Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Election Night 2020 in Second Life

By Bixyl Shuftan

Tuesday November 3, 2020 was Election Day in the United States, and the culmination of America's Presidential election. For almost a year and a half, it had been going on. For the Republicans, the incumbent Donald Trump was practically uncontested in the primary season despite his highly controversial manner and actions, as well as being impeached. For the Democrats, out of over two dozen candidates whom ran for their parties nomination, it was former Vice President Joe Biden whom would represent his party. After March, the election was under the shadow of the Coronavirus Pandemic, which could make campaigning tricky for those following safety guidelines. There were also a number of demonstrations following the death of a man in police custody that led to the toppling of Civil War and other historical statues. Due in part to the Pandemic, Biden was leading in the polls and was expected to win handily. FiveThirtyEight, one noted polling website, gave Trump only a ten percent chance of winning outright.

As in the past few elections, there were some election-themed places here in Second Life. As these were mid-term elections, there wasn't as much attention early on as four years ago. I never heard of anything like the Trump Manor or Sanders HQ this time. Around Labor Day, I found three. One was for Trump, the Trump Pub, and two for Biden, Cafe Wellstone and Blue Revolution. There was also the 2020 Election Simulator, which didn't officially back a candidate but instead ran simulations based on polling data.  

Dropping by the Election Simulator on Monday night, it's builder Duncan (ABoysPlaceMall Resident), told me the following day once it was getting close to time polls were closing, he would stop the machine's usual operation, "I've decided at 2pm SLT, I'll shut off the simulator, since it starts at 5pm EST. So seems like a good time to turn off the simulations and turn on reality." When I asked him about people interested in the election coming to hang out here, "I didn't really have a plan for Election Night. But so many people told me they would be here. It doesn't feel right to just, let it become anarchy. I've rescripted the big board, so now I can manually adjust the states. ... I haven't figured out how I'll manage the scoreboard yet." When I commented that the results should be interesting, Duncan sighed, "'interesting' is kind of the great non-word of the English language, sort of a fancy way to say 'um.'" Someone else asked how busy he was. Duncan answered, "Mostly just keeping the trolls at bay."

Tuesday was Election Day, and like millions of others yours truly went to the polls, waited in line, and voted. Dropping by, there was already a crowd there. The chatter residents made was interrupted by the animesh receptionist greeting each new person as they came by. "It is awesome to be sharing this conversation in SL!" one commented. But with the sheer number of avatars , some had trouble, "My stream keeps freezing x.x" Polls were just starting to close, "Big surprise, indiana projected for Trump." "NPR announced on twitter Vermont for Biden." Among those there was Chantal Harvey, a noted Second Life video producer in it's golden age years ago. She was in a robot avatar. "Trump followed me on twitter one day!" Chantal told me.

There was some discussion about the Associated Press, Duncan saying, "they are my default resource, not the networks. ... I work with the Associated Press. They are the organization which most of your news content is generated by." When someone rubbed him the wrong way about it, Duncan responded, "The AP has been calling elections for longer than you've been alive. And they are my first professional resource in my political career which goes back over a decade." Someone else commented, "Yes, AP I think has been calling the elections since the 1880's if I recall an AP interview on CNN yesterday." Duncan answered, "I dunno if it goes back that far or not, but like. AP is a collective of journalists that has existed for as long as wire reports have, at least." The person did an internet search, "Just read that AP actually has been calling since 1848! Wow!" He did look at some other news sources, but one he didn't bother with, "We're not doing Fox News.

Duncan did mention something to me in IMs. The Election Simulator is on the mainland next to a highway. And at one point earlier in the day, a number of Trump supporters in trucks with flags proudly proclaiming their support drove up and stopped on the road by the location. Duncan was not amused, and responded by placing a wall between the road and the simulator building.

I soon decided to move on. I decided to check in on the Trump Pub. But I then ran into technical difficulties. I crashed just after arriving, and had trouble logging back on. Once I did, I tried talking over again. Same result. One thing I did notice before approaching the club was it's surroundings. Some displays simply advertised the Democrat without mentioning the Republican. But some people clearly opposed to Trump had placed all kinds of displays that ranged from the disparaging to the insulting to the obscene. Among the signs were "Make America Hate Again" "Vote Adult 2020". Across the street was a building decked out in Communist Party flags. Someone had made a dancing reproductive organ with Trump's head on it. One sign I couldn't begin to describe in a manner fit for a family newspaper. Hamlet Au would call the Anti-Trump display not safe for work unless one works at an adult toys factory. One person had put up a sign that to me looked like it was against both sides, "glad I don't live at ground level of a sim with the trash lagging everything out. I'll vote for whoever gets rid of you people."

After a few attempted logins after another crash, I waited a little while, then decided to give other places a check. No one was at Cafe Wellstone. But dropping in on Blue Revolution, there were plenty. Some were seated. Some were on the dance floor. Some had fishing poles playing a game.

