Saturday, January 16, 2016

I will not go to war for Donald Trump

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog entry, and all my blog entries, are mine and mine alone. Nothing in this entry represents the official position of the US government, U.S. military, nor any of its subsidiaries, and it shall not be construed to do so. These thoughts do not constitute an endorsement of any political candidate or campaign, nor do they attempt to leverage my position as a service-member towards the furtherance of any candidate or campaign. My status as a service-member should not be interpreted to lend any additional weight to the legal arguments expressed herein. Finally, nothing in this blog entry indicates, nor shall be interpreted to indicate, any intention to violate the law, the UCMJ, nor any other legal responsibilities.

Donald Trump is not going to become the next president of the United States.

I am supremely confident of this, for several reasons. First, his un-favorability ratings – essentially a measure of how many people hate his guts – are off the charts. This suggests that he only leads the Republican primary polling because there are so many other candidates still in the mix. In other words, Trump has a plurality of the support because the anti-Trump vote within the Republican Party is presently split between many other candidates, but as those candidates eventually drop out, their supporters will likely consolidate around Trumps’ remaining opponents, making it difficult for him to ever get the majority of Republican voters he needs to win the primary.

Secondly, there are too many powerful people in the Republican Party who recognize what a disaster he would be to allow him anywhere near the RNC stage. They may not tell you this in high school civics class, but the presidential primaries are not exactly pure democracy at work. There are power brokers and back room deals and a complex web of procedural rules that must be applied and enforced and interpreted in each locality, and being connected with the people who wield that power at the state level is really important. Mitt Romney had those connections. Jeb Bush has those connections. Donald Trump does not. He has made too many powerful enemies.

Third and most importantly, even if Trump were to ever stumble his way to the Republican nomination, he stands NO chance – zero, zilch, nada – of winning a national election. It would not even be close. He cannot win independent voters, much less woo disillusioned Democrats, because again, most Americans detest this man. Also, I still have some naïve faith that even his current supporters will eventually come to their senses when faced with the sobering prospect of being stuck with him for the next four years.

Then again, I could be this guy.

Improbability of it mattering aside, Trump’s dalliance with leading the polls and being centrally featured in televised debates with actual candidates has dragged on long enough, and near enough to the Iowa caucus, that it’s time to at least consider the hypothetical of a Trump presidency. Trump’s ego is so other-worldly that I can’t see him gracefully bowing out, so we’re stuck with the reality show theatrics for a while longer. For so long as he’s crammed down our throats as the primary topic of conversation in American politics, I want to have something to say when people bring him up. So this, in a nutshell, is what I say:

If Donald Trump becomes the next president of the United States, it would so rattle my faith in our country’s system of government that I could no longer go to war for that government in good conscience. Consequently, I would be forced to leave the military if asked to fight under President Trump’s command.*

When I joined the military, I took an oath swearing to support and defend the constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Taking that oath required a degree of confidence in the safeguards that constitution included against tyranny and oppression. One particular safeguard I was sort of banking on was the belief that our Republican system of indirect representation checked the power of ignorant voters well enough to prevent the election of a complete madman as Commander in Chief. This feature of American government, I reasoned, limited the possibility that my military service would render me an agent of oppression.

At the same time, I understood that the final power in our democracy still lie with the American people. It is one thing to insulate the Commander from the temporary passions of a fickle majority, but of ultimately, the selection of the president requires popular input for the government to remain legitimate. By swearing to support and defend a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” I essentially placed my life in the hands of my countrymen. So in addition to my faith in the system, my decision also required a degree of trust in the decision making abilities of my fellow citizens (or, at least in 51% of them when it came to decisions regarding war). I still have that trust, which is why I remain confident that a Trump presidency will not happen.

If Trump were elected, it would serve as a dismaying wake-up call that my faith in the American people was misplaced.

I have always known that most people are ignorant of politics, but that is unavoidable in any sizeable country. Political ignorance is often a completely rational decision, and it’s not necessarily a problem so long as the government is kept small and local. In fact, our political system is designed with the people’s ignorance in mind. Rather than voting on policies directly, the people vote for the best qualified among them, who in turn vote for the best qualified among them, who in turn make decisions on policy. The average person’s political knowledge need not be robust so long as the middle-men they appoint – the representatives actually running for higher political office – meet the minimum knowledge and intelligence threshold needed to govern. If a candidate does not, the competitive nature of our elections should motivate his or her opponents to make that apparent to the voters before they make their decision.

