Trade-offs: The Complicated “Economics” of Political Decision-Making

I know I hinted that I was done with the election and politics, and believe me, I want to be.  Those who know me know that I would rather spend time writing about football, basketball, philosophy, theology, or even pop culture (typically in a satirical way), but I feel like something else was important to address more fully: The oversimplified and uncharitable way people are treating their political opponents.  This isn’t exactly new, but the amount of emotional accusations, hasty generalizations, and melodrama is really getting out of control.  Those on the left are particularly angry right now and use rhetoric like these:

“If you voted for Trump, you just said that I don’t matter.” (where “I” is identified with some class of people that is allegedly oppressed.)

“A vote for Trump means that you’re for normalizing all of his offensive speech.”

“Hate won tonight.”

So on and so forth, all the same silly accusations that I already said many on the left would resort to.  In fairness, victorious Trump supporters have said things that can paraphrased like:

“Voting for Hillary means you just wanted more political corruption.”

“If you voted for Hillary, you’re a baby murderer.”

“Remember, Hillary tried to cover for Bill’s womanizing, so if you voted for Hillary, YOU are the one who hates women.”

I get it; demonizing your opponents makes it easier to rev yourself up to oppose them, and it’s often a good way to make yourself feel better.  However, such rage is ultimately immature and unhelpful and solves nothing.  What it ends up doing is simply poisoning the well of dialogue.

Look, I’m the last person who thinks that it’s bad for people to be blunt, snarky, sarcastic, or firm.  Those are fair game, and I put little value on hurt feelings on their own because hurt feelings are normally a pretty useless way to arrive at truth.  Still, there’s a difference between being blunt or sharply critical and caricaturing the other side in order to score cheap emotional points.  The problem with a lot of this rhetoric is that it does not seem to take into account the fact that political decisions are often fraught with trade-offs for each voter, and this was especially true of this election because both candidates were so disliked and so polarizing.

The Economics of Decision-Making

Let me draw an analogy from sports (if you don’t like sports, sorry, but this is probably more relatable than an analogy from philosophy or theology, which is what I almost did).  Let’s say you are evaluating two imperfect quarterbacks who have different strengths and weaknesses.  One quarterback has a cannon arm, okay accuracy, and good speed and quickness.  He’s also a bit short.  The other has a mediocre arm, excellent accuracy, and quick decision-making, while standing a prototypical 6’4.  Who do you go with?  Well, it depends what you value more and what traits you think will be most helpful in your offense.  It would be nice to have a QB that has the brain and arm of a prime Peyton Manning, the accuracy of Tom Brady, and the legs of Michael Vick, but that’s not exactly the situation most coaches find themselves in.  The coach has to make trade-offs in his decision and accept the downsides of that decision.  When the two players are either both really good or both pretty bad, that decision is far more difficult

Now let’s look at this election.  There were two unpopular and flawed candidates to go along with some third-party candidates that A) Were flawed themselves and B) Had as much chance of winning as I do of making the NBA.  There were undoubtedly many voters who fell into hero-worship and just could not fathom that Hillary or Trump had problems, but I think most others probably found themselves agreeing with some things about a candidate but also disliking (even strongly) some other things about that candidate.  In addition, those that found both major candidates unacceptable had to wrestle with the idea that a third-party person they voted for would have virtually zero chance of winning.  Should they just vote their conscience?  Should they vote for the “lesser of two evils,” if they can identify that?  What issues are the most important?  If a candidate has aspects that are really problematic, how does that compare to the other candidate?  Can those flaws be balanced out by other positives?

Let’s take a look at the myriad of reasons why people voted for Donald Trump that do NOT include people glossing over his offensive remarks or being bigots:

-A self-described liberal Muslim, who agrees with same-sex marriage and abortion, voted for Trump for a simple reason: Obamacare made her health insurance unaffordable as a single mother.  She also disliked the fact that Obama and others refused to use the word “Islamic” for ISIS and other terrorist groups.

-She is not alone in letting personal economics make the decision for her; those who are paying attention understand that some of these geographic locations that went to Trump are struggling badly, and he was the only one who really spoke to them.  Also, many Americans saw their insurance costs rise considerably before the election.

-Many people were deeply concerned by Hillary’s support of third-trimester abortions (and the whole “shout your abortion” meme that came out of the DNC).  They gritted their teeth and voted for a man they dislike because they thought saving the lives of the unborn was the greater good.

