I was reading my favorite comic strip online recently and noticed your blog post titled “Why Does Trump Terrify People?” In your post you note that many people seem to not only disagree with Donald Trump and his ideas but seem to actually fear him. This apparently mystifies you, since you say you don’t fear Trump in the least, so you thoughtfully tried to analyze the reasons behind it. You suggest, for example, that people may fear:
- Trump’s policies on immigration
- Trump having his “finger on the button of the nuclear arsenal”
- His attitudes toward race and gender
- His perceived lack of empathy
But then, disappointingly, you also make excuses (some of them pretty tortuous) for every one of those issues. Though you say you “don’t share his politics on a number of topics,” the tone of your essay seems entirely sympathetic to Trump. You even call him the “safest candidate in the history of presidential elections.”
At the end of your Trump apologia, you say, “So why do you think people are afraid of Trump? Did I hit all the reasons?”
Well, since you ask: No, Scott, you didn’t. You gave us a good running start, but there are a few other things about Trump that give us the heebie-jeebies.
While “terrified” might be an overstatement, many of us are shocked and appalled at his success so far, and the idea of Trump as the leader of our country and the most powerful person in the world is indeed profoundly unsettling. If I can try to speak for what I desperately hope is a strong majority of Americans, here are some of the reasons why.
HE IS A CLASSIC US-AGAINST-THEM DEMAGOGUE.
History has shown that demagogues are not to be trusted. Webster’s defines a demagogue as “a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.” That seems to describe Trump perfectly.
He inflames popular prejudices.
He says Mexico is sending us criminals and rapists. He refuses to accept Syrian refugees—or any Muslim immigrants at all—by inciting fears that they’re terrorists.
He demonizes the media.
At his rallies, he regularly attacks the press. He calls the media scum, says he truly hates them, and grins encouragingly as the audience boos the reporters in attendance. This is unnerving for those of us who see journalism as a noble profession and who believe that a free press is as essential to a healthy democracy as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
He makes false claims and promises.
Trump makes scores of promises to fix virtually every ill in America, no matter how complex they may be, but gives few if any details on how he will do it. He says, for example, that he will:
- Build a wall on the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it
- Fix Medicare and Social Security without cutting benefits.
- Eliminate Obamacare and replace it with something “terrific,” though he won’t say what.
He shows a disregard and even contempt for facts.
- He blithely states that unemployment today isn’t 4.9% but “is probably 20%, but I will tell you, you have some great economists that will tell you it’s 30, 32. And the highest I’ve heard so far is 42%.” The fact-checking website PolitiFact rates that a “Pants on Fire” lie.
- He claims he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering after 9/11, an event that has been exhaustively disproven.
- He tells a crowd after the Paris terrorist attacks that the Obama administration wants to allow 250,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. (real number: maybe 20,000 over two years, according to PolitiFact).
In 2015, PolitiFact looked at 77 statements by Trump and rated 76% of them “Mostly False,” “False,” or ” Pants on Fire“—a much higher percentage than any other politician. PolitiFact awarded Trump its 2015 Lie of the Year—not for a particular lie, but for all of them: “In considering our annual Lie of the Year, we found our only real contenders were Trump’s. But it was hard to single one out from the others. So we have rolled them into one big trophy.”
These are not healthy signs.
HE IS GROTESQUELY UNQUALIFIED TO BE PRESIDENT.
We worry that Trump is unqualified for the job in virtually every respect—in experience, temperament, judgment, and character.
He has no experience whatsoever in governing.
We don’t believe the presidency of the United States is a job for amateurs. Yet Trump would theoretically be assuming the most demanding job in the world with absolutely no knowledge of writing or passing laws, foreign affairs, working with legislatures, administering government agencies, or forming political coalitions and consensus. We don’t think building golf courses and casinos are transferrable skills.
He has failed to show a grasp of complex issues.
Trump’s inexperience is obvious in debates, where he has demonstrated little more than a barstool knowledge of major issues and policies, in glaring contrast to the governors and senators he is running against. His simplistic answers and lack of details make his blanket assurances that he’ll solve any and every problem ring hollow.
Inexperience combined with overconfidence is a perilous combination.
But what makes Trump’s inexperience truly dangerous is that it is combined with an almost comically inflated ego and self-confidence. When he says, outrageously, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do,” is that just bombast, or does he really believe it? We have no reason to doubt it’s the latter. We question whether Trump has the self-awareness even to know what he doesn’t know. We fear that someone who believes Washington is run by stupid people won’t bother listening to his generals, advisors, intelligence analysts, or subject matter experts. When that someone is the most powerful man in the world, that is a frightening prospect.
HE SEEMS TEMPERAMENTALLY UNSTABLE AND EMOTIONALLY IMMATURE, TO A DEGREE UNSUITED FOR THE PRESIDENCY.
We detect in Trump a mean-spiritedness and an appalling lack of basic decency and civility that make us question his fitness for office.
- He insults others with such regularity and undisguised glee that it reveals a lot about him as a person.