Someone whom had also come from the Election Simulator commented, "the states that are projected are 94 to 72 for Biden. ... I think Biden will have enough states projected by Tomorrow morning to get him over 270." Someone else urged caution, "Remember, right now we are at the point where hillary supporters went to bed thinking they would win in 2016."

Some of the Democrats made obvious partisan remarks, "All I know is, if trump wins, America is forever lost. Trump would have successfully poisoned the thinking in this country. ... Never though USA would succumb to fascism." "It's getting scarier and scarier. "

Book Island had invited people to drop by and chill out on Election Night. So I headed there. Most people there were either for Biden or neutral. They were generally laid back about the election, though one guy was poking fun of the President by having on a Trump avatar and doing parody imitations of him, "I am a misogynistic, pathetic, racist liar. And I still get votes. What a life." "It is a deep expression of their self loathing," one Democrat commented, having trouble understanding why anyone would vote for the other major candidate. When I commented I had friends on both sides of the political divide, Book Island's manager Selina Greene nodded, "I think we're all in the same camp here, but I'm sure we all know some on the other side of the divide." Someone just wanted the whole thing to be over, "GAME! Name a movie more cheerful than this election. I'll go first: '28 Days Later.'"

Giving the Trump Pub another try, this time I managed to make it in without crashing. When I had dropped by in September in an alt, the lone person there threw me out for being in a furry avatar. This time, there were some furred avatars present, as well as a few dark-skinned human ones. But there was very little text chat, most of the conversation being done in voice. One woman commented, "I just know Trump is going to win ... I'm just confident. If Biden wins, I'm gonna pick a red state to move to ... I'm in Massachusetts ... I like living in a place next to the ocean." There was some discussion about the "Communist Party HQ" across the road. Someone commented, "They're just trolls, they're not actual Communists." Of the state of the election, someone commented, "I hate to admit it, it's not looking good for Trump. ... They're going to take Pennsylvania ... this is looking really bad. ... This is bull^*&^" Another remarked whoever won, it was looking like it wouldn't be decided this night."

Someone was giving out gifts to people arriving. What people were using the most were the Trump 2020 flag, and a Donald Trump mask. Curiously, they were also giving out "waifu pillows" of the President for people to hug. It seems like four years ago, Trump is attracting some anime fans. Chatting with one Democrat in IMs, it was brought up the pillow could easily be repurposed as a punching bag. I did see one woman in a Japanese outfit briefly hold a Biden flag. No one out in the open gave her trouble over it.

I headed back to Blue Revolution. Some were poking fun at the opposition, "Trump literally said 'poles are closed' like a pole instead of poll." "Votes won't be counted after the polls closed. Well Trump, cause they ain't." "Hahaha he really needs an education." Others were more critical of the election situation in general, "it bugs me how this 'WIN at all cost' mentality is accepted as an American value." Another nodded, "It is this winner and loser mentality. Everyone offers something different, and when it is all about winning we lose the meaning. And integrity is SUPPOSED to be the meaning of America, but (we) have forgotten that." And some were just there for the fishing game, "Thanks for the fishes and the generosity!"

Someone commented, "I was watching a proTrump guy who is friends with a lot of Dem educated women and all them hate Trump. So he asked them why. And he was saying everyone of them said the same thing, it is the way he talks. He chalked that up to be(ing) shallow. But I think it is the opposite, it is deep. It reflects the depth of his thought and understanding, which is about puddle deep (laughter). ... Sometimes I don't even think he knows what he is talking about ..."

That was the extent of my experience at the election-themed places and Book Island that night. The Election Simulator would eventually go offline and remain so until I logged off, The Happy Vixen would hold a party in honor of the voters, "Red White and Blue." But the people were asked not to bring up politics. The intent of the party was to get people to relax and have fun, not stress people out and fight.

The following day, I would check back at the Election Simulator and Duncan. In IMs, he commented that while his location might not have openly supported either candidate, he felt not everyone might consider him a truly neutral party. Out in the open after I greeted him, I asked how Election Night went. "Well, it was, stressful," he commented, "I think the simulator was helpful in grounding the tension in something familiar. The final result we saw was roughly in line with the bulk of projections that the simulator has run. It wasn't a maximalist landslide, but a strong Biden win on a pretty solid Trump result. If anything the non-mutual dependence of my approach even seems to have been reasonably vindicated. Arizona didn't move in lockstep with Texas and Florida. Ohio diverged from the rest of the upper midwest."

"A lot of people I care about a lot really kinda lost their sh*t and started despairing last night. Technically the sim just couldn't handle the raw numbers of people who showed up. We had a lot of disruptive people who got bounced for various reasons. I took a pretty strident approach to administering this place - if you gave me a little hassle you got bounced. I don't know if we got crashed just because interest was so high or if there was also a 'denial of service' attack element to it. We've had masses of Trump trolls try to disrupt the sim. You can show the photo I took of the Trump trucks on the Linden highway outside the parcel if you want. We had at least one person early on who wanted to plant brainworms that votes were being tossed into dumpsters. I ejected her so she sat on the border of the sim using IM to look for people sympathetic to her undermining of democracy. Strawberry Linden was here for part of the day, which a lot of people were kinda gaga about. Linden sightings are much rarer than they used to be."

