Temperamentally Unfit (and Proud of It)

11 May 2017. We already know a few things about Donald Trump as president. It’s safe to say he’s as erratic, divisive, and emotion-driven as a lot of Americans thought he would be, and a number of self-inflicted wounds, high-profile failures, and outright screw-ups, are also making him look fairly incompetent. His ham-handed firing of FBI Director James Comey is just one more example of the kind of egregious blundering you might expect from a political novice who’s temperamentally unfit for the presidency, as Trump clearly seemed to much of the country during the 2016 campaign.

We all know by now that Trump won the Electoral College without winning the popular vote, falling nearly 3 million votes short of his opponent. More than that, a lot of people voted for someone besides those two: 7.8 million, or 5.7% of the nearly 137 million citizens who cast a presidential ballot.

With 46.1% of the popular vote for Trump, almost 54% of voters wanted someone else, not exactly a resounding vote of confidence. More important than how many votes he didn’t get, we shouldn’t forget that Trump won the election without even gaining the confidence a some of the people who actually voted for him. Exit polls show that only 35% of voters rated Trump as temperamentally fit for the presidency, with just slightly more (38%) calling him qualified to serve as president. It doesn’t take complicated math to realize that a bunch of people who voted for Trump did so without considering him qualified or fit for office.

Let me do the math anyway. With 65% calling him “unfit,” that’s an Unfit bloc of roughly 89 million voters, leaving only 48 million in the Not-Unfit group. He pulled in just under 63 million votes in all, so at least 15 million people who voted for him did so while considering him temperamentally unfit to serve as President of the United States. (The real number is likely even higher than that; there certainly could’ve been some non-Trump voters in the Not-Unfit camp, and for every one of those, that’s one more in the Unfit bloc pulling the lever for Trump. That’s at least two New York Cities full of people who voted for Trump without considering him fit for office.)

As the Trump administration stumbles forward, lurching from self-inflicted wound to failure to self-inflicted wound, it certainly seems like those 89 million people were right. Maybe Americans aren’t so stupid after all.

Of course, you have to wonder, why did those 15 million (or more) Trump voters who didn’t consider him fit go ahead and vote for him anyway?

There could be a lot of reasons. One common rationale in all elections is that you disliked the other candidate even more than the person you voted for (call it the Lesser-of-Two-Evils Vote, always sizable, on both sides, in any presidential election). There’s also those who don’t necessarily think that being fit for office is all that important (call it the Expertise-Doesn’t-Matter Vote, a bloc that George W. Bush also did fairly well with). Some of them might even have wanted an unfit president, just to see how bad it could really get (the Rubberneck Vote), or to drag the presidency itself back down a couple of pegs (the Anti-Imperial-Presidency Vote).

A couple of these make good sense to me. It’s rare, with our bizarre nomination process and two-party system, that the two general election candidates are the people whom most Americans want to vote for. (It’s happened to me about half the time I cast a vote for president, and I’ll bet it’s happened to most Americans at least once or twice). Of course, you’d think that unfitness for office would throw most people into the other camp, but that’s not necessarily true (especially if you considered both candidates unfit, a clear possibility in 2016).

The Anti-Imperial-Presidency Vote makes sense, too, especially to someone with Limited Government sensibilities (civil libertarians fit this mold almost as well as traditional Republicans). Presidents have been getting awfully powerful over the past few decades, so maybe putting an incompetent in office to reduce the power concentrated in the White House wasn’t such a ridiculous way to think about casting your vote. Not that the A-I-P Vote was probably a conscious bloc of people organized in opposition to the skewed balance of power among the three branches, but the underlying Limited Government sensibility many Americans justifiably possess could’ve made that an unconscious or semi-conscious factor.

Trump certainly looks like he’s throwing away the prestige, power, and respect built up by the 44 men who’ve come before him, and if that brings us back to a time where the presidency is as limited as the authors of the Constitution seems to have intended, maybe we’ll end up thanking those A-I-P voters. Maybe we ought to thank Trump himself, too, for sticking with his unfitness so tenaciously, even proudly. Let’s just also hope that the Expertise-Doesn’t-Matter voters were partly right as well…