Updated: Sep 19, 2020
It has been a weird year to say the least. The election is going to be really weird. (I spent a full day taking zoom classes on how to actually go through the process of voting this year... like, do I go to a polling place? Wait for a ballot to show up in the mail? Demand a ballot in my mail? If you want to know the details you can read about it here! If you want to register to vote you can read about it here!)
Traditions seem to be falling by the wayside left and right. I don't wear lipstick anymore because, ummm.... I'm supposed to wear a mask when I leave the house. (Laugh as you will but there are mass layoffs planned in the cosmetic industry. A friend told me she feels "invisible" when she wears the mask. As a woman I disapprove. Women shouldn't be forced to be invisible. Not in this country.)
But there is one tradition I expect will go into over-drive this year. I'm willing to bet the October Surprise will still be a thing this year.... (Maybe even a really really really big thing!) Maybe a September thing.
If you don't know what an October Surprise is it is a peculiar animal of the American presidential election tradition. Something crazy happens in October that sways the electorate, changes the story, turns the tide. (Or maybe just becomes a two week media feeding frenzy and a footnote in American history. If you don't win you are a footnote. Remembered only by political junkies.)
This year the 2020 presidential election is starting early. It is estimated that, thanks to absentee ballots and mail-in ballots, about 17 million Americans may cast their ballots before the first presidential debate, if there is a debate. (No debate may actually be the October surprise.) So... I'm putting out my possible predictions for an October Surprise a little early. Chances are I've called them all wrong... but supposedly in a deep dark secret meeting of high ranking Dem staffers they role played the election and came up with a series of events that resulted in Nancy Pelosi being inaugurated next year. So... anything could happen! This is a crazy-pants election year.
1) Portland Goes National. Oh, wait, Portland kind of already went national. In case you've been barricaded indoors NOT watching television for the last 3-ish months the city of Portland basically turned into a scene from one of the Purge movies since May. If you haven't watched The Purge series think.... 2 star horror films, theatrical, bloody and pointless. (You can watch the very scary movie trailer for the first movie here. Yes, it became a whole series!) The plotline of The Purge franchise is that in some sort of future alternative America for one night a year all crime is legal. Innocent families who have car trouble as dusk falls during the "Purge night" are chased by homicidal packs in masks and costumes who then dance around the corpses of their victims. The well-to-do barricade themselves in fortress like McMansions and tell themselves they'll be alright until the mob comes for them. That is when the horror starts. The footage from Portland, Oregon looks disturbingly like an amateur real-life version of the Purge. Adam Haner was just an ordinary guy doing ordinary guy stuff --going to the 7-11-- when he was violently assaulted and dragged down the streets of Portland last week. If you didn't see the footage you probably get all your news from MSNBC. (A friend does get all her news from Rachel Maddow. She sees nothing but peace in Portland. She also doesn't live there.) This footage was shot by people in Portland. I worked hard to find something real but without too many 4-letter words. (This is the Marin GOP website after all... we sit around complaining about how poorly spelled the graffiti "Fuk Trump" is... Really? Our problem is the spelling?) I dare you to watch this and not feel like you are watching a scene from the Purge. The sad reality is if you hunt beyond the feel good nothing-happening-here headlined stories online you can find similar footage from 25 other American cities. Crime has become normalized in this horrible summer of 2020. But... it might go even more national.
2) Covid-19 makes a comeback. Remember Covid? Panic it's a pandemic? Pre protest we were all supposed to be social distancing so we wouldn't die. These days apparently protesting and standing on-line at Trader Joes is totally cool and everything else is bad. (And don't worry, if you spread illness at some sort of down-with-America street festival/riot journalists "with flair" will tell the public the virus REALLY came from the police. Because. Whatever.) That seems like faulty reasoning to me... so... maybe Covid-19 will make a comeback. Freezer trucks standing by for corpses could make a scary October Surprise. (Or maybe Kamala Harris is right and the pandemic is really just "a symptom of structural racism" so... maybe it isn't real... Oh... wait, science is real not just the new faith of the foolhardy.) Reality hitting people in the face like a dead fish would make an interesting October Surprise. We've been ignoring reality for months now as a nation.
