When I posted my “case against Trump” last week, I hoped it would provide encouragement to the choir as well as adding converts to the congregation. However, especially in these polarized times, I realized that not everyone would be convinced by what I wrote. That got me to thinking about plausible (and some not so plausible) rebuttal arguments that others might make — from both the right and (perhaps surprisingly) the left ends of the political spectrum. Admittedly, I’m speculating here — but here’s what I believe the most common objections would be — followed by my counter-replies.
From a hypothetical spokesperson for the conservative wing:
“Many of your objections to Trump are the very things that we applaud. The most obvious one is the Supreme Court. While you blanch at the prospect of Kavanaugh’s appointment, because it might lead to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, that’s precisely why we support him. Similarly, where you fret about what Pruitt did at the EPA, we cheer his deregulating pro-business approach. We simply disagree.”
If your examples represented my only objections to Trump, I’d accept that these are legitimate political divisions — and move on. I obviously don’t agree with your positions. For example, it’s hard for me to grasp how destroying the environment is an appropriate goal for the head of the EPA. Still, I understand that Pruitt’s actions are in line with GOP dogma and not unique to Trump. That’s why these items were not among my primary objections to Trump; I placed them in the “(Dis)honorable mention” section at the end.
The problem is that Trump, in my view, remains a qualitatively different — and far worse — chief executive than a “normal” GOP politician — for all the reasons cited in the rest of my prior column. You can’t (or you shouldn’t) ignore the destructive, racist and criminal actions of the President — and say it’s all okay because you approve of some of his policies. You can’t minimize his lies and insults as just Trump speaking “off the cuff.” They have a corrosive effect on the entire country.
Similarly, you can’t assert, as some on the evangelical right have done, that it’s okay to give Trump a “mulligan” for his deplorably unethical, corrupt and immoral behavior — simply because you support his position on abortion. A complete lack of ethics — a “full-spectrum corruption” — looms over much of what Trump does, a point well made in a recent article (by a Republican!). Now that I think about it, a “lack of ethics” could have been justifiably added as an eighth item to the listings in my prior column.
“You overlooked all the positive things Trump has achieved — a booming economy, low unemployment, passage of a tax cut bill, a strengthened military, stronger borders and more.”
This is almost the reverse of the previous point. Once again, we see things through different lenses. For example, where you tout the supposed economy-boosting benefits of a tax cut, I see a spiraling out-of-control deficit and cutbacks to needed services — all to benefit primarily the wealthy and further widen an already huge income disparity.
Worse, there is an inherent hypocrisy in the pro-Trump positions that should disturb you. In many ways, they run counter to traditional conservative values. Conservatives are deficit hawks; they oppose tariffs and promote free trade. They have been strong supporters of law enforcement agencies and very anti-Russia. Trump is the opposite of all of that — and what remains of the Republican party has followed him (a point effectively satirized in a recent Doonesbury strip). The guiding principle of what remains of the Republican Party appears to be this: “If Trump says it, we support it — even if he (or we) said the opposite previously.” It’s a matter of loyalty, not principle.
To be fair, there are significant numbers of Republicans who agree with me. It’s one reason why prominent conservatives — such as George Will — are abandoning the party. From the original “never Trumpers” to those who have only recently recoiled from the GOP’s descent into the mire, their numbers are growing. Despite this, there appears to be no elected Republicans willing to take any action against Trump, no doubt fearful for their political survival.
“You’ve got it all wrong. The mainstream media is fake. The FBI is engaged in a ‘deep state’ conspiracy to bring down Trump. Everything is exactly as Trump describes it. That’s we cheer him at his rallies; that’s why we proudly wear t-shirts that proclaim ‘Fuck the media.’ So get lost.”
A rebuttal here would be a waste of breath. These are his most ardent supporters. Nothing I can say will have any effect on them. We’ve left the realm of the reasonable. They are as racist and xenophobic as Trump is. In the short term, they have clearly had success — helped out by gerrymandering, voter suppression, an electoral college bias towards minimally populated rural states, the Russians and a largely ineffective Democratic party. But demographics suggest their days are numbered. A party that depends mainly on the support of older, undereducated, white men cannot maintain a majority in the coming years.
Okay. That was all fairly straight-forward. But what about the other side of the fence? The left/progressive side? Here, things get a bit more complicated and nuanced.
For starters, I expect that the majority on the left agrees with what I wrote. That’s my home territory. But the farther to the left you move, the more likely you will hear objections, with an increased emphasis on attacking moderate Democrats. While the far left are clearly not Trump boosters, they do tend to minimize the claim that Trump is uniquely terrible. As such, they might reject the underlying premises of several of the items in my “top seven” list (from the previous column) — often employing “what-aboutism” rebuttals. I imagine it would go something like this:
“You’re distressed at Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department? Come on! This is the FBI. Remember Hoover, the Director who put Martin Luther King on his ‘enemies’ list? Remember the 60’s, when a uniform meant you were a “pig” — guilty of tear-gassing, beating up and even killing protestors? What about the domestic spying by the government uncovered by Snowden? What about racially-motivated shootings by white cops, still happening today? You want us to feel sympathetic to police institutions because Trump is — fairly or unfairly — attacking them? Sorry; not gonna happen.”
