Tuesday, February 23, 2016

I Will Never Vote For Trump Under Any Circumstance

The following political opinions are mine alone. They are not necessarily those of my parishes, school, diocese, or the Church as a whole.

In the spring of 2011 I was teaching Church History to sophomores in Wahoo, Nebraska. I was trying to help my students visualize the end of the Roman Empire: what it looks like when the world's most influential central power devolves into many little states and the pace of life slows to a trot. I wrote a ten page story from the point of view of one of my students looking back from 2050, reimagining the events of 4th-6th century Rome happening in America over some forty years. In a moment of near prescience I wrote:

Politics was getting nastier. After the 2008 Obama victory, a grass-roots, uncompromising bloc emerged within the Republican Party called the “Tea Party”. Four years later, a grass-roots, uncompromising bloc developed within the Democrats: the “New American Party”. The country seemed radicalized. The 2016 election, the first one I got to vote in, nearly divided the country permanently. There were mutual accusations of horrible misconduct; there was mudslinging, voter fraud, and intimidation. As we waited to see if a clear, fair winner could be determined, Texas talked seriously of seceding from the union…again.
Texas stayed in when the election went basically “their way”. The fact that we got pulled into the great Middle Eastern war the next year continued to polarize Americans.

Had I possessed actual foreknowledge, the only differences would be the name of the 2016 grass roots movement within the Democratic Party and a prediction that the Republicans would have three competing subgroups: the establishment GOP, the Tea Party, and whatever we call the movement built entirely around Donald J. Trump's candidacy. Hopefully the rest of these paragraphs never comes true.

What is mind-boggling then is that even as I dreamed up an American apocalypse I still couldn't come up with anything as fantastical as reality in this election cycle. Who, even in fiction, would predict the morass we have right now? The Democrats are split into Progressive and More Progressive wings, while the Republicans, who have long been locked in debates of principle versus electability, are about to be overwhelmed by a candidate who has rejected the best tenets of conservatism while imbibing the worst ideas of modern liberalism. I can see now little of the future, but I do know that I will not vote for Donald Trump under any circumstance, no matter what else that means for this country.

Before you assume that I reject Trump out of a mere dislike for his personality or that I am a "principle over pragmatism" zealot, let me share a few things. As a ninth-grader in 1993 I asked for and received Rush Limbaugh's "See I Told You So" for Christmas. In 2014 I voted for a local Democrat for the first, and so far only, time in my life. In 2004 I transferred residency to Pennsylvania where I was in grad school in order to vote against Arlen Specter in the primary (despite endorsements by Rick Santorum and George W. Bush) because he was pro-choice, but then voted for him in the general, as Cardinal Ratzinger had put it, due to "the presence of proportionate reasons."

Since my childhood I was always drawn to the Republican party. Their defense of life in the womb, their encouragement of enterprise and the free market, their defense of marriage and family, and their appreciation of subsidiarity in government all made me a staunch ally. As I aged I began to appreciate certain ideals in the Democrats too: justice for laborers, concern for the forgotten, reasonable immigration reform. In recent years many tenets of the Libertarian movement have also impressed me: a passion for civil liberties, a less invasive State, and a smaller, humbler foreign policy footprint. With very few exceptions, Mr. Trump has explicitly rejected all the things I love and value. He shares Sanders' and Clinton's contemptible positions on abortion, punitive taxes, and government interference, but he has also bedecked himself with the worst bits of Republican reactionism: nativist attacks against Latinos and Muslims, contempt for women as leaders and thinkers, and promises to "bring back a hell of a lot worse than water boarding."

It is odd that many who back Trump also jeer that in 2008 President Obama ran on empty slogans of "hope and change", on his charismatic personality and rousing rhetoric, and on promises that as an outsider he could turn around the failed policies of previous years. This is almost exclusively what Trump too is running on, and the little that is more substantive than this is, as stated above, rather terrible. Many Republicans howled "Monarch! Dictator!" whenever Obama made an executive order. Do they really think that a swaggering megalomaniac like Trump will issue less executive orders? 

I will not vote for this man. Some Conservatives say, "I know he lacks a lot of our principles, but if not Trump we will get Hillary or Bernie. Imagine the Supreme Court justices they will appoint." To which I reply, "Imagine the justices Trump will pick! If we are lucky they would just be hectoring egoists who change positions with the seasons like Trump himself. If we are unlucky they would be committed practitioners of the worst twistings of justice, like his own sister, Maryanne Trump Barry." 

This is not Ralph Nader fans settling for Gore in 2000 in order to stop Bush, or Buchanan backers choosing Bush just to beat Gore. It is one thing to hold your nose and vote for an imperfect member of your own party who has a chance of winning in order to block the opposition; it is another thing to think you must choose between two people with near-identical views: the first one honestly dressed and the other masquerading as the first's opponent—with some extra nationalism and disregard for civil liberties sprinkled on top. I disagree with Alasdair MacIntyre's 2004 assessment that there can be a duty to not vote when presented "two politically intolerable alternatives"; I choose to spend my vote on a minor party. But if MacIntyre can say this when faced with Bush/Kerry, how much more would he say it of Trump/Clinton or Trump/Sanders? MacIntyre helps us realize that a protest vote is not wasting your vote if it can truly be registered as a protest. 

Critics of Trump have compared some of his positions and style of rhetoric to historic figures like Henry Ford, Adolf Hitler, or a dozen deeply flawed US presidents. But one does not have go "full Godwin's Law" to realize that people in any nation can be lead into dangerous ideas and destructive practices. We must constantly remind ourselves that it was God-fearing, church-going, Bible-believing Christians who whipped their fellow men half to death for two hundred years in America. It was France, the "eldest daughter of the Church" that guillotined her own priests and nuns and her "most Christian king". Germany was the most educated and cultured nation on the planet in the 1930s. No people is immune from talking itself into evil.

Finally, I must give an answer to the question, "Should a Catholic priest be giving an opinion on politics?" Yes, and here's why. First, I may be a priest but I am a private citizen as well. I get a vote, and I do not tell people whom to vote for, either from the pulpit or here. I have merely said what I will and will not do. Second, some things of the political world cross over into the moral world. I am not about to preach on tax policy or the TPP, but like priests, bishops, and popes in generations past, good Christians and their pastors have a duty to raises their voices in the face of moral evils. Trump's incendiary rhetoric about women, migrants, Muslims, and torture is reprehensible and his permissive attitude on abortion is worse. I would rather be imagined a loudmouth now than find myself and others looking around eight years later asking, "How the heck did we get here?" Edmund Burke, in his surprisingly early critiques of the French Revolution in the fall of 1789, showed us that ideas have consequences and that you can denounce bad ideas even before they have fully blossomed into their worst consequences. I do not know what Trump would actually do in office (he is too much of a chameleon to tell) but the ideas he has advocated are warning enough for me. I will not vote for him in the primary or general election.