5 Best and 5 Worst Reasons to Oppose Donald Trump
by Benjamin Studebaker
Too often, opponents of Donald Trump discredit themselves by distorting or exaggerating his statements in an effort to damage him. Don’t mistake my meaning–there are a lot of serious problems with Trump as a potential president. But by focusing on made up garbage instead of hitting Trump with hard policy arguments, we end up giving Trump a pass in all the areas that really matter and encouraging people to disbelieve us when we are pointing at something that’s truly important. So today I’m going to establish myself as not one of those people by picking apart 5 bad anti-Trump arguments, followed with 5 anti-Trump arguments that really should be convincing.
Bad Anti-Trump Argument #1: Trump Thinks Vets Suffering from PTSD are “Weak”
Recently a story has been doing the rounds alleging that Trump said veterans with PTSD are weak or wimps or what have you. This is a total distortion–Snopes rates it as “Mostly False”. Here’s the video–it’s clear he’s not making fun of veterans with PTSD and the answer is not derisive:
Trump is explaining how serious PTSD is and how important it is that we help people who have it. Now, confronted with this, those seeking to unfairly disparage Trump resort to emphasizing repeatedly that he used the word “strong” to refer to vets who don’t have PTSD. They presume that “strong” is being used as a virtue and that it is implied that those who have PTSD are “weak” in a derogatory sense. But it’s clear from context that “strong” is being used more in a medical sense–a person with a broken leg has a weak leg, and it’s because the leg is weak that they need and deserve our help. PTSD is a mental injury in the same way that a broken leg is a physical injury and people who have PTSD are suffering from a weakness in that non-judgmental sense of the term. Those without PTSD are not “strong” because they are virtuous, they are “strong” because they have not been injured, in the same sense that someone with a healthy leg has a strong leg. This is not complicated, but some people really want to hurt Trump and are prepared to deliberately misunderstand this to do so.
What is important politically is that Trump is committed to a policy of increasing government support for veterans. That’s a good policy position, and we shouldn’t be criticizing Trump when he takes good policy positions.
Bad Anti-Trump Argument #2: Trump Doesn’t Pay Taxes
When the government makes bad tax laws that allow companies to legally avoid most of their tax obligations, it is unreasonable to expect individual firms to put themselves at a competitive disadvantage by refusing to take full advantage of those bad laws. Instead we should demand that the government fix the laws. So it should come as no surprise that Trump paid very little tax–he was legally allowed to do so and if he didn’t he would put his company at a competitive disadvantage. Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama were president during the years in which Trump was able to pay very little tax, and they failed to fix the tax laws. Trump’s low effective tax rates reflect poorly on their administrations, not on Trump.
Trump himself claims that fixing the tax code is the reason he’s running for president and that once he becomes president he will be “working for you” rather than himself or his businesses. To determine whether that’s true, we need to look at Trump’s policies, not his personal tax history. There is no policy reason to be concerned with a candidate’s tax returns–this is one of those “character” questions. Character rarely has anything to do with presidential performance and is often used to distract from policy issues. Many excellent presidents have deep character flaws, and many terrible presidents are reasonably upstanding people. Character is used by the media to justify and rationalize prying into the private lives of candidates to sell sensational stories. It’s just not terribly relevant.
Bad Anti-Trump Argument #3: Trump Lost a Lot of Money/Isn’t Good at Business
This is the second election in a row in which the Republican Party has tried to nominate a rich businessman. Trump is richer than Romney, but during 2012 Romney received at least as much attention for his record at Bain Capital as he did for his record as Governor of Massachusetts. Many on the right believe that government can be run like a business and that businessmen have the appropriate skills for governing. It was a big part of the reason Carly Fiorina unsuccessfully ran for president and it’s a big part of the reason Trump has been nominated.
