Last time we talked about Donald Trump was right before I published my letter to you about him, “Dear Dad, Please Don’t Vote For Donald Trump.” I told you that there had been some pushback about publishing it and out of concern you asked me, “You know, are you sure you really want the trouble?” I told you I was ready for it, but of course, I only had a vague idea of what I was getting myself into.
The letter brought on the army of Trump trolls (many of whom are clearly fake, Russian accounts) and I got a number of nasty emails from readers of mine telling me they were leaving and never coming back. Some media drama followed as well—the letter was covered by Politico and Newsmax and Forward. It was weird to see one of my colleagues at the Observer describe my writing as ‘navel gazing’, and hearing that suddenly the entire genre of open letters was being banned from the paper.
At the same time, the response was far greater than I expected. A number of people I never expected to get emails from reached out. I was most touched by the folks who told they were using the letter to have a conversation with their own parents. The letter has been read close to a million times now and gotten hundreds of comments from all over the world (arguably more people saw it this way than if it has just been published as a normal column). Someone is even trying to turn the letter into a short film.
One of the things you told me after you’d read the letter—I’d wanted you to read it before I published it or it wouldn’t have been a real letter—was that it had given you a lot to think about. That was all I was hoping for. I just wanted you to hear me and it means a lot to me that you did.
But I also know that you haven’t made up your mind yet. That’s fair. The race isn’t over yet, and some things have happened that are worth considering. Since then, we’ve seen two political conventions, a massive email hack/leak, and given our insane media system, an endless cycle of news, scandals and controversies. I’ve been in three different countries since that letter was published, traveled to the West Coast, the Midwest and the Deep South. I’ve talked to hundreds of people and despite attempting to ignore the news, watched way too much of it. Almost every interview I do now, even when they are about my books, comes back to Trump in some way. All of this has given me a lot to think about too.
Given that you are still making up your mind, I thought I would put together some more points that I hope you consider. I haven’t changed my mind, though I still am hoping to change yours. Regardless of what the poll numbers say, every eligible citizen is faced with a moral choice in November: Should they vote? Should they vote for a third party candidate? Should they vote for a candidate they disagree with simply because they disagree with another candidate more? Should they vote for Donald Trump? I’d encourage you to say “no” to that last question—and here are some more reasons why:
1. As you probably heard, Donald Trump claimed that Obama was the founder of ISIS. His exact words: “[Obama] is the founder of ISIS. He is the founder of ISIS, okay? He is the founder. He founded ISIS. And I would say the cofounder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.” Obviously, this is not true—but look, sometimes we get carried away when we’re talking. Yet when he had the opportunity to backtrack this with Hugh Hewitt, Trump insisted: “No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS.” Then he did backtrack later, by saying (like a child in all caps) “THEY DON’T GET SARCASM?”. Then in Pennsylvania, he said it was “Not that sarcastic, to be honest with you.” This is what our foreign policy is going to come to, a parsing of what is and isn’t sarcastic?
2. In recent security briefings Trump is said to have repeatedly asked why the US can’t or doesn’t use its nuclear weapons. I urge you to read security analyst John Noonan’s series of tweets about what it means to actually use nuclear weapons. In the case that the president demands their use, there is no one who can intervene. You’ve seen the kind of radical vacillation that Trump seems to undergo on a daily basis, you’ve seen the emotional, impulsive responses he has to attacks and insults. You also saw his answers in an early debate where he seems to not know what the “nuclear triad” is—something that can be learned easily from, ahem, Wikipedia or a History Channel documentary. Forget the Supreme Court, I’m not sure this is the guy to put in charge of the world’s most powerful nuclear arsenal.
