America’s On A Knife’s Edge

There are Four Ways the Election Can Go — and Three of Them End With Democracy Dying

If you’re anything like me, you’re weirdly bipolar these days. You veer between watching too much news — and turning it off, overwhelmed. You swing between despair and hope, dread and mania, panic, and perseverance. You oscillate wildly, and there seems to be little to no middle ground.

You’re not wrong. America’s on a knife-edge. So is civilization as we know it, but I digress.

What I mean by “America’s on a knife-edge” what this weird combination of feelings is trying to tell you is that in the upcoming days and months will be decisive, and yet anything can happen. That’s not a good thing, by the way.

Anything shouldn’t be able to happen in functioning society, a democracy, a civilized nation. An aspiring authoritarian shouldn’t order shock troops to beat and gas people in the streets. A President shouldn’t be able to spread the pandemic he pretended didn’t exist, then caught, then struggled with, to his fanatical base. And what could happen next shouldn’t have any chance of happening whatsoever.

There are four scenarios I can see unfolding in the upcoming election. 

What “anything can happen” means is precisely what it says. It’s futile to try and assign probabilities to these scenarios. It is now in a period of genuine uncertainty, meaning that risk itself is beyond quantifiability. Sure, we can guess — but that’s about all we can do. We can’t say something like, “there’s a 90% chance Trump loses,” the situation America’s in now is abnormal, so it makes a mockery of the very idea of normality, which statistics are based on.

So. The scenarios.

The first is this. Trump loses the popular vote and the electoral college. The margin is overwhelming. 

By the way, the best scenario of all — and yet even this one is still not that good, still profoundly abnormal. If all that comes to pass, what will he do? He’ll probably contest the results anyway. He’ll call democracy into question — just like he’s been doing, harder and harder for the last few months even if Trump loses — especially if he loses.

Not because he has any real chance of winning, but for psychological, cultural, and political reasons. To save face and exact revenge, and mollify his ego. To prove what a big man he is. Also, keep his movement alive as long as he can, even if it means politically martyring himself. All that will throw American democracy into turmoil, regardless — what happens if a President refuses to concede? In short, something like a Constitutional crisis ensues.

Probably, even in this scenario, the GOP will back Trump. 

Sure, they’ll look like fools, but when has that stopped them before? Their behavior pattern is clear — to place power above any norms or rules or codes of conduct or decency. So if Trump refuses to concede, expect some large part of his party and base to back. To what, though? To the brink.

And so even in the best scenario, there are likely to be challenging months of turmoil ahead. It’s not unthinkable to foresee Trump’s fanatical base growing more violent and extreme the closer they come to finally losing their grip on power, not to mention being egged on by him. So even in this scenario, the chances of political violence and unrest are still high.

The second scenario goes like this. Trump loses the popular vote and the electoral college. But the margin is slender. 

And now the strategy that the GOP has so carefully, assiduously put in place over the last years and decades, finally pays off. Legal challenges, one after the other, which have been prepared, erupt at a granular level: city, town, state by state. Ballot after ballot, vote after the vote is contested. Recounts are demanded; the legitimacy of the election, in short, is thrown into severe and serious question. The results are left to the courts to decide. And because the GOP has focused heavily on stacking and tilting courts hard to the right, that favor is repaid. The courts determine Trump’s election, all the way up to the Supreme Court, which makes the final decision.

But even the road there is long and arduous. 

Chaos reigns for months while ballots are counted and recounted. Legal case after case is fought, in a kind of war of attrition, which takes time. Meanwhile, America has no real President. No leadership. Amid at least four concurrent crises, a pandemic, a major recession, a disintegrating society, and an imploding middle class.

Those months are best summed up in one word: chaos. 

Trump supporters hold rallies in the streets, where they mock and taunt their opponents. Violence and unrest become everyday events. Nobody quite knows who is in charge of what, and so the rule of law begins to break down in even more brutal ways. Militia and paramilitaries and whatnot make even more extreme and violent plans to eradicate the opposition — like kidnapping Governors — and carry them out, or at least try to. American life goes right to the edge of a hardcore failed state. 

