I had an old friend pull me aside recently and ask me what I was going to do in regard to the presidential election. In other words, was I going to vote for Donald Trump? A number of people have asked me this question. And when I tell them I am not going to vote for him, they want to know why.
First, if, before this election, we were to describe to a religious conservative a generic candidate with all the qualities of Trump--one who is knee deep in celebrity culture, who has been married multiple times, who jokes privately about groping women, who has had almost as many women accusing him of sexually predatory behavior as Bill Clinton, who until very recently has been on the extreme liberal end on social issues, who has no expertise in foreign policy, who despite running a real estate empire clearly doesn't understand basic economic issues, and who (as his ghostwriter for Art of the Deal told the New Yorker) doesn't appear to have read a book in years because of his short attention span--what would they have said?
And then there is his fundamental dishonesty. Go ahead and believe those women now accusing him of sexually harassing them are really lying--just don't ask yourself why you don't believe them but do believe Clinton's accusers.
And do you really believe that the Bible is his "favorite book"? How many times do you think he has read it? How many times do you think a person needs to read it in order to know that you actually do have to ask God for forgiveness?
I can't imagine that the vast majority of the religious conservatives now supporting him wouldn't have said that they would never, ever, support such a candidate.
I do not believe all the nonsense produced by Trump detractors about the dangers of Trump's finger being near the nuclear button. Starting a nuclear war is actually very complicated. It requires that the person starting it have a long attention span.
Trump is not a devil, he is something which in the political world is far worse: He is a buffoon. He has little ability to punish his enemies, he is competent only to embarrass his friends. And embarrass them he has--and will.
If conservatives think (as most of them do) that the Republican brand was ruined by George W. Bush, just wait until they see what Trump does to it. I think most of them are sincere in thinking that Trump will help with issues like Supreme Court appointments (the only truly compelling argument for voting for him), but I think they simply have not thought this through.
What we have is two candidates who will spend four years embarrassing the people who voted for them. So the question is, do we want liberal Democrats to be embarrassed by Hillary or do we want to be embarrassed by Trump? I guarantee that the conservatives now supporting Trump will all--to a man--one day regret their decision to support Trump--if he wins.
But there is something more important here than our own embarrassment. Conservatives willing to lower their standards to a level that would allow them to vote for Trump are sacrificing the long term to the short term, since along with this embarrassment will likely come a subsequent time in the political wilderness. Neither one of these candidates, given their considerable baggage, is likely to be an effective leader, and consequently will have a hard time being elected to a second term. Because of her legal problems, Hillary may not even make it that far. In either case the winning party now will be the party likely losing in the next midterm congressional elections and losing the next presidential race.
I can think of several Republicans who, had they been nominated, would have destroyed Hillary in this year's election. And I can think of a couple of Democratic politicians who could have beat Trump more easily than Hillary. Whichever candidate gets elected this year will not have been elected because so many people like them: They will be elected because they are hated less than the alternative. This is not a recipe for a successful administration.
With two candidates with such high negatives in the polls, we know one thing: Whoever gets elected will not be popular. If we're going to elect an unpopular president, let it be a liberal Democrat. That way, they pay the cost, not us.
I had a state senator call me a while back to ask my advice on how he should vote on a particular bill (a not very good one). He was beset by all the standard utilitarian arguments for doing so--in other words, all the short term benefits to voting for a bill--from his fellow legislators. I told him that he should ask himself one question: "Five, ten, fifteen years from now, when you look back on what you did, will you be happy you did it." There was a long silence on the other end of the line. The next day he messaged me, and said, "Thank you for talking with me yesterday. I've decided not to vote for the bill."
Let's dispense with the big numbers. In just two years, will we as conservatives be happy we voted for Trump?
Forget all the campaign rhetoric. Wake up from your "Make America great again" trance. Just think for a moment about the utterly juvenile words that come out of the unscripted mouth of Donald Trump. Think about having to own every crass expression emanating from the Oval Office. Consider how you will feel every time a headline appears about some 3 a.m. tweet--not about foreign policy or health care or economics--but about Rosie O'Donnell's looks or something even more trite.
Remember: The handlers now telling him to stay on script will be gone. The restraints preventing him from adolescent crudities will have disappeared. You'll get Trump truly unplugged. And it's not a pretty sight.
The Don Lemons and the Rachal Maddows and Chris Matthews and Stephen Coberts and John Olivers will have a field day every day. And you will have to own it again, and again, and again. After all, you, as a Trump voter, will have provided them their material.
