Thoughts and questions for the stray American reader considering to vote for Donald Trump

Seagull swimming before Liberty Island, NYC. (I thought an image of the statue would be to cliché to include here.)

Let me start off by saying this: I would not normally write a blog post like the following. I am, after all, a German who does not live in the US, nor have I been to very many places there, nor am I the greatest expert on American policy. It can be incredibly patronizing for a person like me to lecture people in another country on how they should vote, and I am afraid that no matter how many disclaimers I put here, this might be exactly how I come across to some. Moreover, I have never put in the effort to build much of a readership for this (to me, so far largely recreational) blog, and so it is even unclear if any of the titular “Americans considering to vote for Donald Trump” will ever read this post.

Nevertheless, I am among those who, after observing Trump closely, have come to very negative conclusions about his personal ethics and general sense of responsibility. (For starters, he has proposed war crimes as the way to fight international terrorism, and then there are the reports of how he repeatedly tried to push people out of their homes.) This is why I find the possibility of him leading the most important economic and nuclear power of the Western world to be worrying. And therefore, if there is even a small chance that a single Trump voter might find his or her way to this blog and rethink his or her choice, I want to take it.

Of course, this is not going to be easy – I am a random person on the internet, and I am up against one of the shrewdest salespeople in the world, an expert at deceiving not only his followers, but also his opponents into thinking he is something that he is not.

For example, not only “The Donald”‘s supporters, but even some rather smart detractors (like this guy) see him as some sort of champion against the excesses of “political correctness” in modern Western societies and their threat to the free expression of ideas. This is why when you listen to a certain kind of internet “free speech advocate”, the US election seems less about either the candidates’ fitness for office or their policies, and more about winning a cultural war. But I believe there is an incident which shows that these people are very, very wrong about their preferred candidate and his true convictions:

Because of the internet and social media, controversies about speech taboos regarding race, gender, sex etc. have been anything but benign in recent years. One case that Trump supporting right-wing blogs (but not only them) have repeatedly held up as an example is the day in 2013 when #HasJustineLandedYet trended on Twitter. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you can (and should) read up on the details here.

The short version is that a woman (first name: Justine) with family in South Africa made what I understand to be an attempt at bitter gallows humor on her social media feed, criticizing how health in that country may depend on race. But swaths of self-appointed gatekeepers of the appropriate tone to talk about such matters interpreted it as the exact opposite: A mockery of black people who suffer from AIDS. On account of that, they saw it as their natural right to punish the offensive remark and wreck havoc on the “culprit”‘s personal life (getting her fired from her job, publicly shaming her, and making her unemployable for months). All of this happened while she was on a flight to South Africa and unable to respond, clarify or even know what was happening, a fact that the name of the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet gleefully reflects.

Why am I bringing this up? Because one of the people who was very happy to jump onto this trend was Donald Trump. He wrote at the time (which, to remind you, was merely three years ago):

#HasJustineLandedYet– Justine, what the hell are you doing, are you crazy? Not nice or fair! I will support @AidForAfrica. Justine is FIRED!

This may be just a single tweet. But still, if you are a Trump supporter or potential Trump supporter concerned about political correctness, ask yourself: Could someone who truly shares your convictions about free speech have reacted this way? Could someone who truly is opposed to misinterpreting people’s words to paint them as racist/sexist/whatever monsters have written this?

Naturally, Trump has defended the arguably much more, let’s say, “risqué” things he has said about Hispanics, Muslims, black people and women over the years by naming political correctness as “the big problem this country has”. But, considering what we have discussed so far, could it be that his idea of what is and is not taboo to say is not based on an honestly-held belief that he would reliably defend in a position of power, but on whether there is a crowd to run with and a target to bully in any given situation?

So, how should one judge whether this person, who is so good at creating an image of himself that has nothing to do with reality, is actually suited for the office he is applying for? One strategy for choosing who to vote for in an election which I find appealing – and hope someone supporting Trump for his business experience might also find appealing – is to treat the situation as if all the candidates were applying to you for a job.

If that was the case, then the flurry of interviews, speeches, debates and other public statements a political candidate has released should be seen as something like a job interview process, and we should ask: If someone applying for a senior leadership position at a private company had said that, would that person get the job, or would he or she likely be rejected? The same question should then, of course, also be asked about any other relevant fact, action or policy proposal the candidate makes.

