At the age of 19, I proudly cast my first ballot in a presidential election for George W. Bush in 2004. I did the same for John McCain in 2008. And I won't say I was necessarily proud to vote for Mitt Romney in 2012, but I did it.
Because I am a Republican.
Or at least I was a Republican.
Today, I don't know what the heck I am. I am struggling with the direction the GOP is headed, and I don't know that I'm willing to follow.
But here's what I do know.
There is no part of me that will hesitate to cast my ballot for Hillary Clinton on November 8, 2016.
That's a sentence I never, ever thought I would say. Because when this presidential race began, I was certain I'd be voting for whoever the Republican nominee was. Even as early as February of this year, when it became clear that Donald Trump might actually be my political party's choice for president of the United States, I was fully prepared to abstain from voting completely because I didn't think I could ever bring myself to vote for Hillary Clinton. I, along with virtually every other Republican in the country, found her fundamentally unlikable, and I didn't even really know why.
When Trump and Clinton emerged as victors of their respective nominations in July, however, I decided that I was going to have to take a legitimate look at both of them. Because the idea of not voting had become unacceptable to me, and after doing some basic research on the third-party candidates, it was clear that none had the experience, skills, or knowledge required to effectively govern our nation. (Nor do they have any legitimate chance of winning.) So I set out to evaluate both Trump and Clinton as neutrally as I could, doing my best to set aside all of my preconceived notions, and decide once and for all who would get my vote come November.
When it was all said and done, I came to the (obvious) conclusion that there's no real way to declare either one of them an objective winner. Instead, it comes down to my priorities. And your priorities. What attributes are most important to us? What do we value most in our nation's leader? When we weigh the objective facts surrounding each candidate, who ends up on top from our particular perspectives?
Thus, while I can't declare Hillary Clinton as an objectively more desirable presidential candidate than Donald Trump, what I can propose is this:
If you have legitimately weighed all available (and credible) evidence and have still come to the conclusion that Donald Trump is better suited than Hillary Clinton to be the president of the United States, I have to wonder what it is that you value in a presidential candidate.
1. Hillary Clinton has more relevant knowledge and experience than Donald Trump.
Is this a thing we even need to debate? Clinton has basically spent her entire life preparing for this job. Yale law graduate. Eight years as first lady. Eight years as a senator. Four years as secretary of state. She has experience serving on congressional committees related to our armed services, the budget, transportation, and health. Her interactions with world leaders during her time as secretary of state lent her unique opportunities to develop relationships and experience invaluable to the nation's commander-in-chief and chief diplomat. In short, she's got the chops. (And virtually no one seems to be suggesting that she lacks the knowledge or experience to do the job well, so I haven't even bothered citing anything here. If this is where you quarrel with me, I'm afraid you should just stop reading now.)
In contrast, Donald Trump has demonstrated that he lacks basic knowledge about fundamental principles that form the foundation of our governmental system -- things most citizens should know, but things the president must know. (See here and here for examples of his failure to grasp basic governmental concepts.) To compound the problem, he often speaks definitively on a subject while getting the facts completely wrong. Like when he swore that Putin would never make a military move into Ukraine, despite the fact that Putin has already done precisely that.
What's worse, throughout his campaign, Trump has demonstrated an unwavering unwillingness to acquire the knowledge necessary to do the job. And, in fact, he has said he doesn't even want to do certain aspects of the job.
Some will posit that Trump is qualified to run the country because he's a successful businessman. I disagree. Is he a very rich man? Well, it's sort of hard to tell exactly how rich he is without the ability to objectively analyze his wealth via his tax returns. But he has repeatedly told us how rich he is, so I guess there's that.
Does he have experience leading an arguably successful company? Unquestionably yes, and I won't even quibble here over whether his business ventures have actually been as successful as he claims or whether his policies would benefit the economy (though I will cite to this article outlining certain facts about his purported success and this article containing a non-partisan prediction of the effect a Trump presidency would have on the economy). But even assuming that his career has lent him certain valuable financial experience, the economy is only one slice of a very large pie. Why would we think that business acumen could be a substitute for experience in effectively running a government? The former prime minister of Yugoslavia offers up his unique experience as evidence that it cannot, which makes perfect sense given that the two roles require completely distinct sets of skills and knowledge.
But we can't stop here. Knowledge and experience are important -- very important -- but the president of the United States must be more than smart and accomplished to effectively govern.
2. Trump's arrogance, lack of self-control, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia make him fundamentally unsuitable to be chief of state, chief diplomat, and commander-in-chief.
If you are a Trump supporter, please explain to me what you do with these issues. Truly. We can get to the criticisms you will undoubtedly offer regarding Clinton and her scandals or her lies next, but you've got to grapple with this particular thing first.
Trump has said and done things that are inexcusable for any human being, but most especially for our nation's leader. I literally don't have the space to list them all, but here are some of the most egregious examples:
The Mexican "rapists" comments. Suggesting that POWs aren't war heroes because they were captured. His mocking of a disabled reporter. Inciting violence at his rallies. Referring to the size of his genitalia during a debate. Belittling the judge overseeing the Trump University case for being Mexican. Suggesting that he would violate the Geneva Contention's prohibition on war crimes. Asserting that Bill Clinton cheated on Hillary because she couldn't satisfy him sexually. Indicating that he would violate NATO.
