Dear Conservative Friends and Loved Ones,
I’ve had the good fortune to know a lot of generous, thoughtful, and righteous conservatives over the years. Some of you are friends. Some of you are family. And most of you believe in a handful of sound principles: that individuals, and not distant institutions, should control peoples’ destinies; that, on many topics, everyday people are wiser arbiters of their fate than bureaucrats; that individuals should live honorably, honestly, and with a sense of duty toward others; that, given a fair playing field, people have a responsibility to improve their own circumstances; that Americans are more similar than they are different; and that, all things considered, time-tested inertia is preferable to wild-eyed change.
In some cases, I reject these principles. But more often, my politics diverge from yours, not because of some underlying philosophical disagreement, but because I think that liberal or socialist solutions are more likely to achieve our shared goals. I say this because I want you to know that I respect where you’re coming from – even when I reject the specific policies you support. I also say it because I believe that these shared principles should discourages conservatives as powerfully as they discourage liberals from supporting Donald Trump.
And so I ask you – implore you, beg you – not to vote for Donald Trump: to oppose this man, not only in the name of decency and the future health of the American republic, but in the name of conservatism itself.
Donald Trump is not a conservative. He does not share your principles. In fact, he despises them. He is a liar, a bully, and a bigot whose depredations against “traditional morality” make the Clintons’ roster of sins look downright paltry. He does not believe in your wisdom; he believes in his wisdom. He does not believe in small government; he believes in his government. He does not believe in personal responsibility; he believes in blaming the most vulnerable members of society for problems that, in many cases, don’t even exist.
Nor, for that matter, does Trump believe in the Constitution. I’ve previously expressed skepticism about making political judgments based on the opinions of eighteenth-century elites; but I think it’s safe to say that many of the “Founding Fathers” would find most every aspect of Trump’s program – from the border fence and halting Muslim immigration to “bombing the shit out of Syria,” brutalizing protesters, and limiting press freedom – morally, politically, and constitutionally repugnant.
Some of you believe that liberals focus excessively on our differences: that talking about race, sexuality, gender, and other axes of difference creates divisions where none existed previously. I think this is mistaken. I believe that racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression create differences, and that acknowledging these inequalities is the first step toward establishing justice. But even if you think I’m wrong, you cannot possibly think that Trump’s strategy is better. Trump does not promote unity; he tars Mexican-Americans as rapists and drug dealers; Muslim-Americans as terrorists; and African-Americans as lawless cop-killers. He does not promote a melting pot, or a salad bowl, or any metaphor of integration and unity; instead, he promotes a vision of unalloyed white dominance.
Some of you have criticized President Obama for his condescending, professorial tone and for his heavy-handed use of executive orders. I think both arguments are overstated. But surely professorial condescension is preferable to infantile crudeness and inane Twitter speak. And surely, when it comes to executive overreach, we can expect little from a man whose favorite refrains are “believe me” and “trust me.”
Some of you have criticized President Obama for stating, in his now-infamous “you didn’t build that” speech, that business people were not responsible for their own success. While I continue to agree with the underlying sentiment of that speech – that private-sector successes are, in large measure, dependent upon public-sector investments – I acknowledge that Obama’s specific words were ill-chosen and insulting. Still, you must agree that, if ever these words have been true, even in their most literal sense, they are true of Donald Trump. To make this man the standard bearer of the ostensible party of entrepreneurs is an insult to honest business people everywhere. This is a man whose fortune is due, almost exclusively, to influence peddling, corruption, and inheritance: who acquired his wealth through accident of birth; who perpetuated that wealth by exploiting people’s gambling addictions; and whose present day-business model most closely resembles that of Kim Kardashian (or Bernie Madoff, if you’re feeling less generously inclined). This is not, in short, a hearty entrepreneur in the conservative mold; this is hucksterism and crony capitalism incarnate.
Some of you, I recall, criticized President Clinton for degrading the dignity of the presidential office and for making the United States a laughing stock abroad. You spoke, with reverence, of Ronald Reagan’s refusal to remove his jacket, let alone his pants, in the Oval Office. Most non-Americans that I’ve spoken to seem to have been more concerned with Clinton’s policies than his sexual exploits during the 90s. But your point is well taken nonetheless. With your objections to Clinton in mind, can you possibly argue that a Trump presidency would not incur infinitely greater damage to the presidential office? This is a man, after all, who unabashedly discussed the size of his penis in a presidential debate. A man who desperately and transparently planted exaggerated evidence of his sex life with the press. And who, as I saw firsthand in a recent visit to a French elementary school, was openly and viciously mocked by 10-year-olds abroad. Far more bleakly, Trump is a man who, like Bill Clinton, is accused of both rape and sexual harassment, whose vicious history of degrading and sexualizing women is available for all to see, and whose disdain for the most basic conventions of human decency is as profound as it is apparent. This is not a man capable of commanding respect, either in the United States or abroad.
