A letter to a friend who voted for Trump

11/11/2016 05:19 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2016

Dear _____________,

We wouldn't be friends if we didn't see the best in each other.

It's because of that that I need you to help me understand what you just did.

I know you're not a bigot. If we disagree on some social policy question, it's never because we disagree about equality, only about the best way to achieve it.

But you just voted for a bigot. Please don't tell me he isn't one. Ask any black, brown, or Muslim friends or colleagues you have how they feel about Trump's five years of promoting the racist birther lie, founding his campaign on the false claim that Mexican immigrants are a threat (you do know they have a lower crime rate than native-born Americans, right?), pledging to ban all Muslims (lower-than-average crime rate there, too), or aligning with white nationalism?

If they learn you voted for Trump, they may never look at you quite the same way again. Can you tell them that you did?

If so, how?

I know you respect women. And this one's complicated, because I also know that a lot of women voted for Trump.

But I need to know from you: are you OK with the things he's said about women, and has in all likelihood done to women? I'm old enough to have been raised under old-fashioned gender assumptions, in some ways like the ones Trump apparently still holds. Most of us men used to leer at, judge, and make remarks to each other about women's bodies, although the men I know have long since stopped and are embarrassed to think they ever did.

But back then, there was also another now-outmoded concept: the gentleman. I was raised to be one, which meant believing that one of a man's responsibilities was to protect women, because they were less physically powerful, from insults or assaults. The men who did the insulting and assaulting were not considered real men. They were known as creeps, jerks, or worse.

I know you revere democracy. How do you square that with voting for a candidate who attacks its foundations? 

For example, the free press. Many of Trump's followers believe him when he says the entire mainstream media is corrupt, and just makes up its stories -- except, of course, when he agrees with those stories. You do understand how toxic that is to democracy?

Yes, all reporters -- as human beings working in an imperfect system -- get some things wrong, and are at least occasionally subject to bias. As you know, I spend a lot of time with reporters, so I know this better than most. But to try to delegitimize all media, except friendly media, is to try to destroy the fourth estate of democracy.

Thomas Jefferson advocated forcefully for its protection. For example:

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Trump has also attacked the legitimacy of elections -- in other words, the legitimacy of democracy itself. He refused to promise to accept the results of this one, and claimed the entire process was, impossibly, rigged, right up until he won, at which point the system was miraculously purified.

Trump has attacked faith in the independent judiciary, by charging that a distinguished American-born judge couldn't preside fairly over the Trump University fraud trial, because the judge’s parents were Mexican.

Trump's constant, flagrant lying is another attack on democracy, which depends on debate over a shared set of facts. Please don't tell me Trump isn't a liar, and please don't claim bias in all of the independent fact checkers who have proved that he is one -- who rank him as either the most or nearly the most dishonest presidential candidate in recent history (and, by the way, Hillary and Obama as among the most honest). 

Statements by presidential candidates since 2007, ranked for honesty by Politifact.
New York Times based on data from Politifact
Statements by presidential candidates since 2007, ranked for honesty by Politifact.

I know that what Trump says feels honest, because it’s exactly what's on his mind, unfiltered. And I get that that feels a lot more honest than Hillary's extremely filtered style.

But it also feels like the sun revolves around the earth, or that we should be afraid of people who are different. Feelings are not facts. Facts matter, especially to democracy.

The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.
Official Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1800.
Public Domain / Wikipedia
Official Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1800.

Finally, I know you love America.  How then did you bring yourself to vote for someone who has no knowledge of the role of commander in chief? Who tries to conceal his ignorance under bluster, claiming he knows more than the generals? Who has already put us at risk by promising to do things like weaken NATO -- one of Vladimir Putin's top objectives -- or encourage the spread of nuclear weapons?

Please don't tell me Trump is "tough" or "smart." His version of toughness includes torture, which weakens us by damaging both our values and our credibility, and carpet bombing civilians, which is a war crime that we must trust our generals would refuse to carry out. His smarts include demanding to know why we didn't stage a sneak attack on Mosul, a city on a giant expanse of flat ground with a clear view of the 30,000 troops that surround it -- should we somehow have attacked it without them?

Does Trump -- do you? -- really think that our brightest minds, educated in our best schools, after decades of experience, haven't thought of ideas like "get tough," "sneak attack," or "bomb the hell out of them?" To me, these are the plans of a drunk in a bar, not a commander in chief. They demonstrate the arrogance of ignorance: what people say when they don't know what they don't know.

Are you maybe relying on him being the business genius he claims to be? After his multiple bankruptcies, followed by success that came only when he started playing a success on TV? Doesn't everything about him scream "con artist" to you? I'm asking that in all seriousness. In his words, his appearance, and his mannerisms, I can't imagine a more perfect pitch man for Trump University.

I know you don't like or trust Hillary Clinton. Can you tell me -- based on facts -- what it is about her that could have been worse than an incompetent bigot and sexist who threatens democracy and our national security?

Almost no newspapers endorsed Trump — unprecedented in a presidential election — and many conservative papers, such as the Dallas Morning News and the Arizona Republic, broke long traditions and endorsed the Democrat this time. As the Morning News said:

There is only one serious candidate on the presidential ballot in November. We recommend Hillary Clinton....
Resume vs. resume, judgment vs. judgment, this election is no contest....
[Trump] plays on fear — exploiting base instincts of xenophobia, racism and misogyny — to bring out the worst in all of us, rather than the best. His serial shifts on fundamental issues reveal an astounding absence of preparedness. And his improvisational insults and midnight tweets exhibit a dangerous lack of judgment and impulse control.
The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified.... That’s why, for the first time in our history, The Arizona Republic will support a Democrat for president.
The challenges the United States faces domestically and internationally demand a steady hand, a cool head and the ability to think carefully before acting.
Hillary Clinton understands this. Donald Trump does not.
Clinton has the temperament and experience to be president. Donald Trump does not.

What is it you knew that they didn’t?

I'll finish here. If you've stuck with me this far, I know I've probably tested our friendship. But I think true friendship requires that you know what I'm truly thinking. I've insulted your candidate -- though in my opinion only by stating the truth -- but I don't mean to insult you.

In the spirit of our friendship, I hope you'll reply.


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