If you want to remind yourself what an unscripted Donald looks like, just go back (if you can stomach it) and listen to Trump's appearances on the Howard Stern show. If you haven't had the misfortune of listening to Stern, then just know that he is the King of Crass--a lower radio life-form who is everything wrong with our culture. When you hear him and Trump commiserating, you will realize very quickly that they are the same kind of people.
Would you vote for Howard Stern for president? If not, then list your reasons why not and ask yourself why you are not applying these to Trump. And, if not, what it says about how much of your judgment you are willing to sacrifice to vote for the man.
Either Trump comes through on his promises to conservatives or he doesn't. If he doesn't then he will have betrayed them. If he does, then those positions will be forever identified with Trump, and will suffer the same ultimate infamy.
Allying yourself with the wrong friends can be more dangerous than fighting the right enemies.
Now the argument on the other side is that, if Hillary gets elected, things will be worse. She's pro-abortion, pro-gay rights, pro everything we're against. But the argument that uses this as an excuse to support a candidate we would not otherwise support is the worst kind of moral reasoning. It is consequentialism, a secular form of moral reasoning that a Christian should be very wary of--if not outright repulsed by (See Catherine Nolan's excellent article on this here)
I am a Catholic, but even Protestants should question the idea that the right action is the one that produces the greatest good for the greatest number. It's no accident that that kind of reasoning was most famously championed by a thoroughly secular thinker: John Stuart Mill. The right action is not the one with the best consequences. It is the one that best perfects our nature as beings created in the image of God. Rules and consequences are fine such as they are and should be taken into account, but they are secondary to simply doing the right thing.
If we are faced with the decision of whether to do the right thing even if it might (we can never know) lead to bad consequences, or doing the wrong thing because it might lead to the right consequences (we can't know than any better), which should we choose? And the answer is that the consequences are not in our hands. They are in God's hands. They are His responsibility, not ours.
The reasoning now being used by conservative supporters of Trump--that the consequences of electing Trump, as unacceptable as he is--are better than the consequences of electing Hillary--is the worst kind of consequentialism. And it is the same kind of consequentialist argument that I seem to be faced with every Republican primary season: Vote for the moderate because he is the most electable candidate. In other words, the consequences for voting for the candidate who I would never otherwise vote for is better than the consequences of voting for the person I really should vote for because the right candidate can never be elected. Votes are taken away from good candidates because of this time and time again.
If everyone simply voted for the candidate who agreed with them most and would make a good occupant of whatever office he was running for, we would all be better off. This is the irony: that consequentialist reasoning like this leads to poorer consequences! Doing the thing that we think will lead to the greatest good for the greatest number does not lead to the greatest good for the greatest number. But instead we give in to every consequentialist political serpent who tempts us.
Will the consequences of a Clinton presidency be bad? Of course they will. But that's on the head of those who vote for her. But that doesn't change the fact that the consequences of a Trump presidency will be on the heads of those who vote for him.
But what about the Supreme Court?
I would love to believe that if we elected Trump, we could turn the Court. The problem is, even if he did nominate good people, they would never make it even through a Republican Senate. Go look at how supposedly conservative Republicans have voted on judicial nominees. Go look at all the Republicans who voted for Stephen Breyer's nomination. Look what happened when Robert Bork got shot down. When the going gets tough, Republican senators run for the hills.
The Court is gone. We lost the fight. Now we have a rogue Court and the only way to deal with it is to repudiate it. It is violating the Constitution. It has unconstitutionally claimed the unilateral right to rewrite the Constitution and is violating the separation of powers by legislating instead of interpreting. It has done this on abortion and on same-sex marriage. It will soon do the same thing on a host of gender issues. The only way to deal with it is for the leader of the executive branch to openly defy it. He would have every right to do so. He swore an oath to the Constitution too, and if he sees that the Court is violating it, he has, not only a right, but an obligation to do something about it. Its rulings should be ignored by conservative executives until it starts interpreting the Constitution again rather than rewriting it.
Of course, Trump will not do this. He doesn't know enough to be able to even contemplate the idea. It is open to question whether he has the power to contemplate anything. That is another thing that someone with a short attention span can't do.
And one more thing.
Remember when conservatives used to say that "character matters"? We said that when Bill Clinton was found to have been preying on anything in a skirt. But now we have conservatives saying almost exactly the opposite now that it is clear that Trump has done pretty much the same thing (believe his denials of the multitude of charges from women if you want. No one can can stop you from inconsistency).
It's just one more principle social conservatives who are supporting Trump have been willing to abandon in order to justify voting for the man. How many of our principles are we willing to sacrifice to a man who does not deserve such a sacrifice?
I have plenty of friends who are willing to do this. But I'm not. For what it's worth, I'm voting for the candidate I voted for in the primary: Carly Fiorina. It's the right thing to do.