The top reason to vote against Donald Trump is his character. There, I’ve said it. And I mean character in the broad sense to include both his personality/temperament and character traits (here are two Psychology Today blog posts explaining the difference between personality and character and where temperament fits in). Voters: Consider this possibility, that the very top reason to vote against Trump is not directly related to his policies – it’s about who he is, his personality and character. I’ve looked at a lot of quotes from Republican voters who are undecided (or have already decided to vote against him) and a recurring concern is over Trump’s character. Some of the voters like his policies but can’t abide the way he behaves on Twitter. Many are embarrassed by him at times but will still stick with him because they think he represents Republican values. He actually doesn’t represent Republican values, as I argued in a previous post but, more importantly, the undecided voters should be giving Trump’s character a lot more weight in their decision-making process.
Donald Trump’s character
Several psychologists have evaluated Donald Trump’s character. The Atlantic ran a cover story in the summer of 2016, entitled The Mind of Donald Trump, in which Prof. Dan P. McAdams, personality psychology expert, analyzed Trump’s personality. Just before this, Dr. Ryne Sherman profiled Trump’s personality and character in two articles for Psychology Today. It’s not too surprising that the assessments are largely in agreement because, being an extrovert, he doesn’t hide his personality. The Atlantic article focuses on Trump’s grandiose narcissism, which is often associated with unethical behavior and drives his dangerously extreme need to be liked (e.g., by Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un). Both psychologists mention his likelihood to make decisions based on emotions and appearances rather than facts and science. Dr. Sherman rates Trump’s personality as low on prudence, diligence and dutifulness. These characteristics came into play in the way Trump mishandled the Coronavirus pandemic, but also in many other aspects of his presidency.
For the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome, nothing was more important than your character – not even your own life.
The following combines two perspectives on Donald Trump from an American citizen – one from just before the 2016 election and one from this year. They are both from Ryan Carlson’s blog, The Agreeable Times, and are also in agreement with the psychologists’ assessments, above. I’d recommend bearing two things in mind when reading this:
- Compare the concerns over Trump’s character (expressed in 2016) with how the last four years have gone – and how the next four might go if he was reelected.
- Think about how different this election is from the last – a vote for Trump can no longer be excused as an experiment to challenge the status quo.
The top reason to vote against Trump is his character
The Trump question is not about right or left. It’s about right or wrong, and the future of America and the world as we know it depends on making the right choice. This is not about Democrats and Republicans – he is a unique threat to our country and the world.
Much has been said about his coarseness and the foolishness of many of the policies he has presented, but although those are very important and have terrible implications, the most important point is what kind of person he is, the impact of his actions, and how he responds to those impacts.
He may think that he can halt the chain reaction of whatever he sets in motion by dialing it back later and acting “presidential.” But in the world of international politics, he doesn’t get to decide what happens with what he starts.
He is not a maestro playing an instrument. He is a man at the top of a hill pushing a snowball.
There are two main reasons why Trump is so dangerous:
- The human side. He is creating and legitimizing hostility between different groups of people in the country and the world. This does not solve problems – it makes them worse and more difficult to resolve the longer it goes on. If it continues unchecked, it always leads to violence. All of human history proves this.
- The decision-making side. His instincts and temperament are towards hasty, emotional decisions without considering or caring about the consequences and, when things don’t go his way, he responds with escalation and vindictiveness. These are the worst possible characteristics for a person whose decisions carry such weight for the future of humanity.
Trump’s human side
He treats people with disrespect and encourages other people to do so. The effects of this are already clear, but they can get much worse and will as long as he has a platform. Entire groups of people are described as obstacles to America’s greatness or downright enemies without having done anything wrong as individuals or as groups. That is not a conversation about policy, on which people can reasonably disagree – it is the creation of enmity between peoples. This is no way to solve problems – it’s a way to intensify existing problems and create new ones.
Trump’s decision-making side
This is where the implications of Trump spiral out of control. He is an impulsive decision-maker, and when his decisions cause outrage or retaliation, he digs in and attacks further. This may be a useful tactic for a real-estate developer, who can either win through rough tactics or, if they don’t work, cut his losses and move on to the next deal. But it is a horrible set of instincts in a person who is dealing with situations in which the actors will all still be there tomorrow and any damage caused today will be a problem that needs to be reckoned with in the future. In short, this is a recipe for chaos.
Countries do not calculate their interests the way businesspeople do, and they do not react the way businesspeople do. If you back a businessperson into a corner, chances are they will evaluate what is going to be the least costly or most beneficial decision and go with that. It is also relatively easy to calculate what the other person’s interests are and thus the risks of your strategy, because there is a limited number of factors that could be relevant and a limited number of potential outcomes.
Countries are different. There are infinitely more factors at play as countries tend to take a longer-term view and are frequently prepared to sacrifice blood and resources both to pursue their aims and harm the interests of their enemies, even at a very high cost to themselves.
