About a month ago, over the space of three days, I was asked by four different friends essentially the same question: why do you not plan to vote for President Trump? I agreed to answer that question. I began a long piece, going into detail, and then quit, having lost my enthusiasm for the task. Why? Because I don’t find it a lot of fun, or cathartic, or anything else particularly positive, to detail the many reasons why I believe as I do; I find it pretty depressing that Donald Trump is our president, and listing the reasons is a depressing exercise. There are other reasons I quit that initial writing as well, but I need to keep my promise, and so I am posting this and will keep it up for 3-4 days. That should give ample time for those curious to read my thoughts. I thought for a moment about just saying, “read anything George Will, Jonah Goldberg, David French, or Pete Wehner have written about the president, and then assume I agree with about 90% of their thoughts”, but I decided that was a cop-out, so here it is.
But first, several quick caveats. One, I have no interest in persuading anyone to my point of view, so I’m not terribly interested in arguing. Two, it’s obvious my “voting calculus” differs from those who will vote for Trump, such that I’m not going to be persuaded by your arguments (any more than I expect to persuade you). Suffice it to say that I have never changed my basic approach to voting, unlike, apparently, over 40% of evangelicals in the last five years. Three, I have been accused of “demanding a perfect candidate”; others have used silly canards like, “we’re not electing a preacher” or offering a seeming justification like, “he’s not perfect”. These are non-starters with me; they are poor arguments on their face and I won’t indulge in discussion of them. Four, I don’t hate Donald Trump. This is another canard tossed around, as though I somehow relish thinking the things I do, or they flow from some personal animus that colors my thinking. I do not; that’s demonstrably untrue. Five, I’m not about to vote for Joe Biden any more than I would have voted for Hillary or Obama; I reject, by the way, the Lincoln Project approach, but I don’t consider a third-party vote to be “a vote for (whomever)”; that argument, too, is a non-starter for me. Finally, to reinforce the idea that I just don’t want to argue these points, you need to know that as regards my decision, this isn’t a margin call, as though I’m going to change my mind about it if I just come to see a few things in a different light. No, I believe that Donald Trump is woefully unfit to serve as president, not “barely unfit” or “close to fit if he’d soften his style”. My best advice to the reader is to read to understand, rather than to argue; that’s futile. In that spirit and with those caveats, I briefly offer several reasons I cannot vote for the President:
I believe that Donald Trump lacks the character to serve as President. When I break down the component parts of “good character”, I don’t find any, in my personal observation, in which the president stacks up even as “average”. Honesty, integrity, loyalty, humility, self-control, accountability, courage; on and on the list could go, and he seems deficient, to one degree or another, in each sub-category. Sadly, hardly anyone talks about character; I have only read two opinion writers who delved into it. Erick Erickson handles it admirably, and Dennis Prager engages in goalpost-moving so blatant and silly that I am embarrassed for him. But beyond these two, I don’t see this even addressed, and it is Issue One with me. Instead, what I see is people talking about “style”, as in, “his language is rough” or “I wish he wouldn’t tweet like he does” or even, “he’s a jerk, but…” Character may impact style at points, but the two are significantly different. If my only beef were with his “style”, he’d almost surely get my vote, but terribly deficient character is very different from “offensive style”.
I believe that Donald Trump lacks the temperament and judgment to serve as President.
The tweets aren’t the problem; it’s what the tweets reveal, not only about his character, but about things like his temperament and judgment. He comes off as narcissistic (I would assume even his most ardent supporters would acknowledge this isn’t a crazy thought), petulant, insecure (hence the bullying), and vindictive. I can hardly name a political figure whom I would trust less with making a significant decision on national defense; I said in 2016 that as much as I found Hillary Clinton an awful candidate, I’d much rather have her finger on the nuclear trigger than Trump’s. His early response to COVID-19, I believe, cost American lives. His response to the racial issues that have reared their head this year has been poor as well, throwing gas rather than water on the fires. He was fortunate during his first three years not to have a significant crisis; now he has had two, and I believe he has mishandled both badly. The thought of this president being asked to handle some serious national defense crisis terrifies me.
I believe that he is a fundamentally unserious man who does not approach his role with the gravity which is requires.
This is the testimony of many who have worked with him. The reports (there have been many) of how inattentive he is to national security briefings, for instance, paint a picture of a person who doesn’t take his role seriously.
It is dangerous and wrong to make final pronouncements as to the motives of an individual, and so I won’t; nonetheless, it seems to me that the most likely explanation. for an awful lot of what he does, involves a calculation as to what will best benefit Donald Trump. That seems to me the correct explanatory filter, given his words, tweets, actions, and attitudes. If I am right in that, then I cannot trust what he does to be in the best interests of this country, the charge that he has been given.
I believe that he is a very poor leader.
He has proven to be a divider, again and again, instead of seeking to find agreement and bring Americans together when possible. And when I think about the traits of good leaders I have seen from those who I consider to be good leaders, this president seems to lack most of them.
I believe it’s more likely than not that he abused power and obstructed justice.
I don’t think the Democrats proved that, and I couldn’t make an airtight case, but I think the evidence points that way.
I disagree with some of the policy decisions he has made, but I could probably see my way clear to vote for him, did I not think the above were true.
Now, please note that there are some things that I have not said, that are judgments others have made. I am not ready to call him a “racist”, for instance (though people who are racists seem to love him to death and take his words as sympathetic). I don’t think he’s “evil”, in the sense that he has some grand strategy to do irreparable harm to the institutions of this country (he doesn’t seem to me to have much of a plan at all; he seems devoid of much of a governing philosophy or a set of principles which guide his decision-making). Comparisons with Hitler are outrageous. In short, I don’t buy anything or everything that some have said; in fact, I have on a number of occasions supported things he has done as president and have said so. But I cannot vote for him.
Here’s the problem with all of the above: I do not, cannot, see no reason to and plenty of reasons not to, trust this man. It baffles me that anyone would. I think that this is a bigger issue in 2020 than it was in 2016, yet I see no one raising the question: why, given that Trump will never face voters again, would he continue to pursue whatever conservative initiatives he has pursued during his first term, particularly if I am right that he has few bedrock principles? He has little incentive to continue the policies that conservatives see as good. I see it as a crap-shoot at best.
Finally, let me be very clear: I very much understand why people would vote for Donald Trump; I have consistently defended people who have made this choice, and I will defend you. I understand well the calculus behind such a decision. It is simply one I cannot make. I respect the consciences of all who choose differently than do I; I only ask that same respect. I hope my taking the time to outline very briefly my rationale will help with that.