The Donald, or Not The Donald?
Let us revisit, one final time, what has become the question for those with hesitations about voting for Donald Trump: For whom, then, shall we vote?
The nearer the election comes, the sharper the pressure will be upon those who have assumed the #nevertrump mantle to either flip and endorse Trump or offer our vote to Hillary.
As I plan on doing neither, I thought I would address a few (more) of the reasons why neither deserves our vote, and who conservatives should consider voting for instead. But we will get to him eventually.
Despair, Evangelicals, and 2016
In February of this year, I offered this bullish caution to Republicans pressuring evangelicals to sign up with Trump:
There is no world in which I would vote for Bernie Sanders. But I would consider it before I would ever consider voting for Donald Trump. And Republicans who expect us to fall in line come November should know that among evangelicals who have voted with them in the past, I am not alone.
Oh, if only. That is as quaintly optimistic a sentiment as I have ever written. I mean, look at it: Have you ever seen such a laughably false sentence in your life? The prediction is so wrong that it is almost endearing. (I want it to be, anyway, since it was mine.) We haven’t quite reached the point where I can shout with Elijah, “I alone am left,” but, well, it’s run through my head a few times. Besides Russell Moore and his Merry Band, the list of prominent, public conservative evangelicals uninterested in bowing the knee to The Donald is, alas, short.
Of course, most evangelicals — though by no means all — are unenthusiastic about their options. And that may matter for turnout come November 8. It may be that evangelical support for Donald Trump is far weaker than it might appear. Really! I promise. It could happen! The story on November 9th could be that the constituency which claims the gospel as its leading identifier finally became fed up with Trump’s antics and opted to vote for a third party instead.
Hope, they say, springs eternal. It has made fools of us all this election cycle. Or me, anyway.
This is not an election in which hope has a role. Oh, no. We had our dalliance with the virtue already, and nothing much seems to have changed.
No, for the political atmosphere of evangelicalism and beyond is one of despair. Vote for Hillary and Republic will come to an end, if history doesn’t. (An incredibly intelligent evangelical Trump supporter recently suggested this to me, in almost exactly those words.) It’s a “Flight 93 election,” as the widely-read piece has it. If we don’t act now, all will be lost forever.
I don’t have much of an interest disputing these claims. I think they’re mainly false, but I’m happy to grant them all for the sake of argument. Let us presume that if Hillary Clinton is elected, the American Experiment would be effectively over. Let us simply adopt the strongest position of those supporting Trump, and say that they are right not only in the broad strokes but the particulars: the Supreme Court will be lost forever, abortion will be permanently ratified, the war on religious liberty will end with the total obliteration of any meaningful public space for conservative religious believers to utter their views.
That is the first question we should think on. So? So suppose the End of the Republic comes upon us, and Christians lose all their liberty and Everything Is Terrible. So?
I’m not playing here. Proponents of the cataclysmic possibilities of the 2016 election assume that we should attempt to avoid allowing America to go up in a flaming ball of judgment. But why? I mean, if the story the Religious Right has told us all along is right — if America really has turned its back on God for the past fifty years, if we are finally arriving at the Gomorrah we’ve been slouching toward — shouldn’t they welcome such a judgment? What sweeter vindication could such a maligned and disrespected people have than the final devastation of American political life that they have long predicted?
Let’s pick an analogy that perhaps might fit the moment. Suppose that major financial corporations purchased so much bad housing debt that they went bankrupt. The shock and let-down would be severe — but the alternative, it seems, has been to functionally exonerate their wrongdoings and spare them from the consequences of their foolish behavior. Few Trump supporters, I suspect, applauded this sort of leniency toward major corporations (at least in theory). The principle is simple: when a business goes bankrupt, it should suffer the consequences.
Suppose a country goes bankrupt, though — morally bankrupt. Suppose that there are no virtues left among its people, that self-governance is gone and that the oligarchs have taken its place. What then? A country should be no more exempt from the consequences of its actions than a business, amiright? Making America Great Again should begin by making it accountable again. The debt collectors, they’ve come acallin’. And they ought not be denied.
