There have been a lot of reasons for apartisans to like Donald Trump. He offered a breath of fresh air and a radical change from your typical politician. He promised to speak truth to the power of the entrenched establishment, to call it as he sees them, and to fight for the average American. He was a stark contrast to Hilary Clinton, who embodied that establishment and many perceived as elitist, entitled, and out of touch. And he supported a mix of policies that had liberal and conservative lineages, from greater protectionism to stronger immigration controls.
And so even though the election of Donald Trump in 2016 was surprising and shocking for many Americans, some of us held out hope that he could bring the country together with an innovative form of leadership that transcended partisan politics. That, however, did not come to pass, and he has turned out to be the most hyper-partisan president in our nation’s history. He has failed to seek compromise, consensus, or unity on almost any issue, but instead has chosen to drive deep wedges between us at almost every opportunity.
General Mattis, Trump’s own former Secretary of Defense, stated the case against the President clearly. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
Such hyper-partisanship not only prioritizes the interests of one’s own party but does so at any cost and at the expense of the norms, values and institutions that are the foundation of our society. It combines party loyalty with an authoritarian inclination that disregards the importance of a pluralistic approach to democracy. Simply said, it prefers the single party rule of Xi Jinping in China, Vladimir Putin in Russia, and Kim Jong-un in North Korea over actually listening to and engaging with people you disagree with.
Apartisans must take a stand against such hyper-partisanship and work to defeat its adherents. While the Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, are guilty of it at times too, Trump is by far the worst offender and must be defeated in this coming election.
The internet is rife with lists detailing why this is the case (e.g. “113 Reasons Republicans Aren’t Voting for Trump in 2020,” “The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Trump,” and “The 88 Reasons Trump is unfit to serve as President”). I’ve distilled them down to six dimensions that capture most of the deep problems with his actions and character. For partisans who are Trump loyalists, these reasons will be irrelevant. But for others who still have an open mind and are not yet fully decided, perhaps they will be helpful.
A recent poll of 13,582 American adults by the Pew Research Center shows that about 18% either haven’t made up their mind about the upcoming presidential election or say they may change their mind before they vote. It also found that 16% haven’t given much thought to the presidential candidates and 8% believe that it doesn’t really matter who wins. Approximately 2% of registered voters don’t plan to vote. The same poll found that Biden is leading Trump nationally by 10%. A major shift among any of these groups could have a significant effect on the outcome, particularly in battleground states.
What might cause any of these potential voters to change their minds about the election, give more thought to the candidates, or decide to cast a ballot after all? Any change in attitudes will likely be driven by these groups developing a better or different understanding of the six key dimensions mentioned above and on which this year’s contest has been waged. They all relate to basic political values – democracy, law and order, truth and transparency, basic human decency, loyalty, and effectiveness, particularly in a time of crisis.
Donald Trump has failed us on all of these dimensions, both in absolute terms and in comparison to all of our past presidents. Given the scope and scale of his failures, it is often hard to remember and keep track of them all. Let us therefore review each dimension in turn.
Donald Trump has consistently demonstrated a lack of respect for basic democratic institutions, whether at home or abroad. In both 2016 and 2020, he suggested he will not abide by the results of the election unless he wins. He has called for a delay in the election this fall, which would unconstitutionally prolong his tenure in office. He has undermined our electoral process by claiming without credible evidence that it is plagued by fraud. He has criticized voting by mail even though he has voted by mail himself. He has undermined the constitutional role of the US Postal Service not only to deliver ballots on time but also people’s social security checks and medicines. And he has attacked protesters who have peaceably assembled – also a constitutional right – across the country, equating them all with the very small percentage of people who have damaged private and public property.
The president has also not stood up against autocrats around the world and their attacks on their own democratic institutions – and our own. In a shocking press conference in Moscow, Trump chose to accept the word of Vladimir Putin over the entire US intelligence community that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election. He resisted every effort to sanction Russia for doing so. He has refused to stand up to not only Putin but also Xi Jinping of China, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, and many others for their autocratic and anti-democratic policies. In particular, China has curtailed the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong without any significant action or word from Trump.
