The 2020 presidential campaign has lasted so long and so much coincided with the preoccupying effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that I began to think of it as a permanent feature of our national politics, the election a future event that would always be a few months away. When the first debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden arrived, I was almost taken by surprise — wait, this is happening? Time is moving forward?
Evidently it is — the snow already on the ground here in Minnesota convinces me, if nothing else — and Election Day is finally nigh. On Tuesday or, more likely, sometime in the two months after it, we’ll know who won. And so, as I write my last pre-election column: I don’t want the winner to be Biden. But I do want Trump to lose.
I realize, of course, the obvious objection to that pair of sentences: In the race we have, Trump losing means Biden wins. I understand that. I understand, too, the perfect symmetry of partisan conviction that failing to vote for one of these two candidates (whether via an alternative vote or abstention) amounts to a vote for his opponent. I reject that reasoning, though I sympathize with the fear that informs it.
But this is not a column about how I’ll vote, nor is it some strange attempt to deny the reality that, come January 20, 2021, one of these men will be our president. It is simply my registration of utter discontent with the choice we’ve been offered for the next four years and, equally, a longing to run far away from the deep dysfunction of the last four.
Part of this is about policy, as both candidates have promised to take actions I do not want done in my name. Polling shows very few Americans care about foreign policy this cycle, but I am one of those few, and both candidates have foreign policies I find unconscionable.
It’s not that there’s no difference between them: Biden would be better in diplomacy with Iran and our European allies, for example. But he looks more likely to escalate tensions with North Korea, perhaps to the point of U.S. invasion, the probable consequences of which are horrible to contemplate. Trump dubiously says he’ll withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, while Biden wants to leave a permanent U.S. footprint there, ever at risk of stumbling into some new fight. But Trump is also determined to keep facilitating Saudi war crimes in Yemen, while Biden says he’ll stop.
Though each gets some things right, neither shows any sign of rejecting the past 20 years of global military interventionism and implementing a humane and prudent foreign policy where the goal is not American supremacy but peace. To vote for either candidate is to vote for innocents dead, markets turned to rubble, weddings turned to funerals. That we may expect other advantages of one candidate’s victory does not alter that fact.
In other policy arenas, too, I find some things to like, usually with caveats, and more to vehemently oppose. In immigration and refugee policy as well as criminal justice reform, I’d prefer Biden. On religious liberty and abortion, I lean toward Trump, though I don’t for a second believe he cares a whit about anyone’s liberty or life but his own. On health care and fiscal issues, I’ve reached a point of assuming nothing I’d support will ever happen — I’ll be surprised if I live to see a balanced federal budget, and I think Medicare-for-All is a near-term inevitability.
I know some would say I should approach this as a math problem, sit down and assign values to all these policies, factor in what I care about most and what the president can actually accomplish, and then give the high scorer my vote. I don’t concede that the ethics of this thing can be calculated thus — am I supposed to estimate body counts? What number should I assign to lives ruined but not ended? On some issues, like drones, the candidates’ scores would negate each other, but that wouldn’t negate the fact of my voting for drone war. Anyway, even if this math were possible, the high score would be sub-zero. This choice is unacceptable.
And it’s not just policy. Indeed, many of my reasons for wanting the Trump era to end come from outside the bounds of politics proper. Putting Trump at the center of our national life has been disastrous. He’s a foghorn of cruelty, lies, and confusion, both exacerbating and benefiting from pre-existent vices in our political culture and weaknesses in our political structures.
Social media (and the journalistic instinct that anything said by the most powerful man in the world must be newsworthy) has allowed Trump to insert himself and politics more broadly into so many realms of our life where neither belong. “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” of which the president’s supporters like to complain, is sometimes a fair charge — but it’s also a malady Trump himself actively seeks to aggravate. He delights in any attention, in trolling, in irritation and anger for its own sake, in malice and fantasies of harm. He radicalizes his opponents and degrades his supporters. All is escalation.
I recently wrote here at The Week about our country’s epistemic crisis, our dangerous uncertainty about whether truth exists, whether it is knowable, and how and from whom it may be known. As I argued then, this crisis has no single point of origin; both big political tribes are implicated, and of course politics always involves lies. Still, Trump has uniquely and “dramatically embraced and accelerated our epistemological crisis through his evident belief that truth is a function of power,” as O. Alan Noble recently wrote at Public Discourse, and “[t]here is no way to isolate the effects of a chronically deceptive president.”
Supporting Trump invites another four years of that acceleration. It is one reason, of many, I want Trump to lose this election. He is an awful president. I only wish we had a chance to get a good one.
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