- He has even mocked a disabled person.
- He attacks people’s personal appearance (like Carly Fiorina, for one).
- His is crass toward women, as was well documented by Megyn Kelly in an early debate: “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.’ … Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?”
All of this can’t be excused—as you try to, Scott—as merely Trump’s campaign against political correctness. It’s a fundamental flaw in his personality. And we’re opposed to it not because we’re pussies, as Trump and his supporters charge, but because we’re decent people.
We are concerned that Trump would demean the Office of the President.
Many of us still cling to the quaint notion that the presidency of the United States is an office of dignity, deserving of respect. The president is the face of America to the world, and we believe the president should conduct himself, or herself, with an honor and dignity worthy of the office (in public, at least, if he can’t manage it in private). We fear that Trump’s crudeness, boorishness, indiscipline, and petty verbal score-settling would debase the office and, by extension, the United States.
We worry that Trump would govern America the way he governs himself in public.
- He is notoriously sensitive to criticism and lashes out when he feels attacked.
- He seems eager to start feuds.
- He has a desperate need to be superior.
- He shows no humility.
- He seems to relish confrontation.
- He has a long list of perceived enemies.
Those are all dangerous qualities in someone charged with conducting diplomacy and committing troops to war. It’s one thing to start a spitting contest with Megyn Kelly or Rosie O’Donnell; it’s quite another to start one with a foreign leader and a sovereign country.
He has already disrupted relations with our allies.
Even before he won a primary, Trump demonstrated that he would indeed be—in the words of Jeb Bush—a “chaos president.” His statement about barring all Muslim immigrants from America has prompted a petition from more than half a million people in the United Kingdom, and a debate in Parliament, about barring him from their country. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Trump canceled a meeting for the same reason, because Trump was too radioactive to be seen with. The French prime minister accused Trump of “feeding hatred and misinformation.” The Turkish president said of Trump: “a politician shouldn’t talk like this.” A Saudi prince called Trump a “disgrace to America.” And these are our allies! For good measure, he recently lobbed a few verbal spitballs at the Pope.
WE ARE PROFOUNDLY CONCERNED ABOUT TRUMP’S JUDGMENT AS COMMANDER IN CHIEF.
In your essay, Scott, you say one reason people may be terrified of Trump is because of “the question of who has their finger on the button for the nuclear arsenal.” You are correct.
Trump’s absurd boast that he knows more about ISIS than the generals isn’t his only statement that makes us question his competency as commander in chief. He has also:
- Proposed killing not just terrorists but their families as well (which would be a war crime)
- Promised at a recent debate to “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” (another war crime)
- Said he would bomb Iraqi oil fields to stop ISIS (which military analysts say would be a terrible idea)
Trump has demonstrated an unpredictable personality.
Trump’s words are reckless; would his actions be any different? You admit Trump comes across as unpredictable, but you also absurdly contend that “we can see from Trump’s recent behavior that he can turn off the ‘bad boy’ act any time he wants. He is completely honest about playing the clown for the primaries.” First, we see no such thing. Second, your implication is that Trump doesn’t really mean what he says. On the contrary, he is selling himself to voters precisely as someone who means what he says. Your apparent belief that this is all some winking put-on, and as soon as he takes the oath of office he will transform into a sober, dignified, and effective leader, is an insight many of us haven’t yet arrived at.
Even Trump himself has acknowledged his erratic tendencies, although he spins it as strength: “No one is going to touch us, because I’m so unpredictable,” he has said. Somehow, when we imagine the ideal leader of a great 21st-century superpower, it’s not Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon.
We distrust Trump’s seriousness in matters of war.
We fear that Trump is the kind of person who would see the military as his plaything. His simpleminded jingoism makes us worry that, like many American leaders, he views war primarily as a geopolitical chess game rather than what it really is: the slaughter of human beings. We question whether he has the moral depth to grasp the nightmarish inhumanity of war. We worry that he would consider war not as a last resort but as a means to achieve an end.
We fear that Trump could be an enormously destabilizing influence in the world.
And it’s not just Democrats who are concerned about this.
- Outgoing Army chief of staff Gen. Ray Odierno took the unusual step of criticizing Trump’s military plans.
- According to some reports, several Pentagon officials are already considering their exit if Trump ever became president.
- Jeb Bush called Trump “unhinged” and said he would be a “chaos president.”
- John McCain said Trump “fired up the crazies.”
- Ted Cruz said recently, “I don’t know anyone who would be comfortable with someone who behaves this way having his finger on the button. I mean, we’re liable to wake up one morning and Donald, if he were president, would have nuked Denmark. That’s not the temperament of a leader to keep this country safe.”
Those aren’t the normal accusations that fly in a primary race, especially from members of your own party or military leaders. People should pay attention when a presidential candidate is described this way.
WE QUESTION TRUMP’S CHARACTER.
