Why I Do Not Support Trump: A Brief Personal History

I cannot tell you how many times I have specifically declared my opposition to Donald Trump. Not just my own personal opposition, but my belief that others should not vote for Trump. I have never encouraged a soul to vote for Trump and I don’t advocate voting for Trump. Over and over again I have criticized Trump on a variety of his positions, character traits, and campaign tactics.

Nevertheless, this isn’t good enough for some people. I am constantly barraged with accusations that I do in fact support Trump, whether avowedly or secretly. I am charged with tacitly abetting Trump’s campaign with my regular criticism and reporting on Hillary. My motives are scrutinized and questioned on a daily basis.

I don’t really mind this scrutiny. It’s actually kind of amusing, if you can give yourself a sense of remove from the bluster. I’m also gratified that enough people out there are interested in my personal political beliefs, writings, reporting, and tweets that they feel compelled to engage in intense Talmudic examination of my political outlook.

This is doubly amusing because I am very open about my political outlook, either when queried or on my own accord, both in public and private, on the internet or in person. I’m happy to answer any questions that anyone might have, so long as they are reasonable, fair-minded, and not manifestly trollish/nasty/deceptive.

So rather than force people to keep leveling grand theories about my true motivations, let me just briefly lay out some reasons why I do not support Trump. There are many. One is that although I think questions related to his “temperament” have been exceedingly over-emphasized, to the point that the election is becoming a referendum on Trump’s personality, I do think his temperament is ill-suited for the job of United States President — the most powerful position anyone in the entire world can hold. If he’s even a tad as hair-trigger and reactive in office as he’s been throughout the 2016 campaign (and throughout his entire life, really) then this could easily result in bad consequences. Every day could be a diplomatic crisis because he got annoyed at 2:00AM and sent out a misspelling-ridden tweet.

Trump also fails at doing basic things. He often struggles to complete full thoughts in full sentences, mispronounces elementary words, and makes claims that are factually false. He does this virtually every day. With the imprimatur of the world’s most powerful military behind him, these character traits could easily result in various miscues and misstatements that would end up spiraling out of control in his dealings with foreign leaders, thus resulting in bad outcomes (such as war.)

His so-called “Muslim Ban,” and the way he articulated it when he first made the proposal in December 2015 just after the San Bernadino attacks, was obviously repugnant and more-than-likely unconstitutional. For that to have been the centerpiece of his GOP primary campaign was a very worrying sign, and negated any chance that I’d ever support him.

I could lay out more reasons why I don’t support Trump, but you’ve heard them all before: his shady business history, his “birther” nonsense, his innumerable other shortcomings. However, one reason I so often get accused of being a secret Trump admirer is because I reject many of the mainline critiques of Trump — as leveled principally by liberals, leftists, and elite conservatives.

For instance, I don’t believe “fascist” is an apt description of Trump. People of reasonable comportment might disagree on this point. I’m happy to hash out any good faith differences. Nonetheless, it’s my personal view that calling Trump a “fascist” is a misnomer. For a very long time pundits have tried to identify foreign leaders of the modern era who bear some resemblance to Trump. Examples proffered include Putin (of course), Hugo Chavez (yes, people have raised that specter) and naturally Hitler. No analog is ever perfect and the entire enterprise of trying to find one is kind of pointless, but if I had to select anybody it’d be Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi was a media titan who gained power on a center-right platform. He ruled as a kind of semi-authoritarian autocrat. He was mired in personal corruption and had predilections for unsavory personal behavior, especially with women. He was a business tycoon who sought to combine the apparatus of state with his own individual financial interests. To some extent he “scapegoated” the problems facing Italy by meting out undue punishment against minority groups, such as the Gypsies.

Berlusconi might be a bad guy and an unworthy leader, but he’s not a “fascist.” Neither is Trump, in my view. Declining to endorse the “fascist” label should be in no way construed in as any kind of support for Trump.

Another way in which I depart from the prevailing view of Trump: I think there’s a decent chance that his foreign policy tendencies could result in better outcomes than Hillary’s. Because I style myself a “foreign policy voter,” this is my principal concern in assessing the comparative merits of presidential candidates. At the same time, Trump’s foreign policy tendencies could also end up resulting in far worse outcomes than Hillary’s. With Hillary, we know she’ll basically represent a worsening of the status quo — meaning, she’ll just be a hawkish iteration of the current (disastrous) foreign policy consensus. Bad as Obama has been in various areas, she’ll in all likelihood be far worse. Because the consensus is currently militating toward confrontation with Russia and full-scale military engagement in Syria, this too could have catastrophic consequences. (Jill Stein, for what it’s worth, said on October 11 that the risk of nuclear war is greater under Hillary than Trump.)