This belief has always been false–government is fundamentally different from business in lots of ways. I wrote about a few of them way back in 2012 when Romney was running. For starters, government is not meant to make a profit–it’s meant to provide public goods that the private sector cannot manage because there is no opportunity for profit, the risks are too high, or the amount of investment required is too large to raise without compulsory taxation. Government also controls the money supply and has a much greater ability to borrow money at cheap interest rates than private companies, and it can use macroeconomic policy to influence the amount of activity and consequently the amount of revenue it raises. Private businesses have to persuade you to give you money, government can decisively influence not just how much money you have, but what that money is worth and how much of it you will return to the government coffers from whence it came. Government also has to make moral judgments about what behaviors should be required, permitted, or prohibited, it has to make judgments of priority about which social goals ought to be state objectives, and it has to make policy judgments about how best to achieve the objectives it sets for itself. And of course, government has to engage in international affairs, deter aggressors, and fight wars when necessary. Great businessmen are great at microeconomics. Great statesmen have to be good at macroeconomics, public policy, normative moral and political theory, international relations theory, grand strategy, and lots of other things.
When we try to use the business failures of Romney, Fiorina, or Trump as a political tool, we are implicitly conceding the claim that being good at business is relevant for a potential presidential candidate. Being good at business has almost nothing do with being a good president. The skill sets are almost entirely non-overlapping. The problem with Trump is not that he’s not a good businessman–even if he were the greatest businessman in the history of earth, he doesn’t have these other skills and without these skills he cannot effectively make good political decisions or even select the right people to advise him.
Bad Anti-Trump Argument #4: Trump Insults Women, Gold Star Families, Hispanics, Blacks, Muslims, Fill-in-the-Blank
This one is easy to pick apart. There’s a really famous politician who referred to the Civil Rights Act of 1957 as “The nigger bill.” In the 40’s, that same politician referred to Asians as “hordes of barbaric yellow dwarves.” Nevertheless, this politician appointed a black Supreme Court Justice. But when he did, he said:
When I appoint a nigger to the bench, I want everybody to know he’s a nigger.
This politician used to refer to his chauffeur as “nigger”. When the chauffeur asked him to call him by his name, the politician responded:
As long as you are black, and you’re gonna be black till the day you die, no one’s gonna call you by your goddamn name. So no matter what you are called, nigger, you just let it roll off your back like water, and you’ll make it. Just pretend you’re a goddamn piece of furniture.
That guy? President Lyndon Johnson. Here’s audio footage of him using “nigger”:
Johnson is the greatest civil rights president in the history of the country. His list of domestic achievements is ridiculously long. Aside from Lincoln, no president has done more to advance the cause of African-Americans in this country. He signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Immigration Act, the Housing Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Higher Education Act, the list goes on. He created food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, Work Study, the National Endowments for the Humanities and Arts. We could keep going. We could talk about how good Lyndon Johnson was for poor and marginalized groups for a very long time. The point is that what Lyndon Johnson said had nothing to do with what he did. It’s entirely possible for a politician or presidential candidate to be explicitly racist on a level far beyond Trump while still doing more for these groups than nearly anyone else before or since.
So when people accuse Trump of bigotry, it needs to be grounded in his policy proposals, not his language or propensity to insult.
Bad Anti-Trump Argument #5: Trump Respects Putin/Trump Would Start WWIII
Trump frequently says nice things about Putin. Most recently:
I’ve already said, he is really very much of a leader. I mean, you can say, oh, isn’t that a terrible thing – the man has very strong control over a country. Now, it’s a very different system, and I don’t happen to like the system. But certainly, in that system, he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.
There’s a tendency to pull in two conflicting directions as far as Trump and Russia are concerned. One is to suggest that Trump loves the Russians, has a corrupt relationship with them, or would try to govern like Putin. The other is to say that Trump is dangerous with his finger on the button and might start a nuclear war. But if Trump likes the Russians so much, surely he’s not going to start a nuclear war with them? There has never been any direct quote of Trump in which he has suggested nuclear first strike against any particular major nuclear power. Trump has said a lot of vague things about nuclear weapons, but none of them indicate any concrete plan or desire to deploy nukes against any specific country in any specific context.