All of these flaws raise a deeper question about Trump’s character—the kind of person he is. Does he have the fundamental depth and humanity we ideally look for in a president? Granted, he certainly wouldn’t be the first politician to fall short in this respect, but we see ominous signs on a number of fronts:
He demonstrates a concerning lack of empathy.
You also raise the issue of empathy, Scott, but then immediately dismiss it with this bizarre rationalization: “Where I grew up, in upstate New York, empathy looks exactly like Trump. … Trump’s approach is what passes for empathy for white, New York protestants. If we’re trying to be useful, it’s because we care.” Sorry, but the rest of America calls bullshit. To everyone else in the world (and I’m pretty sure to white, New York Protestants too), empathy means the ability to imagine yourself in the place of another, and to try to share their feelings. It may be the noblest attribute of humankind—the basis for love and the idea behind the Golden Rule: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”
Trying to be useful isn’t enough, and it isn’t empathy; you have to be aware of how your actions affect others, and in this Trump fails completely.
No truly empathetic person would spew insults so readily and so hurtfully.
You can’t ascribe empathy to a man who seriously proposes sending immigrant children in the U.S. back to impoverished countries they may not even remember. Or who promises he will uproot millions of illegal immigrant families who may have lived in the U.S. for 10 or 15 years and forcibly relocate them to poor countries where they have no jobs or housing, and may not have friends or relatives financially capable of supporting them. Generally, empathetic people try to prevent humanitarian crises, not create them.
Empathetic people probably would not also categorically deny refuge to Syrian families fleeing a nightmarish civil war.
That’s not to say Trump has no empathy. Few people have none at all. But his words and proposals suggest his empathy is stunted; it seems reserved for a select few.
When Trump says the Mexican government is sending us criminals and rapists, or when he proposes banning all Muslim immigrants to our country, he paints entire groups in one color; he fails to see the humanity of the individual. That is not empathy.
The racism thing.
You admit that “Trump’s immigration plans are scary business for sure. His call to deport illegal Mexican immigrants and to temporarily ban Muslim immigration sound racist on the surface.” We’re with you so far. But then you offer this preposterous excuse: “But one layer below the surface you can see that he is consistent about protecting U.S. Citizens from non-citizens. That’s the job description of the President of the United States. If you are a citizen, Trump has the strongest immigration plan for keeping YOU safe, even if it is bad news for non-citizens.”
There are so many things horribly wrong with that passage that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, you seem to say that, as long as we’re not immigrants ourselves, there’s no reason to be scared of Trump, because he’s not coming after us. That would be true if our only concern as human beings was self-preservation. Unfortunately, many Americans have been taught the wholly illogical value of “concern for others.” For some reason we think this is important, and we don’t think it applies exclusively to American citizens.
Second, “protecting U.S. citizens from non-citizens” doesn’t really excuse the racism. It’s racist on the surface and racist underneath as well, regardless of the motivation. And banning immigration based solely on someone’s religion, as even Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan pointed out, “is not what this country stands for.” If some of us fear Trump, it’s because we generally prefer presidents who understand basic American values.
Is Trump racist in the old-fashioned, virulent form of the word? We don’t think so. But do his words and policies show unfair discrimination against entire classes of people? Definitely yes.
He displays an alarming dishonesty.
As we mentioned in discussing Trump’s demagoguery, he has such a blatant disregard for facts that we don’t believe he could be trusted as president. His rhetoric goes well beyond the usual political truth-stretching. He simply doesn’t seem to care about being factually correct. He spreads misinformation so easily, habitually, and brazenly—continuing long after his statements have been debunked—that we suspect it betrays a much deeper ethical and intellectual dishonesty.
We can’t find Trump’s moral center.
His transparent unfamiliarity with the Bible, despite his self-proclaimed Presbyterianism, is not an issue in itself, except that we can detect nothing else that gives him a moral, spiritual, religious, or ethical grounding.
In fact, we see few personal attributes that suggest he has any internal brake on his conscience: no apparent humility, no shame, no ability to admit he’s wrong or apologize.
A president is called on to make momentous decisions, some of them quite literally of life and death. What personal philosophy or values will he draw on to make those decisions? We have no idea. His most frequent statement on his morality and ethics—”All my life I’ve been greedy. … Now I want to be greedy for America”—is not comforting in this regard.
We just don’t like him.
Finally, we see in Trump a personality type that many of us have met before and viscerally disliked: the brash, smug, judgmental, self-involved, bullying know-it-all who loves to talk at you but doesn’t listen to you. We don’t want a person like that representing us or our country.
* * *
Given all these plentiful and profound shortcomings, yes, millions of Americans are afraid that a man of such shallow experience and character stands a not-insignificant chance of becoming the most powerful person in the world.
And by the way, Scott, it’s not just Trump we’re afraid of. We’re also deeply disturbed to see that so many Americans have so easily been taken in by his brand of superficial, mean-spirited demagoguery. We see so clearly the moral, spiritual, and intellectual emptiness of this man, and we are troubled that others—including you, apparently—do not.
The Liberal Message