Aubrey Calaway, 23, waits to vote in the general election outside Victory Houston polling station in Houston on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. The location was one of the Harris County’s 24-hour locations. (Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Aubrey Calaway, 23, waits to vote in the general election outside Victory Houston polling station in Houston on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. The location was one of the Harris County’s 24-hour locations. (Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via AP)

In an unforgettable year, Americans brace for impact as a seismic election day looms

The Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID-19 pandemic have led to turmoil this year

George Washington’s “last great experiment” faces an existential litmus test beginning Tuesday as the bristling polarities of an energized, outraged and well-armed body politic finish weighing in on who should be the next American president.

Theirs may not be the final word.

Be it because of Donald Trump, COVID-19 or Black Lives Matter, Americans seem all in, for once, on the 2020 vote: more than 92 million ballots have already been cast, two-thirds of the total turnout from four years ago.

Thanks to the pandemic, mail-in voting has shattered records. But it takes time to count those votes, and Trump — who sows baseless fears of electoral fraud at every turn — has repeatedly signalled he’ll take his battle with Joe Biden from the campaign trail to the courtroom.

The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday rejected a two-pronged GOP effort to get 127,000 drive-thru votes thrown out in largely Democratic Harris County, a challenge that has also been filed in federal court.

Republicans also tried unsuccessfully last week to convince the Supreme Court to fast-track a decision on Philadelphia’s three-day extension for counting absentee ballots.

It all points to a president with no plans to concede defeat Tuesday, regardless of outcome. Indeed, Axios reported Sunday that Trump wants to declare victory on election night, even before such a result is clear.

Against this backdrop, meanwhile, Americans have been engaged in another time-honoured tradition of U.S. democracy: buying guns.

Demand for virtually everything in stock has been off the charts since the onset of the pandemic in March, said Dan Aldridge, the owner of Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Indoor Range in Des Plaines, Ill.

That includes handguns, long guns and ammunition — in particular the hollow-tipped rounds that are specifically designed for self-defence, as well as Maxon’s three-a-day firearms training classes.

“In the past, buying surges were driven by fears of anti-gun legislative changes — ‘They’re going to ban this, they’re going to ban that, I better load up.’ It’s different this time,” Aldridge said.

“It’s people that are truly concerned about personal safety.”

The first nine months of the year saw 28.8 million background checks — a necessary step to obtain a handgun in 22 states and D.C. — initiated in the U.S., FBI data show, a record total that has already surpassed 2019’s full-year tally of 28.4 million.

The Trace, a U.S. media website dedicated to analyzing gun issues, estimates 1.92 million guns were purchased in September, the sixth-highest month on record and a 67 per cent increase over the same period last year.

That could mean a polarized, angry and heat-packing electorate suddenly being confronted with an inconclusive or even disputed election outcome after months of COVID-induced cabin fever — a period that’s already been marked by dramatic displays of civil unrest over the country’s deep-seated racial divide.

“I think you have a fear among a good percentage of Americans that something bad could be coming,” said Ryan Williams, a criminal justice professor at the University of Illinois Springfield.

“And they don’t know what that is. They don’t know what that looks like.”

READ MORE: U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

Walmart briefly pulled guns and ammunition from store shelves Thursday, citing a risk of “isolated civil unrest” — a decision that may have been linked to recent racial tensions in Philadelphia.

But the U.S. retail giant quickly reversed itself Friday on the grounds that recent incidents “have remained geographically isolated.”

In downtown Washington, D.C., businesses that endured a raucous summer of social-justice protests marred by looting and vandalism were again protecting storefronts over the weekend, hoisting sheets of plywood in front of plate glass windows as if bracing for a looming hurricane.

The candidates, meanwhile, were in barnstorming mode over the weekend.

Trump hosted nine rallies over the two days, four of them alone in Pennsylvania, the blue-collar battleground that’s worth 20 electoral votes and is widely expected to play a pivotal role in determining the final outcome.

So too will Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Iowa and North Carolina, the five states Trump visited Sunday. All five landed under his name in 2016, and all five are in play this time around.

On Monday, the president returns to Pennsylvania and North Carolina, with a stop in Wisconsin before one final event in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Joe Biden, meanwhile, has been setting a more modest pace — partly to keep safety concerns to a minimum, but also to take advantage of a tactic that has been a cornerstone of the Democratic campaign: let Trump be Trump.

The former vice-president visited Michigan on Saturday with his old boss, Barack Obama, before moving on to Ohio and Pennsylvania, where he’ll be on Monday.

Ironically, a steady decline of public faith in institutions like the federal government has exacerbated the instability that risks undermining the election, the Canadian-born Williams said.

And for millions of Americans, particularly those living near the poverty line, the pandemic has only served to deepen that distrust.

In Canada, “there’s basic agreement on what the government’s there for and why we need them. I haven’t seen that here,” Williams said.

The deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others at the hands of police — Walter Wallace Jr. became the latest victim last week in Philadelphia — have also served to undermine that faith, he added.

“That really breaks away and wears down people’s idea that somebody is there to protect me, protect my life, protect my property,” he said.

“When that is gone, Americans will go protect themselves.”

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Donald TrumpJoe BidenUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 1,731 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday

The province’s central zone has 992 active cases

The roof at the Bashaw Arena may be redone sooner than first thought, as the town is hoping the project gets approval under the province's new municipal stimulus program.
File photo
farm
Researching cover crop cocktails

A two-year trial is looking at the impact of multispecies annual cocktail blends in the Peace Country

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said growing COVID-19 case numbers continue to be a concern in the province. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta announces 1,077 new COVID-19 cases Thursday

There are currently 14,052 active cases in the province

Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

A person enters a building as snow falls in Ottawa, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. Ottawa has been successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 during its second wave thanks to the city’s residents who have been wearing masks and staying home, said Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
People to thank for Ottawa’s success with curbing COVID-19: health officer

The city’s chief medical officer said much of the credit goes to the people who live in Ottawa

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Shoppers line up in front of a shop on Montreal’s Saint-Catherine Street in search of Black Friday deals in Montreal, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Black Friday shopping in a pandemic: COVID-19 closes some stores, sales move online

Eric Morris, head of retail at Google Canada, says e-commerce in Canada has doubled during the pandemic.

The Red Deer Games Foundation has made changes to its grant program as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo supplied)
Red Deer Games Foundation adjusts grant program due to COVID-19 pandemic

The foundation postponed the spring 2020 grant program due to the COVID-19 pandemic

skip2
Rimbey Christian School students experience the joy of giving

Grades three and four students raised $2,000 for Somalian children

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council asks for a mask bylaw to be brought forward for consideration

The bylaw would require face coverings in all indoor Town-owned and operated facilities

Most Read