Donald Trump is such a uniquely dangerous candidate because not only does he lack this minimum threshold of political knowledge (or decency, or caring, or even intelligence), but his supporters are already aware of this, and simply don’t care. He is the candidate of idiocracy, and he’s convinced the nation’s idiots that this is a selling point rather than a liability. Accordingly, his popularity is the biggest argument against democracy you can possibly make.

This isn’t just a suspicion of mine: it is statistically demonstrated that his supporters are less informed than the average bear. As Ilya Somin pointed out here, polls repeatedly show Trump’s support comes from the least educated (politically or otherwise) segments of the US population. That’s ok, to a point – we’re all ignorant, only on different subjects, and I don’t look down on these people for choosing different subjects than me to be informed about. But I do look down on their political opinions, and so should you. To paraphrase Rothbard on economics, it is one thing to be ignorant of politics, but totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on political matters while remaining in that state of ignorance. 41% of Trump’s supporters, when polled, said they were in favor of bombing the country of Agrabah – the fictional kingdom from Aladdin. In other words, they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.

Trump resonates with these people because he is “not politically correct” and “isn’t afraid to say what’s on his mind” which is to say he speaks unintelligently and without a filter. To be fair, it is quite common for politicians to run campaigns that are full of cliché’s, generalities and catch-phrases. But Trump takes this to another level: his campaign is almost completely devoid of substance. For the majority of the summer, Trump’s platform consisted of three ideas (besides “women suck” and “everyone’s a loser except me”):

1. Secure the border! Especially from Muslims!
2. Be tough on China! Oh, and Russia too!
3. Stop “our” jobs from going overseas!

None of these are new ideas, much less specific policies unique to Donald Trump. Every national politician of the past 30 years has been saying we need to “secure the border”– not because it’s possible, or cost effective, or hasn’t been tried before a dozen different ways, but because it polls well, so it’s safe to say. “The border” with Mexico is 1,933 miles long. The border with Canada is 3,987 miles long, excluding the Alaska-Canada border, which is an additional 1,538 miles long. That’s 7,458 miles of border we need to “secure” from all those dang Muslims and brown people. How, exactly, are we to do that? A wall? A fence? Please. Even if 7,500 miles of barrier were economically feasible, walls can be dug under, jumped over, or blown through. Fences can’t stop the neighbors’ kids from retrieving their baseball, they can’t stop drugs from getting into prisons, and they sure as hell won’t stop drugs or people from crossing our border – especially not desperately poor people yearning for a better life by any means necessary. Trust me when I say that if securing the border were possible, it would have been done by now.

It’s also not even that important, because first generation immigrants have lower crime rates than native American citizens, despite all Trump’s phantom fear mongering to the contrary.

As for the “tough” foreign policy thing, don’t get me started. Maybe the voters have been watching too much House of Cards, because multiple Republican candidates seem to have convinced them that the sum of foreign relations is who flinches first in some Hollywood stare-down with Putin. Trump in particular seems to believe that he will be able to succeed in foreign policy where others have failed not because his policies are different, not because he has any particular strategy, but simply because he simply has the SPINE and the BALLS to “get things done.” It’s fucking sophomoric.

To Trump, international relations are inherently adversarial: one side wins (namely, his), and the other loses. But other nations are not rival corporations competing for market share. They are just patches of land, on which good people live, and with whom cooperation provides far greater economic benefit to both sides than competition.

Which leads me to the labor protectionism. This is the closest Trump comes to identifying an actual policy position, which would be encouraging if it weren’t the single most economically illiterate position he could possibly hold.

The following is a list of truths on which there is overwhelming consensus among the experts:
1. Evolution occurred.
2. Climate change is real and man-made.
3. Vaccines do not cause autism, and are both safe and essential towards protecting us from dangerous diseases.
4. There is no evidence GMO’s are dangerous to human beings or the environment, and in fact they have tremendous potential to help both.
5. Free trade between nations is beneficial to all involved because it enables economies of scale to arise. Inversely, tariffs and protectionism are strong net negatives for all countries, and especially bad for the global poor.
I’ve written extensively on this blog about why the protectionism Trump champions is ass-backwards, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice to say he knows nothing whatsoever about economics.

The only policy position Trump has gotten specific about is his tax plan. He frequently lies about this plan by calling it revenue neutral, which it will not be even under the rosiest of growth projections, and saying it will cost him a fortune when really it will save him tens of millions of dollars. Trump’s supporters are right about one thing: he is not politically correct. But the qualifier is unnecessary in that oft-boasted claim, for Trump is not correct at all – about anything, politically or otherwise.