There’s a real paradox here for the Religious Right, and grasping it might help the baffled outsiders understand how such an overtly pious movement could possibly view the atheist pornographer playboy Donald Trump as an agent of grace for American life. If the story that they have told us about America is true, then she deserves the alleged consequences that they have predicted. She’s bankrupt, and nothing can be done.
But Donald Trump — Donald Trump! — can save us from our the judgment that awaits us, not because he’s Donald Trump, mind you, but because he has the special quality of being Not Hillary Clinton. If you squint really hard and look at him through this lens, he almost begins to appear before you as an Angel of Light, doesn’t he? (What’s that? He doesn’t? Oh.)
Grasp the idea that being Not Hillary Clinton is kind of magical salve which covers up a host of evils, and you will start to see why Conservative Evangelicaldom is almost certainly going to scrunch up their noses and toss their lot in with the Donald.
Which is simply to say: If you live within despair, almost anything becomes permissible.
The most important rule of casinos is that the house always wins. Sure, it may take time. They may go down for a bit. But the house always — always — gets its own in the end.
I should disclose up front that I am not well-studied in the fine arts of lighting money on fire. I have been in a casino three times in my life, and my only experience with scratch tickets involves purchasing them for Easter Egg hunts. Because nothing says Yay Jesus like a little Scratch ‘n Win, right? So, you might want to take what follows as a bit of amateur psychologizing that probably is false, but may be interesting nonetheless.
Let us momentarily divide up the world into three species of gamblers: the Hustlers, the High Rollers, and the Hopefuls. You know the types.
There aren’t many real Hustlers in this world, people who can count cards at a blackjack table and break the inviolable rule of casinos. Oh, sure, everybody thinks they’re a hustler. Everybody is convinced that they are the exception, that they’re going to walk out with more money than they came with. Nobody does, of course, but….was it ‘hope springs eternal’?
High Rollers? They stand in little risk of suffering because they have the capital to replace their losses. Sure, they could invest in junk bonds or penny stocks — but gambling is, for reasons I fail to understand, more exciting and fun for them. None of us are (probably) in this class, either.
And then there are the Hopefuls. This is the saddest type of gambler, and I suspect the one upon which the industry makes the bulk of its money. They may be lower or middle class, they may be young or old, they may have a family or not. They may be desperate for a change or simply living on the dream of one. The one thing that keeps them standing at the slot machine is the rush of hope when they pull the lever down that this time it will be different. This time things are gonna change.
You can see where I’m going with this.
Donald Trump knows the psychology of the Hopefuls better than he knows anything else in this world. I know, that’s not saying much. But he understands it so well that most of the non-real estate business ventures he’s undertaken have played upon it. His interest in casinos is a perfect example— but so is his mastery of reality TV, and Trump University, and so on. He knows we are all looking for an easy way up. We all think that this time it’s gonna go different. We’re finally going to get ours.
But the house always wins.
See, the Hopeful Evangelicals are a classic Trump constituency. They have a desperate need, an urgency for a quick escape from their predicament. There’s no time to do the hard work of working and saving and investing and living within our means: we’re past all that, which means we must Take the Risk of allowing Donald Trump to be President. Trump can smell the desperation, and knows how to exploit it better than anyone else in the world.
I am not even trying to criticize evangelicals here. Despair makes every promise glitter, every new possibility seem like new life itself. I get it, I think. That is simply how the psychology of despair works: prosperity gospel preachers get it too, and use it for their own ends. When we are at the ends of the rope, we behave irrationally, and then make up the rationalizations afterward.
But the house always wins. (If Trump’s casinos didn’t, well, that is a further sign of his incompetency.) Simply put, betting on Donald Trump is a gamble that will never pay off for those who take it.
Let’s think for a moment about voting for Hillary Clinton. I suggested that those who oppose Trump are under pressure to cast their vote for Hillary Clinton, on grounds that Trump represents an obviously worse choice.
