Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Don't tell people to harden their hearts

I like Dr. Michael Brown a lot. And he's very rightly put up a video absolutely decrying the despicable "all men talk like that" defense, particularly from Christians, of Donald Trump's despicable conduct. He throws in a few disappointing phrases about hoping that Trump has changed and what-not, which make him sound very naive, but the bulk of the video is right on the money. Dr. Brown has heard Christian men blustering that, "We all talk like that," and he is disgusted and is giving them a talking-to. I applaud that. I also applaud (in some ways) Dr. Brown's article, in the wake of this latest scandal, rightly taking to pieces the nonsense comparison between Donald Trump and King David, of all people. My only criticism of that piece is, again, the silliness of thinking for a moment that Donald Trump might yet (now) repent like David, even before the election. Brown really shouldn't be holding out hope for a Trump change of heart, especially not in the short run, but Brown's own heart and head are to a very large extent in the right place, and I do not write this column to belittle him at all.

But around the same time this piece came out in The Stream, also by Dr. Michael Brown, about the Trump tapes. It repeats a meme that I'm seeing a lot from people who either are planning to vote for Trump or, like Brown, are still making up their minds but gearing themselves up to be willing to vote for him. The way this goes is something like, "But we already knew he was like this. So this audio tape shouldn't change anything. We should already be making our decision in the full knowledge that he's sleazy."

Here are some quotes to that effect from Brown's article:
Instead, I’m writing this to ask those who once supported Trump, like my highly esteemed, Christian brother Wayne Grudem, a fellow-professor and theologian, why the video tape changed things.
My purpose in writing is to ask those who once backed Trump but do so no longer: Why the surprise at his past conduct? Weren’t his weaknesses and flaws shouting aloud to the nation over the last year via tweet and spoken word?
I never for a moment bought into the “Saint Donald” rhetoric, questioning other Christian leaders who embraced him as such. (I don’t mean to deny that he has helped people privately and has a compassionate, caring side. I simply mean that to present him as a wonderfully Christian man is to be self-deceived.)
And I understand the convictions of the NeverTrumpers, although I have never identified with this group. (I once used the hashtag in a tweet but decided not to do so again.)
My issue is with the political leaders and Christian leaders who endorsed Donald Trump and who worked to help elect him but are now distancing themselves from him in shock and dismay. Who did you think you were dealing with?


But if you’re going to endorse him, do so with your eyes wide open, or don’t endorse him at all.

But he did not renounce his past or change his public ways, because of which, the only issue with the 2005 tape should not have been the tape itself but rather how he responded to it today.
I have colleagues who believe that God is raising up Trump the way He raised up Cyrus, pointing out that Cyrus was used by the Lord although he was a pagan king who did not know the God of Israel (see Isaiah 45:1-6, and note carefully the phrase “although you do not know Me” in v. 5-6).
I have no problem with this concept at all. As the old saying goes, let God be God (in other words, let Him do what He chooses to do in His way and for His purposes). So be it. As I’ve written before, I personally hope it’s true.
But for those who are having cold feet about Trump now, I ask again: Wasn’t it clear from day one that this was the man you were endorsing?
For all of us, then, from here on in, the lesson is simple and clear: Whatever we do, let’s do it with our eyes wide open and with our trust in God alone.

Again, there are some things to commend in these passages. For example, there's the emphatic point that Trump has done nothing to show true change or repentance of heart.

One could even view this as just Brown's expression of exasperation with Dr. Grudem's recklessness in having endorsed Trump without doing due diligence. Though frankly, if that's all it is, I don't think it was worthy of publication. If we're going to talk about being forgiving, then the person we ought to be forgiving is Wayne Grudem, since he really has manned up and fully admitted that he was irresponsible. Good for him! This isn't the time to be giving him a hard time, for goodness' sake.