Not only is Trump uniquely ignorant among candidates still in the race, he is also uniquely vain and uniquely offensive. Trump is perhaps tied with Kanye West as the most conceited person I have ever known to exist. Everything he says and does is geared exclusively towards his own self-promotion. His speeches can be summed up in a few short sentences: “I am a winner, they are all losers. I am brilliant, they are all stupid. I make great deals, they only fail.” In the absence of any distinguishable governing ideology or any specific policy proposals, this is all his campaign rests upon. His only belief is that he is awesome and can do whatever he wants. His only tone of voice is condescension.  He has nurtured a cult of personality, and that personality is “pompous, egocentric asshole.”

Next, there’s the offensiveness. Politicians are made to speak a lot, and they speak on inherently controversial topics, so it’s understandable that sometimes they ruffle some feathers. This happens to some politicians more than others, but at one point or another, most of them will say something that’s too offensive to too many people, only to backtrack and apologize as public criticism mounts. Donald Trump is not like this. Donald Trump says outrageous things intentionally and incessantly, and never backtracks or apologizes or even hints at understanding why he messed up. If this is what he says over the course of six months of scripted campaigning, can you even imagine what he’d say over the course of four unscripted years as president? The man is a buffoon, a stooge, a dancing rodeo clown out to make American politics into more of a reality TV show than it already was.

Jeb Bush should be disqualified for the presidency for 100 reasons, starting with the fact that his older brother was a horribly failed president whose views are almost indistinguishable from Jeb’s, and continuing with the fact that his father was also president. Jeb Bush’s very candidacy (particularly in a race against another Clinton!) exposes how corrupt and rigged and un-democratic our system has become. Another Bush or Clinton inheriting the White House from their family members would be a disaster for our country, making us rather like Russia in the eyes of the world: democratic in name only.

But the painful truth is that none of this is what’s costing Jeb the election. What has crippled his campaign is his intelligence! The fact that he is soft spoken, and wears glasses, and speaks in compound sentences that occasionally employ SAT vocab words has completely emasculated him when he is made to share a stage with Donald Trump. We have the stereotypical college graduate on one side, and the stereotypical high school bully on the other, with the most powerful office on earth in the balance, and most Republicans would seemingly rather elect the bully.

This should be horrifying to any thinking person.

There’s a word for those who select most violent and aggressive male in the group as their leader: animals. Cave-men, to be generous. Evolved human beings are supposed to have developed a level of intellect and sensitivity and foresight which lets them choose leaders with more noble qualities than brutishness – or better yet, a level of humility to admit when they are not informed enough on the topic at hand to agitate for one candidate or another.

Just and effective governance is not about being brazen and brash and kicking ass and taking names. Sound foreign policy is not about aimless aggression. Diplomacy is not about how much testosterone is coursing through your veins. And if most Republicans think it is, than most Republicans do not deserve a place at the decision making table. I’m rambling now, with a directionless anger that rather resembles Trumps, and I don’t care. Trump is the candidate for stupid, cowardly or bigoted people who prefer the faked certainty of aggressive sound-bytes to the cognitive dissonance of reasoned exchange. Most of us deserve better.

Four years ago, I voted for libertarian Gary Johnson, in part to protest the two-party stranglehold on power. Barring a Rand Paul nomination, I had planned to do the same this cycle. But if Donald Trump gets the Republican nomination, fuck all that – I am going into disaster-avoidance mode and voting Democrat. I am an ardent libertarian who thinks socialism is an economically illiterate disaster waiting to happen, and I would vote for Bernie Sanders over Trump in a heartbeat.

***

In the wake of his Trump's widening lead in the polls, Evan Osnos of the New Yorker asks the question on most people’s minds: “How did a real campaign emerge from a proposition so ludicrous that an episode of “The Simpsons” once used a Trump Presidency as the conceit for a dystopian future?

There are many interesting theories floating around the web about why Trump has become so popular, but I don’t care which of them is correct. The question on my mind is this:

How could I devote my life to obeying such a man?

Already, the thought of suiting up for yet another Bush or Clinton makes me cringe. If one of them is elected, every day I put on this uniform I will have to pretend not to notice the fucking OBVIOUS truth that they are only president because they came from a rich and powerful family with political connections. This would diminish the democratic legitimacy behind my own actions as an officer, and make it harder for me to do my job. 

But even that, I could bear. Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are intelligent, talented individuals with good intentions and reasonable ideas. They make coherent legal proposals. Their ideas are supported by respected members of American intelligentsia. They can be taken seriously.

