Increasing numbers of registered Republicans, and former and present Republican officials like myself, will not support Donald Trump for president. That’s the easy part.
He has shown us that he is a mean and vindictive bully, striking out in the crudest ways (e.g., his sexist ripostes against Carly Fiorina and Megan Kelly) against anyone who attacks him, and then extending his vile remarks even to their relatives (Heidi and Rafael Cruz, Ghazala Khan). Indeed it is hard to think of any person in recent public life who has displayed a more repellent personality. Richard Nixon might come to mind, but that only because of what showed up in the secret recordings of what he thought were private conversations in the Oval Office. In public, Nixon had the self-control and self-awareness to keep his worst qualities reasonably well hidden. Rochefoucauld said that hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue, and in this respect at least, Trump is no hypocrite. Add to that the unabashed racism, the divisive and hate-filled quality of some of his proposed domestic policies, his disregard for the reputation, even the credit of the United States in his proposals for dealing with our treaty obligations and debts to other nations and foreign creditors, and his professed admiration for the sly and murderous Vladimir Putin — all these are reason enough for anyone, of whatever party, to refuse to support such a person.
As I say, to keep one’s distance from this malignant buffoon is the easy part. Now for the hard part.
Recent statements — and they did not just casually slip out — make clear why any person of conscience must actively work to assure that Donald Trump is not our next president. For just the other day he has added a thinly veiled threat of, indeed invitation to, violence and civic disruption if he loses in November. He has said that if he loses this would be the result of a “rigged” election, riddled with fraud, people voting “ten times” over — fraud which in court proceeding after proceeding has been found to be a pure bogeyman, a fiction used to justify transparent racially, ethnically, and politically motivated maneuvers to deny the ballot to whole classes of persons. Even in 1960, when the election may well have been stolen by shenanigans in Texas and Chicago, the loser did not cross the line to invite lawlessness. And this is not the first time Trump has made this threat. He had said much the same would be the result if he were denied the Republican nomination in a “rigged” convention.
Think of it. This is the man who would have in his charge the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the CIA. He would be commander in chief of the armed forces. And imagine if shortly after his inauguration there were, as there well might be, a serious terrorist outrage on our homeland. How would he react? Would that not be Trump’s Reichstag fire, justifying sweeping arrests, violations of civil liberties, suppression of the media? Are Trump’s reflexes more restrained, more respectful of democracy than those of Recep Tayyip Erdogan? I would not count on it.
Respect for our country, its Constitution, its history and traditions, just a sense of common decency, require that we not allow this man to be elected president of the United States. To invoke party loyalty, to dwell on one’s reservations about Hillary Clinton, to contemplate not voting at all, or the silly and self-defeating gesture of voting for the Libertarian or Green Party candidate, would be a frivolous failure of the most urgent present duty of patriotism. I support and shall vote for Hillary Clinton. Any other course risks complicity in a national catastrophe.
Charles Fried teaches law at Harvard Law School. He was solicitor general of the United States from 1985 to 1989.