But that’s not just a Public Professor thing. It turns out that online or off, most Clinton supporters have minimal contact with Trump supporters and vica versa. It’s a national phenomenon that speaks to the profound geographic and social segregation of partisan America.
Indeed, it’s probably a bit pointless for me to post an open letter to Trump supporters here. But honestly, I’m not sure where else to turn. After all, I don’t get to hoist monthly essays onto any Republican-leaning websites, and what follows is bound to be a bit too long for that modern day version of a Letter to the Editor, the beastly maelstrom known as a Comment Section.
So if you happen to be among that slim minority of Clintonistas who has real and meaningful interactions with Trumpatistas, feel free to share this with them, he said, like pen pal in want of a postman.
Dear Trump Supporter:
I get it. Clinton supporters can be insufferable, condescending elitists.
I understand this on a personal level, just like you do. You see, even though I’m a kind of a lefty and kind of a liberal, I’m not actually a registered a Democrat. So if they see you Republicans as the enemy, then they see people like me, who agree with them on many issues but don’t always vote Democrat, as apostates.
In their world view, it’s like we’re all living in that ghastly, disease-infested stink pot that was Medieval Europe. And in their super violent, smelly little fantasy land, they’re the Christians, you’re the Muslims, and I’m part of a tiny schismatic reform group. They’d love nothing more than to permanently take the entire Holy Land back from you and kill or convert every single Mohammadean. But it ain’t gonna happen. And they realize that no matter how much they hate you, and no matter how many murderous crusades they send to massacre your brethren, on some level they simply have to accept you and your ilk as the savage enemies they can never fully vanquish. So they’ll find a purpose for you. They’ll turn you into the permanent villains they can pour their hatred onto, the heathens they can use to define themselves as civilized.
It’s like you’re each other’s Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner.
But me? They’ll burn me at the stake for supposedly knowing the truth of Christ, but rejecting it because I believe we have to make paradise on Earth before Jesus returns, while they angrily insist that paradise can’t occur until He returns, and that I’m praying the wrong way, which means I am personally responsible for delaying the Second Coming.
You know, the same way some of you wanna stone Gary Johnson’s supporters to death.
So, dear Trump supporter, our situations aren’t exactly the same. But I at least understand why you’re hesitant to engage Clinton supporters. I too find myself holding back, even though I actually agree with them on many, maybe even most issues. Who actually wants to talk to these people, right? Ugh.
Fear not, then. This letter is not a finger-wagging lecture about why Trump’s an asshole and how you’re ruining America. You’ve had to put up with that kind of venom even when you’re supporting someone reasonable like John Kasich or old man George Bush, both of whom are practically Democrats, quite frankly.
Instead of spewing hate, I’d like to take it upon myself to talk about where we are at this historical moment. As a historian, I tend to take a long-view. And it seems to me that this is one of those elections they’ll still be writing about in textbooks a hundred years from now.
Most elections don’t make the cut. No one today remembers who won in 1880 (it was former Union general James Garfield, who got shot not long after being elected and was succeeded by a New York dapper dandy named Chester Arthur).
However, there are a handful of turning point elections. Not only do all U.S. historians know a lot about these select ballot battles, but we also insist on boring our students with the details, because they’re just more important, or at least more meaningful than the rest. Here’s a quick rundown of some really momentous presidential elections.
1828: Andrew Jackson defeats John Quincy Adams in an epic rematch with shades of Ali-Frazier (Adams had won in 1824). Jackson’s victory is made possible by the advent of universal white male suffrage, and with help from a savvy machine politician from New York named Martin Van Buren. And it ushers in both, the era of modern political parties, and populist campaigning.
1860: Abraham Lincoln loses every Southern state, but still gains enough electoral votes in the North and West to earn a majority and best three other candidates. The rest of the story kinda writes itself.
1876: An otherwise uninspiring showdown between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden erupts into mayhem when the results of three Southern states are disputed. A prelude of 2000’s Bush/Gore tilt, each side claims victory, and a special commission of congressmen, senators, and Supreme Court justices hammers out a negotiated settlement, voters be damned. Hayes gets the White House, Union troops finally pull out of the South, and boy is it gonna suck for black people for another century or so.
1896: The People’s Party, also known as the Populists, represents Southern and Midwestern farmers pissed off about the screw job they’re getting from banks and railroads. The Populists are poised to launch a major third party challenge, but the Democrats steal their thunder by nominating Nebraska’s William Jennings Bryan. The good news is, Bryan has co-opted many Populist issues, bringing them to the mainstream. The bad news is, Bryan has co-opted many Populist issues, thereby marginalizing the party as a fringe group. Confused and desperate, the People’s Party also nominates Bryan, in absentia. But Bryan is a loyal Democrat and distances himself from them. He then loses the election to William McKinley, who really likes banks and railroads. But eventually, many Populists positions will actually become the law of the land, such as the direct election of U.S. Senators and secret ballots, so you can tell all your friends that you voted the same way they did, but deep down you know you did what was right.
