Who to vote for in November? Neither presidential candidate particularly appeals to me. In the past, I’ve been tempted to ignore the presidential race altogether, and focus instead on local elections this fall. Indeed, I still think that’s where my focus should be: there is a lot of work that can and should be done to revitalize our politics at the state and local level.
But if a good argument for either Clinton or Trump is out there, I want to consider it. Thus far, many of the most common arguments I’ve seen for Trump have seemed rather lackluster and unconvincing. I share the top two below, with a third that I take more seriously. If you feel you can trump any of the three (ha), feel free to share in the comments below.
1. “Yeah, Donald Trump has issues—but so does Hillary Clinton.”
When I posted a piece by Michael Brendan Dougherty on Tuesday that pointed out the many concerns voters should have with Donald Trump’s character, my Twitter followers responded en masse with, “Yes—but look at Hillary!” I understand their concerns, but the flaws of the one do not excuse or negate the vices of the other. Or as Dougherty put it, Trump’s character is not the “differentiating factor”—but it is, or at least could be, the “disqualifying factor.”
You are entitled to say, “I find Clinton more offensive. Her email scandal frightens me more than anything Trump’s done. So I’m voting for Trump.” But someone else could easily point to a myriad of controversial or offensive actions and statements by Trump, and say that—because of these things—they’re voting for Clinton. And I can’t blame them.
For me, this vote comes down to some extremely difficult questions:
– Am I willing to overlook the blatant pro-choice past of both Clinton and Trump, in voting for one or the other?
– Do racist, misogynist remarks and past actions on Trump’s part have any bearing on his qualifications for the highest political office in the land? Is he the sort of person I want to be the diplomatic and domestic leader of our country?
– Do the alarming privacy and security stumbles of Clinton have any bearing on her qualifications for the highest political office in the land? Is she the sort of person I want in charge of our national security and military?
At least at this point, my answer is leaning toward “NO” in both cases. Which leads me to the next, all-too-common, argument spilling forth from the Internet…
2. “You have to pick your poison: Trump or Clinton.”
You have to vote for one or the other—to do otherwise is to “throw away” your vote, to automatically cast it for Clinton/Trump (whichever is, in your mind, the worst).
This idea that a presidential debate boils down to a “lesser of two evils” decision makes sense if you adhere to the pilot theory of presidential politics. In sum: there’s going to be a pilot flying the U.S. plane for the next four years, it’s just a question of which you’re going to choose. If you don’t choose one of the two pilots offered, one of them is still going to fly the plane. So why not just pick one?
But what if the vote I cast now matters less for the here and now, and more for a candidate four or eight years down the road?
As David McPherson argued in his piece for First Things about the American Solidarity party, it could be that—instead of “throwing away” our vote—we can be part of a reconfiguration of American party politics, making it loudly and abundantly clear that we refuse to ally ourselves with parties that refuse to look out for our interests or concerns. We can be a vocal minority with a mind to change the current political quagmire—looking to the future, as well as to the present. “If we are to work fully toward the kind of politics we need, we must first break from the political status quo,” McPherson writes.
It could be that, while we do not achieve what we would like in this election cycle, we could help push for more palatable and trustworthy politicians in 2020, 2024, or 2028. And that would be something worth voting for.
But there’s one argument for Trump that makes me question all that.
3. “It’s the Supreme Court, stupid.”
That’s the actual headline of a piece in the Washington Examiner by Hugh Hewitt. He writes,
If Hillary Clinton wins, the Left gavels in a solid, lasting, almost certainly permanent majority on the Supreme Court. Every political issue has a theoretical path to SCOTUS, and only self-imposed judicial restraint has checked the Court’s appetite and reach for two centuries.
That restraint will be gone when HRC’s first appointee is sworn in. Finished.
This is not hyperbole. I have the advantage of having taught Con Law for 20 years, of having argued before very liberal appellate judges like Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the very liberal Ninth Circuit, of practicing with the best litigators in the land, and I know what a very liberal SCOTUS means: conservatism is done. It cannot survive a strong-willed liberal majority on the Supreme Court. Every issue, EVERY issue, will end up there, and the legislatures’ judgments will matter not a bit.
It’s actually one of the better arguments for Donald Trump, in my opinion—though as Matthew Lee Anderson argues at Mere Orthodoxy, there’s no guarantee that Trump would pick a Supreme Court nominee who would make any substantive difference for conservatives. This month, Trump has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t intend to passively kowtow to the GOP. What makes us think that he will adhere to their recommendations for a Supreme Court nominee, or take into account the wishes of pro-life voters who he has historically ignored or even sided against?
The argument that a Supreme Court nominee matters more than anything else, because it’s a lifetime appointment, does make sense. And it’s true that with Trump, there’s a chance that appointment would be more favorable to conservatives than anything Hillary would come up with. So I need to decide whether that one decision is more important than any other questionable decision—on national security, on domestic or foreign affairs—that could be made by a President Trump over the next four years. And that’s a tough gamble to make.
I don’t believe—can’t believe—that voting is merely a matter of picking your poison. That we are required to vote against our conscience.
“Why is a vote for your ticket not a wasted vote?” one person asked Gary Johnson during CNN’s Libertarian Town Hall last night.
“A wasted vote is a vote for someone you don’t believe in,” Johnson responded. “If we’re going to continue to vote for a lesser of two evils, that’s still evil.”