A Response to Never Trump and “Follow Your Conscience” Arguments
The Never Trump moment is not over. Recently Brad Thor, best selling author, reportedly had one million hits to a Facebook post where he argued that a vote for Trump violates his conscience and fails the litmus test of Liberty. Thor is but one of the don’t vote Trump advocates. Even the Los Angeles Times and The Week have joined the fray. Charles Murray in the National Review is one of the most recent to miss the point.
The Anti-Trumper’s can be reduced to three basic positions: 1) A Clinton Presidency would be good for the conservative movement, but a Trump Presidency would not, 2) Trump does not have the character or temperament to be President, and 3) Thor’s position. Thor’s opposition is a variation of character combined with policy: Trump would reduce Liberty because he is an authoritarian with despotic tendencies with a history of championing state power.
As for a summary of other’s: Peter Wehner argues that character, not policy, matters most and that Trump would be worse for the Republican Party than a Clinton Presidency. Jonah Goldberg of National Review argues that Trump supporters “sell their souls to Trump.” Wehner’s argument similarly buys into Bret Stephen’s Wall Street Journal (WSJ) analysis that equates a Trump Presidency with “bullying nationalism.” Goldberg has said that he won’t vote for Trump “because he’s a bullying fool,” conversely believing that the “conservative movement can wait out a Clinton presidency intact.” Michael Gerson’s recent argument is oppositely circumscribed – a Trump Presidency will destroy the party and the conservative movement.
My struggle of whether to vote for a candidate with some inconsistent historical positions and apparent character issues has led me to the opposite conclusion. The ensuing comments argue that all of the don’t vote Trump arguments are logically flawed and their conclusions false. My conclusion is the opposite – a vote for Trump is liberty’s best chance.
Thor falls to earth
Thor’s whole argument can be reduced to a syllogism outlined as follows:
- State power reduces individual liberty (S reduces L).
- Donald Trump has despotic tendencies and champions state power (T champions S).
- Therefore, a vote for Trump reduces Liberty (T reduces L).
A syllogism is disproved when the content of the premises fail to support its conclusion. According to Thor, “Liberty is my litmus test. I weigh all actions of my government and those who seek office, against it.” He then equates liberty to reduced and limited government and states that Donald Trump completely fails the litmus test of Liberty. But the only evidence he offers is, one, that, in certain instances, Trump has praised the power of the state, and two, that he mocked someone who is disabled, exhibiting a lack of compassion.
Exhibiting a lack of compassion in the midst of national campaign pressures is a flaw of character, but not evidence of potential despotism. And whether Trump has really championed – or more accurately, now champions – the power of the state can also be debated. A few verbal examples are not enough to assert this premise.
Thor believes that Trump has a history of political beliefs and action endorsing state power and that his history is the clearest indication of what he will do as President in the future. But, our history of character – not our history of political belief – is the clearest indication of how we will behave in the future. Our political beliefs may change as we acquire new information and experiences. And even though character may be an issue, as Trump has shown – for example, when he built the ice rink in Central Park in New York – he has the ability to change perspectives, modify his approach, and successfully complete the job.
Character is an issue: evaluating Trump
As stated, our history of character is the clearest indication of future behavior. I agree with Thor that Trump’s failure to acknowledge the need for forgiveness is another fault line in his character. But, again, even put together with everything else, it is not evidence of future despotism. Goldberg’s and Paul David Miller’s charge that Trump is a fool is also off point.
In an interesting analysis, Trump displays public examples in all of ten categories required by most behavioral experts to fulfill the designation of a character-disturbed individual. But, even at this extreme the evaluation of someone like Trump – a businessman and entertainer who has lived in the public spotlight so long – is problematic.
How much of Donald Trump’s public behavior is pure marketing and branding genius and how much is a reflection of true private character? Many public figures – Pam Bondi, attorney general of Florida, Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, Ben Carson, Bill O’Reilly and others – come to his defense when speaking of his private personality and character. And he seems to have raised a fine group of children.
Regardless, without question, at least some of Trump’s behavior is indicative of character flaws and inconsistencies. But, even after my evaluation I can’t say for sure whether Trump has sociopathic tendencies, is accidentally brilliant, or whether he is just brilliant.
One of the latest Trump escapades is a great example. About twenty-five years ago a man named John Miller called in to a reporter claiming to represent Trump and explaining why he could not commit to his relationship with Marla Maples. Later, according to the reporter, Trump confessed that the man on the call was really him. Now the tape of the phone call has resurfaced, but in spite of the evidence Trump denies that the call was him.
But here’s the strange part. On The Kelly File, the reporter claims that she did not release the tape. Her assertion is that Trump released the tape to dominate the news cycle. So, once again, is Trump character-disturbed or is Trump a reality TV conductor leading the cultural orchestra in his own arrangement?
Here is where Miller’s and Goldberg’s charge of “fool” misses it. At least some of who Trump is reflects a Reality TV veteran who has learned how to manipulate a Reality TV culture. Hardly the fool. If Trump can bring as much confusion and consternation to America’s enemies as he has to “the party” and the “movement” he may end up being the best President in decades.
The party or the conservative movement is not the issue
According to Bret Stephen’s of the WSJ the mistake that “lukewarm” Trump supporters make is believing that “Trumpism poses no real threat to…conservative ideas.” Gerson’s fear, like Wehner’s and Goldberg’s is that a Trump Presidency will destroy the Republican Party and the conservative movement. But, by some magic of superficially analyzed outcomes a Clinton Presidency will not.
