People will always disagree on who to vote for. People may have all kinds of reasons for choosing a particular candidate—but they almost never deliberately choose badly because they are evil, hateful or want to make the world a worse place. Most people want a fairer society and better outcomes for themselves and their fellow humans. They just differ on how to achieve this. Much of this difference seems to have to do with their moral foundations, which are largely innate, although they may change slightly with age. An individual’s basic moral intuitions—whether they are more conservative or more liberal—are unlikely to be very malleable or open to change. Nevertheless, we know that people do change their minds about which political parties best fit their moral intuitions and practical goals because right-wing and left-wing parties have been elected by the same citizenry at different times.
We are currently living in very strange times. Some influential belief systems on the left do not sit at all well with typically liberal values, while some dominant currents on the right are anathema to traditional conservatives. The worldview known as (Critical) Social Justice or wokeism seems clearly illiberal to many traditional liberals who value tolerance, universalism, individualism and freedom of belief and speech. Similarly, the post-truth populism epitomised by Donald Trump is a travesty to many traditional conservatives who value consistency and conscientiousness and seek a leader worthy of their respect.
This collection of statements from vocal critics of Critical Social Justice who believe that a vote for Donald Trump is a mistake is not intended to convince die-hard Trumpists. It is an appeal to reluctant Trump voters and to those who remain undecided. It is specifically addressed to people who value science, reason, tolerance and individual liberty but fear Critical Social Justice’s assaults on these so much that they see Trump as the only solution. These are people who fear that a vote for the Democrats will enable a cultural revolution that will harm all Americans—people who want to make America a better place for everyone and believe that voting Trump will at least prevent it from becoming a worse one.
The contributors below think this position is misguided. We come from all over the political spectrum and disagree with each other on many things. However, we are united in believing that a vote for Trump will not make America great.
Steven Pinker—Cognitive Psychologist, Linguist, Author of Enlightenment Now
For those who are alarmed (like me) at the encroachment of the regressive, illiberal, anti-Enlightenment “Critical Theory” and “Social Justice” identitarianism in our institutions, voting for Trump is about the worst thing you could do.
First, the opposite of illiberalism is not necessarily liberalism. Trump is worse: 20,000 lies, “post-truth” epistemology, demonizing fact-checked media coverage that doesn’t flatter him as “fake news” and “enemies of the people,” blowing off and suppressing science, and more. The bedrock of Enlightenment liberalism is the disinterested search for truth, and Trump has repeatedly bombed it with bunker-busters.
Second, he perpetrates measurable harm: tens of thousands of avoidable Covid deaths, increases in deadly pollution from mindless scything of regulations, harmful delays on climate change action, more.
Third, he signals contempt for Enlightenment norms and institutions like democracy, free trade and organizations for international cooperation, while raising the prestige of the world’s most loathsome tyrants.
And if you think supporting Trump is in practice a tactical corrective to encroachments of the illiberal hard left, answer this question: have the encroachments gotten better or worse during the Trump years? We need an invigorated, robust and inclusive movement for rational, evidence-based, humanistic progress, not a deeper division between two versions of anti-intellectual authoritarianism.
Thomas Chatterton Williams—Writer, Author of Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race
For the past four years, our democracy at home and prestige in the world have been under assault. We are faced now with a twin crisis: on the one hand, Donald Trump, a reality TV charlatan at best, is president; on the other hand, an extraordinarily censorious woke backlash has gained momentum to oppose him. Our academic, cultural and media institutions that are supposed to be guardians of liberal norms and values are increasingly captured. From both the right and the left, a climate of punitive censoriousness stifles the center.
It is tempting but misguided to believe that either the populist right or the woke left can achieve a total victory. On the contrary, the two feed off of and exacerbate each other. A vote for Trump, despite his anti-Critical Race Theory bluster, is in fact a vote to empower the worst progressive excesses. A vote to strengthen the besieged center, however dissatisfying to either extreme, is the only way forward for Americans of good will searching for ways to overcome the crippling polarization that plagues us.
Helen Pluckrose—Editor of Areo, Co-Author of Cynical Theories
There are few people who have done more than me to try to persuade people to regard Critical Social Justice ideas rooted in postmodern ideas about knowledge, power and language as a serious threat to secular liberal democracies. I truly believe that these ideas already have far too much unwarranted cultural prestige and are causing significant damage to the humanities and the political left as well as infiltrating mainstream media, art, culture, history, schools and the corporate world.
However, one of the greatest dangers of Critical Social Justice is that its authoritarian lunacy drives left-leaning centrists to the right—and not towards a sober and ethical conservatism. People who value evidence-based epistemology and consistently liberal ethics can be found on the left, right and centre: these are the people we need to represent us right now. Instead, too many people who claim to prize liberal values are planning to vote for a populist, anti-intellectual president whose rejection of science, reason, truth and liberalism has been amply demonstrated over the last four years.
