In today’s polarized and partisan environment, it is sometimes difficult to remember that deep-rooted political debates are a natural outgrowth of democratic system. These divisions are a reflection of a healthy democracy, even if they often leads to frustration. In fact, the American government was founded on the premise of partisan debates. And unless you are a myopic sociopath, you probably have friends on both sides of the partisan divide. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Even if I fundamentally disagree with a lot of GOP politicians and their supporters, I (usually) think they are (mostly) good people. If America could survive and thrive under the Thomas Jefferson and John Adams clashes, then it’d be naive to expect something else today. That’s democracy.
This year’s presidential election does not fit that model, though. First of all, this is not, primarily, a fight between political principles. As people ranging from Charles Krauthammer to Barack Obama have noted, Donald Trump is barely a Republican and he certainly isn’t a conservative. He has been denounced by a growing number of GOP figures who recognize that he is not one of their own, and worry that his election would be more disastrous than continued Democratic governance. (Indeed, there’s enough GOP denouncements of Trump for an effective attack ad.) It’s telling that the last two Republicans to hold the presidential office, as well their most recent nominee, refuse to endorse Trump’s candidacy. Trump flaunts his divergence from many of the Republican Party’s most important policies, and given his penchant for changing opinions he can’t be relied upon to fulfill his promise to nominate justices friendly to conservative principles. Though some in the GOP retain some form of misguided loyalty to him, Trump will never display a reciprocal commitment, and in fact will burn the entire institution to the ground if it helps his egomaniac quest.
But I don’t think the political angle is the most dangerous aspect of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Donald Trump is an affront to American values, regardless of what political party you affiliate with. Just in the course of the last year he has accused Mexican immigrants of being murderers and rapists, dehumanized women (see here, here, here, and here, though the list can go on for quite a while), promised to ban an entire religious faith, accused Muslim citizens of harboring terrorists, attacked a grieving gold star family, joked about assassinating either Clinton or her judicial appointments, made fun of a disabled reporter, made up non-existent details to escalate a political controversy, seemed eager to aggressively use nuclear weapons, suggested defaulting on national debts, jokingly(?) invited Russia to hack confidential state secrets, was not aware of Russian’s invasion into Ukraine, suggested that the only way he’d lose the election would be if it were rigged (an idea he’s repeated specifically about Pennsylvania, a state he’s polling behind in every measure), facilitated a sign-up sheet for goons to patrol election booths, promised to force the military to commit war crimes, claimed a federal judge could not be trusted due to his “Mexican heritage,” suggested women should be punished for having abortions, frequently incited and escalated violence at rallies, and refused to release his tax returns. And these are just the things I remember off the top of my head before my fingers got tired. (You can get a larger list here.)
Just a handful of those issues should disqualify a person for the presidency, regardless of their political positions. To still elect Trump with that record will demonstrate that a majority of Americans don’t care about facts, decency, and knowledge. But even those aren’t the only non-political dangers represented by a Trump victory.
One of the most real and imminent threats posed by Trump is a validation and amplification of our nation’s worst societal ills. His well-documented—and truly, irrefutably clear—history of racism, bigotry, and misogyny will justify atrocities against millions of our citizens by those who look to him as a guide. A generation of children will grow up with Trump as the image of their nation and model for their actions. Frankly, it will not be safe for minorities to live on our soil. If the man in the White House can call them “rapists” and accuse them of enabling terrorists, it is hard to fathom what they will face within their own neighborhoods. Numerous footage from Trump rallies display this amplifying effect. In important ways, the cultural ramifications of Trump’s victory are even more ominous than the political. To claim that the Republican Party can withstand a Trump presidency because there’s a chance he’ll help push through Republican policies is the utmost display of cultural privilege and demonstrates an utter detachment from the struggles faced by millions of Americans; it prioritizes theoretical victories over tangible atrocities. At the same moment we are once again hearing the crucial reminder that #blacklivesmatter, Trump’s election would confirm that their lives—as well as the lives of Muslims, hispanics, or any other ethnicity that makes up our beautiful multicultural community—actually do not matter at all.
Now, speaking to my Republican friends, I know that the Democratic alternative is, well, less than ideal. Hillary Clinton might very well encapsulate the very progressive establishment you detest, and you may picture her as the embodiment of the corrupt establishment. (Though I’d strongly disagree.) But Clinton’s “wrongness” still falls within the common political spectrum indicative of our democratic system. That is, even if you disagree with her, you will survive her tenure, just as you’ve survived Obama’s. There are checks and balances to limit the destruction inflicted by these types of political problems, as long as they fall along the acceptable spectrum.
Hell, given the traditional trends of our political history, the Republican Party will be in great position to unseat Clinton in 2020, as long as they nominate a non-crazy candidate. But throwing your support behind Trump only validates his cult within the party, which in turn will prolong the important conversations necessary to once again make the GOP a healthy and responsible political body. Republicans still have to choose what direction they will take in the next generation—the grievance-based exclusive retrenchment of a Ted Cruz, or a more sympathetic and outward-facing perspective of a John Kasich—but that conversation can only be started after the “Trump Train” has been conclusively derailed. A result that in any way validates Trump’s inane and demotic approach will merely furlough this necessary evolution, and suspend the type of political interchange between the parties that is necessary to make our democratic system strong.
You still might not be able to pull the lever for Clinton. You might be planning to vote third party or write-in your dream candidate. (For Utahns: Romney. For New York: Hamilton.) And my friends on the far left, who are legitimately concerned with Clinton’s war hawkishness and Wall Street coziness, might similarly dread the thought of voting for the “corrupt establishment.” I sympathize with that. But whether you are on the right or left of Clinton, if you are in a swing state, I kindly ask to reconsider your support for non-Clinton options. You have already done half of the work, given that you’ve decided to not vote for Trump, thereby resigning yourself to the possibility of a Clinton presidency. Now just consider going the rest of the way to assure that we will never see a Trump presidency, or even another Trump-like presidential campaign. It may not be “voting your conscience,” but I can’t think of many things that sooth your conscience more than keeping a demagogue out of the White House.
This is why this election is not primarily about politics. Or rather, it’s not primarily about democratic politics, anyway. Our democracy is based on principles that are genuinely under threat by the possible election of a bigoted, ignorant, racist, misogynist, and vindictive megalomaniac. This is not a democratic battle between liberalism and conservatism, Republicanism and progressivism. I look forward to those debates to re-commence in 2-4 years, but that’s not where we are now.
Rather, this is a battle between democracy and demagoguery, and to view it any other way reflects a limited understanding of the overall implications of our actions as well as an abdication of our moral duty.