This Hamiltonian position can be reduced to “Protect the party and the conservative movement; damn the nation.” One mistake that Stephen’s and others make is that they fail to accurately extrapolate the outcomes of a Democratic Presidency (see below). Another is that they fail to realize the anachronistic and pejorative application of “conservative” and “the party.” This is one of the primary reasons that Bush, Rubio, Cruz, and Fiorina are no longer in the race.
Even though a 2014 Gallup poll identifies 43% of the nation as Independent, 30% Democrat, and 26% Republican, a 2015 Gallup poll identifies 38% of the nation as conservative, 34% moderate, and 24% liberal. If anything this data suggests the fluidity of labels as identifiers. At various times throughout America’s history there have been two, three, or four major political parties. Parties and labels have come and go relative to the issues of the times.
Goldberg’s, David French’s – and even Stephen F. Haye’s – and other’s stance seems to be rooted in an emotional reaction that can’t discern between Trump’s reality TV branding, his functional character, and the limits on the power of any President. These critics are like the parable of the blind men and the elephant – each has one perspective that misses the complete picture. What they seem unable or unwilling to acknowledge is the shift in culture and issues that has left them behind.
Average Americans care about what works and what doesn’t: jobs, falling median income, massive national debt, weak borders, potential terrorism, and stifling political correctness. And what works may be a brand of conservatism anyway. But, American’s anger over eight years of Presidential dissembling and Congressional inaction has expunged any notion that some party or movement’s survival is of primary importance. Party or label survival is a Beltway concern – it is not theirs.
The real act against conscience
Where I do agree with Thor is that Hillary Rodham Clinton is a poor choice for President. Thor’s greatest concern is what becomes of Liberty when Trump is President. But according to every current electoral forecast with which I am familiar a write-in or third party vote splitting the Republican vote assures a HRC victory. Here is what a HRC Presidency – or any Democratic Presidency – will, at a minimum, mean:
1) A Supreme Court that will, with the appointment of a replacement for Scalia, begin to transform the fabric of America towards the left over the next four years, reducing Liberty.
2) Potentially, between three and five liberal Supreme Court justice appointments that will transform the fabric of our nation over the next two decades, reducing Liberty.
3) A continuation of Obama policies, including Obamacare, that favor government regulation and intervention in the lives of all Americans, reducing Liberty.
4) A continuation of the amassing of national debt that will by 2024 be too late to reverse and will, by the 2030’s at the latest, catapult America into financial crisis, reducing Liberty.
5) A continued weakening of our borders and our national defense, opening the nation to even greater probability of serious terrorist attack, reducing Liberty.
6) A continued disintegration of unity and our social fabric, reducing Liberty.
7) And, more.
All in all, a massive reduction, if not elimination, of Liberty in America. This is “waiting out a Clinton Presidency intact,” as Goldberg opines? Or, “losing is winning,” as Stephen’s writes? This does not seem like clear thinking.
A don’t vote is a misdirection of conscience – towards Trump, instead of towards Hillary. Anyone who says follow your conscience or declares that a vote for Trump is a vote against their conscience is missing the fact that to not vote for Trump is, if they will but examine probable outcomes, the real unconscionable act. Don’t vote Trump advocates’ real outcome is to choose the conservative movement or the party – or illogical notions of Liberty – over the nation.
Liberty’s Best Chance
As for Thor’s argument, and his “greatest concern” about Trump – his authoritarianism, or Bret Stephen’s “bullying nationalism” – America is a Constitutional society with power balanced by three branches of government. Even considering the dangerous nature of Executive Orders, our currently benign Congress, and the moral disintegration of multiple government agencies under Obama, a President is still restrained from becoming a King or a despot. That is, as long as Judicial Review limits the power of Executive Orders to the bounds of the Constitution, as the Founders intended. And only a Trump Presidency will assure that.
Increasing state power may – or in certain instances, may not – limit individual freedom. Thor only shows that Trump has character flaws, not authoritarian or despotic tendencies. Since a no vote for Trump will likely lead to a Democratic President, Liberty will be more curtailed by a no Trump vote. Thor’s syllogism is disproved by its weak premise content.
In other words, the end result of Thor’s logic, which concludes that one must not vote for Donald Trump because he fails the litmus test of Liberty, actually results in immediate loss of Liberty in America. Both now and for decades to come. This type of argument is known as a fallacy.
None of the preceding nullifies Thor’s insights or other’s reservations about Trump’s character and inconsistencies. Thomas Sowell accents this when he suggests that with these “grim choices” America has lost Jefferson’s “eternal vigilance.” But Pat Buchanan is right when he agrees with Reince Priebus that a third party candidacy is a “suicide mission.”
All no Trump vote advocates should reconsider their positions. If Liberty is our litmus test it is time to unite. This does not mean closing our eyes to the flaws and inconsistencies of a candidate like Trump. It does mean trusting in the limited power our Constitution gives a President. It does mean making a choice for Liberty’s best chance.
Seaborn Hall has a degree in management from Georgia Tech, two masters degrees and has studied at the doctoral level. Formerly he was a regional director at a national top-50 RIA; he currently manages a family investment company and writes. He is also the publisher of the Common Sense Interpretation websites.