Trump is not a well-liked candidate.
This isn’t surprising, especially when considering Trump’s racist followers and his sexist comments. He has incited violence against dissenters at his rallies. He has made indecent comments towards the disabled. He has disparaged many minorities and immigrants. To make matters worse, many of Trump’s policies are dangerous or outright ridiculous (his wall proposal comes to mind). The presidential debates have clearly demonstrated his lack of knowledge on many issues, and his inexperience with policy was gleefully juxtaposed against Secretary Clinton’s years of civil service by many in the media.
I do not contest the validity of any of these criticisms. I don’t think any reasonable person would.
Having said that, the discourse surrounding Trump has degenerated correspondingly with the quality of his campaign. Buzzfeed has published a lifetime’s worth of articles detailing Trump’s purported idiocies, while numerous other news sites have focused in on Trump’s sexist and racist comments. Even the most conservative of news sites have often outlined his numerous lies and infidelities. Should news sites cover these topics? Absolutely. But the truth is that these criticisms, while valid, are not substantive. If you take a close look into the powers and responsibilities of a president, it becomes obvious that the current overwhelming amount of discussion over a small portion of Trump’s wrongdoings has very little bearing on how effective he would actually be as president. In short, the current discourse has been overwhelmingly focused upon the pathos and ethos of these two candidates, providing a skewed and misleading view of the election.
When one considers the role the president has within the government, it is clear that Donald Trump is not the disastrous candidate the media makes him out to be. I will be the first to admit that he is a deeply flawed candidate, with his alarming ignorance towards policy issues, xenophobic followers, and general lack of statesmanship. However, contrasting Trump and Clinton’s policies quickly reveals that while Clinton’s rhetoric may be more palatable to the American public, a vote for Trump should not be discounted by anyone who considers themselves a peace-loving American.
Why Foreign Policy is important
A president has far more influence over foreign policy than domestic policy.
Historical and modern evidence alike support this statement. Any piece of substantive legislation a president aims to pass must first be approved by both houses of Congress. Furthermore, the President has nearly no real control over the national budget.
Why does this matter? It means Trump’s proposal for a wall, one of his most hated and infamous policies, is more or less impossible. Not only would Congress have to approve the budget for his wall, it would also have to ratify the construction of this wall every step of the way. Assuming Trump genuinely wants to build a wall (and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume his wall proposal is mere hyperbole), he clearly lacks the power to do so. Maybe he holds ill will towards minorities. The reality is that as president, he would have little power to act on this ill will.
However, with the president’s lack of domestic power comes an abundance of influence over foreign affairs. A president can repair or sunder relations with any country in the world without any prior approval from Congress. History provides plenty of examples of the president’s great influence over foreign policy, from Nixon’s visit to China to Wilson’s creation of the League of Nations. Current events provide even more examples.
Take, for example, President Obama’s correspondence with the Dalai Lama. No act of Congress authorized him to do so. He acted completely within his powers. However, this seemingly innocuous action infuriated one of the leading powers in the international community: China. The Dalai Lama has had an ugly history with the communist regime in China, leading a Tibetan independence With no prior approval from Congress or any branch of government, the President set the tone for future relations with the world’s second largest economy. I do not mean to say that this was an illegitimate use of power on Obama’s part; rather, I mean to point out the immense power over foreign policy that is vested in the presidency. When one office holds such vast powers over how a state interacts with the international community, its power over domestic issues pales in comparison. Obama fought tooth and nail in Congress to pass healthcare reforms that may not persist into the next presidency. On the other hand, the simple act of scheduling a meeting with the Dalai Lama granted him immense influence and control over the tone of Sino-American relations.
Seeing this, it is evident that foreign policy is the first issues to consider when voting for a president. It is not and should not be an afterthought. A president’s influence over foreign policy is far larger than his or her influence over domestic policy, and voters should vote accordingly.
Clinton’s regressive foreign policy
Having said this, Trump has not clearly outlined his foreign policy. The parts he has outlined are mostly incoherent, from his Mexican border wall to his unusual affinity for Vladimir Putin.
But Trump also seems to have an isolationist streak within him. From his denunciation of the Iraq War (he reversed his support for the invasion far earlier than Clinton did) to his criticism of alliances like NATO, there is reason to believe that Trump wants to see the US scale down its involvement in armed conflicts worldwide. Trump has repeatedly bashed NAFTA and the TPP as part of his isolationist trade policy. His website calls for the abolition of nation-building and regime-change policies, suggesting that he would take an equally isolationist approach to foreign policy. For both peace-loving progressives and paleoconservatives, not to mention the 52% of Americans that oppose interventionist foreign policies, this is undeniably a strength.
