The United States is a country founded on ideas. Ethnicity and religion are not what have bonded us from our founding. It is the fundamental ideas expressed in our Declaration of Independence, and in our fight for independence, that run through our country’s history. Our founding set forth that individuals are ends unto themselves, and deserve to be respected as such; that government’s role is not to be the ultimate source of authority and power within society, but merely to protect the people’s pre-existing rights; and that through our will and determination, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.
We have not always honored and lived up to those ideas. Our founding itself was stained with the deepest of shames, the enslavement of human beings, while our founders argued for the dawn of a new beginning. We subjugated the Indians, and cruelly abused them like non-humans. We let the cancer of slavery metastasize, until war was the only option remaining; and after slavery was broken, we allowed Jim Crow to replace it. We have not yet entirely grappled with what our country’s greatest shame means, nor have we left the effects of slavery to the pages of history. They remain here with us today.
And yet America is a tremendous miracle. From British colonialism and abuse, we won our independence as a country, and forged one of the greatest works of humanity: the Constitution. The Constitution not only explicitly laid out the extent of the federal government’s powers, and enumerated the rights of the people that must not be infringed, but created a political system that, through separation of powers and the pitting of different power centers against each other, limited the ability of the government to fall under dominance of a single group and single passion of the time, to limit the ability of the government to be used as a tool of repression, even if it represented the will of the majority. It is a marvel of all time.
Through our unique genesis, we forged an identity separate from ethnicity and religion. Our identity, what it is to be American, centers around our belief in respect for each other as individuals, and for our right to pursue our dreams. By doing so, our country has been able to adopt waves of immigrants, people utterly different from the people already here, and integrate them into our nation. Whatever our race, religion and culture, if we share the same fundamental ideas, we are one people. Our identity is our ideas.
We have not always lived up to that, either. But it is remarkable how many different peoples have immigrated to the United States since our founding, and in the ensuing decades became as “American” as anyone else. That is the strength of our country: We will take anyone, if they believe there is a better tomorrow through work. We can all have different skin colors, follow a different religion (or none at all), eat different food, have differing ideas for what the good life is, even speak different languages—and be unified as a single people. That is a miracle, and despite not always living up to it, it also aptly captures something fundamental to our country.
Our country, at its best, is not about “staying with our own kind,” or taking from others to increase the lot of “our people.” Our country is about being different, having different ideas—but being on the whole unified under an assumption that we can create a better tomorrow for everyone through work.
That is also why I have found Donald Trump’s campaign for president so disturbing. Trump has built his campaign—to “make America great again”—on the belief that America is lost, that we are an embarrassment, that we are weak, and that we can only return to “greatness” on the back of a great leader. Trump has made his appeal not by arguing for how we can empower all of us, as Americans, to pursue our dreams for a better tomorrow, but by appealing to the ethnic and religious differences between Americans. He has not just argued that open immigration could be harmful and we should be cognizant of it, but that Mexicans are rapists, drug dealers and killers. He has not just pushed for being mindful of the threat posed by Islamic terrorism, but has flirted with the idea of registering all Muslim Americans in a database so they can be tracked, and with barring Muslim Americans traveling abroad from returning to their own country. He is a man that has played on conspiracy theory and overt racism.
Trump has praised the “strength” of repressive dictators such as Vladimir Putin and repressive governments such as the People’s Republic of China, and has said—often on the same day he threatened an individual or company with consequences if he is elected—that he would open up libel laws so journalists could be sued for writing or saying what he finds to be misleading or false.
Trump claims he is conservative. What I see is a man that, in order to rise to the top, willfully pulls on the ethnic and religious differences in our country, and uses and amplifies prejudice and hatred, to garner the support of whites. He is intentionally dividing us as a nation, pitting white Christians against Hispanics and Muslims, regular people against the wealthy and “media elite,” “Americans” (by which he means white people) against foreigners, which includes not only foreign nations, but American citizens that have descended from immigrants of foreign nations. Trump is tearing at the very fabric of our nation.
He tears at it, while also undermining the bedrock idea that the government does not lead our nation, but that the individuals do. Ideology may not be fundamental to Trump, but a belief in the supremacy of great leaders, and in their necessity for a country to do great things, is. That belief underlies his fondness for Putin, a man unafraid of using the power of the state toward his ends, and to crush his opposition. It underlies his praise for the PRC in 1989, when the PRC crushed a budding protest movement in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. And it underlies his support for the use of torture and for killing the families of terrorists—great leaders do what is necessary to win.
Trump, then, is a man willing to divide us as a people, so that he can lead us to “greatness.” Trump’s idea of leadership is not to respect the limits of the federal government’s power, and the presidency’s power, but to do whatever he thinks is necessary (laws, morals, and individual rights be damned) to show our strength and impose his will, both on the world and at home. Trump does not see himself as the leader of a country defined by its rights, but as someone smarter and stronger than everyone else, and thus entitled to impose his will on whomever he pleases. There is a reason that “little,” “loser,” “low-energy,” and “weak” are some of his most-used insults for his opponents, and he speaks so often of being a “winner.”
I cannot support Trump because he is fundamentally destructive of what our country is. Trump is willfully tearing at what holds our country together and what defines us as a people. I cannot, and will not, support a man that appeals to our fears, to our baser instincts, that turns every issue into one of us versus them, and that peddles in conspiracy and racism. I cannot, and will not, support a man that fancies himself an authoritarian, a man that threatens people that say things he doesn’t like, and threatens to undermine the first amendment. I cannot, and I will not.
I will not support Donald Trump if he is the Republican Party’s nominee for president. If the GOP is remade in his image, I will leave the party. I owe the party no obligation, if the party has become destructive of what I cherish most. I cannot, and I will not.
I promise that I will fight Trump, the demagogue, now, and if he wins the nomination. I will not accept it, and nor should you.
If, like me, you are a Republican, I appeal to you to vote in your state’s primary, and to vote against Donald Trump. He has not won yet, and we can still fight. Let us defeat him. Let us win a victory for what we love about our country.