1928: The Republicans nominate Iowa orphan Herbert Hoover, a Protestant prohibitionist. The Democrats nominate New York Tammany Hall politician Al Smith, a wet Catholic and the son of Irish immigrants. This will turn into the ultimate “Your Guy Is Evil!” showdown. The election becomes a way for the nation to grapple with its rural/urban split and a bevy of cultural divisions flowing from it. In the end, Smith is too foreign for most Americans. Also, the economy is booming, and Hoover promises there will be a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. Doesn’t sound like much now, but back then it was like promising people a McMansion and a Porsche. And they believe you. Hoover wins in a romp of historic proportions. Then the Great Depression happens.
1932: Hoover has spent three and a half years making one PR gaffe after another as the rate of full time employment craters out at 50%. The Democrats could nominate a chimp and win this election. Instead they choose New York governor Franklin Roosevelt. He has a plan. It’s called the New Deal. It still shapes your life in too many ways to list here. He’s so beloved, he wins four elections. Can you even imagine? Afterwards, shell shocked Republicans are so distraught they help push through a constitutional amendment limiting presidents to two terms. Which is the only reason Trump is not going to lose to Obama by 25 points. Believe me. That would be happening.
1980: Ronald Reagan punches incumbent Jimmy Carter so hard that the Georgia peanut farmer feels the need to spend the next four decades trying to repair his public image. This is a very important election. I don’t need to explain why to Republicans. I’ll just give you a few moments alone to savor it.
2016: . . . and we’re back. Regardless of who wins this election, it will probably be written about for a very long time, even though some of the reasons are as of yet unknown. Perhaps one of these nincompoops will start a major war or destroy the economy. Each side seems to believe that’s what will happen if they lose. But even without knowing what awaits us over the next four years, this election will still be one for the ages.
Why? Because if you look at the above list, it’s not just about the concrete consequences of a given election, such as the Civil War or the New Deal. It’s also because all of those elections represented something. In each instance, the nation was very divided, and the election crystalized those divisions. And right now, in this highly divided nation, larger issues are being filtered through this election. Historians will likely talk about it with regards to national anxieties over long simmering racial tensions, and demographic changes resulting from turn-of-the-century immigration and the political rise and peak of Millennials and Baby Boomers respectively.
So now, dear Trump supporter, I’d like to talk to you about your role in history. And that in no way means I’m going to sing Hilary Clinton’s praises, much less ask you to vote for her.
Remember, I don’t like Hillary Clinton either. I think she’s a liar and war monger. I wasn’t the least bit surprised by how Colin Powell described her in his leaked emails. He characterized her as overly ambitious and full of hubris. He said she creates her own problems and “comes across as sleazy . . . for good reasons.” He even went so far as to admit he’d rather not have to vote for her.
That sounds about right. But you know what? He also said Trump is a racist, a “disaster,” a “national disgrace and an international pariah.”
Can we let our partisan guards down, and be honest and open with each other for just a moment?
We both know in our hearts that Powell’s probably right on both counts. The retired general and registered Republican who has served presidents in both parties, nailed it: Clinton’s pretty bad and Trump’s much, much worse.
Let’s start with the racist part.
Trump is a racist. He says racist things. He advocates racist policies. It really is pretty straightforward. That’s why, even though neither candidate can muster support from a majority of voters, 60% believe that Trump is “biased against women and minorities.” Hell, even 7% of his own supporters go a step further and admit that he’s outright racist and sexist. Don’t stick your head in the sand on this one.
Of course, just because you vote for a racist, it doesn’t mean that you’re a racist. And if you support Trump, I’ll never call you a racist on that count.
But you are in fact supporting a racist, and you have to take responsibility for that.
Donald Trump frequently says racist things. Not just coded racist things, like claiming Obama wasn’t born in America, but clearly racist things that are beyond dispute. Don’t believe me? How about Fortune Magazine? They have absolutely no qualms admitting Trump’s a racist, and they even list a whole bunch of examples from the 1980s to the present.
Voting for Donald Trump won’t make you racist. But down the road, when history has its say, you’re going to have to explain to your kids and grandkids why exactly you did vote for a blatant racist. In the year 2016.
Aside from Trump’s racism, there’s also the question of qualifications.
Let’s begin by acknowledging that Democrats have this really ugly habit of trying to paint Republicans as stupid. Back in the 1950s, they even tried to smear Dwight Eisenhower as being dopey. You know. The guy who had just been in charge of the European theater during World War II. Utterly shameless. Democrats later did the same thing to George H.W. Bush, who had previously run the CIA.
Democrats, especially the dumb, self-satisfied ones, love to pretend they’re smarter than Republicans; they’re brilliant, urbane sophisticates, while Republicans are a bunch of slack-jawed, mouth-breathing neanderthals. And Dems are so arrogant about it, they don’t even know why you hate them.
I’m with you on this one. I really am. I don’t think Donald Trump is stupid. I think he’s very smart. But here’s the thing: he’s also patently unqualified to be president.
I don’t say that because he’s not a politician. I’d be happy to see someone with little or no experience as an elected politician find their way to the White House. Hell, I might end up voting for Green candidate Jill Stein, and boy is she not a politician. Or very qualified. But unlike Trump, she has zero chance of winning.
So I’m not warning you off Trump because he’s an outsider. I love outsiders. And I agree with you that insiders are a huge part of the problem. Let’s blow up the system! But we need a carefully planned, controlled demolition, not an out of control wrecking ball.
In other words, simply being an outsider isn’t enough to effectively shake up the system. And Trump will fail to achieve real reform because he doesn’t have the skills to successfully navigate the system.
Frankly, he doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing. It’s one thing to not have experience. It’s another thing to not have the relevant skills. And being a good businessman isn’t by itself enough to make someone a good or effective president. Trump would need to translate his business skills into political skills. And to do that, he would need to understand the basics of how government works, both on domestic issues and foreign policy. But time and time again Trump has shown that he does not have a sound understanding of either.
Furthermore, and I know you’ve heard this many times and are probably dismissive of it, but Trump does not have the temperament to be president. It sounds like a copout, but it’s a real thing. And it’s not just that he pops off and says outrageous tings. Yay! That’s fun! More importantly, he can’t seem to stay focused. He loses interest and moves on to the next thing. He also seems completely incapable of understanding any issue from anyone else’s point of view. He seems driven primarily by ego instead of a coherent set of beliefs. And he’s so lacking in self-discipline and empathy as to make you wonder if he’s mentally ill. At the very least, he’s selfish, narcissistic, and impulsive to the point of being reckless, and the thought of him having access to the nuclear codes should give you serious pause.
For all of these reasons, Donald Trump is almost certainly the most unqualified major party presidential candidate of the last hundred years, if not all time, and if elected, may prove to be history’s least effective and most dangerous president.
Now, none of that means Hillary Clinton will be a good president. In fact, I think she will probably be a bad president in the mold of progressive, interventionist Democrats like Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Johnson. But she’ll be bad in all the conventional ways. Nothing you can’t predict. She’ll develop a flawed agenda and make poor decisions. Her good accomplishments will be overshadowed by her mistakes.
But Trump does not even have what it takes to be just plain old bad.
I don’t think he’s going to start World War III. But I do believe that if Trump moves into the White House, he will embarrass you on a near daily basis. I mean, I won’t be embarrassed, because I won’t have to admit having voted for him.
But this isn’t like voting for Reagan or a Bush. This isn’t just about policy differences, which in this case aren’t even that stark in many respects. They’re dramatic (Build a wall!). But even though most people won’t admit it, Trump and Clinton aren’t nearly as far apart on the issues as, say, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz. Clinton’s barely liberal and Trump’s barely conservative.
Rather, this is about recognizing that the Republican presidential candidate is fundamentally unqualified to be president, and that if he wins, he may very well end up as the worst president of all time. Which is precisely why, even in this era of hyper-partisan party loyalty, scores of the nation’s top Republicans are NOT supporting Trump. Dozens are abstaining. Many are even actively campaigning against him. And not a single living former president from either party is supporting Trump, which really ought to tell you something. I don’t care how much you hate all of those former presidents. They’re the only people in the world who really understand what the job entails, and not a one of them, including fellow Republicans, believe Trump has what it takes, which is really quit stunning and completely unprecedented.
Look, I’m not asking you to vote for Hillary Clinton. I would never do that. Shit, I’m probably not voting for Hillary Clinton either.
Instead, I’m just asking you to think long and hard before you punch the screen for Trump. Figure out an alternative.
Vote for Gary Johnson. Write in Ted Cruz. Trade your vote with someone in another state. Stay home. But think twice, and then a third time before you vote for Donald Trump.
The 2016 election is probably going in the history books. And a hundred years from now, when we’re all dead, and absolutely nobody has any skin in this election, when it’s all been reduced to an odd puzzle from the past, Americans will look back in amazement while historians do their darndest to explain why so many people did something so incomprehensible as voting for Donald Trump.
Which page of the history book do you want to be on?
Post Script: I forgot to mention perhaps the most important part. Donald Trump will not actually revolutionize politics. He’ll mostly just sign the bills a GOP Congress puts in front of him.
This essay was originally published at 3 Quarks Daily.