By contrast, Richard Nixon was often quoted explicitly suggesting he would use nuclear weapons against specific countries to accomplish specific goals:
I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry and he has his hand on the nuclear button and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.
This happened a lot:
Nixon: I still think we ought to take the North Vietnamese dikes out now. Will that drown people?
Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people.
Nixon: No, no, no, I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?
Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.
Nixon: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?. I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes.
I mean, Nixon said some intense things:
Nixon: The only place where you and I disagree is with regard to the bombing. You’re so goddamned concerned about civilians and I don’t give a damn. I don’t care.
Kissinger: I’m concerned about the civilians because I don’t want the world to be mobilized against you as a butcher.
From what we can tell, Trump is to some degree a disciple of Nixon’s “Madman Theory”, in which you develop a reputation for being willing to use excessive force so as to increase the credibility of your threats and frighten enemies into compliance with your demands. Trump frequently suggests he might withdraw military support from allies to extract more defense spending from them. This threat to withdraw support is not credible unless allies believe that Trump doesn’t care if they respond to the withdrawal of support by developing their own nuclear programs. Trump’s goal is not for Japan or Germany or Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear weapons, it is for these countries to commit more of their national wealth to extant defensive alliances.
As far as the affection for Putin is concerned, Trump is correct that Putin has been very successful within the Russian political system, and he is also correct that the Russian political system is a terrible system that inevitably and predictably generates bad outcomes. What makes the Russian system so bad is that Putin’s survival depends less on his ability to deliver a higher standard of living for the entire Russian people and more on his ability to enrich a small group of wealthy oligarchs. Putin survives because he is very good at placating these oligarchs and dividing and conquering them when any one of them appears to present a problem. He has remained at the head of Russian politics since 2000 and will soon have been effectively in power for 17 years. That takes a great deal of political skill, but unfortunately the Russian system does not reward the right political skills. Putin should not be underestimated–he is very good at recognizing what he needs to do to survive and then doing it, even though what enables Putin’s survival is often very bad for the Russian people as a whole. In good political systems political survival and the public good travel together, and in bad systems they conflict, promoting malignant behavior. Putin is very much a leader in the sense that he has very strong control over a country–but in the Russian system that requires him to regularly do deeply horrifying things. There’s nothing wrong with admiring Putin provided that admiration is not extended to the Russian political system. It’s possible Trump admires the Russian system, but we have no evidence to suggest that he does.
Good Anti-Trump Argument #1: Trump’s Tax Plan Would Collapse Revenue and Make the Tax Code Less Progressive
While it doesn’t matter that Trump doesn’t pay taxes, it does matter that he advocates for a tax reform package that would lower his own rates even further. This means that when he claims he intends to fix the problem of rich billionaires paying low effective rates he is lying. The current version of Trump’s plan is similar to the Romney plan from 2012 and the current House GOP plan, calling for a 20% reduction in the marginal rate for all brackets. 20% is a much larger cut for those at the top of the income distribution because 20% of $10 million is a lot more than 20% of $100,000 or $20,000. This would also shred revenue–even the right-leaning Tax Foundation projects an additional budget shortfall of between $4.3 trillion and $5.9 trillion over 10 years. You can’t expand benefits for veterans or increase defense spending or build a big beautiful wall if you’re shredding revenue. Trump has also talked about big tariffs, though it’s not clear how serious he is about this proposal (at times he has described it as just “a threat” and suggested the size of the tariff is negotiable). Economists and political economists disagree on a lot, but nearly everyone agrees that Trump’s tax plan is nutty, especially if you include the big tariffs, which many economists of all stripes deplore.
