Almost 9 million people have cast their ballots for Donald Trump so far in the Republican primaries. The billionaire has captured 20 out of the 35 states that have voted, often by substantial margins. With Trump perched atop the polls of states yet to vote, the Trump Train appears to be headed full steam ahead for Cleveland and the Republican Convention. Yet, up until recently, I did not know a single Trump supporter. In early March, I had watched in dismay as the Donald won more than 300,000 votes in my home state of Massachusetts, soaring past his competitors by 31 percent. Of course, I had seen a couple of scattered “TRUMP” yard signs in my hometown, but I continually underestimated the strength of Trump’s base. Suffice it to say, I did not come across a lot of Trump fans within the ivy walls of the elite, liberal Northeast.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that a relative of mine had backed Trump in the Florida primary. Trump has proclaimed that he “loves the poorly educated,” but my family member is an erudite, Ivy-grad lawyer. I trust his opinion, so I quickly shot him an email, including my recent article on Trump’s past political career that I thought conclusively pinned Trump down as a xenophobic, self-aggrandizing conman who says whatever it takes to gain fame, money and power. My relative was less convinced.
He argued (as Trump does) that manufacturing jobs have been decimated by outsourcing and ill-advised free trade agreements. Asserting that undocumented immigrants have been taking away jobs from middle-class Americans, he stressed that both parties have overlooked the plight of blue-collar workers for far too long. He proclaimed that liberal elites had their values askew, emphasizing that Democrats have focused on gay marriage and climate change legislation, instead of on the actual problems of working families. He elucidated how undocumented immigrants and Muslim refugees seemed to be prioritized over American citizens. He insisted that Hillary Clinton is not “fighting for you,” like her campaign slogan would suggest, but rather is part of a corporate Democratic and Republican cadre more interested in personal profit than effective leadership. He noted that the recent scandal at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was emblematic of the fraud and corruption that runs rampant in an ever-expanding bureaucracy. And he concluded that Donald Trump is a “man of action” and the only candidate committed to reigning in the abuse.
After I finished reading his email, I became desperate. I tried to decode the Trump enigma once and for all, composing a last-gasp assault on everything that has made Trump’s campaign “great.” To those who have hopped aboard the Trump Train—this letter is for you.
To Whom It May Concern,
Trump has earned 2 billion dollars in free media coverage over the course of his campaign. Quite clearly, many mainstream news outlets’ obsession with their own ratings has aided and abetted Trump’s rise to prominence. Rather than slobbering over the latest poll numbers and controversial statements, I want to provide a much more analytical breakdown of the Trump phenomenon. I could have written down a list of all of the things that Trump has said that I find grotesque, sexist, ignorant, racist, mean-spirited, and un-presidential, but those arguments don’t seem to work with Trump supporters.
1) Trump says that he will fight for the middle class. He won’t.
I can understand why Americans (myself included) are upset with the political system. Politicians have undeniably ignored blue-collar workers in “flyover country”, and this indifference is coming to roost. However, Trump is not the best candidate to take this issue on. After all, Trump is an incredibly affluent New Yorker who has spent his entire career manipulating the political system for personal gain. If you truly want someone who will stand up for the lower middle class of this country, Trump is not your guy. He simply does not practice what he preaches. For all his xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric, he himself has used low-wage immigrant labor on many of his projects. It seems strange to me that a champion for the middle class would rail against minimum wage policies, take advantage of bankruptcy laws, and donate to the political elite that he claims to hate. Indeed, it seems Trump has been a key cog of the political establishment.
2) Trump does not have any real policy proposals.
Being President is very different from running a reality TV show or running a multi-national, multi-billion dollar business. Besides his protectionist trade tariffs (more on that later), Trump has not offered a single credible economic or foreign policy strategy. On Trump’s “Issues” page on his website, he has series of videos range from “The Military” to “Trump University Truth,” but they all have the same format: Trump making generic statements about American prosperity in 30 to 60 second clips (with dramatic accompanying music, of course). Trump’s video on “Israel” is particularly revealing: he proclaims that he is “very pro Israel,” then says he wants to “remain as neutral as possible,” all the while not offering any semblance of a diplomatic solution. I doubt Trump’s time mediating disputes on “The Celebrity Apprentice” will prove useful in resolving one of the most intractable geopolitical conflicts of the past century.
Trump simply does not know enough about the world to be Commander-in-Chief. He cannot name the leaders of ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, or any of the terrorist organizations he vows to eliminate. He doesn’t know basic facts about America’s nuclear arsenal. For most of the primary season, Trump could not even name national security experts that he would turn to for advice, remarking in an interview with MSNBC, “I speak to a lot of people, but my primary consultant is myself, and I have a good instinct.” When pressed, he released a list of five foreign policy “experts”—although “expert” is hardly the right term. Two view Sharia Law as a pressing national security threat (a stance derided by Republicans and Democrats alike), one has a controversial past with a militant Lebanese Christian militia, and another is a recent college graduate who lists a model UN conference on his resume. Arguably the most damning is his inclusion of retired Army Lieutenant General Joseph Kellogg, who helped lead the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. Considering that Trump frequently criticizes Hillary Clinton’s support for the Iraq War, why is he getting advice from a man at the center of this unsuccessful nation-building project?
