Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The one gleam of silver lining

The news last night that not only had D.T. won the Republican primary in Indiana but also that Ted Cruz had suspended his campaign came as a shock. That is to say, the latter part of that came as a shock. I can only assume that Cruz's backers told him they would no longer fund his campaign.

The whole thing is incredibly sad. This year's field of Republican primary runners, of course with the exception of the now-presumptive nominee, were so promising. There were so many for whom I could have happily voted in good conscience. Not all, but quite a few. Including, especially, Cruz the outsider who represented both the opposition to "business as usual" in the Republican party and principled, constitutional, knowledgeable conservatism. That this charlatan should have come along and poisoned and co-opted the process is sickening. That voters let him get away with it and even supported him enthusiastically is worse. That many of these voters think of themselves as conservative is the worst of all.

There is no way to make this out good. This is the death throes of the Republic, which I believed in and, in a real sense, still believe in. The destruction of a good thing is not a judgement on that good thing. Unlike some silly fools who think they are making a profound point against democracy by pointing out that democracy has been destroyed, I am (I trust) able to tell the difference between something that self-destructs because it is inherently wrong-headed and something that is destroyed by the malice and sin of man attacking it outright.

Yes, there are still good and beautiful things in the world, and we must now cling to those. But in the political world, the prospects are very bleak indeed.

There is one, and only one, gleam of silver lining in the dark, dark clouds that hover over us, and that is the NeverTrump movement itself. Matt Walsh has been a wonderfully articulate spokesman of it and remains defiant after last night, speaking for all of us. Last night on his public Facebook wall Walsh posted:

I will have more tomorrow, but let me assure you that when I said never Trump, I meant never Trump. That has not changed and never will. The disaster ahead will not be on my conscience. I wash my hands of it. I will not acquiesce to a tyrant. I do not care what letter he has beside his name. A lot of "Never Trump" people will surrender in the coming days, but I promise you I won't. I've chosen this path and I will stick to it.
Our country is headed to a dark place. Pray tonight, everyone.
Exactly. The idea that one would say "never" and then, like D.T. himself, blandly turn around and say the opposite, is deeply insulting. Never always meant never and was always set up in explicit anticipation of the possibility that he might be the Republican nominee.

Why do I call the NeverTrump movement the one gleam of a silver lining? Because for all of my adult politics-watching life two errors of thought have dominated conservative thinking: Error 1: It is an a priori truth that there is always a "lesser evil" in American politics. Error 2: It is an a priori truth that it is morally required that one vote for the lesser evil once one figures out what it is to the best of one's ability.

In the last two presidential elections I didn't vote for the candidate of either major political party. I had reasons for this. I thought that both McCain and (though to a lesser extent) Romney were too compromised on pro-life issues, and I also sensed strongly that Romney was no culture warrior and that his commitment to social conservatism was weak. I was able to articulate these reasons and discuss them, but Error 1 and Error 2 made it impossible to reason with most people. I would say again and again, "Look, maybe this candidate hasn't crossed your line, and I get that, but surely you realize that there must be a line, right? You wouldn't vote for just anybody just because he happened to have the Republican label and you think that that is always less bad than the person with the Democrat label, right?"

And again and again, they answered, in essence, "Wrong. There shouldn't be a line. There is no line. There is always a lesser evil. You always have to find out what it is and vote for that. Voting for the President of the United States for one of the candidates of the two major parties is a moral imperative."

I couldn't understand it. I would try reductios, but they were impervious. And some still are.

Well, what I'm realizing in 2016 is that people talking politics don't do very well with abstract reductios. It works better when you have an actual, blatant, moral cretin, right in front of our eyes, who is the presumptive Republican nominee for the august office of the President of the United States of America. Then, thank God, at least some good people start to realize that Error 1 and Error 2 are errors. And thus the nevertrump movement was born.