That's one of the first oddities about this Stream post by Brown. (After the title. But I don't blame Brown for the title. Anyone who writes for someone else's publication knows that somebody else often chooses the title.) Brown is explicitly writing to and about Grudem, yet he asks a question that Grudem has already answered. Brown wants to know why this video changed anything for Grudem. Grudem already told us that he hadn't done due diligence, hadn't seen the Howard Stern show filth that was already out there, and hadn't realized that Trump was like this. So why is Brown going on and on? Grudem admitted that he should have done his homework and should have known better. Why rub it in?

But the further oddity is the general idea, which I have seen others express more concisely and even harshly than Brown, that consistency in endorsement is very nearly an end in itself. Brown expresses it as, "If you're going to endorse him, do it with your eyes open, or don't endorse him at all," and he pretty strongly implies that, if you once really do that, you won't change your mind later.

But that way of talking and thinking is not really taking seriously the possibility that endorsing Donald Trump is objectively wrong.

Suppose, for a moment, that it is objectively wrong. If so, isn't it better for people to waver about it and to change their minds than to "endorse with their eyes wide open" and then stick to it?

Consider an analogy: Suppose that a woman has had an abortion and later regrets it because she sees pictures of aborted babies or an ultrasound. We would never tell her, "What did you think you were doing? You knew you were killing a human being! Why does this video change anything? You need to make your choices with your eyes wide open, lady, and then you won't have any reason to regret them!" That would be a terrible thing to say. The last thing we want is for women to be so fully committed to killing a baby that they are later incapable of (or unwilling to entertain the possibility of) regret and repentance. The last thing we want to do is to chide or mock a woman for changing her mind and turning back.

If you don't like that example, because it concerns what is clearly an intrinsically wrong act, consider this example of an act that lies in a grey area: Suppose that a general has ordered a military strike against a certain location and that there is some outcry that this was unethical because it was not a military target but a civilian target. The general had a lot of statistics and facts showing precisely this question, showing why this question arose, but he still chose to order the strike despite the doubts. Later, he sees pictures of the children who have died in the airstrike, precisely as predicted by the statistics he had available to him about the civilian population at that location. He is filled with remorse and offers a deep statement of grief and repentance. We should certainly not say to him, "You had the statistics in advance. You knew that it could plausibly be regarded as a non-military target. What did you think you were doing? Why do these pictures change anything? You should make your decisions with your eyes wide open or not make them at all!"

We know perfectly well that sometimes people have a notional commitment to doing a particular action but then have their minds and hearts changed by being viscerally confronted with the reality of what they have chosen. And this is not a bad thing but a good thing. It is on the many subtle interactions between conscience and the real world that our hopes for repentance often turn. We should not want it any other way. We should not want people to choose wrong things in such an "eyes wide open" way that they are then callous even when evidence emerges that makes it especially clear that this was a bad choice. That is something that the Holy Spirit can use, something our consciences cue to, something that softens our hearts. We want to be the kind of people who can repent and change course if we have indeed chosen wrong.

Does this mean that conscientious people are often on the rack, filled with misgivings about what they have done or with indecision about what they are considering doing? Yes, it does. But is that always bad? As long as we humans cannot be certain that we have done right or are headed right (which often, we can't be), it's better to be on the rack than to be given over to hardness of heart.

My concern with this response that says, "Why should this change anything?" is that it, no doubt unintentionally from Dr. Brown, encourages hardness of heart. I've seen it expressed more nastily from other people in such a way that is quite intentional: "Put on your big boy pants!" "Man up!" "You weren't endorsing this guy to be your best friend!" These sorts of expressions frankly make a virtue out of hardness of heart. I'm sure that Dr. Brown, of all people, doesn't really want to have that effect on people. But in fact, that is the effect: "Once you really realize that you're endorsing a sleazeball, it shouldn't bother you anymore or change anything when you get more and more evidence that he's a sleazeball."

But is that true? Why shouldn't it make a difference? Maybe some particular piece of sleaziness will convince the person that, after all, he shouldn't be endorsing a sleazeball.

