Fail Points


Electoral College in the 2020 presidential election (Ballotpedia)

The more byzantine machinations of how America’s systems of governance work can be fascinating, if you’re into that sort of thing. Over the past twenty years, though, everything from the Florida recount after the 2000 presidential election, to the large numbers of faithless electors who cast votes they weren’t supposed to cast when the Electoral College met four years ago, has given many Americans far too much of an education about those mechanisms than they ever would have sought out on their own. I get that as a process nerd, these things probably interest me more than other people on a normal day, but these have not been normal days we’ve been living through, especially over the past couple of months.

Even though I knew that the COVID-19 pandemic would likely cause this year’s election reporting to drag out for much longer than usual, I still felt a real compulsion to consume as much coverage of the returns as I could on the night of the election, and even after so many news organizations called the presidential election for Joe Biden the following Saturday morning, I still kept half an eye on the news all that weekend, just to see if the widespread lack of acceptance of the election results that we all (correctly) anticipated was going to turn extremely problematic. Even if I’m not paying the same level of attention to these things that I was five weeks ago, that concern still hasn’t left me, and that’s made today’s gatherings of electors to cast their votes for the Electoral College tally all the more insufferable.

For something like America’s election system to work ideally, it has to get past a number of points where something could go wrong and cause things to fail. These steps start long before election day, originating with issues like voter registration and the process for getting certified to run for public office. Even if you find yourself happy with the results of last month’s election, I would still argue that there are many failures in those earlier steps of the process that still need to be addressed, albeit after we get the pandemic under control. I’ll save the subject of people deliberately sabotaging some of these steps for another blog, but suffice it to say for now that this sabotage is a severe problem for America that isn’t going to go away until we put in the hard work to make it go away.

Today’s meetings of electors in all the states is one of those potential fail points, and even if we get through this one without serious incident, there is still the matter of the electors meeting in Washington early next month to make the tally official, to say nothing of the inauguration. Even if everything goes according to plan and without any major problems, and Joe Biden becomes President at noon on the 20th of January, the deep divisions in this country right now (and the way the pandemic is exacerbating them) will make a Biden presidency even more of a series of fail points just waiting to happen than is usual for a new president.

What’s been keeping my mind even more preoccupied than these concerns about potential chaos looming is the impending announcement of whom Biden will nominate to be his Secretary of Education, which may, on a personal level, be the biggest fail point I’m worrying about here. As horrified as I was four years ago when Betsy DeVos was named for that role in the incoming administration, I was able to take a small bit of comfort in the fact that the one person who would have been worse in that role than DeVos didn’t get the nod. That person could easily end up being Biden’s pick, though, and if that were to happen then I would become even more fearful of what will become of America in the coming years than I already am, if such a thing is even possible.

I’m sure that others in America are more fearful of other moves Biden and his team could make here, but aside from my deeply personal interest in both these issues and the person I’m going out of my way to avoid naming here, I don’t think it will be possible for America to move substantially in the directions it needs to move in here until we repair the damage that’s been done to our education system over the past fifty years, and enable Americans to understand what’s going on around them and, most importantly, how those things could change for the better. This is something I’ve devoted much of my professional and personal life to — again, please subscribe to my Patreon for details about how my next book will try to address these issues — and even as this pandemic has enabled me to spend more time than ever researching these problems so I can develop better solutions to them, I still feel like I’ve barely left the starting blocks here.

A lot of bad things could happen between now and Inauguration Day, and even more bad things could happen after that. Maybe we’ll get through today’s elector meetings without some kind of tragedy unfolding, but I still can’t shake the feeling that the proverbial other shoe is about to drop here. I might not be able to do anything about that, but at least I can try to use this time to improve my ability to address the problems of the future. If only more people would do the same, instead of endlessly trying to relitigate the (all too recent) past.

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