Because the risks in this specific policy area are so difficult to parse with any degree of certainty, I just have to be humble and state that I truly do not know which candidate would be better. With that degree of uncertainty, it is impossible to make an “endorsement” either way, at least with respect to foreign policy. Because of this informational deficit, my only option is then to say: “I don’t know” and that I do not support either candidate. Disagree with that conclusion if you wish; I’m open to arguments in either direction. But I think it’s fundamentally reasonable, and not the product of some hidden desire to help Trump, institute “white nationalism,” or similar harebrained theories that have been thrown my way recently.

This quandary illustrates why I declared my support for Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic primary race. (I also would’ve advocated for Rand Paul in the 2016 GOP primary, whatever his limitations and problems.) Sanders was a flawed candidate, in no small part because he under-emphasized foreign policy in a manner that I didn’t particularly like, but even so he was clearly the best option among the viable candidates in either party. I don’t know why aggrieved Twitter followers routinely insist that I didn’t genuinely support Sanders or there’s something deceptive going on here. Being a “Sanders supporter” was never my central identity, but I freely admit that I voted for him in the April 19 New York State primary election.

I’ve always felt that transparency is the best policy with regard to one’s voting behavior.

In 2012, I supported Barack Obama for re-election over Mitt Romney. I did not personally vote for Obama, because I was registered in New York and opted to register my discontent with his various foreign policy misadventures by instead writing in a candidate. Here is a column from October 2012 in which I urged residents of “swing states” to vote for Obama. If I had lived in a “swing state” I would have very likely also voted for Obama. Instead I wrote-in a candidate: Ron Paul. Why did I write-in Ron Paul? Because over the course of the 2012 presidential campaign, Ron Paul denounced the following evils: drug prohibition, corporatism, the bank bailout, inequitable treatment of minorities in the criminal justice system, mass surveillance, police militarization, the Iraq War, the Libya intervention, the US government’s support for foreign despots, drone strikes, Obama’s unlawful 2011 killing of an American teenager, Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, and other things that I am probably now forgetting. Ron Paul also voiced support for the following initiatives: Occupy Wall Street, Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks, nonviolent civil disobedience, Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation, holding the Federal Reserve accountable for its fraudulent activities, and some other things I am also probably now forgetting. Did I always agree with Ron Paul? Of course not. But I thought these (brave, in some cases) stances merited my symbolic write-in vote, so that’s what I did.

In 2008 I was a staunch supporter of Obama throughout the Democratic primaries and the general election. I was a volunteer for the Obama campaign in 2007 and 2008. I registered hundreds of voters for the New Jersey primary that year. This was motivated partly by support for Obama and partly by opposition to Hillary. (Everything that caused me to oppose Hillary back then has been borne out subsequently.) In the 2008 general election, I canvassed Pennsylvania for the Obama general election campaign against McCain. I also phone-banked extensively and fund-raised on a small scale. These endeavors were all undertaken on a volunteer basis. At the time I was not a journalist or (professional) writer. In 2008 I also supported Ron Paul in the context of the GOP primary, though I didn’t engage in any activism for his campaign: I was an Obama supporter.

It doesn’t particularly thrill me to recount this personal history. But because so many people level so many falsehoods at such a regular clip, it’s worth getting this out into the record in some kind of formal-ish way.

One last thing: I’ve come to find it irritating, but not surprising, that cynical Twitter personalities would claim that I’m somehow in support of “white nationalists” or the “alt-right” because an unknown segment of my Twitter followers are themselves in this (ill-defined) cohort. I absolutely cannot control who follows me on Twitter, nor would I want to. I can only control what I do, say, and write. I have written over and over again that I have no affinity with the “alt-right,” or “white nationalism” of any kind. Here is one article-length denunciation of the alt-right (such as it exists) wherein I label the alt-right “frequently racist” and full of “trollish provocateurs.” I have issued many tweets with similar sentiments. If that’s not good enough, I don’t know what to tell you. Trying to tarnish people by dint of their Twitter followers’ behavior is sleazy — it’s exactly what was done during the “Bernie Bro” craze. And it’s a hallmark of not having any argument other than vapid guilt-by-association preening.

One other thing. People often claim they can glean my secret Trump support based on the “drift” of my Twitter/journalism output. It’s true that in my Twitter/journalism output, I’ve placed a focus on the Clintons. Why? Because I feel there’s been something of a void in this regard, what with the never-ending daily avalanche of Trump coverage. (That being said, I have done critical reporting on Trump.) Some of the daily Trump coverage is good, some is not so good. Some is hysterical, some is fair-minded. Either way, I feel a good journalistic niche for me personally to occupy is to place emphasis on the Clintons. Call it a “beat” of sorts. Because journalists might adopt a “beat,” it doesn’t indicate that they deem subjects outside their “beat” as unworthy of coverage. Quite the contrary: it just means they’ve picked a particular area of focus. This is extremely common. And I don’t feel the need to tailor my reportorial/analytical output so as to appease trolls on Twitter cynically claiming that I’m a stealth Trump supporter. That’d just be a capitulation.

I also think focusing on Hillary (and Bill) is eminently reasonable since they stand a good chance of re-entering the White House soon.

I think that about covers it for now.