The great gift of the 2016 election is that it made almost everyone afraid to be wrong again. I asked a politically astute friend this morning how he thought the electoral college would break out, and he drew a long breath before saying he didn’t know.

The money and the polling clearly point to one outcome, but… this from a guy who taught me about polling. When a wizened politico asked me the same the question earlier this week, I stupidly tried to come up with an estimate. 286:252, favoring Biden, I figured.

We’re afraid to be wrong, because so few got it right four years ago. Our compulsion to be right often clouds our judgment. What being proven wrong can do is open our eyes to an array of possible outcomes, and to be more willing to entertain two conflicting thoughts in our heads at the same time.

The last time I wrote about Hunter Biden in the column, I thought the science was settled. But then the “laptop from hell” emerged.

So here’s my evolved conclusion: members of Biden’s family have acted corruptly, and if there is some criminal liability there, it should be examined and perhaps prosecuted —saying so does not make me an agent of Russian disinformation (hat tip to Glen Greenwald).

But members of Trump’s family are legally barred from running charities in the state of New York because a court found they stole from a fund for children with cancer. Let’s call that a wash.

In seating Justice Amy Coney Barrett this week, Trump scored a triple-play on his pledge to reshape the high court in a conservative direction. Seldom do politicians do what they promised, so this is worthy of commendation.

But if a man sells you a car that works as well as you’d expected, and even better, do you ask him to move in with you and your family? Probably not. Both Winston Churchill and George H.W. Bush won wars only to be voted out of office just after. We voters are fickle.

When I moved to Maine at the ripe old age of seven years, I was coming from Charlestown, an old neighborhood of Boston. The parents of one of my school friends, who are African-American, would not let him come over and play at my house because, during busing, racial relations were occasionally violent in Charlestown.

While watching the Showtime series “City on a Hill,” some of this comes back to me. Switching to CNN this morning to see what I missed after turning in early last night, I learn that the question of whether or not there is systematic racism in Maine was evidently the newsiest aspect of the last U.S. Senate debate between Susan Collins and Sara Gideon.


Yes, there are racists everywhere. But no, Collins is right, it is not a systemic problem in Maine and when issues are discovered, Mainers tend to work earnestly to address them. Experience teaches us that if we want to get any closer to the truth, we must be able to mentally walk and chew gum at the same time. Purism and ideological absolutism seldom lead us anywhere useful.

Awkward contradictions aside, we have to navigate through a world of disputed and often conflicted facts. Straight ticket voting entirely denies this state of affairs, a.k.a reality, and relies instead on wishful thinking and cozy narratives.

No one really knows what is going to happen Nov. 3 and its aftermath. Whatever happens, with luck we’ll process it more honestly than we did four years ago. As a veteran of Bush-Gore ’00, I can attest Americans are tougher when it comes to uncertainty than we think we are. In the end, we’ll either get a trick or a treat. Happy Halloween!

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.