As the election impends, I feel an irresistible need to explain why I am going to vote for President Donald Trump. It is considered suicidal for an academic today to be upfront about this. Indeed, it is said that 95 percent of all U.S. academics hold Trump in contempt—and most of the remaining 5 percent, who may agree with me, would never dare to admit it in public.
So why do it? As a former refugee from totalitarian, communist Romania, I feel a moral obligation to speak out and prove that academics don't need to think and act in lockstep.
Like many of my colleagues, I find much of what Trump says and tweets on impulse distasteful, though his prepared speeches can be inspiring. I didn't vote for him in 2016. Though a registered independent, I find myself almost always opposed to the Democratic candidate. I am opposed to many of the things Democrats push for: big-government programs, heavy regulations, higher taxes, weak foreign policy with an over-reliance on ineffective and often corrupt international institutions and, worst of all, raw identity politics.
But I have learned to distinguish between what Trump says and what he does. I support most of his foreign policy positions, including his withdrawals from the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. I support most of his deregulation program, his tax reform, his judicial appointments and even his failed attempts to replace Obamacare. I applaud the fact that, unlike previous presidents, he is willing to push hard on China against its trade policies and serial intellectual property theft.
Trump may be a highly flawed human being, but unlike many other politicians, he is at least readily transparent. Trump's awfulness is "in your face," while the awfulness of a typical politician is hidden behind a carefully crafted façade and a veil of "credible deniability."
And what are, after all, the most awful things Trump has done during his presidency? The typical accusations are that he is (1) a liar, (2) a racist white supremacist, (3) incompetent, (4) authoritarian and (5) divisive. Let's break these accusations down, in order.
(1) According to The Washington Post, Trump has just reached the milestone of 20,000 false or misleading claims while in office. Among such "lies," the Post cites his claims of "tremendous support" in the African-American community and that "Barack Obama and Joe Biden spied on Trump's campaign in 2016." The Post's fact-checkers also charge Trump for making 1,200 lies and misleading claims about the pandemic, usually by exaggerating U.S. testing capacity. The worst lie, according to the Post, is his claim that the U.S. economy is the best it has ever been. Trump is also lying, according to the Post, when he calls media outlets "fake news."
There is no doubt that Trump has a predilection for grandiose exaggerations, but most of these statements have a grounding in fact. Trump, after all, has more support in the black community than any other recent Republican president. His campaign was indeed spied on, though we don't know yet the full, direct involvement of either Obama or Biden. Many basic U.S. economic numbers, before the pandemic, were indeed the best in 50 years. And our COVID-19 testing did, at some point, reach the highest per capita in the world.
Mainstream media (MSM) outlets, due to obsessive hatred of Trump, have often made unsupported claims against him. Many of these negative stories, based on anonymous sources and produced by The New York Times and the Post, turned out to themselves be "false or misleading." The relevance of one such story to the alleged incompetence of Trump, "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration," published by the Times in 2018, was just debunked. As it turns out, the anonymous writer was not a "senior" official in the Trump administration, as described by the Times, but rather was a mid-level official with little or no direct access to the president.
Today, the MSM largely refuses to report on the bombshell recent New York Post revelations concerning the Biden family, even though there is far more corroborating evidence than there ever was for the Russian collusion hoax, over which the MSM obsessed for years. More ominously, Twitter and Facebook make obvious efforts to suppress the story. Given the openly partisan, dishonest attitude of large swaths of the MSM, Trump's accusation of "fake news" is not so outlandish.
(2) The other major accusation against Trump, that he is a racist white supremacist, is even easier to dismiss. We live at a time when such accusations are routinely hurled at anyone who deviates from ever-changing norms of political correctness. The president has repeatedly denounced white supremacy, despite deceptive narratives to the contrary. More importantly, he has implemented a variety of policies directly helpful to minorities, such as criminal justice reform, opportunity zones, school choice and funding for historically black colleges.
(3) The accusation of incompetence is equally absurd. Whatever reservations one may have about Trump's style of leadership, and whatever one may think of his policy priorities, the president has been able to carry out a large part of his agenda. This, despite an unprecedented degree of opposition, both within the government and within the media.
(4) The accusation of authoritarianism is in obvious contradiction with that of incompetence. If Trump indeed wanted to be a dictator, as is so often mindlessly asserted, he missed a great opportunity during the pandemic. To the contrary, Trump is now routinely accused of not having imposed strong enough federal mandates and lockdowns.
(5) The accusation of divisiveness does ring true. Trump is a street fighter who is willing to punch back whenever attacked, no matter the merits of the accusation. This has clearly exacerbated the deep divisions already present in the country. Though I certainly blame him for this, I hold the naked partisanship, unfairness and lack of professionalism of the elite media outlets equally responsible.
But in the end, the election is a choice between two radically different visions of the future. Despite all his braggadocio and boorish behavior, Trump's policies have been quite conventional Republican ones, albeit with a significant veer toward protectionism more recently typical of pro-labor Democrats. There is also an obvious return to nationalism. But nationalism, as long as it relies on democratic institutions and a healthy civil society, is not all bad. As long as a benign, positive nationalism puts citizenship, and no other restricted form of identity, at its core, it can actually help heal the awful divisions in the country.
On the other hand, the Democratic Party's drift toward bigger government and more radical forms of identity politics has continued unabated. The obsession with "diversity, inclusion and equity" at all costs has greatly contributed to the rise of the "woke" cultural phenomenon. Its ideology, as brilliantly exposed by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay in Cynical Theories, is truly frightening. In the name of "social justice," it divides people into narrow group identities, fostering their grievances and exacerbating divisions. It denies individual merit and considers any difference in outcome, any form of inequality, to be based exclusively on racism, sexism or another kind of phobia. It is deeply anti-capitalist, and it holds our most important constitutional principles as illegitimate as long as they help preserve the very inequalities it decries. It has the potential to become deeply anti-Semitic and anti-Asian, simply because individuals in these groups are "too successful" relative to their proportion in the total population.
This awful, totalitarian, ideology has spread way beyond academia, where it started, and has now infected most of our leading cultural institutions. This is the case with the Times, the outlet most followed by our elites, now shamed by its "1619 Project" fiasco. This ideology is heavily represented in many of our most important business and financial institutions, and it has been embraced by a large number of our richest individuals. Recently, in a welcome development, Trump banned the use of "critical race theory" in government institutions where, to universal surprise, it had already heavily insinuated itself. Though wokeness is too deeply entrenched today in our culture to be curable by such actions alone, I applaud Trump for trying and cannot in any way support people who will actively promote or blindly ignore this toxic ideology.
Many people aware of the gravity of the wokeness problem have pointed out that things have gotten worse during the Trump administration, and blame his overall tone and combativeness. This may be so, but unlike them, I believe that Trump has done us all a service by helping to bring the issue, preexistent long before 2016, to light.
Trump is a complex person, in many ways unique in the annals of American politics. As a president running for re-election, both his qualities and flaws, as well as his achievements and failures, are on the ballot. But the main reason I will vote for him tomorrow is to express my principled opposition to the preferred policies of the modern Democratic Party: the "Green New Deal," "Medicare-for-all," heavy taxes and regulations, heavy-handed lockdowns and, especially, those policies that aid and abet the terrifying woke movement Democrats have helped create.
Sergiu Klainerman is professor of mathematics at Princeton University.
The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.