Now, as I did above with Trump, I am happy to grant the premise. Donald Trump would doubtlessly be a worse President than Hillary Clinton in many respects. As a conservative, I think a relative stability can be worth preserving, even if it contains many evils. Clinton offers that kind of evenness in foreign affairs, even if her judgment in the past has proved deficient: Trump, shall we say, does not.
But that still isn’t enough to impel me to vote for Hillary Clinton. For one, her position on abortion is simply a non-starter for me. (I assure you I am not trying to be one of those irresponsible “single issue voters”: I’ve worked very hard to make my single-issue voting as sensible as possible.) I take it that as a foundational principle that the United States government should treat every human being with equal respect and regard, and a policy that permits and promotes abortions fails to do that.
An excursus that is, I think, relevant: It is a common trope these days to say that really if you want to vote pro-life, you should vote Democrat. After all, abortions decrease during Democrat Presidencies, and go up during Republican. Set aside the accuracy of this claim for a moment: that line of reasoning accepts a direct causal relationship between the Presidency and the White House that is far too simplistic and convenient to take seriously. We could just as easily attribute such a decline to the economy, advances in medical technology (both ultrasounds and contraceptives), increasing state-level restrictions, expanded efforts by crisis pregnancy centers, etc. And probably the abortion rate has more to do with all of these than any direct policies of the President.
Besides, even if the President and their policies really were the cause, it would doubtlessly take a few years to show the effects, no? If the abortion rate is a lagging indicator, then maybe it goes up in Republican years because it takes a long time for social policies to work their way through the system.
I raise that last point simply to point out that the line of argument needs work before I’m the least bit moved that a pro-life vote must really be for the Democrats. But the chief claim on which the argument rests also doesn’t seem to be true. Guttmacher’s chart is here. The CDC’s is here. Both of them call into question the thesis that Democrat Presidents are somehow more effective at reducing the abortion rate than Republican Presidents.
Which is to say, I am all for a viable pro-life contingent among Democrats. Keep that flame alive, sure. But don’t try to make the argument with data that simply doesn’t support it, especially on behalf of a candidate whose pro-choice commitments are widely known to be deep and pervasive.
You were saying?
But let’s get back to the main thread, though, which is why I won’t vote for Hillary.
It is a cruel feature of this election that we must choose between a degradation that is swift, obvious and painful and that which is silent but still lethal.
Donald Trump is no savior from judgment, against those within the Religious Right who are trying to talk themselves into believing him so. He is its manifestation, its public persona. He is a pure and perfect reflection of our country’s inner life, and will be everything that we deserve. (The house always wins…) He will not keep us from the consequences of our national sins: he is the consequences, and if (only!) the social conservative Right had any Religion left in them, they would see that clearly.
As one person put it to me this cycle, Trump ‘defines deviancy down.’ He lowers the bar and forces anyone who supports him to rationalize behavior they would otherwise never permit. (I’ll donate $100 to anyone who gets every evangelical endorser on the record about The Donald’s appearance in a porn film.) That’s precisely how minds corroded by sin and despair work: they rationalize and excuse. When King David pours out his laments for sin, he suggests he has “become like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are no rebukes.” I know of no more fitting description of the legion of Evangelical Trump Endorsers.
But a Hillary Presidency would be a judgment of another sort. You may think her emails don’t matter because the FBI decided to not indict her. But such a miscarriage of justice represents a deep, corrosive breakdown in the integrity of our government and its credibility with the people it governs. And that breakdown matters more than any of us might ever want to think about.
In one of the more haunting op-eds I have read in recent years, Troy Stenik argued that both Clinton’s emails and the Obama administration’s flouting of the Constitution represents a grave disorder in American life. Writes Stenik:
That’s the organizing precept of this era in American politics: The rules apply until they put those in power at a disadvantage. Because we’ve arrived at this point incrementally, perhaps we’re not conscious of how sweeping the transformation is. So let’s be clear about what’s at stake: This is a wholesale abandonment of the foundational American principle of the rule of law.
