THOSE OF US in coastal New England this week have been paying attention to the progress of Hurricane Lee, watching the National Weather Service’s graphic representation of the possible course of the storm, the "Forecast Cone.” The Cone is a blob-like caricature, with an ever-expanding head, since the farther away storms are in time, the more places that notoriously erratic hurricanes might end up. The weather service sometimes refers to this graphic as the “Cone of Uncertainty,” which makes sense, since it’s a composite of weather experts’ best guesstimates of where a storm could strike. As I thought about it, “The Cone of Uncertainty” is an apt phrase for not only the danger of a catastrophic weather event, but the devastating possibility that Donald J. Trump once again could be president of the United States. The difference is that it’s possible to recover from and even prevent some effects of devastating hurricanes, horrific wildfires and terrible floods. But once a country becomes a dictatorship – especially in a technological age – it’s unlikely we can return to a democratic normal. Authoritarian countries do not solve problems, they make them worse. A Trump regime will not confront any of the big problems like climate change, job-destroying possibilities created by artificial intelligence, racial inequality, uneven health care, injustice, homelessness and all the other plagues of contemporary life. Which makes the Cone of Uncertainty such an appropriate symbol of our unique era, because political catastrophe is just around the corner, with time itself the enemy as the 2024 election is almost upon us. The weather service’s Cone of Uncertainty is based on a variety of computer models that take into account known atmospheric events, and then analyzes the what-ifs and where-nexts. The same goes for our political models, all of which tell us there are seemingly endless possibilities, any one of which, or in various combinations, could be our ruin.
LET US COUNT some of the realities of the political Cone of Uncertainty:
Joe Biden’s age. He’s 80. Lots of people don’t make it that far, but for those who do, it’s a dangerous decade in which many things can and will go wrong: strokes, dementia, bad colds, Covid, broken bones and, at any moment, death itself.
Joe Biden’s hubris. He appears to think he’s not only the best person to take on Donald Trump, but the only one. In this, Biden acts like the deranged Trump sounded in 2016, when he proclaimed that “I alone can fix” a supposedly a broken America. Biden has been a successful and accomplished president. But now he pretends that human bodies – at least his – do not wear out and that death is but a remote possibility.
Republican madness. Whether it’s fear, love or insanity, the Republican Party is Trump’s to do with, whatever and whenever he wishes. MAGA-tisim may not have hypnotized a majority of voters, but it’s produced a significant and reliable core of support for Trump.
America divided. It doesn’t seem possible, given the legion of Trump’s failures as president and his multi-pronged, seditious attempt to stay in power, that the nation seems evenly divided when comparing Trump and Biden. A RealClearPolitics matchup shows Biden with 44.5 percent and Trump 44.3 of an imagined 2024 vote. If you’re unwilling to do the math, RealClearPolitics has done it for you, putting Biden’s margin at 0.2 points.
Young voters. Young people may be turning away from the Democratic Party, and surely, they have no sympathy from Biden’s Old Man image.
No-labels party. The proposal to form a third party to give voters a “choice” from a Biden-Trump rematch would, in fact, peel off votes from Biden, not Trump, and would land The Defendant back in the White House.
Inflation. Sure, it’s slowing down, and maybe because of the Federal Reserve’s sledgehammer “policies,” which moderate price increases by making homes and other essentials too costly and throwing some Americans out of work. But rents still are too high, grocery bills out of whack, cars overpriced and at any moment, for any reason, those giant numbers that gas stations post on their price billboards could double or triple, the practical message being: “Biden’s Fault.”
Flawed Constitution. We grew up thinking the Constitution assured a continuing and stable democracy. But Trump has demonstrated its many weaknesses, including the provision for an Electoral College counting of the votes, which means that Democrats can win the most overall votes but lose the election - just ask Hillary Clinton and Al Gore.
Stupid ideas. Sometimes they are the brainchildren of smart people. Case in point, Laurence Tribe, a liberal academic, and Michael Luttig, a conservative former federal judge, argue that Trump should be barred automatically from running because of a clause in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which says officials who violate their oaths of office by seditious activities can’t seek election. Granted you and I believe Trump tried to overthrow the government. But it hasn’t been proven in either a court or an impeachment trial. Trump supporters and lots of other people rightfully would go bonkers if that kind of a stunt succeeded.
THESE ARE ONLY SOME of the elements that make up our political Cone of Uncertainty. What is for sure is that they are all real and all dangerous and could mean the end of democracy in America. But here’s the thing about the Cone of Uncertainty: the storm IS coming; and there IS time to prepare for and maybe even head it off. Joe Biden does not have to run again. There are talented, competent Democrats who already are or could become national leaders, like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. MAGA voters are not a majority of voters. People voting in large enough numbers can overcome the Electoral College’s idiotic tally. Young people can come to their senses. Stupid ideas can be chucked into the waste baskets. Democracy can be energized if enough people care. The Cone of Uncertainty works both ways.
I'VE BEEN a reporter and writer for 58 years, long enough to have learned that journalists don't know very much, although I've met some smart ones. Mainly, what reporters know comes from asking other people questions and fretting about the answers. This blog is a successor to one inspired by our dog, Phoebe, who was smart, sweet and the antithesis of Donald Trump. She died Feb. 3, and I don't see getting over that very soon. Occasionally, I may try to reach her via cell phone.