Trump perhaps could figure out a coherent foreign policy when he gets into office, but can we really trust that he will? American soldiers’ lives are on the line. Trump might care about “the vets” (that is, the vets that weren’t captured: as Trump said, POWs like McCain are not war heroes), but planning to “bomb the shit out of” ISIS is not a shrewd foreign policy platform. Trump would endanger the thousands of men and women in combat, and seemingly has no qualms about sending 30,000 Americans back into Iraq to fight ISIS. It’s no wonder that leading military officials have consistently criticized Trump, especially deriding his assertion that he would carry out “a hell of a lot worse” than waterboarding. Trump’s declaration that he would kill the family members of terrorists flies in the face of international statutes and agreements. Likewise, the billionaire is so temperamental that he would fray America’s diplomatic relations with the rest of the world. When foreign leaders and dignitaries meet with President Trump, they will not have forgotten that he joked about his genitalia on the campaign trail. To appropriate his remarks, “I guarantee you” there’s a problem with Trump.
In terms of domestic policy, Trump’s current stances are similarly ludicrous. Good campaigning does not equate to good governance. Trump boasts that he is virulently anti-establishment, but at the end of the day, the Courts will still exist. Congress will still exist. Trump either will have to cut deals with the “all talk, no action” politicians (and thereby perpetuate the political status quo), or he will essentially be a do-nothing president. Or worse, he will be an authoritarian despot who tramples on checks and balances. Would you really want Trump appointing justices to the Supreme Court or issuing presidential pardons? The presidency is about much, much more than building a wall on Mexico’s border. Regardless, Trump’s Great Wall is more fantasy than reality—and even if Mexico somehow agreed to pay for it, it could prove disastrous to the American economy.
3) Trump’s protectionist trade tariffs would send the United States hurtling back to the 1920s.
There are also gaping holes in Trump’s “fair trade” agenda. Granted, I am not a manufacturing worker in the Rust Belt whose job is in jeopardy because of automation and outsourcing. That being said, I would argue that Trump’s protectionist trade tariffs would cause financial meltdown. Economists have largely criticized Trump’s proposed taxes on Chinese imports, pointing out that the end result of Trump’s outdated protectionism would be a sharp increase in prices of goods. I am no economist myself, but I do study a fair amount of history. Trump’s policy is reminiscent of the isolationist tariffs passed in the late 1920s to promote American manufacturing. These taxes on imports stagnated the global economy, indirectly exacerbating the Great Depression. Surely, the United States needs to respond to globalization not by walling ourselves off from the rest of the world (Trump certainly is fond of walls), but by forging better diplomatic relationships, incentivizing innovation, preventing tax inversions, and improving our educational system. Trump’s siren songs are far too simplistic.
4) Trump is a pseudo-fascist.
Once you scrape away all the bombast and braggadocio, all that remains is a hyper-nationalist, hyper-masculine strongman who promotes exclusionist policies (anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, etc.), has cultivated a cult of personality, and who offers no substantive plans other than xenophobia and racism. Now, I do not think that Trump is actually the second coming of Hitler or Mussolini. I believe he is a vain, power-hungry swindler who is saying whatever it takes to get elected. He very well may have changed half of his “policy” positions during the time it took me to write this letter. Nonetheless, Trump’s rhetoric is no joke: it has obvious, harmful consequences. The billionaire has clearly created an atmosphere of violence and hostility at his rallies. You might disagree with the right of someone at the rally to protest, but these protesters have the right not to be beaten up or sucker punched. It is unbecoming of a presidential candidate to threaten the safety of Americans that peacefully disagree with him. Trump has even suggested that he would pay the legal fees for the man who punched a protester at his rally in North Carolina. That is unacceptable, and is emblematic of Trump’s strongman style. Whether it’s calling undocumented immigrants from Mexico “rapists” (which has impelled some white middle-schoolers to bully their fellow Hispanic classmates and say that they will be deported) or feigning ignorance about the KKK, Trump is not just excusing, but rather catalyzing bouts of violence.
Similarly, Trump always talks about preserving the First Amendment freedoms of press and speech, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Say what you will about the “lamestream” media, but Trump is advocating for inordinately strict libel laws. The logical conclusion of Trump’s attitude is to bid farewell to John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, the Onion, or any newspaper that pokes fun at Trump’s rallies and raises concerns about certain unsettling features of Trump’s rise. Allegedly a champion for people that don’t like political correctness and want to speak their minds, Trump does not respect the 1st Amendment rights of people that disagree with him.
Is it too much of a stretch to claim that America is slowly devolving into Weimar America? Even Hitler was dismissed as a radical during the 1920s and only won 44 percent of the vote when he came to power in 1933. Again, I don’t think Trump is Hitler; what is much more troubling to me is that his authoritarian message is resonating with so many voters. Trump’s rise does not bode well for the health of American democracy.
In the fall of 1999, well before the rise of the ultra-conservative Tea Party, Trump called Republicans “just too crazy right.” Keep this in mind: when Trump carries the banner of the GOP come November, he will be hoodwinking half the country, and the Democratic nominee (presumably Hillary Clinton) will be the last defense against absurdity.
Secretary Clinton is not liked by a majority of Americans. Her policy flip-flops have provoked criticism from both the right and the left. The Clintons have raked in millions of dollars off their political legacy, all the while promising to fight for “everyday Americans,” whatever that means. Clinton’s apparently focus-group perfected talking points have failed to excite a generation of young liberals, including myself. Yet, despite all that, the choice is clear. Think Clinton is a liar? Trump’s plethora of false claims in 2015 were collectively named Politifact’s “Lie of the Year” Think Clinton is a corrupt corporatist? Trump made a fortune off immigrant labor and bankruptcy manipulation. Think Clinton is a member of the political establishment? Trump has not offered a viable solution to Washington cronyism and gridlock. Think Clinton is scandal-prone? So too is Trump: McCain-Gate, Trump University-Gate, and Punch-Gate all offer a glimpse into a Trump presidency. Think Clinton is clueless and negligent? Trump’s foreign policy is nonsensical. Donald Trump might genuinely want to “make America great again,” but he has no idea where to start.
There are still eight months until Election Day: plenty of time to get off the Trump Train.
Image Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr