Forgiveness and Reckoning: Preserving American Democracy in the 21st Century

On January 6, 2021, a mob of frenzied insurrectionists, fueled by the lies of Donald J. Trump and his allies in the Republican Party, stormed the U.S. Capitol building. Their aim, it has become clear, was to overturn the outcome of a free and open election by force of violence. 

Most of us are still processing what happened. It’s going to take a while—certainly months, quite possibly years. But the path forward, whatever shape it ultimately takes, must begin with a clear and honest accounting of what is actually happening in the United States. 

That reality is ugly. Among its many hideous facets: the fact that millions of Americans willing voted for a would-be autocrat, and that one of only two viable political parties in the United States—the Republican Party—has spent the last few decades displaying what can be most charitably described as an increasingly gleeful indifference to representative governance and the rule of law in the United States.

The Voters

Even a slim sampling of real-world Trump supporters and Republican voters will tell you that they are not the monsters they appear to be in popular media. Only the most extreme examples of the breed are ever put on film. For the most part, they are ordinary humans with conservative political preferences. Indeed, many of them are good, admirable people. The sort of folks who will pull over to help a stranger stranded in a blizzard. Class acts, through and through.

They have also shown themselves to be precisely the sort of people who will give power to someone like Adolph Hitler. And, yes, Donald Trump is like Hitler. Like Hitler, he is in the class of leaders fully indifferent to the public good and the rule of law—a deranged demagogue willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants; a power-worshipping menace who sees brute force as a viable political tool. 

Of course, there’s an argument that, in extremis, such a beast—ready to abandon all principle and throw support behind the right kind of monster—lurks in many of us. That’s a big, scary maybe for most. For those who voted for Donald Trump in 2020, it’s a dead certainty. 

But even those who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 aren’t without blame. Back then, his nature was already obvious. His entire biography up until that point had been a self-made portrait of greed and selfishness. Politically, he was a screaming ignoramus, completely oblivious to the most basic workings of American government. And, just as a person, his monstrous nature was equally undeniable: a serial adulterer, profligate liar, renowned cheat, and boastful sexual predator. 

Hardly shocking that such a man would adopt an approach to governing more akin to an Idi Amin or Muammar Gaddafi than an Abraham Lincoln or even a Ronald Reagan. Again, these aren’t precise analogies. We’re just grouping like with like. 

So what happened? That, to a significant degree, is an open question. Explanations abound, from anxieties over demographic replacement and cultural change to raw economic distress and the rise of siloed political ecosystems, completely overrun with lies and misinformation. Few of these explanations are mutually exclusive. For our purposes here, it doesn’t matter. None of the concerns that might have motivated a Donald Trump—alone or in combination—is sufficient to justify a vote for the man. At every point, a vote for Donald Trump was a vote against America’s constitutional order, the rule of law, and the ideals behind the American Experiment writ large. 

And this is the first ugly truth with which we must reckon: the men and women who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 abrogated their responsibility as citizens. Maintaining the American system of governance isn’t just a mandate for elected officials—it is a responsibility shared among all voters. Everyone who voted for Donald Trump unambiguously failed in that charge. We must recognize this. Say it out loud and write it into the history books. And then, once all that is done, we need to unreservedly forgive them. 

The Party

In reckoning with the legacy of Donald Trump, we cannot afford to absolve the Republican Party. Their hand-wringing in the wake of January 6’s disgraceful chaos is purely performative. Many of them cheerily spread the lies that incited the violence. Plenty still do. In fact, even after the violence had ceased and the insurrectionists had been expelled, 147 Republicans—that is, the majority of Republicans in congress—still voted against certifying President-elect Biden’s lawful victory.

It is a cold, cutting reminder that Donald Trump didn’t happen by accident. Decades of calculated Republican politics paved the path for his ascension. There is no reason to believe they won’t continue to engage in the same kind of politics once he is gone. 

When Trump won the Republican primary in 2016, plenty of people were shocked. With the benefit of hindsight, however, we can see Trump’s victory for what it was: an inevitability. He won the Republican nomination for president in 2016 because he is an open and honest avatar of the ethos Republicans have been preaching with escalating fervor since at least the 1980s. That ethos? Nothing beats raw, rugged self-interest.

