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A Vote is a Vote: A not-so-impossible choice

A Vote is a Vote: A not-so-impossible choice

This blog is about political philosophy, the culture war, and related topics.  I intend to write with as few shared assumptions as possible, as I want every reader to be able to at least see how I arrived at my conclusion even if they disagree with it. [ Note: this blog post was originally published on October 28th, 2020. Because I decided to switch to Fireside to host my blog and podcast, it is no longer available on the Ghost site that I used at first. ]

Because the number of shared assumptions that most people have seems to be decreasing substantially, I found that this made writing about this election quite difficult.  In a way, though, that is exactly why I am writing this.

This essay is a little long, so I’ve broken it up into three sections.  The first is a discussion of moral principles when it comes to voting in a first-past-the-post system (feel free to skip this if topics that are mostly esoteric aren’t your thing).  The second is dedicated to how I believe you should vote in this election.  The third concludes with some thoughts about principles that I believe will endure far longer this election or this pandemic.

Section 1: A Vote is a Vote is a Vote

I am not an expert in moral philosophy, but I am pretty sure that there isn’t a single moral principle that you can use to apply to all of your decisions.  I’m definitely sure that philosophers haven’t found one that they all agree on yet.  So to some degree, this argument about how you should vote will be about competing intuitions and principles.

I think that utilitarianism, when combined with game theory, actually leads you to maximize your own utility by not bothering to vote in a presidential election.  And since your vote will very likely not affect the outcome, the probability of reducing anyone else’s utility is very low.  Now, it is possible that since the outcome of a presidential election carries with it such high consequences, even the slimmest of chances compels you to vote.  I’m not sure how you would calculate the risk multiplied by the consequence in this scenario, but my conclusion is that utilitarianism does not lead you to have a sufficient reason to vote in a United States presidential election.

Since I disagree with this conclusion, I personally find it to be a non-starter in the case of voting.  Even if you do think that utilitarianism leads you to vote, though, there is still the problem that we don’t know how to make a calculation of its utility, and you would theoretically have to recalculate it each time to decide whether it is worth it to vote.  The utility also changes based on other people’s own calculations, which might get us stuck in an infinite loop.  Finally, I think that one potential problem with utilitarianism is that calculating the utility of making such calculations might also lead us into an infinite loop.  Anyway, I think we can use a better principle to follow for voting in a simple plurality system.

That principle is one of Kant’s formulations of the categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”  Another way of putting this is, “Act according to the maxim that you would wish all other rational people to follow, as if it were a universal law.”

If you apply this to voting, this means a couple of things.  First of all, that means that you should vote as opposed to staying home, even though it is very unlikely that your vote will affect the outcome.  Second, you should vote the same way that you want everyone else to vote.  In other words, you should vote for the person that you think should win.

But what if you don’t like either candidate?  Should you vote third party or write someone in?  I think that this question shows how the categorical imperative, like all attempts to find a single moral principle, isn’t perfect:  Your moral decisions exist within a context.  Even if everyone is a completely rational actor, they will, due to their varied experiences and finite mental abilities, come to different conclusions about the most rational way to act.  Because of the finite amount of time in which we have to make decisions, we have to include in our moral calculus an anticipation of what others’ actions will be, even if they are also rational actors who are following the categorical imperative, and even if we disagree with their actions.

Here is an example.  Suppose that I am working on a programming project and we are voting on what language we should use for it (you don’t need to know anything about programming to follow this).  Imagine for a moment that I can objectively prove that, given the requirements of the project, Language A is the clearly superior choice in terms of project schedule, budget, and product quality.  If all of the requirements are perfectly defined, I think that this is theoretically possible to prove as a matter of objective fact.  This might be hard to imagine as a practical matter, but let’s just say that it is in this case.  Imagine also that I have tried but failed to convince anyone of this.  (“That’s much easier to imagine!” you might say.  Touché.)

So some people are definitely voting for Language B, and some people are definitely voting for Language C, but no one besides me thinks we should vote for Language A.  Some people are still undecided, but the one thing that they have decided is that they are not voting for Language A.  I think that I should therefore vote for either Language B or Language C.