-Many people worried that replacing the conservative Scalia with a liberal justice would greatly imbalance the Supreme Court and have serious ramifications for a generation, so they voted for Trump in the hopes that people around him would suggest good, constitutionally conservative judges for him to appoint.

-Others were troubled by the stances that many on the left were taking regarding freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to bear arms, so they voted against the person they thought was more sympathetic to those stances.

-Some others, maybe even including a handful of Bernie supporters, did not want more of the same and felt that Washington needed a massive shake-up.

-And still some others were put off by Trump’s comments on immigration but were even more troubled by the Democrats’ immigration ideas, which seemed to not even address the problem.

Many more reasons can be put forth, but the important thing to see is this: Many people voted for Trump for one or more of the above reasons despite disliking the guy and all the offensive things that he said.  Furthermore, there are many who strongly disagreed with Trump on policy issues and yet still voted for him because those disagreements were outweighed in their minds by agreement on other issues or by stronger disagreements with Clinton.  Basically, they had to make trade-offs; you may not agree with their trade-offs, you may think they should have voted 3rd party, or you may think that the trade-offs involved with voting for Hillary were less taxing, but you cannot simply accuse them of endorsing everything that Trump has done, said, or stood for, much less accuse them of endorsing things that he has never said (like “You don’t matter”).  It certainly does not mean it makes sense to accuse them of endorsing racist things that crazier Trump supporters have done.  That is an incredibly naive and unhelpful approach to politics.

On the other side, not everyone who voted for Hillary is okay with late-term abortions, her shady email situation, the regressive left’s absurdities, the stacked deck against Bernie Sanders, skyrocketing insurance premiums, immature protests, etc.  Some Hillary voters, such as ultra liberal Michael Moore, weren’t all that enthused about doing so but viewed Trump as someone far more dangerous.  That was his trade-off despite vowing to never vote for Hillary again after she supported the Iraq War.

In addition, Hillary lost seven million Barack Obama voters, some seemingly to Trump, some to third parties who did better this time around, and some who seemed like they just didn’t bother to vote.  Clearly, their “trade-off” decisions were quite different this time around and they ultimately rejected someone who largely agrees with Obama in terms of policy.  As a side note, if you’re the Democratic Party, it might behoove you to figure out why Hillary performed so abysmally compared to Obama and lost despite the fact that Trump did worse than Romney in many respects.  Calling these seven million voters a bunch of racists is probably not a sound strategy for winning them back.  Just a suggestion.

Christians being uncharitable

It has often been implied by some Christians that those who voted for Trump became way too immersed in the world.  For some Christians, that is probably true, but there are many Christians who voted for Trump who did not simply forget about the kingdom of God.  They simply felt like they were put in a difficult position and had to make a very difficult trade-off.  Being condemning towards them is hardly fair, helpful, or charitable.

Trump was far from an ideal conservative candidate; in fact, those conservative Christians who were iffy on Romney for being Mormon probably found themselves wishing for him because Romney seems like a pretty solid dude with some good conservative policy ideas (well, except for Robert Jeffress).  Trump was so bad that I made the decision not to vote him and make peace with the fact that Hillary would win, and many Christians did the same (clearly, we were wrong about him losing).  For me, the trade-off of voting for someone like Trump for short-term policy gains was outweighed by the long-term damage I thought he would do.

At the same, other Christians looked at the same trade-off and made the hard (hopeful?) decision to vote for him and hope that whatever long-term damage he might do, it won’t be as bad as we fear and won’t be as bad as Hillary’s damage.  I disagreed with their decision, but I see honest Christians struggling with a truly difficult decision they were faced with (many of who desperately wanted someone else as the nominee like Rubio or Cruz), not Christians who just abandoned Christian ethics for power.  I may expect such simple-minded and hostile accusations from non-Christians like Alec Baldwin, but it is truly disheartening to see other evangelical Christians resort to this rhetoric.  You can criticize the decision to vote for Trump in terms of the wisdom and logic of these trade-offs, but unless you have some pretty good evidence that someone endorses him for who he is, it is ridiculous to make blanket accusations that Christians who voted for him are accepting of racism and bigotry.


One thought on “Trade-offs: The Complicated “Economics” of Political Decision-Making

  1. Pingback: Russell Moore, the SBC, and Donald Trump: A Nuanced Look | leesomniac

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