Somebody once said that “You can depend on Americans to do the right thing, only after exhausting every other alternative.” If there were ever a time for Americans to live up to that idiom, it is now. Anger and resentment and fear have fueled much of the lead up to this election and it’s time to reject that. The decision we face is to pick the lesser of two evils; I know that’s a phrase we bandy about every election, but it’s never been more true than now.
But these candidates are two different kinds of evil. On one side we have former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She’s deeply unpopular and untrusted, dogged by scandal and quite possibly the clearest picture of the corruption of modern-day Washington, D.C. She obviously and stupidly mishandled government communications, potentially putting our nation’s secrets and security at risk. Her proposed policies are a furtherance of the past eight years of Obama’s presidency, which while not the best eight years this country’s ever had, also haven’t been the worst eight years in our history — not to mention that a decent portion of the woes we’ve endured can be placed at the feet of a Republican-controlled Congress.
Of all the candidates the Democrats could have selected, Hillary Clinton is without question the most divise and compromised. One need only look at the rotating door between the Clinton Foundation and the governments of the United States and foreign nations (though it’s still worth acknowledging that the Clinton Foundation does good works). But in the long tradition of American politics, the party decided that it was her turn and did everything it could to ensure her nomination.
In an alternate universe the Republican candidate — a Bush, a Rubio, a Kasich, a Cruz — would have been mopping the floor with Clinton’s pantsuit for the past several months. But we live in the universe where the Republican primary electorate picked Donald Trump as their standard bearer. I can understand why — there’s no doubt that America and the world are changing in ways that can seem frightening and that the Republican party in Washington has been an absolute embarrassment on so many fronts. But the selection of Donald Trump was the party’s base cutting off their nose to spite the face.
Donald Trump’s not nearly as corrupt as Clinton, but he’s far from being an angel, let alone qualified or fit to serve. His populist campaign has entertained the worst racist, sexist, conspiracy theorist, future-fearing tendencies of an angry base. He has only recently started to exercise control over his message upon realizing that he was likely to lose the election and the best thing he could do with the latest Clinton email news was to keep his mouth shut and let it play out. His campaign staff had to wrestle away control of his Twitter account for the final week of the campaign, lest he go on another late-night rampage and blow their chances. And at every turn he has demonstrated a fundamental lack of knowledge about how the state and federal governments of the United States work, our relationships with our foreign allies and adversaries, and the role of the presidency.
I was raised in a Republican household and have voted for the Republican candidate in the three presidential elections since I came of voting age. I believe in what should are the espoused Republican goals of a government that is lean and efficient and stays out of the lives and business of the citizenry, promoting individual responsibility and success, and working to ensure that Americans are safe at home and abroad. Trump stands for none of that, or when he says that he does he fails to propose policies that will actually ensure those ideals. I’m not sure the Republican Party stands for those ideals anymore, either.
George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney are good men. They are men of character and principle and integrity and honor, but also politicians that understood how the system works and the compromises that you have to make to get things done. Donald Trump is not that kind of man. I don’t doubt that he’s intelligent or a capable businessman — you don’t build the kind of business that he has without some level of smarts — but he’s also a compulsive liar, woefully unprepared for the Presidency, and either frighteningly ignorant of or terrifyingly intent on destroying the democractic norms that ensure the functioning of our government, economy, and society through successive administrations.
Look, I get what led to the nomination of Trump. I really do. The media delights in highlighting the worst among his supporters — the obviously racist, the blatantly sexist, the clearly backwards — but I personally know many Trump supporters (many reluctant) that are far from those things. Trump is confirmation bias incarnate — he says what you want to hear about the problems you face, even if that’s not what you need to hear.
You’ve been let down by a Republican-controlled Congress that’s only managed to stymie Obama’s agenda but failed to execute on many of its promises, such as repealing, defunding, delaying, or otherwise crippling the Affordable Care Act (though it’s worth noting that they have voted to do so more than 50 times, but never had a large enough majority in Congress to override Obama’s obviously predictable vetoes).
You’ve been let down by an economy that’s struggled to recover quickly from a recession that was purely the result of poor governance and the the revolving door of corruption between Wall Street, K Street, and Capitol Hill. You’ve watched as manufacturing jobs have disappeared and wages have stagnated and the world changes at an ever faster rate.
You’ve been let down by a media that, despite an earnest effort to present a balanced take on things, is still run by humans that have sincere difficulties actually relating to and understanding what life is like outside of big coastal cities and seeing past their own liberal biases.
