This is Different.

I voted a few weeks ago. I have voted in presidential elections before, but this time was very, very different from any of those.

Going back four years, in 2012 Barack Obama squared off against Mitt Romney. Both of these candidates were people with whom I profoundly disagreed on many matters of policy. However, they were both men of sound mind. They were both capable of reason, capable of contemplating wrong, understanding it, and admitting it. When they read talking points designed to appeal to their less bases of support, it was clear they understood there was a distance between those talking points and actual reality.

This understanding was exemplified in an exchange Obama had with McCain, his 2008 rival, in which he admitted McCain was right about a provision in a bill and McCain responded graciously [89]. McCain was also of sound mind, keenly understanding the gap between productive pragmatism and dangerous ideological puritanism. His famous collaboration with Russell Feingold exemplified this quality.

Going back as far as 2004, the presidency of George W. Bush was far from ideal, but he was also a person of fundamentally sound mind. His real disaster, the war in Iraq, is best viewed as the product of hawkish nationalism colliding with runaway group-think, phenomena to which even his highly intelligent National Security Advisor — Condoleezza Rice — fell prey. He was a reasonable person who made a huge mistake. Likewise, his 2004 political opponent John Kerry was also a reasonable person, a man of sound mind. Going back to the year 2000, one could say the same of Al Gore.

I am writing this to encourage you to avoid making a simple mistake, and that mistake is to think of this as simply being an election between two human beings of sound mind with whom you disagree.

I will say this again for emphasis. I am writing to implore you not to view this presidential election as a choice between two human beings of sound mind with whom you disagree.

Hillary Clinton seems to be a person of sound mind. You may not like her. You may disagree with her. I know we’ve all just sat through sixteen years of hearing terrible things about Hillary Clinton — because it was understood that she would be running for president — and so it is tempting to view her as especially bad in the world of politics, a real outlier. Engage with me though, for a moment, in a thought experiment. I am willing to bet that most of the things you really dislike about Hillary Clinton’s conduct (maybe not policies) could also be said of George W. Bush and his administration. Let’s run through them:

1. Supported the war in Iraq? — Check.
2. Incompetent mishandling of classified information? — Check. [89][90] 
3. Troubling financial ties unmistakably influencing policy? — Big Check. [91][92][93] 
4. Questionable connections to Saudi monarchy? — Big Check [94]

Those are the main four criticisms that informed people tend to levy against Hillary Clinton (read: not ridiculous conspiracy theories). George W. Bush will probably not be remembered as our greatest president, but I hope you would agree that he is at least person of sound mind. And so is Hillary Clinton… even if you don’t like her.

This is not, however, an election between two people of sound mind with whom you disagree about matters of policy. Please do not make the profound mistake of believing that to be the case. This is unlike any other presidential election in modern times, because that is not the choice we face.

Donald Trump has a well-documented history of disturbing behaviour, much of which could only be described as borderline psychotic. This includes impersonating other people[1], abusing the legal system in a multitude of ways which include filing lawsuits against comedians who mock him [2,4,5,13,14], lying about being invited on television shows[3], and sending unsolicited letters to a magazine for decades with drawings of his hands[6]. It is hard to even begin to catalog his many recent racist remarks [7] which include his very public attack on a sitting judge [55] and associating political rival Ted Cruz’s father with the Kennedy assassination [56]. He has a decades-long history of objectifying, demeaning comments about women and exploitation of them[8,9]. This has included his own affair [135], owning strip clubs [58], appearing in a pornographic film [106], buying the Miss Universe and Miss USA beauty contests, and posing as his own public relations representative to brag about how many women want to be with him. He has even made sexual comments about his own children [10]. He attacked Heidi Cruz (the wife of one of his political opponents) by comparing her looks to those of his own wife [17].

