“But I had never voted in a presidential election until this year. So why did I vote in 2020?”
uch of the Left still does not get it: Even as President-elect Joe Biden keeps making a welcome—though likely, empty—show of calling for the type of unity that most of his voters never gave this country for a moment after President Donald Trump’s unexpected electoral triumph in 2016, many of those who voted for President-elect Biden continue to caricature and demonize both President Trump and his supporters. Rising black and especially Hispanic support for President Trump in 2020 should have proven to anyone who was paying attention that monolithic racial voting blocks are on the wane and that President Trump’s support—at least for some significant proportion of his voting base—may have been driven by something other than race. Yet one after another of the mainstream media pundits’ postmortems on this election have voiced shock and awe that so many Americans were revealed to be unapologetic racists by virtue of having voted for President Trump once again.
As it appears at this juncture that in the absence of some dramatic revelation of actual fraud, Joe Biden is our next President, and on the admittedly tenuous supposition that those who desperately wanted President Trump out might prove to be more open-minded and gracious as victors than as combatants against the President they hated with every fiber of their being, I want to explain why I voted for President Trump and why simplistic racism had nothing to do with it. My goal is not to convince you that I am a wonderful and virtuous human being; it is, rather, to try to bring you one tiny step closer to appreciating the fact that—perhaps—we, Trump voters, are complex individuals capable of being motivated by a complicated array of considerations. In that way, we are not that different from most people…and maybe even a bit like you yourself. If the healing President-elect Biden has called for is ever to take place, understanding that much is an indispensable step.
First, I am not a low-information voter hoodwinked by right-wing conspiracy theories. I graduated summa cum laude as an English major at Yale in the 1990’s and then graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School. Today, I am a partner in a boutique New York City law firm in the demanding field of general commercial litigation. I point this out not to tout my educational and professional pedigree but to give readers a sense that I am unlikely, on the face of it, to be someone you can easily dismiss as a complete and total moron. More important—in my estimation—than any of my earlier laurels or any of my career achievements, however, is my practice of lifelong learning, without which any mind stagnates. To that end, I make an effort to stay educated and informed. I continue to read a wide variety of serious books, both classical and modern literature and timeless and current non-fiction, as well as publications representing all corners of the political spectrum.
As this snapshot might suggest, my political convictions do not align neatly with either of the major parties. I am not religious and am not a guns-and-God conservative, though I happen to think that religious people and evangelicals, whatever my differences with them, are the backbone holding America together, without whom we would plunge immediately into the boiling, bubbling witch’s brew of tribal identity politics. I support many pro-working class economic policies (universal healthcare in some form, universal preschool starting at age three, and many other such policies), but I am socially conservative, not in the anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ sense but in the sense that I believe in a need for civility, politeness, and decorum (all not qualities President Trump exemplifies to any extent whatsoever, of course) but, most of all, in national cultural unity. As I have argued at length elsewhere, without a unifying American culture, a civil society that yokes us together before we go to the polls, I believe we will degenerate into some version of the former Yugoslavia soon enough.
Given my hodgepodge of views, I am not a regular Republican voter or supporter. I thought President George W. Bush, with his disastrous Iraq War squandering trillions of dollars needlessly and unleashing ISIS upon the United States and the world, was the worst President of my lifetime. For much the same reasons, I supported then-Senator Barack Obama over Senator John McCain in 2008, though by 2012, I had soured on President Obama, who had, despite all his high-flown rhetoric, turned out to be a more-of-the-same President. But I had never voted in a presidential election until this year.
In a word, President Trump shattered and markedly shifted a stale Washington consensus and transformed both the Republican Party and this nation for the better.
