For many people, this election season is about as distasteful as it can get. Even for a guy like me who dislikes politicians in general, this upcoming election is particularly bad. On the one hand, the Democratic party continues to drift in a direction that seems unacceptable for Christians, but on the other, Donald Trump basically completed a hostile takeover of the Republican Party because that party was so disorganized and disappointing. After the circus shows of the national conventions, we officially have our candidates for America’s two major parties, and for many people, it feels like choosing between drowning in a lake or in a swimming pool.
I’ve already written before about Trump’s puzzling popularity. Now, more and more evangelicals are talking themselves into supporting Trump, including revered systematic theologian Wayne Grudem. Grudem is well-respected as a theologian and as a man, and the respect is earned; even though I would disagree with him extensively on Reformed theology, I don’t question his intellect or his heart. However, in his article saying that voting for Donald Trump is a morally good (or at least, morally better) choice, I think he overstates his case in many respects.
True, Trump isn’t bad at everything and Hillary stinks
Grudem is right on several things: For example, he’s right that the liberal media often exaggerates things that Trump says or does, accusing him of unlikely characteristics such as racism. I have noticed how the media and the entertainment industry has desperately mobilized to push out an anti-Trump rhetoric and to insinuate that people who support him are uneducated and racist themselves. This narrative often ignores the real reasons why Trump is popular with blue collar workers (from across the political spectrum) who feel jilted and condescended to by establishment elites: His promises on trade, jobs, and straightforwardness (of course, whether or not he’ll actually deliver on these promises is another matter).
In comparison, Grudem is right that Trump is less likely to be unfriendly to religious liberty (of Christians, anyway), less likely to expand abortion, less likely to support using gender confusion as a weapon to force others into actions with which they disagree, and less likely to enact leftist economic policies than Hillary Clinton, if for no other reason than to not tick off conservatives who vote for him. As many Dems drift further into “regressive left” territory, the party becomes far less of a palatable option for Christians. The thunderous applause for abortions at the DNC should make any thinking Christian pause.
In addition, if Trump is president, he is less likely to appoint liberal activist judges onto the Supreme Court, positions that they hold for life. The next president has to at least appoint one due to Scalia’s death, but the future president may also get the opportunity to appoint two or three more, as many justices are aging. Granted, no one can be sure what even Republican-appointed justices will do and Congress can always cause a ruckus and prevent certain justices from being approved, but it’s the president that still gets to put one up as an option, and that option will most likely be in line with the president’s ideology.
So I get it. Hillary is a problematic candidate who rides the waves of popularity and holds to leftist ideals that could be disastrous if left unchecked. Does this mean that Christians should vote for Trump as the morally good choice?
False choices and photoshopping Trump’s character
It doesn’t seem that way. Where Grudem errs is that he presents us with a false choice while also “photoshopping” Trump’s character flaws and stupid statements to make them look better than they are.
Let’s look at the false choice first. The typical argument from Grudem and others (on both sides of the aisle) is that a vote not cast for one candidate is like a vote cast for the other. Thus, we have rhetoric on both sides that state that not voting for Hillary is like voting for Trump and vice versa. The premise in this rhetoric is that, like it or not, we have a two-party system. Abstaining from voting or voting for a third party doesn’t change that. Presented with these two choices, you have to vote for the one that is the “lesser evil.” Some think the lesser evil is Hillary, and some think it is Trump. For Grudem, he clearly finds Trump the lesser evil.
I have a bit of sympathy for this line of reasoning because A) There are indeed times when it seems like we have to choose the less crappy of bad options and B) It really does seem like the two-party system dominates completely. Ross Perot famously won nearly 20% of the popular vote back in 1992 but received a grand total of zero electoral votes; about the only thing he did was probably prevent George Bush Sr. from being re-elected. However, as a moral argument, I’m not sure this holds water because even if third party candidates are unlikely to win, they are still legitimate options.
Let’s say, for example, that you can vote to have a someone, whom you know is innocent, executed by crucifixion, executed by lethal injection, or set free. Based upon what you believe about the other voters, you know that option 3 has a small chance of winning. Does it follow that, morally speaking, you should vote for option #2 because it is less painful than #1 but also more likely to win than #3? Not obviously. You would still be burdened with the knowledge that you knowingly condemned an innocent man to die when there was a legitimate option to vote for him to go free. The morally good choice would seem to be to vote for #3, even if no one else follows.
Of course, in this choice between Trump and Clinton, it is far less obvious that one option is much worse than the other. And this leads to Grudem’s error in trying to rationalize away Trump’s buffoonery.
Trump’s character concerns
I understand that the President of the United States need not be a saint to be an effective president; however, character should matter to a certain extent because moral decisions can and do affect policy. Not only is the president supposed to represent the USA to other countries and have some level of professionalism, it is more important that the president is wise, reasonable, calm, and attuned to the people.
I do not doubt that Trump has been generous to people before, and he may even care about blue collar workers. However, he has displayed an incredible lack of judgment in things that he says and has also shown himself to be childishly vindictive when he feels he’s attacked. Being thin-skinned and easy to rankle aren’t the greatest traits for someone to have as the commander-in-chief. His tough guy military rhetoric may impress some people, but it should really worry most of us because military might needs to be used judiciously.
His response to the Muslim father of a fallen soldier who spoke at the DNC was also astonishingly stupid and passive-aggressive. I would not had a problem with him being sarcastic; if he said something biting like, “Yeah, I know what the Constitution says; maybe you should give your copy to Obama so he can know why his executive order on amnesty was stupid,” that would be fair and fine. But to insinuate that the man’s wife was not allowed to speak was extraordinarily dense, and it shows that even if he is less likely to come after Christians, we should still be worried about his views on religious liberty as a whole. As I’ve said before, Christians should be at the forefront of defending religious liberty… including that of other religions. Trump is free to criticize any religion like Islam and at least he will call a spade a spade and say the words “Islamic terrorism” (unlike Obama), but saying that he wants to limit Muslim travel to the US should raise red flags.
On top of this, some of his policy promises also make no sense for conservatives. Any conservative should ask the question, “How are we going to pay for that?” because it is more of a liberal trait to naively assume that money comes from thin air as long as you tax those evil rich people like crazy. His wall idea is so impractical and silly that I don’t know where to start. Yes, immigration needs to be regulated much better in this country, but good luck trying to get Mexico to pay for a wall. That’s not “tough” speak; it’s just nonsense.
Hillary being a terrible option isn’t enough to make Trump the morally good choice if Trump himself is terrible as well. He may present different problems than Hillary, but they may be just as serious.
I try to be an open-minded dude, so I will see if Trump can clean up his rhetoric, state policy that makes more sense, and show some maturity. Heck, maybe if he wins, he’ll quickly learn how difficult the job is and actually learn to be a good president. However, as of now, I am not convinced that Trump is so much better than Hillary that we can tell Christians that the correct moral choice is to vote for Trump (I don’t buy the inverse either). Furthermore, I think Grudem is underestimating the overall damage to the Christian witness a mass evangelical support for Trump could cause, so even if Grudem is right that there are policy gains to be had for voting for Trump over Hillary, it may not be the “morally good” choice to vote for him if it’s going to associate Christ with Trump’s antics.
Basically, I see no reason why we can fault Christians or anyone else for abstaining or voting third party. Those remain legitimate choices, regardless of the highly charged rhetoric firing from both major parties.