We cannot push back against irrationalism and illiberalism on the left by embracing irrationalism and illiberalism on the right. We cannot beat the postmodern Social Justice and alternative ways of knowing of the left with the postmodern post-truth and alternative facts of the right. Trump is not the solution for anyone who values science and reason and wants to protect a liberal society that defends freedom of belief and speech and viewpoint diversity as well as rigorous scholarship and consistently ethical activism for genuine racial, gender & LGBT equality. I urge American citizens to vote for the moderate Democrat, Joe Biden, and hold him to his promise to be the president for all Americans.
Conor Friedersdorf—Staff Writer at the Atlantic, founder of The Best of Journalism
During the last four years, I’ve repeatedly critiqued instances of illiberalism and identitarianism on the left. On every occasion, my efforts to reach my fellow Americans and to persuade them to rein in excesses on the left was made more difficult and impeded by the fact that the leader of America’s right-leaning coalition is himself flagrantly illiberal and prone to indulging in white identity politics. President Trump seems to bring out the worst in people. I expect that once he leaves office, whether in 2021 or 2025, both the Republican and Democratic coalitions will improve.
Irshad Manji—Author of Don’t Label Me: How to Do Diversity Without Inflaming the Culture Wars and The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith
Anti-woke Americans: You’re entitled to vote for whomever you damn well please. Including, of course, Donald Trump. I can assure you, though, that supporting the identitarian-in-chief won’t help people like me who fight against identity politics in the trenches. I speak from hard experience. For years, I traveled the world calling for Muslims to reform ourselves; to condemn religious terrorism, to denounce antisemitism, to embrace the full equality of women, to tolerate—if not accept—queer people and, in so doing, to live up to the best that the Qur’an teaches.
Waging this struggle during the George W. Bush years made every day an exercise in tightrope-walking. The president who declared that “you’re either with us or with the terrorists” left precious little space for independent thinking. No wonder I got mauled by both extremes—on the one hand, Bush-haters who accused me of siding with a warmonger and, on the other hand, Islam-haters who thought they were doing me a favor by voting for Bush.
In the same way, any president who tells white supremacists to stand by rather than stand down will never have the credibility to crush identity politics—no matter how much he claims to despise the critical race crowd. Let me repeat: in the jihad against wokeism, you’re free to cast your lot with Trump. And if you do, kindly ask yourself: are you in this crusade to solve the problem or to prolong it? If this mission didn’t exist, do you know who you’d be? Is it possible that these politics are the source of your identity?
Thank you for thinking.
Walter Olson—Author and Commentator on US Law
I’d call Trumpism the evil twin of the worst social justice zealotry, except that both twins are evil. Trump sees all relations in terms of power, dominance, resentment and submission, rather than persuasion. His signature move is to delegitimize and trash every institution and person that stands between him and power. He speaks and acts as if facts, history and scientific truths were purely contingent, infinitely malleable, and in the end a matter of the say-so of the strong-willed. Sound familiar? He changes his line often and always denies that it has changed.
He presents the press as the enemy of the people, the democratic process as fixed, and civic hope as the delusion of the ever-exploited sucker class.
Sure, you can find some differences. He’s frankly anti-intellectual rather than dressing up his contempt for the mind in obscurantist jargon. Since he plays to his base, his assaults on free thought are more likely to take the form of what Alex Nowrasteh has called patriotic correctness, rather than political correctness.
If you expect all this to end in street brawling between rival political gangs, you’ll get that too. Donald Trump does his best to recruit a bully corps on his own side, but he’s an even better recruiter for the bullies on the other side.
At some point it stops making sense to ask who’s chasing whom: it’s the same carousel with the same horses. The only answer is to jump off altogether. Get a president who’s not like this.
Sarah Haider—Writer and Co-Founder of Ex-Muslims of North America
For the better part of this last decade, I’ve been working to persuade others to uphold liberal values. Since the election of Donald Trump, this work has been considerably more difficult. Trump approaches the presidency like a TV show, stoking fires and picking fights. He and his supporters revel in his ability to trigger the left. Is it any surprise that it has worked?
Extremism begets extremism, and insanity begets insanity. We have lived through four years of this radicalization cascade. Yes, Trump really has exposed hypocrisy and illiberalism hiding in all corners of society, and if this was all he did then perhaps things would not be so dire. But Trump has also created illiberalism where it was not there.
It is not clear how we can begin to repair the damage. But surely the first step must be to stop the man throwing kerosene at the flames.