Some of you have argued against what you derisively call the “nanny state”: an over-regulated world in which liberal bureaucrats restrict access to a wide variety of items – from guns to children’s toys – and slap warning labels on even the most obvious daily threats (i.e. hot coffee). In rejecting the nanny state, you’ve argued that life involves an intrinsic element of risk and that living freely means confronting that risk bravely and intelligently. Here, too, I have my disagreements. But, at very least, I admire your determination to live fearlessly: a determination that I hope will lead you to reject a candidate whose only appeal is fear – fear of immigrants, fear of terrorists, and fear of countless others who, statistically speaking, pose as great a threat as a brimming bucket of water, an armed toddler, or a hot cup of coffee.
Some of you have argued against the Affordable Care Act and other Obama administration policies, saying that they introduced an unwelcome element of uncertainty into Americans’ lives; that this uncertainty hampered economic growth and other positive developments over the last eight years. As I’ve argued with many of you, I think this is a selective view of uncertainty: that conservative policies introduce elements of uncertainty every bit as vast as those occasioned by the Obama administration; and that these policies disproportionately affect people who, in many instances, can least afford to confront that uncertainty.
But let’s put that aside for the moment. Instead, I’d like to focus on my own experience with uncertainty and that of friends and loved ones. As many of you know, I’m married to an immigrant. The world has done a good job of disguising this fact, as my spouse is white, well-educated, fluent in English, middle-class, European, and gainfully employed – and therefore spared the most vile forms of discrimination and bigotry heaped upon newcomers to the U.S. But she is an immigrant nonetheless, and thus nominally subject to the same laws and restrictions as the people Donald Trump gleefully paints as threats to Americans’ livelihood, security, and identity.
Because my wife is an immigrant, and because Donald Trump is poised to become president of the United States, I now fear for our ability to continue living under the same roof, let alone in the same country. Nor do I pretend that her green card will offer anything but the flimsiest protection against the jackbooted fury of a President Donald J. Trump.
And if we are afraid, imagine for a moment, how other people in similar predicaments must feel. Imagine what a Trump presidency might portend for people whose USCIS residency applications, unlike that of my spouse and me, were not brazenly approved before they had even spoken a single word to their immigration officer.
Or, if imagining is insufficient, please talk to anyone confronting this, or similar, anxieties. Talk to my queer friends or friends of color trying to imagine their lives in a Trump rally writ large. Talk to my friends who have emigrated to the United States, whose partners or parents are immigrants (documented or otherwise), or whose loved ones live outside of the U.S. and one day hope to come to this country.
And please, please, please do not dismiss this as the shrill ranting of a paranoid liberal. I freely concede that these things may not come to pass. That, even if Trump is elected, the glacially-paced legislative process and the American system’s built-in inertia may, as James Madison hoped, foil the worst of Trump’s ambitions.
But do we really want to find out?
I know that some – in fact most of you – despise Hillary Clinton. That’s fine. I’m not crazy about her myself. But she is, at very least, a known quantity. We’ve lived through eight years of a Clinton presidency. And while you may have found some or all of it distasteful, corrupt, misguided, or otherwise unpalatable, we at least know that we can survive it. Hell, you might even get some cherished policies out of the bargain, as you did with NAFTA, welfare “reform,” and the budget surplus.
More to the point: the Clintons are consummate politicians. Some of you have criticized them in the past for following the polls rather than principles. This is fair. But, believe me, the Clintons’ poll-chasing has resulted in as much harm to the liberal cause as it has to the conservative one. And, in any event, it at least ensures that they (generally) hew to a moderate course.
With Trump we can expect something very and dangerously different: despite his shocking disregard for truth and consistency, he does, at very least, seem unwavering in his support for authoritarian rule, disdain for democracy, and loathing for “outsiders.”
