My heart weighs heavy as the soap opera of this election year draws nearer to its dramatic conclusion. I have decided perhaps against better judgment to add my own thoughts to the already vast cacophony of polemical voices and moralizing zealots. I have little to add in terms of particular analysis of the candidates and the prophetic work of determining the specifics of the long awaited apocalypse. What seems clear to me is that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is a moral person. Their vices are different in their various manifestations, but ultimately they flow from the same sources of power hunger and egotistical domination. In terms of policy, even at its most promising, Trump’s policies and statements are often imprecise, mutable, ambitious, and sometimes outright immoral. Of course, Clinton’s policies will follow the populist calls and financial contributions of the Left to whatever soft despotism those voices may lead.
In the sheer weighing of evils between a Hillary or a Trump presidency, it largely depends on how we have been conditioned to view the chief evil which assaults our society. On one hand, Trump has magnificently managed to justify all the worst fears and bogeymen presented by the Left, concerned with the ever alarming racism, misogyny, and myriad forms of class warfare and privilege tearing apart communities. His own erraticism and impetuous history has rightfully instilled strong reservations in a number of conservative thinkers, not to mention outright disgust. Liberals and conservatives have been wise to point to the possible disasters of foreign policy awaiting such a ham-fisted and chaotic leader, a field where negative perception and thoughtless verbiage may yield grave consequence. On the other hand, Hillary represents the epitome of “big government” in the form of the “benevolent” tyranny of which De Tocqueville warns. Her infamous political machine has managed to keep her career afloat despite an insipid persona and a remarkable number of scandals, many of which include losses of lives, shady financial dealings, and blatant criminality and apathy towards the law. Especially following eight years of Obama and with the availability of a politicized Supreme Court, her presidency has the potential to end any future hopes for a conservative vision of the good in a more permanent sense, to include the furthering of the abortion regime, the dilution of the family, weakness in foreign policy, and expanding the bubble that is our economy (not that Trump would probably do much better in this regard).
Reading both sides of the news media, I do believe the cases against both candidates tends to be overstated by their opposition, which should be of little surprise. Notably, many of the media’s zealous psychological cases and “in-depth” analyses posed against Trump are laughable in spite of their intellectual masking, though it doesn’t by any means exonerate him of the very real character flaws he does possess. The virtue of genuine self-reflection is sometimes enough to dissuade oneself from granting too much weight to a spurious article with implicit assumptions likely even hidden to the author. Unfortunately, in an age where our social media only stokes our tendency to read opinions and thinking that agree with our own, we are all in some way enslaved to the whims of media and the social bubbles in which we surround ourselves. In my opinion, Hillary, who will obviously pander to Leftist impulses, is on the side of our country’s future. Naturally, as a conservative, I consider this a tragic reality. Simply, she will prostrate herself before the growing zeitgeist of identity politics and progress at the cost of any touchstone of timeless principle, utilizing a well-oiled political machine to achieve her goals by whatever means are convenient. Meanwhile, Trump would likely have to fight an uphill battle through the vast bureaucracy and antagonism of Washington despite (or because of) his “industrious” and overbearingly managerial tendencies. In this sense, she represents the more potent of the two evils to my mind.
However, despite the higher potential evil of a Clinton presidency in the imminent future, the conservative (not established Republican) “Never Trump” camp correctly senses a possible evil more insidious and invasive. By voting for Trump, we grant our final affirmation to the vision of the Left. In short, we promote evil to halt evil, but in so doing, we lose our own soul, not only as a party, but as a community of thinkers and perpetuators of the good. Conservatism, agree with it or not, has a level of moral and intellectual depth to which many of its supporters and detractors have not been fairly introduced, to include the minds of Smith, Burke, and de Tocqueville to Roepke, Voeglin, Kirk, and Scruton. It relies on such values as community, conservation, tradition, prudence, humility, and beauty, and it is anything but anti-intellectual though avidly non-ideological. However, conservatism as it is popularly conceived has failed on at least two fronts: 1) It has implicitly accepted Leftist premises in regard to the metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions preceding our political and ethical positions (for example, assuming the atomistic individual and “the good” as the expansion of Mammon), and 2) It has preferred to utilize tribal passion and flagrant antagonism to the Left-dominated culture instead of a positive call to beauty, unconditional love, and intellectual precision. Trump consistently reveals himself to be the antithesis of all the transcendent values to which the conservative movement so desperately needs to cling if it is ever to recapture the heart of the culture. In the wake of Donald Trump, the title of “conservative” will be (already is) marred by the very sexism, racism, privilege, and anti-intellectualism that the Left has always wished with which to caricature the Right. The fear is that in electing Trump as our leader, any future hope of leading the party to a higher path is dissipated. Trump’s own character is less significant than that of its national perception in this perspective, not to mention the character of the “Alt-Right” camp which he has prodded into being, where actual white supremacists openly find solace and a voice. So many have projected their vague and conflicting hopes (as well as worst fears) onto the man, it is nearly impossible to tell who he really is. Arguably, he does not know himself.
