Baker Academic

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Conservative Case against Trump

Allow me to apologize for liberals, progressives, and bed-wetting treehuggers everywhere. I will affectionately call this group the LPBT+ community. (The plus symbol here represents me, as I am fond of simple addition and tiny Celtic crosses.) It is quite common that we in the LPBT+ community are downright rude during election cycles . . . . which is another way to say all of the time. Rude might be an understatement. We are condescending, self-righteous, elitist, and other big words. Among our many moral failures this year is our inability to discuss Donald Trump with civility.

So allow me to try to convince you that Trump is unfit to hold public office without using the standard LPBT+ talking points. For all of my political proclivities, I have come to respect a number libertarian ideals by sitting down with my more conservative friends. I demur more often than not, but I've learned a great deal too. I would encourage my progressive friends to consider these arguments as common ground.

Using a more conservative lens, consider the topics of

WAR CRIMES: "Donald Trump on terrorists: 'Take out their families'"

TORTURE: "Trump on torture: 'We have to beat the savages'"

THE FIRST AMENDMENT: "Is Mr. Trump a threat to democracy?"

EXECUTIVE POWER: "Trump: Obama 'led the way' on executive orders"

Photo credit:
1. War crimes. Mr. Trump, if elected, would command the U.S. military to murder the family members of suspected terrorists. As noted by Rand Paul, such an action would be a war crime. When pressed, he doubled down on his original statement: "they may not care much about their lives . . . they do care, believe it or not, about their families' lives." When it was suggested to him that U.S. soldiers might refuse on moral grounds, Trump said, "If I say do it, they’re going to do it." He has made many over-the-top statements. He makes them so often that this one seems to have been buried in a heap of social media vitriol, comedy bits, and political fatigue. I will admit to making light of Mr. Trump myself. But this particular campaign promise (empty or not) is a clear statement in support of war crimes. It has not been taken out of context. Mr. Trump has clarified it, repeated it, and owned it.

We Americans are a polarized people. We disagree ardently and often on any number of issues from healthcare to hamburgers. Can we at least agree to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions?

2. Torture. Mr. Trump supports torture. He realizes that this is illegal but proposes to make physical assault legal. In explaining his position, Trump argues that American foreign policy ought to mirror the practices of ISIS. "We have to play the game the way they're playing the game." Whatever you might think of John McCain's politics, can we agree with him that torture ought to be contrary to America's ideals?

3. The First Amendment. Mr. Trump proposes to weaken the first amendment. He intends to use the government to discourage newspapers from writing critical articles about him. In his words, "I'm gonna open up the libel laws so that . . . when they write hit pieces, we can sue them, and they can lose money." He also supports "closing that Internet up in some way." He continues, "Somebody will say, 'Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.' These are foolish people." When asked to comment on Vladimir Putin's murder of journalists, Mr. Trump answered "at least he’s a leader."

Also protected by the first amendment is the freedom of religious expression. But Mr. Trump suggests limiting such freedom by closing places of worship. Chief among conservative American values is a commitment to support and defend the U.S. Constitution. In stark contrast, Trump's proposals would set dangerous precedents for religious liberty as defined by the first amendment.

4. Executive power. My chief criticisms of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have been in their military objectives and methods. I tend to get less worked up about domestic policy (I realize that this is a deficit on my part). But my conservative friends have been most dismayed over President Obama's expansion of executive power (tip of the hat to Dick Cheney). If indeed you hold conservative values, you ought to be deeply troubled by Trump's intention to expand executive power. Indeed, we all should be.

This is the point in the program where my progressive friends will want me to call out Mr. Trump's misogyny, racism, and xenophobia. Many of my Christian friends will want me to call out Mr. Trump's lack of humility, greed, vulgarity, and immorality. But I offer the four points listed above as a way to begin a civil conversation.

Finally, if you are willing to grant that this short article as been civil (and I hope you will) I will ask that you return the favor in your comments. I would ask you to avoid the distraction of changing the conversation to Hillary Clinton. This is conversation about Mr. Trump and nothing else.

Anthony Le Donne, PhD
author of Near Christianity: How Journeys along Jewish Christian Borders Saved my Faith in God


  1. Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

    I see Trump as an immature personality with strong narcissistic traits and a touch of megalomania. He taps into a certain type of polarized non-critical thinking promulgated across the generations by those who don't understand and fear change oriented educated power. An example of educated power would be climate change and clean power proponents. Other differences, such as race, exacerbate this hate potential. For example, in the last year I've had two working class folk in my home (antennae repair and tree trimming), one who said of Obama, "I can't wait till that thing leaves office," and the other who claimed the need to "get rid of Obama cause he's an Iranian, he's secretly helping them." It's a type of paranoia that becomes very short-sighted in the presence of "tough talk." They like tough talk because their own talk has no power. They want the power though, because in each case similar comments were continued at some length when I (without rancor) refused to respond to their initiative.

    1. Gene, I've had similar conversations with closet racists who only exhibit their racism when discussing Obama. I don't imagine that these folks will want to discuss the problem of Trump's racism. But my hope is that there are some conservatives who will indeed care deeply about some of the other issues I've addressed. Like I said, this post is just a starting point and I'm trying not to end the conversation before it begins.

  2. Anthony –

    You might have lost a lesser reader with your suggestion that my inability to discuss Donald Trump civilly is a moral failure on my part. BUT … out of respect for your call for civility, I too will take the high ground.