And then along comes Donald Trump. He’s not a corrupted politician and he’s saying things that seem to make sense. But if you really and truly think about it, they don’t make sense. We could talk all day about the terrible things that Donald Trump has said about women, Mexicans, Muslims, his opponents, and pretty much every person on the planet not named Trump or Vladimir Putin. But I want to instead talk about what Trump has promised to do and what will happen as a result.
There are two centerpieces to Trump’s campaign, immigration and international trade, and they are inextricably intertwined and basically boil down to economic protectionism. Trump wants to build a wall along the Mexican border to halt illegal immigration (and somehow get Mexico to pay for it) and levy hefty tariffs on good imported from Mexico and China (our second and third largest trading partners).
Trump loves to cite our trade deficit with these two countries, and it is true that the United States imports more from Mexico and China than it exports to them. But there’s a simple reason for that: we’re a very rich country full of comparatively very rich citizens that like to buy things, and China and Mexico are comparatively poor countries full of poor citizens that make up the cheaper workforce that builds these things at lower prices than American workers ever could.
These high-profile instances of foreign manufacturing of “American” goods like a Ford Focus from Mexico or an Apple iPhone from China disguise the fact that manufacturing still accounts one eighth of America’s GDP and nearly ten percent of workers — with 800,000 manufacturing jobs added in the last few years. The vast majority are employed by smaller firms, and the average earnings are over $80,000 when you include benefits. While the rise of manufacturing abroad has cut into the American workforce’s participation in the same industry, the bigger driver of manufacturing job loss is automation. The largest factories are today run by fewer people than ever and yet still produce more and better quality products than ever. China may have taken some jobs, but it’s the computers that are going to take them all.
The decline of workforce participation in manufacturing has occurred over the past several decades, but we’ve been through a similar transition before: go back just one hundred years and the majority of Americans were employed in agriculture; the addition of machines to farming has dramatically cut the number of workers needed to plow fields, and automation will only continue to do so — all while producing greater crop yields than ever before. Somehow, the vast majority of people are still employeed even though we’re not needed in the field anymore. That’s because Americans are resourceful and driven and creative; it’s America that drove the industrial revolution and America that’s led the way through the ongoing computer revolution. The failure isn’t in protecting the jobs of old industry; it’s in not preparing for the jobs of the next industry.
Free trade is essential to not just our economy and the economies of nations with whom we trade, but also for global security. Despite the transitioning of some jobs to other nations and even more to automation, American exports have quadrupled over the past 25 years, in large part thanks to free trade agreements like the unfairly reviled NAFTA. The globalization of manufacturing and trade has brought unprecedented security for the United States; as much as we might have a trade imbalance with China, our intertwined trading relationship means that the likelihood of a shooting war is incredibly low due to the enormous and immediate damage it would deal to both our economies.
Trade defecits are driven by us, the citizenry. We demand that the goods we purchase be cheaper than American workers can produce and we reward companies that lower their prices through overseas production and automation by buying those products. In the end it all comes down to your wallet, and we overwhelmingly vote by buying what we see as the best value, regardless of where that T-shirt was sewn or that computer was build or where that car was assembled.
There’s only one way for the government to “fix” a trade defecit, and that’s through tariffs on imports. Trump as proposed an incredible 35% tariff Mexican imports and an eye-popping 45% tariff on Chinese goods. If you’re interested in protecting American manufacturing, that might seem like a good idea, but here’s the problem: when you levy a tax like that on imports from a country, you can expect that they’ll do the same in response for our exports. All you’ve done is start a trade war that’s going to make everything more expensive for everybody.
And then, of all things, Trump rails against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal as being good for China. China’s not even a signatory; the TPP is actually bad for China. It’s designed to strengthen the United State’s trading relationship with a number of Pacific Rim nations, including such antagonists as Japan, Chile, Australia, and Canada. TPP was designed from the start in a way that would lead China to exclude themselves; it demands too much in transparency, tariff reduction, and labor force protections for China to agree. In the process, it will dramatically improve the influence of the United States in nations like Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia — nations that would otherwise be ripe for Chinese domination.
Trade is good. It opens up the American workforce for higher-paying jobs while bringing down the price of the good we buy; it opens up new markets for American goods and services; and it enhances American influence abroad in a way that isolates our rivals and reduces conflict by ensuring everybody has too much to lose. Sure, it means that fewer Americans are working in factories today, but trying to fight that will only hold us back.