What happens then? Then the back of American democracy is finally broken. 

It was one thing when the Supreme Court handed the Presidency to George W Bush. 

It’s quite another to hand it, Donald Trump, for a second term. Trump has a pattern of authoritarian fascist behavior, from camps to raids to purges to bans to his paramilitary disappearing people. 

The Supreme Court will have effectively legitimized and licensed that.

Americans will begin to understand that they don’t live in a democracy. 

And while it’s noble to idealize ideas of resistance and so forth, the truth is that once the back of democracy is broken, people tend to become demoralized, dispirited, and defeated. Even in this scenario, which is the second-best one, Trump lost both popular and electoral college votes. Still, the election decided for him by courts. American democracy is at severe risk.

The third scenario is where things begin to get really grim. In this one, Trump loses the popular vote but wins the electoral college. 

He doesn’t need the courts. He doesn’t need to contest the results. He wins outright. How might this come to pass? You should already know: by convincing electors to go against the norm of voting for the preference of the people they represent. To say that “there’s voter fraud, you can’t trust these votes!! You should give your electoral college vote to us; instead, if you want to save democracy!!

It’s clever. You almost have to admire it: like any right authoritarian approach, it twists reality inside out. The only way to protect democracy from alleged “voter fraud” is…to vote for the authoritarians. Never mind that there is no voter fraud — when has reality ever mattered in American politics?

Pundits are underestimating this scenario’s potential to set American democracy on fire. If even a handful of electors are agreeable — or gullible or corrupt — enough to get on board, that’s game over.

There are rules and norms they’re supposed to follow, true. And there might even be legal challenges if electors don’t vote the way the popular vote in their state has gone. But those will come after the fact.

When a new head of state has already been installed, what chance do they have to succeed? Significantly when the highest courts have already been tilted?

This is incredibly clever also because it attempts to cut democracy away at its very feet. The electoral college is the Achilles heel of American democracy, its greatest weakness. Targeting it is how to get maximum leverage for minimum effort.

What happens if all this succeeds? Even more unrest and violence. 

It’s not much of a stretch to say that many Americans would feel cheated because they would be fooled. There would likely be riots in city after city. And guess what that would invite? Crackdowns from Trump’s shock troops, who’d be called in to do what they did in Portland (where one of my cousins lives) and Chicago and elsewhere: to beat, gas, and disappear protesters.

America would have crossed the brink into real authoritarianism. 

And things would only get worse from there. If the shock troops are beating and disappearing people on day one, what do you think they’ll be doing on day 365 of a four-year term? How much likelihood do you give another election? In this scenario, American democracy ceases to function, its legs chopped off. And this isn’t even the worst one yet.

That brings me to the worst one. Trump wins the popular vote and the electoral college. 

You might think that’s unlikely — but I don’t necessarily mean outright. And I don’t mean that Trump “wins.” I mean that the election is manipulated enough so that he doesn’t lose.

I mean, after all the counts and recounts and so forth are done, Trump emerges victorious. Imagine that the allegations of voter fraud are successful — successful enough to have enough ballots thrown out, especially in crucial areas, to give Trump an outright victory. Biden’s margin is chipped away at, by the day, until suddenly, Trump is the winner.

What happens then?

This is the Belarusian scenario. 

Did you see what happened there? A head of state “won” an election that people considered corrupt. So mass protests erupted. They lasted weeks.

But it was too late.

The protests go on, but their spirit, it seems, has been broken. They are petering out slowly. Masked men abduct and beat moms and grandmas in public. Sound familiar? It should. Americans should take a lesson from what happened in Belarus.

Mass protests after an authoritarian seizes power are usually too late. 

They can express anger and fury and rage and disappointment — even from the vast majority. But the authoritarian controls the levers of power. He controls the institutions of the state, from law enforcement to internal security to courts and justice. And so no matter if even a massive amount of people are out on the streets protesting — it’s all too easy for an authoritarian to send shock troops out to intimate and brutalize them. Authoritarians aren’t scared of such a thing; by the way, they relish it: it proves how powerful they are.