Good Anti-Trump Argument #2: Trump Doesn’t Understand How Expensive Climate Change is Going to Be if We Keep Pretending it Doesn’t Exist
Trump has alleged on Twitter that global warming is a Chinese conspiracy:
There is a ridiculously strong scientific consensus that this is wrong. Between November 2012 and December 2013, only one journal article out of 2,258 published on climate change explicitly rejected it, and NASA provides the public with a pile of evidence for it on the web. Economic models project that if climate change proceeds unchecked, the economic costs will be extraordinary, ranging from as low as $2.5 trillion to as high as $24 trillion. A UN paper projected a $1.5 trillion cost by as early as 2030. It is prohibitively expensive to permit climate change to happen. Even if you don’t believe the evidence, if you are even just a little bit uncertain it would be highly irrational to risk these enormous costs.
Trump not only doesn’t recognize climate change, he’s either so self-confident that he does not even believe there is a chance that he’s mistaken or he’s so irrational that he would put the country and the world at immense risk. Either is a serious problem not to be taken lightly.
Good Anti-Trump Argument #3: We Don’t Need the Wall, and It’s Bad for the Economy
Over the last decade, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has flatlined:
People are not “pouring into” the country. What’s more, despite the sad anecdotes, statistically the foreign-born population is less likely to commit crimes than native citizens:
Immigrants also generate revenue for the government–the average foreign born resident generates a net revenue of nearly $19,000 per person per decade. That includes any government benefits they consume:
The wall itself would also be a white elephant. At the low end, the Trump campaign estimates a cost of $12 billion, while the Washington Post puts it at more like $25 billion. That’s not an immense amount of money to the government, but it’s still more than NASA’s annual budget ($19 billion). It’s another case in which Trump has taken a policy position that sharply conflicts with the evidence.
Good Anti-Trump Argument #4: Trump Wants to Repeal Financial Regulations
After the 2008 global financial crisis, the government enacted a suite of financial reforms which prevented banks from trying to disguise themselves as other kinds of institutions to avoid regulations, forced them to create workable plans in the event of their collapse, increased capital requirements and limited banks’ ability to rely on debt, introduced new regulations on derivatives, and greatly increased the resources available to federal regulators. It didn’t do everything, and there’s a lot more that could yet be done, but it was much better than nothing. Trump has repeatedly pledged to repeal or gut the act, claiming that it’s crippling the banking industry. This is not even close to true–Q2 of 2016 was the most profitable quarter for banks on record. Eliminating financial regulations when the financial sector is already extremely profitable and internationally competitive reintroduces the economy to old risks for no reason. Even if you’re skeptical that Dodd-Frank makes a substantive difference, if you’re even just a little bit unsure, it’s foolish to increase the risk. Trump is again either too sure or too foolish.
Good Anti-Trump Argument #5: Instead of Improving Obamacare, Trump Wants to Deprive Millions of People of Health Insurance
Trump has vowed to immediately repeal Obamacare and replace it with a “free market” proposal. The problem is that repealing the ACA leaves 20 million people without health insurance and actually increases government healthcare costs, and Trump’s policies do not do enough to make up for these gaps. For instance, while Trump’s proposal to allow insurers to cross state lines would reduce the number of people who lose benefits by 2 million, his proposal to block grant Medicaid would allow stingy state governments to increase the number of losers by more than 5 million. When added together, the Trump suite of reforms actually make the problem worse. Repealing the ACA increases the uninsured population by 19.7 million, and adding in Trump’s other reforms raises this number to 20.3 million. That’s a lot of people to make much worse off in a deep and obvious way.
Taken together, it’s clear that we have many sound policy reasons to object to Trump that are totally independent of the things he’s said and the spin we put on them. Trump is often right to point out that this country has a lot of problems and could use a lot of change, but what he is very bad at doing is articulating a vision for positive change that gets results. The most important reason to object to Trump is not his attitude toward vets or his taxes or his business mistakes or his vicious language or his respect for Putin. It’s the cold, hard fact that he doesn’t know anything, and that becomes clear when you look for even a few minutes at any policy to which he has attached himself. Trump would be one of the most incompetent presidents we’ve ever had, and incompetent presidents don’t find “the best people” to advise them–historically, they tend to find the most corrupt people. (E.g. Warren Harding or Ulysses Grant)