This, again, is no surprise. The intellectual roots of modern conservatism are set in harebrained ideologies about the optimality of rational self-interest. In today’s GOP, the idea that the government should get out of the way and let the rich get rich while everyone else squabbles over scraps is fully de rigueur. Turns out, the party that spews devotion to country like it comes cheap really only follows one doctrine: have no allegiance beyond thyself. It’s the slogan Donald Trump has lived by his entire life. 

It’s not a new development. As early as the late 1960s and early 1970s, the idea that the United States was falling victim to a glacial socialist coup was beginning to gain traction in conservative intellectual circles. There, the libertarian views of folks like Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, James M. Buchanan, and Milton Freedman* were increasingly in vogue. What started as suspicion—that things like environmental protection, workplace safety regulation, social security, medicare, minimum wage laws, and public lands management were fundamentally illegitimate uses of government power—gradually blossomed into conviction. 

Not only is this worldview ethically repulsive, it also lacks any solid intellectual footing. In its most pristine and abstract form, this a worldview rooted in demonstrably false ideas, equally detached from any kind of scientific understanding of human behavior and the raw facts of human history as visions of a communist utopia.

Indeed, the communist movements of the early and middle 20th century supply one of the modern GOP’s most illuminating historical parallels. Both are what happen when people forcefully substitute a picture of what reality is actually like with a picture of how they would like it to be. Throughout the twentieth century, many serious, intelligent people bought into communist ideologies and became thoroughly convinced they had found humanity’s best way forward. As a result, they willingly supported authoritarian regimes and participated in unspeakable atrocities. 

Much the same is true of the modern GOP. The ideology is radically different, but its intellectual footings are equally unhinged and the promised utopia just as ill-conceived. Simply spelled out, they believe that humans, freed from the burden of taxation and pursuing their own individual self-interests in a fully deregulated free market, will spontaneously build the best possible society, both in terms of fairness and resource distribution. It is, of course, an insane vision—and a far cry from the Millsian governmental restraint of classical liberalism. And it only gets worse from there, as more extreme members of the Republican Party liberally season their Ayn Randian libertarianism with white nationalism and an incongruent dose of theocratic authoritarianism. 

Since first gaining traction, this radicalism has only spread. Billionaire ideologues like Charles and David Koch organized a vast network of plutocrats and funnelled tens of millions of dollars into deliberate indoctrination campaigns. They used organizations like the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Federalist Society to preach the good word of rational self-interest and unfettered capitalism to anyone willing to listen. Meanwhile, they groomed future judges and funded hardline primary challenges to unseat moderate Republicans, building a coalition of converts that has been increasingly successful at putting theory into practice. Public goods have been privatized, regulations rolled back, taxes cut on wealthy Americans and massive corporations, oligarchic influence granted constitutional protections—all with a zealot’s faith that these actions would build the best possible world for everyone.  

Increasingly convinced that taxes and regulations represent a slow walk into Soviet-style tyranny—and that the United States should function as a white, Christian theocracy—Republican politicians, thinkers, and media figures became more and more recalcitrant. During the 1990s, House Speaker Newt Gingrich made treating the opposition like an existential threat—now standard practice in the Republican Party and a direct cause of January 6’s violent insurrection—an official GOP policy. At the same time, entrepreneurs in cable news and political talk radio learned to monetize political grievances by flattering conservative political biases, thereby radicalizing many American conservatives in the process. 

All extremely corrosive to representative governance in the United States. All perfectly consistent with the doctrines of greed and selfishness that form the core of 21st century Republican politics. For decades, with varying degrees of opacity, Republicans have been advancing the argument that the best way forward for America is for each and every American to do whatever they can (barring, prior to January 6, 2021, direct violence to people or property) to secure their own best interests. With straight faces, activists like Grover Norquist—who badgers and cajoles virtually every Republican politician into signing a clownish anti-tax pledge—argue that taxation is equivalent to slavery** and basic entitlements like social security and Medicaid represent an outright pinko assault on individual liberty. 

It’s a perverse, historically illiterate, and ethically vile perspective, essentially arguing that financial support for public goods is a human rights violation. But these absurd notions—that a government taking money from private citizens to build roads, fund education and national security efforts, and provide a safety net for the vulnerable is morally equivalent to slavery; that government regulations aimed at protecting natural resources and mitigating the harmful byproducts of industry are tyrannical—were common currency in the Republican Party long before Trump tossed his name into the ring as a presidential candidate. In 2016, the Republican electorate simply confirmed that they had bought everything the Grand Old Party had been selling. They just wanted it in an honest package, fully stripped of the appeals to public spiritedness, mutual toleration, respect for democratic norms, and basic human decency you might get from someone like Mitt Romney. Donald Trump was no aberration. He is the living, breathing distillation of everything the Republican Party has preached for at least forty years. 

For most Americans, these ideas are unpalatable. But rather than shape a platform with broader appeal, the Republican Party has instead labored to amplify the obvious structural flaws in the U.S. Constitution that give acreage a voice alongside voters. Just consider: California has a population 68 times larger than Wyoming, but in the electoral college, a citizen in Wyoming has 52 times more representation than a citizen in California. This is a problem the Founding Fathers did not anticipate or appreciate. It benefits Republicans massively, allowing them to secure political influence that grossly exceeds their numbers, such that both of the last two Republican presidents came into power on fewer votes than their opponent (hundreds of thousands for Bush, millions for Trump). Meanwhile, the majority Republicans maintained in the Senate between 2019 and 2021 represented around 20 million fewer voters than the Democratic minority. Elected Republicans cheerily embrace this anti-democratic imbalance, acting as if the framers of American government were not humans but infallible oracles. 

The unfiltered reality here is that the Republican Party has been an open threat to American democracy for quite a long time. This is true even if you set aside their strange embrace of the screamingly obvious design flaws the Founders left in the Constitution and focus only on their recent legislative track record. Over the past two decades, Republicans have worked to make voting harder and harder for people unlikely to vote for them. Meanwhile, they have appointed “originalist” justices to the Supreme Court, who have handed down rulings like Citizens United vs. FEC and McCutchen vs. FEC that give wealthy individuals and corporations increasingly exaggerated influence over the shape of our elections and the legislation they ultimately produce. Throughout 2020, they enthusiastically supported a president who refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power, thereby undermining a cornerstone of representative governance and the rule of law. American democracy has eroded in recent years. The Republican Party—together with the deranged and rapacious carnival barkers in the conservative media echo chamber—has been the chief instrument of that decay. 

Living in the Painful Wake of Truth

Nations that have been gripped by turmoil, instability, violence, and tragedy, sometimes form truth and reconciliation committees. Ultimately, what this amounts to is a process of finding out precisely what went wrong, who did what and why, and then moving past it. In a way, it’s political group therapy. Painful and difficult, but also useful and, often enough, essential, truth and reconciliation committees supply a template for overcoming vast sociopolitical difficulty. 

The United States should establish a formal truth and reconciliation committee. But ordinary citizens need not wait for some official proclamation to start the work. In fact, given the nature of our national emergency, we can afford no delay. We must talk, freely and openly, about the forces that have nearly crippled our capacity to function as a representative democracy.

The events of January 6, 2021 were disgusting, shocking, and disgraceful. The Republican Party, as an institution, played a massive role in causing them—not only spreading malicious fabrications about the security and legitimacy of the 2020 election, but working steadily for decades to undermine public faith in the basic human capacity to use governments as instruments to solve problems and better people’s lives. Indeed, even after a raving mob of conspiracy theorists stormed through the Capitol building, 139 Republicans in the House of Representatives—that is, the majority of them—and 8 in the Senate voted against certifying election results in Pennsylvania and Arizona. Their stated motivations have no basis in reality. These are simply people who have no respect for representative governance or the rule of law. Every atom of pain caused in the January 6 insurrection is on their hands—and the hands of the people who voted for them. 

This moment could hardly be more precarious. But we aren’t going to be able to back off this ledge and move forward absent an honest reckoning with how we got here. The Republican Party and conservative media are directly—and chiefly—to blame for the dismal state of American politics. Meanwhile, millions of our neighbors have shown us that, under the right circumstances, they will send a would-be tyrannt to the White House. 

We have to forgive our neighbors this transgression. Not, to be clear, those who actively took part in an insurrection against American democracy. They should be punished to the fullest extent of the law—and be made subject to whatever social sanctions their friends, family, and employers deem appropriate. But the ordinary Americans who voted for Donald Trump and otherwise went about their lives made a mistake. Provided they can admit as much, they deserve a pass. Complete absolution. 

