I have heard it several times stated, as a way of explaining why intelligent people still support Trump, that they don’t like his vulgarity but they appreciate the things he’s accomplished — tax cuts for corporations and millionaires, deregulation of industry, more conservative judges in federal courts and the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. People will say, essentially, that the ends justify the means. Trump might be a racist and a fool with autocratic ambitions, he might have ruined the lives of millions of our fellow Americans, but he put Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and soon Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court. He did what he promised.
If this describes you — a Trump voter who intends to hold your nose and vote for him — I need, one last time, to make this point: A second term for Trump will be far worse than this one has been.
More Americans will die from the disease caused by the coronavirus, millions more will fall into poverty, the economy will take even longer to recover and we could be looking at the collapse of the American democracy as we have known it. All those things you’ve accepted, despite Trump, will have little meaning when it becomes impossible for the forces of moderation, compromise, wisdom and law-abiding leadership to keep the country from falling into chaos.
Philosophers can argue that, in some cases, the ends justify the means: They believe, to cite a classic example, that Harry Truman did the right thing in dropping atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II. But nothing in the present compares to World War II. Nothing before Trump, besides the pandemic, is a matter of life and death. And the Trump administration now makes clear that it will do nothing about the pandemic except wait for a vaccine. Think about that: The biggest issue facing the president, and he refuses to deal with it. In fact, his words and actions make it worse.
And you know all this, don’t you?
As for the rest — tax cuts, deregulation, judges — none of that justifies affirming the worst president in history, a terrible man you’d probably go out of your way to avoid at a country club or restaurant.
Do you really think it’s wise to erase health insurance for millions of Americans in a pandemic, or any other time, for that matter? The uninsured cost the rest of us billions of dollars every year. The Affordable Care Act has slowed the growth in those costs and will, if allowed to expand to its potential, provide the kind of comprehensive care that conservatives had in mind when they first designed the model for the ACA. Trump wants to kill it. That makes no sense.
There’s nothing about immigration that justified the traumatic separation of children from their parents at the border. In any other country, we’d see that as a crime against humanity.
And you know that, right?
You know that Trump is not just a bad president, but a horrible human being. He’s denigrated the American presidency, divided us further, alienated allies. He’s an embarrassment to the country.
You know that.
So, no, balancing everything out, the ends do not justify the means. You might be able to quantify the value of the tax cuts. You can probably calculate the profits to the fossil fuel industry from Trump’s trashing of environmental rules. You certainly can count and see the advantageous math that comes with the Coney Barrett nomination to the Supreme Court.
But things less quantifiable — the dignity of the presidency, global regard for the United States, political civility and human decency, the rule of law and the sanctity of the Constitution, economic stability and growth, the example we set for the next generation of Americans — all will be lost by affirming Trump. Don’t do it. Let your conscience be your guide. Bear up to voting for Joe Biden. Take some personal responsibility for getting our country back on track, and be proud of your vote.