There are only two options available here: Either the country returns to a form of government bound by the strictures of the Constitution and its subordinate laws or we give up the ghost and accept the fact that our politics are now entirely about power rather than principle — that we live in a nation where the president, whether his name is Obama or Trump, is limited only by the boundaries of imagination.
There are a lot of ways to describe that form of government. “Constitutional republic” isn’t one of them.
I think Stenik’s diagnosis is right, and Clinton’s email-related indiscretions are but the most obvious manifestation of it.
But the corrosion of the rule of law is one to which any and all Americans should say a firm and resounding “no.” Why should we lower ourselves to accept the pervasive and ongoing degradation of our government by endorsing Hillary Clinton for President? The fact that she is one of two unfortunate options does not commend her to the position.
Which is simply to say that I think that the harbingers of doom in this election might be right: A Hillary Clinton Presidency may very well spell the end of the American Republic as we know it, because it is an order built on the premise of equal justice for all.
So I will see the evangelical despair and raise it: If it is judgment that we will have either way, we should have no illusions about us. Let us take our Babylonian captivity straight, pure and unmitigated, and meet it with gladness and good cheer — and not with a helping hand. The Republic will only begin to be renewed when ordinary citizens, people of good will, begin demanding better than they are being given. A day will come when we are ready for it. But I suspect our country has a blacker night to walk through yet.
On the Varieties of Decadence
I have no doubt that very many reluctant supporters of Hillary Clinton read the previous section in sheer exasperation for my obtuseness. When compared to Donald Trump, surely Hillary Clinton’s email foibles are irrelevant? Surely she is the ‘lesser of two evils’? Isn’t all that business about the ‘rule of law’ and ‘corruption’ irrelevant in the face of the unmitigated evil that is The Donald? Surely!
I have some sympathy for this point of view, I assure such readers. I simply do not agree with it.
As a form of judgment, Trump’s vices and his sins are too many and too obvious to name. His badness is flagrant: He promises a spectacle, which is not what I want in a leader. I have no doubt that Trump would be a horrendously awful President, and that his failings would be of the flamboyant and shameless sort.
Suppose, though, that the above is right, and that Clinton is in fact willing to flout the law for the sake of her own political aims. The degradation of the rule of law that comes from making her President would not be as obvious as a President Trump. No, the effects of a President Clinton would doubtlessly be more subtle and less sudden, but still — I fear — as deadly.
It is not merely that Hillary Clinton offers no cure for what ails us. No, the situation is worse than that: by cloaking behavior that jeopardized American national interests and lives around the globe under the guise of ‘respectability’, Clinton unintentionally would legitimize gross and grave irresponsibility among the highest levels of our civil servants. How, pray tell, can a Republic, a nation of laws, survive that sort of corrosion of its own integrity? What trust would We the People be able to have in our government,? And what happens to a nation when its people no longer have confidence in such a pervasive and central institution?
The consequences of such an erosion of trust will not happen overnight. But they may be far-reaching.
Now that our society’s debts are coming due, it is manifestly clear that Americans do not have the capital to pay them. It is judgment on either side. The question of this election is whether we wish to bail out the failed institution of our government, to try to string along our society in hopes that perhaps things will turn around in four years time, or whether we want to accept the sudden shock of dissolution of cleansing the system. We have shown no stomach for such pains and struggles before; I think it highly unlikely that come November 8th we suddenly will.
On Purity and Third Parties
I have sometimes in this election been accused of disavowing my responsibilities, of simply reveling in my moral purity and thereby attempting to exonerate myself from whatever consequences would come about if Trump is elected (or Clinton, depending on who is making the objection).
I think this objection is not very compelling, and I aim to say why.
But first, it seems to me odd to lament that some people would steadfastly hold on to their ‘purity’ in when everyone else is dirtying their hands voting for either of our Two Deplorable Options. It is not exactly an excess of conscience or of moral integrity that has brought our society to this moment. I understand, I think, why it is tempting to decry those who stand and say “No further” as Pharisees or Purists: misery loves company, and in this case, needs it.