This is because, assuming it is a simple plurality vote, it would be irrational to waste my vote by voting for a clear loser.  Technically, I might be voting in a way that I want everyone else to vote. Yet if reason tells me that the only undecided people are choosing between two inferior languages, then it would be irrational to vote for the superior one, even if it is rational to believe that it is, in fact, superior.

If I am right about this, then I think that it gives us a contextualized version of the categorical imperative, which I have made by placing it in the context of voting.  To be clear, I don’t know if this is actually a thing; I just made it up.

Anyway, my contextualized version of the categorical imperative for voting in a simple plurality system is this:  Act in the way that you think other people, whose actions you don’t already know about ahead of time, should also act.  I would add that you actually don’t have to know who is voting for whom and who is undecided; all you have to know is the rough breakdown of people’s current intentions to vote, which we can get a decent measure of from looking at the polls.  They are an imperfect measure to be sure, but they do give you some indication.

I think that all of this means that if you have a clear preference between the two candidates in a de facto two-party system like ours, I believe the only rational thing is to vote for that preference.

Now, your vote will almost certainly not affect the outcome in most elections, but if you make your vote public, it might convince other people to vote the same way.  The more influence you have, the more chance you have of affecting the outcome than your vote alone.  This is of course still very doubtful in a presidential election.  But again, we have the problem that if you act in any other way, you are not acting according to a clear guiding principle that you think everyone should follow.  If you think that the outcome of the election really matters, and if you prefer a particular outcome, then I think that you are not being true to yourself if you don’t act on that belief.

But what if you live in a state that is not a swing state?  In this case, it might be reasonable to support someone other than the two major party candidates.  But this reasoning also has its own problems.  What objective measure can you use to determine whether a state is a swing state?  The polls aren’t accurate enough to know for certain.  And since what matters most is not your vote, but your influence, how do you know how many people are listening to your opinion, and what states they live in?

For almost all of us, this is only a theoretical consideration when it comes to presidential politics.  But for what it’s worth, the principle that I have laid out is the only one that I can think of that makes sense to me.  If I have a clear preference between the two major party candidates, then I will vote for one of them.  (Sometimes I don’t have a clear preference, and sometimes I do.)  I do this because even though I could justify my third party vote or my write-in using some other form of reasoning, I don’t think it holds up in the end.

This is why I say that a vote is a vote is a vote:  You should act in the way that you think other people, whose actions you don’t already know about ahead of time, should also act.

Section 2: A vote for Trump is in no one’s best interest besides Trump himself

We have now reached the point in this essay in which I will probably give a significant portion of people, perhaps almost everyone, something with which to disagree.

I am going to be making a lot of claims of fact and a few arguments about what those facts should lead us to do.  I am generally someone who loves diving into the details of a particular argument, and I definitely believe that it is important to do so on important moral and political questions such as this one.  I simply don’t have enough time to do this as thoroughly as I would like before Election Day.  (This essay might be somewhere around 8,000 words, but I’m not kidding when I say that I wish I could be more thorough.)

As for the specific arguments below, they are mostly geared towards addressing someone who shares a large part of my worldview but, unlike me, believes that voting for Trump is the best course of action.  Other conservative Christians have written about their opposition to Trump, including this column by David French and this column by Ross Douthat, but as far as I know, they have not publicly supported Biden.  

Even though I am very disappointed in the two major party candidates, I have a clear preference between the two.  Because of what I argued in Section 1, I believe that, for practical purposes, the most reasonable thing to do is to view this election as a binary choice between them.  

To argue for my preference between the two candidates, I will make four main points:

  1. A vote for Trump is transactional, and this is no small thing.
  2. If you view abortion as an injustice that must be curtailed, as I do, there are better ways to do it than voting for Trump.
  3. The President has failed to meet what should be some basic requirements for office, and while Biden has too, there is still a clear difference between the two men.
  4. If Trump is our ally in a battle for freedom, then we’ve already lost the war.

Point 1: A vote for Trump is transactional, and this is no small thing

The first thing to point out is that a vote for Trump is a transactional one, at least as far as pro-life issues are concerned; the man himself was pro-choice for decades.  As this article points out, he has said that he doesn’t like to ask for forgiveness and at one point said that he hadn’t ever asked God for it.  I believe that this is, categorically, not what it means to be a Christian; apart from the question of the divinity of Christ and his resurrection, you can’t get much closer to the core of what the faith means.

