How much to worry about the US election unrest?

post by AspiringRationalist · 2020-10-12T03:39:55.105Z · score: 22 (7 votes) · LW · GW · 13 comments

This is a question post.


    2 Ericf
    1 kithpendragon
    -4 korin43
    -13 Stuart Anderson

Political tensions in the US are high. There have been a lot of mass protests in recent months, some of which have turned violent (often after police provocation). Donald Trump and Mike Pence have not to promise to respect the election result if they lose. Many on the left accuse them of plotting to steal the election and/or promote violence against their political opponents.

Frankly, I don't consider myself sufficiently well-calibrated on politics to know how much of this is bluster and how much is true cause for alarm. How worried should I be about the US plunging into dictatorship or widespread political violence?

Can people who understand this stuff better than I do please comment?


answer by Ericf · 2020-10-12T18:10:56.049Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If Biden has a clear election night win, there might be local violence on the scale of Right Wing millitia groups attempting to take over locations (possibly successfully for a few months) a-la Cliven Bundy. There may be some violence, with casualties likely in the range of dozens nation-wide, but possibly reaching up to the hundreds in the 99.9th percentile worst case. 

If Biden wins, but not until all the votes are counted, probably double the above effects & risks.

If Biden gets more votes in enough states to have 270 electors, but some combination of lawsuits, direct violence, etc. by Republicans in various states leads to Trump "winning" then I would predict a substantial risk of direct violence by left-wing groups, perhaps 1% chance of Republican officeholders / operations being physically attacked in a sustained way. Likely a 75%+ chance of a dozen Republican election offices being damaged in violent protests nationwide.

If Trump actually gets more votes in enough states to have 270 electors, expect a continuation of current policy, risk, and violence, both in perpetrators and victims. 

answer by kithpendragon · 2020-10-12T10:53:20.871Z · score: 1 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

IMO, the stakes are nowhere near as high as the candidates would have us believe.

In a normal election year, I'd say pretty confidently that it's at least 98% bluster: nothing will change all that much if A wins or if B wins. Most times I don't really even notice that there's a new president unless I'm trying to notice. With Trump on board, I'm still pretty sure that little of consequence will change (at least in the short term) if he does not win a second term. At the end of four years without Trump, I expect the larger federal government complex to be somewhat healthier than it is with him in office, and that's about it. I'm substantially less sure that he'll accept a loss gracefully, but I don't think there's really anything he can do about it. Even "his" "stacked" Supreme Court is bound by the law itself. If the (electoral) votes are for Trump, he wins. Else, he loses. It's pretty cut-and-dry. I've seen a couple of times now where somebody tried to have the results questioned (remember "pregnant chad"?), and still nothing has really changed. In the event of his loss, I expect he'll try to sue, make a lot more noise about the process being rigged against him (personally) using the same media that he cries about all the time, and eventually write a book have a book written about how unfair and broken this whole "democracy" thing is. Meanwhile, Biden will take power and start running things his way, which looks a lot like the old way (before Trump): still broken, but more subtly so. There will continue to be BLM protests as before, and (just like when Trump took office) there will be a rash of anti-the-new-president protests. Some of these will become violent (often after police provocation), but most won't. In a few months, we'll all go back to our regularly scheduled apocalypse. If Biden loses, I expect him to quietly concede the loss like a "good candidate" and go back to making a whole lot of no noise whatsoever like he was doing for most of the last few years, all while we get more of the "new normal" from the White House for another 4 years. The world probably won't end any harder than it already is doing.

And to be clear, Trump is not actually responsible for covid-19, or the orange skies, or Beirut blowing up, or racism and police violence, or named storms past the letter Z (or murder hornets, but they're not actually any more scary than those africanized honey bees from a while back, they've just got really effective PR). Only the details would have changed under another president. All this stuff will continue to happen under the next president, regardless of who "we" "select".

answer by korin43 · 2020-10-12T15:07:20.659Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I doubt riots will get any worse after the election, and they're a local problem, not a country problem. If there's violence where you are, I expect it to be about the same afterward, but most people in the country aren't interested in violence and that won't change just because the current president stays in office for a few more years.

It doesn't matter if Trump and Pence respect the election result. If Trump loses the election, he's not the president anymore and the federal bureaucracy and military will stop listening to him. For a supposed-fascist, he's terrible at stocking the government with supporters, and the idea that the US military would support him in a coup is unbelievable.

It also doesn't matter if he wants to interfere with the election, because he can't. Presidential elections are run by state governments (and there are some strong constitutional barriers that would prevent anyone in the federal government from interfering with them).

comment by TurnTrout · 2020-10-12T15:31:46.261Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not very satisfied by answers like "X won't support him, because that's illegal" and "it's unconstitutional for the federal government to do X, so they won't." I think these usually are correct, but over the last four years we have seen rapid deterioration of our ability to: agree on an objective reality, have an executive branch which abides by the law absent immediate and tangible enforcement mechanisms (remember when congressional subpoenas were at least often answered? now they're ~always ignored AFAICT), have common knowledge that the law is the Law and if you break it you will be punished (obviously, rich&powerful would get more leeway in this calculation), etc.

I think many of these things have degraded and am no longer sure that anything would really stop red states from ignoring the popular results and sending their own set of electors. It's already being discussed, and red officials have admitted they are discussing it without immediately walking it back / distancing themselves from the prospect. Maybe the Supreme Court would be enough to stop that, if they so chose. (Would they? Aren't states technically allowed to choose electors however they please?)

comment by Anirandis · 2020-10-12T17:22:28.784Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If Trump loses the election, he's not the president anymore and the federal bureaucracy and military will stop listening to him.

