Of Course You Should Be Panicking About the Election

Go ahead. Wet that bed.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, his daughter Tiffany Trump, and his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway shop for snack food at a Wawa gas station November 1, 2016 in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
Donald Trump, his daughter Tiffany, and his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway shop at a Wawa on Tuesday in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Several friends and co-workers have come up to me since FBI Director James Comey sent his little letter over to Congress. They want to know if they should be “worried.” Should I panic? they ask.

I tell them they should, because the letter may not be enough to push Donald Trump over the top. Once I’m done trolling them, though, I give the real answer: Of course you should panic that Hillary Clinton might lose if you’re at all concerned about Donald Trump being president. Fear should be your guiding emotion this week. Fear, panic, terror, horror, apoplexy—mmm mmm, this is the stuff. Each new poll that shows movement in Trump’s direction, whether it’s a good poll or a crap poll, should exponentially multiply that fear. If you’re in the proper headspace right now, you’re not sleeping. You’re gaining weight.

There will be plenty of time to feel happy and comforted later. Or there won’t be.

There’s an opposing school of thought out there, among Democrats and perhaps anti-Trumpers in general, that finite energy is better spent on reassuring the like-minded that Clinton’s still got this. David Plouffe, the 2008 Obama campaign manager and 2012 adviser, famously refers to those losing their mind about polling fluctuations as “bed-wetters.” Anti–bed-wetting is a common mantra you still hear from Plouffe’s disciples whenever Clinton’s chances enter a down cycle. Plouffe himself has continued playing around with wetting-related imagery on Twitter as polling has tightened over the past few days:

Plouffe’s larger point is well-taken: There’s no use in just sitting on your couch reading the bad news on Twitter and pissing yourself. The proper way to respond to any doubts about Clinton winning is to do something about it, like encouraging others to vote. Anti–bed-wetting is a necessary posture for those working in the campaign: Staffers should not let polling fluctuations dictate panicky changes in strategy or messaging. The goal should always be the same: turning out your voters. And when Democrats turn out their voters, they win.

The importance of turning out Democratic voters, though, is why all anti-Trumpers should be in an absolutely heightened state of panic through Election Day, because Democratic voters can be unreliable. Maybe some people are worried they won’t look cool to their peers if they start shrieking or stress-vomiting in public about how Donald Trump could be president when the data doesn’t (yet) support that. What these people should do is stress-vomit on the faces of their cooler-than-thou peers, and tell them that this a cleansing shower compared with the conditions at any one of would-be President Trump’s work camps.

Because even after all this time, even after all the other brushes Trump’s had with approximate parity in the race, a lot of those voters who absolutely don’t want Trump to be president still don’t think there’s any chance he could win. This underlies the whole question about whether to panic: There’s still no way he could win, right?

There’s always been a chance he could win. As of this writing, the FiveThirtyEight average gives Trump a 31 percent chance of winning. That may rise higher by the end of the day or Thursday morning, as more state-level data showing Republicans coming home to Trump is chucked into the model. Further, the volatility, relative sparseness, and crappiness of this year’s polling, plus the general loathing of each candidate, is a stew for systemic polling error. Obama outperformed his national polling average by about 3 percentage points in 2012, in a much more stable, measurable race. A few-point swing one way or another is the difference between a Clinton Electoral College landslide and a narrow Trump win. An additional few points in Trump’s direction in Pennsylvania alone could tip the election. Don’t ask someone else whether you should panic. Of course you should.

The only legitimate argument against constructive panicking in the last week of an election is that panicking is an unpleasant feeling. People want to feel calmed and comforted. This sort of foo-foo, twee, coddled, teddy-bear garbage speak is why Trump is anywhere near the presidency in the first place. No one should feel happy in the last week of an election cycle like this. No one should feel safe. No one should expect a reasonable measure of comfort or happiness. How should you feel if you really do believe Trump’s election would be a national and global disaster? Picture yourself hanging over a cliff, holding on by one hand to a skinny tree branch, slipping, staring into the bottomless chasm of death. That’s a close approximation of how you should be feeling, and it should inspire you to get as many of your bum friends and family members and distant acquaintances on Facebook to vote. Lose your mind now for any hope of recovering it later. Panic, for lack of a better word, is good.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.