Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Unavoidable Problem with Trump

In response to Rick: The most serious problem with Trump is not his policy prescriptions. Several of them are awful; in my view, a few, like infrastructure rebuilding and probable Supreme Court appointments, have positive elements. But it is not enough to predict or hope that the awful announced policy prescriptions would be blocked by others--even if that would likely happen. (I realize Rick isn't adopting that position but is just saying it's reasonable.) The fundamental problem is Trump's personality: the man exhibits a narcissistic disorder, obsessed with his own status and avenging slights, and reflexively doubling down in response to any criticism or challenge. The latest confirmation--small but striking, and the latest of many--was his remarkable post-convention monologue last Friday, in which he said he didn't care about Ted Cruz and then proceeded to spend 10 minutes revisiting what Cruz did and the revenge that he, Trump, would take. There is absolutely no telling what Trump might do with the day-to-day powers of the Presidency, including the keys to the nuclear codes. We would be in virtually uncharted waters.

If Trump is elected, then even if other actors would block his bad policy initiatives, there would be no way to avoid putting the day-to-day power of the office in his hands. There is no way to avoid saying, "This is the man who will make the crucial judgments in whatever (unknowable) crises arise." In that sphere, military and other actors would presumptively obey his orders, some of which the press might not learn about in time to speak against them. Some officials might resign rather than enforce them, but that dynamic puts us on the short road to constitutional crisis. In addition, the day-to-day power of the office includes public statements; his have been especially erratic, and toxic both in the immediate sense and to the long-term health of public discourse. No other actor--Congress, bureaucrats, press--can stop those, or their effects. They are inherent in electing him.

So ... if the argument "I don't will the bad things in Trump" depends upon a prediction that others will prevent those bad things, then one is in fact willing the day-to-day outrages and fiascoes that clearly, by nature, cannot be prevented. #NeverTrump.

This argument does not entail voting for Hillary. Of course, those who think the Democrats are wrong on most issues will be disinclined to vote for her even to avoid Trump. That's not my situation: I am a Democrat who thinks that party's positions on many issues are better for the common good. But I nevertheless have a serious struggle. That's not because Clinton's personality flaws are as bad as Trump's: however significant, her flaws are  not in his category. It's primarily because of two (for me) very serious issues--familiar but sadly becoming even more pointed this year. First is the further intensification of the party's abortion position. As  a pro-life Democrat, I put a high priority on strengthening social supports in order to reduce economic pressures to abort; but the party's new attack on the Hyde Amendment, and its increasing tendency to view abortion as in no way regrettable, make the conflict for pro-life liberals more serious than ever.

Second, as a religious freedom advocate who also supports some of the policies that have come in sharp conflict with religious tenets (policies like sexual-orientation anti-discrimination laws and the Affordable Care Act), I am disturbed by having seen first-hand the unwillingness of more and more Democratic leaders to support any accommodations that would meaningfully balance these two goals--particularly accommodations that would allow faith-based service organizations to follow their tenets while continuing to do their work helping others. This dynamic has become very powerful, very suddenly, and there are reasons to think that the Clinton executive branch will be even less inclined to accommodate than the Obama executive branch has been. (Note that in some cases, such as hiring based on religious belief by groups receiving federal grants, Obama has preserved freedom for religious organizations to maintain their faith-based nature, against intense pressure from anti-accommodation progressives. I have no confidence that Clinton will do the same.)

But even with these serious (in my view) problems with Clinton's likely policies, I cannot in conscience vote for Trump. I can't tell myself it would be OK--even on balance--because others will check him in in office. There will be pervasive features of his presidency that they can't check. So if I ultimately cannot vote for Clinton, the only options for me would be to vote third-party (I'm not attracted to the current ones) or write in someone.

This is a pretty long-winded assertion of my judgments, and I know we don't want election discussion to take over the blog. But in responding to Rick's suggestion about avoiding Trump's problems, I thought I should explain my thinking more fully.


Berg, Thomas | Permalink