And then there are Trump’s efforts to encourage a foreign government (Ukraine) to conduct an investigation into the son of his likely electoral opponent, Joe Biden. We went through an entire impeachment trial on this issue, and there is little doubt that Trump did indeed make this request and that it was problematic. The debate was about whether it was “impeachable” or whether it should be left to voters to decide.
Well, here we are. To make it more clear how deeply wrong Trump’s actions were, consider an analogy. Let’s imagine if Lyndon Johnson had asked the leader of the Soviet Union to release information that publicly humiliated his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, in the 1964 election. Would we not view that as inviting a foreign power to influence an American election? As not only anti-democratic but treasonous? If so, the same logic must be applied to Donald Trump’s actions, whether they were a phone call to the Ukrainian president or a request on camera for Russia to “find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Simply said, he is a want-to-be dictator who will stop at nothing – including the undermining of our elections and the destruction of our democratic institutions – to hold onto power.
Rule of Law
Donald Trump talks about the importance of law and order, but he has significantly undermined the rule of law as president. Part of law and order is controlling the abuse of power by those in office. Our political system – as enshrined in the Constitution – has established a separation of powers both among the three branches of our federal government and between the federal governments and the states. Trump has resisted Congress’s constitutional power of oversight over the executive branch, refusing to allow officials to testify and applying executive privilege in an indiscriminate and absolute manner.
The president has also ignored a key Constitutional requirement of the presidency – that federal officials, including the president, not receive gifts, titles, offices, or “emoluments” (salaries, fees, or profits) from a foreign government. Payments by foreign governments to stay at Trump properties, which Trump has not fully divested himself from, is a clear violation of the Constitution, as is his family’s receipt of 41 trademarks from the Chinese government. One ethics watchdog has identified an astounding 3403 conflicts of interest of the President.
His payments of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels through Michael Cohen are also a clear violation of both election and ethics law (the idea that Cohen acted without Trump’s knowledge is preposterous). He weakened ethics rules for federal officials, allowing more lobbyists to fill administration positions and removing the requirement to disclose when ethics waivers are issued. More than half of his cabinet has engaged in questionable ethical conduct, but Trump has not asked for their resignations. He has directly undermined the rule of law by pardoning soldiers who had been accused of war crimes, including one who had been convicted by the military justice system. He and his administration have repeatedly violated the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from engaging in political activities when they are working a an official capacity.
The recent release of his tax returns also suggests that he may have repeatedly broken the law and committed tax fraud. The tax-free gifts to his children and deductions for expenses like $70,000 for hairstyling are particularly glaring.
Then there is the obstruction of justice charges that Robert Mueller investigated. Mueller said that he could not clear Trump of the charges but left it to Congress (and the American people) to determine whether Trump did indeed obstruct justice. Trump’s own words make it very clear he intended to obstruct justice, that he committed obstructive acts, and that there was a connection between those acts and official proceedings.
For example, In the case of the firing of James Comey, Trump said publicly that when he decided to fire the FBI Director he said to himself that the “Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” This is a classic case of obstruction of justice – a suspect fires the head of an investigation into the suspect’s suspected criminal activity because of that investigation. According to an analysis by the Lawfare Institute, Trump also clearly obstructed justice when he tried to fire and curtail Mueller’s investigation, and there is evidence to support Trump’s obstruction of justice regarding the investigation of Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, and Michael Flynn.
His performance in his first debate with Joe Biden perfectly demonstrated his lack of respect for law and order. First, he refused to abide by the rules he himself had agreed to, interrupting the moderator and Biden an astounding 128 times. Then, and more ominously, he instructed a group that has engaged in and condoned political violence, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by.” This is not someone who respects law and order.
Every president has a complex relationship with the truth, either consciously or unconsciously. President Obama infamously said that everyone would be able to keep their healthcare plan if they like it, which didn’t turn out to be the case.
