The sense of American stability which existed during the 1990s was based in such superficial and shortsighted definitions of what it meant for a society to be "strong." The relative economic prosperity, and the sense that the post-Soviet world had reached an "end of history," gave the country overconfidence about its own future. As author Will Leitch recently wrote, this overconfidence was so severe that everyone was initially laughing during the dispute of the 2000 election:
"That the race ended up so close sure didn't feel like an accident. If you ask 300 million people whether they'd prefer two nickels or a dime, you shouldn't be surprised when the results are 50/50. The madness that followed the close vote felt not like a moment of democratic peril. It felt like the logical conclusion to an incredibly stupid process. You just had to laugh."
It wasn't until Americans were confronted with all the contradictions which had been brewing within their society throughout the 90s that they saw the dark historical context behind that election. Bush's theft of the race through blatant voter suppression and a politicized Supreme Court exposed the severe weakness within our bourgeois "democratic" institutions. 9/11 exposed the extent to which America's global imperialist projects had the potential to blow back. All the warrantless surveillance, erosions of civil liberties, and ultra-nationalist propaganda which ensued exposed the country's potential to lose its air of being "free." The Afghanistan and Iraq wars, which have been in the background of U.S. life ever since, exposed the rot of the American imperialist project. The 2008 crash exposed just how unstable our socioeconomic model is.
The election of Trump four years ago, along with all the far-right violence and anti-immigrant atrocities which have defined the Trump era, further signaled to Americans that the institutions and culture of their country are not as stable as they might have thought two decades ago. The more than 200,000 U.S. Covid-19 deaths, the exposures of racist police brutality, and the unprecedented 2020 explosion of unemployment have made this twice as apparent in the last year alone.
It was entirely predictable that the 21st century would bring this turmoil for the U.S. The U.S. is built upon the perpetual genocide of colonized peoples, the violent subjugation of foreign lands, and the rule of a plutocracy that's embraced the highly necro-political economic model of neoliberalism. The exposures of these contradictions have shaken the 90s Americans who weren't living in poverty, who weren't being locked up because of Clinton's mass incarceration policies, who weren't having their families starve due to Washington's sanctions against Iraq. With the falling away of that past facade of stability and optimism has come an increasingly tense and dire reality, one where people no longer feel secure about their futures.
Now that the U.S. is about to experience a modern equivalent of what happened in 2000, this tenseness is reaching a breaking point. The Democratic Party and its media backers keep assuring the country that Biden is going to win based off of the polls. But those polls could be wrong like they were in 2016, and regardless the aftermath of the election is going to be a chaotic descent into further institutional deterioration.
The most explosive potential scenario, one which keeps looking more likely, is a "red mirage" where it appears as if Trump has won on election night but where Biden gains the lead as votes continue to be tallied in the coming weeks. Trump has been preparing to declare the election rigged if the results show he loses, so under this outcome he'll seize upon the news of his fading lead to tell his supporters that the Democrats are stealing the race from him. The narrative that will be put forth to the Proud Boys and the Kyle Rittenhouses is one where mail in ballots-which are now highly common due to pandemic-have been used to perpetuate massive electoral fraud against the president.
It's not guaranteed that a red mirage is exactly what will happen, but any other scenario than a substantial pro-Trump margin on election night will make Trump uncertain about his chances and prone to incite violence by crying fraud. The scenario where violence is least likely to happen would be one where Biden initially wins by an overwhelming margin, but like I said, this is a Democratic fantasy. Data from polling authorities more historically reliable than the mainstream ones indicates that the race is at the very least much closer than most think.
Given this fact, it seems most likely that either Trump or Biden will narrowly come out with the most electoral votes, with there being a high potential for a drawn out counting process that could flip it in the favor of the one who first looked like they lost. Trump, who's desperate to stay in office so that he can avoid prosecution for his corrupt business practices, will not accept any uncertainty. After having told the white supremacists to "stand back and stand by," he'll mobilize them to bring unrest and bloodshed to defend from what he'll portray as a "deep state" coup attempt against a sitting president. The paranoia that's been rising among Trump's base as the QAnon conspiracy has risen in the last year will find its logical conclusion: violence.
All of this-the prospect of governmental uncertainty during multiple major crises, the blatantly kleptocratic and criminal motives behind Trump's hostility towards a peaceful transfer of power, the presence of emotionally charged misinformation within the crowds who will carry out the violence-epitomizes the collapse of American institutions that's been occurring since the illusory 90s optimism was broken. The American republic, which itself is illegitimate and was built for the purpose of imperialist subjugation, is now imploding in on itself and giving way to something crudely dictatorial. Right-wingers are trying to rationalize this contradiction within their "freedom" rhetoric by endlessly shouting about how Trump is being cheated, even though the GOP is the one that's been utilizing voter suppression to a vast extent.
During election night and the months following it, the system's hypocrisies and self-defeating bugs will be fully revealed. As Leitch's article says, "It sure seems less funny now," because the fundamental flimsiness of American "democracy" now has to be confronted.