A vote for Trump is a vote for chaos
Let's leave the 2010s in the past where they belong.
Noahpinion is not a nonpartisan or politically neutral blog. I don’t especially enjoy writing about politics, but sometimes I feel it’s necessary. If that makes you mad, I’m sorry. In order to get good policies that help the people of the United States, the United States needs to elect the best leaders possible, and I have opinions on who those are. In the case of the 2024 presidential election, my opinion is that it would be a very, very bad idea to elect Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is going to be the 2024 Republican nominee for President. If anyone has any remaining doubts about that fact, Trump’s victories in the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary should lay that to rest. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy have already dropped out of the race, leaving former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as the only remaining opposition. Though Haley outperformed expectations in New Hampshire, she’s still highly unlikely to defeat Trump'; as of this writing, betting markets give her almost no chance to win the nomination.
The general election, however, has only begun. Trump is currently leading in some polls, but it’s far from a sure thing that he’ll win in November. I highly doubt that the courts will bar him from running, but I do think Biden has a significant chance of pulling out a victory.
Populist movements generally lose support over time. William Jennings Bryan was nominated for President three times, and his share of the vote went down each time. Ross Perot and Bernie Sanders both garnered much less support in their second outings. Over time, people tend to lose enthusiasm, as the upstart’s rhetoric goes from fresh to tiresome, and as it becomes clear that the swamp will not in fact be drained. McKay Coppins, who has attended many Trump rallies, claims that some people are getting bored of the Trump Show:
If one thing has noticeably changed since 2016, it’s how the audience reacts to Trump. During his first campaign, the improvised material was what everyone looked forward to, while the written sections felt largely like box-checking. But in Mason City, the off-script riffs—many of which revolved around the 2020 election being stolen from him, and his personal sense of martyrdom—often turned rambly, and the crowd seemed to lose interest. At one point, a woman in front of me rolled her eyes and muttered, “He’s just babbling now.” She left a few minutes later, joining a steady stream of early exiters, and I wondered then whether even the most loyal Trump supporters might be surprised if they were to see their leader speak in person.
But that could certainly be wishful thinking. Nor are Trump’s ardent supporters likely to be the ones who drive the electoral outcome; swing voters will make the decision. Nor is it some iron law of politics that populists can only hold power once; Silvio Berlusconi served as Prime Minister of Italy three times. Betting markets give Trump about 7 to 5 odds over Biden.
So yes, it’s very possible that we’ll wind up with Trump as our next President in 2025. But this would be a very bad outcome for the United States of America, for a number of reasons. Basically, Trump represents chaos, at a time when the U.S. needs order and calm. The 2010s are over, and sending Trump into permanent retirement is the best way to avoid an encore of that turbulent decade.
I do not have “Trump derangement syndrome”
One unfortunate feature of American politics is that both Republicans and Democrats tend to work themselves into a frenzy over the other party’s presidential candidate, no matter who it is. To put it bluntly, both sides cry wolf all the time. Yes, I am a Democrat, but Democrats do this too — I’m old enough to remember when people I knew went crazy over poor old Mitt Romney saying that he had “binders full of women”, denouncing him as a sexist when all he meant to say was that he personally knew lots of highly skilled women in the business world.
Anyway, because we cry wolf all the time in American politics, it’s easy to dismiss criticisms of Trump as “Trump Derangement Syndrome”. And indeed there are some people out there who see everything Trump does and says as a harbinger of imminent fascism and atrocity. I know some of them. In 2017 a Google engineer bet me $1000 that Trump would commit genocide by 2020; when I won the bet, I had him send the $1000 to a rabbit rescue. (I just wish I had bet him more.)
But I do not have Trump Derangement Syndrome. As proof, let me list a few important things that Trump got right.
The most important thing that Trump did right was to break America out of its free-trade, laissez-faire consensus. When Trump ran for office, it was still essentially conventional wisdom on both sides of the aisle that:
Economic engagement with China would make China liberalize over time
Industrial policy means “picking winners”, and that this always fails
Unilateral free trade is better than the alternative
All of these beliefs were well past their sell-by date by 2016; we should have abandoned all of these dogmas in the 2000s. But it took Trump’s victory to force Washington to reexamine these ideas. If not for Trump, we wouldn’t have the Inflation Reduction Act or the CHIPS Act or semiconductor export controls. Biden’s administration has been the one to implement industrial policy and strategic trade policy, but that was only politically possible because of Trump.
Trump was also a reasonably good steward of the economy. Corporate tax cuts probably didn’t do as much as people had hoped, but overall the 2017 tax reform didn’t leave us in much worse fiscal shape than we had been, since it also raised some taxes. During Covid, Trump and Congress handed out a ton of cash to save Americans from falling into financial ruin — this was a great thing to do, even though it did cause inflation later on. The U.S.’ uniquely generous Covid response is one reason our economy is now doing better than those of other rich nations.
Finally, Trump was responsible for Operation Warp Speed, which was arguably the most impressive feat of U.S. innovation in my lifetime. Trump wisely refrained from interfering in the effort, instead leaving it to government agencies like BARDA that proved remarkably effective. It’s likely that this effort saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and possibly millions worldwide.