But Donald Trump is on a different plane of uttering falsehoods and telling lies. Retired Marine general and Trump’s former chief of staff John Kelly has stated, Trump “is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life” and “the depths of his dishonesty is just astounding.” His insistence that the crowd at his inauguration was bigger than Obama’s has become the posterchild of this dishonesty – photo evidence and Metro ridership unambiguously shows he is wrong. But what is even more concerning is his denial of statements he has made dozens of times. He claimed that he never said Mexico would directly pay for the wall, but he and his campaign made numerous statements saying exactly that.
These are only two of a multitude of such instances. According to one count, he has made over 20,000 false statements during his presidency, approximately 12 per day. By another count, in his first year he made more than six times the number of blatant falsehoods than Obama did in his entire eight years in office. He has bragged on tape about making up facts in talking with foreign leaders – even with our allies such as Canada. He has actively promoted outrageous and disproven conspiracy theories like QAnon, and then demurred on disavowing them.
One of apartisans’ greatest frustrations is with partisans’ unabashed deployment of false information for their own ends. Such duplicity undermines trust in our political system and threatens the very foundations of modern society. Without a collective commitment to seeking the truth, we will be unable to resolve our differences or make progress on any of our common problems. Trump’s assault on that commitment makes him utterly unfit for office.
Beyond Trump’s dishonesty, an additional unpardonable flaw is his basic lack of decency towards other people. It is true that Democrats can sometimes be elitist and be condescending towards people who disagree with them, as Hilary Clinton did by generically calling half of Trump supporters “deplorables.” But they generally do not engage in the ceaseless, bullying and mean ad hominem attacks on people’s bodies, intelligence, and character that are central to Donald Trump’s rhetoric.
His treatment of women is particularly galling. From the Access Hollywood tape on which he talked about assaulting women by grabbing “’em by the pussy” to his insulting statements about Rosie O’Donnell (“a slob” with a “fat, ugly face”), Carly Fiorina (“look at that face, would anyone vote for that?”), Meghan Kelly (“blood coming out of her wherever”), Stormy Daniels (“horseface”), Hilary Clinton (“nasty woman”), Omarosa Manigault Newman (“crazed, crying lowlife” and “that dog”), Alicia Machado (“disgusting” and “Miss Piggy”), and many, many more, Trump is the very epitome of misogynistic, abusive sexism. His words are unacceptable for any man to utter (whether in a locker room or in public), let alone the President of the United States.
Then there are his statements about minorities and people of color. For example, he called California Rep. Maxine Waters “An extraordinarily low IQ person” and has publicly insulted the intelligence of other African Americans, including Don Lemon and Lebron James. He has called people crossing the Mexican border
“animals,” and accused a federal judge who was born in the United States of treating him “unfairly” because of the judge’s Mexican heritage. As Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan stated, this is a textbook example of racism. He has called places that are majority non-white as “shithole countries,” and tried to ban immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries for no other reason other than that they were Muslim. In supporting birtherism claims, he accused Barack Obama of hiding that he was a Muslim.
Trump has also hesitated to condemn individuals and groups that have a long history of racism, sexism, and homophobia. His inability to immediately condemn the KKK, Neo-Naxis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville was inexcusable, as was his support for Roy Moore in his 2017 bid for the Senate. Moore has been accused by at least nine women of sexually harassing or assaulting them, has called for the revocation of all amendments after the 10th, including those abolishing slavery and giving women the right to vote, and wants to criminalize homosexuality. Even Richard Shelby, the Republican senator from Alabama, said he couldn’t support Moore, but Trump did.
Also deeply disturbing have been Trump’s comments about American POWs and soldiers who gave their lives serving their country. He publicly insulted John McCain, saying that he wasn’t a war hero because he was captured. He refused to go to a cemetery of American war dead in France because “it’s filled with losers, ” and called marines who died in WWII “suckers” for getting killed. The depth of his depravity knows no bounds.
