Reversion to the Mean

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Of course he’s got it.

Of course they’re all infected. Honestly, how could we have expected anything else? If you deny the severity of a viciously infectious disease, if you delight in flouting all measures to prevent its spread, and you spend each day interacting with hundreds of people — all of whom agree heartily with your denial and flouting — of course you’re going to get the goddamned virus.

In the course of just a handful of weeks, we’ve had all these “bombshells,” and I know I have been unable to withstand the psychological and emotional shellacking of it all. Less than a month ago, we learned that Trump knew — and personally accepted the fact — that the coronavirus was deadly serious. A few days later, Ruth Badger Ginsburg died, followed by the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace her. A few days after that, the New York Times released its major story on Trump’s taxes, where we learned about his avoidance of taxes and his gobsmacking financial losses and debts. A few days after that, we endured the 90-minute trauma that was the presidential debate, where we learned that Trump was absolutely not going to concede the election if he lost, and that he was encouraging white supremacist violence. A few days after that, we learned that he, his wife, several of people on his staff and in his campaign, two U.S. senators, and others who had been in contact with him, had been infected.

All this we learned. All this shocked us, roiled us, and caused varying degrees of anxiety, horror, and panic.

But I am just now realizing, really, we have learned nothing. And nothing has changed.

Let’s jump back to 2016. You know, how all the polls were wrong and Trump pulled out a surprise victory? The polls weren’t wrong. The results of that election were absolutely in line with what the polls were showing. Nothing weird happened. Voters who leaned Republican voted for the Republican, voters who leaned Democratic voted for the Democrat, and the results for each state more or less wound up well within the margin of error. In terms of consequences, the election of 2016 was monumental. In terms of probabilities, it was unremarkable.

Trump himself is figure of unprecedented abnormality for his position. So his behavior has roiled the collective psyche of the nation, pummeling us all out of any sense of time or orientation. But he is not magic.

The polls for the 2020 presidential election have been almost freakishly stable. For months, Biden has polled just above 50 percent, and Trump just around 42 or so. Even after the aforementioned events of September beat us all about the head, the polls remained eerily static. Why?

It’s pretty easy. It’s really obvious who Trump is now. After four years of him being president, you didn’t need to think too hard about whether you liked how it was going or not. He made it really easy. He faced his most important test in having to deal with a pandemic, and there was no getting around it, so if you were at all on the fence about him, his handling of COVID-19 probably gave you your last push. There’s nothing new to learn. People have settled on their preferences.

But what about this crazy month? Well, no one really thought that Trump didn’t believe the virus was serious. It’s news that he was stupid enough to say so to a journalist while being recorded, but it’s not surprising. Everyone already knew that Trump is a cheat, and that he’s avoided paying taxes. Indeed, he’s boasted about his ability to evade them. It’s also well known that he’s been a colossal failure as a businessman. He’s been siding with white supremacists for ages, publicly. He threatened to contest the election of 2016 if he didn’t win. None of this is new.

And now, he gets COVID-19. It’s “shocking” in the sense that it’s the President of the United States, and that’s just a de facto big-goddamn-deal. But, you know, come on. Of course he was going to get it.

After four years of Mussolini-But-Dumber, people know what they got. If they love it, they love it, and that’s all there is to that. The rest of us — most of us — don’t, and we’re going to vote him out of office. There’s nothing weird about that, either.

We may feel as a nation that we’ve been batted about like a cat toy, but it’s the same cat. It acts like a cat. It doesn’t grow wings or breathe fire.

Just like the 2016 election, the 2020 election just might be (and I can’t believe I’m about to type this) a normal election with an abnormal candidate. A majority of voters will reject the president because he’s done an obviously shitty job and is an obviously shitty person. We know this because this is what the polls say is by far the most likely outcome. 2016 polls showed that Trump’s upset victory was entirely plausible. This time, he could still plausibly win, and it wouldn’t be a miracle if he did, but it’s just not where things are. Putting aside malfeasance, manipulation, or a mustering of forces to hold onto power (and I don’t necessarily doubt those things), this election is, in a way, like any other. It will revert to the mean.

Water seeks its own level. Viruses infect people who put themselves in a position to get infected. People in a shitty situation will choose to get out of it. Trump’s behavior, and now his health, are dangerous unknown factors. But everything else is, I am realizing, obvious.