So although I don’t think Trump was a good President overall, I acknowledge that he did some important good things during his time in office. This is not a statement that someone with Trump Derangement Syndrome would be capable of uttering.
Now with that out of the way, here is why I think a second Trump term would be extremely, extremely bad for America.
Trump would bring institutional chaos
Most importantly, a Trump victory would mean institutional chaos. Trump has bragged about the authority that he would assume if he regained office, vowing to be a dictator on “day one” in order to implement his policies on immigration. “After that, I’m not a dictator,” Trump promises, but one could forgive us for being skeptical of that promise. His campaign pledges include major expansions of presidential power. Meanwhile, on social media, he’s constantly bellowing about how the President should be above the law:
I do not think Trump has the ability to actually become a dictator. In practice, however, what his attempts to centralize power in his own person would entail would be protracted bitter conflict with many of America’s key institutions.
In his first term, Trump pitted himself against the FBI, which he now wants to defund. His campaign pledges include a promise to defund the Justice Department and the intelligence services, as well as various federal agencies. Weakening the intelligence services would certainly reduce our ability to defend ourselves against relentless espionage or even sabotage by the People’s Republic of China.
But the institution that Trump would likely struggle against the most is the U.S. Military.
In his first term, Trump reportedly tried to demand Nazi-like loyalty from his generals:
The President’s loud complaint to John Kelly one day was typical: “You fucking generals, why can’t you be like the German generals?”
“Which generals?” Kelly asked.
“The German generals in World War II,” Trump responded.
“You do know that they tried to kill Hitler three times and almost pulled it off?” Kelly said.
But, of course, Trump did not know that. “No, no, no, they were totally loyal to him,” the President replied. In his version of history, the generals of the Third Reich had been completely subservient to Hitler; this was the model he wanted for his military. Kelly told Trump that there were no such American generals, but the President was determined to test the proposition.
Trump reportedly kept looking for generals who would be more loyal to him personally, rather than to the U.S. as a country. He largely failed to find any. Mark Milley, his top general during the turbulent events of 2020 and early 2021, feared that Trump would assume dictatorial power, and worked to prevent this from happening:
Milley feared that Trump’s “Hitler-like” embrace of his own lies about the election would lead him to seek a “Reichstag moment.”…Milley now envisioned a declaration of martial law or a Presidential invocation of the Insurrection Act…
“Our job is to land this plane safely and to do a peaceful transfer of power the twentieth of January,” Milley told his staff. “This is our obligation to this nation.”…
Milley continued to reach out to Democrats close to Biden to assure them that he would not allow the military to be misused to keep Trump in power.
Trump reportedly dreamed of ordering the military to support his efforts to overturn the 2020 election result, but they showed no desire to cooperate.
Anyway, I encourage you to read more reports about the conflicts between Trump and the military in 2020 and early 2021. It’s the kind of thing you hear about happening in unstable developing nations. Nor did that conflict fully end when Trump left office. The military embarked on an attempt to root out white supremacists within its ranks, while Trump and his supporters have continually bashed the “woke” military.
A second Trump term would see this power struggle continue. Trump would try to fire generals who weren’t personally loyal to him and replace them with cronies. The military would be angry with this, and would try to resist Trump on whatever fronts it could. I doubt there would be a military coup (though it’s not out of the question); instead I foresee constant roiling conflict that weakens and paralyzes the U.S. Military, at exactly the time when we’re under facing determined enemies of unprecedented strength.
The other institution Trump would fight to the death would be the electoral system. He and his supporters passionately believe that the 2020 election was stolen, even though many Republicans disagree, and even though no court or independent investigation ever found any evidence of the widespread voter fraud that Trump alleged. When back in power, Trump will seek to weaken every electoral and legal institution that blocked his bid to overturn the 2020 election. That could involve large-scale firings, rule changes, appointment of cronies, and more denial of election defeats. The upshot would be a significant weakening of the U.S.’ capacity to administer elections, as well as our capacity to ensure the integrity of those elections.
When Trump’s opponents say he would “destroy democracy”, this is what they mean. The phrase is perhaps a bit overstated, but it gets the basic idea right. Many non-MAGA Republicans seem to recognize this danger:
So a second Trump term would see a significant degradation of America’s ability to choose its leaders, as well as — probably — its ability to defend itself.
Trump would bring international chaos
America and our allies are in a very precarious position right now. The new axis of China, Russia, and Iran threatens to achieve dominance of the Eurasian continent, home to two-thirds of the world’s population and two-thirds of global GDP. So far, under Biden, the U.S. has managed to check those powers’ ambitions — supporting Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion and strengthening alliances to deter Chinese aggression. Under a second Trump presidency, both of those efforts would be in danger of collapsing.
