Long before Donald Trump assumed the mantle of the presidency, it became glaringly obvious that the country might have to endure a widescale left-wing backlash of epic proportions if he were to win a second term. Anyone who paid even a modicum of attention to politics in the days and weeks following his successful 2016 campaign could see that the left was struggling to come to grips with the reality of the situation they were facing. Some believed that Hillary Clinton had been cheated out of an honor owed to her by the nation that she had faithfully served during her many years in public office. Others were more concerned that Trump could pose an existential threat to the nation itself and felt it appropriate to start floating the idea of impeachment before he had even been sworn into office. A small few even went so far as to try to overturn the result of the election. A loss to someone as crass and unqualified as Trump was just too bitter of a pill for many to swallow, especially since it bore the stain of a popular vote victory negated by what most Democrats regard as an outdated institution.
It was a foregone conclusion back then, just as it is now, that if Trump were to win reelection in 2020, he would have to win both the popular vote and the electoral college by convincing margins—in other words, by margins that would eliminate any possibility of an illegitimate result influenced by nefarious foreign actors, disinformation peddlers, and social media trolls—for many Democratic voters to acknowledge that they had lost fair and square for a second straight time.
If the most recent poll numbers are any indication, that decisive victory is not going to happen. The odds that Trump might eke out a win in the popular vote are virtually nonexistent. If he does pull off a second consecutive upset in this year’s race, it will likely be without the blessings of most voters, and many on the left will not stand for that. There’s no telling just how intense their retaliation will be. Though if the last six months are anything to go by, it will be unlike anything America has seen since the civil rights battles of the 1960s.
This sounds like a pretty good incentive to vote for Joe Biden. If you’re a voter who values law and order over everything else, why vote for the guy whose reelection would guarantee even more instability and polarization than Americans are already dealing with? But there is a very good reason why the Biden campaign has not adopted “vote for us, or else the radicals on our side might lose their minds and raze this country to the ground” as their official campaign slogan.
People don’t typically respond well to ultimatums, even when they share your politics. An ultimatum is a form of coercion, and coercion is almost always indicative of hostile intentions. When someone employs coercive tactics to try to pressure you into compliance, they are explicitly telling you that they are not your friend or ally. They are telling you that they do not respect your civic agency. They are telling you that you’re nothing more to them than a means to an end.
Nevertheless, it has been argued by some and implied by others that voters ought to seriously consider what might happen if they don’t acquiesce to the demands of anti-Trump leftists. The latest person to explore that subject is The Atlantic contributor Shadi Hamid. In his most recently published piece, Hamid lays out his prediction for how the left might react if Trump wins a second term:
“Of course, Republicans will be angry if they lose, and Trump himself will almost certainly attack the result. But if Biden wins, he’s likely to do so with both the popular vote and the Electoral College—and by potentially significant margins. A clear win for the former vice president means that Republican officials, with the same self-interest that drove them toward Trump in the first place, will have strong incentives to distance themselves from a futile delegitimization campaign waged by a sore loser. Meanwhile, expectations also matter for Republicans, but in reverse. For anyone who had been following the polls, a Biden victory will prompt little surprise. It is easier to accept the things you had already come to expect.
Accepting the things that never should have happened is far more difficult. A certain kind of cognitive dissonance—the gap between what is and what should be—can fuel revolutionary sentiment, and not just in a fluffy, radical-chic kind of way. In such situations, acting outside the political process, including through nonpeaceful means, becomes more attractive, not necessarily out of hope but out of despair.”
Hamid isn’t wrong. A second Trump victory would leave many liberals and progressives feeling helpless and despondent. It would also induce rampant resentment to the systemic obstacles that have made it more difficult for Democrats to win presidential elections in the 21st century. And yes, that resentment would almost certainly lead to even more civil unrest than we’ve witnessed over the last several months. So, for the voter who prioritizes normalcy over chaos and division, a Joe Biden victory would indeed be preferable—but it could also come with a very high cost of its own that Hamid and others fail to address.
If Biden triumphs over Trump and far-left provocateurs get the impression that their destructive actions in any way contributed to that result, they may very well feel validated and emboldened by it. This in turn could lead to more frequent and intense acts of violence, and they won’t be directed exclusively at the right; centrist and moderate Democrats deemed insufficiently progressive will be targeted, too.
Rank-and-file Democrats may not realize this, but the more radical activists among them aren’t inclined to bargain or compromise, nor are they in any way loyal to the Democratic Party. I’m not talking about the mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters who are more likely to be the victims of brutality than the perpetrators of it. I’m talking about the black bloc anarchists, Antifa militants, and progressive extremists who exhibit the same authoritarian mentality that they claim to be fighting against.
Gradual progress simply isn’t on these activists’ respective agendas. Their shared philosophy of violent direct action is predicated on the notion that they deserve nothing less than 100% of everything they’re demanding. That isn’t going to change if Biden defeats Trump in November, especially if those activists become convinced that their extreme tactics helped Biden emerge victorious by scaring swing voters away from Trump.
That is why it’s vitally important for Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and influential Democratic voices like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to continue to unequivocally condemn the violence and destruction being carried out under the banner of progressivism. From now until the election, they must make it clear, day after day, that far-left radicals engaging in arson, assault, and other forms of radical action to try and intimidate voters into voting against Trump do not speak for the Democratic Party and will not be rewarded with a seat at the table if and when Joe Biden becomes president. If they fail to get that message across, the far left might ultimately interpret a Biden victory as a sign that their violent methods are having their intended effect, which in turn could encourage even more violence and destruction. And if that happens, the restoration of normalcy that Democrats have been promising us might never come to fruition.