So why did I vote in 2020? In large part, it was out of a concern about our degenerating situation in New York City, where I increasingly find myself dodging screaming nutjobs, circumnavigating homeless encampments, and sidestepping drunk or drugged-out bums sprawled out in the middle of public sidewalks, escalating problems that the worst mayor in this city’s history has turned a blind eye to and with respect to which he has deliberately left our law enforcement disempowered. But in some significant part, I also voted in this election because I thought that Donald J. Trump, for all his many personal foibles, his pettiness and his unseemly behavior, was a transformational figure and, in marked contrast to President Bush, the best President of my lifetime. It was not even the roaring pre-Coronavirus (COVID-19) Trump economy that informs my assessment of the guy, as I can only give him partial credit for that achievement. What I give him full credit for, enormous credit, is for being a groundbreaker and innovator who was not afraid to challenge long-held beliefs that informed the pre-Trump status quo. In a word, President Trump shattered and markedly shifted a stale Washington consensus and transformed both the Republican Party and this nation for the better.
The first and most important reason I voted for President Trump was foreign policy. A President’s domestic agenda generally requires Congressional approval and is, thus, easily derailed by the two-party system, infighting, bureaucracy, and other entrenched political interests. On the other hand, as far as foreign policy is concerned, a President is enormously powerful and has virtually free rein. He can start undeclared wars, muster up “police actions,” and even go full nuclear if he deigns it in our national interest to do so. President Trump promised when he was running in 2016 that he would end our forever-wars and focus on pursuing our actual national interests, rather than sowing havoc—of the sort that inevitably results in eventual blowback—abroad. I liked what I was hearing, but I did not think there was much chance he would stick to the plan once the generals and foreign policy “professionals” got ahold of him. Amazingly, almost incredibly, President Trump kept his word. His successes on that front have been remarkable.
He was the first President in my lifetime who did not start a single war, whether declared or otherwise, did not engineer a single coup d’etat, and did not make a pastime out of bombing civilians in other nations. In fact, despite all the vocal protestations of his own traditional neocon warhawk advisors like John R. Bolton and H. R. McMaster, he did everything in his power to draw down and get the United States out of Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. And yet, when Syria’s Assad used chemical weapons, President Trump avoided the errors of both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. He neither got us into a prolonged war, nor did he draw a feckless “red line” that he then proceeded to let the enemy breach with impunity. Instead, he responded immediately with one limited, targeted air strike aimed at an air base from which the chemical attack had been launched. He sent a clear message and got out. There have been no chemical weapon attacks since.
In similar fashion, President Trump quickly availed himself of opportunities to assassinate sponsors of terrorism like ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Iran’s Qasem Soleimani, and yet he again resisted his advisors’ calls to escalate into any larger conflict, whether a ground war, a bombing campaign, or anything else. The result? ISIS has been destroyed, and, as a consequence of the sanctions he imposed on Iran, the Iranian regime has been hobbled. Notably, during President Trump’s tenure, there has not been a single Islamic terrorist attack on U.S. soil, an achievement I am shocked that the shamelessly self-promoting President Trump did not tout at every opportunity.
In the meantime, President Trump’s overtures in the Middle East and beyond have led to an escalation of peace rather than war:
- We are now working together with Saudi Arabia to contain terrorism rather than to spread hardline Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalism of the sort that fuels terrorism.
- With President Trump’s intervention, the powder keg of Israeli-Arab relations has been significantly defused, with two major peace deals achieved as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recognized Israel’s right to exist.
- The volatile situation with North Korea, at a highpoint of tensions while President Obama was in office, is not yet contained but has been substantially de-escalated.
- While all this has been going on, President Trump defied a stale Cold War-era norm in which the United States was almost singlehandedly responsible for keeping the world safe for democracy and fending off the incursions of the long-defunct Soviet bloc; in a major coup, he got our NATO allies to do a bit more in paying their fair share.
Closely related to foreign policy was President Trump’s progress in the area of international trade that resulted in pro-American-worker reforms that even many Democratic politicians could get behind. Defying yet another outdated bipartisan orthodoxy—this one in favor of free trade that hurts American workers while enriching China and Mexico at our expense—he renegotiated unfavorable trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and imposed sanctions on China to prevent it from using currency manipulation to stack the deck against American industry, a practice it had been engaging in with impunity for years.
