If you are a good person and acting morally, can you support President Trump? In this context, support would include voting for him in 2020 and agreeing with a meaningful percentage of his actions, words, and policies. A supporter can, of course, disagree with Trump on some matters and still be a supporter of Trump.
One obvious challenge is sorting out what it means to be a good person. My go to moral theory in this context is virtue theory: being a good person is a matter of developing and acting on the virtues. Classic virtue theorists include Aristotle and Confucius. While the list of the virtues and their nature can be debated, I can make an appeal to our moral intuitions in this matter. Intuitively honesty, courage, kindness, mercy, integrity, a sense of justice, and compassion are among the virtues. As support for this view, imagine that you are writing a story about a virtuous hero—these are the qualities such a hero would be likely to have. I can also appeal to the classic heroes of fiction—think of Superman, Aragon and Captain America. Another way to support this view is to appeal to our intuitions about the sort of people we would want to have caring for us if we were utterly dependent on them for our survival and well-being. We all experience this dependence as children and might experience it again in the case of illness, injury, or age. We also depend on others even when we are at the height of our powers—we are all vulnerable and in need. To illustrate, when you are walking on the sidewalk, other people typically forebear from murdering you with a car. Intuitively, we would want our caregiver (or caretaker) to have these virtues and it thus seems reasonable to see these qualities as critical to being a good person. This is not to expect flawless virtue, but a good person would consistently act in accord with these virtues. As such, I will use this sort of virtuous person as my model of a good person. You can disagree with this view and offer your own account of what it is to be a good person or even reject the notion that there are good people.
Imagine, if you will, Vicky the Virtuous. She is not a perfect person but has these and other virtues to an excellent degree. She acts upon them consistently, though she has her bad moments. Could Vicky support Trump and remain a good person? I contend that she cannot.
One approach to the matter is to consider Trump as a human being. Using the standards of virtue theory, Trump is a terrible person. His lies are unrelenting, he is cruel, he is a racist, he is a sexist, he is a coward, and one could go on listing his vices and lack of virtues for an entire book. As some have. While a virtuous person might try to redeem such a wicked person, if Plato, Aristotle, and Confucius are right, they should not be his friend or associate with him. As many have found out, associating with Trump is a path to corruption that can end in prison. At this point, some readers are thinking “what about Obama, what about Biden? They are bad!” My reply is that this is just the “what about?” fallacy (a variant of the red herring fallacy). Even if Obama and Biden are terrible, this has nothing to do with the issue at hand. A very few might say that Trump is virtuous and insist that I am wrong. But they would be wrong—Trump’s awfulness is well documented. As such, a good person could not support an awful person like Trump.
It can be countered that Trump’s personal awfulness is not relevant to the moral matter of supporting him as president. After all, a terrible person could be skilled at their job or be doing things that are good despite their being an awful person. Imagine a horrible person who is particularly good at teaching some subject. Imagine that they confine their horribleness to their personal life and do an excellent job teaching, dealing with students and completing their professional tasks. It can be argued that while a virtuous person would not want to be their friend, they could still take classes from the person or (if they were faculty) support their application for tenure and continued employment. That is, a good person could distinguish between the person and their performance on the job.
So, a Trump supporter could agree that Trump is an awful person but argue that he is doing good for the country with his good policies and good leadership. That is, they could switch to a utilitarian approach and assess the ethics of their support in terms of the consequences for the morally relevant beings. They could thus claim to remain a good person because they are supporting a horrid person who is somehow doing good for the country.
While I certainly agree that a good person can support a bad person who is somehow doing good for others, the fact is that Trump’s policies are generally morally horrible, and he objectively is bad at leadership.
In terms of his leadership, even the center right Cato Institute sees Trump’s administration as marred with failure. He has weakened our diplomacy and alliances, damaged science, and rolled back environmental regulations. He has corrupted our institutions and has attacked a foundation of the American democracy with his unrelenting lies about voting. The largest dead elephant in the room is, of course, his horrific handling of the pandemic. His strategy began with denial and lies—and he has stayed the course. The pandemic required a coherent, science based national strategy of the sort adopted successfully by other nations. But Trump failed utterly. Even worse, he is the nation’s single largest spreader of disinformation about COVID-19. His lies actively sabotage the efforts to keep Americans—thus the deaths and illness of many are on his hands. As others have pointed out, his ineptitude and moral failings were made utterly clear in his own infection and the infections sweeping the White House, not to mention those exposed at his super-spreader event. Just considering his approach to COVID-19 would make it impossible for a good person to support him and remain good. But perhaps there are ways to respond to this.
It could be argued that a virtuous person might wrongly believe that Trump is generally good in terms of his actions and policies. This person would need to have a flawed epistemic system—that is, they would need to be unable to discern true beliefs from false beliefs when it comes to Trump. The clearest example would be Trump’s dangerous and ongoing lies about COVID and voting. To be good they could not be willfully ignorant—that is, they could not simply refuse to consider evidence against Trump and uncritically think Trump is doing good. As such, a good person who is sincerely ignorant could support Trump. But, as per Aquinas, they would have needed to assess their beliefs and actions while utterly failing to be up to these tasks. Otherwise, a good person could not support Trump and remain good.
There is, of course, a stock philosophical counter: a critic can advance their own theory of ethics in which Trump is good. This would be a theory at odds with the moral intuitions discussed above and it is certainly fair to apply the parent/caretaker test to this theory of ethics. That is, would a sensible person want these “good” qualities in a person they utterly depended on for their survival and well-being? In the case of Trump, this seems unlikely—unless one is convinced that they would be the sort of person that Trump would see as being in his self-interest to not let die.
In sum, one cannot support Trump and be a good person—unless one is sincerely ignorant or willing to radically redefine “good.”