Those who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 have not got what they wanted. Between their hopes and his performance, there is a great disconnect. The coalition that backed 2016 candidate Trump falls into five sometimes overlapping categories. Let’s consider them one-by-one.
Business conservatives measure the country’s strength by its economy and its openness to entrepreneurial creativity. They seek to provide goods and services, to employ others, to gain profit, accumulate wealth and pass it on to their children. Many favored Trump as a fellow business owner and assumed he would think as they do. Yet Trump is a negative example. He ridicules expertise, rejects information contrary to his intuitions, and lies. Who would hire such a man?
Trump poses as a friend to business, but he is not. He opposes open competition, promotes his own family’s interests, those of his donors, and some industries over others. He manipulates markets with arbitrarily imposed tariffs (a hidden tax) and mistakenly identifies the country’s well-being with the stock market thereby favoring short-term over long-term thinking. His myopia incurs tremendous costs. The country will benefit most from industries geared to succeed in markets that are open, not manipulated to reward a select few. Investors avoid uncertainty, but he governs arbitrarily.
Trump’s tax policies are counter-productive. Yes, his 2017 reform simplified tax filing (almost doubling the standard deduction), temporarily lowered tax rates for each bracket, and increased the child tax credit until 2025, but permanently reduced the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, increased the allowance for tax-free inheritance from $11 to $22 million, and continued a 20% “pass through” or “carried interest” deduction that favors larger businesses. These regressive policies deny opportunity, squelch creativity, and reduce competition. What’s more, since the tax cut and before the coronavirus arrived, the GDP and corporate tax receipts surged momentarily and have since declined. Fiscal conservatives should be concerned.
Libertarians see taxes as a “taking” by the government, whose size must be minimized. Individual rights are their core value. Obligations cannot be imposed, rights not removed. Guns may be owned, consciences protected, expert recommendations for health (such as in the current Covid-19 pandemic) ignored, because each citizen is autonomous—free from the nanny state. Yet this individualism weakens the ties between neighbors, between employers and employees, vendors and their clients, citizens and their representatives. Moreover, freedom is not absolute. Free speech is limited as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes illustrated with the example of crying “Fire!” in a crowded theater. The law prohibits deceptive advertising and requires accurate labeling. Appeal to conscience cannot promote discrimination because discrimination violates the rights of others.
There’s a point where individual rights collide. Wearing face masks in the present pandemic is an excellent example. If you exercise your freedom not to wear a mask, you may infect me; but I have a right to my health. There are times when everyone should hunker down in cooperation with everyone else. By ostentatiously refusing to wear a face mask, the President promotes not libertarian, individual rights, but infection. His action undermines libertarian thought by reducing it to the absurd.
Respect for the individual rights might be Trump’s strongest suit were it not for his idiosyncratic abuse of the principle. In a president whose function our constitution delimited very carefully, his rejection of norms is destructive. His demands of personal loyalty, vindictive treatment of critics, repeated lying, and self-contradiction weaken the ideal. He said so himself at Mount Rushmore last night as he falsely projected his own crimes onto his opponents: “driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission . . . [are] the very definition of totalitarianism.” Libertarian principles require critical thinking, not obedience. Trump’s use of the bullying tactics he pretends to deplore, exposes in him the very tyranny against which libertarians consider themselves the most stalwart defenders.
Patriotism connects citizens as individuals to the country as a community. Yet Trump debases those bonds. We should take pride in our achievements without putting others down. Disparaging countries with lower standards of living as “shitholes,” characterizing Latin American immigrants as “drug dealers, criminals, and rapists,” using the crimes of a few to smear all Muslims as terrorists, while —at home— praising violent bigots as “very good people” undercuts our reputation. Certainly, we must, as a people, define our own identity. “You can’t have a country without borders,” a conservative told me. Right. But if we are the country that the most outspoken, self-declared patriots claim it to be, we will bond among ourselves according to exemplary principles.
Those principles are already enshrined in the constitution, specifically in the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, that abolish slavery, provide due process, equal protection, and voting rights. The constitution is a complex web of provisions —not just the Second Amendment, as the President seems to think. It is also an agenda. We still need to correct some of its initial compromises on women’s rights, the horrible legacy of slavery, and our oppression of native Americans. With these wrongs corrected, our patriotism will be more easily exportable and our pride will shine brighter.
