The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
I haven't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since I was in college. But I will do so this year, when I will vote for Hillary Clinton for president. Here's why.
First, some context. I'm a small-government, fiscal-restraint, balance-the-budget guy when it comes to national politics. My views on political change echo Burke: I tend to favor gradual change working within existing traditions and institutions. On the road to the 2016 election, I initially backed Jeb Bush.
Hillary Clinton is pretty far from that. To put it mildly, I wouldn't have expected last year that I would be voting for her next week. But Clinton understands and has internalized the norms of constitutional governance. Like most presidential candidates, she understands the different branches of government and the limits placed on each branch and why. She has experience in government, and her service won kudos from her political opponents for the seriousness and care in which she went about her roles as senator and secretary of state. I disagree with a lot of her policy views. I'm confident that she would want to do a lot of things as president that I think are wrong. But from the evidence I can see, she works within the American constitutional tradition.
By contrast, Donald Trump is far outside that tradition. He is thrilled by the kind of authoritarian government that the Colonists fought a revolution to end. His world is a world of conspiracy theories, not reason and evidence. It is a world of putting your opponent in a jail cell after the election, not peaceful transitions of power. It is a world of mob violence, not law. It is a world of crushing political dissent, not limited government. It is a world of vindictive revenge, not focus on the public interest.
In short, Trump is the anti-constitutionalist candidate. I get his appeal for those who think that the American constitutional experiment has run its course and who think it's time for something new. If you think the country is so badly off that it's time to burn down the American constitutional tradition and start over, Trump is your guy. The fact that he is indecent, cruel and even brutal toward other people doesn't much matter from that perspective. You need to crack some eggs to make an omelet, as the saying goes, and Trump would certainly do that.
But for a Burkean like me who thinks the American constitutional tradition is pretty great, I think electing Trump is more than just unwise. It seems totally nuts to put the extraordinary power of the modern presidency in the hands of someone like that. The prospect makes me genuinely afraid about our country's future.
I understand that I won't be persuading anyone with this post. Minds are mostly made up by now, and nothing I'm saying is new. But given the stakes as I see them, I figured having access to the blog gave me some obligation to offer my take anyway.