3. But surely calmer heads would prevail if Trump made a dangerous decision about the deployment of nuclear arms right? Let me remind you what he said earlier this year in regards to military personnel following his potential orders to use torture techniques (also a potential war crime): “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”
4. Regardless of what you think of their decision to get involved in politics, Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala gave one of the most touching speeches of the DNC. Hardly on shaky ground, they questioned the constitutionality of Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and spoke of the memory of their fallen son—a man who heroically died in our armed forces. Donald’s response? In an interview with George Stephanopoulos he insulted their religion, insinuated that they hadn’t written their own speech and questioned whether Ghazala Khan had been forbidden to speak by her husband (“A lot of people have said that,” he claimed. Really? Who?) All he could have said was, “I thank them for their sacrifice.” Instead, Trump attacked and then later, doubled down on his insults. Then his son lied and claimed that his father had apologized (to date, he still has not apologized). Then Trump’s New York campaign co-chair remarked that Khizr Khan doesn’t deserve the Gold Star title because he dared to question the Trumps. If you have a second, read this New York Times piece about the Khan family and their sacrifice. I read it last week and actually cried. How does this family not represent the very best about America? How has it come to the point where the Republican party’s nominee for President can attack the patriotism of a family whose son died fighting for this country?
5. I think one line in Trump’s response stands out best: “While I feel deeply for the loss of his son, Mr. Khan who has never met me, has no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution, (which is false) and say many other inaccurate things.” Perhaps Donald Trump has read the Constitution, but I’m not sure he understands it the way that you taught me to.
6. Remember when Hillary said that “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” That was a pretty basic political trap. To beat it—to make his opponent look bad—all Trump had to do was not say emotional or dumb things on Twitter. And yet, here we are…
7. As the New York Times reported, Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort has allegedly received nearly $13 million in cash payments from Ukraine’s pro-Russian political party during his time as a political consultant there. Nor has Manafort cleared up whether his has any continued business relationships with foreign powers—and according to the New York Times, his aides were still working in the Ukraine as recently as this year. The guy’s stuff is still in his office! But Mike Pence said that’s all FINE because Manafort is not running for president.”
8. As a person who taught me to own my words and say what I mean, I have to imagine you find Trump’s tendency to use the phrase ‘many people are saying‘ as a way to cast aspersions and make insinuations as cowardly and dishonest. I’m no fan of political correctness and I think people should be blunt—but bluntness doesn’t mean you get to choose your own facts (or worse, pretend other people are the ones saying what you are making up). I don’t remember you or Mom ever letting me get away with “Many people say” in my homework or essays I wrote from school. You said it many times: “Cite your sources.”
9. Trump still hasn’t released his tax returns. Even though his campaign manager taunted Mitt Romney for not fully releasing his. Even though back in 2014, Trump himself said: “If I decide to run for office, I’ll produce my tax returns, absolutely, and I would love to do that.” Well, where are they?
10. Is he still unwilling to release them because, as many people are saying, he has donated to NAMBLA, an advocacy group for pedophiles? I don’t know, but I do know that I’ve seen a lot of chatter about that on the internet. That’s what they’re saying, so there must be something to it.
11. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said during a news conference. Can you imagine? A potential head of state calling for a belligerent foreign power to intervene in our affairs, to leak supposedly classified information because it would embarrass his opponent?
12. I’m sure you saw this video of Trump’s comments about Clinton and the Supreme Court. We both know that the media has an interest in turning offhand comments into scandals but it’s hard not to see what his insinuation was here. He was joking that people with guns could take care of Hillary. He was joking about someone killing his opponent (this is not so far-fetched—early this year Jo Cox was killed in the UK for her campaign against Brexit). The crowd certainly got the dark meaning of his joke—that’s why they laughed.
13. The whole thing about Trump actually being in bed with Putin is a little far-fetched, I agree. But isn’t it a little bit weird that just this week his daughter posted a travel photo of her and someone who literally is in bed with Putin. When she isn’t stumping for her dad, Ivanka apparently thinks it’s a good idea to go on vacation with Wendi Murdoch, who is allegedly dating Vladimir Putin, and take photos of it. Brilliant!
