For as long as I was old enough to think about politics, I have been a Republican. When my dad told me, aged six, that Bill Clinton had beaten Bob Dole, I’m told I cried. I don’t remember this, but do have vivid memories of running around St Andrews in my first year at university in a handmade McCain-Palin T-shirt with ‘NO-bama’ sketched in sharpie on the back. I graduated into an internship on Mitt Romney’s campaign and when I moved to London I became a spokesman for Republicans Overseas. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the first time I voted Democrat would be to put Barack Obama’s vice president in the Oval Office. Yet I’m voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
I know their economic policies will make America poorer, especially as the economy tries to recover from Covid-19: the tax rises and the huge increase in spending (the kind that Senator Biden used to be wary of). And this is now the moderate wing of the party. Biden’s VP pick is further to the left. Harris’s approach to governing would be even more top-down and interventionist. Her politics and mine — I’m a liberal in the British sense of the word — are about as far apart as one can get.
But what about the alternative? What about Donald Trump? The nastiness, unkindness, the racism and misogyny, the way he always punches down rather than up — it’s the antithesis not just of my politics, but of the America I love. His supporters claim his remarks are taken out of context by his opponents in the media, that what he says is made to sound worse than what he meant. But we’ve all watched enough clips to know that the President needs no embellishment. The only way to pretend he didn’t propose a ban on Muslims coming to the United States is to close your eyes and pretend you didn’t read it on his campaign website. The only way to claim he didn’t mock a reporter’s physical disability is to look away and pretend it never happened.
After eight lacklustre years under President Obama, it felt as if a shift was coming. Sure, I had my personal favourites in the line-up of Republican candidates (the ones with a libertarian streak), but at the start of election season you would have struggled to find an expat more excited to make the case abroad for the GOP candidate. My enthusiasm fell away when Trump called Mexicans ‘rapists’. This was unforgivable (not that he has ever asked for forgiveness). The party of Ronald Reagan didn’t demonise migrants in this way. But Trump did. In the end a major shift did come — but I didn’t take part.
This isn’t to say I begrudge Trump voters. The vitriol thrown at them often mirrors how the President treats his critics. And his supporters are right to point to his policy successes. Trump’s tax reforms have resulted in companies big and small hiking wages and dishing out bonuses to American workers. It’s not a terrible surprise to us free-market lot, but his combination of lower taxes and light-touch regulation produced a booming economy before the virus hit. Last year saw a spectacular 6.8 per cent rise in household median income, the highest increase since records began. His less interventionist stance on the world stage has saved countless lives abroad. The First Step Act has done more to reform criminal justice — and help non-violent offenders rehabilitate — than any Republican or Democrat policy in years.
In this sense the President has been good for America and I have asked myself many times if I can separate the man from his words, hold my nose and cast my vote for the continuation of these policies. The answer is always no, because what is at stake is bigger than the economy, bigger than any piece of legislation that could cross the President’s desk. The social fabric of America is coming undone, and if it unravels much more, I fear it won’t be possible to stitch it back together.
I’ve never felt further away from my home country than I did this summer, sitting in my London flat during lockdown, watching on TV as the divisions that had been stoked in American society for years reached breaking point. Trump thrives on chaos and ego: after the murder of George Floyd he quickly made the protests and the riots about him personally, as if he were the victim of police brutality, or as if setting fires to shops and cars was more of an attack on him than on the Americans watching their businesses and possessions burn to the ground.
Trump hasn’t been alone in fostering instability. Many factions of the Democratic party never accepted that he won the 2016 election fairly, and tried to use every tool they could to overturn the result. But Trump has encouraged everyone to meet him at the basest level. Lauren Witzke, a Republican candidate for the Senate, shared just days ago her belief that ‘most Third World migrants cannot assimilate into civil societies’, as if this were now a socially acceptable way to speak about other human beings in America. Ms Witzke is responsible for her own words, but the President has created an atmosphere in which people feel emboldened to share these beliefs.
This is the culture that arises when a nation’s leader never embraces humility, compromise or anything remotely resembling a statesmanlike demeanour. The first presidential debate reminded me once again that Trump has not bothered to learn any of these lessons: the interrupting, yelling and spin were bad enough, but the dismissal of Beau Biden — when the former vice president was paying tribute to his late son — was one of Trump’s most inhumane moments to date. It’s hard to imagine how a person could stoop much lower, yet I can’t help but think that, given four more years, Trump wouldn’t hesitate to show us.
In 2016 I broke with the Republican party for the first time and supported the libertarian candidate. I vote in a solidly Democratic state, so I had the luxury of casting a protest vote against a system that made Americans choose between two members of the New York elite, the least popular presidential candidates in history, both of whom acted as though becoming president was their birthright rather than the highest privilege. But this time, I’m protesting by joining the other side. There is a candidate in this race who, while far from perfect, has a history of reaching across the aisle. He has based his campaign on reuniting the nation and, perhaps most importantly in this election cycle, has reminded us that it’s OK to apologise now and again.
America does not have a monarchy. The President is our head of state and our moral compass. Trump has proven time and time again that he is unfit for these roles. I like to believe a Republican leader is waiting around the corner to restore the values and principles that once made the party great. Until then, I’m happy for the Oval Office to be filled by someone who has a different vision for America than I have, but who loves the country and what it stands for nonetheless.
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