I think both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are unfit for the office of the presidency, though for different reasons. The idea of voting for either of them repulses me. It was easier for me, as a conservative, to vote for the crooked Edwin W. Edwards against David Duke in the 1991 Louisiana governor’s race than it would be for me to vote for Hillary Clinton this year. (And perhaps it takes a Louisiana conservative of a certain age to understand how hard it was to vote for EWE.)
I believe with utter certainty that a Clinton presidency would accelerate the dramatic loss of religious liberty, most importantly by the Supreme Court justices she names, and the extension of the power of the state into the private lives of Americans and their institutions, all for the sake of the grand Social Justice Warrior cause. I believe that she will continue Washington’s misguided foreign policy, including an eagerness to intervene militarily in foreign conflicts (in this she will be worse than Obama). And I believe she will raise taxes and increase entitlements. I think she is dishonest and manipulative. Most every bad thing that conservatives say will happen under a Clinton administration, I am convinced will happen.
So, I have thought from time to time, “Could I really vote for Trump?” I actually agree with the general Buchananite thrust of his campaign’s themes, and strongly believe the globalist ideology embodied by Hillary Clinton is a menace. He is not remotely a religious conservative, but, I thought, at least he wouldn’t make a point of going after us. Do I trust him to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices? No — but I trust her to appoint activist liberals, so I’d rather take my chances with him.
If it weren’t for Trump’s character, this would be an easy choice. But that’s like saying, “If only there were a bridge, I could drive across the Gulf of Mexico.” The wretchedness of Trump’s character is not only disqualifying, I am convinced that it is a danger to the nation and the world. That is, giving a man like that the power of the US presidency is radically destabilizing.
To be sure, I am still unlikely to vote, for the reasons Jonah Goldberg explains here. This Solzhenitsyn quote Jonah cites resonates with me: “You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.” Trump will carry my state, Louisiana, comfortably, and a Hillary vote from me almost certainly won’t matter. That said, whatever I decide to do with my vote, I know for whom I will not cast it, and will never cast it.
What outrages everybody about Trump also bothers me. What tipped me is contemplating the fact that this man, Trump, six weeks before the presidential election, found himself awake in the middle of the night and decided to tweet this:
Given all the outrages from Donald Trump, this is a tiny thing, but I can’t stop thinking about it. Here is a man six weeks away from the election that could make him President of the United States. He is surrounded by advisers who are trying to convince him to rein in his self-destructive impulses. And yet, he wakes up in the middle of the night, because Hillary Clinton has gotten inside his head, and sends out picayune tweets, including one encouraging the American people, the people whose leader he seeks to be, to look into a supposed sex tape from a beauty pageant contestant.
Think about that. Think about what it says about the man’s worthlessness of character, his total lack of self-discipline, his boundless vanity — so much that he would put his presidential campaign at risk to engage in an extremely petty spat over a beauty queen. Imagine him in the White House, having to make spot decisions about matters of national security. Imagine some foreign leader having taunted him publicly, and him waking up in the middle of the night, grabbing a phone, and tweeting a response that risks starting a war. Don’t think it will happen? How does one tell the President of the United States what he can and cannot do? Don’t you think that all his campaign advisers have told him to lay off of Twitter, because he can’t handle it? Don’t you think common sense would tell any of us that?
Yet he persists. He is controlled by his passions. Electing him would be like handing the keys to a Lamborghini to a drunken teenage boy. This behavior in a potential US president cannot be legitimated by being tolerated.
And then, there is this interview with Trump in today’s New York Times:
Donald J. Trump unleashed a slashing new attack on Hillary Clinton over Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions on Friday as he sought to put the Clintons’ relationship at the center of his political argument against her before their next debate.
So we’re going to make the 2016 campaign about Bill Clinton’s adultery in the 1990s? Really? Aside from the world-historical stupidity of doing that (instead of focusing on trade, immigration, and the economy, which is why GOP primary voters went for him in the first place), consider: how well did making a martyr of Bill Clinton work out for Republicans back then? More:
Mr. Trump, aiming to unnerve Mrs. Clinton, even indicated that he was rethinking his statement at their last debate that he would “absolutely” support her if she won in November, saying: “We’re going to have to see. We’re going to see what happens. We’re going to have to see.”
