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Trump and University of Utah students / Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

A Response to Latter-day Saint Trump Apologists

Two weeks ago, I wrote a letter to LDS Trump supporters that got far more attention than I expected. The response was almost uniformly positive, but I also received several messages I feel are worth addressing.

Why? Because I’m haunted by the words of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer. “Trump will never leave office peacefully,” he says. “The types of scandals that have surfaced in recent months will only continue to emerge with greater and greater levels of treachery and deceit. … I’m certain that Trump knows he will face prison time if he leaves office.”

I believe Cohen is right about Trump’s well-documented crimes and that unless Biden wins in a landslide, 2020 will end with a lengthy court battle where Trump accuses the system of being rigged against him and eventually wins the presidency.

So I want a landslide for Biden, and the only thing I know to do to help that happen—aside from volunteering and giving money, as I have—is to write. (I’m open to all suggestions on this front.)

Here are comments I saw, along with my response:

“Arguments like this don’t persuade anyone.”

That might be true! I don’t expect to persuade any ardent Trump supporters.

And yet my worldview has changed by arguments like this. I used to vocally oppose gay marriage, for instance, because I believed that homosexuality was a choice, as I’d been taught. Then I stumbled on scientific data that demonstrated why homosexuality isn’t a choice, and I changed my mind.

This happens to me constantly, and I want to believe I’m not alone. I have hope that some people who make incorrect claims about Trump being great for the economy, healthcare, manufacturing, and so on simply haven’t encountered the data (cited in the letter) that suggests otherwise.

“Trump just has a different personality and communication style.”

Every LDS Trump apologist I’ve interacted with uses a line like the one Utah senator Mike Lee recently used to defend him. “The way he speaks sometimes gives people pause,” Lee said. “I was raised in Provo. He was not raised in Provo. He has a different way of communicating than I do.”

But Trump isn’t horrible because he says the f-word, or because he has a brash personality.

Here’s how the arguments sound:

Claim: “Trump was charged $25 million for a fraudulent university business.” Response: “He sure has a brash personality!”

Claim: “Trump dropped a record number of bombs on Afghanistan.” Response: “That’s just a different way of communicating!”

Claim:26 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, including one who’s suing him in court right now for rape.” Response: “Yeah, he was raised in New York, not Provo!”

It sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous. Raping women, cheating contractors, pathological lying, and defrauding people — all things Trump has gone to court for — aren’t “a way of communicating” or a “personality type.”

They certainly aren’t a reason to compare Trump to Captain Moroni, as Mike Lee has, saying, “[Trump] seeks not power, but to pull it down. He seeks not the praise of the world.” What a groveling and embarrassing thing to say about someone who’s entire career has been about seeking power and praise.

“You don’t know Trump and shouldn’t judge him.”

Voting is judgment.

Here’s what people who know Trump say about him:

“He has no principles. None. None. And his base … if you were a religious person, you want to help people. Not do this.” — Maryanne Trump (his sister)

“I knew him better than even his family did because I bore witness to the real man, in strip clubs, shady business meetings, and in the unguarded moments when he revealed who he really was: a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.” — Michael Cohen (his former lawyer)

“Erratic,” “stunningly uninformed,” and “unfit for office.” — John Bolton (his former security advisor)

“A man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things.” — Rex Tillerson (his former secretary of state)

“Lying is second nature to him. More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.” (Tony Schwarz, his ghostwriter)

And so on…

“Biden is just as bad.”

Then where are similar quotes from Joe Biden’s sister? Where are similar quotes from the people who have worked with Biden? (Even Biden’s Republican colleagues have nice things to say about him.)

Biden wasn’t my pick in the Democratic primary. And yet I still believe he’s far better than Trump, for the reasons I list in the letter.

“You didn’t say enough about why you’re for Biden.”

I’m for Biden because he’s more likely listen to experts in a range of fields, from doctors to teachers to economists (700+ of which have publicly favored Biden). He’s less likely to “trust his gut” or gush about his own IQ, as Trump does.

This is especially important when it comes to science, which is why I agree with the many scientific journals and magazines that made the move to publicly support Biden, who will be better for the planet. (To learn more, read the article “75 ways Trump made America dirtier and the planet warmer” and Biden’s environmental plan.)