He is terrible with money: he inherited a fortune from his father and somehow managed to make less money in his business dealings over the last thirty years than he would have made by simply buying index funds[11]. He has repeatedly settled lawsuits over selling the use of his name to organizations like “Trump University” and to real estate developers which then used his credibility to exploit customers. Trump Ocean Resort is just one example [12,15,16]. He talked about his penis size in a presidential debate [18]. He openly brags about bribing politicians [121,122]. He appears to have broken the trade embargo with Cuba [123] and lied about it in the same year. He calls his political opponents nicknames like “Lyin’ Ted” and “Little Marco” in a way reminiscent of grade school bullying [20]. He has encouraged violence against protesters and lamented that modern law and order precludes it from being punishment exempt [21,22]. He refused to fire his campaign manager and defended him even after he was caught on camera assaulting a woman[23]. He has gone on record advocating executing the families of combatants [24] — a war crime — and said the Geneva conventions need renegotiating [60]. He has advocated that more countries should obtain nuclear weapons [49], abandon NATO [50], and that we should seek a foreign strategy of allying ourselves with dictators [51]. He didn’t know Russia invaded Ukraine [61]. He dodges all questions about the Constitution but still can’t hide the fact he doesn’t even know how many articles there are [52]; he promises to crack down on the free press [53]. He has advocated for mass deportation, an act which is as inhumane (not to mention heinously against the Biblical instruction to welcome the stranger) as it is legally impossible to do [25,26,27]. He has advocated for keeping out asylum seekers, another barbaric and xenophobic practice [28,29]. He advocated barring all Muslims from entering the United States, an idea as unconstitutional as it is ludicrous, bigoted, and impossible to implement [30,31]. He’s attacked the families of veterans killed in combat [57] and said that John McCain was not a war hero because he was captured. Asked on record, Trump said he would apologize if he ever was wrong about something, but that the last time he apologized “was too many years ago to remember. I have one of the great memories of all time, but it was too long ago.” [32] Thus, not only does he not apologize, but, by his own claim he is not even aware that he is wrong about things. Such a mindset is not only horrifyingly dangerous for a person in power to have, it is explicitly antagonistic to the basic premise of Christianity, the religion of atonement.

What’s most worrisome is this: when he says that he would apologize if ever he were wrong but simply doesn’t remember the last time he realized he was wrong, I actually believe him. Donald Trump doesn’t seem to show any awareness that he recognizes there is a difference between reality and whatever is coming out of his mouth in any given moment. He has been and continues to be the most pathologically dishonest politician to obtain this level of prominence in modern United States history. He was given Politifact’s “Lie of the Year” award for 2015 not just for one but for many falsehoods which could only be described as shocking and indicative of a person who is deeply, deeply detached from reality itself [33]. These lies have run from his blatant falsehood about Muslims dancing in New Jersey on 9–11 [40] to his xenophobic, nationalist conspiracy theories about the Mexican government [41] to racist, fear-stoking lies about black people killing white people [42] and immigrants sneaking into the country [48] to lies about the actual effects of immigration [48] to lies about its extent [48] to lies about refugee law [35] and screening [48] to militaristic fear-mongering with Nuclear Weapons [36] and ISIS [38] and Iran [48] and Benghazi [48] and crime rates [48] to stoking protectionist fears with lies about trade [39] and NAFTA [48], taxes [43,48], regulation [48], the manufacturing sector [48], and the economy [37,48] to not-so-subtly implying Barack Obama supports terrorism [47], to blaming Hillary Clinton for the rise of ISIS [48], to selectively distorting statistics about Food Stamps [48] to spreading conspiracy theories about vaccines [72] to refusing to release his tax returns [68] to his absurd “doctor’s note” [69] to his prominent role in the racist birther movement [70] — which launched him to republican prominence — to later actually ascribing the birther conspiracy theory to Clinton [72] to his own stances on issues ranging from the Iraq war to Libya [74] to lying about his own lies [34]. He has repeatedly denied climate change — including declaring it to be a Chinese plot — [133] even while his own golf course prepares for the reality of it [134]. The writer of his biography has said of him that “He lied strategically. He had a complete lack of conscience about it.”[59]

He really and truly appears to have no grasp of the difference between whatever he thinks in any moment and what reality is. He’s admitted to none of these lies, even though they are well-documented. Some of them he has even repeated and changed the details to be even more extreme, like when he claimed our GDP was “zero” [44] or that we had a 41% unemployment rate [45] or that African American youth have a 58% unemployment rate [48] or that the rate of police killings is up 50% [48] or that Syrian refugees are only being resettled in states with republican governors [46], all statements which are, at the very least, nonsensical and demonstrative of staggering ignorance… and one of which is outright racist. Until very recently, he continued to refuse to admit Barack Obama was born in the United States [71]. He so adamantly refused to admit this wrong that his own campaign had to issue a statement without him in an effort at damage control [95]. Only with the pressure of the first debate approaching did he finally admit that Barack Obama was born in the United States, but, in so doing, he pretended that he had not been primarily responsible for promoting the racist birther conspiracy theory, actually blamed it on Hillary Clinton, and praised himself for debunking it [96] in a spectacular show of what could only be described as brazen detachment from reality. He called Clinton “the devil,” accused her of rigging the election three months before it was set to happen [62], asked for Russia to hack her e-mail [65,66], claimed he was kidding when it was pointed out to him that that is advocating treason[67], and not-so-subtly implied that she should be assassinated [63,64]. He went on lunatic conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ radio show and told him, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.” [121].