While this alone isn’t necessarily a reason to not vote for him, it should give the considerate voter pause:  Am I comfortable in voting for a man who does not share my moral convictions, but only sees them as a means to hold onto power?

If this does not bother us at all, or if we are convinced that all of the candidates that we could vote for take positions on issues merely to appease us and not because of any conviction of their own, then we should be very worried for our country.  In theory, if no one in the race takes a principled stand on anything, and it is all power games to them, there is nothing wrong with this so long as they do what they said they would once they get in office.  In practice, however, I don’t think that this has been the norm in American politics, and I don’t think that it is naïve to think that.

I acknowledge that almost every politician almost always acts in their own self-interest.  I do this while still believing that, behind all of the dissembling, obfuscation and attempts to gain raw power that are far too common, a majority of these men and women in America do have some sense of patriotism and service to their constituents, however small, and however infrequently it affects their decision-making.

Even though I sometimes have to look especially hard for evidence of this, I believe that Trump is not a completely amoral person.  I believe that he has a sincere appreciation for America, as I do.  Similarly, though there is plenty of evidence that Biden is willing to mold his views into whatever is necessary to gain or hold onto power, I believe that he probably does hold some core convictions.  This includes his Christian faith, which I share with him, even though it leads me to some very different conclusions, especially on the question of abortion.

I am worried, however, that an American politics that becomes increasingly unmoored from morality by those who practice it is destined to lead us down a path of cynical nihilism from which it will be very hard to return, and I think that Trump has, to say the least, accelerated this trend.

I am critical of his character not because I listen to the mainstream media; most of them seem obviously liberal, and some of them seem to be blinded by their hatred of him.  Rather, I feel confident in making this criticism because none of the media that I have followed, including conservative and Christian outlets, have shown me much evidence at all that Trump cares about anyone besides himself.  What little evidence there is seems paltry in comparison to the evidence that most everything is of secondary concern to his own ego.

Point 2: If you view abortion as an injustice that must be curtailed, as I do, there are better ways to do it than voting for Trump

This is a consideration that I take into account very seriously when I am choosing whom to support for public office.  In this case, an argument that is based on principles that I share has already been made.  I agree with it and don’t have much to add, so here it is (you will have to click the link on that page to download the pdf).

Point 3: The President has failed to meet what should be some basic requirements for office, and while Biden has too, there is still a clear difference between the two men.

Perhaps the most important expectation that I have for a president is standing up for democracy here at home, so I want to elaborate on that a bit.

First and foremost, I think it requires a respect for the law.  It is anti-democratic to ignore the law, especially the Constitution, for the simple reason that it means that you have no regard for the laws that were put into place by duly elected representatives.

There is a common rebuttal to this point which I think has some merit, so I want to address it.  Were those laws, which we are asked to hold in such high regard, put into place by people who were truly elected in a democratic fashion?  Liberals probably make this point more often than conservatives, but I don’t think that you have to be a liberal to agree with this point insofar as it goes.

When this country was founded, people unlike myself (i.e. people who were not white males who owned property) were not allowed to vote.  For much, but not all, of our country’s history, the restrictions preventing people who were not white males from voting remained, whether it was made explicit in the law or it was done through other more subtle forms of disenfranchisement.

As with most things, the expansion of voting rights didn’t proceed in a directly linear fashion.  For example, some states and territories allowed women to vote before the 19th amendment was passed.  After the Civil War (a war fought mostly by white men on both sides), African-Americans sometimes gained some freedoms only to have them cruelly and viciously taken away again by white racists whose methods included terrorism and using the various powers of government, which they held almost exclusively, to their own advantage.

Not all white men worked to deny the rights of others, of course; such an interpretation of history would be drastically oversimplified.  Generally, however, in the 233 years since the Constitution was ratified, white males have enjoyed the right to vote with few obstacles, while many white men successfully conspired to prevent others from exercising that right for long stretches of history.  Further, while I wish that I could say that concerns about voter suppression were a thing of the past, I believe that some claims of voter suppression today are legitimate cause for concern.

Despite this disenfranchisement in the past and, to a much lesser extent, the present, I don’t believe that it is nearly enough to be any kind of justification for ignoring the Constitution and the law today.  There are numerous legitimate criticisms that can be made of the laws that have been put into place, the way they have been interpreted by the judicial branch, and the way that they have been implemented by the executive.  Short of revolution or secession, however, I believe that your only recourse is to vote for people who agree with you, exercise your freedom of speech, and support organizations who believe in the same cause and the same means of achieving it.

So personally, my expectation of any president, regardless of their party, is that they speak and act in favor of democracy.  They should at least be capable of doing this as far as our own country is concerned.  I also expect them to clearly and consistently oppose racism, sexism, anti-religious bigotry, and the evil that is inherent in totalitarian regimes abroad.  I also expect them to tell the truth.

That’s a lot of expectations.  All of our presidents have, to one degree or another, failed to live up to them.  Nevertheless, I believe that a president should demonstrate a willingness to do these things with their words and not blatantly contradict themselves with their actions.  I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that most Americans would agree with me on this even if they might disagree about particular examples of what constitutes a failure to do this.

I believe that living up to these expectations is not at all that difficult to do and that Trump has failed to do so but instead gone in the opposite direction consistently.  Unfortunately, I also believe that Biden has failed to meet these basic expectations.  So in a way, both of them have not met what I believe are basic qualifications for the oath of office.  Crucially, however, their failings are still far from equivalent.

As I mentioned, I don’t have the time to lay out my case in full detail, but here’s what I’ve got.  I’ll start with what I believe are the strongest criticisms of Biden that concern anyone who considers themselves to be in favor of democracy.

In a world much different from the one that we inhabit, some of his failings that I think we would be able to agree on are:

  1. Showing a willingness to ignore the Constitution and the law when it is convenient and also supporting some other anti-democratic actions
  2. Showing a casual relationship with the truth

Biden’s Failing #1: Showing a willingness to ignore the Constitution and the law when it is convenient and also supporting some other anti-democratic actions

I will now argue that the Obama administration, to an alarming degree, actively worked against the concept of democracy itself.  More of the blame of the administration’s actions from 2008 to 2016 belongs to Obama than to Biden, of course, but I don’t believe that Biden gets a pass because he was only the vice president.

If Biden has spoken on the record against the following actions of the Obama administration, then I’ll take back these respective criticisms.  But here are three that come to mind.

First there was the unprecedented IRS scandal.  While it is correct to point out here that the tax-exempt status of liberal and conservative groups was investigated, I think conservatives are right when we point out that the IRS had different standards for conservative and liberal groups.  This is somewhat subjective, however, and I don’t think that we should jump to an assumption of malice when it can be explained by incompetence.  Still, transparency and neutrality is an important part of maintaining our democratic system of government, and I believe that the Obama administration could have done much better with this.

Then there was that time when the Justice Department spied on James Rosen at Fox News.  Freedom of the press is also essential to democracy.

Finally, there was the fact that Obama once talked as though the law prevented him from granting amnesty to a whole class of people, only to decide later that he could.  Even though Politifact rates the claim that Obama said “he doesn’t have the right to do [DACA]” as mostly false, they also note this:  “There is no question that his interpretation of his authority grew over time.”  One other point here is that Reagan did a much more limited version of this, but I don’t believe that it was right then either.  As I see it, progressively expanding interpretations of presidential authority have only increased in their level of absurdity for quite a while.  No matter how noble the motives of any single person might be, continually increasing the amount of power we place in the hands of a single person is ultimately antidemocratic.

To be clear, I am not arguing that the amnesty in and of itself was a bad thing.  I am generally in favor of sensible immigration reform, something which so far both members of both parties seem incapable of achieving.  When they do consider it, it is only briefly, before they return to taking radical positions so they can win their primaries.

I am also not arguing that, every time we have a difference in our interpretation of the Constitution or the law, I am for democracy and you are against it.  That would be absurd.

Instead, what I am arguing is that we should not rely on the courts and/or the president to make policy nearly as much as we have been.  I think that this is even more true when the grounds for doing so seem specious to at least half the country.  The more you do this, the more you are opposing the primary way our system is supposed to function, and really the only way that a democracy can function.