For Republican leaders and media figures, the situation is far trickier. For decades, the Republican Party has operated in a climate of political hysterics, hoping to build their extremist vision of capitalist utopia.*** The true believers really see democratic governance as an existential threat to their way of life—a slow crawl to some kind of socialist hellscape. But the party of rugged self-interest has also attracted plenty of unprincipled crooks and sycophants—men like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes, Duncan Hunter and Lindsey Graham—who don’t seem to believe anything at all—save, of course, that they can and should do whatever they can to gain personal power and profit, irrespective of the consequences. Barring an embarrassingly small handful of exceptions, that is the Republican Party of 2021—a party of gibbering ideological extremists and conspiracy theorists, liberally seasoned with reflexively perfidious and self-interested goons. 

Indeed, despite his pro-democracy rhetoric in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, Senator Mitch McConnell has built a career around defying democratic norms in pursuit of myopic political ends, working with Donald Trump to install ideological zealots—men and women sympathetic to the extreme doctrines outlined above—on courts throughout the nation. In 2016, he blocked President Barack Obama’s constitutionally mandated supreme court appointment, and marked the full sweep of President Obama’s tenure with an open commitment to derail his entire agenda—and, by extension, the will of every American who had voted him into office. It’s possible an insurrection was enough to shake McConnell and cause him to rethink his behavior. It’s also highly unlikely. 

Point being, we would be fools to give the Republican Party a second chance. For years, they have championed a platform rooted in cynical, predatory appeals to people’s worst instincts—superstition, fear, paranoia, greed, self-interest, xenophobia, tribalism, bigotry, religious mania—and watched their brand become less and less attractive to more and more Americans as a result. In response, they have not moderated their views, but instead doubled-down on a strategy of minority rule. Recognizing this, it becomes clear that preserving representative governance and the rule of law in the United States will involve both crushing the Republican Party out of existence and forgiving everyone who ever voted for them. 

*As with Karl Marx, one shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. These men were mostly intellectuals. A subset of their ideas spawned extremist political movements. But, as always, one should treat the full scope of the work, character, and lives with a proper mix of curiosity, charity, and context. I hope future generations will do likewise for me if any of my bad ideas inspire a movement that threatens representative governance and the rule of law after I’m dead. 

**Noteworthy here is the simple fact that someone upset about the tax code in one state or country can move to a place they find more amenable to their financial interests. Slaves who decided grinding their bones into dust as a piece of private property—particularly the Black chattel slaves directly insulted by this line of thinking—never had that option. Many of those who tried to take it anyway were brutalized and murdered as a result. 

***Capitalism, to be clear, is not some kind of abject evil. Generally speaking, open markets and economic liberty are a good thing. But the extreme position—that individual humans pursuing their personal interests in a market stripped of everything save the most basic protections on life and property is a route to the best possible society—is absurd.

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What Critics Get Wrong (and Right) About ‘Sokal 2.0’

Much has been written about the recent hoax perpetrated against segments of postmodern academia, most of it fairly binary. People are either enthusiastic fans or strident critics. For my part, I’m in the former camp. The fields targeted by the hoax are, at best, silly and indulgent. Less generously, a case can be made that these fields are actively harmful. They not only spread, but actively reinforce, bias, confusion, and extremism.

Still, the hoax was flawed. For one, it wasn’t scientific. Though, in this regard, it’s worth remembering that the authors never claimed otherwise—in fact, they state explicitly that their project was not scientific. And, while it proves that journals within those fields will publish garbage, it doesn’t prove that garbage is all they produce.

Below, I’ll explore some of these criticisms. I’ll do so largely with an eye on the philosophical roots of the disciplines in question as compared to the sciences. Points of merit will be noted, but the primary thrust here is to illustrate how a lot of the criticism of the hoax stems from a failure to understand the fields it hit.

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An Expansive Sokal-Style Hoax Exposes Academic Tomfoolery

An impressive Sokal-style hoax came to light this week and, frankly, I could not be more pleased. The same should be true of anyone who values evidenced-based reasoning and thoughtful, honest scholarship. It took aim at the ideological fanaticism, rampant bias, and pseudo-intellectualism poisoning large swaths of the humanities. There’s an excellent and extensive write-up on this in Areo Magazine, so I won’t spend much time on an exhaustive summary. Make no mistake–it’s worth looking into, but I won’t pretend I can provide a better summary than the one provided by the original authors. Suffice it to say that several leading journals in the humanities (ones focused on culture/gender/identity studies) accepted and/or published papers with absurd or evenly deeply unethical conclusions. One even published sections of Hitler’s Mein Kampf reworked with modern feminist jargon.