In this scenario, Americans finally begin to understand what authoritarianism is. 

It is precisely what is referred to euphemistically as “minority rule.” It means that most people — usually by a long way — don’t want any of this to happen, don’t want to live this way, and don’t consent. But their voices no longer matter because they were silent too long. They are brutalized and repressed and silenced and subjugated. Protest carries no meaning, and speaking up is a thing that comes with severe consequences.

Authoritarianism doesn’t mean what many Americans seem to think it does: society’s democratic choice to consent to dictatorship. It means that the majority of people don’t approve, but that no longer matters. It means that the majority want democracy but don’t get to have one any longer.

That’s the grimmest scenario. And yet it has every chance of coming true, too. 

These are abnormal times, and neither statistics nor polls tell us very much. It could be that — just like last time — all those nice, polite soccer moms and suburban dads who said they’d never vote for Trump go right ahead and, in the heat and secrecy of the polling booth…do. It could be that they don’t, but it doesn’t matter because there weren’t enough of them. It could be that they reject Trump en masse. But all those alleged strategies to subvert the election, from legal challenges to arm-twisting electors — count more and pay off bigger.

Anything can happen now. That means: I’d give each of the four scenarios above roughly equal odds. That’s not a good thing. It’s a terrible one because three out of those four scenarios end with American democracy dying, whether slow or fast or suddenly. That means that overall, thinking it through, we arrive at this. There’s roughly a 75% chance that American democracy goes into cardiac arrest, dies on the table, or before it reaches the hospital. Or just a 25% chance that it survives what a lasting and severe heart attack is.

Let me put that another way. Democracy is not a place where anything should be able to happen. It should be a place where we know what we can’t. 

But we don’t. And that is precisely why the authoritarians are winning: they thrive on the chaos uncertainty brings.

This is your last chance. These are the last warnings available to us. You could be living in a failed state like Russia meets Iran, with fascists and “handmaids” as the arbiters of justice and freedom, faster than you know, in the blink of an eye. That is not hyperbole — it is a grim and terrible fact.

After reading “The Handmaid’s Tale,” I feel that I understand the authoritarian government and how ugly it can and will be.

Trump might be on the ropes, but that doesn’t mean what you think it does. 

The chances for American democracy are not good. That means: it’s up to all of us to change them. So on November 3, 2020, please go and vote.

20/20/20 Rule of Productive Mornings

How to not waste the first hour of the day

You lose when you snooze because sleep fragmentation hurts your body’s ability to recuperate.

Every time you fall asleep, your body starts going through a 5-stage sleep cycle. The later the stage, the deeper the sleep — and the more restorative it becomes.

When you wake up at 7 AM after 7 hours of sleep, you’ll be closer to the end of the cycle and in a state where your body is already preparing to wake up.

If you hit the snooze button, however, your body starts going back in the opposite direction. It’ll gear up to sleep more — and it really won’t like being rattled 9 minutes later. As a result, you’ll feel more tired than before, even though, technically, you slept longer.

When it comes to good sleep, getting up after one consistent stretch is more important than how long that stretch was. This is counterintuitive, but it’s true.

Similarly, if you “take excellent care of the front end of your day, the rest of your day will take care of itself.” That’s Robin Sharma’s thesis in The 5 AM Club, a book he wrote to share his morning routine of 20 years.

The idea is that if you invest the first hour of the day in yourself, that hour will pay returns for the remaining 23. “Own your morning, elevate your life,” Sharma says.

The book teaches via metaphor — a fictitious billionaire helps a struggling artist and a young entrepreneur. Here are 3 lessons from the story that’ll help you wake up earlier, start most mornings productively, and get as much as you can out of every single day.

1. Your brain has a creative edge early in the day.

In a classic student-teacher move, the billionaire tells his two disciples that he holds the key to their success — and in order to receive it, they must meet him very early the following morning.

