Here is the bottom line: Donald Trump does not represent the ideals of democracy. He is an authoritarian egoist, a celebrity of insolence, a self-made cult of personality. Many of the values he openly professes are not in line with those America was founded on, nor with those the country should aspire to if it wants to maintain the sort of representative government that has been its trademark for 250 years. A vote for Trump is a vote against a democratic worldview.
Like many Americans, I initially saw Trump’s candidacy as a joke, then a mockery, then a horror show. Now I see it as a threat to the American experiment.
I do not want Hillary Clinton to be president. I think she is a poor and polarizing candidate with policy problems, a penchant for dishonesty, and an anything-to-win attitude. The whole situation leaves me with a sinking feeling. It’s a liar versus a lunatic. One fraudulent and one draconian.
The country has indicted itself. And now we’re left with a single brutal realization; We have to choose between two bad options.
Some can brush off this sad reality by saying they’ll vote for the lesser of two evils, and if it works for you, go ahead. But that line of thinking doesn’t work for me—it leaves me not wanting to vote at all. Is this what our country has come to? That we abstain out of utter disgust? That we vote not for candidates, but against them? Sympathetic as I am, #NeverTrump is not what democracy should be. This lose-lose situation is not what I want for America.
Today, however, I see it differently. I have determined what I’m for in this election. When November comes, I’m not voting against Trump or for Hillary—not really. What I’m doing is voting for our democracy.
HOW I KNOW TRUMP IS NOT DEMOCRATIC
I don’t think Hillary is presidential material, but I do believe she has some respect for the democratic ideal. It hurts to say it, but unless a credible third-party candidate arises, she has my vote because even if four or eight years under her leadership prove blustery and backward for the United States, I believe at least they will not be fatal. I have no such confidence for a Trump administration, which could become a Trump regime.
But isn’t this an exaggeration?
I don’t believe so. Trump is no republican. He is the precursor to something colder—maybe not tyranny, but certainly not democracy.
Admittedly, democracy is not a monolith. There are variations—liberal democracies (like the United States), constitutional monarchies (like Great Britain and the Netherlands), and social democracies (like some Scandinavian states). Authoritarian democracy, however, is not democracy at all; it is an oxymoron. We can have one or the other, but when authoritarianism and democracy are juxtaposed, one of them is inevitably destroyed.
Democracy is not a perfectly definable idea, but it is not infinitely malleable. There is consensus about some of its primary features. All democracies value things like 1) equal rights for all citizens, 2) political freedom, and 3) the rule of law.
Trump’s words and actions testify that he doesn’t value these things. Here’s why:
On equal rights for all citizens
Trump does not treat all Americans equally. He consistently uses racist and sexist language. His offenses against women and Mexicans are too many to count. He is considering registering all American Muslims in an Orwellian return to second-class citizenship. His real estate company was sued three times by the Justice Department for not renting to black people, cases he fought and then settled. He mocks women for how they look and sound, calls them “dogs” and “disgusting animals,” makes jokes about dating his daughter and his promiscuity, and uses possessive, commoditizing language about women and African Americans. Goodbye equal dignity for all.
Trump has incited violence and openly emboldened his supporters to rough-up demonstrators. He regularly ejects those who oppose him from his events (to be fair, some protestors were behaving badly, but plenty were not).
Here’s how he encouraged a group of supporters at a rally a few months ago. “Knock the crap out of them [protestors], would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell—I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise.”
Also, in January he said, “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks… I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.” Goodbye domestic tranquility.
On political freedom
Beyond propagating discrimination and violence, Trump has little respect for the First Amendment—that little string of words that protects the right of Americans to speak and think freely. This is ironic considering Trump’s shameless verbal abuse of so many, a right guaranteed to him by the very amendment he seems so set on reversing. Trump doesn’t believe in censorship… except of other people.
How does he oppose civil freedom? First, he threatened to “loosen” national libel laws. Why? So that politicians and businessmen could more easily sue news companies. “We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”
He has specifically targeted the Washington Post. “[Jeff Bezos, owner of The Post] owns Amazon,” said Trump. “He wants political influence so Amazon will benefit from it. That’s not right. And believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.” Goodbye freedom of the press.
Trump also said he would send federal regulators after those who are critical of him. Basic high school manners, basic human decency, affirms that we must tolerate views that don’t align with our own. That’s why I think Trump is perfectly within his rights to say a lot of the offensive things he says (apart from provocating violence). Trump, however, doesn’t seem to believe that principle applies to all. Goodbye freedom of speech.
His regular and uninhibited ejection of demonstrators—many of them peaceful—and his incredulity toward those who disagree with him betrays an utter disrespect for free speech and conscience.
He called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States simply because they are Muslims and therefore could conceivably, in his very small and literally walled-in world, pose a threat to America. He talks about shutting down mosques—and, so we’re clear, if you can shut down mosques, you can shut down churches. He also wouldn’t rule out making a database for American Muslims and making them carry identity cards. This is a blatantly Islamophobic attack on religious freedom and on plain reason, demonstrating it is Trump himself who is the threat to America. Goodbye freedom of religion.
On the Rule of Law
Alexander Hamilton wrote in “The Federalist Papers” that the Constitution is designed to ensure “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”
The Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves.
The American political system is a three-branch operation where each branch checks the others so that no branch becomes too powerful. Trump, however, wants to expand executive power to change laws (the job of the legislature) and to handle lawsuits (the job of the judiciary).
