With only a little more than a week left, I'll make my case.
Do I want a Clinton presidency? No.
Do I plan to vote for Mrs. Clinton? Probably not; most likely, I'll vote third party in the contest for Minnesota's electoral votes. (More on that below).
But if I must state a preference between the two? Fine. I'm not the one who apparently made up the rules. But I'm not afraid to say it, not among my conservative friends, not among my liberal friends, and not among people who aren't my friends at all.
I prefer Mrs. Clinton to Mr. Trump.
I'll sum up my position both succinctly and at length.
I believe a bad President of the United States to be preferable to an insane one.
Now, at length.
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I'm not voting "against my conscience" if I refuse to vote for the Republican party. I won't even be voting "against my conscience" if I decide to color in the little bubble next to Clinton/Kaine when it comes to the final day -- something I haven't ruled out, because every bit of information counts.
I vote my conscience every time I vote, and this is no different. I urge you to vote your conscience too.
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First I'm going to address why it's permissible to vote against Mr. Trump. If you think you must vote for Mr. Trump because you're not allowed to vote for someone with Mrs. Clinton's beliefs, this is the part you should pay attention to.
The reason I'm not sure yet whether I'll vote third party or whether I'll actually vote for Mrs. Clinton is because it matters to me how close the election is in Minnesota. Not because it will affect whether I will vote my conscience, but because my conscience directs me to consider the pragmatic effects of my vote. It matters to my conscience how close the election is.
I've already determined that I prefer a Clinton presidency to a Trump presidency (more on that later), the closeness of the election is relevant to whether I will try to help Mrs. Clinton to get more votes than Mr. Trump by voting for electors who will select Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Kaine, or whether I will just allow it to happen without my help. There might be some other good I could accomplish with my vote, such as expressing positive support for another candidate that I view as good.
Make no mistake, I view Mrs. Clinton as a bad candidate and a poor choice. I think it likely that she is corrupt, self-interested, and that she thinks herself above ordinary laws and rules, something that's rather dangerous in an executive. Along with most of the rest of the Democratic Party, she advocates some positions that I agree with strongly; but she also promotes other policies that I believe are repellent and so fundamentally contrary to justice as to outweigh the goodness of her good and right positions.
Mrs. Clinton hasn't earned my vote.
And yet, people older and wiser than me, whose task and vocation is the guidance of the people of the United States on moral matters, and who share my understanding of the meaning of the human person, have written about this type of situation.
34. Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter's intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate's opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.
35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.
36. When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.
37. In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate's commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.
It's important to understand that the U.S. bishops' document quoted above (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship) is meant to supplement rather than to substitute for the pastoral advice given by one's local bishop. The USCCB has no special authority and isn't higher-up-in-the-hierarchy than your own bishop, who knows your local situation better than the USCCB acting as a whole. But supposing that one's own bishop hasn't made a contradictory statement, one can safely use this as a guide to the practical and specific problems of voting as a moral act in the United States.
Practically speaking, it's rare that Americans face an election in which any candidate is certifiably evil-policy-free. We are used to the idea that it's okay to vote for a candidate who promotes an intrinsic moral evil, if our vote is somehow against a candidate who promotes a worse one. We sometimes give this idea the shorthand of "voting for the lesser evil." But that's not actually the moral principle that we are working with. The principle that permits us to do so is the principle of remote material cooperation with evil when proportionate reasons exist.
The term "material cooperation with evil" is an unfortunate term because it sounds like a bad thing. But material cooperation with evil is almost impossible for most people to avoid. It's contrasted with formal cooperation, in which you have the intention to further the evil end. In material cooperation, you do something that happens to further an evil end, even with full knowledge that your act will have some evil effect, but with no intention to do so. In the United States of America, paying your taxes is an act of material cooperation with evil, because it is entirely foreseeable that the government will use some of your money to do bad things that you don't want it to do. And yet we pay taxes, even consider it a duty, because we all have proportionately grave reasons. Justice demands it.
What the U. S. bishops are saying is that voting for a candidate who has an intrinsically evil policy you don't support -- even voting for a candidate who has lots of intrinsically evil policies that you don't support -- is an act of material cooperation, not formal cooperation, in the evil policies. That's why it says a voter can't vote for a candidate who has evil policies "if the voter's intent is to support that position." The "if" matters! (Voting for a candidate who has intrinsically evil policies that you do support would be formal cooperation, not material.)
And material cooperation with intrinsic evil is permissible -- might even be obligatory, like paying taxes -- if you have a proportionate reason to do so.
