Tuesday, March 1, 2016

To my Trump supporter friends

From Wikipedia
Dear friends who support Donald Trump's presidential candidacy,

I'm writing because, with humility and respect, I'd like to ask you to reconsider your voting plans—whether tomorrow on March 1st, later on March 15th, or, if it comes to pass, on November 8th. I want to emphasize humility and respect: I don't think you're dumb, and I know that you care greatly about the future of our country. There are lots of reasons why someone would be moved to support Donald Trump.

But from a position of civic concern similar to yours, I feel obligated to insist that Donald Trump's proposals and candidacy are not good solutions to the problems that I've heard supporters cite most frequently as their main concerns. Actually, those solutions would, I believe, have the effect of making all those problems worse. The style in which he conducts his campaign isn't going to fix anything either—whether in the general election or the Presidency. There is no good evidence that he plans on changing his policies or personality if elected. In the absence of any evidence, I have to believe he's serious. And I've concluded that would have terrible results for the country.

In conversations with friends, and listening to interviews with voters on the news, I've heard three central concerns leading people like you to support Trump. The first is a frustration with the way the government currently operates—in particular, its partisanship and the influence of money. Trump takes a wide range of positions that can't easily be boiled down to a Republican or Democratic platform. You hope that Trump's willingness to ignore the opinions of both parties will enable clear-sighted and uncompromising leadership. He's also rich, and you believe that this means he can't be bought, or at least that he doesn't have to pander to other rich people to get them to donate money to him. He comes from outside, and that means that he hasn't been corrupted by the culture of professional politicians.

The second concern is honesty. You hear Trump speak boldly and without worrying about political correctness, and—combined with his wealth—this is the mark of a person who speaks his mind, without worrying about the consequences. He refuses to be silenced by people who feel offended or hurt by what he says. A lot of people call this "telling it like it is": saying things that you may have thought before, but felt you couldn't say, because people would have taken offense or told you that you were wrong. In dealing with other countries, this seems like a good thing—he'll be tough and open and won't back down.

The third concern is the safety of the country. When Trump points out that unless we have borders, we don't really have a country, this makes plain sense to you. You're not sure whether he can or will build a literal wall around the United States, but you do think that people who have entered the country against the law have committed a crime and should have to leave—so deporting people makes sense. A lot of people I've talked to who support Trump don't really like the idea of banning Muslims from immigrating to the United States, but they do believe that it would make us safer—safer and stronger than we would be under any other candidate.

I understand why Trump seems like a good answer to these concerns, especially when held up against normal politicians, like those running. But it seems to me that if he does what he says he would like to do, he will actually make all the problems worse. Let me explain what I see.

The flashiest plans that Trump has proposed to make America safer, stronger, and greater all involve terrible consequences if put into practice. The wall plan is a good example. He has claimed that he would make Mexico pay for this—by means of a trade war if necessary. This would require us to renege on every standing agreement that we have with the country. The reason why presidents and Congresses don't do this is because it would mean that no other country with which we have agreements could trust our word: as a nation, we would be—in the strictest sense—untrustworthy, not just in economic but in political matters. It would diminish, not improve, our standing among other countries.

The logistics of implementing other plans seem equally dangerous in their consequences. Deporting all illegal immigrants would require us to search for all the illegal immigrants. This would create conditions in which everyone would have to carry proof of citizenship all the time; require searches to such an extent—everywhere and at any time—that they would be unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment; and it is hard to imagine how they could be carried out effectively without requiring racial profiling, which would violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Such a policy would weaken the Constitution and expand the government—the very things most Republicans say they live in fear of. How would one bar Muslim immigrants? Anyone who wants to do us harm could easily lie. It would harm the reputation we still enjoy, more widely than you might think, in the world for openness and toleration, even when those values seem most jeopardized. And by demonstrating an American suspicion of Islam, it would provide a powerful recruiting tool for the Islamists from whom he claims to be able to protect us.

A few people have pointed out to me that it's less particular policies that draw them to Trump than a particular vision—a set of values and personality traits. The policies may be wide of the mark, but they like the direction he proposes for the country. The problem I see with that is that these are not the policies of a person who takes governing seriously, or has thought through the consequences of what he proposes. They show a lack of regard for the office and the country—a belief that one can ascend to power without thinking seriously about the effects of our actions. That inattention to consequences also shows up in the way he speaks about other countries. When he says he will single-handedly cow China as a negotiator, or compel Mexico to pay, he shows no awareness that saying such things may harm our long-term interests or ability to keep peace—that it might inflame and justify anti-Americanism in any number of countries, making the world less stable and us far less safe. Some people find this refreshing and honest. But candidness without caution and prudence is not a virtue.

Furthermore, being candid—speaking your mind openly and bluntly—is not the same thing as being honest, and neither of those things is necessarily related to speaking the truth. I can be candid about my most incorrect views: I can candidly say that I believe that the world is flat, honestly say that I think we should ban ballpoint pens tomorrow—and nothing about candor guarantees that I am right. The mere fact that Trump is willing to candidly fly in the face of members of both parties does not mean he is right to do so. In order to show that, you'd need arguments. And he has not shown any convincing arguments, especially when pressed.

On top of that, candor isn't necessarily a good thing without kindness. What disturbs me most about Trump—and if you have made it this far into my letter, I hope you will take this to heart—is that he has shown that he does not practice in a sustained and consistent way the level of kindness that we try to teach any ordinary kindergartener. Imagine that you have a child. If he mocked a disabled person who asked him a tough question for his disability, would you condone this? If he called an honored veteran and former POW a coward and not a war hero, would you let him get away with it? If your teenager called a woman "a beautiful piece of ass," or a "fat, ugly face"; or characterized an entire ethnic group as rapists and murderers or conniving tricksters, would you let it stand?  To be sure, politicians routinely descend below what we'd expect of ordinary decency. But Trump has never expressed any remorse—indeed, he revels in these comments. You would punish a child who refuses to adhere to the basic forms of politeness that Trump rebels against.

That lack of kindness speaks to the last reason why, out of sheer political self-interest, I ask that you reconsider voting for him. He has repeatedly spoken of anyone who does not get rich as a "loser," and that should worry normal Americans. He is not a self-made man; he was born into wealth. There are many people born rich, to be fair, who are quite kind and sympathetic to the less fortunate; but Trump has never expressed any such sympathy or understanding of what it is like not to be rich. To the contrary: in the worldview that he has set forth in his speeches, if you are not rich, then it is your own fault, and you are a failure. The fact that he can finance a campaign out of his own pocket may free him from having to chase donations. But that does not liberate him from acting on behalf of the richest people in our country, because he is and has always been rich. There is no reason to believe—indeed, no reason from his own speeches—that Trump wants to create conditions for anyone's success or prosperity other than his own, or beyond the extent to which it enables his own.

For all these reasons, I ask, with seriousness and in a spirit of openness, that you please reconsider. I'm happy to discuss this further. And I stand to have my own mind changed, given good reasons and arguments. What I hope most of all is that it is still possible, even in times of great political division, to have a non-dismissive discussion between people of very different beliefs and conclusions. And if any of my friends who are Trump supporters have made it this far, I'm glad you've taken the trouble to read this, regardless of whether it affects your votes in the coming months.


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