Monday, November 07, 2016

I refuse to heel

This will be my final pre-election post on the 2016 presidential election. In this post I'm not using "Trumper" as a derogatory term, but as a neutral antonym for "NeverTrumper". 

Why am I doing one more post on the election? Won't that be out of date after the returns are in? Although there are some topical aspects to this election, both Trumpers and NeverTrumpers are reaching into their ethical toolkits to justify their position. My primary concern is evaluating their ethical tools. They will be reaching into the same toolkits in the future. They will bring to bear the same considerations in future situations which they brought to bear in this situation. As the stakes in the culture wars are ever higher, moral clarity is at a premium. 

The Trump nomination split the conservative movement. Whoever wins tomorrow, the conservative movement will have to realign. Some erstwhile conservatives sold out. They're not coming back. 

I've seen lots of Trumper and NeverTrumper arguments. Both sides have used bad arguments. The bad arguments outnumber the good arguments. 

That's in part because most voters aren't philosophers by aptitude or training. In addition, the choice between voting for Trump and casting a protest vote is a borderline case. Because both candidates are so bad, we have conflicting intuitions. Many of us feel pulled in opposing directions. As a result, both side of the debate have used some bad reasons to support or oppose Trump.

In general, there's a different methodology between the two camps. NeverTrumpers take a more topdown approach. They appeal to moral principles (as they see them). By contrast, Trumpers take a more bottomup approach. They look at the situation. At the immediate threat. 

1. Best Trumper argument

Hillary is a militant secular progressive. A single-minded fanatic. She is hellbent in destroying anyone and anything that gets in the way of her agenda, by any means necessary. It's not just about a few seats on the Supreme Court. It's about packing the Federal judiciary in general. It's about Executive appointees in general. Notice how Obama weaponized Executive agencies to deploy against conservative groups. If anything, Hillary will amp that up. The fact that she broke the law and got away with it emboldens her. 

It's about control of Congress. The Bill of Rights. Parental authority. School choice. The consent of the governed. Gender binaries. Heteronormative values. 

It's about abortion and euthanasia. It's about freedom from wrongful termination because a public or private sector employee dissents from LGBT agenda. It's about gov't shutting down businesses through ruinous fines because they refuse to collaborate in the LGBT agenda. It's about protecting school children from indoctrination. It's about the war on boys. It's about mandatory coed restrooms, and locker rooms. It's about requiring battered women's shelters to admit "transgender women" (i.e. biological men who self-identify as women). 

Trump is a moral cretin. He has no discipline. No focus. No consistent agenda. No political philosophy. These are grave weaknesses in a presidential candidate, but compared to Hillary, his weakness is a strength. He's not out to get conservatives. He's not going to launch a pogrom against conservatives. He's not a zealot like Hillary. That's not what makes him tick. He's a hedonist. He lives for status. He wants to be the center of attention. Hillary poses a direct threat to all that's good and decent in a way that Trump does not. 

I think that's a powerful argument to vote for Trump. And it's a lean argument. It doesn't say anything positive about Trump. It doesn't make any claims about his credibility. It doesn't excuse his vices. So you don't have to defend Trump. 

It's not enough to tip the scales for me, but if I were making the case for a Trump vote, that would be it. And that's not me playing devil's advocate. I believe everything I said. 

2. Best NeverTrumper argument

i) Trump can do a different kind of damage than Hillary. Admittedly, those are intangibles compared to Hillary. But it goes to the old distinction between the enemy within and the enemy without. Trump is like inviting an arsonist to housesit while you go on vacation. Will there be anything to come back to? 

To some degree, the case against Trump is the mirror-image of the case for Trump. The very fact that Hillary is such a ruthless, implacable foe means she will galvanize the conservative movement. By contrast, Trump is a tapeworm that consumes it from the inside out. We've already seen how quickly the "Republican establishment" kowtowed to Trump. We've seen conservative icons sell out to Trump. 

What happens when he has real power? When he has the carrot and the stick of the imperial presidency? The GOP wasn't any great shakes even before Trump ran. 

ii) Which brings me to the next point. A major reason Trump is so godawful is because he's used to getting his way. He's used to people fawning over him and groveling at his Gucci-shoed feet. He lives for that. And this campaign is no exception. He didn't have to accommodate conservatives. Rather, erstwhile conservatives accommodated him. If he can win without accommodating conservatives, why would he govern any differently? He ran on his own terms. If he can win on his own terms, why will he govern any differently? 

One by one we've seen Republican leaders heel when Trump says heel. They jump when he says jump. Someone needs to stand up to him. Someone needs to say, No, I refuse to heel. No, I won't roll over at your command. You can't always get your way. And even if you do, it will be in spite of me, not because of me. I'm not going to be another one of your Borg drones. You will have to shoot me first. 

In fairness, it's possible for individuals to denounce Trump and vote for him at the same time. But in my observation, few voters are that compartmentalized. And parties operate more as collectives than independent-minded individuals. 

3. Worst NeverTrumper argument

i) In my observation, many NeverTrumpers take intellectual shortcuts. They resort to ethical slogans. And it doesn't get any deeper than the slogan. There's no real understanding of what the slogans stand for. NeverTrumpers use them interchangeably:

In fairness, some Trumpers do resort to morally relativistic arguments when defending their support for Trump. 

ii) Some NeverTrumpers like Albert Mohler, Richard Phillips, John Piper, and Russell Moore appeal to our public Christian witness. I respect Mohler and Phillips. Moore is a lightweight. In general, Piper is a great gift to the church, but his more recent embrace of pacifism and Anabaptism makes him politically unreliable. 

In fairness, some "evangelical" Trump apologists have undoubtedly brought the Gospel into disrepute. However, there's a difference between perception and reality. We can't be hostage to mere perception, however ignorant or malevolent. We can't let popular perception to dictate our actions. 

The question is whether we have morally and rationally defensible positions. If so, we make our case. 

If we're seen to be "compromising" despite making a good case for our positions, the fault lies in the percipient. We must be prepared to challenge people who judge our actions by their unwarranted standards.

ii) In addition, the Christian witness objection cuts both ways. There are voters, especially men, who are turned off by Christianity because they think Christians would rather wring their hands than get their hands dirty. Piper himself is morphing into the parody of a Christian who's too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly use. 

4. Worst Trumper argument

i) Trumpers, like NeverTrumpers, resort to intellectual shortcuts. In their case, it's not so much moral principles, but simplistic rules of thumb:

ii) Many Trumpers exhibit blind credulity in Trump's bona fides.

iii) By the same token, many Trumpers rationalize his moral degeneracy. 

iv) I noticed on Justin Taylor's Facebook Wall that some commenters act as though they needed John MacArthur to give them permission to vote for Trump. They can now do so with a clear conscience because JMac said it's okay. That's just hero worship. 

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