Admittedly, “listen to experts” can sometimes be code for “catering to special interests and lobbyists”—something to watch carefully and oppose under Biden (especially lobbyists for war). If Trump had actually drained the swamp instead of cozying up to Goldman Sachs execs and oil tycoons, he would have the upper hand here. But since he did the exact opposite of draining the swamp (giving clients of Trump-connected lobbyists $10.5 billion in Covid-19 aid), Biden is the clear choice.

“I respect the flag.”

This one surprised me.

Until Trump was elected, I’d never seen a Confederate flag in Provo, Utah before. Now I’ve seen several.

Until Trump was elected, I’d never seen so many flags with a president’s name flown alongside or even higher than the American flag.

Until Trump was elected, I’d never seen so many people wearing clothes with the American flag on it.

Until Trump was elected, I’d never seen an altered American flag. Now I see lots of blue line flags (the black and white American flags with a blue line through the middle). Can you imagine the response from the right if a left-leaning organization widely adopted an altered American flag as their symbol? Are we just going to be a nation with altered versions of the American flag to represent our tribe from now on?

Most of this is explicitly against official flag code. None of it shows respect for the flag. Just the opposite.

“I’m defending the Constitution.”

When it comes to the Constitution, the main worry I’ve seen people express is that Biden will extend the number of Supreme Court nominees beyond nine. But expanding the Court is not contrary to the Constitution. The Court started with six people and eventually expanded to nine. Franklin Delano Roosevelt pushed to expand the Court beyond nine and failed, but that didn’t stop Utah for voting for him multiple times, nor did it mean he was “against the Constitution.” The Constitution allows for expanding the court.

By contrast, Trump has repeatedly threatened the Constitution. As Sharlee Mullins Glenn, a member of Brigham Young University’s Civic Engagement Advisory Board, writes:

“President Trump’s many violations of the Constitution are well-documented. … He flouts the emoluments clauses which prohibit any president from profiting off the office; has repeatedly tried to suppress and discredit the free press, a common ploy of dictators; ignores checks and balances; routinely oversteps his executive authority; and has attempted to suppress freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly, two of our fundamental constitutional rights.”

Glenn also mentions that Trump has said he should be president for life and plays coy about making a peaceful transfer of power. He has said, “The president of the United States has the authority to do what the president has the authority to do, which is very powerful. The president of the United States calls the shots.” And, “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s going to be.” —Donald Trump

And yet Mike Lee, a professed Constitution lover, spends his time comparing Trump to Captain Moroni and embracing the party that threatened to hold the number of justices to eight if Clinton had won.

“I’m opposed to the media.”

I’ve been slowly working on a longer piece about the media generally (stay tuned if you’re interested), but for now I’ll say:

  1. When Fox News says “the media,” they mean “our competitors,” and their take on the matter should be given as much credence as, say, Adidas talking about Nike.
  2. Only one candidate was employed by NBC for more than a decade.
  3. Only one candidate caused the CEO of CBS to say of their rise, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
  4. Only one candidate was employed by Jeff Zucker, who is now CEO at CNN and who hired Trump at NBC. Zucker was in close contact with Michael Cohen during the 2016 debates, telling Cohen, “I have all these proposals for [Trump], like I want to do a weekly show with him and all this stuff… I’m going to wish him luck in the debate tonight.” Zucker added, “As fond as I am of the boss [Zucker’s name from Trump], he also has a tendency, like, you know, if I call him or I email him, he then is capable of going out at his next rally and saying that we just talked and I can’t have that.”

In short, the narrative around the media is as broken as the media itself. Yes, it’s true that, as Fox News likes to point out, most journalists lean left. But it’s also true that the owners of media empires primarily want to make a ton of money and are willing to do whatever it takes on that front, including playing foil to Trump as a way to boost their ratings. They’re infotainment stations.

“I have all these proposals for him, like I want to do a weekly show with him and all this stuff.”—Jeff Zucker, CEO at CNN, talking about partnering with Trump in 2016

As far as social media companies go, they do at times make terribly boneheaded partisan decisions, as Twitter did when it completely shut down the Hunter Biden email story. But they’re objectively not “out to get conservatives” as many Trump apologists like to say. To the contrary, conservative sources overwhelmingly dominate Facebook, as has been thoroughly documented (here, here, here, here, and here) by the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank.