There are so many terrible things he has said about women that I regrettably must gloss over them. I truly can't fathom looking my daughter in the face when she's old enough to understand and telling her that I voted for a man who has called women he didn't like "fat pigs," "dogs," "slobs," and "disgusting animals." That I voted for a man who would value my daughter less if she isn't beautiful or large-breasted or because she has gained weight. But if you're a Trump supporter, you've surely already heard these things, haven't you? Are these comments simply not offensive to you? Republicans (understandably) lambasted Bill Clinton for his infidelity but are willing to overlook this?
As many have observed, the fact that Trump can be so easily baited and is apparently incapable of exercising restraint before speaking off the cuff could be disastrous in foreign relations, where the president has broad powers. Clinton, herself, said it best: "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons."
To favor Trump over Clinton, you must either be unaware of these things or have weighed them and deemed them less important than some weakness or flaw you perceive in Clinton. I've tried so hard to figure out which of her flaws could possibly outweigh his, and I'm simply at a loss. Because these aren't isolated moral failures in a man who is contrite about his mistakes. The frequency with which he displays these attributes (and I haven't even scratched the surface) makes clear that this is simply who Donald Trump is, and he's not sorry for any of it.
Do you actually believe that Donald Trump -- the man who has unapologetically done and said all of these things and so many more -- is suited to negotiate with foreign heads of state, assume control of our armed forces, and shape foreign and domestic policy?
3. In a balance of "scandal," Trump is no better than Clinton.
So here's where we can talk about the things you're going to say about Clinton. And I hear you. I really do.
You'll tell me about Benghazi. And the emails. And the potential conflicts of interest involving her charitable foundation. And I absolutely agree that Clinton showed errors in judgment in each situation. Full stop.
But there is certainly scandal on both sides. I cannot possibly say it better than John Oliver recently did, so I'm going to point you to his thorough and hilarious discussion of the issues. He concludes that Trump's scandals are far worse than Clinton's. (What he actually says is this: "The point is, this campaign has been dominated by scandals, but it is dangerous to think there's an equal number on both sides . . . And you can be irritated by some of Hillary's. That is understandable. But you should then be f---ing outraged by Trump's.") I'd submit that they're at the very least a wash. Which is unsurprising to me, honestly, because we're talking about people who are running for political office. I don't expect them to be perfect people. I don't expect them to have never made mistakes. Mistakes I can understand and get past. A fundamental lack of knowledge, competency, relevant experience, humility, and basic human decency? That I can't get over.
4. Trump lies significantly and quantifiably more than Clinton.
As you can surmise, I don't expect much from politicians. I honestly kind of expect them to lie to me.
But what's baffling to me is how people can continue to brand Clinton as an unforgivable liar while affirming their commitment to vote for Trump.
Because neutral fact-finders have determined that 60% of what Clinton says is true. Not awesome, obviously. But only 12% of what Donald Trump says is true. TWELVE PERCENT. And 48% of what he says is "pants on fire" false, compared to 6% for Clinton.
If you're using truthfulness as your measuring stick (and I'm not) you can't conclude that Trump is better than Clinton. You just can't. Not if you're being intellectually honest with yourself.
5. I am pro-life, and I will still vote for Clinton.
One of the things I struggled most with when contemplating voting for Clinton is her pro-choice stance on abortion. (Here's where I should probably add that I'm a faithful Christian and grew up in the Baptist church.)
I am pro-life. I've probably just lost all credibility with any left-leaning readers, but at least understand that I am actually pro-life and not just anti-abortion. As in, I am invested in the lives of women and children, before and long after babies are born. I am invested in the lives of refugees and immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities, as well as in the lives of the LGBTQ community.
Once again, I'll point you to the analysis of someone who has said it much better than I could. But to sum up her conclusions: on balance, Clinton is more invested in the lives of each of these groups than Trump could even begin to be, despite her pro-choice platform. Moreover, the author observes that while we've had many pro-life presidents since Roe v. Wade, there have been few meaningful changes in that area of policy. And if a president who is truly anti-abortion was unsuccessful in changing the tide on this issue, how can one reason that Trump -- whose previous pro-choice position on abortion did a convenient about-face when he decided to run under the Republican ticket -- will somehow get it done?
6. My taxes may go up, but I find that less troubling than the idea of Trump as president.
Here's where I'm probably going to offend you. Because if I'm being honest? I think that if you are someone who is voting for Trump because you simply cannot vote for Clinton, it is likely you have either (1) not considered all of these facts because you just can't bring yourself to vote for a Democrat or (2) considered all of these facts and nevertheless decided to overlook Trump's numerous and indisputable shortcomings because you just can't bring yourself to vote for a Democrat. And, at least for some of you, the reason you can't bring yourself to vote for a Democrat is because you are more concerned that Clinton may raise your taxes than the fact that Trump is a demonstrably terrible human being and is not qualified or suited to be president.
Maybe we will just have to agree to disagree here. Because this truly comes down to a matter of personal values, and I can't convince you to care more about competence, humility, self-control, and human decency than you do about money.
But I will point out that there is a staggering group of traditionally non-partisan and/or Republican individuals and organizations who have endorsed Clinton for these very reasons. This is simply not the time to hold fast to party lines. There's too much at stake.
You don't have to vote for my candidate, and I don't have to vote for yours. We are all entitled to make our own choices on election day, and that's the beauty of this great land of ours. But I do think we have an obligation to consider and weigh all relevant and credible evidence in deciding where to cast our vote.
And when you do that -- when you truly evaluate each candidate based upon his or her experience, knowledge, truthfulness, and temperament -- I struggle to understand how you can conclude that Trump is a better fit than Clinton for president.