Since Dr. Brown is respectful of the Never Trump position, he should be holding this open as a real possibility. But in that case, the fact that vividness often results in an epiphany in ethical matters answers his question. Why should this make a difference? It might just make a difference, Dr. Brown, because it makes us see reality more clearly.


Power Child said...

I'd guess that for many people, voting for Trump is not a moral choice but a pragmatic one: they feel that in the big scheme of things a Trump presidency would be less objectionable/ruinous/etc. than a Hillary one, so they're doing what they can to make it go to Trump. Maybe you perceive more moral symbolism in the act of voting for president than it really deserves?

You suggest an interesting question though: is it worse for one man to have personally objectified and even sexually assaulted a few women, or for one woman to knowingly and enthusiastically use her elevated status to influence the normalization of abortion, homosexuality, atheism, etc. in an entire nation's culture?

Lydia McGrew said...

Actually, I don't suggest that question at all.

But thank you for proving that it's impossible for people to think about these tapes at all without trying to argue for a Trump vote. It's an obsession.

And hey, it's only sexually assaulting a *few* women. Now, maybe if it had been a few dozen, that would be a bridge too far.

You folks are amazing.

Power Child said...

Who's "you folks"? I'm not a Trump supporter.

Sorry to repeat myself here, but all I was saying is that you could be 100% correct (and I personally think you are) yet it could still be better to wind up with President Trump than President Hillary. A lot of principled conservatives would probably agree, and will vote for Trump despite sharing your beliefs almost to a tee. The difference is not in beliefs about morality but in beliefs about what a vote means.

If voting for Trump is objectively immoral, then it suggests the question of whether indirectly giving support to Hillary (by not voting for Trump) is even worse.

I like the way you think, so I'm curious what you think about that question. Please don't jump down my throat for asking it.

Lydia McGrew said...

If you're not a Trump supporter, I'm surprised that you would literally ask the question about whether it's "worse for one man to have even sexually assaulted a few women" than to elect Hillary Clinton. That shows a very bizarre kind of tin ear toward the badness of giving one's vote for president of the U.S. to a man who has actually "assaulted a few women." It should be fairly obvious that such a man is completely unfit for office. Would it also still be possibly "better" if he went on doing that after being elected? Maybe a woman per year or so? Hey, it's only a few sexual assaults, and it's still "better than what Hillary would do"?

Look, people need to realize that sometimes you literally cannot support either major-party candidate. Both can be unsuited for the office. And now you'll start telling me, "Yes, but one of them is going to win." So? That means you are obligated by God to vote for one or the other? Of course it doesn't mean that.

I saw someone on Facebook yesterday, without irony, suggesting that if you're given a chance to "vote for" one brutal prison guard who will hit you once a day versus one who will hit you only once a week (or something like that) it's morally just fine and even obligatory to vote for the brutal guard who will hit you only once a week.

That's the kind of craziness we need to break out of. You aren't obligated to vote for an evil person, period.

Power Child said...

I'm not a Trump supporter, but that is a different thing from saying that overall I'd rather not see Hillary win the election. It just means I don't want to feel like I tarnished my soul by spending a vote on Trump. Let other people who actually like Trump do that. Perhaps I'm guilty of putting too much moral weight on the meaning of a vote as well.

Meanwhile there are a lot of people who believe that in practical terms, not voting for Trump = voting for Hillary. At the individual level they're wrong, since an individual vote has a 0% chance of affecting the outcome of a national election. But in the aggregate, if say 100,000 or more conservative voters sit out the election like I am, then it could indeed affect the outcome of the election, and since those people would--all else aside--prefer President Trump to President Hillary, they could reasonably decide they need to do their part to make that happen. To overcome the public goods problem before them, so to speak.

So no, you aren't obligated to vote for an evil person, and I'm not arguing you are. I'm asking, in practical terms, what do you think is the best option. While a vote may not truly be a statement of morality, each presidential choice presents different possibilities for moral future of the country.

In other words, imagine for a moment that God will forgive you for voting for the prison guard who beats you once a week. Isn't it indeed better to vote for that guard?

Lydia McGrew said...