The next area in which I supported President Trump’s efforts, if not his needlessly inflammatory rhetoric, is immigration, another area where I see his efforts as actually helping the American working class to achieve near-full employment before the pandemic hit. Calling Mexicans drug dealers and rapists does not do anyone any good. It inspires xenophobia. However, actually stepping up to do something about the problem of illegal immigrants sneaking in and cutting in a line would-be legal immigrants often wait in for many years was, in my estimation, a welcome development. The reality and optics of children separated from their parents and held in cages were not good—though not entirely President Trump’s fault—but I credit President Trump (yet again) with roiling the stagnant waters that had allowed a problem to grow and fester, even as African Americans were the main population being disproportionately displaced in the employment ranks by illegal immigrants willing to take lower wages and unlikely to complain about statutory violations and other infringements of their rights.
For this reason, I thought President Trump’s soaring Independence Day Mount Rushmore address, in which he celebrated our monumental achievements as a nation, including our fight for tolerance and racial justice, while condemning the rage-fueled identitarian ideology tearing us apart today, was his finest hour.
Last but not least, there is the complicated issue of race in America. What the identity-obsessed segments of the Left cannot seem to grasp is that it is not racist—and, in fact, is the very opposite of racism—to be aghast at the manner in which opportunistic profiteers and race-baiting demagogues like Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi, and their many acolytes and supporters are dividing us all on the basis of the very same superficial racial categories that noble Americans, for decades and even centuries, have been fighting to purge from our midst. Seeing someone’s skin color first and foremost and judging that person for it is not my definition of progress. Let me be clear: President Trump has, at times, made it all worse. Through his insensitivity to the demands of the moment and his oft-divisive rhetoric, he has amplified racial tensions, rather than soothing them. But the problem of tribal identity politics began to rear its ugly head long before President Trump as a politician was on anyone’s radar and will likely persist long after he is gone from the scene. It is not racist to oppose protests full of hateful threats and violent rhetoric or to condemn rioting and looting that further damaged businesses large and small already devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and that our mayors and governors did precious little to contain or control. For this reason, I thought President Trump’s soaring Independence Day Mount Rushmore address, in which he celebrated our monumental achievements as a nation, including our fight for tolerance and racial justice, while condemning the rage-fueled identitarian ideology tearing us apart today, was his finest hour.
There is much about President Trump that frustrated me and many of his supporters. His narcissism and un-Presidential conduct are high on that list, of course. And his response to COVID-19 was galling not even so much for its substance—the pandemic posed an entirely novel challenge, and I have seen no evidence President Trump’s most ardent hindsight-is-20/20 critics would have fared any better—but for his tone: the absence of any true display of empathy, the irresponsible, off-the-cuff remarks about matters that should have been left to experts, the over-confident and ungrounded assertions that it would all quickly pass. I am absolutely convinced that had he merely projected to the public the gravity that the crisis deserved (or, alternatively, had the recent news of the vaccines on their way come out just a few weeks earlier), he would have eked out a narrow victory over now-President-elect Biden and retained his office.
There is much to say about President Trump; though there are many on the Left who are certain of his irredeemable awfulness, the final verdict of historians has yet to be rendered. But as to the reasons we, Trump supporters, voted for such an imperfect human being, as I hope I have explained—they are many and as diverse as we are in our beliefs, creeds, faiths and, yes, even in our races. And if those who disagree with us insist on demonizing us and branding us all uniformly as unrepentant racists, it is merely because they themselves see race everywhere they look and cannot stop fighting an ugly race war in which—regardless of which party holds the reins of power—there cannot ever be any winners.
Alexander Zubatov is a lawyer in New York, as well as an essayist and poet.