Vote Against Trump

11 October 2016

In my writing, I don't usually get into US party politics. I have Opinions, but most political discussion quickly deteriorates into partisan bickering, which I find unsatisfying. But this presidential election is striking. Donald Trump is a demagogue who could do a lot of damage to both the US and the rest of the world. If you're an American who is undecided about who to vote for, or wishes to vote for a third party candidate, I feel I must explain why he is uniquely dangerous, and therefore why I think it is necessary to vote for Mrs Clinton.

Not voting, or voting for a no-hope third party candidate, is essentially saying that you see no significant difference between the major party candidates

A representative Democracy such as ours has many faults, but it is still a better system than most that have existed in human history. But such a system can be attacked and destroyed, and a demagogue is such a danger. There are many reasons [1] why I oppose Mr Trump, but the demagogue factor is decisive.

A representative democracy like ours operates because it has checks and balances that stop a single group gaining too much power that they can abuse. A demagogue like Mr Trump is dangerous because he openly scorns such checks and balances, happily ignoring any that stand between him and power. At the center of this is the capacity to tell big, bold lies. Politicians, in general, are not known for their honesty, and many people feel Mrs Clinton has been shadier than we'd like. But Mr Trump's lies are on a whole different level. The one that really raised my alarm to red alert is his claim that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey publicly celebrated the attacks of 9/11. Nobody has ever presented a shred of evidence for this, not at the time, not now, not for tens of people, let alone thousands. I can't recall even the dodgiest senior US politician who has attempted a lie of this nature.

And this is not a one-off. A quick check of any political fact checking site shows Mr Trumps statements contain significantly more lies than other active politicians.

Lying like this is a common sign of a demagogue. Another is blaming societal problems on ethnic groups. Mr Trump does this with Muslims, with immigrants, and implies it with other people of color too. As with the New Jersey lies, big lies are told about these groups in order to set them up as enemies. This allows the demagogue to offer simplistic solutions to perceived problems. These solutions are fantastical enough to count as lies themselves. Consider Mr Trump's signature policy of building a wall on the Mexican border, and getting Mexico to pay for it. Even if it were plausible that this would be worth doing (considering illegal immigration hasn't increased since 2007) can anyone seriously believe that he can get another sovereign nation to pay the enormous costs involved? Demagogues commonly make promises designed to appeal to popular emotions, but fail to explain how these promises would be carried out. [2]

A demagogue appeals to the electorate by lying about the state of the world, stoking fears, and promising vague and simplistic solutions. [3] Once in power, they care only about continuing their own power. Anyone who challenges their lies is attacked, but now with the power of the state. Demagogues work to silence dissenting voices, which reduces freedom but also creates an echo chamber that leads to bad decision making. I fear what how a President Trump would use surveillance apparatus that the Bush and Obama administrations have foolishly put together. Removing judges on personal legal disputes and ignoring the exoneration of innocent people would be just the beginning. Demagogues use all tools they can to enrich themselves and their cronies and attack those who oppose the ruling clique. When simplistic solutions inevitably fail, demagogues increase their attacks on vulnerable populations, and often indulge in foreign military adventures to distract the population.

History teaches us how this happens, and we would be foolish to ignore its lessons. The rise of Hitler and Mussolini showed how a democratic system could be destroyed by demagogues, leading to terrible consequences. More recently, following Mr Putin's rise shows how a demagogue can gain popular support with a cocktail of lies, repression, and war.

That said, I don't think Mr Trump is comparable to Hitler or Putin [4]. Hitler organized a quasi-military organization of street thugs that supported his rise to power, Putin had the support of the deep state. Mr Trump is closer to Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, or Napoleon III of France. But even so, such figures can do a lot of damage. Napoleon III's reign ended with a disastrous war with Prussia, and although I don't see foreign armies marching through Washington, we don't need another useless war. Worse still, successful demagogues encourage others who will do worse, and they encourage power struggles that steadily remove the checks and balances that protect democracy. Such trajectories were those that the founding fathers feared from their knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome. Perhaps the US's institutions can resist such a figure, but our best resistance is to stop him getting to power in the first place.

Above all, remember that this election is an election between only two alternatives. Not voting, or voting for a no-hope third party candidate, is essentially saying that you see no significant difference between the major party candidates. I understand the many reservations people have for Mrs Clinton. [5] But looking at the risks involved in bringing such a demagogue as Mr Trump to power I have to urge anyone thinking of abstaining to think again. Even assuming the worst of Mrs Clinton, she is nowhere near the dangers of Mr Trump. Although her poll numbers are improving we don't just need to defeat Mr Trump, we need a decisive defeat, one that sends a clear message for the future that demagogues such as he have no chance of serious power in our country. [6]

I'll be home on election day and polling station is just around the corner. You'll probably have more effort to vote, but I ask you now to commit to doing it. Check voter registration using the Clinton campaign registration checker or a non-partisan version. If you want to do more, then the Clinton campaign has a volunteer page. But most importantly, go out and vote. Encourage your friends to vote. Vote to defeat the demagogue.


1: His attitude to women, his dodgy business deals, his bullying nature, his undermining of our foreign alliances, his corrupt charitable foundation, his business failure, his thin-skinned overreactions to perceived slights, his lack of policies, his secretive financial arrangements….

2: He did a similar thing with the opening of his convention speech, claiming he would rapidly reduce a high rate of crime. Not just is he trying to frighten us by exaggerating the problem (crime has reduced drastically since the 1970's), his claim that he will quickly fix it is supported by no statements about how he would do such a thing. (Especially since most law enforcement in the US is at the state and local level, not under federal control).

3: There are genuine issues facing our country, some of which Mr Trump has tapped into. We've seen the economic gains of the last few decades flow only to the richest members of society, together with a worrying reduction in social mobility. But Mr Trump provides no plan to deal with these issues, indeed what plans he has provided would make it worse, with a financial plan that would severely increase national debt by reducing taxes on the already very rich.

4: Although I worry a lot about what Mr Trump may do, I'm even more worried about what might come next. Unless the fortunate elites do something to prevent the concentration of wealth in themselves, I fear we could well see the more organized kind of demagogue rise up.

5: Like many people making the argument I'm making here, I focus mostly of the perils of Mr Trump - saying that Mrs Clinton is the less awful choice. I don't actually think that Mrs Clinton is necessarily awful. She does bring some worrying baggage with her. She's deeply embedded in our faulty system. I worry that she won't act to deal with the economic stresses that we face, or if she does try to act, she won't be able to bring congress with her. I see no evidence that she will reverse the worrying increase in mass surveillance that's appeared in the Bush and Obama administrations. But among these concerns I also have some hope. Her approach seems to center on listening rather than speaking, and forming detailed plans based on many perspectives. I much prefer her listening and attention to detail to the usual emotional appeals and clever catchphrases.

6: This is a lesson that needs to be learned by both potential demagogues and the established parties that stupidly cooperate with them. The republicans (with honorable exceptions such as Mr Romney) are to blame for Mr Trump, but I have no doubt that the Democrats could just as likely fall for a demagogue in the future.


Mike Roberts and Beth Andres-Beck improved this article with comments on my drafts.