Oh, that's an easy one: If God has to forgive me, then it must be a sin. It's always wrong to commit a sin that some greater good may come because you know God will forgive you. Always.

But please, I beg you, don't make me write out for the umpteenth time the refutation of "not voting for A is a vote for B." Please don't. It's so obviously false. And there are so many clever ways of pointing out that it's false. And no, not because of the reason you gave either. Just because a non-vote is a non-vote, and because the Republican party doesn't own my vote to begin with, so a non-vote or a third-party vote cannot possibly be a vote *for* one party or another based on this "prima facie you owed your vote to such-and-such a party" theory, which is a false theory. That's the most I'm going to say, because I'm so incredibly bored with refuting that particular falsehood.

Oh, and from a consequential perspective if 100,000 conservative voters sit out this election or vote Constitution Party or some other party, we might actually become a political force in this country and break the chains of the two-party system, which would be a good outcome in and of itself.

Thomas Henry Larsen said...

Is arguing whether X or Y would be better, when both have very significant moral flaws, healthy for the soul? I think these kinds of arguments tend to lead us to rationalise away or to downplay serious evils. For example, I haven’t seen many people writing, “Look, both X and Y are morally unfit for office; but I think we need to vote for X over Y because Y would be worse”; I’ve seen many people writing, “X has said/done some stupid things, Y is morally unfit for office, and we need to vote for X over Y because Y would be really, really terrible.”

Lydia McGrew said...

No, definitely not healthy for the soul, so good point.

The assumption that there *is* always a "lesser evil" and that one must always find out and vote for this lesser evil is completely wrong. Sometimes evils are incommensurable, and one certainly isn't obligated to vote for one of the two major party candidates.

Tony said...

The assumption that there *is* always a "lesser evil" and that one must always find out and vote for this lesser evil is completely wrong.

Like you, Lydia, I hold that if voting for Trump is something that God would have to forgive you for, you shouldn't do it, and that's the end of the question.

And, unlike how Power Child has attempted to frame the issue, voting is ALWAYS a moral act. That is, it is inherently an act that you are required by morality to do well, and to do it well you have to apply both general principles and prudence. Possibly, the only right choice is to refuse to vote. If that's the only right choice, then voting for a "lesser evil" candidate is an immoral act.

However, the difficulty comes in on establishing that the only right choice is to refuse to vote at all. To simplify (and thus unlike our situation): suppose that the voting rules ONLY allow you to vote for A or B, (or not vote). You cannot vote for C, you cannot write in, etc. Further, suppose that both A and B are bad persons, who foreseeably will do bad things in office. The argument that it is immoral to vote for either one, is not a position scientifically demonstrable, I think. This is because voting is not a "natural" activity, like eating, that has particular fundamental principles built into it regardless of the format or cultural milieu. There is no definitive standard upon which one can clearly say S is the set of all qualities the officeholder MUST have, and therefore is the set of qualities that MUST be present in a candidate in order to vote for him - in order for a vote for him to be a moral act. Similarly, because every human being has something of goodness in them (or they would cease to exist), a candidate is not the sort of being who could be intrinsically wrong. And finally, although not all evils are properly speaking commensurable, the hierarchy of goods (which covers all goods) does provide a basis on which to order evils _indirectly_ in a kind of lowerarchy (to borrow C.S. Lewis's term) so that groups of evils can be weighed in prudence. The only evils that CANNOT, even in principle, be "weighed in the balance" in a prudential consideration, are the intrinsically evils of acts that are inherently disordered in their objects. All other kinds of evils are subject to evaluation and weighting.

As a result, I think, it is not possible to rule out voting for B in the way it is possible to rule out an intrinsic evil even if doing it can bring about good, (like murdering a person to save a city). morally impermissible for a person to prudentially determine that voting for B instead of A and instead of not voting is the best of the 3 concrete options available, even though _on_some_theoretical_standard B is not fit for the office. All that is necessary, for this to be a reasonable prudential result, is for the voter to the sum total of ALL of the good and evils foreseeable by voting for B is better than the sum total of all of the goods and evils foreseeable by the other two options. There is no "intrinsically immoral" character to voting for B, that makes it impossible to justify by the outcomes foreseen, because B is a person, not an inherently disordered being.

