I have tried to keep my blog relatively free of the presidential election. I have only mentioned candidates in relation to their positions on issues of state surveillance, privacy, and technological security. This is largely because I don’t consider myself a news junkie and I have a hard time dealing with the sound bitey nature of the media circus around the quadrennial horse race. Investing time and energy into pontificating about these clowns is exhausting. However, now that Donald Trump is poised to clench the Republican ticket, I felt there was something I could write.
I grew up mostly in the mountain west and the political influences of that region, libertarianism and small government conservatism, have made their mark on me. I have typically voted Republican in national races because of those political leanings. However, the Republican Party has largely abandoned its espoused principles in practice.1 Because of where I grew up and the history of my faith, today’s Republican Party is barely palatable. The growing protectionist suspicion of immigrants, the strange fixation on border security with Mexico, and a frightening attitude towards Muslims all make recent political events terrifying to me. These paranoid feelings have been building like volcanic pressure under the surface of the electorate and now Donald Trump has blown the lid. We’re in eruption mode now and the historical precedents of where this might lead are chilling.2
Donald Trump does not represent traditionally Republican conservative values. What he represents is an angry, agrieved (rightly or not), and scared electorate looking for a strong leader who caters to their basest instincts. He looks at the problems people have in their lives and says, “it’s not your fault you’re poorer than your parents. It’s the immigrants and the terrorists! It’s these loser politicians who didn’t have the decency to become billionaires in order to fund their own campaigns who are screwing you!” To be honest, in my mind, this isn’t very different from Bernie Sanders’ appeal, “it’s not your fault! It’s the banks who are picking your pockets and corporations who are selling you out for profits! It’s corrupt politicians whose votes are bought by billionaires!” Whether or not any of these scapegoats deserve ridicule is beside the point. Both of these would-be leaders are appealing to a threatened middle class by blaming everyone but them.3 There’s a word for the results of this populism run amock, mobocracy.
These rhetorical excesses are not a small thing. For either Trump or Sanders to accomplish their goals would require an autocratic government that simply does not exist today. Our system of government is set up to resist sweaping changes without deliberation. For either to succeed in their agenda we would have to be electing a dictator, not a president who is subject to Constitutional checks and balances. Their election would either guarantee terrible disappointment for their supporters or a dismantling of the protections inherent in our system.
For the last sixteen years we have seen the Executive Branch act on its own to bypass the Legislative and Judicial Branches, consolidating power via Executive Orders. We have repeatedly heard President Bush or President Obama say that they can be trusted with increased executive powers, ignoring the possibility that a future President might not hold much regard for the rule of law. We have a situation ripe for egregious abuse of power, at the same historical moment that huge swaths of the population are throwing their support behind a strong man with no regard for liberties or law. For the first time in my life I fear that we, the American people, want a dictator, not a president.
I have worked and lived alongside people with different politics than mine for a long time without any significant problem. I am happy there are people who disagree with me. I have my political leanings, my own sense of government priorities, and will vote according to them when given the chance, but I know that I am not right all the time so I am glad a diversity of opinions exists. Due to rampant partisanship in our society the idea that people can disagree and still get along is threatened to the breaking point. Trump may be that breaking point. Trump destroys this respect for difference. He replaces compromise with compulsion and respect with violence.
I don’t know who I’ll vote for this election, but it will not be Donald Trump. I have disagreed with Presidents on many things before but I always felt that they deserved my respect, due to the office they hold and the generally honorable way they have carried themselves. I have no problem teaching my children to respect and admire a President I didn’t vote for and will even resist speaking ill of them whenever possible. Should Donald Trump win, however, I will not be able to teach my children to respect this bully. He is everything I hope my children will not admire. He is unfit to be President and denying him his prize is much more important than any partisan interest.
Small government for anything we don’t like, but the bigger the better for things we like, like the military. ↩︎
People are more cautious than they should be about comparing the Trump phenomenon with the rise of fascism in Europe. The parallels are real. ↩︎
This is why I think Democrats should not assume that Trump will only appeal to Republicans in the general election. A less toxic variation of his message has been galvanizing members of their own party to support Sanders for months. ↩︎