14. Donald’s own spokesperson, Katrina Pierson said that it was Obama who took the U.S. to Afghanistan. Uhh, what? Later, she blamed the preposterous statement on an audio issue…except she’s said this before on Twitter. (Another great example of him hiring intelligently yeah?)
15. Trump’s wife, Melania Trump apparently lied about her college credentials in her biography at the RNC and on her website. (And when she pulled the inaccurate biography down from her website, she lied again saying it “has been removed because it does not accurately reflect [her] current business and professional interests.”) Dad, as you know, I also only did two years of college so that’s not the problem. But is there anything about these people that stands up to scrutiny?
16. Trump’s own website is calling out his supporters to “Help [Him] Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!” As he said in Pennsylvania, “The only way we can lose, in my opinion — and I really mean this, Pennsylvania — is if cheating goes on.”As Brian Stelter from CNN pointed out, “suggesting an election is going to be stolen? This is third world dictatorship stuff.”
17. Chris Frates has pointed out that Trump has been surrounded by immigrants his entire life. Melania Trump, his current wife, is from Slovenia and then there is Ivana, his first wife, who was born in Czechoslovakia. So it sounds like he really only has a problem with a certain kind of immigrants.
18. You know I’ve done my fair share of ghostwriting and how intimate that relationship can get. The writer’s job is to see inside the person’s soul. Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter behind Trump’s The Art of the Deal, decided that he could no longer not speak out about what he saw during his time with Trump. I’ll leave you his words without comment: “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes, there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.” Oh, and what would he call the book if he were to write it again? “The Sociopath.”
19. This isn’t a big deal, I know, but I think it’s funny that his entrance to the RNC was to the soundtrack of Air Force One. He knows there is a difference between fake and real presidents right?
20. Maybe he’s literally tone deaf? Because Trump announced his running mate, Mike Pence, to the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” I thought this guy was a brilliant marketer? I thought he was a masterful manager? Did nobody think about the subtext of that musical choice? Ezra Klein, who was equally stumped, wrote in an article about Trump’s bizarre introduction of Mike Pence, “What did we all hear, over and over again, as we waited for Trump to introduce Mike Pence, his “first choice from the start!”? ‘You can’t always get what you want…’” It’s a little thing, I know, but it says a lot.
21. Perhaps we can excuse going wildly off message with the understanding that Donald Trump doesn’t actually have a message or a campaign to go back to. NBC found that thus far in the general election Donald Trump has spent $0—that is, not a cent—on television advertising so far in the general election. This is a guy who has to win multiple swing states. This is a guy who is now very far behind in the race. Yet he’s also a guy who has raised, last month alone, more than $35M from small-dollar donors. If he’s not buying ads, where is the money going?
22. I also liked this analysis of the email campaigns of Hillary and Donald. Messages aside, Hillary’s have all the best practices of modern marketing. They’re friendly, they have clear calls to action, they’re optimized to raise funds in various amounts. Trump? He sent one underwhelming email in 8 days. His whole appeal as a candidate is that he’s supposedly a brilliant marketer and even more brilliant business man. What does it say that she’s running circles around him here? Maybe all he’s actually good at it is self-promotion.
23. In a conversation with Sean Hannity on Fox News Trump criticized reporters at the New York Times by saying they “don’t write good.” He delivered that line three times!
24. This was an actual tweet that Trump sent out at the end of July: “Looks to me like the Bernie people will fight. If not, there blood, sweat, and tears was a total waist of time. Kaine stands for opposite!” We all make typos…but then again, most of us aren’t running for president and if we were, we’d probably take the time to check our work. I remember you telling me that you respected George W. Bush’s decision to reinstate a strict dress code at the White House, that it was dignified and reflected the office. This guy can’t even spell!
