Friday, July 22, 2016

On Not Voting for Trump: The Consequences for Logic and Conscience

Two recent pieces regarding the implications for not voting for Trump (if one is a Republican and would normally vote for the Republican candidate) are helpful in spelling out the logical consequences and the effects on one's conscience.

James Anderson has written a short but tightly argued piece entitled A Non-Vote Is Not a Vote.

Here is Anderson's post:
One of the reasons put forward by some conservatives for voting for the controversial Republican nominee is that not voting for him would be “a vote for Hillary”. It’s important to understand why this is a really bad argument.

In the first place, the claim itself is inaccurate. If there are only two candidates, A and B, and Oscar doesn’t vote for A, that could mean one of two things:

(1) Oscar votes for B rather than A.

(2) Oscar votes for neither A nor B.

Clearly these aren’t equivalent, because (1) hinders A’s chances of winning more than (2) does.

But it’s worse than that: the reasoning here is incoherent, because if a non-vote for A is a vote for B, then by parity of reasoning a non-vote for B is a vote for A, from which it follows that not voting for either candidate is voting for both candidates. On the most charitable interpretation, that simply means not voting at all would be neutral with respect to the candidates: it wouldn’t favor either of them. On a less charitable interpretation, it’s just a nonsensical conclusion.

Perhaps there are some good reasons for conservatives to cast their vote for the Republican presidential ticket in 2016, but this isn’t one of them.

Addendum: I should add that the same incoherence afflicts another popular argument, namely, that not voting would “allow Hillary to win”. If a non-vote for A would allow B to win, then equally a non-vote for B would allow A to win, in which case not voting for either candidate would allow both candidates to win, which is absurd. (Actually, the conclusion in this case could be interpreted somewhat more charitably: not voting would allow either candidate to win. But again this just highlights the neutrality of a non-vote.)
The second essay comes from Matthew J. Franck--A Vote's Consequences and a Voter's Conscience.

A few selections from Franck's essay:
 Recently, while I was having lunch with some young colleagues at the Witherspoon Institute, one of them asked me a pointed question. “If your vote were the deciding one in the election, with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becoming president on the basis of your vote alone, for which one would you vote?”

It was an earnest question, and I gave an honest answer. But then I felt obliged to object to the question, and I want to elaborate upon my objections here. I will not repeat my honest answer, for reasons I hope will become plain.


But the secrecy and the rough simultaneity of our ballot-casting are just what enable people to frame the question my colleague asked me. The question—“If your vote were decisive, what would you do?”—invites us to think of the civic function of voting as though everything hung on that one vote each of us casts. This invitation, to vote as if the weight of the world were on my shoulders alone, is what I refuse to accept.

The reason I decline the invitation is not just that the weight is not on my shoulders. It is that this is really an invitation to a kind of consequentialism in the ethics of voting. I don’t intend to plunge into the philosophical debate between consequentialist and deontological ethics, which is not in my field anyway. I mean to make a much more informal and homely point: it is wrong to think of a vote not cast for Leading Contender A as a de facto vote cast for Leading Contender B.

I have good friends thinking this way right now. Although, as fellow conservatives, we think very alike on nearly everything in political life, the national disaster of the choice between Trump and Clinton has produced diametrically opposed conclusions. One close friend says that the harm Hillary Clinton would do, building on Barack Obama’s eight years, would be so incalculably awful that the risk of an inept, foolish, and thuggish Donald Trump presidency is worth taking in order to prevent Clinton’s victory. Therefore, he is inclined to hold his nose and vote for Trump, believing that abstention or a “thrown away” vote on a third alternative with no chance to win would be morally indistinguishable from a vote for Clinton. (Here is a column exemplifying this friend’s view.)

Another close friend draws the opposite conclusion, recoiling so powerfully from Trump’s politics of arrogance, folly, and contempt for others that this Republican of many years announces he will pull the lever for Clinton, preferring an enemy he can imagine fighting and partly constraining (and even agreeing with on occasion) to a “leader” who may grievously wound the party, the conservative cause, and the country itself. For this friend, any vote not cast for Clinton is “objectively” a vote for Trump and thus a kind of moral calamity. (Here is a column exemplifying this friend’s view.)

My fond regard for these two good and thoughtful friends, lifelong conservatives both, is not diminished by our disagreements. And I do disagree with both of them. For my part, my conscience is more important to me than the outcome of this presidential election. I cannot in good conscience vote for either Clinton or Trump. What matters for me is that I cannot bring myself to intend, to will the victory of either of these ludicrously unacceptable presidential candidates. And that is what a vote for one of them would be—an act of willing that Clinton or Trump be president, carry out her or his stated policy aims, and bring his or her fundamentally bad character to the highest office in the land.
 Now, however, we really do have two evils to choose between—or to decline choosing. Neither Trump nor Clinton has a single redeeming characteristic that recommends him or her to the presidency of the United States—at least none that is not decisively outweighed by some other damning characteristic. Clinton’s much vaunted “experience” is a career record of ghastly misjudgments in foreign policy, paired with a consistently authoritarian and illiberal “progressivism” in domestic policy, seemingly intent on unraveling the social fabric that makes a decent society. And there is no need to rehearse her and her husband’s history of dishonesty, corruption, and irresponsibility, capped most recently by her obvious breach of the statutes protecting national security secrets.

As for Trump, was there ever a candidate more obviously unqualified for high public office, as measured by his dearth of relevant knowledge and experience, his willfulness and self-absorption, his compulsive lying and inconsistency, his manipulative using of other people, his smash-mouth rhetoric and low character? For anyone professing conservative principles, the first problem with Trump is that he is not one of us, has never been one of us, shows no sign or capacity of becoming one of us, and hardly cares to pretend to be one of us. Even “what about the Supreme Court?” has no grip on my conscience when I try to imagine Donald Trump in the Oval Office. I cannot trust him to choose judicial nominees wisely, and there are other things whose cumulative weight is greater even than this variable.

We haven’t even the consolation of thinking of Trump as a certain kind of Republican who is not actually conservative but who at least recognizes our vocabulary when he hears it. No, Trump would not know a conservative principle if it kicked him in the shins. This is a nominee who, in my estimation, cannot earn my vote even as a “lesser evil” or an “at least he’s not Hillary” candidate. I waver between believing that his defeat would be the worst thing to happen to our country and believing that his victory would be.

 After a lifetime of studying politics, I have finally, thanks to the electoral annus horribilis of 2016, arrived at an ethic of voting that I can defend against all rival ethics. It is simply this: Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character. Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences. The country will go whither it will go, when all the votes are counted. What should matter the most to you is whither you will go, on and after this November’s election day.