American conservatives have some choices to make over the presidential election in November. The vast majority of those who have already decided to vote have already declared this a binary choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump. Indeed, 81 per cent of registered voters polled in July said they would vote for either Trump or Clinton.
And now that the GOP convention has come and gone, a majority of conservatives, even the deeply religious, have swallowed this binary logic along with any residual revulsion toward Trump. Even before Trump was officially nominated, a full 30 per cent of white evangelicals have said they would be voting for Trump, while 45 per cent said their vote would be mainly against Clinton. A meagre 5 per cent of this influential voting bloc chose “other” or “don’t know,” when asked about their support for presidential candidates.
One wonders how the evangelical vote reconciles the corruption and serious moral failings of both major candidates with their vote. The Democratic nominee refused to send aid that could have prevented four deaths in Benghazi, was nearly indicted for gross negligence regarding national security, and shares her namesake with a corrupt pay-to-play foundation; the Republican nominee has engaged in pay-to-play lobbyism for decades, thought abortion was a potential choice for his own girlfriend, insults war heroes, and has never asked God for forgiveness.
The answer lies in an old dilemma that reproduces itself a billion times across our personal lives and the political milieu of all the nations that have ever existed: the presentation of two evils, between which one must choose the lesser.
We habitually refer to our elections, even more so this cycle, as “the Choice between Two Evils.” We say we hate the dilemma (because it is evil, of course), but our spirit finds relief in it. By accepting the restrictive Binary of Evils, conservatives with moral reservations about the major candidates can comfortably put to rest any thought that their participation in democracy is in any way at odds with their moral convictions.
After all, barring some serious intervention, either the Democrat or the Republican nominee will become President of the United States of America in November. So this is the line I receive over and over again from smart, well-intentioned voters: we must choose whom we despise less, whom we fear less. Do we most fear Hillary’s hatred for the 2nd Amendment, or Trump’s asinine foreign policy? Hillary’s corruption, or Trump’s narcissism? Her naked lust for a throne, or his cavalier attitude toward power over billions of lives? They insist upon the choice.
C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that, “He (the devil) always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites…He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.” He was referring to the tendency of Christians to be either individualists or totalitarians in their treatment of others, but the reasoning is sound basis for rejecting any pairs of evil: they are sent from the enemy.
So where are those who stand “athwart history, yelling Stop?” as William F. Buckley Jr. once declared was the mission of his staple American conservative magazine, a goal conservative pundits have enthusiastically echoed for decades? This election may have disastrous consequences, but are conservatives now expected to obscure history and cling to the Lesser Evil (though not all agree this is Trump), instead yelling whether they should be shoved off from the cliff, or encouraged to slide down gently?
But the Two Evils are comforting. For habitual voters in a two-party system, they are the devils we know. Will we break from them, denying the certitude that one will force itself upon us from the highest national office and rejecting any obligation to choose between them? (Third party polling suggests some may be making that break: those who say they’ll vote for a third party in 2016 are polling at more than twice the percentage of 2012.)
Americans should accept no such premise—their duty, their right to vote, their love for democracy—as that which would bond them to a continuously degenerating choice between Two Evils. The consequences such binaries produce will only grow heavier as power concentrates in D.C., but conservatives must not sacrifice their values of individual liberty, local governance, and constitutional rights on the two-party altar. If we throw off complacency, perhaps the revolution we sense is coming may carry its momentum into a pivot toward liberty, instead of a lunge towards greater tyranny.
(Image: Glyn Lowe)