To my mind, this is an important development. I have never considered the stranglehold of the two-party system in the United States to be a politically healthy thing. We need to mix it up a little. We need more options. And conscience can help a lot in that mixing up process. But not if conscience is misdirected by Error 1 and Error 2. Those errors co-opt conscience. They draft the power of conscience into perpetuating the two-party system and the Imperative To Vote as some kind of holy relics.

Now, I have no crystal ball about what is going to happen. It's not that I expect some viable third party to rise from the ashes of the Republican Party. I suspect we're not that lucky, and to be frank, third parties tend to be the breeding ground of precisely the kinds of kooks and conspiracy theorists who are now enthusiastically following D.T. over the edge of the abyss.

But for decades now I have realized that the final battle in this country is going to be the guerilla warfare for individual human minds, hearts, and ultimately, souls. And in that battle, the NeverTrump movement is an extremely positive and important development. Americans, conservatives, at least some of them, have at last found the place where they will stand, where they will say, "No, never, not gonna go there.That's a bridge too far."

If you don't have a "never" place, a place to stand, a place where you draw the line and will not move, you are constantly giving away pieces of yourself, and that's a dangerous thing to do. To quote Robert Bolt's Thomas More:

And what would you do with a water spaniel that was afraid of water? You'd hang it! Well, as a spaniel is to water, so is a man to his own self. I will not give in because I oppose it--I do--not my pride, not my spleen, nor any other of my appetites but I do--I....Is there no single sinew in the midst of this that serves no appetite of Norfolk's but is just Norfolk? There is! Give that some exercise, my lord...Because as you stand, you'll go before your Maker in a very ill condition! And he'll have to conclude that somewhere back along your pedigree--a bitch got over the wall!
And now, with NeverTrump, maybe some people are discovering that they have something within themselves that is not just a voter, not just an agonized political pawn, but a man, a person, with real moral limits, and they are ready to say, "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me." Now there will be, we may hope, some who will bow neither to the image of Baal nor to the Golden Calf.

For that, we may always hope. There are always these individual victories to be won, whatever happens to the nation. For the probing and testing of God does not cease until the end of time, when history is truly ended and the books are opened.

May He find us faithful.


Tony said...

Error 1: It is an a priori truth that there is always a "lesser evil" in American politics.

And again and again, they answered, in essence, "Wrong. There shouldn't be a line. There is no line. There is always a lesser evil. You always have to find out what it is and vote for that.

I think I would analyze it slightly differently. With regard to Error 1: there is, in a different sense, a truth in there, that there is always a lesser evil. Not in the sense they mean, though.

In every situation in which you must act, there is a moral choice. Even if one of the choices is to "not do X nor do Y", that's a choice. There is ALWAYS a moral option. If, therefore, all options before you are going to yield unsavory results, then you have to choose something unsavory in order to make a moral choice, to do the moral thing. In that situation, after discarding the choices that are of inherently disordered acts, you would choose the remaining choice that offers the most good, or the least evil (not moral evil), or the happiest combination of the two. This just is the proper, normative way of bringing morality to choice.

But the foolish ones you speak of foolishly mistake "you have to make a moral choice between evils" as being logically and morally equal to "you have to VOTE FOR the least evil of the two major candidates." And there is really little or no justification for such an illogical mistake. The morality of choosing the "lesser evil" always includes "do nothing overt". Because that IS always one of the choices before you. It may not be a moral choice, in certain circumstances, but it is always an option among the choices to be weighed.

In addition, because there are other candidates besides the two major ones, there are other options even among "vote for someone" choices than "vote for one of the two major party candidates". To ignore those additional options in deciding what is moral is a clear mistake. There are some who have not ignored that option, they have rather decided that voting for one of the other candidates is NEVER one of the "least evil" votes, usually for reasons of expediency: it "won't achieve anything", which they take as meaning it is "imprudent". But it can't really "not achieve anything", because it inherently increases the vote total for a third or fourth candidate. That's not nothing. It may be very little, but God sometimes makes much of very little, like the widow's mite. But...

Tony said...

To my mind, this is an important development. I have never considered the stranglehold of the two-party system in the United States to be a politically healthy thing. We need to mix it up a little. We need more options. And conscience can help a lot in that mixing up process.

I agree. I have been saying we need more parties for quite some time. The stranglehold the two parties have is indeed deadening consciences in a terrible and nation-destroying way. They create an unnatural condition for a democracy, I think, in that they seem to kill the hope (and chance) of building something up by starting small and increasing over years and decades. You can't build a viable party that way if you can't get ANY of your candidates elected in a 2-party lockout. Like you, I welcome the starkness of the evil choices here before us, for this one sliver of silver - precisely because it may get people out of the 2-party rut and consider something inherently more healthy for our nation.

All that said, I worry about the possibility that it is now too little, too late. It's one thing to invest 2 hours in a 2-hour project of building a lamp for the night hours, starting 2 hours before darkness falls. It's another thing to start it 2 minutes before darkness falls: at that point maybe you should just locate your flashlight and forget about the lamp. Is voting for the Constitution Party, in a long-range project that might conceivably bear fruit in 20 or 30 years if we last that long, and getting a tyrant like a Hilary, sort of like having neither your lamp nor your flashlight when the night arrives? Have we already left it too late for that to be useful?

Unknown said...

Sometimes it is good to remember how we got where we are.

I have not voted for a GOP candidate for President since Reagan. I hoped this year would be different. The establishment was insisting on running a Bush again for President. Old news that was going no where. I thought we had two good candidates running, Senators Paul and Cruz.

Donald Trump was making noise about running. Nothing new there; Trump is a tireless self promoter. I thought he would run an economic nationalist, populist campaign, ala Ross Perot. He would use this to promote himself and his brand name.

I was optimistic. We had two good candidates, and a couple of other good options in the bullpen. I believed either Senator Paul or Cruz was sure to emerge as the leading conservative voice. Either man was capable of leading us past the libertarian, 'Christian right', neo-conservative, paleo-conservative divide. I thought that either Senator Paul or Cruz would successfully bridge the divides and end up being the nominee.

All of that changed, when Senator Cruz went to a meeting designed to show support for Arab Christians. In his remarks Senator Cruz made himself odious to paleo-conservatives, and many libertarians. Senator Cruz was booed off the stage for telling Middle East Christians and their supporters that "if you will not stand with Israel and the Jews; then I will not stand with you."

Senator Cruz emerged from that meeting the favorite of neo-conservatives and the 'Christian right.'

Paleo-conservatives turned to Donald Trump and his populist message of nationalism, and protectionism in droves. Mr. Trump, ever the self promoter, knew how to play to this new found support. So much for conservative unity; the opportunist won.

That was, I believe, the turning support that led to Mr. Trump's victory.

So where do we go from here? We act in a principled way. We do not identify with the forces of evil. We do not burn bridges. We only act in a way that is a positive witness to what we believe and stand for.

Lydia McGrew said...

Nah, I don't think that was "the turning point." And Cruz was right. We will never see eye to eye on that, as you of course know well. *I* think he smoked out the cra-cra (as the kids say nowadays) among our Arab brethren. It's unfortunate that that craziness is there, but there it is. Had it not been, he would have gotten nothing worse than puzzled looks at his dragging in the subject. As it was, he discovered what he feared was there. Maybe it would have been smoother and more politic just to back out of the speaking engagement altogether once he started to have doubts about its sponsors. But in any event, that was away back when (in terms of the race as a whole), and that didn't make some big difference. As so often, Thom, I believe you overestimate the importance of the paleoconservatives and their particular preoccupations in the Republican party as a whole. They are a minority, not only in the nation, but in the party. They did not turn the tide against Cruz. Trump came in and sucked all the oxygen out of the room.

Lydia McGrew said...

Tony, at this point I believe that probably nothing is "useful" in terms of this upcoming election. Hillary is going to win. And if she didn't, Trump would, which would if possible be even worse *for conservatives*, because they would be corrupting themselves defending him (at least some of them would).

