Monday, November 7, 2016

No Easy Choices

I have a stellar record at choosing presidential elections. With two exceptions (Clinton in 1992 and 1996), I have voted for the LOSING candidate in every election since 1988.  Prior to that, when my political views closely resembled my parents' (as might be expected), the only bright spot was Carter's election in 1976.  You will note, therefore, that somewhere in the past two decades a political shift occurred on my part.  That's a blog post for another time.

So with that losing streak in mind, here is my endorsement for the 2016 presidency:

at least not Trump

That's about the best I can do.

Given the realities of American politics, not voting for Trump will have the effect--not the only one, but a significant one nonetheless--of supporting Hillary Clinton.  That is an unfortunate, but in this case unavoidable, reality.  Secretary Clinton's record contains several aspects which make it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to recommend supporting her candidacy.  With any other candidate running against her it would be easy to recommend that other candidate.

That is not the election we face. The one we do face offers only poor and poorer choices.

So, cue the humor:
The Sweet Meteor of Death!
Sweet Meteor of Death 2016

Source: Imgur

There's a pretty funny Twitter feed for SMOD2016 here.  

Or...H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu!

Cthulhu for America
Source: Cthulhu4America (Twitter)

Or even:


Source:  Imgur





To be clear, the reasons why folks support either Trump or Clinton make some sense.  Some Americans, fearing an apparently unstoppable wave of social and economic change, take comfort in Trump's blustery--but still undefined--promise to "make America great again."  I know that thinking;  it's what motivated my friends' families during the Reagan Eighties.  Furthermore, some friends have decided, given Clinton's unwavering support for the most expansive support for abortion, that Trump is the only legitimate choice.  I understand that line of argument, but disagree with the action concluded therefrom.  

Clinton, too, has her supporters for clear reasons.  After eight years of Obama, the nation's first black president, American women of all backgrounds want their shot at the title and Clinton is their woman.  It's not feminism; it's just common sense. Why can't a woman serve as President?  Furthermore, it is clear that Trump's own words have destroyed any chance to claim many women voters. More importantly, though, Clinton offers clear support to a specific social-economic-political agenda that serves the wants and needs of a specific subset of those women.  Still, it needs to be said:  Clinton does not intend, nor does she claim to, support all American women.  If she did, then the consistent support for unfettered access to abortion would be muted significantly.  Furthermore, Clinton advocates expanding the Obama administration's yen for immigration freedom and expansive government social programs--the very things that frighten Trump supporters.

Meanwhile it should be clear--if it never was before--that the Catholic Church's Gospel of Life stands firmly athwart both candidates.  Clinton fails miserably on abortion and the railroading features regarding religious freedom of the Affordable Care Act.  Anybody who votes for Clinton must acknowledge this. 

Trump fails on others like basic human decency, rule of law, an awareness that the President cannot and should not act as a unfettered CEO, and the dignity of life (killing the families of suspected terrorists?). The Neo-Neocon says thusly:
You might say it all doesn’t matter because Trump’s running against Hillary now, and Hillary is so terrible herself. Maybe you’re correct. But Trump’s history keeps haunting me because it tells me how terrible and how extreme he is, too. The things he said in those interviews [SD note: criticisms of Bush's decision to invade Iraq] are right smack out of the leftist handbook. You cannot point to anything Hillary Clinton has ever said (at least, I can’t find it) about George Bush—or any other ex-president I can think of—that is so tinfoil-hattish, so conspiracy-theory-minded, so over-the-top. When you get Wolf Blitzer defending George Bush, you know you’ve jumped the shark.

[emphasis added]
I would argue further that his sudden respect for the pro-life movement is yet one more deft negotiating tactic and not to be accepted prima facieTrump accusing Clinton of anti-Catholicism is mere politicking;  in both policy and personality Trump is at least as anti-Catholic as Clinton, and usually more so. As one Thomistic blogger puts it"Remember, there is only an obligation to use all reasonable moral means to stop an evil and sometimes there are no such means. Yet people feel pressured to have to do something, anything. That is a trick of Satan."


