I recently joined 145 other scholars and writers in declaring support for Donald Trump for president.
For every Trump supporter who agreed to join us, several others declined, believing that coming out publicly in favor of Trump would harm their careers. I’ve been upfront about my conservative views for more than 30 years, since before I got tenure, so any harm to me is probably already priced in. I debated economist James Galbraith in front of thousands in the University of Texas’s University Lecture Series in 2008, for example, arguing in favor of Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona. And I edited one of the few textbooks for courses in contemporary moral problems that represent views from the left and right in equal measure. I’m fortunate to teach at a university committed to diversity in all its forms, including diversity of thought.
But the left has come to dominate college campuses over the past 20 years, and I can’t blame anyone whose views are not already well-known for declining to become a target. Just last week, a professor from another institution shared a Facebook post hoping for all Trump supporters to be destroyed “immediately and forever.” Who wants to be subject to such expressions of hostility?
Other professors used to ask me questions about politics: “You’re smart. You’re knowledgeable. How can you support” whichever Republican was running for president that year? Far from being dismissive, that used to lead to interesting and revealing conversations. I still have extended and productive political discussions with some old friends who disagree with me. Indeed, they were Bernie Sanders supporters, and the diagnoses Trump and Sanders give are not far apart, even if their prescriptions are quite different.
Conversing across ideological lines is increasingly rare this election cycle. Two friends, seeing my name on the list just published, compared me with Martin Heidegger - and not because they think “Reduction in the Abstract Sciences” is on a par with “Being and Time.” The background assumption, which I find baffling, appears to be that occasionally uncouth language is the moral equivalent of genocide.
Many of my colleagues in academia find it hard to imagine why a reasonable person would support Trump. Most of the people who talk politics with me are those who agree with me or are on the fence, undecided about whether to vote for Trump, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson. People who definitely oppose Trump don’t even want to debate the issues with me anymore.
I’m voting for Donald Trump, so I went to see him speak. Protesters broke my nose.
Political conversations with students are rare, too. I try my best to keep politics out of the classroom. Once, a student said to me, “You’re a conservative, aren’t you?” I responded that I was disappointed that he could tell, because I try to present views on all sides fairly, keeping my own views in the background. He answered: “I know. That’s how I could tell.” Periodically, conservative students seek me out, relieved to find someone on the faculty with whom they can talk openly. But most students appear to pay little attention to politics, and those who do don’t tend to talk to faculty about it. There are exceptions. Recently, a liberal student challenged my interpretation of why different regions tend to vote Democratic or Republican in presidential elections. That led to a constructive conversation and some refinements in my (and I hope his) understanding of the red-state/blue-state divide.
So why, given the response it gets me from colleagues and friends, do I support Trump?
Ask yourself: Are you better off than you were a decade ago? Is the United States better off? Is the world safer? Is this country on the right track? I am among the nearly two-thirds of Americans who answer no.
We’re in the seventh year of the slowest economic recovery since 1949. The proportion of working-age adults who are employed is the lowest in decades. Young African Americans face an unemployment rate of over 20 percent. The national debt has almost doubled; an American baby born today already owes more than $60,000. We’ve lost our Standard & Poor’s AAA credit rating. Cities and states face debt and pension crises of their own. Meanwhile, business profits and durable goods orders are down, productivity is sluggish and 2 percent growth is the new normal. Economic inequality has increased; incomes are down; prices are up.
The president’s signature “accomplishment,” Obamacare, is in a death spiral. Racial tensions are leading to riots. Violent crime is up sharply over the past 18 months. Life expectancy is falling for large segments of our population. The administration is conducting a war on fossil fuels, endangering our electric grid, while shoveling funds to green-energy boondogglesrun by donors. The IRS, the FBI and the Justice Department are protecting political allies, punishing opponents and defying court orders. Title IX is used on campus to destroy due process and stifle speech. In the past 10 months, we’ve suffered terror attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., Orlando, St. Cloud, Minn., and Burlington, Wash., leaving 68 dead. Europe’s experience shows that if we continue these policies, we will suffer many more.
The Middle East is in shambles. We gratuitously overthrew a stable government in Libya, creating a terrorist haven and getting our ambassador killed. We threw away victories in Iraq and Afghanistan. Syria is a humanitarian disaster. We sabotaged Iran’s Green Revolution and halted sanctions, propping up and then funding with planeloads of cash a leading global sponsor of terrorismactively seeking nuclear weapons - all in a quest to reach an agreement so adverse to U.S. interests that it was not even submitted to the Senate. Iran is reportedly already violating it.
This is not bad luck. It results directly from policies of the Obama administration that Clinton wants to continue. The problem is not implementation, but deep inadequacies in her progressive worldview. It’s a worldview I encounter up close on campus, a worldview that intrigues intellectuals with its promise of rationality and tempts them with the possibility of power. As Dostoevsky warned, however, in practice, it indulges the moral narcissism of an elite and encourages disrespect for everyone else.
Progressives try to counter corporate economic power by centralizing political power in executive-branch agencies. They try to cure centralization with more centralization. But this leads to elitism and regulatory capture. When corporations, well-funded nonprofits or well-connected donors team up with government agencies, the rest of us lose. The federal government is the ultimate monopoly. The administrative state is largely unaccountable; you can’t vote the regulators out of office.
Under the Obama administration, federal regulations have strangled some industries outright and curtailed innovation in others. No one voted to destroy the coal industry or stop enforcing immigration law. Clinton promises more of the same. She promises to appoint Supreme Court justices who will remove the Bill of Rights’s safeguards against excessive government power. She shows contempt for ordinary people, their rights and their concerns, treating any who oppose her as enemies. Only Trump promises to rein in the excesses of the administrative state and return us to constitutional governance. He pledges to issue a moratorium on new regulations and to reduce “the anchor dragging us down,” the regulatory burden whose growth since 1980 has cost us as much as one-fourth of our gross national product.
Progressivism sacrifices the future for the present, and the present for special interests and personal gain. That is why economies stall and birth rates collapse in countries where progressive policies hold sway. Our economy works by allowing the market to channel accumulated capital to investments that fuel productivity gains and innovation, leading to technological advances, more affordable products, higher wages and increased opportunities. Trump’s tax cuts would increase investment, boost productivity and wages and increase innovation and opportunities for all Americans.
Finally, progressivism rests on an implausible view of international relations. It seeks to diminish the nation-state and the reach of American power. The Obama-Clinton policy requires us to push traditional allies away and seek relationships with avowed enemies. Protecting Americans from harm and maintaining state secrets are evidently a low priority. Trump would bring a much-needed dose of realism to foreign policy, restoring damaged friendships with Britain and Israel, restoring the integrity of our borders and protecting U.S. interests in international agreements.
Trump has been giving serious speeches detailing his vision on the economy, foreign policy, crime, immigration and other central issues facing the country. He has been explaining policies that would strengthen the United States, revive the economy, and restore our social capital, especially in inner cities. Clinton, meanwhile, has been doing her best to distract us from the issues. Admittedly, Trump offers her many such opportunities. But our country’s direction is too important to decide on the basis of who is more vulgar than whom. Clinton’s policies portend nothing but a weaker economy, a weaker society and a weaker America. I want a president who’s on our side. I plan to vote for someone who can change course and return us once again to the task of making America great.
Bonevac, author of six books and editor of four others, is a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin.