winning the election. That’s eminently…not good. Not for the Democrats, not for democracy, not for the world, and whatever your misgivings about Biden, and I have plenty of my own, which I’ve discussed with you in the past, the point is: this is probably the most accurate picture of where the election stands so far, and it paints a portrait of Biden in deepening trouble.

You can discount all that, if you like. Take it down from 67%, to, I don’t know, 60%. 55%. Does it matter? The point remains much the same, and I don’t want you to make the mistake pundits make of treating this all as some kind of horse race, or sport, which it’s not. Far better for you to think about this in the much more sophisticated terms of risk, probability, and outcomes.

So what does all this begin to tell us? Quite a lot, and maybe more than you think. I’ll come back to America, but the first thing we should note is this.

(Why) The World’s Authoritarian Wave Isn’t Cresting

The world’s far right wave isn’t cresting.

If you read the French newspapers (and I do), or just the news about France, it’s a nation in shock right now. After stunning advances by the far right, Macron’s gambling the country’s future on a shock vote. And if the far right wins that one, the world will see the bizarre, and perhaps sinister, spectacle of the far right ascending to power in the very country that’s sort of the emblem of having fought the last World War…against it…needless to say. A tectonic shift in our world will ensue, make no mistake, because France—and Europe, and the world—will be very much at the end of an era.

And then there’s the thorny issue of Trump. Not so long ago, the establishment just sort of assumed that he’d fade away. But he didn’t, and more to the point, his movement didn’t, because that’s not what social movements do. The establishment, meanwhile, being unwilling to learn about this new landscape confronting it in any serious way, is now reeling.

Meanwhile, India teaches us how shrunken democracy’s horizons have grown. There, the incumbent won another term, and while his power base shrunk, and in some way significantly, all that was painted as a win for democracy. It was just…less of a loss. To have an aspiring autocrat in power for another half-decade term is hardly some kind of grand victory—it’s still what it looks like, a loss.

Now think back to when all this started. Maybe about a decade ago now, a little less. What was the thinking then? That all this was just “a phase,” that people were merely throwing a tantrum, that saner heads would soon prevail, and so forth. In other words, establishments around the world, and liberalism in general, made the assumption of homeostasis—the world’s far right wave was an aberration.

Even at the time, those of who were sort of observers and scholars warned that this sort of disruption doesn’t just happen, randomly, by chance, a fluke—it points to deep, serious fissures in systems and institutions, which aren’t delivering, to the point that people are turning to extremism out of rage and despair, more so than the fringe who always sort of clings to it. But establishments discounted, ignored, marginalized all our warnings—and so we failed, and I’ve discussed with you, too, how that failure makes me personally, which is to say, pretty awful, haunted, maybe even heartbroken.

Today we see a kind of terrible lesson before. None of this was “just a phase.” The world didn’t sort of come to its senses, magically. Homeostasis didn’t prevail. Nothing went back to “normal.” Instead, the far right wave is increasingly defining, now, what “normal” is, and it shows no real signs of cresting or slowing down or decelerating. It’s sort of just…advancing…year by year…around the world…and here we are, just mutely, numbly watching it, at least those of us who remember the lessons of the last time history went down this particular route into the abyss.

Where will it all end?

The Uncritical Age

To ask that another way is to say: how did the Democrats get here? Why are they…so bad at this…that they’re now losing to Trump…and have just a 1 in 3 chance of winning the election, if you take the Economist’s model seriously, that is, which is probably the most detailed and deepest and most objective one?

There’s a thing the Democrats do, which sort of gives the game away.

"Across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and Twitch, anger and resentment toward Biden are boiling among Gen Z content creators who say they feel disaffected and betrayed by Biden’s positions on an array of issues, including the war in Gaza, the climate crisis and the president’s decision to support a potential TikTok ban. The rift has been exacerbated by the White House’s evolving strategy of courting friendly influencers while shutting out others who have been critical of the administration."

Did you catch the mistake I’m trying to point out? The Democrats…are shutting out criticism. Here, it’s explicit: they’re literally closing the doors on influencers and whatnot who are critical of them. They think that’s good PR. But in fact, it’s a huge mistake.

And not just one of marketing or PR.

What happens when we shut out criticism? We lose the ability to learn. Grow. Move. Improve.

And that is where liberalism is today.

It’s in tatters, but unable to reinvent itself. And that is because liberals have grown afraid of criticism, even from within, become thin-skinned. Often, they appear to take any kind of constructive or mild criticism as some sort of existential attack. Like many ideologies before it, liberalism’s grown imperious, invulnerable, and increasingly detached from reality. 

That’s a bad place to be.

I’ve told you my own story. I offered this sort of incredibly mild criticism of liberalism, hey, we need to update GDP, rejig how we measure the economy, capture the true story of people’s live more accurately—and bang, before I knew it, I found myself, bewildered, on the end of attack after attack, which only grew crazier and crazier, to the point I was being called kinds of fairly incredibly names. And all I had to say was something that innocuous, operating within liberalism’s own paradigm. See how sort of bad it is? Imagine how much worse it is for anyone saying something genuinely path-breaking or challenging or novel or what have you.

That’s a crazy place for a school of thought to be.

And yet that’s where liberalism is now: because it can’t take criticism, won’t, will sort of recast it as insult or attack or worse, lunacy, it’s unable to…reinvent itself. After all, if everyone else is wrong about everything, what do you ever have to change, rethink, update, improve?

That’s a broader problem of our age now. Critical thinking isn’t…is frowned upon. It won’t make you any friends or win you any “likes” or endear you, as above, in the case of the influencers, to establishments. Conspiratorialism and crackpottery will of course, but they’re the opposite.

But for the side of democracy, critical thinking is…well…don’t make me say it. Critical. Because for the other side, everything’s easy: you don’t need to think critically if you’re authoritarian or theocratic or what have you, in fact, it’s far better if you don’t. For democracy’s side, though, the promise must always be not just kept, but reinvented, rethought, grown, evolved, matured, and that, in a very real sense, is what democracy is.

Why Liberalism Feels Soulless and Heartless Now, Or Liberalism’s Broken Promise

I asked in the last post or two: what does liberalism offer people today?

Let me try to put it another way, so that we understand two things: a) why Biden’s losing this badly, and b) why liberalism is, around the world.

What are people’s anxieties today? We should all know by now. People, and first of all, let’s get the valence right, are growing terrified. Their levels of despair and anxiety and fear and stress are shooting off the charts. Of what? About what? Money. The future. Their kids. Retirement. Paying the bills. Careers. Jobs. The mortgage, the rent. Just basic life stuff.

People are being crushed these days, and our statistics about “the economy” aren’t capturing it, because they’re not designed to—they’re just designed to say how well capitalism’s doing. The problem though is that right now, people are being crushed by capitalism gone haywire, and so one’s gain is the other’s loss.

Now here’s the strange and striking, and to me, eerie and haunting, thing. 

Liberalism speaks to none of these anxieties. Not a single one.

Can you name a single liberal leader who a) acknowledges these anxieties b) speaks about them c) at length d) personally d) much less has a plan to fix them?

We all know by now that…they don’t. They just sort of get up there, and smile or grin and wax eloquent about how great everything is for people. But nobody feels that way. Just 20% of people do, to be accurate, and so liberalism’s not just preaching to the choir…it’s also a very, very small choir. All that’s why I say it’s grown “detached from reality.”

So liberalism sort of flatly refuses to even speak to people’s anxieties, in an age where those anxieties are…exploding, going supernova. It refuses to say, for example, anything as basic, humane, normal, simple, reasonable, as, hey, times are tough guys, and we know you’re struggling, but we’re going to get through this together. Just won’t say it. You get the sense that liberalism is gritting its teeth and forcing the smile. 

And so nobody trusts it anymore. Because all that’s…a crazy thing to do. A sort of genuinely crazy position to take in this world, at this moment, which feels like its on fire. To not speak to people’s anxieties? In this world? There’s no better recipe for irrelevance.

That’s sort of how we got where we are. And I don’t think much is going to change anytime soon. I doubt that liberalism will have a sort of epiphany of the human conscience, and grow a soul anytime soon, and begin speaking to people the way they need to be spoken to, which is the way demagogues speak to them, first of all, centering their anxieties, if offering the wrong diagnoses and answers after that.

Liberalism feels soulless now. Heartless. It somehow stopped caring about people, and I don’t mean that in the little sense of history, the last decade or three of neoliberalism, but to remind you of the grand one, from Hume to Mill to Keynes to Sen and beyond. The line and duty of care? Where is it now? And yet…

Growing a soul? For an ideology, movement, school of thought, paradigm? That’s a tough thing to do. It requires a lot of things, from soul-searching, aka looking for one, into one, to leadership, to criticism, to reflection. Liberalism appears unwilling to do any or all or even some of that right now. Which is why it is where it is: crashing and burning, all around us, or for those of us who are part of it, perhaps atop us.

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