Speaking of holding people back, let’s talk about Trump’s wall on the Mexican border. The conceit of the wall is that it’s supposed to stop illegal immigration; but that won’t do it. The vast majority of illegal immigrants in the United States didn’t get here by running across the desert border — they came through a border checkpoint legally, and then stayed. They came to work jobs that we won’t work for pay that we wouldn’t accept. I’m not saying it’s right, but they’re not here to “take our jobs”. Unless manual labor in a field or kitchen was your idea of a promising career.
Trump is obviously wrong when he says that the Mexican government is sending rapists and murders to the United States, but he’s not wrong in saying that criminals are crossing the border in an illegal fashion. And sure, a wall might help with slowing that flow, at least temporarily. But it’s addressing a symptom and not the cause. It’s not Mexico sending their worst, it’s us, the people, inviting the criminals through our illegal drug addiction and the subsequent flow of narcotics from Central and South America into our nation. The crime perpetrated by Mexican cartels on American soil (and the literal war happening in Mexico between the government and the cartels) is our fault, and we’re doing nothing to fix the source of the problem here. But going after the visible symptoms and not the root cause is actually par for the course for politics.
The vast majority of illegal immigrants aren’t here to rape and pillage, they’re here to work and build a better life for themselves and their families, just like you and me. They’re contributing members of our society, and spending hundreds of billions of dollars to round them up and deport them would be counterproductive — even estimates from conservative analysts and think tanks project an instant hit of at least a trillion dollars to our economy if this plan were to ever be put into action. Trump denies all of these costs, of course.
Yes, people that are in this country illegally are breaking the law, and we need to figure out what to do about that. But the mass deportation of 11 million people would be tremendously damaging on an economic level. It should be a non-starter on those grounds, let alone from a humanitarian perspective.
The other boogeyman that fuels the demand for an enormously-expensive border wall is terrorism. Don’t get me wrong: terrorism is a threat and we need to be vigilant, but to tie it to border security is absurd. Terrorists that are trained and come to the United States to carry out destructive acts aren’t going to risk being caught crossing the border illegally. They’re not stupid. Every foreign-born terrorist came to the United States legally, be it as an immigrant, student, or tourist (they may have overstayed their visas, but that’s another story).
That’s not even touching on the most ludicrous part of the border security and terrorism argument: they have to go through Mexico first, and then cross the US border, avoiding interception by border patrols on both sides of the border, and then get to a city, establish themselves, and prepare for whatever attack they’re going to carry out with the added complication of employment, purchases, and basic movement being hindered by their illegal status. What’s easier: apply and wait for a visa and then cross the border legally at Customs in the airport, or risk getting caught by police while running across the desert after going over, under, or through a fence?
The same logic applies to Trump’s vitriol directed at Syrian refugees. It is absolutely true that Syrian refugees would be coming from a country that’s grappling with a very serious terrorism problem. But, again, it’s far easier to apply for and receive a tourist visa and just stay than it is to attain refugee status. In fact, it’s a two-year process involving multiple UN and US government agencies (including screening by the FBI, DHS, TSA, and State Department), several thorough interviews, background checks, medical screenings, and more.
Only 1% of refugees are even recommended as candidates for resettlement by the UN to begin with, and they require identifying documents and biometric scans for anything to even happen. It is true that many refugees don’t have these documents, and without them the resettlement process never even gets off the ground. Any terrorist trying to sneak in as a refugee is wasting his time — it takes a very long time and there are dozens of stringent steps where he risks being caught.
Could a terrorist slip through the refugee process or over the border with Mexico? Sure, it could happen. But the likelihood is extremely low.
But the likelihood of Iran restarting their nuclear program if Trump tears up the nuclear deal? One hundred percent. We can bemoan the payments that Iran has received as part of the deal (it’s worth noting that all of these payments are either the return of Iranian assets seized in 1979 or repayment with interest for broken arms agreements, even if the timing is suspicious and the process convoluted thanks to still-on-the-books laws) or that it leaves the door open to Iran restarting their nuclear weapons program from square one (though not zero) after restrictions are lifted in 15 years.
But what we can’t deny is that it has stopped and dramatically reversed the Iranian nuclear program today and by all accounts Iran is abiding by the agreement — they have too much in sanctions relief riding on it to not go along. The only reason the negotiations succeeded was because of how effectively the sanctions were crippling the Iranian economy. While the nuclear program has been a point of pride for the Iranian government, all the pride in the world won’t do you any good when your citizens are on the verge of uprising over your crumbling economy.