25. “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart,” Trump told a crowd in Ashburn, Va. after a veteran gave him a copy of his Purple Heart medal. “This was much easier.” The Purple Heart is one of this country’s most cherished military honors. In describing it the way he did–as someone who wormed their way out of serving in Vietnam and as someone who just insulted a Gold Star Mother–Trump seemed to have no shame in treating the medal like a free sample at the grocery store. It was a despicable comment, and an insult to the many Purple Heart veterans who earned the honor by their blood.
26. Last week Politico reported that 70 Republicans have signed a letter to Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee Chairman, to cut off any funding for Donald Trump. And as one New York Times story reported, the advisers surrounding him “now increasingly concede that Mr. Trump may be beyond coaching;”
27. A poll recently showed that African Americans were polling 99-1% for Hillary over Trump. What does that say? When an entire race of voters see you as a threat (13 percent of the population of the United States), maybe we should try to understand why that is? Are they the canary in the coal mine?
28. I read an interesting piece by Harlan Coben that speculated as to why Donald Trump goes off script so often. He thrives on the reactions from the crowd. The audience starts to drift? He says something shocking. The shocking thing stops being so shocking? He takes it up a notch. It makes a lot of sense—and I’ve caught myself doing it in talks before. It’s scary up there, and that behavior takes some of the edge off. Here’s the thing: The President is supposed to be OK with scary situations. They need to be secure enough in themselves and in standing alone that they don’t endlessly pander to the crowd. Nero needed the Roman people to shower him with applause, Commodus needed the Coliseum’s rapt attention. We need someone who can bravely do the right thing, who can listen while others speak, who can not indulge every impulse. Yet despite every incentive to hold it together—to just appear presidential—Trump doesn’t seem to be able to.
29. You’re a Republican so Trump’s petulant refusal to support other Republicans matters. He initially refused to support Paul Ryan because he wasn’t seeing enough “strong leadership” and he claimed that he was withholding support because John McCain didn’t support veterans. It’s hard to even respond to these things seriously—but Trump was the guy who claimed that McCain wasn’t a war hero because he’d been captured and taken prisoner, right? These are the people he’s supposed to be able to work with in order to pass legislation. Does he have any allies at this point? He might actually have to fix it “alone” because he’s pissed off every single person who has tried to support him despite all the reasons not to.
30. What does it say that Ted Cruz declined to endorse Trump at the convention? “I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father,” he said. His refusal to endorse Trump is not surprising given that during his speech he said that “We deserve leaders who stand for principle, unite us all behind shared values, cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect, from everybody.”
31. There was Donald Trump’s casual remark about not stepping in to defend fellow NATO countries, saying he would do only if they’d “fulfilled their obligations to us.” That is, he’d only do it they’d paid for our protection. I thought we’d learned with your father and with your father’s father, the price that Americans have to pay when European countries are allowed acts of wanton aggression and invasion (that is…we have to go over there and fight and die in even great number).
32. Stoking a false claim that the US had exchanged cash for hostages from Iran, Trump claimed that he actually saw footage of a plane unloading millions in cash. Turns out, he was just watching TV and had no idea what he was talking about. Apparently this was the one thing, Trump felt he was objectively mistaken enough to admit he was wrong about. Trump admitted on Twitter: “The plane I saw on television was the hostage plane in Geneva, Switzerland, not the plane carrying $400 million in cash going to Iran!” But on John McCain, on mocking a disabled reporter, on the plagiarism, on the Khan family? Nope.
33. What should one think when the former head of the CIA accuses Trump of becoming “an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation?” What he means is that Putin has manipulated Donald and played on his vulnerabilities throughout his campaign, making him in a sense, an asset to the very enemy that Mitt Romney spent most of his campaign criticizing Obama for not taking seriously enough.
34. Trump’s speech at the Republican Convention contained this statement: “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it. I alone can fix it.” We talked a lot about ego when I was writing my last book and I think in a different context, we both would have laughed at a remark like this as being absurd and delusional. And that doesn’t even get into the fact that our entire system of government is designed to prevent the President from fixing things “alone.” In fact, we have a name for people who try to do that: fascists.