Our advancement of science, innovations in medicine, technology, the arts and education, are areas where, especially in the post-war period, we have stood out among nations and even in world history. Sadly, the President disparages these achievements. He encourages a mindless anti-elitism that lowers our goals and saps our national ambition. Even if libertarians and business conservatives wish to reduce the federal government, its personnel should still be an all-star cast, an Olympic team. Yet Trump and his cabinet members (often temporary and therefore not vetted by the Senate) have silenced or expelled from agencies that formerly provided leadership for this country and for the world experts and scientists who question erroneous beliefs cherished in the White House or pushed by top interest groups. OSHA is one example. They have made its coronavirus guidelines for workers in close quarters mere recommendations that can be ignored with impunity. They have weakened the once prestigious Center for Disease Control to the point that, as of today, leading medical schools can no longer rely on its reports. Consequently, our efforts against the coronavirus dramatically lag behind those of other countries. Under Trump, our national reputation suffers.
National defense is perhaps the principal job of the Commander in Chief. Patriotic fervor marches in step with military success and national security. Coming of age in the ‘fifties, with relatives and teachers and cherished older friends who were Word War II veterans, I once knew this feeling. In the meantime, many presidents have erred, but perhaps none so egregiously as Donald Trump. He has undermined resistance to Russia, made a secret and therefore unenforceable deal with Kim Jong-un, and delivered our friends the Kurds to Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan. Like these despots who share his own authoritarian personality, he discounts the advice of his defense and intelligence institutions. America is no longer first among nations.
Religious conservatives are vital to Donald Trump’s support. They respect moral purity in the sense of correct sexual behavior and therefore resisted divorce and premarital sex. Now they oppose same-sex marriage and abortion. To implement these prohibitions, they invoke the First Amendment and stress the freedom clause over the establishment clause. But how can they deny the symmetry the Founders instituted between those two tendencies? “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or infringing the free exercise thereof.” The two —designedly— oppose each other like the constitution’s other checks and balances. Their insistence ignores the threat the Founders feared most: imposition of a single, official religion on their new nation. If that’s what they wanted, they had a king. Yet Donald Trump courts the support of dogmatic backers whose sole interpretation of what is right should be, they say, the law of the land. Libertarians and others who appeal to conscience should reject such an infringement of our liberties.
Although religious conservatives don’t stress it much, religious teachings also encompass correct behavior towards one another. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Of the Good Samaritan, Jesus commanded: “Go and do likewise.” The New Testament enjoins generous behavior towards “the least” among us. Judaism and Islam similarly elevate care for others as a moral obligation. The rabbinic sages as well declared that “the righteous of all nations have a portion in the world to come,” thereby sensitizing the community to outsiders of good will. These injunctions impose on all of us an obligation to care for others. But, in courting opponents of abortion rights, Donald Trump backs those with the most limited view of religion, sexual purity. That’s actually very funny.
Here religious and business perspectives go in the same direction. Just as religion prescribes care for the stranger, so business rewards the objective evaluation of every individual’s talents. But Trump’s anti-immigration policy discourages precisely the kind of people business conservatives should welcome: daring, enterprising people willing to endure hardship and tackle the unknown. Acceptance of these immigrants would elevate both entrepreneurial and religious values. But, erecting barriers of ethnicity, race, religion, and class, Trump says “no.”
Constitutionalists. Many of the 2016 Trump backers hoped to limit government to increase their own freedom of action: to conduct business, to bear arms, to exclude undesirables, to prohibit immorality. They were tired of “legislation from the Bench.” The appointment of conservative judges and Supreme Court justices would support these goals, they thought. Although he invoked “the law of society and nature” at Mount Rushmore yesterday, he has consistently violated the rule of law. Ignoring the 10th Amendment, he declared “When someone is president of the United States the authority is total,” hoping to combat the coronavirus pandemic by dictating to the states’ governors. In opposition to long established procedures of inquiry, his obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation was so consistent that Robert Mueller could only conclude that he could not be exonerated. The president’s authoritarian personality directly opposes the Supreme Court’s motto: “equal justice under law.” The president is a citizen, not a king. In choosing Trump, constitutionalists got shortchanged.
Conclusion. Trump has therefore betrayed all these voters. Millions have donated, invested even, in this no-holds-barred, tell-it-like-it-is, non-conformist, often-bankrupt billionaire. They expected reinforcement of their worldview and possibly an improved economic outlook. But no hoped-for personal, financial, or ideological benefit should outweigh the duty to protect our constitution and our country. Patriotism, constitutionalism, faith, and allegiance to country should mean more than loyalty to one party’s leader. Fortunately, our constitution allows us to dismiss this self-serving, vindictive, autocratic, incompetent president. Given his authoritarianism, if we do not replace him now, we may never have another chance. Therefore, on this Fourth of July before the 2020 election, I urge Trump’s 2016 voters to repudiate him and begin as soon as possible to work for his defeat in November.