Here, I’d like to explain why the hoax is a good thing. Surely people immersed in the fields exposed by the hoax as cauldrons of blind and indulgent hucksterism will cook up all manner of wild apologetics to minimize the harm done to their disciplines. Rationalizing faults and failings is a very human thing to do. Some of their criticisms will probably even have merit.

Thing is, the hoax–perpetrated by Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsey, and Peter Boghossian–wasn’t about harming a grossly misguided set of intellectual traditions. It was about exposing the harm those fields are doing to academia in general and society at large. These are the vacuous progeny of schools of thought based primarily in tortured sophistry and intellectual masturbation. They are, by their very nature, incapable of contributing to human knowledge or advancing human progress. Curing diseases, expanding the scope of human rights, improving the prospects of vulnerable or marginalized groups, or even the humbdrum business of finding things out is not what these fields are about.

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Dennis Prager is an Idiot and the Republican Party is a Cult

A High Priest in the First Church of Anti-Liberalism

Let me tell you about a man named Dennis Prager. An extreme right-wing pundit, Dennis Prager is an idiot cloaked in a thin-veneer of intellect—a white-knuckle blowhard who has trouble telling the difference between loud voices and good arguments. But more to the point, he is also a High Priest in a new religious order: The First Church of Anti-Liberalism.

Normally, it’s considered bad form to fill an essay with ad hominem attacks, let alone start with them. And rightly so—that sort of thing rarely gets us out of the woods and into a place where we can begin to understand one another. Yet it would be perverse to ignore a history of shoddy reasoning and wild fanaticism in assessing the value someone’s work.

In that regard, Prager’s partisan hysteria and thoughtlessness is the core issue. This is a man who has made a career out of enthusiastically mistaking his feelings about how the world ought to be for facts about how the world really works. He even runs a “university” dedicated to the practice. Human as that is, it is also very foolish. Even, I dare say, idiotic. But more to the point, what makes Prager’s particular brand of proud idiocy dangerous is that his primary audience are citizens of a struggling representative democracy where massive social media companies funnel his nonsense into the laps of eager, credulous dupes.

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Conservative Non-Profits Use Disturbing Scare Tactics to Influence Voters


This is disturbing. It was produced by a group called People United for Privacy, who are funded by the State Policy Network (SPN). The SPN is a 501(c)(3) non-profit funded by conservative billionaires and millionaires who work to keep the electorate in the dark about their political influence.

Of course, having information about who is influencing policy decisions and political campaigns is essential to the democratic process. Regardless of how much they donate. But New Mexico SB 96, which this targets, doesn’t demand disclosure unless you spend more than $1000. In 2016, only 0.52% of donors gave more than $200 dollars to a political campaign.

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There will be two types of Trump voter In November – ignorant rabble and traitors

Traitor

There are two types of people who will vote for Donald Trump in November. Roughly speaking, they can be divided into either the deeply stupid or the deeply cynical.

In the former case, a severe deficit in critical thinking and an aversion to verifiable information seems to foster the kind of fear, distrust, and cultural animus upon which Trump has so successfully preyed. This is the plebeian rabble that has supported him from the beginning. Ignorant, hate-filled, and fear-drenched, these are men and women who listen to the oft-inconsistent fusillade of inflammatory rhetoric Trump issues and think he might be onto something. On the other hand, there are the negative partisans and party loyalists, people who find Hillary Clinton so grossly unpalatable — or imbue allegiance to the Republican Party with such exaggerated significance — that they will vote for Donald Trump in spite of his obvious and myriad insufficiencies as a candidate for the U.S. presidency.

The unfortunate reality is that there’s nothing to be done about the rabble. All anyone can do is wait for them to die and hope the next generation is incrementally better. Though in many respects reprehensible, there is also a valid sense in which they are blameless. Their life on the lunatic fringe is a product of bad genes and worse circumstances, trained to value all the wrong things and think all the wrong thoughts by parents, peers, and family members who do likewise — and have done for generations as a matter of reflexive tradition. Intensely tribal and insular, they are products of the endlessly self-perpetuating cycle of stubborn ignorance bred at the poisonous confluence of poverty, tradition, and poorly delivered and/or undervalued education.

It may be a rosy-eyed and naive long-shot to think something can be done about the negative partisans and Republican fanatics. But unlike the moral and intellectual degenerates who are enthusiastically all-in for Trump, there is some hope that these men and women have some reason to which we can offer an appeal. Or, at the very least, a sense of decency and patriotic loyalty that we can wield as a cudgel, beating into them enough shame and personal resentment for ever having considered Trump as a viable option that they will shrink from actually casting a ballot in his name in November.

