This week, Public Discourse is running a symposium on the 2020 presidential election. We’ll hear from authors with a wide variety of perspectives on the difficult prudential question of how social conservatives should vote this November. Although they come to very different conclusions, these authors all share a core commitment to Biblical and natural law morality. We hope the essays serve to inform your own decision. –The Editors
Donald Trump is totally incompetent at running the executive branch, a coddler of dictators, and an excuser of the Chinese genocide of Muslims. He gives comfort to racists and has lived his life as a disgusting sexist. I agree with Bishop Flores of Brownsville, Texas that his immigration policies constitute cooperation with intrinsic evil. He is now so associated with pro-life, anti-abortion activism and religious liberty that it will take decades for these movements to recover, particularly among young people.
We should, therefore, not vote for Trump–Pence.
But neither should we vote for Biden–Harris. And though I disagree with this ticket on several matters (including religious liberty and the relationship of children to gender reassignment surgery) the main reason for my view does come down to the uniquely massive and grave evil of abortion in the United States.
Lots of people, including many of my colleagues in the academy and other elite circles, seem to struggle with the very possibility that someone could have this view. How can you be a “single issue” voter when Trump manifests such a threat? Especially because, as one Facebook friend of mine—who happens to be a professor at a major Catholic University—put it a few weeks ago, my objection is based on my “idiosyncratic Catholic beliefs.”
Well, let’s change the issue and see if this kind of reasoning can become clearer through a thought experiment. Suppose a possible world in which everything is the same in the Biden–Harris campaign, and in the Democratic Party itself, except that they are beholden to an extremist group of explicit white supremacists. In this possible world, they have a viable plan to bring back Jim Crow, and even long-term plans to bring back slavery. Suppose the party and ticket offer strong support for these plans and for white supremacist rhetoric and values.
Could you vote for such a party?
If your answer is no, as I suspect and hope it is, then maybe you can understand why certain pro-lifers, without only caring about one issue, could nevertheless have their votes swayed by a single issue. Certain topics are just so essential, and the evil involved so massive and serious, that they can make a particular ticket untouchable. If your view is that a single issue—racial justice—could make a vote for a particular ticket impossible, then you are a single-issue voter, at least in principle.
Now I imagine many will object here and say that the issues in the above thought experiment are not comparable. Abortion is not as significant an issue—not as massive and serious an evil. Plus, Democrats don’t directly support it: they only tolerate and allow it, given no other good options. But these are not good objections, and maybe a different thought experiment can help illustrate why.
Sometimes—especially because the death of the prenatal child is hidden away from discussion and view via our throwaway culture—it is difficult for many people to see the gravity of the evil. Those who are concerned about it are often dismissed as right-wing misogynists who want to control women’s bodies and punish them for having sex.
Here it might be helpful to recall that, in the ancient world of Greece and Rome, abortion and infanticide were thought to be similar acts of reproductive control. We have strong evidence that the early Church was against both, and for the same reason: their aversion to violence against the dignity of the voiceless, helpless human person. (It is worth noting that pro-lifers of that time received much the same kind of scorn for their view that pro-lifers face today in our post-Christian culture.)
Suppose in this country nearly one million six-month-old infant boys and girls were slaughtered every year. Suppose certain organizations made lots of money from this practice, and even set up infanticide centers in communities of color to make much of their money. Suppose one major party was resistant to mass infanticide, and tried to limit it and defund the organizations that promoted it.
Suppose, however, that the other major party not only didn’t try to limit infanticide, but argued that talk about limiting it was an affront to reproductive freedom and the right to make one’s own health-care decisions. Suppose this party argued that the right to infanticide is core to the very well-being of literally everyone. Suppose this party wanted to force those who opposed infanticide to pay for it with their tax dollars. Suppose that this party also couldn’t even abide conscience protections—even those based on religious liberty—for those who refused to participate in infanticide. Hopefully we’d also agree this was not a party worthy of our support, yes?