Several states had yet to be called, Arizona, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, and Alaska. So I asked, "Considering the states still to be determined, who do you think will win, and how long might it take?" Duncan answered, "Biden has pretty much won. some networks have already called Arizona for Biden but I'm using NBC which has not. It's a controversial call but Biden is a strong favorite there. Also, the numbers in Pennsylvania look like they clearly favor Biden. The GOP blocked counting early votes until after the election, so that means all the uncounted votes are concentrated in the cities. Given the number of votes outstanding and the partisan leaning of the manner and place in which they were cast, I mean it's possible Trump will win in the end, but incredibly unlikely. Democrats were confident early on that they'd made their numbers there and all the evidence I've seen suggests they did. Nevada and Georgia similarly had part of their vote counting stymied, but it's not really a question how they'll turn out."

So was this looking like the 2000 Election in reverse? Duncan commented, "Not really, it's like 2000 but too much everywhere for them to stop the vote counting. In 2000, more Americans voted against Bush than for him, but they stopped the counting while they were ahead so they could declare it a win. Trump is trying to do the exact same thing - but he's gotta do it in multiple states. And he kinda screwed up, because Biden won the raw count in Wisconsin and Michigan. So you can't freeze the count there without locking in your loss. If they get their plan and freeze counting as it stands, they lose Arizona and Nevada, and thus the Presidency. If they let the vote count proceed, they lose PA and GA too based on present trends.

"There was a protest in Michigan today to try and stop the vote counting. But again, too late. The votes are already counted. If they stop now, they lose. If they keep counting, they lose more. So if they want to convert this into something that looks like a win they have to find a way to overturn a count. Which, from the outset, I argued was outside the scope of my modeling. I can't predict how that kind of unprecedented power politics is going to play out. To me it's unquestionably a coup to overturn an election and hold onto power despite losing it."

I then brought up the only time most historians agree that happened, the 1876 Presidential election. Duncan thought a comparison in what he thought was being attempted could be made, but "1876 was a long time ago. It was a betrayal of Black Americans for sure." We talked a little about the deal behind the scenes the two parties made for the losing side to accept the results, " ... the deal was federal power for regional apartheid. The North got the Presidency, the South got Jim Crow. ... It was a long time ago. I know the history of it, but I'm not sure how cleanly it maps onto the current environment. One of the things the Republicans did back then was admit the Dakotas and Wyoming and Montana into the Union as full states to lock in control of the Senate. The current dispute over the statehood of Puerto Rico and D.C. are somewhat analogous to that. It's looking likely, though, that the GOP will hold the Senate for now."

Someone else entered the conversation this time, and there was some general conversation for a while, but eventually other matters required my attention, and bade them good evening and departed.

Compared to previous elections I've seen after 2000, the reaction was more gradual and slow motion. With no winner declared election night, the comments I saw on social media were a mix of cautious optimism and anxiety. As states were declared for Biden, there was some anger expressed from Trump supporters and hope from Biden's. On Friday when it was becoming clear Biden was about to get it, there was more celebratory feelings from Dem voters and more anger from Trump's. After enough states were declared for Biden on Friday evening, finally the Democrats (and probably a few anti-Trump conservatives) were in a celebatory mood in social media. From Populist voters, there was either silence, or calls for resistance, feeling the other side had cheated and the election was being stolen from them. They wanted recounts and/or the results contested in court, and what they saw as the cheating done by the opposition exposed. A few people on both sides made note about the Senate remaining with a Republican majority and the House with a smaller majority. But most were focused on the Presidency.

Not unlike things in 2000, it looks like this election will take time to truly resolve. Despite pleas from some Republicans to accept the results, the Trump Administration seems determined to demand recounts and/or take things to court in several states. But it's highly unlikely the courts will do much of anything. While also not unlike 2000 some supporters of the incumbent will continue to insist the election was "stolen" and nurse the grudge for years (if not their entire lives), the winner from the opposition party will be sworn President in January.

This election is different from other Democratic Presidential victories. In 1992 and 2008, many Dems called that election the start of a brand new era in which they would be in charge for well over a generation. This time, while some are calling Trump a fluke and the future is theirs, it looks like more of them are talking about "healing" and bridging the political divide. This time, the majority of them realize the conservatives and populists are not going away.

For the Republicans, the party may be in for a power struggle. There are those whom prefer economic libertarianism, and there are those whom want "fair trade" and policies that favor traditional industries. There are those whom want more "compassionate conservativism" and those whom feel the government would screw up in expanding social safety nets. There are those whom want to see America continue to be the leader of the free world, and there are those who feel America needs to let it's fellow democracies take care of themselves and focus more on internal matters.

While the more political and news-minded among us will likely be discussing the election for the next several weeks, for most of us it's over and time to get back to our Second Lives.

Bixyl Shuftan