Is he indicating here that he may not accept her election as legitimate? If so, that is utterly, damnably reckless, because he puts our entire constitutional system at risk. It’s hard to believe that he merely means by this that he would oppose her politically. Of course he would oppose her politically. Any conservative would. That doesn’t need saying. The question asked of him the other night after the debate had to do with whether or not he would consider her legitimate if she won the election. This issue is why Al Gore, though he lost what he believed was a loaded, unjust Supreme Court ruling making George W. Bush president, did the patriotic, admirable, morally sound thing by refusing to call Bush illegitimate, no matter what he (Gore) really thought. That Trump would even consider signaling that he might not do the same is stunning, and again, destabilizing.
In an interview with The New York Times, he also contended that infidelity was “never a problem” during his three marriages, though his first ended in an ugly divorce after Mr. Trump began a relationship with the woman who became his second wife.
Trump is lying. He’s baldly, boldly lying. He has bragged about his infidelities before. He’s counting on the fact that his supporters will not care that he’s lying, and lying about a matter on which he intends to fault Hillary Clinton — who, despite being cheated on by her dirtbag husband, remained faithful to her vows.Trump is a compulsive liar. We would not be able to trust a single word the US president said.
And by the way, on Trump’s treatment of women with whom he was involved:
So the future president of the United States tried to pimp out his girlfriend/mistress/wife. Congratulations, GOP. https://t.co/fTsmFrLOK7
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) October 1, 2016
More from the NYT interview:
He said he was bringing up Mr. Clinton’s infidelities because he thought they would repulse female voters and turn them away from the Clintons, and because he was eager to unsettle Mrs. Clinton in their next two debates and on the campaign trail.
“She’s nasty, but I can be nastier than she ever can be,” Mr. Trump said.
Well, there you have it. He’s bragging about his cruelty and viciousness — “viciousness” in the ordinary sense, and in the sense of being the opposite of virtuous. Is this the kind of man you want in the White House? Let me put this directly to my fellow orthodox Christians: do you really want to associate yourself with a presidential candidate who says these things?
None of this is to say that Hillary Clinton is worthy of the presidency. I do not believe she is. As a Christian deeply anguished over the steady loss of religious liberty, a Clinton presidency would be a disaster for us on this front. But Clinton’s faults, deep as they are, are the faults of a normal politician. Trump’s are in another category. Having a bad, crazy man like Trump in the White House would be a disaster for the entire nation, and even the world. The further we go into this campaign, the harder it is to believe that the US faces equal danger from these two.
If Trump is elected, I believe his presidency will be punctuated by mass civil disobedience. And depending on the issue, I might be one of the civilly disobedient. It is easy to conceive of US military commanders refusing an order from Trump as commander-in-chief because they judge it to be illegal. Can we really afford to create conditions under which our military brass might have to make that call?
Because Congress has been so deferential over the past decades to the president in matters of war, we could easily face a situation in which President Trump decides unilaterally to send American troops into combat because he has decided that his dignity has been offended by some foreigner, or for some other petty reason. If it came to that, I would hope that the military brass would refuse the orders. But if that happened — if we got into a situation in which the US military refused a lawful order from the Commander in Chief — we would face a constitutional crisis, and a simultaneous crisis of world stability, as America’s enemies would know that the Commander in Chief did not have the confidence of and control over his military forces.
And, a President Trump would use all the powers of his office to persecute his enemies, such that we will be looking back on the Nixon administration as a paragon of magnanimity. Again, this is a man who no master of his passions, but rather is mastered by them. When you get to the age of 70 and you cannot keep yourself from behaving like a tabloid clown, even when the US presidency is within your grasp, you are damn close to being a madman.
The Trump campaign built a large policy shop in Washington that has now largely melted away because of neglect, mismanagement and promises of pay that were never honored. Many of the team’s former members say the campaign leadership never took the Washington office seriously and let it wither away after squeezing it dry.
Donald Trump often brags about having experts and senior former officials advising him. Wednesday night in a forum on national security, he said, “We have admirals, we have generals, we have colonels. We have a lot of people that I respect.” It’s true that Trump is getting high-level policy advice on a regular basis from senior experts such as Rudy Giuliani and retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn. But Trump has never acknowledged the policy shop based in Washington that has been doing huge amounts of grunt work for months without recognition or compensation.