Donald Trump cannot be taken seriously. Nor could any foreign policy decision he made as president be taken seriously, which means neither could I as the executioner of those decisions. The uniform I wear so proudly now would come to symbolize something completely different were Trump the man in charge of the Armed Forces: gullibility. To fair-minded people of the world, Trump’s soldiers would symbolize blind, unthinking obedience to orders, no matter how preposterous the man giving them happened to be.

Before every meal I ate at Ranger school, I pledged that “under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.” I meant it. And I mean this: Donald Trump makes a mockery of the country I love. As President, he would be the American Silvio Berlusconi, or maybe Rob Ford had Canada saw fit to reward his cocaine binges with an election to Prime Minister. Should Trump win, America would be the laughingstock of the world, and serving him would only further that embarrassment.

How could I travel, and meet people from other countries, and not be ashamed? How could I swear solemn, stony-faced vows to obey the every order of such a cartoonish character? How could I watch serious world leaders converge in the UN to discuss the important issues of the day, and not be struck by how absurd it is that the most powerful among them is the douchebag from The Apprentice? How could I pretend that the fire-hose of thoughtless misogyny and narcissism and stupidity that spurts out of his mouth gave me legitimate moral authority to kill people?

I hold myself in higher regard than that. My obedience to authority is not unconditional.

Should a Commander in Chief be elected with whom I disagree on matters of foreign policy strategy, I will bite my tongue and give his orders in my own name. I recognize that I do not know everything, sometimes I am wrong, and even my least favorite politicians have far more experience and education than I do on matters of foreign policy. If they are elected, and their decisions are faithful to the will of the people who elected them, and that will meets even the thinnest of rational basis tests, I will serve them proudly. I am willing to die in service to my country even for wars I consider unwise.

But wars I consider to be evil? That’s another story entirely.

Ultimately, my stance boils down to this: if Donald Trump starts a war, I am deeply worried that we would be the bad guys. At the least, I am not confident enough that we would be the good guys for me to continue training his Army to win that war for 4-8 years. I would not afford to him the same benefit of the doubt I would ordinarily afford a president, because unlike every other president in our nation’s history, I sincerely believe myself to be a better qualified decision maker than that oaf of a man. He is one hair’s breadth more qualified to be president than Kim Kardashian, and that may be unfair to her.

Perhaps there are those who would call me a coward for refusing to go to war, especially as someone who willingly volunteered to join the armed forces. But the worst cowardice is to know what is right, and not do it. I made a promise and God long ago that I will follow my conscience in all things, and my conscience tells me that taking orders from Donald Trump would put me in the wrong.

I will not kill on the orders of someone whose moral compass I do not trust. 

I signed up to defend my country, not to be a henchman for some self-obsessed circus clown.

And so I won't, consequences be damned. I pray it never comes to that. Hopefully, by election time, Trump will be starved of the attention and adoration he craves, and banished to the fringe of American society where he belongs. But just in case, that's where I stand.

1 comment:

  1. To clarify, a Trump election would compel me to leave the military at the end of my contractual service obligation, which is set to expire in the middle of the next president’s term in 2018. Although I would likely prefer to leave right away in the (again, unlikely) event Trump were elected, the moral concerns I expressed above would have to be weighed against the moral duty to fulfill one’s contractual obligations. I consider myself a man of my word, and I accepted many benefits (including hundreds of thousands of dollars tuition) from the federal government on the condition that I would agree to serve four years of military service. Reneging on my end of that deal after accepting those benefits would essentially be theft from US taxpayers, even if I were forced to pay some of it back, which I would see as morally worse than continuing to serve. And in the event that Congress declares war in the constitutionally prescribed fashion, I will fight that war regardless of who is president, because I trust the judgment and respect the authority of Congress as a collective whole.

    The one exception to this caveat (i.e., the one case in which I would refuse to serve/fight regardless of whether my service commitment were completed) would be if President Trump began a war without congressional approval, and which polls indicated a majority of Americans may not support. Our constitution – the same one I swore an oath to uphold – quite clearly places the power to declare war in the hands of Congress, which is quite clearly designed to limit the President’s power to send the country to war without popular input. Much of this post is written on the very plausible suspicion that Trump, as vain and ignorant of/indifferent towards the constitution as he is, would not seek Congressional approval before initiating military action, and would not care whether the bulk of the people supported his decision. In that unhappy contingency, I would consider partaking in that war to be an unconstitutional abuse of my authority, in violation of the oath I swore, thereby freeing me of my contractual duty to follow orders.

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