Editor’s note: This commentary is by Tom Evslin, an entrepreneur, author and former Douglas administration official. This post first appeared on his blog, Fractals of Change.
Didn’t want it to be that way. During the primary season Mary and I and some friends wrote and paid to run full-page anti-Trump local ads on the day of his campaign stop in Vermont. We criticized his protectionism, misogyny, apparent racism, praise for Putin, and his practice of leaving investors and suppliers clutching the empty cloak of bankruptcy while he slipped profitably off into the night.
We were astonished as it became apparent that he really could and then did win the primary. We were equally surprised at Bernie’s strength in the other primary. Like many members of the establishment, we underestimated and under-respected the rage of people who are suffering from miserable schools, stimulus programs aimed at saving bankers, and – from their point of view – diminishing opportunity.
But he did win his primary and Hillary won hers. Now what to do? At first I thought I’d vote for Hillary; I would’ve voted for her over Obama if I’d voted in a Democratic primary; I’m not constrained by party loyalty. I admire assertive people, including women. But Bernie sucked her further and further to the left on one issue after another. She radiated insincerity. The day I decided I couldn’t vote for her was the day a reporter asked if she’d wiped her email server. “You mean with a dishrag?” she smirked. The intentionally ditsy reply was an insult to women. The smirk was more than I could stomach. It seemed to cover everything from Whitewater to the Clinton Foundation to the fortunes Bill Clinton got for speaking in Russia while the sale of American uranium assets to Russia was in the hands of Hillary’s State Department. Throw in Benghazi, too.
I looked at the platform of the Libertarians. Too naively pacificistic for a dangerous world.
I thought about not voting for president. Mary convinced me that was a cop-out, not that my vote in Vermont was going to make a difference. I filed an absentee ballot, hesitated but voted for Trump, and headed to Houston on business. Didn’t think he had a chance. The rest, of course, is history.
Why am I writing this now? Because a very intelligent and principled friend said, “No use arguing with Trump voters; they’ll never change their minds about their man.” That made me realize that many intelligent and principled people are making the intellectual and political mistake of assuming that the 63 million Americans who voted for Trump are a mindless monolith. Certainly some supported Trump from the beginning. Some are racists and white supremacists. Others were Sanders supporters appalled at the treatment their candidate got from the Democratic establishment or just angry at the establishment in general. Most Republicans had originally supported some other candidate in the primaries until Trump wore them all out. I think many people were like me; they chose what they perceived to be the lesser of two evils. Except for Trump, Clinton had the highest negatives of any major party presidential candidate in modern polling history. Trump wouldn’t like this theory, but I’m not sure he could’ve beat anybody (well, almost anybody) else.
That brings us to the next election. Suppose you want Trump outta there. I agree – and I promise you many Trump voters agree – we should do better than a petulant bully with a Twitter addiction. But, if you want Trump out, just attacking him won’t do it. Didn’t work for me or others. There needs to be a credible alternative. The ballot is set up to vote for somebody. Whom do you think should be the candidate? Whom are you working for? What are you doing to assure that the many legitimate grievances that became Sanders and Trump votes get the attention they deserve? How are you helping the establishment reform and regain the credibility it has squandered?
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In the May 29 New York Times Thomas Friedman sounds a code red urging all and sundry to vote for any Democrat they can find to check Trump in Congress. That may happen; Obama had a disastrous midterm but still go re-elected two years later. Voting by party label is hardly a good idea in any circumstance.
But far down in the article Friedman makes much more sense:
“… Democrats can’t count on winning by just showing up. They still have to connect with some centrist and conservative voters — and that means understanding that some things are true even if Trump believes them: We do have a trade issue with China that needs addressing; we cannot accept every immigrant, because so many people today want to escape the world of disorder into our world of order; people want a president who is going to grow the pie, not just redivide it; political correctness on some college campuses is out of control; people want to be comfortable expressing patriotism and love of country in an age where globalization can wash out those identities.”
I’d add to the list that the Iran agreement was bad for America and that China needed to be threatened with the trade weapon to get it to pressure North Korea.
I’m not sorry The Donald is president instead of Hillary; I would like to see us do better. I’ll change my vote once I have an alternative.