I think this perspective might help to make at least some people see some of the old controversies surrounding Donald Trump in a different light. We will therefore try to discuss Trump from that point of view, rather than just engaging in the “standard case” against him, which has been made many times in many other places. (This aforementioned blog post actually contains a good summary.) Now, I am not an employer, so you might question my standing to do this kind of analysis. But as long as we live in democratic systems we are called to judge other people’s qualification for a job every time we cast a ballot. So, my hope is simply that you are willing to read what I have to say and judge for yourself if you can honestly disagree with me on any point. If so, I will, of course, have to live with that.

As you have probably guessed, I believe that “The” Donald fares very, very badly when we apply our kind of test to how he has conducted himself in his presidential campaign. For a first example, remember the following exchange between Trump and Marco Rubio during a Republican primary debate, when they discussed the possibility of a peace deal between Israel and Palestine:

RUBIO: He thinks a Palestinian is a real estate deal.

TRUMP: … wait a minute, and these people may even be tougher than Chris Christie. OK?

RUBIO: The Palestinians are not a real estate deal, Donald.

TRUMP: OK, no, no, no — a deal is a deal. Let me tell you that. I learned a long time ago.

RUBIO: A deal is not a deal when you’re dealing with terrorists. Have you ever negotiated with terrorists?

TRUMP: You are not a negotiator. You are not a negotiator.


(Emphasis added.)

Now, as far as pure smacktalk is concerned, Trump clearly won this one. But if you don’t see any problem with his response, here is an analogy and a question:

Imagine you own a factory working with hazardous chemicals, and you are looking for a new chief engineer. Choosing someone who is incompetent for the job would be dangerous and might, if things go very wrong, result in an explosion killing hundreds of your workers (as well as ruining you personally). Donald, one of the applicants, has never been in chemical engineering, but he has made a fortune developing smartphone apps, and because some in your management see him as smart and driven, he has been invited for an interview.

At one point, the fact that so far he has only dealt with software engineering, but not with the more dangerous and sensitive technology at your plant, comes up. Instead of admitting that and explaining how he would overcome this problem, Donald replies, “Technology is technology. I learned that a long time ago.”, implying, with brazen arrogance, that he doesn’t have to learn anything new to do the job.

Would a single statement like that make you immediately dismiss his application? If so, you should not vote for Donald Trump, either.

I suppose an outsider entering one field (like international politics) after building his skills in a very different one (like Manhattan real estate) might succeed, he might even bring in a breath of fresh air. But in my humble opinion, he absolutely has to be willing to learn and adapt to the different demands of his new profession.

And that’s why I think Trump really fails our test: The point is not that he has never been in negotiations involving terrorism or ideological fanaticism (neither had many other candidates), but that he seems to be implying that he does not have to master any new skills or prepare for any new challenges. While he has probably met people who are nasty, dishonest or even criminal over his business career, it is a safe bet that pretty much all of them were mainly motivated by a rational and manageable goal: Profit. So how and where would Trump have learned that this is “the same” as negotiating with terrorists or even politicians who have more irrational motives, like ideology, religious fanaticism, radical nationalism or burning hatred of other people?

(If you think that I am making too much of a single quote, remember that Donald Trump’s advisors could not even get him to prepare for his first TV debate with Hillary Clinton. And see here for some evidence that unwillingness to learn and adapt to new fields of enterprise seems to have always been a fundamental character trait of his.)

And this is by far not the only example I could give: Just consider the now-infamous speech that started Donald Trump’s campaign, which got him accused of labeling all Mexicans as drug dealers and “rapists” (with only some exceptionally “good people” among them). But to me, the most remarkable thing he seemed to claim in that passage of his speech was that the Mexican government was intentionally sending people it wants to get rid off (like criminals) to the US: How else should we interpret the fact that he started off by saying, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems…”? (Emphasis, again, added.)

And that is a crazy conspiracy theory – even if you are tempted to point out that sometimes, Trump’s claims regarding stuff like broken microphones turn out to be true, you should be able to admit that: People from a poorer country normally don’t need encouragement by a sinister government plot to migrate to a richer country – it’s an idea they can very easily get all by themselves.

For another analogy, imagine a private company interviewing a candidate for a senior management position: Should they hire a candidate who, within the first few minutes, goes on a bizzarre rant that competing firms secretly coordinate the theft of office material by some employees (without giving any good evidence)? Or would you think such a statement shows a lack of connection to reality, and doubt the person’s capability to ever deal with the challenges of the job? In the latter case, even if you agree with Trump on immigration, you should doubt his ability to deal with the issue efficiently (rather than, e.g., wallowing in his own delusions and getting nothing done for years).