We can't build a viable new party in this short of a time. And there are a lot of nuts in the Constitution Party. If I vote for their candidate (which I have done before and might do again), it will be purely as a protest vote.

What we have to do is tend not just our own souls but the souls of those around us as best we can. Indeed, I think that strengthening the spines of people on the fence who are otherwise going to be bullied into voting for Trump is part of that good work.

Gyan said...

"Error 1: It is an a priori truth that there is always a "lesser evil" in American politics."

I once took part in a discussion where it was proposed that it was imperative to vote for a lesser Hitler, that is, a Hitler that proposed to kill off a few millions fewer people, against the real Hitler.

Nobody would appreciate my argument that one should never VOTE for somebody proposing to kill people wholesale. It would be moral moral to pick up arms to oppose the proposed genocide, be it little one.

Peter Pike said...

Hello Lydia,
As someone who once argued for the veracity of Error 1, I believe you hit the nail on the head. I didn't switch my views on Error 1 overnight, nor did I switch due to Trump. However, Trump definitely clarifies this for many people (at least who I talk with on my Facebook page).

One of the points I've been making for those who have been saying that no matter how much they dislike Trump it's time to "hold our nose" and vote for him, is: If you would vote for a man who held three positions on abortion within 24 hours last month, who openly bragged about the numerous affairs he had and how avoiding an STD was his own personal Vietnam, who has trouble staying married to the same woman, who has donated to Hillary Clinton, who has admitted to bribing government officials for personal gain, who uses his Twitter feed like a fifth-grader bully, who is anti-2nd Amendment and pro-Big Government--if you can vote for THAT MAN, then who *wouldn't* you vote for? If Hillary held a press conference today and said, "Americans, I have realized that this whole time I should really be a Republican and not a Democrat. I'm not going to change a single position I hold, but now I've got an R after my name" then are you going to be standing there saying, "As much as I despise her, we have to make sure Sanders doesn't get the White House"?

Sadly, I believe there may still be a sizable chunk of the Republican field who would say "we have to vote for the lesser of two evils" even then. Ultimately, that shows me that these people do not care about policy. All their religious views, moral views, and ethical views are subservient to politics, so they've exposed who their true god is.

Lydia McGrew said...

Peter, exactly. Partisan politics becomes an end in itself. I had a friend argue to me recently that we must vote for Trump because in doing so we are voting for "the Republican party" which is better than the Democrat party. Now, this is a _real_ reductio. Sure, the Republican _platform_ is better than the Dem platform. But what we put in office is a _person_, and he is in no way bound to govern according to the Republican platform. By this friend's logic, we should vote for Darth Vader or Cthulhu if he has an R after his name because we would be voting not for the candidate but for the party!

It's like a kind of madness or blindness for people who are really committed to it. They literally can't see how blindly they are committed to pure partisan politics. I am waiting for supposedly non-partisan organizations like the National Right to Life Committee to endorse Trump for president! Mark my words: It will happen. Yet they pride themselves on being non-partisan and committed only to policy! Which means that anybody who lies and says, "I'm pro-life," even while _simultaneously_ praising Planned Parenthood, can probably get their endorsement. (I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think I'm wrong.)

I so much hope that more and more people's eyes are open to the wrongness of this perspective. If so, the Trump candidacy will have done that tiny bit of good amidst all the bad.

Jeffrey S. said...

Thanks for this post Lydia.

This will be the first election in my adult life that I refuse to vote for one of the main Presidential candidates of either party. I used to believe in the truth of Error 1 (and I guess as a corollary Error 2) and so dutifully pulled the level every four years for 'my candidate.' It feels good to realize that the Republican party is not always the best vehicle for conservative policy goals and that sometimes it makes sense to simply acknowledge that their are no good options and refuse to vote for a bad or evil choice.

Winefred said...