35. One of the strongest arguments for a conservative to vote for Trump despite all the problems they might have is that next President is likely to have incredible influence via the next few Supreme Court appointments. The argument is that whatever you think of Trump, it’s important that Republicans be able to name solid judges to the Supreme Court. But why are you so sure he’d do a good job? Because he says he would? Look at this video of Trump directly contradicting himself on dozens and dozens of issues. Look at his track record on hiring and vetting people. Look at how he chose a VP, hemming and hawing and consulting his children for the final choice. That’s who you want appointing people to serve for life, that’s who you want picking the people who ultimately judge our laws at the highest level?
36. Even though the Trump campaign had hired two high-powered speechwriters for Melania’s speech at the Republican Convention, she and Trump decided to override their advice and work with someone in-house—someone that Trump had personally hired. Of course, we know how that went. The speechwriter was incompetent and allowed a largely plagiarized section—plagiarized from Michelle Obama’s own speech addressing her convention no less—to be read to millions and millions of people.
37. Stuff happens, obviously, and as I learned from you, it’s what leaders do when stuff happens that matters. What did Trump’s team do? First, they denied it and tried to spin it as not plagiarism because it was all common phrases. Then Trump claimed all press is good press.” Then Trump declined to fire the writer or hold anyone accountable for what happened. He let the speechwriter apologize—but of course, as the guy in charge, he refused to take responsibility for any of it himself.
38. At his first intelligence briefing, Trump is bringing with him Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who in Garry Kasparov’s words is “someone who openly works with Putin’s propaganda channel Russia Today.” Flynn also got to casually sit next to Putin last December at a dinner in Moscow. (He also had a paid speaking gig while in Russia as well.)
39. At a rally in Florida, Trump pulled out a graphic and showed it on stage. Not a big deal. Except that David Duke, the white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader, is fond of using the exact same graphic.
40. Another funny thing about that graphic. Remember when Donald Trump got in trouble for using that Star of David over a picture of Hillary Clinton? A lot of people said it was anti-Semitic. Of course, he denied that was his intention. Well, that David Duke graphic used in Florida? It’s got another one on it. This time with Hillary Clinton on a $20 bill.
41. And a third thing about David Duke. In an interview with NPR, he said something about Donald Trump voters: We’ve already polled inside the Trump voters, and we know that we’re going to carry 75 to 80 percent of those who are going to vote for Trump.” The host asked, “You think Trump voters are your voters?” His response? “Well, of course they are!”
42. According to The Atlantic, Trump also appears to be laying out a strategy to skip the presidential debates—which of course, just like the election, Hillary & the Dems are trying to rig,” as he said in a tweet.
43. Much has been made of Hillary’s association with unsavory characters. I agree, it’s alarming. Her continued support of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, that so and so apparently appeared at one of her rallies. These are legitimate issues. Trump tried to call Hillary out on this recently …without grasping the irony (to say nothing of the incredible hypocrisy) in Florida when he attacked Hillary for allowing the father of the Orlando shooter to sit in the stands behind her, yet beside Trump, in a reserved seat, sat Mark Foley, an ex-congressman who resigned in disgrace in 2006 after sending sexually explicit messages to underage teenage boys.”
44. That’s the other thing about Trump. Hillary is one of the least popular candidates in history, but by a large margin she is not the least popular candidate in this election. Because of who Trump is, because of his inability to do even the most basic things required of a candidate, Hillary has been allowed to skate on many, many issues that the media should be grilling her over. How would this trend play out if Trump were elected? Would he suck the air out of the room in every debate, during every issue and make himself the center of attention in every crisis? Is this going to help us have the tough conversations I know you know we need to have as a country?