Contrast this to Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy doctrine has been, in her own words, to succeed “by standing up for our values, not shirking them, and [lead] by engaging peoples and societies, the sources of legitimacy, not governments alone.” In practice this has largely translated to support for forceful United States intervention, both during her time as senator and Secretary of State. As a senator, she not only supported the Iraq War, but she also voted for it. While Obama has expressed regret over his administration’s intervention in Libya, Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time, believes they made the right decision.
The magazine Foreign Policy sums up Clinton’s foreign policy perfectly, saying “[s]he has argued that Libya’s own obstruction prevented success. While the Libyans couldn’t provide their own security, Clinton has said, they resisted U.S. troops — or any foreign force — providing it for them.” That Clinton authorized an invasion on a sovereign state, then blamed internal resistance for the failure of her show of force, clearly shows the interventionist sentiments that she attempts to hide behind a doctrine of “standing up for our values.” Combined with her support for the Iraq war and the arming of Syrian “moderates” in the Middle East, it’s clear that her foreign policy is anything but progressive.
The most worrying thing about Clinton is her association with who may well be the most inhumane and interventionist Secretary of State in recent memory. I’m talking, of course, about Henry Kissinger. Kissinger indiscriminately bombed Cambodia, directly causing the rise to power of one of the most inhumane regimes in human history, the Khmer Rouge. On the theme of the inhumane, consider the death toll of “Pakistan’s genocide in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), which Kissinger greenlighted:Between 300,000 and a million”. If that wasn’t enough, his interventionist policies in Africa bought great ruin to Angola and Mozambique, directly leading to a decade-long civil war for the latter country. Kissinger’s bloody reign as Secretary of State left behind trails of death and destruction — some progressives have even gone as far as to label him a war criminal.
That Clinton could have bragged about her closeness with such a repulsive figure during the democratic primaries says volumes about her foreign policy. Her cozy relationship with Kissinger goes beyond a simple political endorsement: Clinton’s interventionist policies in Libya and Syria reek of Kissinger-esque foreign policy, not to mention her involvement in Obama’s liberal use of drone strikes. Given the immense power the president has over foreign policy and the interventionist policies Clinton has supported her entire career, peace-loving voters should at least consider voting for Trump.
But what about domestic policy?
None of this is to say that domestic policy doesn’t matter for the president. The president plays a crucial role in organizing legislators and bureaucrats towards implementing cohesive and sensible legislation, and remains the most influential figure in domestic government. And Trump’s domestic policy seems insane. Building a wall? Bolstering the coal industry? Spying on mosques? It seems like a vote for Hillary is the only way to prevent such insanity from being implemented.
Or is it?
Domestic policy is primarily determined by Congress. As stated before, issues such as taxation and the national budget fall squarely within the responsibilities of Congress, and are relatively out-of-reach of the president. As such, when considering the impact a president would have on domestic policy, it is necessary to look at the president’s effect on state legislatures, and more importantly, Congress. In almost every modern election cycle, the new president’s party has lost control of both state legislatures and both houses of Congress. In 2008, Democrats had full control of 20 state legislatures; now they only have full control of 8. During that time, Republican governors and legislators strengthened their control over their states, gerrymandering districts to make a Democratic comeback even more difficult than before. Anti-abortion laws have spread rapidly in these Republican states. States that were once union friendly are now seeing the introduction of Right to Work laws.
Given Hillary Clinton’s immense unpopularity, it’s completely conceivable that this pattern of an incumbent’s party losing control of legislatures and Congress would be even worse for her. A Clinton presidency may simply hand more state legislatures to the Republican party and strengthen the Republican death grip over Congress. On the other hand, a Trump presidency would likely result in huge national backlash come the 2018 House election. Republicans currently hold a 30 seat advantage over Democrats; given Trump’s immense unpopularity, it is completely possible that the backlash following his inauguration could demolish the Republican hold on the House. No wonder, then, that so many prominent Republican leaders have endorsed Clinton, protecting their control of legislatures under the guise of putting “country over party”.
Clinton’s domestic policy proposals are undoubtedly superior to Trump’s nonsensical plans. However, when considering which candidate would have a greater actual impact, there is no clear cut answer. Trump’s plans may sound ridiculous. But a Trump presidency could help Democrats regain control of legislatures, while a Clinton presidency would likely exacerbate Republican dominance over domestic policy merely by virtue of her unpopularity.
Trump has been portrayed as an untrustworthy, xenophobic, and uninformed candidate. Rightly so. That having been said, there remain many reasonable reasons to vote for Trump over Clinton. A Clinton presidency would represent greater U.S. involvement in violent conflict and a return to neoconservative foreign policy. On the other hand, a Trump presidency could help the United States reverse its regime change policies, as well as rehabilitate democratic control of state and federal legislatures.
Come November, regardless of what the media at large may say, there is no obvious or easy choice. Despite Clinton’s rhetorical supremacy, despite Trump’s absurd platform, despite Clinton’s experience, despite common sense itself, the sad reality is that a vote for Trump may be the only option for a progressive and peaceful future for America.