Material cooperation with intrinsic evil is exactly what you're doing when you vote for a candidate who has some evil policies but you think, "They're not as evil as the other candidate's policies." Even if you think you're voting "for less evil," it's not okay for exactly that reason. It's okay because you have a proportionately grave reason. Often that reason is "the other candidate's policies are also evil," but it doesn't have to be.
Indeed, "the other guy's policies are more evil" is not the only possible proportionate reason out there.
You might do it out of justifiable fear of real danger to some important good, for example.
But I digress.
The principle here is this:
It's morally permissible to vote for a candidate who has intrinsically evil policies if (a) you do not do it because you support the intrinsically evil policies and (b) you have ANY proportionate reason to do so. The reason does not have to be "the other candidate also has intrinsically evil policies and I think those policies are more evil." In fact, that reason is almost nonsense, because just as the value of human persons cannot be compared because all persons have an INTRINSIC value, then the evilness of intrinsic evils cannot be compared because they are INTRINSIC to their very nature.
The moral calculation then comes down to how proportionately grave the foreseeable consequences of one's act are.
And that's why I'm waiting to see the outcome of the Minnesota polls all the way to the election:
Possibility one is that Mrs. Clinton's positive supporters -- people who are happy to support her as President under the current circumstances -- will be counted so numerous in my state that they can be predicted to handily deliver our ten electoral votes to her and her running mate. If that's the case, then I should have no fear that a candidate even worse than her will win them without my help. Already resolved not to cooperate formally with those of her policies which are intrinsically evil, I will not have a proportionate reason to cooperate materially with them either.
In that case, I will use my vote to express positive support of a good candidate:
Evan McMullin, who appears on the Minnesota ballot on the Independence Party ticket.
Possibility two is that Mrs. Clinton will not have enough positive supporters to predict with high probability that they can, alone, deliver the ten electoral votes. If this is the case then I will conclude that I have a proportionate reason to materially cooperate in her evil policies, in order to assist her positive supporters as well as her reluctant ones in keeping Minnesota's electoral votes away from the candidate who is even worse than she is. I won't be happy about this situation, but I will do what I believe I must -- not despite my conscience, but in obedience to it, and with a full understanding that a vote for Mrs. Clinton -- like a vote for most political candidates, no matter what the letter behind their names -- is a remote material cooperation with evil.
So, yeah. I don't live in Ohio or Arizona or any of the other swing states. Your local conditions, you know better than I do. But with the information I have and the beliefs I have, I would not rule out voting for Mrs. Clinton if I did live in those places.
I won't lie to you. I'll be more unhappy if I vote for Mrs. Clinton than if I vote for Mr. McMullin. Not because I'll be doing the wrong thing -- I believe that voting in accord with a proportionately grave reason is the right thing -- but because I'm particularly emotionally moved by the evils I'll be materially cooperating with. But in my experience, emotion has never been an accurate guide to the rightness of a difficult decision.
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You'll notice that I haven't yet explained why I think there are "truly grave moral reasons" to defeat Mr. Trump, such that I consider it potentially permissible to vote for Mrs. Clinton. There are three tactics I can take to answer that, all of which (in my view) adequately answer the question individually. Two take it for granted that the cause of protection of the unborn is the most important activist cause in the United States today, and opposition to that cause to be a very grave intrinsic evil. One admits the possibility of still graver threats.
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First, it's not enough that a candidate merely speak the words "I am pro-life" or "I will appoint pro-life judges." As the bishops say, when evaluating candidates' stances, These decisions should take into account a candidate's commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. Mr. Trump's commitment to the pro-life cause is risible; his character is that of a person who contributes to the culture of death by demeaning and using human persons and treating them as sexual objects, which is contrary to the culture of life; his integrity is not attested to by any trustworthy person; his ability to influence the cause of life is significant -- significantly damaging. In short, Mr. Trump is not a pro-life candidate. We are faced with two candidates who promote the culture of death, albeit in two different ways. And once you accept this truth, it rather lowers the bar of any "proportionately grave reason" to decline to vote for Mr. Trump. That's one reason. If it is not sufficient to drive a vote to Mrs. Clinton, it is at least sufficient to permit voters who cannot bring themselves to vote for a pro-choice candidate, at least, to decline to vote for the Republican nominee.