Even if Trump fails to win the election (and he likely will fail), one must ask to what level are we willing to sink as long as a greater evil exists on the other side of the ballot. I believe this question should be contemplated by the Liberal thinker as well, as they too are experiencing fierce divisions and hopelessness in their own camp among the more insightful. The short-lived eruption of Gary Johnson and the third party candidates have been spurred by many of my generation, young idealists who properly recognize the ineptness of a democracy in which two political parties wish to own our votes via fear-baiting as opposed to offering a deep, competent, and positive vision. Nevertheless, for the conservative in the vein of thought to which I have alluded, Johnson offers little apart from a different last name than the other two candidates, and while we may console our conscience with a third party vote, we must yet learn to live with the inevitable madness we have been handed. I am deeply tempted to follow Alasdair MacIntyre with a non-vote, a rejection of the system in its entirety. When do we consider the vote to be little more than a personal consolation? Does the privilege to vote truly exist if it inevitably plays into the hands of ideologues so far removed from the people they represent, that we can hardly know the truth of their actions let alone the truth of their persons? Of course, we sense this as we desperately claw through whatever scraps of information fall from the master’s table, attempting to rectify these supposed “facts” with a “common” sense that has been uncommonly shaped by the lusts and luxuries of a decaying culture. At the same time we have seen a growing abundance of fact checkers, it seems to me the definition of “fact” has grown abundantly more malleable. Forgive my grimness. However, these very impulses led the culturally marginalized and less educated white working class to find their rebellious cry in Donald Trump, as well as the disillusioned millennial intellectuals to put hope in a resurrected socialist vision in the person of Bernie Sanders. History can reveal that similar cravings and ideas clouded 20th century Europe not a century ago, though the comparison is imperfect. Never before has that old Chesterton quip felt so prescient: “It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged today.”
Underlying all the hysteria sits the need to influence that one sacred act, your vote, the sacrament that connects you to the transcendence of democracy and the city-state. Even the pragmatic significance and moral underpinnings of voting itself have come under fierce fire in recent months. Probably these attacks serve as a means to assuage ourselves of the existential guilt that conflicts any voter accustomed to applying Kant’s categorical imperative to induce the highest ethical sense of duty in the act of voting. This may be for the better, as we should not instill the state in any of its procedural forms with such ultimate and transcendent ethical value. The whole scenario I find reminiscent of an increasingly complex version of the trolley problem, that classic scenario of deciding whether to sacrifice the one for the many. Or perhaps the French Revolution. Do we side with the absolutist monarchs or the madness of the Paris mob? Is inaction, in fact, action? Is a “non-vote” in fact a “vote,” if you will, for one side or the other? One popular notion I would combat is that a non-vote disarms the potential voter from the right to complain about current circumstances. I think quite the opposite. The non-vote is the pinnacle of complaint. It is they who have the most right to complain that in a society founded on the belief that a government should be responsible to its people, that no leader can even remotely represent their voice or persuade their conscience. This is not a failure of the voter, but rather a failure of leadership and the culture that has produced it. It is they who already live in the birth pangs of the benevolent tyranny.
Honestly, I do not have any grand answers for whom to cast your vote. I am self-admittedly far from the most informed voter, as are the majority of us. But apart from my bemused hopelessness, I do have something of a hope in it all. We often speak of the “lesser of two evils” when referring to this election, but rarely do we consider the nature of evil itself, especially from a secular perspective. In the classical Christian view, evil can be viewed not as an absence of good, or even something inherently not good, but rather as a corruption of that which is good. In other words, evil is good misdirected. In all these directions to which we find ourselves desperately seeking the best of all possible worlds and perpetually battling both seductive delusion and absolute cynicism, we must not forget the incredible humanness of it all. There is good as well as evil in all of us, no matter our vote, and it must always be our intent to seek and tend to the goodness in ourselves and others. This cannot be accomplished if we see our political opponents as mortal enemies instead of human souls. Even for those so clearly (to our minds) voting for inanity, immorality, certain doom, etc., we must not lose sight of those redeemable aspects in others as well as our own incapacities. We must not define ourselves and others according to a vote. Indeed, it would be to negate ourselves, as if the entirety of one’s identity was equated to the leadership of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, depending on this most temporary action performed in a voting booth. This is simply untrue, and we should stop pretending otherwise.
Finally, we cannot disconnect Trump or Clinton entirely from ourselves either. They are in fact a reflection of our culture; indeed, a reflection of me. Nor can we dismiss those who vote for Trump, or a third party—or a vote for no one, or even…yes, a vote for Mrs. Clinton. Trump’s base has an inexplicable intuition that they are not only losing a culture, but any place to call home. Apparently, they feel all the more like unwitting refugees in their own home towns, longing for recognition and receiving only empty platitudes. Surely there’s a goodness in loving one’s culture and one’s home, with all its certain faults. Clinton’s base rightly points to the lack of reflection we have in how we treat those different from ourselves from whatever race or background, and we too should be humble to this truth in our own lives, even as we resist its implicit ontological reductionism. Must a love of home and a love of other be interminably at odds? The non-voters and the third partiers stand most strongly on principles. Perhaps they do throw away their votes, but they become democratic martyrs. It is their conscience that we must rely on to hold the major parties in check. We need the Never Trumpers to hold a Trump presidency in check without falling entirely to the group think of liberal media. I would hope the disillusioned Sanders supporters can provide ongoing criticism of a Hillary presidency, ensuring she never holds a complete domination of her own party. In their foresight, our vote may matter far more for us personally and for an example to our posterity than for any immediate impact it may have on the nation. And how can we judge so harshly between the ethics of utilitarian or principled voting in the face of what we must eventually admit is an unknowable future? We are all flawed human beings trying to do the best we can for the land in which we live. From a historical outlook, we would hardly be the first people to suffer in the midst of an empowered madness, and it seems no matter who wins this election, suffering and disappointment in some form will come to us. Can we suffer well? In whatever lunacy awaits our country’s future, it must be our goal not to find ourselves among the ranks of the insane, but to retain the fact that even the people in those ranks remain our brothers and sisters, and that we are not automatically secured from that same potentiality. As a nation, any hopes we have of depolarizing and taming our political leaders must begin with depolarizing and taming ourselves.