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

Maintenance work at lower City Centre Mall parking lot. (Clare Rayment/Kitimat Northern Sentinel)
Lower City Centre Mall entrance by No Frills closed

District doing maintenance work from 8 a.m. to early afternoon Wednesday (Jan. 27)

Collision at the Haisla/Kuldo Blvds. intersection Tuesday (Jan. 26). (Clare Rayment/Kitimat Northern Sentinel)
Collision at Haisla and Kuldo Boulevards

Five people taken to hospital with minor injuries

Angie Mindus photo
Clare’s Corner: A place for everything — and I mean everything

It’s amazing to see how much ‘stuff’ one can accumulate in their house over several months

(Jacqueline Sweet photo)
Jacqueline Sweet, right, at her graduation from the Bachelor of Arts at Simon Fraser University with her friend and fellow graduate, Laura Taylor.
In Our Valley: Jacqueline Sweet

Sweet said her career can feel isolating in the North, but she loves that she’s able to help people

(Cara Webb photo)
Cara Webb’s dog, Millie, who bolted during New Year’s Eve fireworks and was missing for almost a week. She was eventually found by Webb’s neighbour.
Good News, Kitimat!

Bringing some local good news to your week

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

SAR crews worked late into the night Tuesday to rescue an injured snowboarder in North Vancouver. (Facebook/North Shore Rescue)
Complicated, dangerous rescue saves man in avalanche near Cypress Mountain

North Shore SAR team braves considerable conditions to reach injured snowboarder

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
UPDATE: No sign of small plane that went down in waters south of Vancouver Island

Searchers out on both sides of border between Victoria and Port Angeles

In this undated image made from a video taken by the Duke of Sussex and posted on @SaveChildrenUK by the Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, shows the Duchess of Sussex reading the book “Duck! Rabbit!” to their son Archie who celebrates his first birthday on Wednesday May 6, 2020. The Canadian Paediatric Society is reminding families that the process of raising a reader starts from birth. (Duke of Sussex/@SaveChildrenUK)
Canadian Paediatric Society says raising a reader starts from birth

CPS says literacy is one of the strongest predictors of lifelong health outcomes

Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough responds to a question during a news conference Thursday August 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Easing rules for parental benefits created inequities among parents, documents say

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office says the government will make any necessary changes

People walk along a pedestrianized zone of Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal, Monday, May 18, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. Newly released statistics point to a major drop in police-recorded crime during the first eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Crime down in first 8 months of pandemic, but mental health calls rise: StatCan

The agency says violent crimes such as assault dropped significantly

Cowichan Tribes chief Squtxulenhuw (William Seymour) confirmed the first death in the First Nations community from COVID-19. (File photo)
Cowichan Tribes confirms 1st death amid growing COVID-19 outbreak

Shelter-in-place order has been extended to Feb. 5

(Pixabay)
B.C. teacher gets 1 day suspension after ‘aggressively’ throwing dumbbell at student

Documents show the weight would have hit the student if they didn’t catch it

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
B.C. ramping up screening for faster-spreading COVID-19 ‘variants of concern’

B.C. has sequenced about 11,000 COVID-positive samples since last February

Most Read