Trump was known as an anti-China President, lambasting China in his rhetoric and hitting them with tariffs and export controls. But when it comes to Taiwan, it’s far from clear that Trump would stick his neck out. Biden has been steadfast in his pledge to defend Taiwan against attack, and this has emboldened Asian allies like Japan, India, and Australia to also take a firmer stand. Trump, in contrast, has waffled about defending Taiwan, and has lavished praise on Xi Jinping. And Trump has little use for alliances in general, preferring to engage in trade wars with friendly countries like Japan.
When it comes to Europe, the picture is even bleaker. The MAGA movement has managed to turn opposition to Ukraine aid into a culture-war wedge issue, so a Trump victory would certainly put Ukraine in a dire situation. But that’s just the start; Trump has also expressed a desire to withdraw from NATO entirely, ending the transatlantic alliance that kept Europe stable and largely peaceful from 1945 to 2022.
Other Republicans don’t want this to happen. They recently passed a bill barring the President from unilaterally withdrawing from NATO. But that doesn’t really matter. If Russia were to attack a NATO ally like Estonia or Poland — which Putin is certainly considering — Trump could simply use his powers as Commander-in-Chief to refuse military aid. Without the guarantee of mutual aid, NATO would be effectively defunct. This would be an invitation to Putin to conquer all the territories once ruled by the Russian Empire.
Trump’s go-it-alone strategy would certainly leave our allies to the tender mercies of totalitarian powers. But the U.S. itself would not escape major negative consequences. If China dominates all of Asia and Russia dominates all of Europe, the U.S. would be in a far weaker and more precarious position than it is today. The China-Russia axis would then be able to dominate America economically by cutting us off from trade and raw materials at will.
It would be wrong, though, to call Trump a pure isolationist. Trump reportedly considered launching a war with Iran after losing the 2020 election, as a way to help himself stay in power. A second Trump term could see increasing confrontation in the Middle East, even as America hung Asia and Europe out to dry. All of this would accelerate the world’s slide into chaos.
Trump would bring social chaos
Trump’s first term, and the campaign leading up to it, were marked by social chaos — terrorist attacks, street battles between leftists and rightists, the Charlottesville march, a rise in violent crime, and so on. 2020 obviously saw an intensification of that chaos, with protests erupting throughout the country, some cities engulfed by violent riots, and violent crime soaring to heights not seen since the 1990s.
But the chaos that tore apart American society in 2015-2020 wasn’t only in the streets — bitter cultural and political battles roiled practically every business and civic organization and university in the country. It was absolutely impossible to live in America during those years without people shouting in your face about Brett Kavanaugh, or white privilege, or cancel culture, or cultural appropriation, or whatever. Our culture was absolutely subsumed by politics, politics, politics.
Of course, Trump doesn’t deserve all of the blame for that, but he was at the center of it all. The wave of liberal anger that had been building before Trump was intensified and focused by having one man in the White House at whom to direct its rage — much as the 1960s left focused obsessively on Richard Nixon.
Trump seemed to provide proof positive that America really was an indelibly racist nation, “stamped from the beginning” with the evil of slavery and white supremacy and so on. It was Trump’s presidency that convinced liberals and progressives throughout America to listen to the siren song of the anti-American leftists who had previously been shut out of mainstream politics.
Unrest in America is now in the process of ebbing. If the late 2010s were our modern version of the 1960s, the 2020s under Biden have been more like the 1970s — exhausted, bitter, confused, but fundamentally non-explosive. The “great awokening” is burning itself out like a prairie fire, and the dreaded alt-right has more or less subsided.
A second Trump term would delay this necessary process of exhaustion and retrenchment. Trump’s quasi-dictatorial bluster, and his rhetoric about immigrants “poisoning the blood” of America, will inevitably reignite the passions of liberal backlash. Shut out of political power, and with the social campaigns of the late 2010s still fresh in their minds, liberals strike back in the spaces where they still exert power — universities, businesses, civic organizations, school boards, and so on. The wokeness wars will return. Meanwhile, rightist organizations, invigorated by a second Trump victory and triggered by liberal backlash, will again march in our streets.
I do not want this to happen, and you shouldn’t want it either. An encore of the social chaos of 2015-2020 would not be good for either Red America or Blue America. We will never stop having culture wars, but by keeping Trump out of power, we can reduce their omnipresence to something more manageable.
Trump, simply put, is a chaos agent. His ardent supporters know this, and they think it’s a good thing. But although I know I don’t speak for everyone in this country, I have had enough of chaos. I’ve had enough of extremists fighting street battles. I’ve had enough of everyone talking about politics all the time, and trying to cancel other people all the time. I’ve had enough of both sides of the political spectrum badmouthing America all the time. I’ve had enough of wondering whether my country will wake up one day and whimsically abandon the alliances that kept the world free during the first Cold War. I’ve had enough of the President fighting the military and denying election results.
I simply do not want to go back to the late 2010s, and I think lots of other people don’t want to go back either. It’s time to pick up the pieces and start putting this country back together, instead of giving the whole edifice another kick. If you’re a Republican, or a right-leaning independent, I understand if you can’t bring yourself to pull the lever for Joe Biden. But at least consider staying home and not pulling the lever for Trump either.