That said, there will sometimes, perhaps even often, be detriments to voting for A or B that WON'T be present in not voting, so that the it would still be bad to vote for B. For instance, if the goods foreseen by voting for B were goods only foreseeable by - and to be caused by - the morally evil acts that you anticipate B will do, then voting for B on account of those goods would be nothing less than doing evil that good might come of it. So you could not justify voting for B on the basis of such goods, you would have to wipe all of those goods off the table in evaluating the goods and evils to be foreseen.

Lydia McGrew said...

Tony, not a lot of time to go into this, but I take voting to be (at least) a speech act. As a speech act, it contains, at a minimum, the following semantic content: Candidate X is at least minimally qualified for position Y. And that's not just arbitrary. Prudential considerations can play into that. X might be a good, well-intentioned man but radically uninformed or misguided about prudential matters. But character is also part of it. There is such a thing as a person who is so evil that he is not minimally qualified for position Y where position Y is, for example, the presidency of the United States. Hence, voting for that candidate would be a speech-act that states a falsehood.

Ideally, we would have two or even more candidates who were all minimally qualified and could then actually decide which one would do the most good or the least harm or whatever. But if neither candidate is even minimally qualified--whether in character or ability--then I believe one should not engage in the speech-act that says (among other things) that he is.

This can be related back to the main post, because one consequence of saying that voting has literally *no* semantic content, no contentful meaning even of the most *minimal* endorsement, is that people can be told just to harden their hearts and vote for someone who is obviously horribly evil and morally unqualified and not to let it bother you, because you "did it with your eyes open. And that carries a grave danger of all kinds of bad effects upon the character of the person who takes that advice.

Tony said...

As a speech act, it contains, at a minimum, the following semantic content: Candidate X is at least minimally qualified for position Y.

Lydia, I don't take issue with you lightly, or without hesitation. To some extent I am still feeling my way here. I think your position is reasonable, but not certain enough to rule out other alternatives. I think that the opposed point of view is that if it has a "minimum semantic content", that content is that Candidate X is the least unqualified, and that this is also a reasonable POV.

This is why I mentioned that voting is not a natural kind of human act, like eating or marrying. Arguably, it only has the "nature" that people invest it with in constructing it as an optional way (a tool) to do something else that is part of human living: ruling society. Another way to say this is that in principle voting only has the bare minimum semantic content as is intrinsically necessary for the object, which is choosing who is to rule. It is not intrinsically necessary, in choosing who is to rule, to choose someone who has a fixed "minimal level of qualification" because there simply is no fixed minimum level: you can even choose with pure chance by drawing lots - as Samuel did for the Israelites. The Athenians also chose some lower level officials by lots, IIRC.

This is also supported by the (now) anonymity of the vote: in so constructing it, we diminish the semantic content of the vote: it is no longer true that a vote amounts to a public endorsement of a candidate. The anonymous vote is, arguably, just above the drawing of lots in terms of semantic content; instead of saying "it doesn't matter who we are going to have rule, as long as we all know who it is", the anonymous vote has the least semantic content ABOVE the drawing of lots. But "this candidate is the least unqualified" is a lesser semantic claim than "this candidate is at least minimally qualified". It lays no claims about there being a set of minimum qualifications.

It would perhaps be a better world if voting required that each candidate prove that they had SOME of the qualifications that constitute being "minimally qualified". Or if we actually set out (as voting rules) a set of standards that represented what it meant to be qualified for the office, so that voting FORMALLY referred to those standards. But in fact we have not done so. Hence at the formal level we cannot claim that voting inherently refers to a set of minimal standards.

is that people can be told just to harden their hearts and vote for someone who is obviously horribly evil and morally unqualified and not to let it bother you, because you "did it with your eyes open. And that carries a grave danger of all kinds of bad effects upon the character of the person who takes that advice.