When his students arrive, the master explains: “You have already received the key by waking up at 5 AM, because in doing so, you’ve given your brain an advantage in succeeding throughout the day.”

The scientific concept behind this edge is called transient hypo-frontality. When in this state, your brain is more likely to go into “flow.” You’ll be less prone to worry and over-analysis, more daring in your choices and ideas, and better able to focus.

You can trigger transient hypo-frontality in different ways, for example by taking a walk or exercising, but the early morning environment is also conducive to it. You brain is just “booting up,” and the extra dopamine and serotonin from daybreak tranquility will make you feel energized and peaceful at the same time.

2. Balance your mind, health, heart, and soul.

After explaining the mindset advantage of waking up early, the billionaire explains there are three other “interior empires” the students need to master.

Your “health-set” is your physical health. Use the emptiness of early mornings to get in a little exercise to reduce stress, gain energy, and be happier, all of which will, in turn, help you live longer.

Your “heartset” is your emotional wellbeing. Journaling in the morning can be a space to express feelings you can’t share elsewhere — the insights of which you can later use to communicate better with others.

Finally, your “soulset” is your spiritual balance. We all believe different things, but whatever we do have faith in allows us to connect with ourselves and the world at large. Writing down your values and briefly looking at them each morning will help you remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.

For a balanced, successful life, ground yourself in mindset, healthset, heartset, and soulset every day.

3. Productive days begin with the 20/20/20 formula.

When the students ask him what exactly to do at 5 AM, the billionaire shares his formula: The 20/20/20 rule divides your first hour of the day into three equal blocks of exercise, reflection, and learning.

Exercising for 20 minutes will not just get your blood flowing, it’ll also make you sweat. Sweating decreases cortisol, a hormone related to stress and fear. It also releases BDNF, which helps create new neural pathways faster and repairs brain cells.

20 minutes of reflection will plant your feet firmly on the ground, no matter what the day ahead brings. You can use them to meditate, visualize your big goals and to-dos for the day, or journal and write down any ideas or inspiring thoughts. Quiet in the morning makes for patience later in the day.

Lastly, 20 minutes of real, interested learning go further than hours of social media, news, and mindless entertainment. Read a book, study someone you admire, or take a free online course. Whatever you learn, make sure it’s something you’re really interested in, something that’ll make your brain shoot sparks rather than go numb.

20 minutes of exercise, 20 minutes of reflection, and 20 minutes of learning. The 20/20/20 rule will maximize your chances of having a productive day, every day.


The 5 AM Club will motivate you to get up earlier, build a morning routine, and prioritize the internal work that’ll lead to external success.

Here are 3 lessons worth remembering:

  1. Waking up early gives your brain a competitive edge because it makes it easier for you to get into a flow state.
  1. Balance your mind, health, heart, and soul for true self-mastery.
  1. To not waste the first hour of the day, use the 20/20/20 rule; dedicate 20 minutes to exercise, reflection, and learning each for productive days.

Recommended Reads

The 5 AM ClubRobin Sharma

Sources & Links For This Post

Does sleep fragmentation impact recuperation? A review and re-analysis
The Transient Hypofrontality Edge
Flow Summary
The Way You’re Communicating Might Be Messing Up Your Relationships
How My Values Give Me Direction in Life
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor
Learn Proper Meditation in 2 Minutes

Life As We Know It Will Forever Be Changed

Here’s a tiny question. What is the lesson COVID is trying to teach us? As much of the world now enters the second wave of lockdowns, thanks to the second wave of the virus –– or, in America, faces the grim situation where the first wave never really crested, and became a tsunami of death –– what should we be learning?

I think of COVID as a message backwards, from the future.

And it says something life as you know it is now over. The future is now going to become a bitter and bruising battle for the basics. The basics. Air, water, food, medicine, and energy. Things that many of us took for granted, would simply be around as if by magic.

