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A Letter to Trump-supporting Latter-day Saints

Growing up in Utah County during the nineties, I couldn’t hear the end of Bill Clinton’s sex scandal in the White House. It was one of the first stories in my political awareness, and the whole thing affected me so deeply that for years if you’d asked me what I thought of the Democrats, I would have told you they were horrible—almost solely because of what Clinton did. It seemed to me that my entire community agreed, and I understood that a sex scandal like Clinton’s was a deal breaker for Latter-day Saints.

Then along came Trump, a man who cheated on all three of his wives, paid off porn stars, raved about his daughter’s sex appeal, and faced more than two dozen accusations of sexual misconduct, including rape.

And yet LDS voters cast ballots for him in 2016 and gave him the highest approval of any religious group in 2017. In 2018, Mormons had the chance to band together with other Republican Christians and launch a moral primary challenger. Instead, many supported him.

You had the chance to band together with other Republican Christians and launch a moral primary challenger to Donald Trump in 2018. Instead, you supported him.

To me, it felt like a betrayal.

I can’t help but think of the words of Trump’s own sister, who said, “He has no principles. None. None. And his base, I mean my God, if you were a religious person, you want to help people. Not do this.”

You might say, as a Trump-supporting Latter-day Saint, that while you don’t condone Trump’s behavior, lots of our prior leaders have had moral baggage. And I’d agree. George Washington had slaves. Jefferson abused Sally Hemings. Hamilton had an affair. In more recent times, JFK and Lyndon Johnson had “secret” lovers.

But Trump’s depravity isn’t limited to several dozen sex scandals. The scale is mind-boggling. Bullying the least fortunate, mocking the religious, stiffing contractors, withdrawing healthcare from his ill nephew, cheating on tax returns, using “charity” to funnel money to himself, refusing to rent to Black people, pathologically lying, and much more — these things aren’t the marks of someone who is “rough around the edges.” These are the marks of someone who is fundamentally at odds with the heart of the stated ideals of the LDS Church.

“He has no principles. None. None. And his base, I mean my God, if you were a religious person, you want to help people. Not do this.” — Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald’s sister

Having said these things, you likely still have reasons why you’re supporting Trump. After all, even someone who is morally depraved could be worth supporting—if they had plenty of other noble qualities that benefited the world.

However, the problem with Trump is that even his so-called strengths are surface deep. He’s gold foil—veneer without substance, a phony act. He’s a PR genius and he’s TV smart, but he lacks the generous and noble qualities we celebrate in otherwise deeply flawed leaders of the past.

I understand that might sound unconvincing, so let’s get specific.

Here are reasons I’ve heard you give for why you support Donald Trump, along with explanations for why I hope you’ll reconsider.

In 2020, I’ve seen a growing number of you express concern about child sex trafficking. You say that you’re voting for Trump because he’s working to save these children.

The only problem with this view — and it’s a major problem — is that under Trump federal investigations and prosecutions for child sex trafficking have fallen by a lot.

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Under Trump, prosecutions for child sex trafficking have fallen sharply. Source: Syracuse University

As is the case with so much that Trump does, he talks a big game and makes the right PR moves. He gets people to think he’s doing a great job. But in reality, it’s hot air.

Perhaps you say you’re voting for Trump because you’re a single-issue voter, and your issue is abortion. But why? Was Jesus’s ministry a single-issue ministry? Jesus never spoke about abortion, even though other people at the time did.

Of the hundreds of issues at play in an election, it seems odd to be a single-issue voter about this one thing, particularly while defending Trump, who dodges questions about whether he’s been involved with someone who’s had an abortion.

Consider the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here, which says that “some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.”

If abortions were outlawed, none of these exceptions would be possible. So according to the LDS Church the law should allow some abortions.

In light of this, you might sympathize with the LDS mother of six who had a late-term abortion under incredibly painful circumstances. She was set to have twins, but faced complications late in her pregnancy that resulted in one twin dying and the other facing certain death. Even worse, the pregnancy also put her life at risk. So, rather than have three deaths in the world, she saved her own life to help raise the six kids she’d already given birth to. That’s what a late-term abortion looks like — and why they should be legal and rare (as they are, representing 1% of total abortions).

Imagine what would happen in a world where all abortions were outlawed and treated like murder. Not only would that woman likely be dead, but many women who suffered miscarriages would be tried as criminals, viewed as suspicious by juries. (Did it die naturally, or did she have a secret abortion?) At scale, that’s terrifying, considering that anywhere from 10–20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. What woman who’s just suffered a miscarriage deserves to go to trial?