There will always be some room for disagreement in terms of what it means to pass a law, to faithfully execute it, and to interpret it.  But we can’t just throw out the whole system because we decide that it’s too hard.  In doing so, we inevitably invent excuses for ourselves and rationalize away the most obvious interpretation of the text that is in front of us -- assuming we even bother to read the text at all.

I grant that this system today is far from perfect.  There is no doubt that some of the laws that we have are unjust and should be changed, and some aspects of it are more antimajoritarian than some liberals would prefer.  But it’s all that we’ve got to work with.  In my view, Democrats, including Biden, have failed in their crucial responsibility to support this system, as have Republicans, including Trump.  But more on that later.

Biden’s Failing #2: Showing a casual relationship with the truth

Everyone has a different perception of how much someone lies and how important those lies are when considering whether to vote for them.  To say that all politicians are dishonest is not accurate, but it is probably closer to the truth than the opposite.

In the case of Biden, I think it’s pretty clear that he’s not always 100% truthful.

For instance, Jake Tapper recently called out Biden’s deputy campaign manager for twisting the meaning of the word “constitutional” beyond any reasonable interpretation.

Here is another example, also from CNN, this time about Biden’s own words in a debate.

There are more, such as credible allegations of plagiarism, but I don’t have time to go through them all.

Additional criticisms of Biden that I have are his support for the taxpayer funding of abortion and his lack of support for due process on college campuses.  I won’t attempt to argue for them here, however.  Though I understand why this essay might give you a different impression, I don’t intend to argue about everything under the sun.  I will say that I find these things very concerning but not enough to stop me from voting for him, given the many problems that I have with Trump.

I am always open to the possibility that I am wrong about something, and that includes being wrong about Trump.  Still, if we were in a world that is much different from the one that we inhabit, I believe that some of his failings that I think we would be able to agree on are:

  1. Showing a regular willingness to ignore the Constitution and the law when it is convenient and also acting regularly in an anti-democratic fashion
  2. A relationship with the truth that I wish I could call casual
  3. Consistently praising murderous dictators
  4. Failing to show a basic regard for others’ personal safety and well-being

Trump’s Failing #1: Showing a regular willingness to ignore the Constitution and the law when it is convenient and also acting regularly in an anti-democratic fashion

Obama decided that the concept of prosecutorial discretion meant that he could create an entire federal program that ignored the law on the books.  My response was:  Really?  That strains credulity, especially when you formerly implied that you couldn’t do that.

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any elected Democrat at the federal level that was willing to concede this obvious point.

Trump decided that emergency powers in the law gave him the authority to reallocate funds to build a border wall.  My response was pretty much the same:  Really?  That also strains credulity, and I somehow doubt Republicans would be okay with Obama doing something like this.

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any elected Republican at the federal level that was willing to concede this obvious point either.

(As an aside, I think that Congress should work harder to make the law less ambiguous to begin with, just as it should stop giving the president so many emergency powers to begin with.)

How else has Trump ignored the Constitution and the law?  There is the emoluments clause, for one.  I believe that disagreements about its precise meaning and what to do about it, such as the ones outlined here, are quite reasonable.  Nevertheless, there is a reason that we sometimes use the phrase “spirit of the law,” and I find it hard to believe that Trump’s significant departure with precedent in this regard is in line with the spirit of this clause.  I also believe that there is a reason that they used the word emoluments, which has a wider definition than the word bribe.  Power corrupts, and there are a wide variety of ways that powerful people have to gain yet more power.  We should be willing to do what we can to limit this.

There was also Trump’s refusal to make a clear statement on the peaceful transfer of power, something which even the editors at the National Review criticized him for, even though they are definitely not anti-Trump by any stretch of the imagination.  This attitude of his was not new; in 2016, he also refused to say that he would accept the results of the election if he lost after previously having said that he would.

This disregard for how we do things in this country is not an occasional tendency of his.  President Trump is a man whose actions and words evince a disregard for the letter and the spirit of the law well beyond anything seen in recent American history.  I also believe that he has shown a willingness, wherever he can, to put people who are loyal to him, and not to the law, into power.