And, just in case you’ve been living under a rock, he has been telling his supporters throughout his entire campaign that he is going to build a wall along our southern border and that Mexico is going to pay for it [160,161]. This is not something he said once; this has been the cornerstone policy of his entire campaign, and he has repeated it all throughout the election. He even at one point said, “and they’re going to be happy about it!”[159] Say it out loud to yourself. This is the sort of claim which — before this election — you would only have expected to hear from a man in a foil hat, and this claim has been the centerpiece of his campaign.

Pause. Remember this spot as a reference point for later. Ok, continue.

Donald Trump has every appearance of being deeply detached from reality itself. If he understands reality, he doesn’t seem to give any indication of it. I’ve heard people try to make the argument that Trump’s decades of abhorrent behavior, his xenophobia, his fear-mongering and ludicrous statements, and his seeming inability to recognize when he is wrong are all actually just a part of an act which he has cultivated over decades in an effort to position himself favorably with a particularly zealous corner of the republican base. I cannot fathom the kind of mental gymnastics necessary to believe such a thing.

I have also heard my well-meaning conservative friends concede that yes, he seems unwell, but they are still voting for him because he will nominate pro-life supreme court justices. I am not sure why they believe he will do this, but I hope it isn’t because they are taking the man described above at his word. Donald Trump, by the way, took five different stances on abortion in three days during the campaign [132].

I really wish it were an act. There are just no indications that it is and never were any such indications. He refused to prepare for his first presidential debate [76]. After it was a complete disaster, he responded by first refusing to acknowledge it [77] before going on television and attacking a woman for her weight [77] — one of the very things which lost him the debate — and going on twitter in the middle of the night to encourage his supporters to go check out a sex tape [75]. Finally he blamed his microphone for his performance. He went on to ridicule Hillary Clinton for having pneumonia [83], question how Hillary Clinton, if she couldn’t “satisfy” Bill, could “satisfy” America [85], and question her faithfulness to her husband [83]. The fallout from this was so awful that it prompted his campaign staff to supervise him when he live tweeted the vice presidential debate, out of fear he would say even more terrible things with no filter whatsoever. This man has to be babysat in order to use the internet. He then refused to prepare for the second debate with any sort of discipline [78], something which came as no surprise to his strategists because it is well known that Trump cannot focus and has no attention span [86,87]. He declared himself smart for not paying taxes [84]. When challenged on his prior attacks on an innocent group of black men wrongly accused of a crime and exonerated, attacks which included the horrifying statement “Maybe hate is what we need,” [82] he doubled down in a vulgar show of racist denial which was, until his presidential run, considered anathema in the mainstream[79,80,81].

Before the second debate, when the footage emerged of him bragging about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it because of his fame, he read a prepared statement which — rather than show actual contrition — deflected responsibility by talking about his opponent’s husband’s sexual history [97] and threatening to seat a woman her husband had had an affair with in the front row at the debate [135]. As if that weren’t disgusting enough, in a shocking political display clearly intended to surprise and intimidate his political opponent, he actually held a press conference right before the second debate in which he brought out women to accuse his opponent’s husband of sexual assault [98]. He then told his political opponent, in front of the nation, that he would see her imprisoned if he was elected, an open threat not only to her but to democracy itself [99,100,101].

All of that is leaving aside the heaps upon heaps of lies he spouted during the first and second debates themselves [124,125,126,127,128,129,130].

He went on a maniacal rant about how CFCs (although he did not know what they are) are not affecting the ozone layer, and regulations (in place for decades all around the world) are unfairly ruining his hair spray.[119]. This is not a joke; this is a real thing that happened this year during the campaign.

This is not a normal election between two people you do not like. This man is not well. This man is not of sound mind. This man is delusional, detached from reality itself, and will become incredibly dangerous if given the presidency of the United States. Given the — now numerous — allegations of sexual assault (remember that Trump actually bragged about sexually assaulting women, although it’s hard even to speculate if even Trump knows if any of what he says is true), it would seem he is dangerous even without it.