Next, consider fertility clinics. Fertility clinics dispose of millions of fertilized embryos, but I don’t see any Mormons protesting them (in part because many Mormons understandably use these resources to grow their families).

In this vein, also consider stem cell research. The antibody drug that Trump used after he got Covid-19 was developed from human cells “originally obtained from an elective abortion.” But I don’t see you protesting Trump’s drug of choice.

Finally, note that for decades abortions have consistently decreased more under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents. For instance, under George W. Bush abortions held more or less steady while under Obama the number of abortions comparatively plummeted. You might not want to admit it because it goes against your narrative, but it’s true. Voting for a Republican president isn’t a guarantee that we’ll see fewer abortions. In fact, the opposite may be true, since expanding access to birth control can reduce total abortions.

In 2009, many of you protested the deficit as part of the Tea Party. And yet the deficit increased more under Trump in his first three years compared to the last three years under Obama.

Since Covid-19, the deficit has exploded to unprecedented levels — enough to make the 2009 deficit increase look paltry. And now you’re silent about the deficit?

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The deficit has exploded under Trump. Where’s the Tea Party? Source: Pew

Instead, you’re largely concerned about riots, despite the fact that the original Boston Tea Party refers to an event where rioters who were angry about systemic injustice destroyed the equivalent of roughly $1.7 million of property in an act of protest. If you believe it’s always wrong to destroy property in protest (and it generally is!), why align yourself with the Boston Tea Party at all?

If someone were to get rich robbing a bank, we wouldn’t call them successful. Likewise, we shouldn’t call someone successful who stiffs contract workers, defrauds students at a phony university, or cheats on their taxes (paying his daughter $700k in consulting fees while also paying her as an employee). That’s not “success.” That’s fraud.

You also know by now that Donald Trump’s business record isn’t impressive. He received $413 million from his dad over the course of his life. If he had put that money into an index fund for 30 years, he would have more than $3 billion dollars. Instead, he’s now worth less than that and owes more than $400 million to some unknown lender.

He’s lost money on every business endeavor he’s touched with the exceptions of Trump Tower and The Apprentice, where he pretended to be a successful businessman on TV and licensed his image for money.

Behind the scenes, Trump repeatedly went bankrupt and told Forbes he was 20 times richer than he actually was to get on their list. (If you made $50k a year and persuaded people you were 20 times richer, they’d think you were a millionaire.)

In the three years prior to Trump, the unemployment rate dropped 2 percentage points. In Trump’s first three years it slowed, dropping only 1.2 percentage points. Then it skyrocketed to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Even before Covid-19 hit, manufacturing under Trump plateaued, wages remained stagnant, GDP growth slowed, and the cost of rent shot up.

Trump constantly touts the stock market, which is a marker of how the rich are doing (since the richest 10% own 84% of all stocks), while the economy as a whole collapses.

I’ll admit, I’m a fan of some of Trump’s rhetoric on war. I’d love to see us end the fighting in the Middle East and bring the troops home.

The only problem is that Trump hasn’t actually done it. He’s increased war spending, and unlike Obama, who systematically decreased the number of troops overseas almost every year he was in office, Trump has held the overall number steady.

What’s worse, Trump is needlessly aggressive when it comes to war. Regarding Iran, he said, “If you f*%# around with us, if you do something bad to us, we are going to do things to you that have never been done before.” Going rogue on stuff like this has completely eroded our support with allies, which makes it harder for us to bring peace to the world.

The truth is that in 2003 many of you pushed for war in the Middle East at a cost of more than $6 trillion and at least half a million deaths, and now you’re supporting a man who tells baldfaced lies about always being against those wars when in reality he’s still not.

If the US government were to build a oil pipeline through a sacred LDS space — through the Sacred Grove, for example — would you protest? If so, how did you feel about Trump renewing the Dakota pipeline? When Trump equated his travel ban with a Muslim ban a dozen times, did you denounce it as an affront on religious liberty or did you make excuses for Trump?

If you can’t see the Dakota pipeline or the Muslim ban as an attack on religious liberty, you might care more about power than religious liberty.

What’s more, almost without exception, everyone in power in the United States is Christian (or, like Trump, says they are). This is one reason why Christians in particular get special privileges such as the freedom to enforce pipelines through the sacred spaces of other religions.

When it comes to religious liberty, Christians will almost certainly have it good whether Trump stays in office or whether Biden, a lifelong Catholic, gets in.

