Saturday, December 19, 2015

5 Non-Policy Reasons to Dislike Trump

I usually try to avoid directly talking politics on this blog because it's supposed to be about religion, not government.  But this election cycle is turning into so much of a slow-motion train wreck that I decided I had to weigh in on my own tiny little corner of the internet.

By most definitions, I'm a liberal.  But I'm a big believer in absorbing different ideas and in accepting that one's preconceived notions should never be assumed infallible—that's something my departure from Mormonism taught me.  And even though I almost always disagree on a policy basis with the bizarre drivel that routinely spills out of Donald Trump's mouth, I wish a greater portion of his own party would denounce him.  I say that not because he wants to build a wall on the Mexican border, not because he wants to keep Muslims out of the country, and not because he opposes raising the minimum wage—because so many things that have nothing to do with his policies all indicate that he's just a lousy fit for the job.

1. His Behavior is Childish
Trump is constantly delivering insulting and often uncalled for verbal barbs that I find very reminiscent of an elementary school playground.  During a debate, he went out of his way to insult Rosie O'Donnell, who was neither present nor a topic of discussion at the time.  Although the candidate seemed pleased with the response his joke elicited, I don't think a mature adult in the midst of a nationally televised political discourse should humiliate another person by bringing up an irrelevant personal squabble for a cheap laugh.

In a later interview about that debate, Trump made several disparaging comments about Megyn Kelly, the panelist who'd asked him to address concerns that he was a sexist and a misogynist.  He explained by condescendingly expressing his lack of respect for her as a journalist, theorizing that she was pretending to appear tough, and then concluding with the controversial comment about how she had "blood coming out of her wherever."  Do we really want our next president's standard reaction to discerning criticism to be a literally below-the-belt ad hominem jab?  Do we really want someone of this temperament to be negotiating peace agreements and dealing with heads of state from countries with which the US maintains a tenuous relationship?

Another of my favorite third-grade-style retorts of his came from an exchange with Rand Paul during another debate.  After Paul astutely observed that there was a "sophomoric quality...about his visceral response to attack people on their appearance, short, tall, fat ugly," Trump shot back by asserting that "I never attacked him or his looks, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there."  Because clarifying that you could have called him funny-looking but graciously chose not to is so much more polite.

I disagree with Bush and Rubio and Cruz and Paul and all the others to varying degrees, but at least they're willing to debate each other on substantive grounds.  They argue with ideas instead of hurling insults at one another, and they only cease to present themselves as adults when they take Trump's bait, sink to his level, and debate in the language of nuh-uh and I'm rubber, you're glue and I know you are but what am I.

2. We Need a Unifier, not a Polarizer
Though I want to see my country make an overall shift to the left, I think what we might actually need right now is a really moderate president from any party.  Debates raging so hotly across the country about gun control, health care, terrorism, Syria, income inequality and gay marriage are giving hardliners from both parties more excuses to dig in and assume the opposition is plagued with an incurable outbreak of stupidity.  A charismatic leader who takes a little from both sides and tries to help us move forward together instead of focusing on our ideological disparities might be just the medicine America needs.  But Donald Trump is not that guy.

He has amassed an admirable army of acolytes among conservatives, but in the very small and totally not statistically significant sample of liberals I've talked to, Trump is the last choice of the broad Republican field.  Some polling data suggests that, of the GOP frontrunners, Trump would fare the worst in a general election against Clinton—and Clinton has somewhat of a polarizing effect herself.

Despite all the backlash Obama's healthcare crusade has brought, it would pale in comparison to the response if Trump were to somehow win the general election.  Even my lifelong Republican parents think he's a jerk.  They're scared that he'll win the nomination because then they won't have anybody to vote for.

3. Being Rude is Not the Same as Eschewing Political Correctness
Trump is lauded by many for being an anti-establishment candidate because he's not from Washington's political elite and, in his own words, he doesn't "frankly have time for total political correctness."  He's seen as somebody who speaks his mind and speaks the truth.

And that's a good thing.  I'm all for cutting through the bull and getting to the point.  But that doesn't give someone a free pass to say awful things.  Saying what you think doesn't mean what you think is right.  It just means your thoughts are unfiltered.  And I think it's safe to say that just about everybody has some thoughts they know they should keep to themselves—except maybe for Donald Trump.

For example, at an appearance in Iowa around the time when Ben Carson was closing in on him in the state's polls, Trump criticized a scene from Carson's book in which a stabbing was foiled by a fortuitously located belt buckle.  Trump scoffed, "How stupid are the people of Iowa?  How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?"