I know that we hear every election that this is the most important election ever. It’s easy to become desensitized to such claims. However, if — after all of the above — you still underestimate the gravity of our situation, if you do not regularly follow the news and you read this and think to yourself, “This is typical spin,” consider the response of the journalists and editorial boards who have long covered politics and so know the long view. Foreign Policy Magazine broke with the decades-long tradition of not endorsing candidates in order to endorse his opponent, stating “A Donald Trump presidency is among the greatest threats facing America, and the Republican standard-bearer is the worst major-party candidate for the job in U.S. history.” [102].

In fact, as listed at [103], the monumental response generated by the threat of a Trump presidency has included: The Atlantic’s first endorsement of a candidate in 52 years (for his opponent) [104], USA Today’s first official endorsement in 34 years (not for Clinton but specifically against Trump) [105], Arizona Republic’s [106], Cincinnati Enquirer’s [107], Columbus Dispatch’s [108], Dallas Morning News’ [109], and Detroit News’ [110] first endorsements of Democrats in respectively 126 years, a century, a century, 76 years, and 143 years, and Union Leader’s [111] first endorsement of a non-Republican in a century (they endorsed Libertarian Gary Johnson). He was even condemned by National Review [19], the conservative mouthpiece of William F. Buckley Jr.!

Mitt Romney has not only refused to endorse him but has openly attacked him with consistency [111], breaking with partisan political tradition. His fellow party members, including John McCain — whose careers are forever tarnished by having made the mistake of endorsing him — have also begun to rescind their endorsements because his behaviour has been so appalling [112], leaving him sputtering with rage on twitter and vowing his vengeance [113].

If at any point you have skipped down because of the length, please start reading again here.

And this is where it becomes dangerous. Watching the collapse of his campaign, his drop in the polls [115], seeing Paul Ryan turn his attention to congressional races and abandoning the Trump Campaign for dead [114], it’s tempting to breathe a sigh of relief and imagine the danger has passed… the same sort of sigh of relief UK voters breathed the day before they stayed home from the Brexit vote, hoping to keep dry [116,117]. I suppose they figured one vote doesn’t really make a difference and that the “remain” campaign had such a strong majority that it was safe to sit out the vote. If you don’t like an establishment candidate like Clinton and you just know Trump will lose, maybe another temptation is to make a protest vote… like the UK voters who wanted to rattle the establishment a bit [117]. I understand that temptation. I really do. I have made a protest vote before… in a non swing state but — most importantly — in an election between two people of sound mind.

This is not that kind of election. This is different. And citizens of the UK learned a terrible lesson in June: racists, white nationalists, and conspiracy theorists vote. Every last one of them. They vote. They do not stay home because of the weather. They do not stay home because the polls make the race look like it’s already decided. They vote. They vote every single time. They vote because they are angry, because they are terrified, because they are told by their authoritarian candidates that “I alone can fix it.” [118] And they just sat through eight years of hearing from their radio presenters that a Muslim born in Kenya has stolen the presidency and is systematically destroying their country [120]. And there are a lot of them, and they are really angry and afraid. That is how Donald Trump got nominated when everyone laughed and said it was impossible. He saw the irrational swell of authoritarianism, he recognized the wave of xenophobia, and he rode it.

“But,” you might be tempted to say, “That was in the primaries. Surely the general electorate would never vote for him; that is why candidates are always told to ‘pivot’ in order to appeal to moderates. Trump hasn’t done that; he has only gotten more crazy.”

Now it’s time to remember that bold Pause you read past earlier. Scroll back up to it now and look at everything written before that pause. I have been updating this document throughout the entire election, slowly adding to it. All the things before that pause are things Donald Trump did before the first presidential debate… and yet, now that people have stopped reading actual sources of journalism and are getting their news entirely from Facebook, so heavy is the weight of our collective national ignorance about politics that even after doing every single thing before that Pause Donald Trump was still tied with Hillary Clinton in the national polls.

Our democracy has its problems, but at least we still have a democracy. You may not like Clinton, but voting for people you really don’t like is something that happens even in good democracies. We are, however, on the precipice of making Commander in Chief of the military of the United States of America a delusional megalomaniac who has promised to jail his political opponent.

We are on the precipice of giving nuclear launch codes to a person who has said he won’t rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe [131], a person who is utterly detached from reality itself and shows no sign of recognizing it. This is not an ordinary election, and this is not a joke. This is a real thing, and it is really happening.

And there is only one way to stop it. We have to vote.

