Here’s a sentiment I’ve seen from some Donald Trump supporters, especially those who get to Trump by way of Bernie Sanders and hate Clinton enough to vote for Trump:
— Jesse (@Jay0253) August 4, 2016
(In case it doesn’t show, it’s a picture of a dumb-looking guy saying “I’m voting for the candidate who got people killed, covered [up] sexual assaults and threatened national security…because the other one said mean things.” The person who tweeted it responds “Sums up Clinton supporters really well.”)
In many situations, that’s a reasonable thing to say, but I don’t believe we’re living through one of those situations.
If this was a matter of criminal justice, for example, that would be a good point: Criminal culpability depends on known bad acts in the past, not on predictions of bad acts in the future. But this is not about criminal justice, it’s about the future of the country. We can’t change what the candidates did in the past, but we can control what they do in the future, so our ultimate concern should be what the candidates will do, not what they have done. Put another way, the Presidency is not a reward we give to the candidate whose past we most admire, it’s a job we give to the candidate who we think will do best in the future.
Of course, a person’s past behavior is a pretty good predictor of their future behavior, so Hillary Clinton’s past certainly does inform us of her likely future, and voters should definitely take her past behavior into account.
But it’s important to understand how that past behavior is shaped by opportunity.
I’ve owned house cats for a couple of decades, and I’ve been scratched by them quite a few times over the years. On the other hand, I’ve never been injured by a tiger. Does this mean that I would be safer if I replaced my house cats with tigers?
Obviously not. The difference is opportunity. My cats aren’t very likely to injure me during any given encounter, but because I encounter them thousands of times a year, they still do some damage. On the other hand, I’ve never in my life encountered a tiger that wasn’t kept safely in a zoo, so even though tigers are much more dangerous than house cats, they haven’t ever harmed me because they’ve never had the opportunity.
No one has given Donald Trump the opportunity to do the things that Clinton has done. No one has given him that much power. He’s never harmed national security because he’s never had responsibility for national security. He’s never gotten anyone killed because he never held a position where people’s lives were on the line.
That makes it harder to predict what Trump would do if he won the Presidency, but we can still make some pretty good guesses. For one thing, we can look at the things he says.
- In the fall of 2014, when Dr. Kent Brantly and his assistant Nancy Writebol were infected with Ebola while fighting the epidemic in Africa, Trump opposed letting them return to the United States for treatment. If he’d had the power to actually stop them from returning, they might very well be dead.
- Trump once proposed a plan to pay off the national debt with a one-time confiscation of 14.25% of the assets of rich people, an idea so awful that government leaders just talking about it could harm the U.S. economy by discouraging investment. (His proposal also included tax changes that would have left his family better off, even after the one-time tax.) It’s a good thing no one took him seriously back then.
- Trump has said he wants to block future Muslim travel to this country, track all Muslims already here, and forcibly close some mosques. Trump also says wants to build a wall at the border with Mexico, and he wants to deport millions of illegal residents and their American-born children. That he hasn’t already done so does not mean he won’t do so if he can.
- Trump has said he will order US troops to torture suspected terrorists and bomb their families. Again, it’s a good thing he doesn’t have the power to do so.
If that’s not convincing, we can also look at the kinds of things Trump has actually done with relatively limited power he has:
- Trump has arranged for his businesses to receive millions of dollars of taxpayer money.
- When Donald Trump’s deceased brother Fred’s surviving family contested Trump’s father’s will for all but disinheriting them, Donald Trump cut off the health insurance coverage that was paying for their infant’s medical treatment.
- Trump hired illegal Polish immigrants to work on one of his developments without bothering to supply them with basic safety equipment like hard hats.
- Trump University scammed working class people into borrowing and spending way too much money for an education in business that never materialized.
- Trump tried to use eminent domain to force an elderly widow out of her home so he could build a casino parking lot.
- Trump has done business with the mob.
- Trump has bankrupted several businesses.
- Trump has discriminated against black would-be renters of his properties.
- Trunp hired Roy Cohn — one of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attack dogs during the red scare — as his lawyer.
- Trump businesses routinely refuse to make full final payments on bills they owe.
- When Roger Ailes resigned following allegations of sexual harassment, Trump hired him immediately.
- Trump runs a charity that is much, much more of a fraud than the Clinton Foundation.
- The link in that last item also describes Trump’s bribery of a public official.
Trump may not have done some of the bad things Hillary did, but he seems to lie, cheat, and steal at every opportunity. Let’s not give him any opportunities to do even worse.