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OPINION | A Fourth of July election

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IF you believe every presidential election is a big bet, you probably think this one is over. In the betting markets, Joe Biden is up on Donald Trump by more than 18 points. Most polls look like a permanent path to the golf course for the president. Gallup’s most recent presidential approval number is 38%.

Yes, Mr. Trump needs to put up an agenda for 2021. And yes, there’s never been a president who can’t sleep if he hasn’t shot himself in the foot before turning out the lights. Still, I’m not sure traditional metrics and analysis apply in this election. We are in a constantly shape-shifting campaign that has been overwhelmed by the unprecedented intensity of events and how people are processing the experience.

 

In mid-March, normal life stopped in America. The workforce was sent home. Schools were closed. Life went on through Zoom and Google Hangouts. People got Covid-19, and many died.

 

Then on May 25, George Floyd died during an arrest in Minneapolis. There have been constant protests since, watched nightly by a stay-at-home nation. They’ve seen monument smashing, CHOP in Seattle and calls to defund the police.

 

Alone, the pandemic or protests would be enough public drama to last a lifetime. We’ve had both at the same time. I regard these two extraordinarily grim experiences as the unavoidable baseline reality for voters in the 2020 election.

 

Let’s return to what was in the public’s mind before this, specifically the Democrats’ competition for the party’s nomination.

 

It featured multiple debates, saturation coverage and compelling figures in Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg (remember him?). And who won? Joe Biden, because he was a known moderate and promised normalcy as respite from Mr. Trump’s personality.

 

Those primaries weren’t opinion polls. They were a decision by Democratic voters in diverse states to choose moderation. Surely that counts for something as an expression of the American mind.

 

By March 19, the coronavirus was shutting down the country. Mr. Trump turned out to be an unreliable guide to virus information, fumbling an opportunity for presidential leadership with his all-about-me briefings. His coronavirus approval among independent voters has been below 40% for two months.

 

Amid all this downer-ism, something politically significant happened — the Fourth of July weekend.

 

Mr. Trump delivered his Mount Rushmore speech, a detailed, articulate defense of American history and values. The next day — after weeks of watching protests and overturned statues — a beaten-down population produced a hard-to-miss outpouring of patriotism in towns across the U.S.

 

A special word here about the traditional Macy’s fireworks display in New York City. Recall that the chain’s flagship in Herald Square was looted on June 9. Not a month later, Macy’s and Universal Television produced a broadcast of almost unimaginable beauty, all-American music and patriotic fervor, with stunning shots of the Statue of Liberty, the Coney Island Ferris wheel and fireworks shooting from the Hudson River and Empire State Building.

 

But if you tuned in to the evening news Saturday or Sunday, it told a different story. You saw a catalog of weekend violence, killings and more protests. Not least was the toppling in Rochester, N.Y., of a statue of Frederick Douglass, a founding father of black American pride.

 

These are times — and emotions — that don’t lend themselves to conventional political analysis.

 

For example, one may ask: Is never-Trumpism finally overplaying its hand? With the election near, the Trumpwallowing media has decided its commitment to “truth” requires distortions of reality, such as that his Mount Rushmore speech was “dark,” the protesters are voices of light (really), and the reviving economy is actually sinking. But much of the media is propagating this doom-to-the horizon scenario — the threat of death or limitless systemic racism — when the public is focused on finding an upside and an exit from what they’ve just been through.

 

Meanwhile, the Trump alternative, Joe Biden, increasingly looks like a man trapped inside a party that has gone from what are now the obviously irrelevant primary votes for moderation to the defining vision of the party’s protesters in the streets. Recently, the Biden campaign released the “Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force” recommendations for the Democratic platform. The document is 110 pages long. Every voter should read it.

 

Coalitions may be shifting beneath the weight of these events. The people moving out of unsettled cities to the suburbs may not be new Trumpians, but they don’t sound like enthusiastic Biden voters. Since the surge of shootings, some black leaders and pastors have pushed back against police defunding.

 

We may have an October surprise every month until November. The Durham report looms. There will be debates. Mr. Trump could decide it’s more important for him to pick fights with more Bubba Wallaces than elaborate the Mount Rushmore argument for his re-election. But we don’t need a political reset. The pandemic and the protests have been enough reset for a generation.

 

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