In some states it is still not too late to register. Please visit this link for more information:


In the days after I originally shared this note with family and friends, Trump took his biggest drop ever in the polls as many women came out and confirmed that his descriptions of sexual assault in the now infamous Billy Bush tape indeed do describe real attacks on and grossly inappropriate conduct with women: [137,138,139,140,141,142,143,144,145,146,147,148,149,150,151] as indexed in [152] (not all references I have provided are the same as in that indexed list). The count of women recalling stories of sexual assault specifically is now at twelve, the most recent of which came out on Monday [151].

It was at this point that Trump began threatening not to accept the results of the election and calling it rigged, an extreme and utterly unprecedented threat which reminded many American immigrants of the authoritarian regimes they had fled [154] and appropriately prompted Washington Post (the nation’s preeminent news source on Washington politics) to declare him a “unique threat to American democracy”[153] and Fareed Zakaria to write “Donald Trump is not a normal candidate. He is a danger to American democracy. And that is why I will vote against him next Tuesday.”[162]

At this point people figured Trump was done for and the danger was passed. This is the exact danger I warned of: complacency. The latest Washington Post poll reveals that what has happened since is exactly what I predicted would happen: democratic enthusiasm has dropped off [156]. Meanwhile, Trump’s base has worked tirelessly. The weight of our collective national ignorance about politics has now depressed Clinton’s lead in the popular vote to a practical statistical tie [156]. Trump’s probability of a win on has tripled and is rapidly increasing from its low mere weeks ago [155]. Clinton’s strong lead in Nevada has been reduced to a tie. Worse: in Florida and North Carolina she is now losing. Fivethirtyeight now gives Trump better than a one in three chance of the presidency. To put that in context, if you had started a new medication and knew there was a one in three chance you would lose bladder control at work today, you would probably be pretty nervous. What we’re talking about here is far more dangerous.

Not only is a Trump victory looking increasingly likely, a clear and decisive Clinton victory is looking increasingly unlikely. If the election were today and the results matched the fivethirtyeight map exactly, Clinton would win by three votes [155]. For reference, New Hampshire has four votes, and the race in New Hampshire is neck and neck. A drawn-out election result may entail dangers of its own when one of the candidates is threatening to reject the result of the election [157]. We have to act. We cannot be complacent about this incredibly dangerous situation.

1. Vote.
2. Get your friends to vote.
3. Volunteer to get out the vote, especially if you are in a swing state but even if you aren’t [158]. Click here to find out how you can help.
4. One of the ways to avert an indecisive victory is to mail ballots in early so that Clinton has an early lead in counting rather than a late lead.
5. If you are in a state which has vote-by-mail and a friend tells you on Tuesday that they forgot to mail their ballot and they fear it is too late, look up your state’s ballot return locations. You may be able to go out return it to a collection location in person. Every single vote counts.

About Third Party Voting
A criticism was made, fairly, that my original article makes a brief mention of the reason that I am not voting for a third party candidate (for President) and that this could be taken as a statement that I dismiss all third party voting as silly or a waste, or at least in this particular presidential race. I do want to clarify my position on this.

Different people hold different feelings about what a vote is. On one end of the spectrum there are people who view the vote as a tool. On the other end are people who view it as an expression of personal agreement or consent. For people closer to the first end of the spectrum, my reasons for voting for Clinton — rather than a third party — in this election will carry a lot of weight. For people closer to the second end of the spectrum, they won’t. Having found my own self at varying points along this spectrum in various elections, I can’t — and don’t want to — declare any one point along that spectrum to be superior to any other. If someone cannot vote for Hillary Clinton because they earnestly feel like doing so constitutes agreeing with her policies, my own personal reasons for voting for her are probably not going to carry a lot of weight with them. I state my reasons anyway; I respect people with different positions than my own, and I would hope that my arguments would carry weight with those who — at least in this election — are approaching the vote with a philosophy closer to that of viewing the vote as a tool rather than a statement of agreement, consent, or endorsement.

To those who would view the vote as a tool but actually believe it is a tool well used as a “sacrifice” vote to pump up the numbers of a third party, I would point out that that a libertarian (Rand Paul) and a socialist (Bernie Sanders) ran in the primaries for the two major parties and gained far better traction there than third party candidates have gained in modern times through sacrifice voting. In fact, one of them was nearly nominated. It would seem then that real pragmatism will necessitate viewing our elections, together with primaries, as being runoff elections and accepting that within such a system our first choices will sometimes be narrowed out.