3) The Nevada Universal Mail-In Ballot Situation Becomes Impossible to Ignore. Voting in general is going to be weird this year regardless of politics. In Marin County, my county, I'm not going to have the option of voting in person. When I tried to request an absentee ballot from my local registrar of voters the website said I was inelegible. When I called.... they said it was a website error. Hummmmmm.... (Yes, I am a registered voter, I voted in the primaries this year!) So... I for one may have to nag an irritated local government official for a ballot. But hey... a century ago women couldn't get the vote. I'll be thrilled to nag a bureaucrat for my ballot in honor of all the ladies who marched for the ballot a hundred plus years ago. (In fact I will enjoy tormenting low level government bureaucrats whose salaries are dependent on my shrinking tax dollars --thanks to shut-down my income has shrunk a bit. And... I have spare time to devote to exciting new hobbies like being a nag!) However.... meanwhile in the state of Nevada they are just going to mail out ballots to all registered voters. This sounds fair and practical, right? It isn't. The problem with Nevada is that it has traditionally had the highest rate of population "churn" in the country. This means a lot of people move frequently. From one presidential election cycle to another 25% of the residents of Las Vegas may have left the state. So... massive population churn. So... inherently unfair to all actual voters if the state of Nevada just sends out ballots to everyone on the rolls regardless of whether or not those people are still residents. This could be a really really really serious issue. In my opinion it is a serious issue, but the media is basically ignoring it.
4) Kamala Harris' Past Becomes an Issue. The current Democratic Vice Presidential contender has a history of zig zagging between issues. Apparently she is now vehemently opposed to everything she claimed she was for in the 1990s. That can make for interesting campaign commercials. Her more recent past may also be an issue.... less than a year ago she was accusing her running mate of racism and sexism. So... maybe so many unavoidable issues. If stand-up hadn't become a humorless front for the Far Left late night comics would be cutting her to pieces with well timed jokes.
5) Joe Biden Gets the Wind in His Sails. (Or... Joe Biden Publicly DisIntegrates.) We've all sort of been ignoring Joe Biden. Somehow Senator Harris seems more interesting. (Joe Biden is obviously more popular and likable, his flashy running mate had her own presidential hopes dashed by within-the-margin of error polling numbers in Iowa.) Regardless, the Left-leaning media has been ignoring the candidate in favor of fawning over his running mate, and the Right leaning media... a lot of old political hacks seem to feel genuinely sorry for Joe Biden. By all accounts on a personal level he seems to be a genuinely likable guy. And decent people don't like to kick a guy when he's down. (Street agitators in Portland apparently LOVE to kick a guy when he's down. But the rest of us have standards.) But... Joe Biden has a history of occasionally pulling it together. The bar seems to be set fairly low for the Democratic base when it comes to Joe Biden --they apparently are thrilled that he isn't Donald Trump, and hey, he isn't Donald Trump! So Joe Biden doesn't have to do much to impress his base. And he might get the wind in his sails again metaphorically. (Or the opposite could happen.)
6) California Goes Bankrupt. (Or maybe New York.) This isn't as crazy as it sounds. In case you didn't notice the Covid-19 shut-down hit the economy hard. In fact... it is probably leading to the permanent closure of hundreds of thousands of independently owned businesses. The collapse of small business has left me, personally, feeling gut-punched for months. I seriously doubt the average mid-level California bureaucrat cares much either way if the the mom and pop shop on mainstreet makes it... A couple of months ago a left-wing acquaintance with a low-level "interface" job between a "not-for-profit" and local government was positively giddy with excitement about the fabulous opportunity that "clearing out all this capitalist real estate in down-town SF" would make for the "not-for-profit" world. Apparently in professional Left-wing-bureaucrat world fewer businesses mean more opportunity for not-for-profits. (To be totally fair that particular acquaintance has ALWAYS been a big believer in big government and never been particularly good at math, so.... the idea that without a tax basis government might not be able to have the revenue necessary to pay her salary might be too complex an idea. Logic is very hard for some people.) Not to dig too deeply into the weeds of state government finance..... business closures mean less tax revenue for local government. Both California and New York are facing a perfect storm of the combination of a hard shut down and... sky high obligations. (Back in May I drove through downtown Sacramento... the only open business I saw in an 8-block radius around the capitol was a legal cannabis shop... tax revenue from cannabis isn't quite enough to cover the state's pension obligations.) California in particular, has for years, been facing the issue of a massively underfunded pension system. Combine the skeleton in the closet of an underfunded pension system with a new horror of massively reduced sales tax revenue and anything could happen. (I don't have time to explain the full possible trauma of the pensions system. So... I highly recommend some of the vintage articles by this not at all right-wing author... A decade ago the writing was on the wall. This year the bill may be coming due. I suggest digging deeper into the pension issue... there were some good articles written a few years ago that all seem to be difficult to find online these days)
7)The Mainstream Media Stops Shilling for the DNC. (Now that would surprise me!) Hey I'd settle for some actual news for a change. At the moment the only non partisan news I seem to get is the weather guy on the local news. But real news, not PR releases disguised as "journalism" would make for an epic October surprise.