Paul Graham—Programmer and Startup Investor
Don’t vote for Trump just because you despise the increasing political correctness of the Democrats. Political correctness is a problem, but Trump is a worse one. He’s not even an authentic conservative. He only has one guiding principle, and it’s clear what that is.
Matt McManus—Professor of Political Science, Author of The Rise of Postmodern Conservatism
While I take a far softer line on critical theory than many of my colleagues here, I can recognize that many people don’t like it. They associate it with academic wokism or radicalism and may well see it as a serious threat to liberal individualism and meritocracy. Some may even see postmodern radicalism as a threat to reason and science themselves. Fine. We can have those debates later. But there is no responsible liberal argument for voting in a wannabe despot who treats facts like an inconvenience and whose enablers claim that “truth isn’t truth.” Trump embodies all that is worst about the postmodern epoch and is far past his sell-by date.
In 2016, Trump rode a wave of resentment and anger to inaugurate an era of postmodern conservatism in the United States and much of the world. He was propelled by animosity towards some of the most vulnerable people in the world and their leftist “elitist” allies in the media, politics and academia. Since then his efforts to dissociate from reality have brought a hefty dose of it crashing into our lives. More Americans have died of COVID-19 than perished in the First World War and Vietnam War combined—and there is plenty more tragedy on the way. We’ve entered another period of global economic downturn a mere decade after the last one, meaning that millions risk falling into poverty or worse unless the situation improves. Even American democracy seems under threat from the rising tide of authoritarian bluster and conspiracy theorizing. Time to cancel this reality TV dumpster fire.
Cathy Young—Writer at Reason and Arc Digital
On the eve of the 2016 election, I wrote an article for conservative online magazine the Federalist (before it went full Trumpist), entitled “Why Electing Donald Trump Could Make Political Correctness Worse.” The subtitle said, “We could see further polarization and entrenchment from an increasingly militant cultural left versus an increasingly nasty and brutish Trumpian right.” I wish I didn’t qualify for an accurate predictions award, if there were one.
Now we’re seeing people make the same argument: vote for Trump to defeat the hordes of wokeness.
Unlike many left of center people, I see wokeness as a serious problem. I’m very concerned about its takeover of much of the mainstream media and its grip on large segments of the Democratic Party. While I don’t think Joe Biden is an extremist, he certainly pays lip service to aspects of woke ideology, whether on systemic racism or transgender issues.
But to look to Trump for deliverance, as some opponents of the woke left are doing (again!), is a massive mistake. It’s not just that Trump is bad on other issues: he’s bad for the anti-woke cause, at least if you’re anti-woke because you support the classical liberal principles of individual autonomy, freedom of expression and reason.
First of all, you can’t with a straight face invoke Trump as a champion of an individualism that transcends racial and other identities when his own message is heavy on xenophobic, almost overtly racist identity politics (see his recent attack on left-wing Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar, which focused on her background as a Somali refugee). And free expression? This is the guy who would jail protesters for burning the American flag.
Second, while Trump certainly didn’t create woke progressivism, he clearly enables and exacerbates it. This argument is sometimes misunderstood as, So you’re saying we shouldn’t fight back against woke leftism because fighting back makes leftists more extreme? No, not at all. I’m saying that when the President of the United States is practically a woke caricature of the evil white male—an entitled bully, who endorses police brutality, bashes minorities and flaunts his lack of human empathy—it pushes large numbers of people farther and farther to the left, lending credibility to the woke idea that America is a racist patriarchy.
No stopgap measure to slow down the onslaught of wokeness (such as limiting woke diversity training by federal agencies and contractors) is worth this.
Tom Nichols—Specialist in National Security, Author of The Death of Expertise
The cure for rage and irrationality is reason and thoughtfulness. To believe that someone like Trump is the necessary response to the excesses of the left is to exchange one form of illiberal authoritarianism for another. It is also to believe that there are no alternatives and that it is impossible for reasonable people to emerge as the dominant voice in a democracy. This is nothing more than sullen defeatism and I will never embrace the idea that the only answer to extremism is to poison ourselves with some political isomer of the same extremism. The center exists and it is healthier than we think it is—but it will only prevail over time if we have the courage to defend it.
Katie Herzog—Writer and Co-Host of the Podcast Blocked and Reported
Like a lot of people from across the political spectrum, I’m deeply concerned about recent trends on the left. Whatever you want to call it—cancel culture, wokeness, social justice ideology (or, as I prefer, social media justice ideology)—many seemingly progressive people and institutions have embraced draconian and intolerant dogmas. You’re more likely to hear some prominent conservatives defend free speech these days than the ACLU, and this troubles me immensely. It’s a bad sign when lawyers for the group that defended the rights of Nazis to speak are now calling for the cancelation of J. K. Rowling.
Some formerly Democratic voters have responded to these threats by turning right. This is a mistake.
