Column: Stop pretending anything about this election is normal

Workmen build a plywood wall at the storefront of a complex of jewelry stores in downtown L.A. ahead of election day.
Workmen build a plywood wall at the storefront of a complex of jewelry stores in downtown Los Angeles ahead of an anxious election day.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

It’s election day 2020 and I am here to point out the obvious:

No matter what happens next, this is not normal.

Every presidential election crackles with tension, or it should. It is important who leads the United States of America and there are always big differences in how each candidate and his or her supporters believe this should be done. What policies will benefit the economy; what role the federal government should play in people’s everyday lives; how our country should relate to the rest of the world; what our position is on climate change, immigration, foreign aid; who pays for what and how?

The answers to these questions are deeply significant, and every four years election day is a time of fear and hope, anxiety and elation, just as the days ahead of the election are inevitably filled with escalating rhetoric, accusation, hyperbole and often, alas, fabrication. And that’s completely normal.

But let’s not pretend that cities boarding themselves up in fear of election day violence is normal.

Trucks filled with one candidate’s supporters driving through neighborhoods as an act of intimidation, or shutting down highways and bridges as a non-protest display of force, or surrounding a bus filled with supporters of the other candidate and almost forcing it off the road, is not normal.

The Postal Service admits that on-time performance for mail ballots dropped significantly in days leading to election.


Repeated efforts by one campaign to have certain types of ballots disqualified is not normal. Having a president continually claim that if he does not win, the election is rigged, is not normal. Having a postmaster general attempt to instill new rules that will slow down mail distribution during any election year is not normal; having him do it ahead of a presidential election that has been made — because of a deadly pandemic — disproportionately dependent on mail-in ballots, is definitely not normal.

Having a “non-scaleable” security fence, however absurd and clearly symbolic, built around the White House two days before the election is absolutely not normal.

Four years ago, Donald Trump campaigned for and won the presidency by declaring that he would not be a normal president, and many Americans, though not most Americans who voted, thought this would be a good thing.

And as we entered the final days of the campaign, the president clearly did his level best to see how far the acceptable definition of “not normal” would go. He and Vice President Mike Pence held rallies that flagrantly disregarded the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and the guidelines created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Trump administration’s own advisors. The result appears to be spiking cases in every state they have visited.

This. Is. Not. Normal.

I don’t want to get into the politics, personalities or platforms involved; there is blame enough to go around, but that is not the point. Not at this moment in time. I have no idea what will happen today or tomorrow or the day after that, no idea how or when this election will be decided or what the result will be.

President Trump and Joe Biden battled into Wednesday morning with no clear winner, as major contests remained too close. Biden urged patience, while Trump called the election into question.

But we need to take a deep breath and look around at what we are seeing, in our own lives and on our many screens. Yes, the pandemic has put life on a continuous sliding scale of horror/fear/outrage/agitation, but the pandemic is not why we are boarding up our storefronts or shutting down bridges or begging each other for tips on how to get through an election day in a way that is not even close to joking.

We have been told our country’s soul is on the line, which is kind of normal — every election is the most important in history to the campaigners — and it seems that more of us than ever before believe it, which is not.

I don’t know how to define a country’s soul but certainly our culture, which generally reflects our definition of “normal,” is on the line. This perpetual mood of anxiety and antagonism, of verbal and physical aggression, of ever-increasing attempts to destroy the most important element of this country’s name and identity — united — cannot become normal.

We will never agree on things like tax codes or immigration policy, will always argue about the role of the federal government in our daily lives. But our free elections should never again be so obviously threatened by our own president, our support for any candidate should never put us at risk of being infected by a deadly virus, and unless, God forbid, we have been invaded by another country’s army, the White House should never again be a fortress.

This has been a deadly, frightening, outrageous, infuriating year, but this country is strong; no matter this election’s outcome, the U.S. can survive death, fright, outrage and fury. The only thing it can’t survive is the notion that those forces — as unleashed by this extraordinary year — are normal.

Because a country in which this election is “normal” is a country no longer our own.