I’m not going to ask any of you to vote for Clinton (except, perhaps, for those of you who live in swing states where we must ensure, by any electoral means, that Trump does not take the White House). But I will ask, beg, and implore you NOT to vote for Donald Trump. Perhaps you would feel comfortable registering your disgust by voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, whose platform, in many respects, more closely resembles that of a traditional Republican. Or perhaps you would prefer to just sit this election out. But, please, whatever you do: do not vote for Donald Trump.
For many of you this is a redundant request: you’ve already raised and continue to carry the banner of #NeverTrump. For this I thank you and commend you. But for those of you who remain on the fence – who wonder whether there is any real difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, or who think that a vote for Trump might disrupt the political system in interesting or productive ways, or who believe that a Trump presidency might finally convince liberals to limit the power of government: don’t do it.
This man does not believe in your wisdom. He does not believe in your values, in your capacity for self-government, in your beloved sense of unity, or in equality of opportunity. In short, he does not believe in anything that a true, principled conservative believes in.
And so you must stop him. No one else can. While even the staunchest conservatives can survive another four years of Clintonian liberalism, scandal, and corruption, none of us can endure a single moment of Trump’s 140-character fascism.
With love and respect,
One thought on “An Open Letter to Principled Conservatives: Stop Trump”
Though I am very sympathetic to your objective, I am afraid that your letter does more to undermine your cause than to help it. Like so many other pieces from the left, I think it has missed what really appeals to the (North) American right about Donald Trump. You’re quite right to say he’s not a conservative. He’s not a libertarian either, or any other derivative of the right wing. He’s an opportunist, seemingly without any hard convictions beyond the advancement of his personal interest. But this is obvious. Your letter seems to assume that he has managed to trick American conservatives, the presumed base of the Republican party’s primary voters, into believing he is one of them. I don’t think this is possible though. Anyone who watched the Republican primary debates could see that he was far to the left of his opponents on many issues. If the right had really wanted a social conservative, they had the option of voting for Cruz right to the end. If they had wanted a candidate more interested in small government and fiscal responsibility, they had Kasich.
They went with Trump, I believe, because the most feverish denouncements from the left were directed against him. The success of his candidacy is at its heart a complicated and expensive insult to twenty first-century liberalism. The insult doesn’t seem to have much to do with specific liberal policies, because Trump has voiced support for many traditionally leftist positions, including maintaining a public medical system and protecting uncompetitive industries with trade barriers. Instead I think it is a way of demonstrating resistance against the (perceived?) enforcement of liberal cultural and intellectual orthodoxies in society. The typically liberal tendency to dismiss non-liberal dissenters as intellectual and moral inferiors (which you admirably try to avoid doing here) has hardened the antipathy of the right towards the left, and Trump, although he represents almost nothing appealing in and of himself, has had the good fortune to become a symbol of dissent for anyone suspicious of liberal presumption. Basically, if I am right, Trump is attractive to the right simply because he is apparently so repugnant to the left.
My objection to your letter is that, despite being well-written and thoughtful, it exemplifies some of the leftwing condescension that empowered Trump in the first place. The claim that he is a racist, for instance, that he wants “unalloyed white dominance,” is fairly unconvincing when examined closely. To say that he’s more comfortable with racism than most mainstream politicians would probably be true, but the evidence that he’s a white supremacist is pretty thin. Likewise, insinuating that he’s a Nazi with his “140-character fascism” or his “jackbooted fury” does nothing to help your case if you’re really trying to appeal to people on the right. It seems as though every major politician or commentator on the right in the English speaking world has been accused of being a fascist since the Second World War at one time or another, so it has become a meaningless insult that only has value when preaching to the converted. And in fact many of the conservatives that you are addressing in your letter may have had to defend themselves against weakly-justified accusations of fascist sympathies at one time or another for being on the wrong side of an argument.
You do make some excellent points that should, and hopefully will make some right-of-centre voters rethink their support of Trump over Clinton. That a ban on Muslim immigration would defy the spirit of the American constitutional system is quite true. Also that the first Clinton administration did deliver reasonably fiscally responsible government and championed the expansion of free trade ought to be considered when contemplating who the better candidate is. I would also add that in contrast, Trump’s own promises related to government expenditure and foreign trade betray an incoherence so deep that they should make anyone of any political stripe interested in their long term material well-being sit up and take notice.
The reasons not to vote for Trump are legion, and I am in full agreement that his presidency, if it comes to pass, will be of little benefit to our world. So I hope your letter helps. I just don’t think trotting out the old “he’s a fascist” line will do much good.