As my close friends and family know, I’m a classic swing voter when it comes to presidential politics. Since turning 18, I’ve voted for Democratic candidates 3 times, Republicans twice, and a write-in once.
Some may call that proof of wishy-washiness. Frank Underwood would claim that I resemble a lone tree in an empty field: I lean whichever way the wind is blowing.
I contend, instead, that this form of mutability is fundamentally ideological. Like many other Americans, I am center-right on fiscal and defense policies and center-left on social issues.
Neither party is a perfect fit. So I have to set priorities, as well as weigh the character and intellect of the candidates that the party system produces.
For me, candidly, those decisions have always been close calls. That’s because every major candidate has been at least somewhat appealing—and has been plausibly presidential.
George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, John McCain, Mitt Romney: talented, patriotic, experienced leaders to a person.
Not this year. Now I’m choosing between a chronic liar and a xenophobic madman, neither one of whom comes anywhere close to fitting my policy preferences. I’ve never been so frustrated and disappointed. I know I’m not alone.
Yet it’s not a close call.
I cannot, will not, vote for Donald Trump.
I understand why others—including some people I think well of—are coming to a different conclusion. Most of the people I know who will pull the lever for The Donald will do so reluctantly, and despite the many despicable things he’s said, and the many horrible policies he’s promoted, not because of them.
Mostly they will do it because they hate, hate, hate Hillary Clinton—both her ideology and her character. Or they worry about a long-lived liberal Supreme Court majority.
And they’re betting that Trump won’t turn out to be as crazy, divisive and incompetent as a president as he’s been as a candidate. Maybe he’ll hire able lieutenants…and maybe Congress will block any real madness.
I understand all that. But I will not take that bet.
Why Trump worries me
No, I don’t look forward one bit to a Hillary Clinton presidency, as it is likely to be more of what we’re experiencing today in our political life.
With a leader that is disliked by half the country—and loved by very few—we can look forward to even more divisiveness, even more gridlock, even less progress on the problems facing the nation.
On the issue that occupies most of my working hours, we will likely see a continuation of the status quo, with a Department of Education unwilling to cede significant authority to the states—despite the Congressional intent behind the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—and an Office for Civil Rights more than happy to meddle in the day-to-day affairs of 100,000 schools across this vast and diverse land.
Like Jeb Bush, I will be sad if Hillary is elected.
But like Jeb, I would be worried if Trump won.
First, I would worry about the immediate impact of such an outcome on America’s growing non-White population, especially our Latino and Muslim fellow citizens.
While plenty of evidence indicates that not all Trump voters share his racist, Islamophobic views, that will be cold comfort to the communities he’s skewered on the campaign trail.
A Trump victory would make many feel attacked and rejected by their countrymen. Already his statements are making some racists feel comfortable spewing hatred in public.
We hear stories of that spilling over into our schools and into our education debates. On the heels of the awful killings of African-American men and of White cops, the last thing we need right now is more group animosity.
I would also worry that President Trump might actually try to keep some of his campaign promises. Rounding up 11 million immigrants and creating a religious test for entry into the country would be the most outrageous examples, but both are fairly unlikely.
But starting a trade war certainly seems like something he’s itching to do. He might start another war-war, also. He seems to view our NATO allies as freeloaders and competitors instead of partners and friends.
He looks at Vladimir Putin and other despots with respect rather than disgust. It seems all too likely that he will further destabilize the shaky global order and make the world a much more dangerous place.
On my work-day issue, I haven’t a clue what a President Trump would do. Most likely K-12 policy would be paralyzed, as an Education Department without any kind of mandate would feel powerless to act on any issue of importance without running it by the White House. ESSA implementation and everything else would grind to a halt.
The best we can do
It’s tragic that we’ve reached the finals of America’s presidential contest and confront such an unpalatable choice. It’s beyond depressing that nobody I know can see things getting markedly better for our country in the years ahead with either of these candidates at the helm.
The best we can do, I would argue, is muddle through, wait for the next election, and work for positive change at the state and local levels, where Washington’s dysfunction has not yet mucked everything up.
It’s not exactly “hope and change.” But I guess it’s something.