He not only insults soldiers, women, and minorities, but anyone who opposes him. His namecalling of opponents – “Crooked Hilary,” “Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Marco,” “Psycho Joe,” “Fake Pocahontas,” “Half Whitmer”) has degraded our public square and provided a terrible role model for our children. It. Just. Must. Stop.
And his lack of decency extends beyond words to instituting truly cruel policies. The separation of over 2500 children from their parents at the border was an inhumane travesty and a disgrace to our nation. As a parent myself, I cannot imagine the torture that this caused the mothers, fathers, son and daughters who were separated under this barbaric policy. It was exacerbated by the fact that at least seven children died in immigration in custody in 2018 – after nearly a decade of no such deaths. While of course the president did not intend to cause these tragedies, his callousness towards immigrants certainly contributed to them.
Trump supporters might point to the cruelty that immigrant murderers and rapists cause in the United States. Certainly they exist, but the relevant data shows that immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than native born Americans. And cities with large undocumented immigrant populations have lower crime rates than those with small such populations, and as these populations have increased nationally, crime rates have gone down. So one can argue that immigration may actually be contributing to lower levels of crime – and cruelty – in the country.
The lack of basic decency towards his fellow citizens at home is similar to Trump’s lack of loyalty to our allies abroad. It is fair to ask our NATO allies to contribute their fair share to our common defense, but you can do so without publicly insulting your greatest allies and threatening to betray a 75 year old defense alliance that was born out of the shared sacrifices of a world war. At a NATO summit in 2019, for example, Trump called our allies “delinquents,” “nasty” and “two-faced,” and has frequently said he wanted the US to leave the alliance.
This is not how you treat your friends. NATO has served American interests well, and while it can and perhaps should be reformed, America’s strength abroad lies in the power of its word and the perception that it will honor its commitments and stand by those who have fought by its side. This is also why Trump’s decision to desert our allies in Syria and allow Turkey to attack them was so disturbing. So disturbing that Trump’s Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, resigned because of it. His resignation letter suggested that he believed Trump did not share his commitment to treating allies with respect and maintaining “our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships.”
Trump’s disregard for our international relationships has been demonstrated by his abrupt withdrawals from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Agreement, and the Iran Nuclear Agreement. None of these deals are perfect, but they all involve our allies’ collective effort to manage complex problems – climate change, the emerging economic power of an increasingly aggressive People’s Republic of China, and a hostile regime in Iran. Our alliances have served us well for three quarters of a century, and if you want to throw them away as you rail against “globalism,” you better have an alternative.
Beyond a few limited wins in the Middle East (Bahrain and the UAE recognizing Israel), Trump’s chaotic bilateral approach to foreign policy has not resulted in improved results for the United States or the world. In fact, our standing internationally has sunk to new lows, as only 19% of people across 13 wealthy democracies in Europe and Asia have confidence that Trump will do the right thing regarding world affairs. Their confidence levels are actually higher for Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.
For most people most of the time, the federal government and the president are distant and largely irrelevant. We take for granted the military protecting us, the Interstate highways that we drive on, and the Social Security, Medicare,and Medicaid programs that help pay our bills. Attacks on the “administrative state” are largely theoretical to us. It is only when a crisis hits that what happens “inside the Beltway” actually starts to matter.
And when Trump faced his first real crisis, he utterly failed us. He knew about the potential severity of the coronavirus as early as February of 2020, and he covered it up. At best, this was an effort to avert panic; at worst, it was intended to protect his re-election chances. But in any case, it was strategically misguided and tragically foolhardy. By not enabling the government and the people to prepare in advance of its spread, he ruined any chance we had to initially contain it and to avert unnecessary deaths.
Trump frequently refers to the positive effects of “stopping” travel from China, which was indeed a good decision, except for how late, incomplete and incompetent it was. It was imposed nine days after the first such ban and after 45 other countries had already issued their own restrictions on travel from China. It was also not a complete ban, but only applied to foreign nationals who had visited China in the past 14 days (Americans coming from Hubei Province were subject to a 14-day quarantine). Hundreds of thousands of people continued to come to the United States on direct flights from China.