Examples include such things as commuting the sentence of someone convicted of a crime that was done for the purpose of helping him; firing the attorney general who rightfully recused himself from an investigation in which he might have a conflict of interest; and, most recently, calling for his opponent to be prosecuted for an unspecified crime.

Then there is his claim that he has the right to pardon himself.  Technically, the Constitution does not make this clear.  Believing this would, however, lead to an absurdity, and more importantly, to tyranny.

I believe that combined, all of these actions go well beyond those of the Obama administration.  Both were uncalled for, but there are at least two massive differences.

The first difference is the motivation behind both men’s actions.  The clearest example of this is on the issue of immigration.

Even though I strongly disagreed with his executive overreach, I believe that Obama’s actions were well-intentioned.  This does not make it any less wrong; people with good intentions can still do bad things.

By contrast, I find it hard to believe that Trump’s actions are motivated only by a desire to secure the border, which is of course something that I support.  Instead, his main purpose seems to be for political purposes:  Claim that he did something to secure the border without doing the hard work of negotiating with Congress to do something that actually makes more sense than a literal wall.

The second difference between the two men is even more significant.  It is that Obama’s words, while concerning, usually had the tone of pushing the envelope further than previous administrations had already pushed it.  Trump’s words, on the other hand, usually have the tone of pretending that the envelope doesn’t exist and mocking you when you say that it does.  Our democratic system cannot sustain itself if we pretend that this isn’t a problem.

Trump’s Failing #2: A relationship with the truth that I wish I could call casual

A 2019 Gallup poll found that 75% of Republicans said that the words “honest and trustworthy” applied to Trump.  I consider myself to be among the 24% who said they don’t.

If you do think he is honest, I am not sure what would convince you otherwise.  I will gladly admit that he is more blunt than the average politician and that he refuses to easily back down; these are not necessarily bad qualities to have by themselves.  We must not confuse them, however, with a commitment to telling the truth.  While the media have done a lot to lose the trust of conservatives, the proper response is to call them out for it and demonstrate that you are capable of being better than they are.

Trump’s Failing #3: Sucking up to dictators

Regardless of party, we can and should agree to stand united against tyrannical regimes the world over.  Describing a murderous dictator as someone who “loves his people” is the exact opposite of that.

This piece in National Review goes into much more detail on Trump’s love for authoritarian figures.  All by itself, this makes Trump unworthy of holding the office.

Trump’s Failing #4: Failing to show a basic regard for others’ personal safety and well-being

There is sometimes a tendency to blame the president for everything bad that has happened in the country since he was elected.  This is not limited to Trump; at this point, it’s an American tradition.

Still, there is a lot that I believe Trump could have done that he has failed to do.

For example, the fundamentally inhumane situation at the border is a national disgrace.  Like many difficult issues, he inherited it, and like many difficult issues, he has made it much worse.  To place the blame entirely on Democrats and none of it on Republicans, or vice-versa, would go against my basic understanding of politics and human nature.  I see very little willingness to take ownership on either side of the aisle nowadays, not that it’s a very common feature in Congress to begin with.

I believe that there is obviously a better way to secure our border much more than it currently is, and I believe that there is obviously a better way to treat those who have come to this country humanely.  Trump has made mostly empty gestures at doing the former and does not seem to give a damn, even in his rhetoric, about the latter.  I find this appalling.

Perhaps, one might argue, we should place the blame entirely on Congress and none on the person who occupies the oval office.  Yet to do this would be asking those in Congress to be nothing but the president’s faithful servants when, if anything, it should be the other way around.  If any single governmental body can claim to represent the people of the United States, it is the legislature, not the executive branch.  It is definitely not the person in charge of running it.  I believe that the people who founded this country knew that, and we would do well to remember it.

Then there is the coronavirus.  Again, it’s the same situation.  No, it does not make sense to blame the President for everything, but yes, I expect him to treat it much more seriously than he has.  We need to be able to think rationally about how to contain the virus and protect the vulnerable while still keeping our economy running as smoothly as possible.  It is also not a binary choice; we depend on the economy for food, shelter and healthcare, which of course are necessary to prevent needless suffering and death, including deaths from the virus.