Trump has publicly vowed to sponsor torture and the killing of noncombatants. “I would bring back waterboarding and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” he said. He also advocated the killing of families of terrorists, which is a war crime. He advocated killing women and children. To me, this alone disqualifies him from life in the White House. Or else it’s goodbye human rights.
Early in his rise, he said he could shoot someone and not lose a single supporter. Goodbye basic decency.
Recently, he’s taken to defying the American judiciary, suggesting that Muslim or Mexican-heritage judges would be inherently biased against him. He publically and crassly attacked a federal judge, Gonzalo Curiel, discrediting his judicial authority on matters of immigration and business law because he is of Mexican ancestry. The attack began because Trump was angry that Curiel agreed to unveil damaging internal documents that reveal exploitative practices by Trump University. “I think Judge Curiel should be ashamed of himself,” said Trump. “I’m telling you, this court system… ought to look into Judge Curiel. Because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace, okay? But we’ll come back in November. Wouldn’t that be wild if I’m president and I come back to do a civil case?” Yes, it would be absolutely wild. Goodbye separation of powers.
Going after newspapers. Going after judges. Going after civilian protestors. Going after other politicians. Who then is safe?
OBJECTIONS AND WHAT TO DO NOW
At this point there may be some objections.
- It might be argued that I’m cherry-picking quotations and actions, or taking them out of context, to vilify a man I see as unfit for the highest position of political leadership in the known universe. All I can say is look for yourself. If you believe that I’m misrepresenting Trump, I challenge you to read his speeches and tweets and watch his videos and see the way he talks to people who disagree with him. If you still believe he’s a suitable president, ask yourself why it is so frighteningly easy to twist so much of what he says and does into something negative, abusive, or downright totalitarian. Could it be because much of what he says and does is already twisted? And if this is how I and many other Americans hear him, how will he (and, by association, all Americans) be seen by the rest of the world?
- But wouldn’t Clinton be just as bad? I don’t think so. Sure, she will probably push for a stronger executive branch and she doesn’t have the greatest respect for the Rule of Law, but I absolutely believe she has a better record and better rhetoric in terms of equal rights and political freedom. She’s more a known quantity. I don’t think she’ll make a great president, but I think she’ll be not-great in a recognizable way. She will keep democracy in one piece.
- Some may say, “Trump can’t ruin the United States all by himself.” He can’t erase equal rights or kill the free press. He’s only one man. That may be true. But one man can do a lot of damage, especially when he’s the president of the United States. The effects of consistently hacking away at a thing over a long period of time look the same as those of a single explosion. Trump might not cause the country to explode overnight—though, on the other hand, he might—but he’d certainly hack away at it. Besides, if he’s the president, he’s a symbol of the nation. A symbol of democracy, not just here, but around the world. And, really, the president does have power. He sets a precedent. He sets the trend. He sets the agenda. A friend of mine, Joel Veldkamp, put it this way, “Entirely apart from what he would actually do with presidential powers—which is terrifying—the very fact of his election would send a signal to large parts of the American population that the protection they once thought they could count on is in question, or that the lines they couldn’t cross are now cross-able.” Probably, Trump couldn’t outright destroy America, but he could put it on a path to destruction. Why risk either outcome?
- Finally, you might point to mainline conservatives who have fallen in line behind Trump. It must here be noted that many of them stand to acquire considerable personal gain by supporting him, if not in terms of financial or professional benefits, at least in terms of prioritizing party loyalty over party values—that is, they will maintain position while sacrificing principles. It might also be noted that hatred of Hillary is blinding to the point of self-destruction. But we need only retreat a few weeks or months to see what these same politicians said of Trump before he was their defacto leader. (I’d here like to show my present respect for the Bushes—George, George W., and Jeb—as well as Mitt Romney, Rick Snyder, Charles Krauthammer, Russell Moore, and many other Republican standbys who have refused to dance behind the Trump parade.) Finally, please note that numerous of these Republican Trump “supporters”—like John McCain, Mitch McConnell, and Lindsey Graham (who actually just un-endorsed Trump)—have admitted he is dangerous, but have asserted that the American political system has enough safeguards to protect the country from its own leader’s vilest ambitions. To me, it is disgraceful and treacherous to put an authoritarian in power and hope the cage is strong enough to hold him.
This is not hyperbole. This is not fear-mongering. This is not propaganda. The cold truth, as I see it, is that Trump is not democratic. His values are rooted neither in the Founders nor the American Dream nor the Rule of Law. He is not an advocate of the people. He represents himself—and the monsters of depravity we tried to part with in 1776, 1863, 1920, and 1968.
Time and again, in both rhetoric and action, he gives away his real values. Women are sexual objects. Muslims are guilty until proven innocent. Hispanics are suspect. His critics are open for abuse. The free press should be leashed. Torture and the killing of noncombatants should be legal. Violence against demonstrators should be encouraged. Anyone who disagrees with his avowed prejudices, his maniacal agenda for the remaking of America—that is, its devolution into authoritarianism—is not worthy of respect. Is to be silenced. He is above the law.
Make no mistake, the Republic is in jeopardy.
Donald Trump is a loose cannon. He is too big a risk. He is not a democrat and cannot be trusted to protect or sustain American democracy.
Come November, remember that never means never. Whatever your personal political values, remind yourself that it’s the values of democracy that allow you to safely and freely maintain all the rest. So, if it makes you feel better, as it does for me, you don’t need to think of it as voting for Hillary; think of it as voting for democracy.