He’d still be president until Biden’s inauguration though. I think most of the concern is that there’d be ~3 months of a president Trump with nothing to lose.

comment by ChristianKl · 2020-10-12T19:16:28.628Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think most of the concern is that there’d be ~3 months of a president Trump with nothing to lose.

The idea that Trump would have nothing to lose assumes he cares about neither his business wealth nor his personal freedom and only cares about holding office. I don't think that's what Trump is about.

answer by Stuart Anderson · 2020-10-12T12:17:40.580Z · score: -13 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Regardless of one's political opinions the easiest method for avoiding risk is to move somewhere that is isn't, and likely won't be.

Standard disaster prep applies. Acquiring firearms and appropriate training is something that Americans should avail themselves of (even if you're only figuring that out now it's still a lesson learned). Nothing says "take your bullshit somewhere else" like a gun.

The US will not be a dictatorship under Trump. If that was going to happen it would have happened already. Stop listening to the left wing equivalent of QAnon with a bigger media budget.

Rioters are a legitimate risk in certain areas. They will riot regardless of the election outcome. The rioting is an end in itself at this point. You already know if rioters are going to be a problem for you or not (if the response to defund the police in your area isn't fuck off then you are probably living somewhere unsafe). Again, move away from them, and from areas governed by those that support them.


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comment by riceissa · 2020-10-12T19:17:09.837Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There was a similar question a few months ago: Plans / prepping for possible political violence from upcoming US election? [LW · GW]

comment by Rafael Harth (sil-ver) · 2020-10-12T14:22:39.472Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think there are two separate questions here: one, whether American society could substantially break down, and two, whether Trump could remain in power despite losing the election. I don't have an answer to either, but

  • Sam Harris, who is the only thinker I value that I've heard talk about this, thinks the risk for the first is serious.
  • Nate Silver et. al.'s take on Trump stealing the election was basically (1) he'll probably try; and (2) whether or not it can work depends mostly on how close it is. It would probably have to be within 0.5%, so if Biden's lead remains roughly this large until election day, then (according to Nate) there is most likely nothing Trump can do. (I think that was discussed on this podcast.)

I would be curious what sources other people think are relevant here.

comment by jmh · 2020-10-12T16:50:00.962Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just to add balance here, Bidden was reported as saying the only way he could loose would be due to some type of voting place shenanigans -- one possible implication being he will also not accept the results.

I suspect one of the highly positive/reassuring points might be the military has come out saying they will not get involved.

comment by TurnTrout · 2020-10-12T19:35:35.665Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by jmh · 2020-10-14T13:50:22.420Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Public news reports. But here is a google search for you.

comment by TurnTrout · 2020-10-14T15:02:17.947Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In your original comment, you wrote:

one possible implication being he will also not accept the results

The first article in that search says:

Before leaving the state, Biden told reporters his comments were ‘taken a little out of context’ and added that ‘I’m going to accept the outcome of this election, period.’

comment by jmh · 2020-10-15T18:16:07.093Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is good to hear but was not part of the news story I read -- which wasn't one of the ones in the google search -- and the report I read was from the Saturday so perhaps prior to his clarification/retraction. I would say his retraction/clarification was provided because that "possible interpretation" was noted by more than just me.

comment by Ericf · 2020-10-13T04:05:14.973Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"I can only lose due to shenanigans" and "maybe I'll just stay in office" are miles apart in terms of how troubling they are. One is a prediction about other people, and the other is a prediction about the speaker's future actions.

//of course, given the speaker of the second statement, I assign epsilon weight to it as evidence either way.

comment by jmh · 2020-10-14T13:56:37.609Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see how those are really all that far apart -- both say if the results don't support me they are questionable. After all, if an election is contested and that cannot be resolved what does happen with a sitting President? Does the US just do without one for a while?

But perhaps more relevant, it was merely pointing out the extent of the situation in the current election -- neither side is willing to say the results can sure to be taken as is but that they will be looking closely and very likely questioning them.

comment by Ericf · 2020-10-14T15:31:18.560Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. Statements by a private, albeit famous and moderately popular, citizen are inherently different than statements from an elected official, especially the head of the executive branch.
  2. Statements about other people are inherently different than statements about the speaker.
  3. Is either side actually saying that they will "look closely at the results" or is that your interpretation of the actual statements?
comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2020-10-12T19:21:02.372Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

~zero. But buy a shotgun just in case riots (which are more than possible - they're ongoing) get aggressive.

comment by Dagon · 2020-10-12T19:55:37.840Z · score: 15 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm generally in favor of near-unrestricted firearm ownership.  If you're going to learn, train, practice, and treat it as a hobby, that's awesome, and may have some self-defense side-effects.  But I strongly advise that one does not buy a shotgun (or any other firearm) primarily for this possibility.  If you're not pretty comfortable with it, it's likely to do far more harm than good in a stress situation.  

If the riots get aggressive and you're in an area likely to be attacked, you're best off just leaving.  Move somewhere safer for a few days/weeks/forever.  No need to give the rioters another shotgun to use on someone else when they take it from you.  

You might consider a few cans of serious pepper spray - this is harder to misuse or accidentally kill a neighbor in the middle of the night, and easier to use correctly if necessary (in that there's less cognitive load about whether it's justified, and that it won't go much beyond your target).  Get probably 3-5.  Use at least one as practice - go outside and hose down a tree, survive the blowback and fumes, and get used to the spray pattern.