As we anticipate the first debate tonight between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I would like to plead the case as to why Trump goes into this contest already disqualified from being the President of the United States. I do not mean "disqualified" in a narrowly technical or legal sense, but in a logically objective one, the way someone who had spent a year posting on Facebook how desperately she wanted the Patriots to win the Superbowl would be logically disqualified from serving as referee for that game.
My judgment is not rooted in some estimation of Trump's character or state of knowledge. Trump may be a much finer, more decent man than the one he plays on TV, and he may know much more than he lets on. He obviously has engaged in some corrupt business practices, but whether or not that should disqualify him from the presidency is an arguable question. Rather, he has disqualified himself by a number of statements he has made and positions to which he has committed himself over the course of this campaign. He stands in such stark breach of the political norms of our system that he can no more reasonably fill the office of President than a publicly rabid Patriots fan could fill the position of referee.
An old Chinese adage states that "racing chariots cannot chase down one's own words," and in making certain utterances Donald Trump has shaped his public persona in ways that make it utterly incommensurate with the office of President. He is the proverbial square peg pleading to be jammed into a round hole. Indeed, this metaphor is much too quaint. More apt would be to compare him to a virus, which if introduced into our system by being given the office he seeks, will cause breakdown and dysfunction on an unpredictable scale.
Below I've listed what I deem to be the six most egregiously disqualifying statements made by Donald Trump over the course of the campaign, with my explanation as to why they are so problematic. This is obviously a very partial list that could be greatly expanded, and there is room to quibble about their order of importance. I offer them as food for thought as people prepare to watch the debate:
6) "If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes." Asked whether he would defend our Baltic NATO allies against a Russian attack, NY Times interview, June 20, 2016.
Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia joined NATO in 2004, over the strong objections of Russia. These Baltic states are in a similar relationship to Russia as the Ukraine- large ethnic Russian minorities live in each, and each nation disputes control of some territory with their larger neighbor. The potential of an outbreak of hostilities along these frontiers is thus very high, and no one who seeks to be Commander in Chief should EVER leave the Russians in any doubt that we stand ready to make good on our commitment to defend our NATO allies, so as to prevent the Russians from doing anything that might snowball quickly into a World War. In making this statement Donald Trump has guaranteed that the Baltic region will be radically destabilized as soon as he takes the oath of office, and he will never be able to conduct diplomacy concerning this region or the affairs of the NATO alliance more generally with the baseline confidence that a new president requires from allies and other counterparts.
5) “26,000 unreported sexual assults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?” Tweet, May 8, 2013.
Aside from the doubt that this casts on Trump's general capacity as Executive to ensure the 14th Amendment's guarantee of the "equal protection of the law" with respect to issues of gender, this quote taints Trump's credibility as Commander in Chief in relation to the soldiers serving under him. How can soldiers expect him to serve as a fair broker in resolving this chronic problem if this is his professed perspective on its cause? How can they trust that they have his respect if this is his general estimation of their character?
4) “I am prepared to — if they’re not going to take care of us properly...” On whether he was prepared to see South Korea and Japan develop nuclear weapons, CNN, May 4, 2016.
The entire balance of power in Northeast Asia has been predicated on the demilitarization of Japan and the security partnerships between the US and Japan and South Korea, respectively. For Trump to signal that he is willing to alter that balance of power invites mayhem and discord. The Korean War was in part set in motion by the North Korean leadership's misinterpretation of official pronouncements coming out of the US. With this kind of loose talk Trump tempts fate.
3) “We should have kept the oil. Now we go in, we knock the hell out of them, take the oil, we thereby take their wealth. They have so much money.” Speaking about Iraq on Fox and Friends, August 11, 2015.
Trump's repeatedly stated intention to take Iraq's oil undermines any and all credibility that may remain in our Mid East policy. Millions of Middle Easterners are already highly suspect of the motives of the US, this will confirm them in their worst suspicions. If Trump actually carried through on the policy he would make us a bandit nation in breach of international law. Even if he never acts on this declaration, his simply having made it will cast a shadow on everything the US does in that region from the moment he is sworn in until doomsday, as every president that succeeds him would be viewed through the lens of this pronouncement. Even staunch allies such as Kuwait and Bahrain would be reticent to cooperate with us, out of fear that their assets would be targeted as plunder.
2) “He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall.” Explaining why Judge Curiel could not fairly try a lawsuit concerning Trump University, June 3, 2016, interview on CNN.
This statement will forever poison Donald Trump's relationship with both the Latino community and the judiciary. For a man who seeks to be the Executive to call into question the competency of a sitting judge because of his ethnicity is beyond the pale, it fundamentally undermines his capacity to serve as a functional agent within the system of checks and balances that the Founders designed. For an agent of one branch of government to arbitrarily question the legitimacy of officials of the other branches of government is terribly corrosive to the credibility of the system as a whole. No one who wanted to serve the system in good faith should ever have indulged in this kind of invective.
1) "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." December 7, 2015, campaign press release.
In principle, this is a breach of the "no test of religion" clause of Article VI of the Constitution and of the First Amendment's prohibition against "the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion [or] impeding the free exercise of religion." This is such an egregious attack on the foundations of our Republic that it alone immediately disqualifies Trump from seeking the office of President. Beyond that, as I have written before, this statement is such a profound breach of the trust of the larger Islamic community that it would effectively hobble Trump in his relations with 1/5 of the world. Even if he repudiated this statement entirely and apologized for it, he would be met with mistrust and hostility in any country that had a significant Muslim population, making the most mundane aspects of foreign relations insuperably difficult.
Any one of these statements would have disqualified Trump from serving as President. If he knew how problematic they would be and made them anyway, he demonstrates a contempt for the office that precludes him serving it with any modicum of authority. If he did not know that making these statements would undermine his administration, he manifests a lack of competency that likewise disqualifies him from serving. Questions about whether Trump is a racist or a sexist are interesting, but their relevance to this contest are negated by the evidence of Trump's own words. On the basis of what Trump himself has said, he cannot serve as President of the United States.