Was that event particularly well-known among the general electorate? I think you over-estimate its importance. Cruz had a number of handicaps he could not overcome (not least his evangelical mannerisms -- speech cadence, vocabulary, and long-windedness) which are something of a turn-off to people outside that culture, both non-religious and other-religious. Also his highly technologized campaign was based on some false premises: for example, it now seems clear that the number of evangelical voters is greatly inflated by those who "self-identify" in that group, but who don't actually worship regularly or maintain active attachment to that culture -- they broke for Trump, despite his publicly proclaimed personal and professional immorality and his transparently phony attempts to claim a Christian identity. Who knew? I have heard a number of different interpretations of Cruz's "stand with the Jews" moment, both pro and anti, but it has hardly net with the scrutiny of many of his other campaign strategies or incidents. I'm sure the post-mortems will be revealing, but I'd be surprised if many of them focus on that particular speech.

Lydia McGrew said...

Exactly. In fact, the issue of Israel scarcely surfaced at all in this primary campaign--one way or another. (Unless one counts the insane anti-semitism of some of the Trump-bots, going well beyond even the usual blinkered anti-Israel focus of the paleocons. But _those_ Trump-bots would never have voted for Cruz anyway.) And generally being anti-Israel would be far more of a liability among Republican voters than an asset, just as a purely strategic matter. It says more about the commentator than about the actualities of the campaign to think of that Arab event with Cruz, which occurred before the primary campaign even began, as decisive in any way, shape, or form. As witness the fact that Rand Paul, beloved of the paleocons, got nowhere in his primary campaign.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I'm a #NeverTrump guy who did vote for McCain and Romney in 2008 and 2012 in order to stop Obama and the Libs.

Not this year. I de-registered from the GOP the day after the Indiana primaries and became a political Independent. I can no longer stomach being a member of the Stupid Party.

FYI, thanks for pointing out that #NeverTrump is the silver lining. No one else articulated that as you have. It's a very small remnant, and a very thin silver lining.

There's honor and glory in fighting for Lost Causes. ;-)

Justin said...

I too am a #NeverTrump advocate now who voted a straight R ticket for as long as I've been able to vote. I voted for both McCain and Romney, although when I voted for Romney I felt quite strongly that I was holding my nose as I did it. (I feel a sort of freedom but also a lot of fear and apprehension about this.) You are so very right that something profound has changed now, and #NeverTrump is the indicator of that. There are so many of us out there who aren't going to vote for either of the two major candidates "for the first time" and that is huge.

Tony said...

We can't build a viable new party in this short of a time. And there are a lot of nuts in the Constitution Party. If I vote for their candidate (which I have done before and might do again), it will be purely as a protest vote.

Lydia, I don't mean "in this short a time" before the general election. By "running out of time" I mean voting in such a way as to prepare the ground for better politics in 5, 10 or even 20 years - that kind of time frame. If we have degenerated to the point where in Hilary's or her successor's term of office we lose democracy outright (or even keep the outer form, but lose the substance, like the Senate in Imperial Rome under Tiberius), then there will be no plausible prospect of political improvement to be realized by voting (for example) for a third party candidate. That wouldn't as such deny the moral value of doing so anyway, but it would change the prudential value of such a vote.

What we have to do is tend not just our own souls but the souls of those around us as best we can. Indeed, I think that strengthening the spines of people on the fence who are otherwise going to be bullied into voting for Trump is part of that good work.

One of the ways we need to be tending souls is declaring the possibility that in this nation, God may indeed call large numbers of us to suffer greatly from the state, either the soft "martyrdom" of oppression, of lost jobs, of ill treatment and ghettoization, or the harder road of outright prison and (for some) death. There may be no road out of this, except for the road through the long night of tyranny, despotism, and decades of official state-led hatred of us, until the sufferings of the elect are sufficient to call down the graces necessary for a political and social change. People who are intellectually and emotionally (and spiritually) prepared for this prospect are more likely to be ready to vote against both Trump and Hilary even though that vote is "meaningless" in political impact.