When Clinton is elected (and signs indicate that she will be), the Church and all others of good will toward its positions must gird itself for the coming battle.  Historians Mark Massa, SJ, and Philip Jenkins--in separate books published the same year on American anti-Catholicism--recognized the early 1990s as an uptick in the acceptability of anti-Catholic sympathies.  During Bill Clinton's presidency it became permissible as never before to ridicule the Church across the media and the Internet.  A second Clinton administration, this time under Hillary, would produce more of the same--with the possible addition of conscientious assistance from Catholic Clinton supporters who style themselves as the avant-garde of where the Catholic Church "must" go anyway:  supporting gay marriage, abortion, etc.  In other words, Catholics like Clinton's running mate Tim Kaine.  A Clinton administration might not lead exactly to open repression and martyrdom ala Tudor England or Plutarco Calles' revolutionary Mexico, but there will be significant, substantial, legalized persecution.  The Church will not be free under Clinton.



The same thing would happen under Trump, except that the gloves will, eventually, come off.  Trump's penchant for self-indulgent, blind reaction--verbal, financial, legal, or otherwise--will spark violence--either by the state or by those acting at his request.  Trump represents a set-back for the pro-life movement in many ways

With Trump as the de facto standard bearer for the pro-life movement, any anti-abortion measures will have to overcome the gravitational force of his sleaziness to get anywhere. Despite claims that Trump would be a life preserver for the pro-life movement, he is a millstone around our neck. The only way to survive is to let go and keep swimming.


Still, the pro-Trump argument says "Vote Trump" because he's (clearly) God's choice in this election.  Eric Metaxas made just this argument, prompting Jonah Goldberg to respond:


I always thought that the role of conscience in Christianity is to treat it as something of great value and importance. Yes, as Catholics teach, it must be rightly formed through reason. A poorly formed conscience can lead to poor decisions. But conscience also speaks to us from a plateau above mere reason. In Metaxas’s formulation, conscience has been reduced to a kind of virtue-signaling vanity, or maybe the sin of pride. “Don’t listen to your conscience because God wants you to vote for Donald Trump” is a weird argument coming from anybody. But it is downright bizarre coming from the moral biographer of Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer.
Borrowing from Goldberg and the Neo-Neocon above, when the argument is "Vote Trump because God wants you to," then we've clearly passed some point of no-return.


Thus, I think Renee Roden raises an important point.  She reflects on Trump's candidacy and raises a blood-curdling thought:  maybe he's so popular because...we're so much like him.  Roden:


One of the most baffling aspects of Donald Trump’s personality, I find, is his cruel language towards others. He calls people who do him wrong “losers,” “dopey,”“goofy,” etc. It’s just plain ol’ preschool playground mean. I’m constantly surprised we aren’t all stuck wrestling with this: how does a public figure call a reporter “dopey” and a news anchor “crazy” and not get laughed off our public stage? Why has no one sat down with Trump and told him he can’t use internet troll speak when running for president?
But, I thought to myself, how often do I label people who have offended me? Not publicly, on Twitter, or on some national media platform, thank God, but how often, in my heart, do I harbor resentment towards someone who has wounded me? How often do I insist on seeing that person not as the multi-faceted, complex human that they are, with their own unique narrative beyond their interactions with me, but merely as the particular wound they have inflicted upon me? Do I let subtle competition poison friendship?
So:  for whom to vote?  While it seems clear that one, given grave reasons, could vote for either Clinton or Trump, I endorse neither...but this non-endorsement lands more heavily on Trump.  Stomachusus Thomistarum, quoted above, also adds: 
When man relies on himself alone, all comes to naught. Maybe the lesson here is to stop trusting in our political contrivances and stratagems. Cursed is he who places his hope in man, saith the Lord. Maybe it is good that you are bereft of some voting option  to choose in order to battle Hillary; then maybe you will learn to see in it the vanity of human affairs and turn to the Lord.
Charlie Camosy has blogged elsewhere about these same issues, discussing the role of conscience and the clear statements about some bishops prohibiting voting for pro-abortion candidates.  Camosy concludes with a more somber note:
And let me close with a final important point: Catholics cannot “win” this election, and we must stop thinking and talking like we can.
The fact that both major candidates are horrifically flawed may serve as a good reminder of where, as Catholics, our true loyalties should lie. We are a pilgrim Church on a journey to a Kingdom that is not of this world. We need to be in solidarity with each other as fellow pilgrims-for what binds us together is far more important than what divides.
To think otherwise falls victim to the trick of the Evil One. To quote Gandalf, “The laughter of Mordor will be our only reward if we quarrel.”
Indeed, we will surely hear some of that laughter Wednesday morning, November 9th. That does not mean we surrender all hope.  The spiritual thirst of despair will always nag us, just as the sources of spiritual nourishment, springing as they do from Jesus Himself, always offer us sustenance.  We need to remember that now and then.

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