“As for the media being “fake,” we have three letters for you: WMD. The media abandoned their oversight responsibility and enabled W to use false pretenses as the rationale for a years-long costly war. How much worse can it get? One could even argue the media were complicit in getting Trump elected — with the way they gave live extended coverage to everything he did — while largely ignoring Bernie Sanders and even Hillary Clinton by comparison. And don’t get us started on their “false equivalences” — where the media feel compelled to equally present “both sides” of a debate — even when one side clearly doesn’t deserve it (‘The earth: flat or round? You decide’).”
“Trump likes autocrats? Big deal. The United States government has supported autocrats for the past 75 years. Remember the CIA’s long history of aid to right-wing Latin American dictators (because they were anti-Communist)? And the U.S. has certainly meddled in the elections of some of those countries. And what about our decades of support for Middle Eastern repressive regimes — such as in Saudi Arabia? Who knows? Maybe Trump’s attempt to get along with Russia and North Korea will turn out to be a ‘good thing.’ It’s certainly better than nuclear war.”
“You’re upset because Trump is a liar? Get real. How naive. All politicians lie, as you admitted. Republicans and Democrats. Hillary lied. Bill lied. Obama lied. This is not just a Trump or a GOP problem.”
“You imply that the way to deal with Trump is to get Democrats to take back control of Congress? Really? What have they done that is so great? That half-baked Obamacare? We don’t think so. In the end, the mainstream Democratic party is just as beholden to big donations from large corporations and super-rich individuals as are the Republicans. To a large extent, GOP vs. Democrats in Congress is frying pan vs. fire.”
“And while we certainly don’t support Trump (we agree that he is a terrible person), we are sympathetic to the populist message he at least pretended to espouse. He legitimately appealed to increasingly disenfranchised Americans — in a way similar to Bernie Sanders. Not all Trump voters were racists.”
My reply to all of the above:
As someone who leans distinctly to the left, I am sympathetic to your critiques. I share many of them. However, I don’t see them as a rationale for taking one’s foot off the gas pedal when it comes to opposing Trump. You don’t have to approve of moderate Democrats in order to be solidly against Trump. There are substantial qualitative differences between the critiques from the left and what Trump is doing.
As one example, it’s one thing for citizens to assert that the press makes mistakes and shows evidence of bias at times. It’s quite another for a President to assert that virtually the entire news establishment is suspect; that they regularly, deliberately, knowingly and recklessly publish false information and are joined together in some dark conspiracy against the White House — especially when such assertions are so clearly self-serving. The laudable goal of the left’s critique of the media is to promote the veracity of news coverage; Trump’s goal is intended to make the media weaker, more subservient to Trump and complicit in his lies. There is very little in common here.
I would make a similar response to the other critiques. Yes, we have meddled in international elections in the past; but that is no justification for giving Trump a pass to dismiss (even encourage?) the hacking and other interfering with our elections that the Russians are doing now. Yes, the Justice Department has stains on its record; but that does not provide a rationale for Trump’s smearing of the entire federal system of justice — primarily so he can avoid the consequences of his criminal activity. As for Trump’s supposed pursuit of “good relations” with Russia and North Korea, it’s primarily a sham — as the disastrous Helsinki news conference made clear. And there is certainly no defense for Trump’s constant drumbeat of racism and xenophobia — dividing the nation and encouraging it closer and closer to a boiling point for violence.
While I concede that not every Trump supporter is a racist, I contend that one has to at least excuse Trump’s racism — and a whole lot more — to find one’s way to voting for the man. Some of his supporters have legitimate gripes, but they wrongly see Trump as the solution.
Finally, there are some on the far left who still contend that Hillary Clinton would have been just as bad a President as Trump. I can’t even begin to comprehend this view. I don’t want to defend Hillary too much; I’m not one of her fans. But even ignoring Trump’s personal attributes, his “fake news” fakery, twitter rants and such — just consider: the Supreme Court, immigration policy, environmental policy, education policy, consumer protections, international relations, election integrity, and perhaps the preservation of democracy itself. Do you really think the results here would be equivalent with either candidate? Can you honestly assert that it didn’t matter which candidate won? [That’s a rhetorical question.]
In summary: When a house is on fire, your first and pretty much only focus has to be dousing the flames. If you’ve been concerned about whether firefighters are paid a fair wage or whether the Department discriminates in hiring or whether moderate Democrats are addressing these issues — or even who or what you think may have been responsible for starting the fire — those are all legitimate issues. But they need to be put on hold while the fire is raging.
In my view, Trump is the equivalent of an out-of-control fire. He does untold — likely long-lasting — damage to this country with each day he remains President. He is a serial liar who has contempt for the rules of law. He is dismantling decades of beneficial international relations and destroying worthwhile governmental agencies. He actively works to divide the country with racism. He seeks to tear down core institutions of our democracy for his personal gain. No one who has held this office in my lifetime is comparable — not Reagan, not Bush, not Clinton, not Obama — not even Nixon. That’s why I oppose Trump above all else.
When the ashes are cooled, and the building is hopefully saved from total destruction, that’s the time to worry about rebuilding a better safer house — and creating a more just fire department (mixing metaphors a bit). Until then, fight the fire!
Update: Minor edits made on 8/26/2018