    Your post is an interesting attempt to find common ground with my political opponents. I, too, wish that we could put aside differences and work for the public good. I, too, am frustrated that I cannot find much in the way of political consensus with my conservative friends. I, too, am saddened and not a little bit frightened by the political right’s embrace of Mr. Trump. I, too, wonder what it would take to lessen our political polarization.

    [I pause, to marvel at the civility of my prior paragraph.]

    So … I think it’s worthwhile to try out the argument you’re trying out. Let’s say that conservatives believe in the rule of law and the Constitution. So … if we can show that Mr. Trump opposes the rule of law and the Constitution, then conservatives should oppose him. At least, this is what I remember from my study of rhetoric: posit a major premise that your opponent (or audience) already agrees with, then argue a minor premise that (if accepted) logically pairs with your major premise to win the day. For example: major premise is that Conservatives love the rule of law, minor premise is that Mr. Trump proposes to violate the rule of law by use of torture, ergo Conservatives must vote against Trump. Something like that. I may be mixing up which premise is major; it’s been a long time since I went to college.

    I think we both understand that these kinds of arguments aren’t working. For one thing, it’s difficult to come up with major premises that are persuasive to the other side. Even if conservatives had some outsized love for rule of law, I don’t think it extends to international law.

    Besides, the conservatives have their own premises. Major premise: we cannot afford to lose the war against ISIS. Minor premise: torture is an effective military tool. Ergo: the hell with the Geneva Convention. To be perfectly honest, this is a very good rhetorical argument. Rule of law? Sure. But I don’t want my family’s heads cut off. But what makes the argument so effective is that it bogs down us progressives in an argument over whether torture is an effective tool. Even winning the argument tends to establish the premise that when it comes to war, pragmatism trumps principle.

    In any event … my guess is that you’re not going to be persuaded that torture is ever justified, no matter what argument anyone comes up with. So why do you expect people on the other side to back down from their deeply held principles, just because you think it’s logical that they do so?

    1. I suppose it is wishful thinking on my part that anyone who is committed to Trump will care much about the Geneva Conventions. But I do believe that there are intelligent and thoughtful folks who have conservative values. And I believe that many of them are willing to discuss politics under the right circumstances.

    2. I do think turn-around is fair play. I'm trying to imagine, what argument could someone make to me to get me to vote Republican in a national election. Would I respond to the argument that a "true" liberal should vote for Romney over Obama? Even if the argument was persuasive? It's hard to imagine that this kind of argument would work on me.

      I think at this point, getting me to vote Republican would be about as difficult as getting me to convert to Christianity. (For those who don't know, I'm Jewish.) It would entail a similar radical shift in my personal identity. PERHAPS I could vote for a good Republican over a terrible Democrat, but I'd still feel like I lost if the Republican won.

    3. Larry, what if the next Democratic nominee failed to convince you that s/he was a progressive? Moreover, what if s/he took traditionally conservative stances on several issue important to you.... and s/he was pro-war crimes to boot? Did I mention war crimes?


    4. Probably the last true progressive nominated by the Dems was Mondale. At the time, I thought Carter was pretty conservative. Bill Clinton too. As for war crimes,

      Let's say, the race was between Mitt Romney (who seems in retrospect like a decent guy) and George Wallace. I couldn't vote for Wallace. Maybe I'd vote for Gloria La Riva. It's like, it's easier for me to imagine abandoning Judaism than becoming a Christian. Or giving up baseball than becoming a Red Sox fan. Some stuff is just fingernails down the blackboard.

      In my life so far, I have voted ten times for POTUS, and I've never really thought hard about who I'd vote for. In the primaries? Sure. There I engaged in thought. I've also thought about which denomination within Judaism I wanted to affiliate with, but I've never seriously considered baptism. I think the comparison between religion and politics is a bit bizarre, but it's apt.

  3. Well written and you make your point in a way that is not offensive. You are obviously a genius because you agree with all what I have thought of Mr. Trump.

    1. Thanks, Joanne. This, of course, makes you a genius too.... which makes us something other than unique as we are the same. Which in turns undermines our claims of genius. Bummer.

  4. Hey Anthony. I'm from Venezuela, and the similarities between trump and Chavez are rather striking to me and quite suggestive about how he would be while in power, this article shows those similarities (and it's pretty scary, since Chavez led Venezuela completely astray)

  5. Anthony, well said. I am frankly dismayed at the support for the Donald by anyone, including the "rednecks" as former President Clinton called his supporters today. Why that would make them "deplorable rednecks" if we look at them from a Clinton family perspective.
    I think the points you raise should be enough to convince anyone not to vote for Trump, but unfortunately no would likely listen as these reasons would probably be understood as too liberal, or likely just propaganda from the liberal media; some might ask, "surely those quotes can't be accurate, are they?"
    I am just glad the election, although still nearly a month away is over. What is really sad about all of this election bantar is that these are the two individuals we have to settle for in a country full of brilliant people.

  6. Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

    To add to the conservative arguments against Trump, am I correct that character, ethics, and greatest respect for life have been part of the conservative/republican message in past years. Dare I list all the ways that Mr. Trump has violated those norms.

    I've also noticed that a false comparison has arisen in recent days. How Trump treats women has been compared to Bill Clinton's behavior and what Clinton had to say about the women with whom her husband was unfaithful. The correct comparison would be how Trump's treatment of women compares with Mrs. Clinton's treatment of men.