The objection, though, is strongest when aligned with the claim that voting for a third party is vote for Donald Trump precisely because it is not a vote for the only candidate who can possibly beat Donald Trump. I do not think that even the conjunction of the two claims means that anyone is obligated to vote for Hillary Clinton to prevent Donald Trump from winning, even if they live in a swing state.
The question of whether or not the ‘purity’ of not being complicit in voting for either Trump or Clinton is permissible seems to hang on how we identify who is responsible for electing our President. The claim seems to be that when a President is put in office, responsibility for it falls upon (a) those who voted for him directly and (b) those who voted for a third party.
Now, that way of approaching the question conveniently lets a huge group of people off the hook, as it were, namely those who voted for the other major party candidate. That seems intuitive: “Don’t blame me, I voted for the other guy” is a popular sentiment, and not obviously false.
And yet, I wonder whether that way of dividing up ‘responsibility’ within the electorate obscures more than it reveals. For one, the question of who is responsible for electing a President is not necessarily the equivalent of who is responsible for the actions or consequences of that President. Suppose that the President represents in their office and their Presidential actions each and every American. All the citizens act in their acting, we might say. By virtue of that representative relation, each and every citizen might be in some way implicated by their behavior.
On this account, there is no escaping the bad consequences of a subpar President. But neither might there be any escape from complicity in those consequences. Inasmuch as they are our representatives, we are all accountable for their behavior. We have been given the means of recall, after all. On this account, ‘purity’ may simply be an impossibility: every citizen shares equal responsibility for the actions of its government, after those representatives are elected. Of course, this view entails that elected officials are representing not the interests and needs of the enclaves who worked hardest to elect them, but every citizen who resides in their respective geographical area of representation. Remembering that principle, and acting accordingly, may be essential to reestablishing the Presidency and our government to its proper place in American life.
I will happily admit that the above is elusive. I’m trying to capture an intuition that I have that handing out blame and responsibility as is currently popular in voting is, in fact, contrary to the character of the American political order.
But suppose all that is wrong.
At the very least, those who vote for the President seem directly responsible for electing them. The party officials who pave the way for his nomination also seem responsible. But why are those who vote for a third party responsible? Surely they are not always responsible. In an election where one side wins in a landslide, abstention seems as mathematically meaningless as a vote for the losing side. So, voting for a third party does not intrinsically make one responsible for electing a particular person.
Let us suppose, though, that in a close election third party voters are disproportionately responsible for the results because they did not choose either of the two major candidates. Under that scenario, the suggestion that third-party voters simply treasure their ‘purity’ is better framed as an accusation of self-deception: Those who seek purity cannot have it. Those who both blame third-party voters for throwing the election to Donald Trump and decry their commitment to “purity” cannot have it both ways. Either third-party voters are responsible, and so not pure. Or they are not responsible, and so can maintain their moral purity.
Now, voting is a collective action problem. That is, in order to elect a particular person, I have to act in a particular way — and a sufficient number of other people have to act in the same way. The reason that third-parties struggle to catch on in American public life is because when we vote as we do, people will naturally gravitate toward those with the highest chances of success. That keeps third parties irrelevant: their insignificance is a feature, not a bug, of our current political system.
But that means that we can assess the responsibility for a vote from any number of angles. For instance, suppose that in an incredibly tight election one campaign did absolutely nothing to persuade voters alienated from their own party, but simply expected them to sign on because of the badness of the alternative. Suppose that campaign then lost the election, an election that they would have won handily if they had made certain strategic moves. Who is responsible for their loss? The campaign and its staff, at least. And probably any supporters who saw the opportunity and did nothing to pursue it. If there is blame to go around, that is where it should fall.