That age is now coming to an end. Did you ever think that breathable air would be in short supply? It’s already being marketed as a luxury in (where else) California. The very same California which is on fire, on the one hand, and wracked by COVID, on the other. Result? Air itself has become a luxury in a collapsing America. That is what the future looks like, except for all the basics.

Another way to say that is that a certain way of life is now coming to an end.

To make that point, let me ask the question: why have Eastern countries done better on COVID than the ones in the west? What does this teach us that money, power, and history are no guarantee for success in this battle for basics that the future is now about. Maybe the rich and 1% can buy clean air –– but what about society as a whole? Forget it.

People have to work together to provide one another the basics.

And that is where the western response to COVID has fallen down. Western nations are still fixated on the illusory notions of freedom. But freedom itself is what is going to change radically in this age –– if not by choice then by force of nature’s revenge.

Consider the example, as usual, of America. Americans wouldn’t cooperate with lockdowns. Governors revolted and made it illegal to make people wear masks. Meanwhile the red states–– states that are republican led –– became the world’s worst COVID belt, because people refused to stop… going to bars… having barbecues… eating at restaurants. Their President –– who’s now been hospitalized for COVID –– encouraged them NOT to take it seriously. The result was that COVID exploded, and has probably become a permanent fact of life –– another dystopian one –– in a collapsing America, hence, even air itself will be a luxury for the rich.

Americans in other words, were obsessed with “freedom.”

One certain idea of it.Freedom is an individualistic exercise in consumerism, in status and pleasure seeking. What Americans don’t tend to understand is that the “old” list of American “freedoms” is now badly obsolete.

What good is it carrying around a gun… when a tsunami or megafire is approaching?

What good is it being able to battle over whose God is stronger… when you can’t breathe the air anymore?

Life as the American set of freedoms is over now.

Let me enumerate a few of those. The freedom to waste and squander. The freedom to believe in any old malarkey you like, no matter how ignorant. The freedom to abuse and exploit. The freedom to make the point of your life as shallow, foolish, and stupid as you may want to, like just making more money. None of these this were ever really “freedom.”

What such freedoms really were and are is the toxic hangover of centuries of brutality.

Americans think they should be free to waste –– while half the world still goes without decent food, water, or sanitation. They imagine they should be free to carry guns to Starbucks – while much of the world has been enslaved to pick those coffee beans. I’m not trying to moralize, just making a point. The world largely thinks of the American idea of freedom as a folly and a bewildering form of self-destruction.

COVID is trying to teach us, in no uncertain terms, that we are not really free in these old ways – and never were.

They’re just paths to self destruction. When we waste and squander, we pollute the skies, and the planet heats up. When we abuse the natural world, it bites back in the form of everything from pandemics to wildfires to floods.

Let me summarize what I am trying to say here. The economist in me will put it this way. The global economy has been predicated on one simple transaction. The west and north –– and particularly America –– overconsumes, and the east and south is who and what is exploited to make that possible. That transaction is now over. The age of western overconsumption is now at an end. Even the west is starting to suffer shortages of the basics –– beginning with air. By the next decade, water, food, and energy will be in shortage, there, too.

The west can continue to pretend it can overconsume –– by which I mean spend too much on consumerist toys which cost the reefs, rivers, forests, animals, skies, not to mention the potential of people in the east who are mostly stuck in assembly lines making stuff for it. Since that stuff is artificially cheap, those in the east are exploited –– never fighting climate change, mass extinction, ecological collapse themselves –– or even to give themselves decent food, water, sanitation, and medicine, which means pandemics that then affect the globe erupt at an increasing pace now.

That is why the whole world is coming to a standstill.

This fatal bargain is now coming to an end. One great economic age is ending –– the age of western overconsumption. In hard terms, that means the west is consuming more than the entire planet can provide sustainably. Which is precisely why catastrophes from climate change to mass extinction to pandemics are now ripping our lives apart.

So where do we go from here?

Well, we must ask the question: how did that age come to be, the age of western overconsumption? If we want to fix it, that is. The answer, though, is ugly and difficult, and many people don’t want to hear it, much less understand it.

