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November’s Choice: How One Long Time Republican is Trying to Parse this Out

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The more I think about this Trump thing, the more troubled and unsure how I’ll vote in November I become. As at least one friend and early Trump supporter I know has noted, I really, really, really don’t like this guy for president. He’s all wrong for the country. He’s a bombastic blowhard with a talent for manipulating people and a penchant for bullying when manipulation fails — or when it’s needed as an adjunct to his bullying ways. He’s crass, crude and quite frankly a “know-nothing” in both the old way (of catering to 19th and early 20th century America-First bigotry) and in the modern way of knowing very little about actual policy matters or the world at large. He’s the kind of guy who thinks he’s a king or ought to be (look at the gold-plated trappings he surrounds himself with) and who insists on acting the part.

He caters to the worst of our inclinations: the love of wealth and glitz and of pushing others around. He can’t speak worth a damn. If Obama is a polished and nuanced rhetoritician, Trump is the anti-Obama who speaks in long, run-on word salad sentences, repeating himself, segueing from one incoherent thought to another, often ungrammatically blustering his points on stage and threatening anyone who disagrees with him. Or using adolescent schoolyard name-calling to diminish them, appealing to derision over reasons. Even granting that he has grown a little calmer and more controlled in recent days (part of his campaign to manipulate us again, it seems, this time to get his audience to see him as “presidential”), his whole history argues against taking him at his word. He has been all over the map, reversed himself repeatedly over the years on key issues, appears to say whatever pops into his head if he thinks it will get him attention or have the hoped for effect on his audience. He shows little regard for facts and will seemingly say just about anything as long as it gets him the attention he craves and the votes he needs. He tolerates the support of racists and bigots. Hey a vote’s a vote, right?

Yes, he has put forward a respectable list of Supreme Court nominees, should he make it to the White House (albeit leaving himself wiggle room with these, once elected!), and yes he has said many of the right things in recent days to assuage conservatives’ concerns. And yes, too, he is the likely nominee from here and it’s generally the right thing to do to close ranks behind the nominee after the primaries are done and move forward in a unified way. We owe it to the party, don’t we, and to our belief in a democratic system where you yield to the majority when you lose. But there’s something about Trump — and it has to do with everything I’ve described here so far — something that simply militates against business as usual. He is not just someone I find myself disagreeing with (on many things I actually agree with him, in fact, though, of course, one never knows if his position today, which one agrees with, will be his position tomorrow). He is just someone my whole being rebels against.

He’s the kind of lewd, crass guy who shouldn’t be representing the United States of America to the world —  nor is he the kind of guy who should have our fate in his hands. He may be smart enough, even accomplished enough, but personal qualities matter, too. Yes, I think he would not find it so easy to undermine our system were he to be elected president and actually try to do that. But I’m not a hundred percent sure that he still could not succeed. Others have been democratically elected to national leadership before in many other countries and have gone on to undermine the very electoral process they used to come to power. It happened not so long ago in Venezuela with Hugo Chavez (we are seeing the result of that today in that collapsing country) and modern Turkey has a president of similar strong man pretensions, Recep Erdogan. Even if Trump doesn’t actually try to take us down the path these caudillo types have gone, or tries and fails, his very position as president would divide Americans as we have never been divided before — and THAT’s saying something!

Still, given the other team (Hillary? Bernie?) I don’t know where else to turn. On balance, Trump’s promise to appoint conservative justices (if he keeps his word — a big if, given his track record) is a strong argument to take a flyer on the guy and trust in our institutions and a robust, principled opposition to keep him in check. But there is so much uncertainty involved here and so much bad precedent and democracy, even in the United States, is such a fragile phenomenon. As the ancient Greek philosophers knew, democracies are potentially unstable because of the tyranny of majorities since majorities aren’t always right, indeed are often wrong. That’s why we have a system with checks and balances, a Constitution designed to hold would-be strong men in check. But even the Constitution is only as strong as those who follow it allow it to be. A Constitution like ours is no guarantee against a silly electorate, or a man who knows how to bully and manipulate and does not scruple to do it.

Color me conflicted!

About Stuart W. Mirsky

Stuart W. Mirsky, a former New York City official who last served as Assistant Commissioner for Operations in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene before retiring in 2002, wrote a column, "The Rockaway Irregular," for The Wave, a south Queens based weekly, for more than a decade (until Hurricane Sandy changed the equation). He is an original founder of the Rockaway Republicans, one of the most active Republican groups in southern Queens, and author of a number of books, including The King of Vinland's Saga, an historical novel of the Norse in 11th century North America, A Raft on the River, a memoir of Holocaust survival, and Choice and Action, a work of contemporary philosophy addressing the implications of relativism and nihilism for our moral beliefs.

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