First, there is his personal behavior.  Even Mitch McConnell differs with the President on basic protocols regarding human safety in the midst of this pandemic.  There are more examples, but this seems like it is perhaps the clearest one.  Even the President’s greatest political ally disagrees with him on this and stated so publicly.

I don’t claim to be an expert on how to handle a pandemic, and there is always room for reasonable disagreement about something as complex as responding to a worldwide pandemic.  Any such analysis will of course be imperfect, but here is one fairly critical assessment of the federal government’s response from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.  Still, we should be able to recognize what calm and steady leadership in a crisis does and does not look like.  I would have to be wearing very rose-tinted glasses to think that this would be an accurate description of Trump’s actions in the past year.

Instead, he seems to be more intent on hoping for a miracle and pretending like it’s not a big deal even when at least some advisers told him otherwise very early on.  I don’t think a president should always believe that the most dire predictions are accurate, but I do think that they should take the range of possible outcomes into serious consideration and also be consistent in their messaging.  Trump has definitely failed to do this.  I therefore find it incredibly hard to believe that he is doing everything he can to do what is in the best interests of the American people.

Point 4: If Trump is an ally in a battle for freedom, then we’ve already lost the war

I am gravely concerned about the radical left and the increasing spread of ideas in universities (and to a lesser extent the mainstream media) that I consider to be repugnant and unAmerican.  These include ideas such as:  Everything is a power game, and nothing else matters; our ethnic identities, our gender, our position in society, etc. do not simply help shape our identity, but instead tell us everything that we need to know about who we are and how we relate to others; whether you are guilty or innocent of a crime depends only a little, if at all, on the facts that we can determine, but instead whose side you are on.

Worryingly, they mirror views on the radical right, but my own impression is that these ideas have gained a stronger following on the left.  On the other hand, the far-left professors and opinion columnists whose views I find to be antithetical to American ideals are not candidates for president.  While their ideas might be gaining some influence, I think it’s quite a stretch to conclude that Biden is an empty vessel for them or that he doesn’t have his own convictions which differ sharply from radical leftists.

If you are very concerned about the illiberalism on the left and are looking for reasons to vote against Trump from a more liberal perspective, this article lists some.

From a conservative perspective, this is my own take:  Trump has done much more damage to the conservative cause than he has helped it by associating too carelessly with illiberal ideas on the right.  If we consider ourselves defenders of liberty, then we must not reelect someone who clearly is not one himself.

I don’t think that this is a matter of perception.  First, it needs to be said the ideas from the alt right are disgusting and not worthy of serious consideration.  There is a reason that they portray themselves as an alternative to mainstream conservative ideas -- a genuinely awful alternative at that.  Second, while Trump has not explicitly allied himself with the alt right, he also seems to be reluctant to criticize them while at the same time appearing to be very comfortable with saying and doing openly bigoted things.

As I see it, I don’t believe that Trump’s occasional racist comments, which he usually refuses to make an actual apology for, make him equivalent to a white supremacist, but I do believe that they have encouraged more people to openly espouse racist views.  A black voter interviewed in this FiveThirtyEight article feels the same way, and I highly doubt it’s because critical race theory has fooled him into believing it.  I think it’s because, as he describes in the article, he’s simply observing what his friends said on social media and when they started saying it.

As for the issue of religious freedom, there is this question:  How can we expect the beliefs that are sincerely held by Christians to be respected if we vote for a man who, in his own words, wanted to stop Muslims from coming into this country?

To put a finer point on this:  When the president’s own adviser was asked about this, he responded, not by saying that the President misspoke, not by expressing a commitment to the law or an appreciation for religious freedom, but instead by explaining that the President had asked him to find “the right way to do it legally."  In other words, he asked him to find a way to work around that pesky Constitution of ours.  Voting for this man will only embolden this blatant hypocrisy on the right, and the left will respond in kind.

All of this obfuscation and bigotry makes the job of genuine conservatives all the more difficult.

This is because the proper way to combat radical ideas on your own side is not to downplay them or make excuses for them but instead to denounce them in such an unequivocal fashion that someone would really have to be a cynic to misinterpret you.  To the extent that you don’t do this, you give the other side all the more reason to view your side with suspicion.  

