All bets are off. The 2020 US election, only weeks away now, is progressing like a season finale – unpredictable, full of twists, and no guarantee that the bad guy will be vanquished.

As if holding an election in the middle of a pandemic wasn’t challenging enough, the president has Covid-19, and is lurching from car to White House to potentially the campaign trail, infectious and drugged up.

The roulette wheel of possibilities is dizzying. What seemed like the stuff of fiction is suddenly completely plausible. It’s as if two movie plots overlapped just at the moment of denouement – a political drama and a contagion thriller intersecting at the point of peak jeopardy.

One of the cliches you hear a lot during elections is "a week is a long time in politics". The next few weeks might pack years’ worth of events. Joe Biden might become infected, Trump may relapse, mortality threatens both. The polls tell us that Biden is opening up a yawning lead, but Trump is never to be written off, and a recovery from the virus could boost his standing among undecideds.

It’s hard to remember, as the drama unfolds, that there are real people going to the polls for whom the stakes are very high, and for whom the decision tree is only getting more complicated.

Because despite the fact that there is a hardcore of Trump faithful, the choice between Trump and Biden is not obvious nor a matter of just party loyalty. The more damaged a democracy becomes, the harder it is for voters to make choices based on what they care about, and what will impact their lives. And the harder it is to physically make that choice, as voter suppression becomes an established part of electoral strategy.

The fact that Biden is the Democratic party candidate leaves those who aren’t partisan voters in an even more difficult position than usual. After a presidency such as Trump’s, the kind of character that could galvanise floating voters is not someone who offers to patch the holes on the roof and "pass the baton" as Biden himself said, but someone who promises a rebuilding of the whole shaky edifice. That person, one day in the past, was to many people Trump himself – an outside candidate who was going to come in and shake Washington out of its cliquey, staid bureaucracy and "drain the swamp".

Despite the fact that Trump turned into a nightmare, the impulse behind choosing him was, among many, a healthy one. Something needs to change, continuity isn’t good enough anymore, but the candidate who ended up mopping up those votes was a charlatan. That is perhaps the most heartbreaking thing of all: that 2016 was a cry for help that did nothing but entrench all the corruption and venality of American politics.

On the Better Politics beat over the next few weeks, we will attempt to try and feel that pulse again, drowned out by all the clamour and drama.

Between Biden and Trump, besieged by a pandemic and mourning hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of Americans will still try to make the most rational choice possible in a system that actively works against that. 

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