The ascension of Donald Trump is an unprecedented event in American politics. But while unique in the modern era, the rise of an outsider, nationalist-populist candidate is not necessarily surprising. Its roots lie in the growing disconnect (both cultural and economic) between the elite, college-educated denizens of so-called “SuperZIP” cities like Washington, New York, and San Francisco and the working-class residents of the rest of America. Out of touch politicians and culture-shapers surround themselves with only people of similar backgrounds and educations and then arrogantly believe they alone are wise and righteous enough to consolidate power and control the future of our nation.
As two conservatives who went to college at an institution that serves as a feeder for these enclaves, we think working class Americans are right to be frustrated by their government. Both Republicans and Democrats alike seem increasingly unconcerned about and ignorant of the issues most important to the middle class, be it stagnant paychecks or social disintegration of their communities, even as the expanse and reach of the federal government continues to grow unchecked. These problems cannot be solved on high by Washington politicians who think they know best. We firmly believe it’s time for the Republican Party to start listening. Politicians ought to ask why they are so despised by the people. The only appropriate response to such a clear statement of disillusionment by Americans is to empathize with their concerns and begin the long process of change.
Nonetheless, as our party begins to humbly turn itself towards a platform and disposition more responsive to middle-class Americans, we implore our fellow Republicans: However frustrated you are by Washington politicians, please do not support Donald Trump in November. Whatever your sympathies to certain of his policies, he is morally bankrupt and so unfit for office that to support him would be a grave mistake. (We hasten to add: Hillary Clinton is no better. We advocate voting third-party or writing in a candidate like Senator Ben Sasse).
To begin with, Donald Trump stands against the core principles that we (specifically as Christians, but also, we believe, as Americans) hold as truths, both in his rhetoric and in his behavior. A man of countless contradictions and flip-flops, Trump is tellingly consistent only in his lying, hateful style of speech, and unrepentant serial adultery. He believes the worth of a human is determined by that person’s success, achievement, and power—even his answer on why he changed views on abortion misunderstands the fundamental value of all human life. A vote for Donald Trump is not just a vote to surrender on, but to actively oppose, everything for which social conservatives have fought for decades.
Second, a vote for Donald Trump is dangerous. Trump’s instinct is tyrannical. He would continue the Obama administration’s efforts to illegally expand the executive branch and administrative state. Even without the trappings of the executive branch, Trump views himself as a king, not a servant leader, and acts accordingly. His praise of Kim Jong-Un, Vladimir Putin, and China’s atrocity in Tiananmen Square show that he worships power. To vote for Trump would be to give a pompous egotist the nuclear codes.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that, contrary to the advice of many journalistic elites, the act of voting is not simply a strategic choice between only two candidates. Particularly for conservatives who, like us, are younger than the median Republican, voting is a multi-period exercise. A vote sends a message not only about a voter's preferences in the current election, but also about whom he or she views as an acceptable candidate to future voters and potential candidates. Sometimes the choices are so bad, the candidates so deplorable, that one must send the message that she cannot in good conscience support either major party's nominee. Not voting for Trump or Clinton sends the message that we demand better options, and that we will not blindly support any candidate who happens to have an “R” next to his name on the ballot.
Moreover, before its consequentialist implications, we believe voting is, at its core, an act of conscience. Some conservatives argue that to support Trump is to support the lesser of two evils. We agree that Hillary Clinton would be a terrible president. But voting is a positive act—by pulling the lever for Trump, you are first endorsing him before making any kind of statement about the alternatives. We believe that voting for a candidate requires that candidate exceed a certain absolute bar of qualifications and fitness for office. Evaluated soberly, neither Clinton nor Trump can rationally be said to meet the standard to which Republicans ought to hold their candidates.
Perhaps most important of all, “lesser-of-two-evils” logic has its limits. Imagine a hypothetical (and clearly post-apocalyptic) world in which the only two major-party candidates for president were Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Would reluctantly pro-Trump conservatives really cast a vote for Warren to keep Sanders out of the White House? How can one even decide between the lesser of those two evils? Sometimes the lesser of two evils is still too evil to support.
Republican politicians deserve a significant portion of the blame for Trump’s rise. But now that he is the presumptive nominee, it is incumbent upon every Republican to embrace his or her Burkean duty to act in the face of encroaching evil. We can be silent appeasers no more. And so we say: We will not vote for Trump. Not today, not ever. And neither should you.
Colin J. Motley ’10 and Caleb L. Weatherl ’10 are both former presidents of the Harvard Republican Club and are member of the class of 2016 at Harvard Business School.
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