It seems that more people than usual are thinking of sitting out Election Day this year. This is hardly surprising—nor is the sentiment entirely new. Americans are much less likely to vote, as a percentage of the population, than most democratic peoples. This tendency is not without its logic—indeed, an at times compelling logic. But it is a logic each of us must question as November 8 approaches.
A good friend of mine, George Carey, was for decades a professor of Government at Georgetown University. He never voted. As a matter of fact, he did his best to convince anyone who would listen that they should not vote, either. He was no mere conspiracy theorist, convinced that “they” would steal any election. Rather, he was a realist. He would point out that voters come in packets of millions in the United States, that one vote almost never makes any difference in any election, and that a national election involves much less than meets the eye, because it means voting for one person or program out of two, with neither generally meeting with one’s overall approbation.
George was a brilliant man, and his argument has much to be said for it. Not only is it true that one marginal vote rarely counts for much in any mass democracy, but, as important, the leaders of both parties generally do their best to please their mass constituencies as little as necessary to maintain their own power. More generally, of all the duties incumbent on citizens to fulfill, from obeying the laws, to raising good children, to defending their country at need, voting is by far the most abstract and least effective for maintaining a good society. One shows far more virtue, and effects far more good, by being active in one’s church, as a parent, and in the variety of associations that make up most of our lives, than by pulling a particular lever on election day.
So why vote? I for one do not always vote. When I do not know the issues or persons involved in a local election (as when I have just moved to an area) I abstain. When, as in more than one instance in the past couple of decades, I see no meaningful difference between two candidates, usually at the federal level, I have been known to cast a protest vote for some third party candidate I know will not win.
I assume many conservatives, especially people of faith, are considering either staying home or voting for some third party candidate this November 8. I certainly understand their frustrations. But, while I have taken this route in the past, I will not be doing so in this election. Why not? Because, while every election brings out claims that we are “at a crossroads” as a nation, this time I actually believe that we are one presidential choice away from a point of no return.
After this election, if we make the wrong choice, the republic we cherish will cease to exist. The right choice comes with dangers and no guarantee of success. The wrong choice most certainly will end any reasonable chance of restoring ordered liberty for generations to come. The wrong choice will replace our republic with a fully institutionalized third-world autocracy; rule by decree—no doubt gussied up with some simulacrum of electoral politics—will turn our freedoms into shadows of their former selves and turn the associations that are the only places in which we can lead decent lives into wholly owned subsidiaries of the federal government. All of us will be forced to toe the line of political correctness throughout the public square, fully enter into the culture of death in our public and commercial life, and consign our religious lives to a purely private sphere in which we may quietly pray, provided we do not allow our faith to “infect” our public conduct.
Such claims may seem overwrought, but people of faith in particular know that the last seven years have been a disaster for public morals, social institutions, and private life. And yet many of us feel genuine pressure to cooperate with those who seek to maintain the ever-more-radical politics under which we have lived for some time. They have been made to feel guilty (racist, homophobic, and especially, unforgivably sexist) for even thinking of opposing the new regime that has emerged under President Obama—the most radical president in American history.
Many people, including me, have been taken aback at revelations regarding Donald Trump’s statements about women, as well as the swarm of charges regarding his conduct toward them. I will not take any time addressing the timing or likely veracity of any of these charges. It is enough for me to note that this man has led, in public, a life of flamboyant sin. His adultery, his crass language, his greed, his “livin’ large” attitudes have been wrong and degrading to himself and others.
Yet I will be voting for him without hesitation; perhaps not with great enthusiasm, but without hesitation. And it is not just a matter of forgiveness rooted in his protestations that he is a changed man. Such forgiveness can play only a small role in a decision affecting the common good. Much more than this, my decision has to do with the relationship between politics and culture, and how (it seems quite clear to me) the candidates would govern.
Politics should be far less important than faith, family, and everyday life. For most of American history, politics was a limited pursuit aimed at protecting families, churches, and local self-governing associations. Moreover, until recent decades most Americans understood that good politics are dependent on decent culture, not the other way around. Unfortunately, it is this understanding that is being twisted and used, especially against people of faith in this election.
Christians in particular are rightly appalled at some of the things they have heard from and about Mr. Trump. They believe his presence in the White House will send a message of support for bad opinions and immoral conduct. But the “unfit for the presidency” argument has been cynically aimed at stirring deep passions in an attempt to short-circuit our moral reason. We must not allow great distaste at one man’s flaws to blind us to different flaws which, while on the surface perhaps less distasteful, go to the heart of how the other candidate would actually govern. Everyone knows that both candidates have deep moral flaws. One of them has been accused of moral failings he promises to avoid in future, and which our political system can guard against. The other has repeatedly been shown to have martialed the mainstream media, foreign governments, and even our own FBI, to engage in a whole range of corrupt practices intentionally undermining that political system and shows no inclination to decrease such activities.
Ideally, we would be choosing between two highly moral persons, each of whom is arguing for a rational means of pursuing the common good. But this is not the choice we face. And it is no good claiming that we should choose neither. Even if either the Libertarian or Green Party nominees had some chance of success, they both offer deeply flawed visions of society rooted in hyper-individualism and/or extreme statism destructive of meaningful associational life. For people of faith to vote for either of these candidates, or none, is to bolster the candidacy of Hillary Clinton—the candidate least expecting, hence least dependent on their support.
So, we must face the choices we have. Hillary Clinton, like Barack Obama an unreconstructed 1960s radical, would continue President Obama’s politics and entrench his regime of multiculturalism, de-colonialization and radical transformation by federal decree. Donald Trump, for all his failings, has campaigned on a platform of protecting our culture against intentional undermining through the importation of members of other cultures who have no desire to assimilate. He has shown himself committed to bringing an end to the extra-legal immigration policies and cultural onslaught of Social Justice Warriors, many of them working for Hillary Clinton, who denigrate Catholics in particular as backward authoritarians who must be “freed” from their beliefs and way of life.
One candidate seeks to reduce the size and scope of government in terms of regulations, taxes, and intrusions into the lives of the people while supporting the rule of law. The other seeks to root out “institutionalized” and “implicit” racism throughout our culture. One has promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who will interpret the Constitution as its framers intended. The other has explicitly stated that she will choose justices most likely to support her own, hard left policy choices. One is pro-life. The other is an unconditional supporter of Planned Parenthood and all its most extreme practices.
Both are flawed. Neither would be my own first choice for President. But what is a citizen to do on Election Day?
I suggest the following: Go to the polls. Go into that booth and ask yourself, as a person of faith and as an American, where does your duty lie? With your feelings, or with the common interests of Americans? With the emotions put on you by a concerted effort to show the worst in a flawed man, or with a rational decision regarding what policies are most likely to bring us back from the brink of disaster? Perhaps most important, do not ask which candidate has caused you the least offense (however that calculation may come out). Ask instead which candidate is most likely to allow Americans to raise their children as they see fit, to rear them in their faith, and to defend them, and the nation they love.
No one need know how you voted. But you will know. And you owe it to yourself, your family, your nation, and your God to vote for the person your reason tells you is most likely to govern in a manner that will protect the fundamental associations of a decent, virtuous society and life.
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