It’s not so much that Clinton is a perfect alternative. Far from it. But the revulsion towards Hillary Clinton that would motivate a vote for Trump is the pinnacle of partisan irrationality. It is an impulse born of naked political dogmatism, clearly concocted in the miasma of fact-averse vitriol, paranoia, and victimization that fills the conservative media echo chamber. To vote for Trump simply to spite Clinton is to offer an obsequious votive to the Republican Party, a private organization with a clear mandate to pursue the general interests of the United States as a constitutional republic but no unambiguous evidence of having significantly done so for at least the past thirty years.

The raw reality is that there is no line of reasoning that justifies placing a bloviating, megalomaniacal, chronically deceitful authoritarian into the nation’s highest office over and above an admittedly focus-group manufactured, self-serving political opportunist. The former is an ugly populist, deploying racism, xenophobia, and bloodthirsty chauvinism to great effect among the dregs of the American electorate — completely absent any coherent or realistic policy initiatives. The latter  is a clear perpetuation of the status quo, who nonetheless offers a thoughtful and substantive policy agenda. Clinton is, if nothing else, a career politician. That’s something most of us are tired of, but it’s also something stable and predictable. Though there are many respects in which another Clinton presidency seems substantially less than ideal, the fact nonetheless remains that she is a safe bet. For instance, she has not advocated nuclear proliferation or the murder of noncombatants.

Take another example. Clinton’s record with nonpartisan fact-checking outlet politifact.com reveals a record almost precisely opposite of Trumps: whereas 77% of reviewed statements rate mostly false or worse for Trump, 71% rate half true or better for Clinton. That’s not exactly the record of anyone who could be strictly described as a paragon of honesty, but it is nonetheless exponentially more reassuring than Trump’s. In Trump, we see either a man with a vast disconnect from established and verifiable facts or such monumental disdain for the crowd he’s playing for that he doesn’t feel any need to trouble himself with the truth. To put this in perspective, the previous two Republican nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, enjoy half true or better ratings of 59% and 57%, respectively. A candidate with Trump’s level of disregard for the truth probably isn’t entirely unprecedented. But one who has made it so far almost certainly is.

The whole affair serves to highlight and underline the by turns pathetic and frightening corner into which rigid identity politics have driven the American electorate. Hillary Clinton is a pro-business foreign policy hawk, a modern incarnation of Reagan-era Republicanism. Her presidency promises to be a continuation of an economic agenda driven by supply-side neoliberalism and a foreign policy built around military interventionism — broadly motivated by the parochial interests of economic elites. In a climate devoid of such harmful extremes of polarization, where rigid political allegiances are blindly dictated by voting records and continuously reinforced by self-selected cocoons of ideological reinforcement on social media, traditional conservatives would look at Hillary Clinton and see a reflection of many of their core principles. The only clear distinctions rest in the array of social wedge issues Republican campaign strategists have so deftly wielded to turn a large segment of the electorate into political marionettes. Conversely, liberals and progressives would look at Clinton and see something altogether distasteful.

Instead, people define themselves by steely political binaries, declaring themselves as either Republican or Democrat and falling into party line without any serious reflection on the underlying issues. In a better world, people would abandon partisan affiliation, repudiate both parties for the self-serving, parasitic monstrosities they are, and renegotiate their votes each election cycle according to a piecemeal engagement with the issues.

That, sadly, seems to be a fantasy world. Instead we have to look forward to an election where a dangerous megalomaniac with a puerile and punitive disposition stands a decent chance of becoming president. A significant segment of the conservative-leaning electorate are already beginning to align themselves with the gibbering imbeciles and racists who willfully support Trump and more are likely to follow. Teasing out their final motivations for doing so is difficult, but most of it seems attributable to the pied piper’s on conservative talk radio and Fox News success in convincing them that Clinton is a vicious dragon-lady, a political succubus greedily clutching at their purportedly god-given Rights. This is a hideously shameful state of affairs. All those votes would come with a complimentary cloud of embarrassment and regret, if only their originators had the presence of mind to set aside past partisan boundaries and carefully assess the incredibly fraught political landscape we all tread.