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Second. I once received a wise piece of advice from a pro-life activist that, at the time, I respected. It was to "consider the gains that the pro-life cause can make in any election." I have considered those gains, and I have concluded that, in many ways, the pro-life cause has already lost this presidential election. Our chances to make reliable gains on November 8 are solely in downticket races, in opposing bad presidential policies via the checks and balances inherent to federalism and the separation of powers. We do not have a candidate -- we do not have a candidate -- who can be trusted to make good and pro-life appointments to the Supreme Court. (Even well-intentioned candidates have made appointments that turned in unexpected directions.) The Democratic candidate is committed to the Democratic platform; the Republican candidate is a womanizing, sexually aggressive scoundrel. The GOP had a chance to nominate several different candidates who would have been good, or at least good enough. The GOP declined to provide us with one. We have already lost the political power of the presidency on our side, with its Supreme Court appointments, with its vetoes. The question is, what more can we lose?
And the answer to that question is: a great deal. We can lose our integrity, we can lose our public image, we can lose all chance of convincing an entire generation that to be pro-life one must first be committed to justice for women (because to be pro-life is to believe in the equality of dignity of all human persons, no more, no less). We can go from having the ear of one major party, at least, to having the ear of no major parties, while the GOP devolves into squabbling over the votes of white nationalists. It's already clear to me that the real battleground of the pro-life cause is within the hearts and minds of individuals, masses of people: it's moving everyone towards love, through fear. Steering the composition of the Supreme Court is putting the cart before the horse. Electing Trump will do nothing predictably good for the Supreme Court, and much that's predictably bad for the public understanding of right and wrong and acceptance of the most marginalized human beings. This also is sufficient reason to vote against the man.
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Third. There are greater dangers to human life than the danger that our particular U.S. form of the culture of death will become one notch more entrenched than it already is, here, via this one election.
Mr. Trump has evident fascist tendencies: he has suggested he would order U. S. soldiers to commit war crimes (evincing a lack of respect for the rule of law as well as a dangerous disregard for our military men and women), he promotes the force of his own personality as a solution in and of itself to our social problems, he expresses admiration for foreign autocrats, he sees strength as a virtue of itself rather than a tool to enact virtue in the world, he tweets dog whistles to unapologetic racists and antisemites, he openly calls for the prosecution of his political enemies, he openly calls for making wild demands of nations that we need to be our allies. It's fundamentally dangerous to elect a person who appears to have no respect for the underlying structure of the American republic. Our republic is not perfect, and yet there are many things about it which shelter the weak against the strong, which promote justice and equality and human dignity. We must protect what is good in it, or we will not be able to keep it. (If we wish to improve protection of the unborn, that means we wish to extend the rule of law to protect them; it means that we need to elect leaders who will not undermine that rule of law; arguably, it is not possible to promote life while permitting fascism to flourish.)
Furthermore, Mr. Trump has an evident mental disorder, or personality disorder. I'm not the only person to observe that he displays evidence of narcissistic personality disorder. He lashes out at anyone who criticizes him, cannot handle criticism of any kind, and if there is one thing that a president can expect to face while in office, it is criticism. He speaks recklessly rather than diplomatically about foreign leaders. He is unpredictable and temperamental. If this were the eighteenth or nineteenth century, when the President of the United States did not wield quite so much power to harm or help people all over the world as well as people within our borders, it would not matter so much to elect a person who is, possibly, not actually sane.
Once the United States was not a military power to be reckoned with. Once the President was effectively checked by an ambitiously self-interested Congress. Once the President did not hold the personal power to unilaterally order the launch of nuclear missiles. Now the Presidency is different. The calculations are different. A President can, and regularly does, do enormous damage to human lives all over the world. We have to take that into account, and protect against unintended evils as well as against intended ones.
I judge that the danger of having an insane fascist president is a grave enough reason, all by itself, to vote for a more-or-less-ordinary, if even-less-appealing-than-usual Democrat -- yes, even Hillary Clinton -- or at least for a third party, if it seems that Mrs. Clinton will win in my state without my help. I judge an insane fascist president to be a grave enough reason even to vote for a terribly corrupt and dishonest alternative.
I admit, that's a matter of personal judgment. You might well think that the danger of an insane fascist president is overblown and not a proportionate reason to vote against the Republican nominee. I disagree with that. I respect your right to form your own conscience. I'm only laying out what I see from where I sit, here in Minnesota, on October 28.
But remember: the "down with insane fascists" argument is only one of three. Each of the three reasons are sufficient, in my view, all by themselves, to justify a #nevertrump vote -- at least from me, at least in my state of Minnesota. I think that Mrs. Clinton will be ahead enough due to her own supporters that I can vote third-party, in a bid to let the GOP know what I think of their choice; but I really will be watching the numbers down to the very day before the election. I know I'll feel "right" about my choice when I make it. I hope I'm also happy about it.
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My final note is an exhortation. Consider where you are. Look at the polls in your state. Consider what good your vote might do in the context of your state's electoral votes. Then vote your conscience to do the most possible good. Vote on November 8.