An already divided nation is making its choice between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden with fraught political divides exacerbated by the worst public health crisis in a century. It is also facing a consequent economic slump that has cost millions of Americans their jobs and a still unresolved reckoning over race and police brutality.
Whether Trump gets one or two terms in office will decide if his shocking, untamed Republican presidency is an aberration in modern political history or can more permanently transform America and the world in his own disruptive image.
A victory for Biden, the Democratic nominee, would end the constant gut calls, staffing chaos, and continuous assaults on truth, science, fact, and evidence in every sphere of national life. It would see a return to a more traditional head of state who is vowing to unite the country, create a new spirit of hope, and restore compassion to the White House.
Trump has made clear that becoming the first impeached president to win reelection would cause him to unleash a far purer form of his hardline nationalist ideology, and he may be all but unstoppable in his effort to fully weaponize the institutions of the US government to his own goals and whims.
Vindicated by victory, the President would likely double down on crusades against "elites" and warnings that White America is in danger of being overwhelmed by changing demographics. He is likely to be even more devoted to his loyal supporters who see his calls to lock up his opponents and blame doctors over Covid-19 deaths as the embodiment of the wrecking machine they sent to destroy the Washington establishment in 2016.
His victory, after trailing for months in the polls, would be yet another staggering thumb in the eye to pollsters and media commentators who predicted he was heading for defeat and would confirm his unorthodox yet uncanny and unique political talent for channeling the fears and views of millions of Americans.
Four more years would give Trump more time to turn the government to the pursuit of his own personal goals. Trump's complaints, for instance, that Attorney General William Barr -- who has appeared to pursue the President's political priorities since taking office -- is insufficiently attuned to his wishes hint at a future government staffed purely by his acolytes. Such an approach would almost certainly erode Constitutional structures that even at times of political angst have largely guaranteed American political freedoms.