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.