But let’s just ignore the impossibility of sorting out all the factors in an election cycle that play a role in getting a candidate elected, and simply simply grant that those who vote for the third party do have a small share of the responsibility for the results. In a situation like this, where huge swaths of people — he said, rather optimistically — have serious and deep qualms about both our major party candidates, refusing to vote for either one does not seem to be in principle wrong. If it is wrong, it is so only because of the collective action problem, namely, that the meaning and significance of my vote is contingent upon what everybody else does. It is wrong only on the grounds that one major candidate is in fact a ‘lesser evil’ than the other (a proposition I doubt), and because a sufficient number of fellow citizens voted for them.
But the third party voter who objects to both candidates does so in part because they represent ways of thinking and forms of life that have and will corrupt the very constituencies they aim to represent. That is, the third party voter wants the collective action of the Republic to go in a very different direction, and does everything possible toward that end. If they are responsible for contributing to the election of the winner, they are not culpable or blameworthy for it. The effect of a bad candidate becoming President is indirect, unintentional, and a byproduct of the third party voter’s commitments. The third party voter neither wants it, agrees with it, nor — unlike those who actually vote for that candidate — chooses it. Their opposition to the disease that rots our civic life would not be registered politically, that is, within the spheres of government if they do not vote for a third party. Demanding that each and every citizen vote for our major party candidate means their repudiation of both candidates will have no political representation. Such a demand alienates individuals from their governments, and sows the seeds of resentment toward the institution that are coming to bear in this election.
So, no, I am not worried about being culpable for Donald Trump’s actions if he is elected President and I voted for a third party. Not at all. I will not play in the asinine game of of trying to escape responsibility because he’s “not my President” or because “I voted for the other guy.” Whoever wins will be my President — and if that is Donald Trump, then as an American citizen who spends part of the year abroad, I will bear that with a sense of shame that he is lacking. But in voting for a third party, I will vote for a candidate who can fulfill the duties and preserve the integrity of the office. If Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are elected, there will be responsibility enough to go around that none of us shall lack for it.
Having said that, let me say the one (utterly fanciful) scenario where I would wholeheartedly commend voting for either Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton. If we could coordinate ourselves at the level required to do it, I would wholeheartedly endorse a vote for either major party on the grounds that doing so would keep everybody below 270 electoral college votes.
Achieving that end would be easier if Gary Johnson won New Mexico and Evan McMullin won Utah. And even then, the rest of the map would have to fall out perfectly to avoid it. But if the Religious Right is really praying for a sign of God’s grace toward America in 2016, waking up on November 9th and having an electoral college which would fail to elect a President would be about as good as it gets.
A Vote for the Future
So, what’s to be done?
Were he available on the ballot in Texas, I would vote for Evan McMullin. I would encourage anyone around the country who can vote for him to do likewise.
William Buckley famously and frequently said that he would rather be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston phone book than the 2000 people on Harvard’s faculty. The principle behind supporting Evan McMullin is not identical to this, but it’s not far off either. In this election, I would rather choose a relatively ordinary, previously unknown citizen than either of our major party candidates.
Among other virtues, McMullin seems like a serious and sober fellow who answered a call to serve because nobody else would. That itself is laudatory. It is an insanely difficult thing, running for President, and McMullin had to know well what sort of scrutiny he would be under. You can say that he is simply doing it for the Twitter followers — but his history of service suggests otherwise.
Sure, McMullin doesn’t necessarily line up exactly where I’d hope on policy. Complaining about his responses on marriage in an election that features Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, though, is a bit like grumbling about the seats on a lifeboat. Just be glad you made it on board, man, rather than going down on the Titanic.
And sure, McMullin doesn’t have the executive experience we’ve come to expect from those seeking the Presidency. So? The best thing McMullin could possibly do would be to diminish the power of the executive branch, by refusing to wade into areas (through executive orders) where Presidents have no business being. And the area of the job that the President is particularly responsible for — foreign policy — is that which McMullin knows best.
One final reason, with all due respect to the other aspirational candidates: Evan McMullin has a real and professional campaign apparatus. And that matters, not just now, but through the next election cycles. Here’s the ending of that (excellent) Jonathan Last piece:
McMullin’s campaign actually appears to be about something bigger than the 2016 presidential race. If Trumpism is the future of the Republican party, I asked him, do we need a new party?