Making things worse, he reacts to perceived slights and provocations of the sort that are daily occurrences in both domestic and international politics with extreme immaturity, responding in ways that provoke people to respond in kind, creating vicious circles that become more and more difficult to pull out of.
Escalation is inevitable with Trump. He even feels comfortable with it, feels like it’s his game, but again he overlooks the difference between his world and the world we live in. In the real world, you can’t win in the end if everyone hates your guts. He can go off to some mansion come what may, but we’re all going to be left facing the consequences of his actions.
Most damning with regard to his decision-making ability – even worse than the loose-cannon mechanics of his decision-making process – is the fact that he lacks a huge amount of relevant knowledge about domestic and foreign political affairs and yet evidently doesn’t care or doesn’t even realize that that is the case.
Donald Trump vastly overestimates himself, and not just in the sense that is obvious – an ego run wild. He overestimates his knowledge and understanding of things that are of huge significance to the future of the US and the world. Trump has a certain kind of intelligence in spades. He has a genius for self-promotion. He is a master manipulator. He knows what to say to achieve the outcomes he wants.
That is a kind of intelligence that can make you rich, or perhaps even become president. But it is not the kind of intelligence that’s good for actually being president.
I beseech everyone who knows me not to vote for him. And I defy anyone who is thinking of voting for him to tell me these things aren’t true. We will all regret it if he wins.
The above assessment of Trump’s character was written by Ryan in 2016. Here’s his recent update on why a vote for Trump in 2020 is a much bigger deal than it was in 2016.
Hanging by a thread: A letter to undecided voters
Trump’s regime has been traumatic for many. My life has been impacted by him because my wife is an immigrant and because I haven’t been able to see my wife or my son and daughter-in-law for many months now because they were abroad when this crisis began and Trump’s negligence has both lengthened the period in which intercontinental flight seems reckless and closed the world’s doors to Americans. I still feel very fortunate compared to so many people whose lives have been irrevocably devastated by Trump’s actions – nothing permanent has happened to us.
I feel a need to tell people what it means to me and what I think would happen to people and relationships and the country if he won again. No one should harbor the illusion that his re-election would be the same as his election, and the next four years like these first four years. A lot of bonds would be ruptured or forever changed. The calculus of life and relationships changes when an abhorrent situation goes from being a one-off to a confirmed choice. Many Trump supporters seem not to sense the horror and despair with which a Trump re-election would be met. The country would change on the spot, even if it took a while for it all to shake out.
Many Trump supporters seem to relish the feelings he arouses in those who oppose him. This is callous; but it also leads to a misreading of the situation. It creates a false picture of symmetry, as if the emotions he provoked were the mirror opposite of the dismay conservatives feel about liberal policies. But there is a big difference, because Trump actually harms people and really does fundamentally change how the country works, whereas the bogeyman visions of Biden are all rhetoric and the people using the rhetoric know it, because they have lived through eight years of Biden already.
Everyone knows that Joe Biden, like it or not, represents the same America that has existed throughout the lifetime of almost everyone alive, and that he would preserve the constitution in every sense that it was preserved before Trump.
There is no substance to the picture of symmetry that many who wish to rationalize their support for him present. “We will be just as upset as you are now if Biden wins,” they say. But if Trump wins, many people will suffer material changes in their lives and life conditions in ways that range from life being just a bit harder to utterly devastating and life-changing. I could list many examples of great suffering caused by Trump and his policies, but we all know enough of them, if we’re honest, to recognize that the point is true.
People know not only that Trump is different than Biden, but that he is in fact different than any other Republican in his ignorance of and lack of respect for any institution of government.
He doesn’t allow us to go about our daily lives without planting our flags on issues big and small because his personal style of exerting power and getting what he wants is based on generating conflict that propels his endeavor. He doesn’t persuade or ask for support – he starts fights and tries to rally support to his side by creating an adversarial situation and demonizing the other. And he does this by being controversial about everything big and small, because that is what creates the dynamic of us-against-them.
Beyond his addiction to causing and exploiting conflict, the thing that makes Trump different, and why it’s so hard to give people the benefit of the doubt in the first place, is his cruelty. For all their faults and in some cases crimes, recent presidents were not overtly cruel people, and this made it possible to view support for any of them as being an acceptable difference of opinion. But to support Trump, you have to decide not to care that he is being cruel to people and harming them. It begs for a response. How do you explain that?
That is the dilemma that Trump poses, and it’s an untenable situation long-term because accepting you, as a Trump voter, without an answer as to how you can support his cruelty, forces me to swallow my own principles to maintain my relationship with you.
This is a problem that few people seem to be anticipating. If Trump is re-elected, all the self-preservational tricks that allow a person to regard the situation as temporary or just a regrettable mistake go out the window. What’s left will be the undeniable confirmation that this is what Trump people wanted.
I really hope that people on all sides of this situation will give this some thought. This election will be the point of no return for many things that were still intact because of people reserving judgment or giving the benefit of the doubt. We need to be aware of how much is hanging from a thread. Is Trump really worth that to anyone?