“You didn’t mention that abortions dropped under Trump.”

It’s true that abortion rates are and have been dropping for decades.

But my point was about how abortion rates have fallen more under Democratic presidents compared to Republican presidents. After all, abortion rates also dropped during Bush’s eight years(from 16 per 1,000 women to 15.6). But they dropped faster during Obama’s eight years (from 15.6 to 11.6). Time will tell if rates fall faster under Trump. So far, we don’t have enough data to analyze his full term.

On this topic, here’s something I did not see anyone address: Fertility clinics dispose of millions of fertilized embryos, and 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 Latter-day Saints protesting either thing.

I’m not saying these things should be protested, but I have to ask:

Why the disparity in responses? Why do so many Trump supporters call all abortions “infanticide” and yet remain quiet about fertility clinics and Trump’s Covid-19 treatment?

“You didn’t bring up that unemployment reached the lowest level in 50 years under Trump.”

Trump loves this line, and so do his supporters. But the unemployment rate slowed under Trump. If the decline in unemployment had trended at the same speed it was already trending under Obama, we would have reached what’s called “full employment” faster.

Of course, the closer to zero the unemployment rate gets, the more likely it is to naturally slow down since it’s harder to reach an unemployment of 0% compared to, say, 4%. But Trump doesn’t talk with that sort of nuance. He just wrongly claims all the credit for himself when in reality the decline under Trump was simply a continuation of the trend under Obama.

Also note that Trump has not brought back manufacturing and coal mining jobs as he promised. Not even close:

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Manufacturing has not returned to 1990s levels. Source: FRED
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Coal mining jobs have tanked. Source: FRED

“You didn’t mention that Biden voted for the Iraq War and that Trump has overseen historic peace deals in the Middle East.”

True, Biden voted for the Iraq War, and that’s one of many reasons I did not want him as Democratic primary candidate. But someone who drops a record number of bombs on Afghanistan and goes on Rush Limbaugh to say “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” about Iran—as Trump did—should not be praised for “historic peace deals” in the Middle East.

“Trump respects the military.”

Nah. Read the many reasons why 780 retired generals and leaders have publicly opposed him, including this from retired Air Force Gen. Charles Boyd:

“There’s a saying in the military that ‘officers eat last,’ which means that leadership is all about what’s best for your troops and for the nation. President Trump has no concept of that kind of leadership. Everything he does is driven by what’s best for him personally.”

“We should support Trump because Amy Coney Barrett is the best Supreme Court pick in my lifetime.”

I don’t yet know enough about Amy Coney Barrett to have a strong opinion about her. But I couldn’t possibly make the claim that she’s “the best Supreme Court pick in my lifetime” without being able to confidently answer the following questions:

  • Why does her voting record so consistently favor large corporations against workers?
  • Why were so many millions in untraceable money funneled into making sure she got the seat, if not in the hope that those who anonymously invested would get a bigger monetary return?
  • Why has big business won again and again in recent Supreme Court cases, and how will Barrett vote on that front?

In addition, the fact that Barrett has never argued an appeal in court or tried a case to verdict gives me pause. Why the urgency to rush someone with so little experience through?

“But what about taxes?”

Assuming Biden wins and gets his plan passed:

Unless you make more than $400,000, your taxes will go back to what they were before Trump came into office.

If you make more than $400,000, everything above that amount will be taxed at a higher rate. That means that if you make $410,000, then $10,000 of that total amount will be taxed at a higher rate while all $400,000 will be taxed at the same rate.

This should not be a reason to vote for Trump.

“People should vote for whoever they want.”

Yes, and what they want should be… not Trump.

“You can follow Jesus and vote for whoever you want.”

Perhaps — but there’s certainly a line somewhere, right? Otherwise, you’re preaching moral relativism or even moral nihilism.

“You shouldn’t weaponize religion.”

Where’s the line between mentioning religion and weaponizing religion? I’ll admit, I’m not always sure. In making religious references in the letter I’m not at all saying, “God agrees with me and you’re unworthy if you don’t.” I could see how the letter could be read as saying that, and I apologize for that. I should have been clearer.

I’m simply saying that I personally see incongruity between supporting/excusing Trump and espousing LDS standards.

You may see things differently. If you do, I disagree with you. And disagreement is okay.

I can still see you as human, and I hope you can see me as human as well.

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

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