The Strongest Case Against Donald Trump

If Donald Trump beats Nikki Haley on Saturday in her home state of South Carolina, where he leads in the polls, he’s a cinch to win the GOP nomination. And if he wins the GOP nomination, he has a very good shot at winning the presidency. So it’s worth entertaining the strongest argument against Trump, which many Americans haven’t heard before: that Trump brings out the worst in many of us—his critics and supporters alike.

To really make this anti-Trump argument, one must go so far as to acknowledge that the anti-Trump coalition has sometimes engaged in unreason, hysteria, and abuses of power. The name for this phenomenon is Trump Derangement Syndrome.

In 2003, the conservative writer Charles Krauthammer coined the term Bush Derangement Syndrome to describe “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency––nay––the very existence of George W. Bush.” The idea wasn’t that any opposition to Bush or his policies was deranged, but rather that Bush hatred was causing some of the president’s critics to indulge in preposterous claims, such as asserting that he’d known the 9/11 attacks were coming.

Trump Derangement Syndrome is similar but more intense and widespread. I’m 44. I remember extreme hatred of numerous politicians, including Bill Clinton, Bush, and Barack Obama. But nothing comes close to the reaction to Trump’s presidency. Many Americans hold as an article of faith that Trump is a tool of Russia and a fascistic danger to democracy who ought to be thrown off the ballot in all 50 states and imprisoned for life. They believe, therefore, that pretty much anything critics do to oppose him can be excused as a righteous means to a vital end.

[Read: Trump is about to steamroll Nikki Haley]

For that reason, during Trump’s presidency, our entire politics was distorted by the reaction to him, not just among zealous members of #theresistance but among many moderate Democrats who were less likely to oppose the left’s excesses while Trump was in power. Feeling more threatened by Trump than by any other politician, they treated stopping him as their priority and everything else as a distraction that could be sorted out later. It was never harder to oppose the illiberal left than when Trump was the president.

Of course, I needn’t convince Republicans in South Carolina that Trump Derangement Syndrome is real. Most Republicans see it. Plenty of Trump supporters have complained about it. Trump himself has referred to the idea by name on social media. But if you truly see that a particular man absolutely deranges many of your fellow Americans, doesn’t it follow that you should choose someone else to lead the United States?

Good leaders don’t derange a huge faction of the country they are leading. Good leaders bring out the best in the people. More than anyone, Trump brings out the worst in Americans.

That’s the strongest argument against Trump. It isn’t about his policy agenda, or his character, or the legal charges against him, or his failure to make America great again from 2016 to 2020, an era of COVID lockdowns, peak cancel culture, spiking murders, and riots.

It isn’t about him. It’s about us.

The strongest argument against Trump is his effect on the American people ––and not just his opponents. Trump manages to derange many of his most ardent supporters. The people who stormed the capitol on January 6 were not representative of typical Republicans. But how many of the 450-plus people sentenced to prison for their acts that day would have formed a violent, unruly mob in response to any other politician? Under any other president, they’d have been at school or at work or at home with their family.

[From the January/February 2024 issue: The danger ahead]

Certainly, no one is going to storm the capitol for Nikki Haley. Like any president, Haley would have critics, including a few partisans who’d hit her with unfair, hyperbolic attacks. But these critics likely wouldn’t exhibit symptoms of derangement. Even while serving in the Trump administration, Haley elicited far less hate than its most controversial figures. If anyone fears her, I haven’t encountered them. As president, Haley simply wouldn’t have much effect on the public psyche. And that’s good: Politicians ought to be afterthoughts who quietly serve at our pleasure, not main characters in national life, eliciting fear and loathing.

“Nikki Haley is leading President Biden by 13 points in a new poll of a hypothetical head-to-head match-up,” The Hill reported earlier this month. In other words, she can win the general election, and she can do that without bringing out the worst in all of us.

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