The age of western overconsumption is really a consequence of a simple, brutal, dismal truth: 20% of the world is rich and white, the other 80% is poor and not white. The 20% of the world that is rich and white is precisely that portion which enslaved, brutalized, and colonized the part that is 80% poor and not white.

Those centuries of abuse and exploitation led the rich and white societies to enjoy a generous surplus.

You can think of that as everything from gold in bank vaults to all those hundreds of kinds of coffee, tea, and sugar that you can find today in the aisles at Walmart. The age of western overconsumption is the product of the previous age of western slavery, colonialism, and empire. That age allowed the west to get rich –– and the west then spent its riches on consumption.

Economists once upon a time argued all this was a good thing. That buying stuff from poor countries would allow those countries to prosper, too. And that has been the case to a minor degree –– there have been some successes, like South Korea and Japan, and some half-successes, like China and Malaysia. But “externalities” dominated even this effect. What that means in plain English is that while the rich westerners buying stuff from poor easterners might have balanced back the scales of empire and slavery –– hey, at least they were being paid now, right? –– nobody much noticed the effects on the planet.

This central transaction of the global economy, rich westerners buying stuff from poor easterners, was flawed in one central way. It was artificially cheap.

Because it was still OK to exploit poor easterners –– to pay them the least that rich westerners could get away with, instead of enough, say, to have decent water, food, sanitation, medicine, income –– why wouldn’t it then be perfectly OK to abuse and exploit nature too?

The east lost wars, and ended up enslaved. Nature has never really fought back at all –– until now. And finally we are seeing how terrible its fury can be. Even the west can’t outrun an age of catastrophe like the one we face now –– like I said, it’s already doing worse than the east when it comes to COVID.

So how do we fix all this? Well, the truth is that “we” probably can’t.

I can tell you how but westerners by and large aren’t interested. What they seem to be interested in is never changing. In ways to be able to go on living in wasteful, harmful, toxic, abusive, exploitative ways, like Americans are –– if you tell them how to do that, they will admire and respect you. Gentle and wise Europe has made some progress, it’s true. But mostly when you tell people like Americans that they must change NOW, and change fast, they give you the look: their eyes go dead and their jaws tighten. They’re holding in the anger of having to hear something that they don’t want to, aren’t equipped to, can’t handle.

“We” aren’t going to fix the age of western overconsumption.

What it would take is something like this: the rich west agreeing to pay nature. After all, nature works hard for us –– it provides us everything from water to air to food to medicine. If the rich west were ready to agree to pay nature for the work it does –– instead of exploit and abuse it –– then treaties could be made to compensate eastern countries and their people. To pay them living wages for doing things like caring for rivers, reefs, forests, oceans, animals, and so forth, instead of just toiling away on assembly lines to make cheap junk for rich westerners.

But that is not going to happen, probably. I say that for a simple reason.

One topic nobody much in the west wants to hear about is fixing the future. They say they want to hear about it. They are constantly asking what to do about the state of things but when people talk or write about it, only a handful truly listen. Not even a handful. So what I think the majority of westerners mean when they ask what to do is: “tell me a way to never have to change. I want to live the old way –– the wasteful, exploitative, abusive way.”

Having a serious discussion with westerners, especially with Americans in particular, about fixing the future has become impossible.

That should be self-evident, though. They are not willing to change their lives even when a lethal pandemic is ripping through their societies.

And yet the rich west is the only part of the world with the money to really allow the future to be fixed. What does that tell you? It tells me it won’t be. And so what will happen probably is this. The world will go on spiraling headlong into the new Dark Age its entered. The fools and fanatics and extremists will go on rising to power, because the average person is incapable of change, but the old way of life is collapsing, and in that vacuum is where EVERY fascism is really born.

Life as you know it really is coming to and end, my friend.

The problem? Not enough of us can face that simple fact with courage, grace, truth, kindness, love and goodness. And so what do you expect to happen? If change can’t, then only collapse is left.