45. Trump has claimed that the media is aligned against him. He’s accused the New York Times of being a “failing” paper and called CNN “disgusting.” He’s even banned sites like Politico and BuzzFeed from his rallies. This attitude reminds me a lot of something. In one of Nixon’s famous rants, he said “The press is the enemy. Write that on a blackboard 100 times and never forget it.” I’ve said a lot of things about the media in my writings, but I understand that a free and open press is essential to our democracy. As a marketer, I also understand that if you live by the sword, you die by the sword. One calculation estimates that Trump got nearly $3 billion dollars worth of free media in the early stages of the election. Was he complaining then? Besides, I thought he said that all press is good press?
46. Donald Trump has said so much ridiculous and flat out incorrect things that the media has had to devise new ways of correcting him with on-air graphics in the course of their endless coverage of every remark and event. Some examples: “Trump says he watched (nonexistent) video of Iran receiving cash.” “Trump: I never said Japan should have nukes (he did)”, “Trump’s son: “Father apologized to Khans (he hasn’t)”
47. Transcribers of his speeches have also complained how long it takes due to his confusing, manic and often unintelligible syntax. They sometimes have to use teams of people just to get it right. As one transcriber put it, Almost every time we have done a transcript of him there is something in there that makes you wonder what is going on.” What they mean is that he is often deliberately obtuse—he says things in a way that allows him to pretend he means one thing, while signaling to another group. In other cases, what he says makes so little sense, they wonder what on earth he was talking about (“word salad” is the phrase). All of which is an issue considering it’s the president’s job to effectively communicate to every citizen of this country as well as have productive, clear and coherent discussions with international leaders and allies.
48. I’ve given you a lot of things Trump has done, but notice what he hasn’t done? The things a candidate is supposed to do. He hasn’t articulated his policies. He hasn’t shown that he has even the slightest grasp on what the job of being president would entail. He hasn’t released his tax returns. He hasn’t told us, in any detail, who he would be listening to and who would be advising him—other than, of course, himself.
49. When I published the first letter, I was on my way to London and then to Germany. You would be shocked at the reactions from people in other countries. They’re incredulous that we’re even thinking about this. The Washington Post wrote that US citizens traveling abroad are finding themselves on an “apology tour” trying to explain what is going on here—I felt that for sure. More than that, I remember a morning on my trip to Berlin, going on an early morning run past the Reichstag. The building is pocked with bullet holes and in the corner is a memorial (only recently erected) to the legislators that were murdered as Hitler consolidated power. It was a reminder to me of the stakes here—that even if there is a 1% chance of something like that happening, even all the warning signs are overblown, that we have a duty to stop it before it happens. It’s worth considering the courage—and listening—to the conservatives who have broken with their party over Donald Trump. Even if you disagree with them, even if these protests turn out to be overblown, that takes real courage. I think we should follow their lead.
I know I’ve gone on way too long here so I’ll wrap up.
The final thing about Trump is this: No one has been subjected to more criticism and made more stumbles in a campaign than he has. It’s completely unprecedented. In the last fourteen months, have you seen a single instance in which he seems to have learned from any of it? Have you seen a single adjustment or improvement along the way? Has there been even one incident where you’ve seen him—when subjected to an overwhelming public response or media backlash—stop and go “You know what, I was wrong. Here’s my explanation and apology and in the future I will be different.” Have you seen that even one time? Insulting a Gold Star Mother, calling on a foreign power to intervene in an election, urging violence against his opponent, attacking a war hero, using anti-Semitic materials…all of those would have been easy opportunities for a mea culpa and an adjustment. Yet there were none.
So why should we think that as President he is going to have that skill? It’s the steepest learning curve of any job in the world. It will inevitably be filled with mistakes and errors and problems. If he’s not accountable to feedback or criticism now—at the time he is most in need of public support and approval—why the hell would he be any different on the day he takes office?
People don’t change, you told me. Actions speak louder than words. I think in this case, that’s the best advice you’ve ever given me.
Please Dad, for all these reasons and so many more, don’t vote for Donald Trump.