Who Is Worse: Donald Trump or Paul Ryan?

It’s hard to know whom to root for between Donald Trump and Paul Ryan.

On the one hand you have Donald Trump, a vicious, ignorant megalomaniac who treats every encounter like a schoolyard dominance game. Trump is dangerously unfit to sit on a city council dais, much less the leather chair in the Oval Office. His policy prescriptions range from immoral to ludicrously impractical. Trump’s voting base comprises the most reactionary, revanchist and resentful elements of society–and worse, Trump revels in their adoration with no effort to bridge the divide between them and the rest of the country. Trump is a Republican not so much by virtue of agreement with GOP principles so much as his joy in humiliating anyone not already among society’s “winners.”

On the other hand, you have Paul Ryan, a steely-eyed devotee of Ayn Rand, possibly the most immoral and socially damaging of all modern philosophers. Paul Ryan’s singular goal in public life is to reduce the taxes of the wealthiest members of society while starving its poorest. Paul Ryan never met a government cut he didn’t like, especially if it came at the expense of disadvantaged people or defenseless animals and the environment. In Ryan’s world there are only makers and takers–and the richer you are, the more you’re presumed to be a maker in spite of all the evidence suggesting otherwise. If the economy has tossed you aside into the meat grinder of late-stage capitalism, that’s not only your problem–it’s your moral failure to be a “producer,” and the only incentive you need to become one is the fear of homelessness and starvation.

It’s very hard to say which of these gentlemen is more contemptible. Trump is certainly more immediately and obviously dangerous to the world, to racial and religious minorities. He’s hotheaded and unpredictable. But Paul Ryan is a colder, more impersonal villain. Donald Trump is the sort of man who would torture you for insulting his mother. Paul Ryan is the sort of man who would sell his own mother to bring about an objectivist utopia for the wealthy.

When Ryan announces his desire to reclaim the soul of the GOP from Donald Trump on behalf of the Koch brothers, it’s hard to know whether to cheer or cringe. On the one hand, it proves that there are a number of powerful Republicans willing to stand up to Trump’s dangerous lunacy. On the other hand, it means the explicit goal of conducting American domestic and foreign policy on behalf of a few of the world’s greediest billionaires. And as this election has proven, Paul Ryan’s supply-side idealism-for-the-rich doesn’t even have a voting base within the Republican Party: once less-educated white male voters figured out that that late-stage capitalism doesn’t really care about them either and that they aren’t really the “producing” class after all, they found it remarkably easy to shuffle off all that economic libertarianism in favor of Trump’s overt protectionist racism. That’s probably a net negative for society, but at least Trump has a legitimate bloc of actual voters.

Role-playing game afficionados often use a 3×3 grid to describe the moral alignment of their characters. On one axis is lawfulness (lawful, netural and chaotic), and on the other axis is morality (good, neutral, and evil.) Trump represents a form of chaotic evil, Ryan a form of lawful evil. Which is scarier is a matter of ongoing debate, but in the battle for the soul of the GOP one can only hope they both lose.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.