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No Hope In The Incoming Emperor

A Catholic reader ponders his vote this November:

Because I am against antinomian voluntaristic modernism – and all the individualism, capitalism, and anti-sacramental outlook that flows from these 500 year old trends – I have zero enthusiasm for Hillary and much passionate criticism. These same criteria commit to to a deep disdain and despair about Trump too. I feel like the election is a forced choice between a polite establishment egoist and a vulgar nouveau riche egoist.

I hate everything about this election. I feel like a peasant in the pre-Constantinian Roman empire, having no hope that the emperor will be Christian, and at best praying that the new emperor won’t be a crazy Nero who appoints a horse to the Senate and sends us to the lions. Thus I will probably vote for Hillary with my nose held, because in the end, I think she’s less likely to void the constitution and impose martial law or start WW3. I think she could do both things – for example, I think her commitment to constituencies which prize the sexual revolution above all else mean she probably has a negotiable commitment to the First Amendment’s religious protection clauses, so I don’t think Trump has the monopoly on a shaky grasp of the rule of law. I think her hawkish foreign policy instincts, coupled with her Kantian naiveté about liberal universalism & Hegelian faith in being on the “right side of history” makes her a potential danger to world peace, so I don’t think Trump has the monopoly on being a threat to global order.

But I will concede that Hillary is likely to do her damage in slower motion, with less mob violence, less sudden crazy lurches, and thus continue at a more manageable pace the status quo of our culture’s political arguments and civic decline. Plus she is likely to continue/extend certain of LBJ’s “Great Society” social safety nets that I think are important, plus she’s almost certainly better for the environment, climate change, and national parks. Plus a thousand non-ideological chores that the president must do to make sure the trains run on time.

All this pragmatic peace is not nothing, as Augustine would appreciate. There are some smart people who reason, “Well, at least with Trump, you might get better Supreme Court justices,” but I find this gamble insufficient weight when measured against all the other near certainties. So I guess she’ll get my vote. Sadly. I plan to fast and pray a lot on election day.

What am I missing?

I don’t know. I agree with all of what this reader writes, except for his reluctant conclusion that he will vote for Hillary in spite of it all. That conclusion makes sense to me, given the premises, but I can’t get there. I mean, I can’t imagine voting for either one at this point.

How about you?

The thing about Trump is that his positions seem to be evolving so quickly that there’s no real way to be sure what he believes and what he doesn’t. It’s not exactly news that Trump has no core convictions except to do what he thinks is best for Trump, but he is making it much harder to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he’s already waffling on the wall, and it’s not even September, his campaign will be a shambles come November. My pro-Trump friends are all standing on the SCOTUS argument, and in the event I was able to bring myself to cast a vote for Trump, it would be on the SCOTUS case. I once thought Trump would be better than Hillary because less hawkish, but now I see him as so thin-skinned that he could start a war without intending to.

Here’s a new inflection point. This past weekend, I spent time in Nashville at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s annual meeting. I’m telling you, the Southern Baptists are leading the entire American church in anticipating and responding to the many mounting threats to religious liberty. I sat in a lengthy private session mostly attended by Southern Baptist academics (professors, college administrators). I can’t quote what was said there, but what startled me was how fast orthodox academic institutions are being marginalized and punished without the involvement of the state. On the LGBT issue, there are all kinds of things happening now that don’t involve state coercion, but that stand to have a devastating impact on dissenting Christian colleges and universities. I’m talking about aggressive cultural change, and the private-sector demonizing of dissent on this issue.

It was a good reminder that while it really does matter who holds political power in this country, it is by no means as decisive as we’d like to think it is. Whether or not Trump or Hillary is elected this November, these cultural trends are not going to abate. A Trump presidency might — might — slow things down, but that’s a big, big risk to take.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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