But now the analogy to abortion and the Democratic party should be clear. The Democratic Party has come a long way since Hillary Clinton declared in 2008 that she thought abortion should be “rare.” “And by rare, I mean rare,” she once said. Things have changed quite dramatically since then. In the lead-up to the 2016 election, Democrats made the following abortion-related changes to their platform:
- It called for removal of the Hyde Amendment, and therefore would force pro-lifers to pay for abortion with our tax dollars
- It called for repeal of all “federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion.” Support for abortion rights was deemed “unequivocal.”
- The platform asserted that “reproductive health”—which includes access to “safe and legal abortion”—is “core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and well-being.”
- And a commitment to religious liberty and conscience protections for pro-life Americans, which was included in the 2012 platform, was removed.
This is wild abortion extremism. If it were enacted, no other country (with perhaps the exception of China) would have such an extreme policy.
The writing is on the wall. A Democratic administration and Congress would defend abortion’s violence as a positive good. They would completely erase an entire group of incredibly vulnerable human beings from moral and legal consideration. Indeed, they would not even protect the freedom of those who wanted to live their own lives without participating in such violence.
Joe Biden himself embodies the shift of the party on these matters. He used to be what one might describe as a pro-life Democrat, but now even he rejects the Hyde Amendment and has gotten in line with Democratic abortion extremism. In addition, he has picked a running mate who is absolutely enthusiastic about the abortion extremism of the Democratic party. Indeed, she is part of its growing edge—even proposing a plan that would subject any state’s attempt to limit abortion to clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice run by an abortion-friendly administration.
So what should we do?
First, I think we need to realize that the question of how or whether to vote for president should not be anywhere close to our first priority. If it is, then we are very close to idolatry of national secular politics.
Second, we should focus on the fact that it has been this kind of idolatry that has pushed our politics to a terrible place, in which we now seem to have only two awful candidates to choose from. Instead of focusing on what we are for and demanding that, we acquiesce in the choices given to us, try to figure out what the lesser evil is, and vote for that. And every election we hear the now almost liturgical refrain, “This is the most important election of our lives! To be silent is to be complicit!” No more of this. We must step out of this vicious cycle.
Third, we should heed Alasdair MacIntyre’s now famous insistence on not voting for an unacceptable candidate—not by not voting at all, but by voting for an acceptable candidate with medium-term political impact in mind. We are in the midst of an exciting political realignment in the United States and in many other places around the world. We should always demand more of our politics, but now is a perhaps a uniquely hopeful time for thinking about how we can shape it to look quite different eight or twelve or sixteen years from now.
Many of us have been working with the American Solidarity Party (ASP) to get it on the ballot or as official write-ins several states. At the time I write this, the list of states is already impressive, and includes the key states of Wisconsin, Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Ohio. These are places where folks would pay attention if the ASP got significant votes. This is an election that could put this relatively new party on the map.
Why should a voter consider the ASP acceptable? Because it is the closest thing we have to a party with a genuinely and consistently pro-life view on essential issues of morality and law: protecting born and unborn children; supporting vulnerable mothers; caring for the elderly while forgoing the violence of euthanasia; forcefully defending religious liberty and other civil rights; reforming the criminal justice system; welcoming the immigrant and stranger; protecting the environment; and more. The party even has distributist economic policies that support and empower workers without falling prey to the false capitalism–socialism binary. For those who would like to learn more about the details of their proposals in these areas, you can check out their platform for more information.
What I’m suggesting is not a strategic retreat or political quietism. On the contrary, this is a kind of aggressive political realism. It is utterly realistic about the terrible place in which short-term, cycle-to-cycle political thinking has put us. We must instead demand a vision of the good that we share in our political space, not just give marching orders to candidates with horrific views to go attack a guy we consider marginally worse.
Remember, we are not supposed to contort ourselves to fit an abstract political party. These people work for us; they are supposed to represent our views. I cannot emphasize this point enough: we are in the midst of a major political realignment. There has never been a better time to demand that the politicians we support actually reflect our vision of the good. Let us take advantage of this unique moment by supporting the American Solidarity Party this November.