Beyond restricting travel, it quickly became apparent that testing and contact tracing were critical components to an effective response to the threat of COVID-19. Trump not only failed utterly in implementing these strategies but has actively undermined them. He proudly admitted at a campaign rally that he told his staff to “slow the testing down” because “you’re going to find more cases.” Trump’s administration has also tried to block additional funding for contact tracing in July. His dismissive attitude towards contact tracing has become all the more apparent with the lack of tracking that has been done after the super-spreader event at the White House in October that sickened the president, his family, and many attendees. The incompetency has been beyond belief.
Trump also undermined the effectiveness of the spring lockdown that had the potential to control the spread of the virus. His White House Task Force issued a reopening plan that experts argued was too broad and too early, but at least it recommended a systematic and phased approach. Trump, however, immediately undermined the strategy by tweeting LIBERATE MICHIGAN, LIBERATE MINNESOTA, and LIBERATE VIRGINIA. Such mixed messages define Trump’s lack of clear leadership during this crisis.
Perhaps most disturbing is Trump’s irresponsible stance toward social distancing and wearing masks. Even as he announced his own government’s recommendations to wear face coverings when in public, he said he would not do so. Why? Because he feared it would make him look ridiculous.
What is ridiculous is a chief executive more concerned about his appearance than the lives of Americans. What is ridiculous is an administration that issues social distancing guidelines that it then ignores at its own events. What is ridiculous is a man who holds rallies and hosts a convention that recklessly puts people’s lives at risk, and likely contributed to the tragic death of at least one of his supporters, Herman Cain. What is ridiculous is a President who publicly suggests that drinking disinfectant or shining a UV light inside your body might destroy the virus without vetting these dangerous ideas with his scientific advisors.
Trump has claimed that under a Biden administration there would have been two million deaths from COVID-19 by now. While we might disagree with the specific tactics used, the fact is that the Obama-Biden administration responded pretty well to every crisis it faced, whether it was the Great Recession, the bankruptcy of General Motors, or the Ebola and swine flu outbreaks. When they left office, the economy was on an upward trajectory and there was no major health crisis.
At the end of Trump’s first term, to the contrary, we are faced with the consequences of an ineffective president who supervised the defunding and demoralization of the federal government’s ability to respond to the crises we have experienced in 2020. The dismantling of the National Security Agency’s Global Health Security and Biodefense Directorate that had been setup during the Obama administration to rapidly respond to threats like the coronavirus demonstrates the depravity of Trump’s management style. Lack of preparation leads to lack of results, and tragically in this case, to the loss of lives.
Given his performance on the six dimensions above, regardless of our ideological leanings or our positions on particular issues, apartisans should be united in their opposition to this man remaining president. It is often difficult for us, for me, to choose a side, when we are so turned off by both parties. But we have seen the consequences of our retreat from politics – it has empowered and emboldened hyper-partisans like Trump. We must reassert ourselves or risk even worse outcomes in the future.
And at this moment in our history, we need a bridge-builder, not a flamethrower. We need a competent administrator, not a bungling failure, now both in business and in government. We need someone committed to preserving our democratic institutions, not tearing them down. We need someone who everyone admits, even his opponents, is a decent man, not someone who even his closest associates have called a dishonest cheat, liar, con-man and bully. We need someone who can cool partisan tensions, not exacerbate them. We need someone who will work with our allies to solve problems, not attack them and get next to nothing done for our country and the world.
Joe Biden is by no means the perfect candidate, but he is far superior to the alternative. The Democratic Party is still a partisan organization that apartisans should continue to question and distrust, but it at least has not aided and abetted the anti-democratic, offensive, deceitful, unfaithful, disloyal, and incompetent current occupant of the Oval Office. There are other hyper-partisans to defeat in the future, but our most immediate task is the defeat of Donald J. Trump.