Iran is still the leading state sponsor of terrorism and the chief state antagonist in the Middle East. I’m not happy with the nuclear deal, but we also have to recognize that it’s the best we were ever going to get — and better than most experts expected. Saying “no deal” would have simply encouraged Iran to continue on with nuke development, if not accelerate it. While we had the leverage of economic sanctions, having the leverage of a nuclear bomb changes the game. Just ask North Korea. And many sanctions still remain on Iran, thanks to their ballistic missile program and terrorism sponsorship.
America’s alliances are what keep us and the world at large safe and peaceful, even in the face of antagonists like Iran. Agreements like NATO are vital to ensuring not just American safety, but safety around the world. Trump likes to argue that the United States is getting stiffed by other countries on NATO, spending “billions and billions”, but in reality it’s less than $500 million a year in direct expenditures, or 22% of NATO’s costs. Trump is right that some smaller NATO countries aren’t spending the agreed-upon minimum 2% of their GDP on defense, but that’s not the point of NATO. (For the record, the United States spends 3.5% of its GDP on defense, but is far and away the largest defense spender at $597 billion — more than the next 10 nations combined.)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a mutual defense pact designed to hem in Soviet, and now Russian, aggression. It’s possibly the most successful such agreement in history: in the nearly 70 years of NATO’s existence it’s been strong enough to dissuade Russian aggression against any member nation. In fact, the only time NATO’s been called on in response to an attack on a member nation was in the defense of the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
But Trump’s insistence on casting trade and defense alliances in purely monetary terms reflects his ignorance of the purpose, effectiveness, and details of these agreements. Further, weakening these pacts by insisting on parity that is nigh impossible given the overwhelming economic and military power the United States wields only serves to diminish these relationships and risk isolating the United States.
America is the anchor of the current global peace. Since the end of World War II we’ve managed to avoid large-scale war thanks to the projection of American military might around the globe. It is the presence of United States Army bases in Europe that keeps Russia at bay. It is the fleet of the United States Navy and outposts of the Marine Corps in the Pacific that keep China in check. We do this in part to protect and support our allies, yes, and in doing that we’re helping ourselves. Just as trade deals help to ensure the global peace, so too does the American military’s presence around the globe. It’s not cheap, for sure, but it costs less in blood and treasure to maintain a base in Germany or Japan than to wage a ground war across Europe.
But in threatening to upend these vital alliances over who is or isn’t carrying their own weight, Trump is threatening to upend the entire American-led global order, leaving it open to one led by China or Russia. You might think that’d be great, them taking up the burden instead of us, but that comes at the expense of trade, and freedom, and democracy around the world. A world that is less free and less democratic is less amenable to American interests, and thus more expensive and less safe.
Ronald Reagan cited the shining city on the hill in his farewell address, describing America as a beacon of freedom and strength for the world. Trump would have us give up that mantle because he’s ignorant of the far-reaching societal and economic consequences at home and abroad of American global leadership. Trump sees the world in black and white and dollar-bill green when the world is anything but. It’s every shade of gray, and understanding that is what prevents everything from being stained crimson with blood.
And make no mistake, Trump will be out for blood regardless of how the vote ends up. Win or lose, vengeance for those that he thinks have wronged him his high on mind. Republican officials that refused to back him, judges that dare to hear cases on his businesses, the women that have accused him of unwanted groping and touching, the media that’s aired all of this and granted him an absurd amount of unfiltered coverage, and even the thoroughly investigated Hillary Clinton — all will be in the firing line. This is unprecedented and should send shivers down your spine.
Trump has made his ethos of revenge clear for years: somebody wrongs you, you hit back ten times harder. More than anything, this is an incredibly dangerous mentality of escalation for a President. It’s one thing in the arena of business or politics. It’s another when you wield the mightiest military the world has ever known.
So when you step into the voting booth, I ask you please don’t vote for Donald Trump.
I get that you despise Clinton and that the system needs to be shaken up, but Trump is not the man to do that. We need a leader who understands how the government and the world works and is willing to shake up the status quo, but also embraces the nuance and reality of this world we live in. Not one that’s coming in with a sledgehammer and no idea where to swing it except for at everything.
Trust the part of your conscience that’s screaming at you that Trump should not be handed the keys to the White House. You don’t have to vote for Clinton or Stein or Johnson, just don’t vote for Trump. Vote for every other Republican, elect a conservative Congress to balance Clinton’s liberal agenda. For the good of your family, our nation, and the world, just don’t vote for Trump.
America, make the least bad choice. We’ve exhausted every other option, now it’s time to do the right thing.