It’s very hard to overstate the potential threat a Trump presidency poses to the United States. Yes, it’s true that no one knows for certain how things will shake out if he were to win in November. But there has been very little – and by very little, I do mean absolutely no – indication that he will perform admirably. Donald Trump is a con artist, his history as a businessman a litany of failures. In terms of disposition, his greatest affinity with world leaders can be found among despots – he has all the thin-skinned narcissism and retributive instincts of Robert Mugabe or the late Muammar Gaddafi. A simple-minded huckster with no interest outside the nourishment of his own ego, a Trump presidency stands almost no chance of turning out better than a Clinton one.

Given all this, it’s quite easy to justify the radical claim made in the title of this piece: that those who vote for Trump for any reason other than their own pitiable idiocy are traitors to the Union. Broadly speaking, we can define the governing principles of the United States as the perpetuation of constitutional order for the purpose of preserving a pluralistic society amenable to the happiness and success of the greatest possible proportion of Her citizenry. There is no valid sense in which Donald Trump is the best choice for fulfilling this mandate. Disturbingly, there are a number of clear indications that a Trump presidency will in fact be directly inimical to these goals. To be fair, there is a narrow sense in which this has been true of the Republican Party since at least 2010, when conservative Supreme Court Justices gave us Citizens United vs. FEC. Since then, Republican congressmen have been intractable opponents to the principles of one-person, one-vote representative democracy, supporting Citizens United and subsequent corrosive decisions while opposing measures to increase the transparency of campaign finance. So for at least the past six years, a vote for a Republican on the national stage has been a vote for plutocracy and against proportionally representative republican governance.

When it comes to the Supreme Court, Trump seems to double-down on these positions, suggesting someone like the judicially reprehensible partisan ideologue Antonin Scalia should fill the vacancy left in the wake of said Justice’s passing. Not only is this in line with the Party establishment’s position on the continued erosion of representative democracy, he has also threatened to actively work to erode the First Amendment, a position perfectly consistent with his frail and punitive character. He has advocated an economic agenda that will directly threaten the stability and prosperity of the United States. He has floated the idea of completely abandoning historically important alliances, moves that would put the United States and the larger world as increased risk of violent, devastating conflict. He has courted and refused to repudiate neo-Nazi and white supremacist supporters. He gives indiscriminate voice to hare-brained conspiracy theories. A vote for Trump is a declaration of allegiance to something other than the welfare of the United States.

None of this is an inflation of available facts, yet already increasing numbers of prominent Republican politicians are lining up to pledge their fealty to interests outside those of the United States and recent polls indicate the Republican electorate is doing likewise. This isn’t just disappointing – it’s disgusting. Certainly they’re not selling military secrets to North Korea or defecting to ISIS, but they are offering succor to a candidate whose values and beliefs are far-too-often thoroughly antithetical to those outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

Boil everything down to its bitter essence and it becomes strikingly clear that everyone who votes for Trump is, in a perverse but unmistakable way, voting against democracy. Through a combination of ignorance and belligerence, they will have made themselves enemies of the core principles of republican governance. Few outside the cloistered ranks of Democratic Party insiders are likely happy about a perpetuation of the status quo. It’s a sad choice, but at least those voters who take it can rest with the reassurance that they are not willfully selling our country out to a stew of party loyalty and partisan resentment.

Ultimately, the poisonous status of a Trump vote is granted not by the fact that he is, by an exceptionally permissive interpretation of American values and constitutional propriety, the worst option in November — or any previous November in living memory. Rather, it comes from the fact that no one’s vote needs to be decided along a strict partisan binary. Anyone who finds Clinton thoroughly unacceptable does not have to register their disdain for her by voting for someone who poses a clear, existential threat to the economic and social welfare of the United States. They can research candidates outside the major parties and register their votes there. Or they can simply write in a name, voicing their protest through a vote for Grover Norquist, their favorite talk radio blowhard, the restless spirits of Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek, or the Ghost of Ronald Reagan. They don’t have to vote for ego incarnate — a vulgar demagogue with no respect for civil liberties, no coherent or sensible policy ideas, a faithless political disposition, and pseudo-fascist tendencies. That choice will benefit few outside of Trump’s sycophantic inner-circle and very likely hurt everyone else.

To vote for Trump is to betray the United States of America— to risk the preservation and perpetuation of constitutional and representative governance on the bet that maybe (and maybe really is the best anyone can say) Donald Trump, despite all indications to the contrary, will make a good president. That’s a dangerous and irresponsible bet to make, but it does suggest a third category of Trump supporter: maybe some of them are just people who want to watch the world burn. If that’s your agenda, Trump is probably the safest bet American’s have ever had.