Wednesday, August 28, 2019

We Are Responsible for What We Find Persuasive

I keep writing on Trump because I care deeply about what is happening in our country and I am very worried about him being re-elected. A second term will send the message that we, as Americans, co-sign Trump's behavior. I don't.

We can blame Trump for taking advantage of low-info voters and using unethical means of persuasion (lies, for one, stoking racial grievance, for another), but he's not being that tricky. He doesn't use big words or talk about complicated things. It doesn't require sophistication to assess his presidency. You can fact check the president yourself.

We are responsible for the kinds of things we find persuasive. It's your choice to think an outrageous tweet is rad and decide to vote for Trump because you hate Hillary Clinton (reminding everyone, once again, that she is not a contender for 2020), but you're accountable for being persuaded by that. I, personally, think such a decision is an abdication of civic duty and I believe we know better and can do better.

I don't see a lot of good faith efforts to earnestly persuade me that Trump is our best choice for president in 2020. Here's one for why he's not.

Lies and "Fake News"

I'm alarmed by how much Trump lies. It has become a joke that he lies a lot and people don't take him seriously anymore. Haha. But a president needs to be able to say things that people believe and Donald Trump can't because he has told documentable lies almost every day of his presidency.

I believe there are demonstrably true things. Even though it is hard to cut through Trump's bluster and make sense of the 24-hour news cycle, we have to try. Yes, fake news is a thing—but it's not the only thing. You can discern between better and worse sources of information. People can learn to evaluate sources and puzzle out useful information.

Anyway, for all his talk about "fake news" Trump is not making the situation better. What is he doing to safeguard institutions of the free press? Nothing. In fact, he makes it worse by spreading disinformation himself and by irresponsibly promoting conspiracy theories. Trump constantly tries to discredit and undermine the free press, just as he constantly tries to discredit and undermine the Federal Reserve, the Justice Department, and the FBI—all at his disposal, by the way, to do research and provide credible information.

Trump repeats some common themes: "You can't know, no one tells the truth. Everyone lies. Nothing is true. It's all fake news," he says. This makes people want to tune out and dismiss everything because there is a lot of exaggeration and misinformation out there. To me this message is kind of nihilistic and depraved. I don't find it persuasive. Maybe because I've been taught the opposite my whole life:
We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If anything is virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I rarely find a candidate who matches my values exactly, but my beliefs provide the counterargument to the cynicism Trump and his supporters promote. He (they) would have you believe that everyone lies, that everyone cheats on their taxes, that everyone is 100% self-serving, that everyone would take and use opposition research from Russian, that everyone lusts after younger women. Well, I don't. And I am persistent in my hope that we can elect someone a lot closer to our ideals.

Ineffective Governing

People who voted for Trump say they thought he was a successful business owner and would bring that skill set to the White House. I get that inclination. But, as it turns out, he's little more than a con artist and he does not govern well. Furthermore, his personal failings, lack of experience, and inability to learn make us less productive and less safe as a nation:

He said he would do infrastructure. He hasn't.

He has no plan to address the rising violence of white nationalists.  Whether or not you agree that he is encouraging violence (I think he is), he's certainly not discouraging extremist groups.

He isn't doing anything to safeguard the 2020 election. There is no cyber security coordinator. Scarily, he can't accept that election meddling is a threat to our country and considers reports on election meddling personal insults and attacks on his legitimacy. This is one of many examples of how Trump is primarily concerned with himself at the expense of the country.

After meeting with NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, Trump flip flopped on background checks even though a majority of Americans support common sense gun laws. We didn't vote for LaPierre to represent us. Why do we have a president who kowtows to freaking Wayne LaPierre?

Trump's failing trade war with China is not helping the economy and he seems to have no plan if a recession hits.

Pulling out of international agreements, insulting allies, and a general disregard for process is an abdication of American leadership, not good governing.

In short, Trump has been an ineffective leader. He focuses on himself—not us.

White Nostalgia and Racial Grievance

With all of Trump's ineptitude, why doe he still have support? The only through-line I see is white nostalgia and racial grievance. There are no policies or infrastructure plans. As far as I can tell, the only compelling argument that Donald Trump has made for himself is based in racial resentment. It's the only thing he consistently talks about and delivers on. I don't want this to be true; I hope it's not, but what I'm gathering from polls and approval ratings (please, let them be inaccurate) is that most of his supporters don't mind when he says and does racist things. The cost of indulging in bigotry has been zero for this person and for the crowds who shout at his rallies. It's revolting.

His approval rating is still hovering at 40%. It's dropping, but even at 40% I'm shocked. Being distrustful and unwelcoming towards other races seems to be the defining ideology of Trump. That's the common ground his supporters seem to share. (This may also be why his message resonates so strongly with some boomers—he reminds them, affectionately, of Archie Bunker.) It's not a trick. He's not hiding it. And this is the defining ideology you're voting for if you vote for Trump. If chants of "send her back" persuade you to vote for this person it's certainly your prerogative, but to me it's shameful.

Is this your defining ideology? Are you a one-issue voter and is that issue white nationalism? If not, we need to fight against this. We are responsible for what we value, for what we are persuaded by, for what we give our attention to, and for the kinds of arguments we buy into.

Moving forward I hope we can be clear about the kind of person we want for president and how we want to be governed.  It shouldn't be Donald Trump. He doesn't deserve it; he's not doing a good job, and the one thing he's delivering on is basically abominable.

If you've read this far, thank you. I know it's a really long post but tweets and captions aren't cutting it.  I'm sad about the divisiveness I've seen lately and the last thing I want to do is add to it.  I just know that we have more in common than the policy details we might disagree on.

Something Boyd K. Packer (RIP) said and President Nelson quoted encourages me to try to make this case for electing a better president. I hope it helps you feel brave about speaking up and figuring things out for the upcoming election:
We need women who are organized and women who can organize. We need women with executive ability who can plan and direct and administer; women who can teach, women who speak out. . . . We need women with the gift of discernment who can view the trends in the world and detect those that, however popular, are shallow and dangerous.


  1. You are too kind to Trump.

    1. Well, he is absolutely loathsome in every way.

  2. Well said - it is discouraging to see the contrast between him and the president before him. We can do better - and you are right - we all need to do something!

  3. Yes! This. And also this article below. I am devastated that I know and love people who can't/won't/don't see what you are saying. There is a religious aspect to this that some loved ones feel like *I* can't/won't/don't see. This article is a thoughtful attempt to untangle it. Id love you to write about this as well...

  4. Thank you. I'll read this.


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