Let me mention a third noteworthy example of Trump, in my opinion, failing the “job candidate test”: His many statements implying that China is currently actively engaged in “currency manipulation”, giving the country an unfair advantage in trade. But pretty much everyone who knows something about the subject seems to agree that this would have been a reasonable point a few years ago, but China is not doing it right now: Would it make a good impression in an interview if the interviewee’s knowledge of the company in question was several years out of date? (Especially if it concerned an issue that he planned to focus on in case of getting the position?)

Obviously, there is one reason you could still consider voting for Donald Trump even if you agree with absolutely everything I have said above: We have not talked about Hillary Clinton yet. After all, the US election is different from a generic “job search” situation in that there is only one realistic alternative to Donald Trump, and that would be her. And a Trump supporter might (or rather, very certainly would) argue that she has far greater faults than he has, and he is therefore, at the very least, the much-cited “smaller of two evils”. The reason that they would most likely give why her deficiencies are greater is that they are not just about things she has said, but things she has done (or at least is charged with doing) mishandling goverment emails, shady power deals, covering up her own mistakes.

I won’t go into the controversy here to what extent some of these accusations are even true (see links). Instead, I want to bring up another issue: In my opinion, the only reason anything either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton have said done in the past would be relevant is that it tells you something about their style of thinking, decisionmaking, and personality – and consequently, how they would act when in power.

For example, the reason I think Trump’s leaked “sexual assault” tape or his history of attempting to push people out of their homes are relevant is not because of an urgent need to morally judge events in his past. It is because of the questions these stories raise about his personal ethics and regard for other people – or lack thereof. I don’t like to judge people I don’t know overly harshly: It is possible, of course, that behind all of this is a kind, sweet man who just occasionally strays from the right path. But it is not a mistake to go by the evidence and his actual deeds, which point in the completely opposite direction.

So, the question is not just: What bad things has Trump or Clinton done or said in the past? Rather, it is: Do these things tell us that one of them has a severe flaw that the other does not?

Now, I don’t think Hillary Clinton has any of the downsides of Donald Trump I have discussed above:

Even if you don’t think she has achieved all that much in the political positions she has held so far, she could not have been in office for that long without having picked up quite a bit of knowledge about politics. I don’t recall her indulging in crazy conspiracy theories or even presenting grossly outdated information on a key political topic of hers. And while one could make an argument, based on some of her deeds, that she is very far from sainthood, even the worst things she has done could still be filed under the headline “standard politician evil”. I do not think there is an example where she has directly and intentionally hurt innocent people for no other reason but profit or personal enjoyment. (Granted, unlike Hillary, Trump hasn’t done anything terrible which had major international consequences or put human lives at risk, but he also never had the power to do that – yet.)

On the other hand, and that is the key point, I believe that Donald Trump has every flaw that Hillary Clinton could reasonably be accused of on the basis of her scandals.

For example, because of the email affair you may believe that she is careless and disregards the rules everyone else has to play by. But that would give Trump an advantage over her only if, looking at all of his past and at all of his public behaviour, you honestly believe that he does not have these traits.  So, do you think the reason he never mishandled classified information is that he is a man who always follows the rules, listens to instructions and can be described with adjectives like “careful”, “scrupulous”, or “judicious”? Or do you think it is because he never had to handle them in the first place? (See here, here and here before you make your decision.)

The same goes for many other issues: If you think Hillary Clinton is corrupt, does Donald Trump strike you as incorruptible? (See here on that.) If you are concerned that Hillary Clinton lacks respect for the law, do you believe her opponent is a model citizen? (Once again, see here.) If you think she is using slanders, media deals and dirty political tricks to win an election, do you believe Donald Trump has always been and will always be above such tactics?  (Before you decide on that point, please remember this.) If you think Trump has better foreign policy judgement because he would not be as ready to go to war, you should read this. (Also, it’s not as if he never misjudged anything else.) And so on.

The bottom line, for me, is that while there are some severe accusations against Hillary Clinton (some of them questionable, but others undoubtedly justified), like mismanagement, lobbyist influence and covering up mistakes, these are, unfortunately, not exactly uncommon faults in mainstream politicians – whether in the US or any other Western country. Because the statement that “everyone does it” is not the same as “it is right to do it” (or even “it is bad, but not a big deal”), I can understand the wish to vote for a better alternative to the average member of the political class. But that does not mean it is a good idea to elect someone who may or may not have the same downsides as any mainstream political figure (and almost certainly, he has), but definitely brings other, even greater deficiencies to the table.

Let me put it this way: If you have a nasty cold and the medication you take is ineffective with lots of harmful side effects, does it mean you should opt for the “alternative” of taking actual poison?