Unfortunately, this is a game that, to some extent, is played by both sides nowadays:  Ignore your own failings while casting doubt and suspicion on the slightest misstep that someone on the other side makes.

The only way out of this mess that we find ourselves in is if we decide, as a country, to play a different game.  It is possible to oppose sexism, racism, and fear mongering without giving into the temptation to make excuses for it when it’s on your own side.  It’s not the natural thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do.  I don’t see either side doing this all that much right now, but Trump, as with many things, has taken this to a whole new level.

I try to be a patient person with everyone, even politicians, but I have none left for one who requires it so very frequently and so rarely gives any to his opponents.  If Trump is reelected, I will still plead my case for thoughtful conservatives who are not listened to respectfully but instead are accused of thoughtcrime.  I find it very difficult to believe, however, that another Trump term would not make it far more difficult to plead this case than his first one already has.

I am sure that many of my fellow conservatives will respectfully disagree with this.  It is simply impossible to weigh, precisely, the effect of a single person’s actions, individually or taken as a whole -- much less the actions of a president, who is in many ways the single most powerful individual ever to have lived in history.  When a precise measurement of the outcome of the situation is not possible, we must rely to some degree on our emotions.

In other words, we should not only reason with our brain; we should also listen to our gut.  Mine tells me that a second Trump term would be a complete and utter disaster for anyone who loves liberty in our country, regardless of their political or religious convictions.  A lack of respect for one person’s freedom is a lack of respect for the concept altogether.  While a first Biden term certainly has the potential to result in some dangerously illiberal ideas gaining more of a foothold in our politics, it doesn’t feel the same to me by any stretch of the imagination.

“The land of the free” needs to mean something to us if we are to remain free.

Section 3: In politics, my first priority is liberty, and in life, my first priority is Christ

If there is a single abstract concept (as opposed to a person or a text) that describes my political convictions, it is liberty.  Patrick Henry may have been a little melodramatic when he asked for either liberty or death, but I think his heart was in the right place.

To quote St. Paul, if there is a single abstract concept (as opposed to a person or a text) that describes my religious convictions, it is love.

Life is a lot more complicated than adhering to just one basic concept, however.  It is full of difficult choices.  While I find the choice of whom to support for president frustrating on many levels, I’ve faced decisions that I found to be much harder than this one.  They’ve also been much more consequential.  That is to say, my words and my vote on this topic will not have much effect by themselves, but my words and my actions in my daily life will.

This is why no matter who you vote for, I won’t hate you, and I won’t assume anything about your motivations.  Doing those things would do far more damage to my own soul than it could possibly do to improve the situation, no matter how you look at it.  I hope that you feel the same way.

So as we are on the eve of a crucial election, fighting a deadly virus, and as many of us feel more alone and afraid than we ever have before, I want to end with this.

Like many people, I’ve faced a lot of difficult questions in the past year that I hadn’t faced before.  Questions like:  What do I do now that I’ve lost my job unexpectedly?  How careful about this virus should I be without going overboard and making myself crazy?  The most vexing one for me was:  How do I allow my teenage son to hang out with his friends, but convince him to do so responsibly, so that I can protect my wife, whose medical conditions put her at the highest risk for the virus?

Then there are the questions that I had some familiarity with but have now experienced on a whole new level.  Questions like:  How do I even find out what is actually happening, when it seems that all of the media outlets are so obviously biased?  How do I express compassion for someone’s genuinely felt pain and anger while also, at the same time, not giving up my devotion to speak what I believe is the truth?

I have found facing all of these questions painful and vexing, and often there is no clear answer.  I know that I am not alone in that.  But it is not in spite of that pain and frustration, but because of it, that I am consciously making an effort to think more deeply about, and develop a more passionate appreciation for, the most basic convictions of my faith and my politics.

On some issues, I have changed my position somewhat, but on the most important ones, I have only grown more confident.  Primarily, they are these:  All Americans, and the world, are much better off if our country remains together rather than splits apart.  All of us deserve to have our voices heard, our ideas duly considered, and our God-given rights protected.  Finally, and most importantly, all of us share some responsibility to each other for making that happen.  Frankly, we need to do a much better job of that than we have been.

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