Even if you’re an ardent gun advocate, you almost certainly believe in some limits. For instance, you likely don’t want to arm prisoners, allow children to buy pistols, or permit Walmart to sell bazookas. In other words, the question isn’t, “Should limits exist?” but instead “Which limits should exist?”

In this vein, more than 80 percent of Americans agree we should: implement universal background checks regardless of where the sale takes place, prevent the sale of firearms to those convicted of violent misdemeanors (including domestic assault), prevent the sale of firearms to those convicted of stalking, require licenses for gun owners, and more.

If we elect Trump, we won’t likely get a single new limit passed at the federal level, regardless of whether it has mass support. If we don’t elect Trump, we might get a few.

Of course, it is possible that with a Biden presidency, we might also see an assault weapons ban—a measure that 63% of Americans support. Admittedly, you might oppose this. But I believe you also know deep down that some things are more important than assault weapons.

Millions of Americans have lost health insurance since Trump took office, including 5.4 million since Covid-19 alone. In addition, premiums have continued to climb year after year under Trump.

Trump talks about his “great” healthcare plan, but he never gives specifics. We should stop believing he has a plan at all. If he’s elected we’ll see a repeat of what we’ve seen already: Fewer people insured, higher deductibles, more than 200,000 people dead from Covid-19. That is not great healthcare.

Under Trump, we’ll continue to suffer from higher combined public and private spending than other rich countries.

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The United States spends roughly the same as other countries when it comes to public spending *and* way more when it comes to private spending. Source

One of Trump’s tactics in this election is to scare Republicans into thinking that Biden is going to enact the platform of Bernie Sanders, which he equates with Soviet-style Communism.

Two things:

  1. Sanders has repeatedly urged Biden to do more to court leftists precisely because Biden has done so little on this front.
  2. Sanders does not want Soviet-style Communism.

Rather, Sanders argues for something far closer to the Western European model of government, especially the Norway model. This primarily means extending public education to K-14 or K-16, implementing robust environmental legislation, and instating single-payer healthcare.

Biden has pledged to make small efforts on this front, covering tuition for a two-year college “for hard-working students,” creating “science-based” environmental initiatives, and starting a new public option for healthcare.

But none of that is anywhere close to Soviet-style Communism. For better or worse, Biden is a mainstream Democrat—not a leftist. Leftists are deeply disappointed in Biden.

If you want respect, don’t support Trump. Our allies don’t:

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Other rich nations have no confidence in Trump. (Source)

Finally, you might say that you’re not voting for Trump so much as voting against Biden. On that point, I’ll concede. That’s somewhat valid. As I’ve recounted elsewhere, Joe Biden has a history of breaking physical boundaries with women and young girls, producing endless gaffes, spinning false stories about himself, and excusing nepotism.

However, this is increasingly the only move you have: What about Biden? What about the media? What about the Democrats?

It’s a tired move. For my part, I’m not excusing hypocrisy from the Democrats, of which a lot can and should be said.

What I am saying, however, is that you should be honest about the fact that Biden, a lifelong Catholic, is far more committed to Christianity than is Trump. Trump uses religion as nothing more than a prop (while mocking you behind the scenes, including mocking LDS garments). Biden, by contrast, has a long history as a Christian.

In addition, you should be honest about how most accounts from co-workers (including Republicans) portray Biden as someone deeply empathetic and compassionate, in line with the core teachings of Jesus.

By contrast, people who have worked with Trump say just the opposite. His former White House employees say he’s clueless and selfish, and his former business employees paint the picture of someone who’s callous and narcissistic.

So, what can you do?

First, stop making embarrassing excuses for Donald Trump. Don’t say, “Yeah, he’s a buffoon who’s rough around the edges, and I wish he didn’t tweet so much, but…” Instead, be honest about who Trump actually is.

Second, consider your legacy. If you want to risk pushing your descendants away from Mormonism, vote for Trump. One day you might look around and wonder why they’ve left. Perhaps it’s because the Christ they read about in the New Testament is so often the inverse of the man you support.

Third, do what you know you should do. Acknowledge that despite legitimate shortcomings, Biden is still worlds apart from Trump when it comes to human decency and morality.

Since Trump is antithetical to good and true principles, Latter-day Saints shouldn’t support him. “We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up,” wrote Joseph Smith, “or we shall not come out true Mormons.”

Come out true Mormons. Vote against Trump.

Thanks for reading! If you found this letter helpful, click the hands or share so others will see it.

Also see my response to people who messaged me about the letter:

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Writing about Mormonism, politics, and philosophy on Medium.com

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