8) The economy becomes impossible to ignore. Umm... it's bad people. 1932 levels of bad. (And if you don't know what 1932 was like just listen to this song... it is the sad hymn of the American worker who has been forced off the job. Once I built a bridge... And if you don't like Bing Crosby, just listen to the Rudy Vallee version. Brother Can You Spare a Dime?) Despite the tsunami of bad economic news a remarkable number of people have been really good at ignoring the pain. Maybe they were too busy dealing with forest fires, watching riots on television, sewing masks, buying guns. (One sector of the economy that is doing really well is guns sales... guess what? Defund the police and tell citizens they are on their own... some people decide they aren't going to go down without a fight. Your run of the mill "policy experts" probably work for the kind of politicians who have armed security details, but they don't like the idea of the woman who works a night shift in a crummy neighborhood being able to get a LCP so she is slightly less terrified as she walks through a dark parking garage at 2AM. That woman is frightened though. Because she doesn't have the luxury of living in the fantasy land basement of the DNC.) If, like me, you live in the San Francisco Bay Area you probably know someone in real estate. So... you are probably hearing all sorts of weird stories. Quick cash sales. Yeah, that's happening... but if you know anyone on the commercial or volume side of the business, or in banking.... you can see the pain. Business is evaporating. Oh wait, business already evaporated. If you aren't by nature a number cruncher a lot of the data is hard to weed through. But this article in the Orange County Register is worth reading. Just look at the chart. That spike on the end? That's something no one living has really seen before. Not in this country anyway.
9) Wall St. Has (another) Hiccup. To say that Wall Street isn't Main Street is a bit unnecessary. Wall Street can thrive with paper profits while Main Street is evacuated. Meanwhile.... traditionally wide spread middle class small town prosperity has not always been great for Wall Street. (The post war years of the 1950s and '60s were economically pretty good for a lot of Americans. In general they were boring years for stock junkies.) That said... these days most Americans who aren't "public employees" have most of their retirement savings invested in the market. This Millennial has a 401K. Guess what? Most Gen-Xers and loads of Baby Boomers also are invested in the market. Interest rates have been rock bottom for years.... Which means maybe a bit of a housing bubble on the coasts. It also means if you want to save and keep up with inflation you kind of had to bite the bullet and invest. Round about St. Patrick's Day Wall Street got really interesting. We might have another interesting week in October. Or September. Nothing quite like seeing your investments on a fast elevator plunging through the metaphorical basement of the economy to have a surprised feel.
10) Natural Disaster. You pick it, earthquake, hurricane, fire storm... all of the above. As I edit this I am breathing the smoke of 5-ish distinct fires. Lightning complex, Olompali, whatever. If the New Left is wrong and the world doesn't end because of global warming in 9 years --or is it 7?-- I fully expect to live another fifty years. And I assume in 40-ish years some too-young doctor will stare at my lungs and ask me how long I smoked. I will respond.... "I never smoked, I just breathed in the smoke of California in flames for most of my youth." Sometimes I feel like I have consumed California. I've eaten the fruit, nibbled the vegetables, drunk the wine and breathed the smoke. I've driven 99 and the 5 and spent too much time crawling along 37. But, although I have become comfortable living with disaster it doesn't mean I'm not aware of how dangerous a really big disaster can be. I know people who burned out in Paradise. A friend is currently evacuated. A big enough disaster in October can flip the switch. Distract enough people from the election to make a difference.
So... these are my guesses for an October surprise.... What are your guesses?