There are plenty of reasons to oppose Donald Trump on performance alone. He has, as president, failed to deliver on almost all of his promises, from the good (bringing back American jobs) to the impractical and inhumane (building the wall and, of course, making Mexico pay for it). Aside from those in the top tax bracket, who saw hefty tax breaks thanks to Trump and the GOP, I’m willing to bet that most people are not better off than they were four years ago, and that’s not just the fault of the pandemic. It’s also the fault of Donald Trump. Trump has done nothing on climate change, on infrastructure, on health care and on an array of other forces that impact Americans’ daily lives. He cares about one person—himself—and he will do whatever it takes to preserve his own ego, power and money even if that means everyone else on the planet suffers.
And yet, performance, policy and personality are only a part of this equation, because if you’re concerned about the increasing illiberalization of the American left, the last person you should want to see in office is Donald Trump. Trump isn’t just a purveyor of cancel culture himself, he’s the spark that has made many of my fellow progressives forsake their commitment to truly liberal values—including vital civil liberties like the right to free expression, even, yes, for those we dislike or disagree with.
Wokeness spreads in Donald Trump’s wake. For every action he takes, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and if Donald Trump wins the election, this will be proof positive to many of today’s more illiberal activists that the United States is, at heart, too racist, too sexist, too problematic to remain intact. And their reaction to that will be to burn the whole thing down. Well, I don’t want to burn the whole thing down. I want progress—real progress. I want the US to live up to its promises, which is not possible under a Trump administration. If he wins, all we will get is more extremism on both sides, and I fear for the future of our nation, and for liberalism itself, should that come to pass. So I’m a single issue voter this time around, and that issue is getting Donald Trump out of office.
Iona Italia—Writer, Subeditor of Areo
Let’s set aside all other considerations and imagine that the only issue facing us is opposition to the illiberal, divisive, censorious, culturally philistine social movement that is woke Social Justice ideology, which I consider both damaging in itself and a distraction from the more important issues of economic hardship and environmental degradation. If, like me, you oppose wokery, the re-election of Donald Trump is the last thing you should hope for. First, wokeism is a cultural and social movement, not a party political one. It was not voted into power and cannot be voted out. To combat it, we will need to rally liberals and win over hearts and minds. We will need to reassure our fellow leftists that our opposition to wokery is not based on racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-immigrant jingoism or a self-centred disregard for the welfare of the less fortunate—that, in fact, it is not based on any of the values we associate with Donald Trump. To combat wokeism, we need to understand its appeal and propose better values to replace it. Trump is incapable of the first and unwilling to do the second. Four more years of Trump will only make this fight harder.
Alan Sokal—Physicist, Co-Author of Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science
The other contributions to this forum have been so eloquent that it would be superfluous for me to repeat what they have said. So let me just add a personal recollection.
When Jean Bricmont and I wrote our book Fashionable Nonsense, back in 1998, one of our goals was to warn our friends on the American left not to be seduced by trendy postmodernist denigrations of truth, rationality, objectivity and science. We argued that these old-fashioned Enlightenment values were in fact the sturdiest grounds on which to fight for progressive causes—besides being worthy human ends in their own right—and we foresaw that postmodernism was a double-edged sword that could also be utilized by the reactionary right.
But not in my worst nightmares did I imagine an American president who would shout “fake news” and proffer “alternative facts” in response to any information, no matter how factually grounded, that displeased him; who would openly disdain science and scientists in the middle of an epidemic that has already killed 225,000 Americans and will likely kill many more; and whose idea of rational debate was to demonize his political opponents (or simply anyone who dared to disagree with him) with names worthy of a third-grade bully.
Let me be clear: I’m just as worried about the excesses of Critical Social Justice as you are. And I applaud Helen Pluckrose and Jim Lindsay for having written a book, Cynical Theories, that calmly dissects the anti-rational and anti-liberal ideology underlying it and argues, once again, for liberal values such as respect for viewpoint diversity and honest debate, and respect for evidence, reason and science. But do you seriously think that Trump gives a f*** about any of these values? And do you seriously think that four more years of Trump will help bring back liberal values on either left or right? On the contrary, the illiberal excesses of some sectors of the left were one factor (among many others) in driving the backlash that brought Trump to power; and the illiberal excesses of Trump and his Republican enablers—who stoke division and tribalism as a political strategy—are fueling illiberalism on the left.
To be honest, Biden wasn’t my preferred Democratic candidate; my sympathies were, rather, with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But maybe four years of boring moderate Biden is just what our country needs right now: to restore some modicum of decency and rationality so that we can, in the future, debate serenely and rationally which economic, political and environmental reforms might be beneficial to our nation and our world.
Please help that happen, and vote for Biden.