Since April, advisers never named in campaign press releases have been working in an Alexandria-based office, writing policy memos, organizing briefings, managing surrogates and placing op-eds. They put in long hours before and during the Republican National Convention to help the campaign look like a professional operation.
But in August, shortly after the convention, most of the policy shop’s most active staffers quit. Although they signed non-disclosure agreements, several of them told me on background that the Trump policy effort has been a mess from start to finish.
“It’s a complete disaster,” one disgruntled former adviser told me. “They use and abuse people. The policy office fell apart in August when the promised checks weren’t delivered.”
Aside from the immorality of not paying people for work done — something Trump is accustomed to doing — consider what letting your policy shop go to hell says about the attention you will pay to governing. So much for the idea that Trump surrounds himself with smart people and listens to them. I think Trump figures he will be able to rule by decree. He won’t be able to, obviously, but he’ll smash up a lot of things in the attempt. As much as I think the GOP richly deserves the pain Trump has inflicted on them — Tucker Carlson’s jeremiad from the beginning of the year remains unsurpassed — by the time we get to the end of the Trump administration, the conservative party will likely be so discredited it may never recover.
Hillary will be very bad for people like me (social conservatives, I mean). It is impossible to believe that Trump would be anything but very, very bad for the country, and the world — a country and a world in which social conservatives also live.
Look, you know how pessimistic I am in general. I expect things to be pretty rotten for America over the next four years, no matter who is elected. The difference is that they will either go bad in predictable ways, ways that we can prepare for, or they will go bad in ways that nobody can foresee, because Trump is so chaotic. A predictable misery, a misery that can be contained, is the lesser of two evils. Besides, I used to think people who called Trump an “existential threat” to the Republic were being hyperbolic. I don’t think so anymore.
I want to say one more think to Christian conservatives who think Trump is all that stands between us and the Devil in a Red Pantsuit. What the church in America suffers from, and indeed the general moral and spiritual crisis in this nation, is not political. Our politics are a manifestation of it, not the cause of it. Donald Trump is not a solution to the problem, he’s a symptom of it. Politics will not fix what is broken within us. True, a Clinton presidency will make the conditions under which we can live and minister towards healing what is broken in America more difficult. Much more difficult. But here’s the thing: so will a Trump presidency, only in different ways, and in ways much harder to anticipate. Vote Trump if you must, but don’t fool yourself about what he is going to do for us. I encourage you to read Michael Brendan Dougherty on the case against the “esoteric case for Trump.” Excerpt:
Envisioning Trump as the restorer of heroic Western life — whether imperial, kingly, or mythical — is quite an act of creation. There is nothing about Trump that suggests he can hasten the end of Enlightenment principles through political rule. (Although an itchy nuclear trigger finger could.) These dreams are funnier still when considered next to Trump’s style, which is lamely democratic; his culture, which derives entirely from cable television; and his personal taste, which resides about one remove from Uday Hussein‘s debauches. The man is clearly a product of a decadent society, not the scourge or redeemer of one.
Truth. And a truth that matters.
UPDATE: Ross Douthat:
Set aside for a moment Trump’s low character, his penchant for inflaming racial tensions, his personal corruptions. Assume for the sake of argument that all that can be folded into a “lesser of two evils” case.
What remains is this question: Can Donald Trump actually execute the basic duties of the presidency? Is there any way that his administration won’t be a flaming train wreck from the start? Is there any possibility that he’ll be levelheaded in a crisis — be it another 9/11 or financial meltdown, or any of the lesser-but-still-severe challenges that presidents reliably face?
I think we have seen enough from his campaign — up to and including his wretchedly stupid conduct since the first debate — to answer confidently, “No.” Trump’s zest for self-sabotage, his wild swings, his inability to delegate or take advice, are not mere flaws; they are defining characteristics. The burdens of the presidency will leave him permanently maddened, perpetually undone.
Even if that undoing doesn’t lead to economic or geopolitical calamity (yes, Virginia, there are worse things than the Iraq War), which cause or idea associated with Trumpism is likely to emerge stronger after a four-year train wreck? Not populism or immigration restrictionism. Not evangelical Christianity. Not economic conservatism. They’ll all be lashed to the mast of a burning ship whose captain is angrily tweeting from the poop deck.