Sure, that's not politically correct at all.  But regardless of whether the events in Carson's book actually took place, what Trump said was a vicious lashing out against a political threat and an insensitive insult to a huge cross-section of the electorate.  It was mean and vindictive, and not the kind of public statement that should engender admiration from anybody.

Trump's supposed real-talk on issues like the Islamic faith and Mexican immigration is little more than racism and xenophobia couched in a stance of devil-may-care anti-establishment bravado.  Do we really want someone with such naked disdain for those around him and such a useless filter between his hateful ideas and his barbed tongue to be the one to lead the country through the wake of a national tragedy?

4. He Doesn't Admit When He's Wrong
Maybe I've just seen The West Wing too many times, but I want the leader of my country to be in touch with his (or her) fallibility.  I want him to surround himself with aides who challenge him and force him to carefully review his positions before he acts.  I want him to be able and willing to, if shown the error of his ways, make adjustments to his administration in order to improve it.

Unfortunately, Trump has a habit of doubling down on his claims when they face resistance.  When discussing immigration with CNN's Erin Burnett, he admonished her for being naive for believing that illegal immigrants pay taxes.  In an argument that involved lots of interruptions, he slyly criticized her for not being given accurate numbers—and to support his claim, he promptly made up his own statistics about how many illegal immigrants actually pay taxes.  When someone asserted a differing viewpoint, he batted it aside and in an exercise of seamless hypocrisy, he doubled down with a complete guess (which, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is way off).

Another example would be Donald Trump's ire-raising claims about thousands of Muslims cheering as the Twin Towers came down on September 11th.  When he cited an article to support his assertion, the author of the article came forward to debunk it.  Trump responded by publicly mocking the reporter.  When he faced further criticism for his seemingly crass parody of the reporter's disability, Trump opted to deny rather than apologize.

Even Hillary Clinton, plagued by scandals and potshots and suspicions, has made a very notable admission that her vote to invade Iraq was a mistake.  I have yet to see Donald Trump make any similar acknowledgements for his own missteps.  Do we really want to give someone that deliriously convinced that he's right the power to issue executive orders?

5. He Thinks This is a Game
And this is what frustrated me enough to bother writing this all down.  Trump's behavior during the most recent debate highlighted what, to me, is perhaps the most toxic aspect of his approach to the campaign.  When Jeb Bush attempted to rile Trump up and attack his tactics, Trump uttered this completely irrelevant remark during their shouting match:
I'm at 42 and you're at 3 so, so far, I'm doing better.
"Oh my God," I actually said out loud as I watched.  "He really believes this is a game!"

This is far from the first time Trump has used poll numbers to bat down criticism.  In fact, he mentions polling data frequently on the campaign trail as some kind of social proof.  He's pretty much obsessed with them.  But the way he keeps using them to belittle his opponents makes me think he regards polling data less as a metric for his progress and more as a scorecard.  I'm worried that he's not taking things seriously enough.  I'm worried that he's prioritizing the thrill of the competition over the gravity of choosing a victor.

This is not a game.  This is the future of the nation we're hashing out here.  I want the candidates to focus on ideas and policies instead of on who's winning and dismissing each other's arguments for ideological reasons instead of for numerical ones. Returning to my comparison to an elementary school playground, Trump's comment to Bush is basically the equivalent of the bigger third graders telling the scrawny second grader he can't play with them because he's too little and he's funny-looking.

But this isn't a game of red butt or boxball or whatever kids play during recess these days.  It's a presidential election and it's the ideas and the talents and the leadership qualities that matter, not whether the candidate is funny-looking or behind in the polls.  Trump should be ashamed of himself for thinking that a put-down about estimated support is either warranted or constructive.

To be fair, I do agree with Trump on a few points.  It's not like everything that tumbles from his mouth is garbage.  He's in favor of campaign finance reform and he wants to improve VA facilities.  Those are both things I can definitely get behind.

But he doesn't have the character or the disposition to ascend to the highest office of authority and responsibility in this country.  As much as I believe that any citizen can theoretically be the president, I am waiting with bated breath for the moment when the tide of public opinion finally washes over him and topples the monument to absurdity that his campaign has become.  His viability as a candidate is an embarrassment to the country and to the Republican party.

And that's why I think we need to stop supporting Trump's bid and focus on choosing our next leader from among the many realistic, practical candidates.

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