Is America Going to Fuck This up Again?

Tom Banham
·4-min read
Photo credit: SERGIO FLORES - Getty Images
Photo credit: SERGIO FLORES - Getty Images

From Esquire

The best thing about The Crystal Maze, the Channel 4 game show in which a bunch of broadband installation technicians attempt to steal diamonds from a flautist, is the impotent fury you feel when Carl from Dorking can't figure out why the hexagonal peg won't fit into a pentagonal hole. "Try the other one," you scream at the television. His teammates, peering in through the window of a polystyrene dungeon, yell in unison: "No, the one with key carved on the side!"

I got a similar feeling at 1am, when it became clear that Cuban- and Venezualen-American voters had swallowed Trump's "Biden's a socialist" line, thus swinging the orange juice state for the orange-skinned president. "Try the other one," I screamed at CNN's John King, as he tapped away at the Wade County vote on his giant iPad. "The one who hasn't confessed to serial sexual assaults or locked up immigrant children in cages!"

The big difference between the US presidential election and the The Crystal Maze – and there are a few – is that the voters of Florida, who so cataclysmically bodged the mental and physical challenge of not voting for an anti-democratic tyrant, aren't now trapped inside their state, hoping their compatriots will sacrifice a crystal in order to free them. Instead, they've taken the crystals that everyone else won, smashed them into dust, then flung them into the Gulf of Mexico.

Photo credit: SETH HERALD - Getty Images
Photo credit: SETH HERALD - Getty Images

The other big distinction, if we're getting really granular, is that when people balls up on The Crystal Maze, only the contestants competing in The Crystal Maze pay the price. There's a real you-broke-it-you-buy-it energy to the game, which seems fair. But when Americans vote in a demagogue – as it looks like they might, again, despite the four-year experiment that proved how shitty an idea it was last time – we all suffer, even those who didn't get to play. It's a bit like if Richard O'Brien nicked the briefcases full of cash from the Deal or No Deal contestants to stuff in his wind machine.

Watched from this side of the Atlantic, US elections just look wrong. We're used to the swingometer, and backbench MPs learning they've lost their jobs in regional leisure centres. The presidential elections is too shiny, too complicated. It oscillates too violently, between wild speculation based on 86 votes from some county in rural Pennsylvania to endless variations on the phrase: "But let's wait until they've counted all the votes." Obviously, you need to wait to count the votes. Until you've counted the votes, you may as well be commentating on your washing machine cycle – you know it's going to get your clothes clean, but which clothes? And how clean? We won't know until we've counted all the socks.

Photo credit: Stephen Maturen - Getty Images
Photo credit: Stephen Maturen - Getty Images

At the time of writing, after mainlining CNN and black coffee for 14 hours, the one thing that is clear is that Americans have not taken their opportunity to flip the electoral bird at their worst president since the one who started the Civil War, despite his bungling of a pandemic that has already killed almost half as many people as died in the Civil War, in a quarter of the time. Perhaps Biden will come through in the Rust Belt, maybe even flip Georgia and Arizona. But Trump could still prevail, even if not legitimately, having already declared the race a fraud. As he delivered that speech in the small hours, railing against the democracy Americans are nauseatingly proud of and threatening to take the result to a Supreme Court his party had illegitimately stuffed just weeks earlier, I began to wonder why the United Nations hadn't sent observers to make sure these elections were actually free and fair. Squint, and it could have been Mugabe up there.

It doesn't help that the American electoral system is objectively deranged, since it permits a candidate to lose the popular vote but win the White House and Senate as a matter of course, rather than a once-in-a-generation aberration. It's too simple and too complex at the same time, relying on gerrymandered district boundaries and votes-per-person ratios that no one would come up with if asked to design a democratic system from scratch. But for now, we have to watch American voters attempt to force their hexagonal rods into the wrong holes, over and over again, learning nothing. From our vantage point, we can only watch and scream.

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