His answer surprised me in its certitude. “I believe we do,” he said evenly.
“We’re organizing and building for a movement,” Searby, the campaign strategist, explains. “We already have state chairs in 35 states and they’re helping organize. In places like Wisconsin, we already have 35 county chairmen lined up. In places like Ohio, we already have county chairmen lined up. And Iowa. And Utah. So the kind of things that a traditional party would do, we’ve already been doing those things. And so we’re laying groundwork to have an army of people who want to be a part of whatever comes next.”
The reality is that disaffected conservatives need an institutional home, not simply for this election but for long into the future. Even if those conservatives (like me) currently alienated from the Republican Party eventually make peace, doing so responsibly will be much easier and more effective if there is an ongoing, viable alternative which will constantly threaten to suck away votes. Forcing Republicans into coalitions with conservatives — a phrase I can’t believe I just typed — will require real and serious organization among conservatives. McMullin and his operation provide that, which is why I would be happy to lend him my support.
But as I live in Texas, where I won’t have the pleasure of doing so. And so I will follow through with my plan of voting for the most qualified person I know to run this world: my wife.
A Final Thought
I am firmly committed to the proposition that America’s best days are ahead of her — but until we begin acknowledging the indispensable importance of character for the highest offices in our land, those days will remain a long ways off.
Voting for someone like McMullin is a vote for a future beyond 2016 and even beyond 2020. It is a refusal to resign ourselves to lowered standards for public service, and a repudiation of the despair that currently animates our political lives. Such a vote begins the process of demanding— slowly, surely, but ever more insistently — that our professional political class act with integrity, that they serve, that they restore the trust that the American people once had in their government.
Such an emphasis on character was once the provenance of the Religious Right. That they have abdicated that role is only one of a great number of tragedies in this election cycle.
The deepest problem, though, with the evangelical Trump supporters is not that they are in an apocalyptic frame of mind: It is that they are not apocalyptic enough. Their pessimism about the state of the country and our government animates their support of Trump — but it does so only by conveniently excusing themselves for the role they had in bringing this state of affairs to pass. My own pessimism about the state of the world is far more radical and extensive: I am so down on our political systems that I am already in rebuilding mode. If evangelicals really had the courage of their apocalyptic convictions, they would go all in on a Quixotic effort like McMullin’s, rather than continue to compromise with the Party (and nominee) that clearly disdains them and their values. In this way, a vote for a third party like McMullin takes the form of a political lament: it signals our sorrow and our dismay at the political options and environment before us.
But a vote for a candidate like McMullin is also indication of our hope that the world will not always be as it now is, unlike abstention or retreating from political life in a huff. Such a vote prefigures a world where candidates have the honor, integrity, and conviction to serve responsibly. It reminds our friends and neighbors of what we have lost as a country, of what might have been. Oh, such a vision is idealistic, to be sure. But ideals make us resilient in the face of struggle. They evoke us to become better than we are. There is nothing more practical than an ideal, as Chesterton well understood.
The final word, then, may be one of gladness. The old doctrine of Providence means the nations are kept by the hand of God and ordered toward the goodness which will endure. Such nations may rise, and they may fall. But beneath and behind the rising and falling is a kingdom in which justice, peace, and goodness will reign forever and ever. Those for whom the gospel is more than a means of marketing or of political action have been set free to be irrationally cheerful in the face of decay. They have been set free to care about this world, precisely because they have learned the joy of indifference toward it. Their gladness and their hope resound in the prayers and service they offer on behalf of those around them. They know that responsibility for judgment lies not in their hands, which frees them to carry the sorrows and burdens of those they love.
“O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace.”
Update: Someone pointed out that McMullin is available as a write-in candidate in Texas, which is news that I had missed. As such, I will write his name in. This should be taken as evidence of my imperfectionism: after all, if I really thought everybody should always vote only for the most optimal candidate, I would still vote for my wife.