Like you, I don't at all like argument Brown is making. If your original position was wrong but you held it because you did not "have your eyes open", then you ought to take a new position based on full facts, not stick to your position because that's what you took to begin with. So what he is saying is a non-starter in my book. But if my suggestion is correct and the semantic content of voting is less than that of "a minimally qualified candidate", then it isn't "hardening your heart" to consider all the licit options under prudence any more than it is for an officer in the army doing so going into battle knowing any of his choices will get people killed, or even a parent doing so when deciding which goods to pursue and which to forego for the well-being of the family. And once you have located the most prudent of the morally licit options, actually choosing it is what the virtue of prudence demands; calling that "dangerous" is merely noticing that all moral behavior includes the risk of choosing ill.

Lydia McGrew said...

If we did literally choose who was to be president by drawing lots among, say, all people of a certain age or something, our system would be radically different than what it is, and we wouldn't be voting in any like the sense in which we are, in fact, voting in the U.S.

Similarly, everything would be different if we had a "none of the above" option or an "I am opposed to so-and-so but do not endorse the other guy" option, and the election got thrown into the House of Representatives (say) if there were enough of these.

One can imagine an infinite variety of things that voting could be like that it *isn't like*, but that really doesn't help a whole lot except to show that what we're doing when we go and mark the ballot next to Candidate A's name for *that office* is something different from either of those.

I think the problem is that people try to insist that voting, as it in fact exists in the U.S., has zero semantic content but that they feel uncomfortable with this because it is just false as a social fact--as a fact about what a vote *for* a candidate means in the system we have. This discomfort then causes all sorts of distortions, like, e.g., saying that what Candidate A did or is going to do is worse than what Candidate B did or is going to do, when that isn't true. The felt need to say that arises out of the fact that one is, in fact, endorsing Candidate B for that job in the act of voting for him, and hence that one readies oneself mentally to vote for him by convincing oneself that he isn't really *so unqualified for that job*.

By "dangerous" here I was referring to that moral hazard. In this election we've seen pretty much every possible variant on the actualizing of that moral hazard. I watch it every day on my Facebook wall: Some good guy who is now saying crazy things because he flogged himself into thinking that he "has to" vote for "one of the viable candidates," and now it's changed him. It's just horrible to watch. Terribly painful.

Lydia McGrew said...

Couple more points, Tony: Both Brown and I started out talking not chiefly about going privately and voting for Candidate B but about *endorsing* Candidate B for the office. Now, I don't think there is any absolute divorce between these at all, in terms of semantic meaning. But certainly they do have different effects in the world. And if it's difficult-to-impossible to argue that privately voting has semantic meaning, it's *crazily false* to say that endorsing a candidate for office has no semantic meaning. Obviously it does. That's kind of the whole point.

To his credit, Brown says that for this reason he's having doubts that people in positions of Christian leadership should ever publicly endorse a specific candidate for office. I say "to his credit" though I think that's extreme. I can imagine candidates who would be *great* to endorse publicly for office. But I say "to his credit" because Brown definitely isn't either endorsing Trump for office himself or saying that others should do so.

In any event, to say, "I endorse X for President, and you should all vote for him" is *hugely* problematic if you know that X is an utter slimeball. "X is a slimeball, but I endorse X for President" is a bit like, "P is true, but I don't believe it." It doesn't compute.

Second, when I talk about voting as a semantic act, of course the specific content of that semantic act could be different in a different system. A really extreme example--literally just casting lots--would be, as I said, the elimination of anything that could really be called a "vote." But it's easy to imagine systems in which one is voting for something other than a candidate--a party, for example. If our own primaries and general election were reversed, we might vote first for a party, based upon their platform and a group of "maybe" candidates they put forward, after which the winning party would decide by some process who would actually take the position. A vote in that context would imply endorsement of the party, not of one particular candidate for the office.

But that isn't the situation we're in, and it's not possible for an individual just to make things have a different social meaning than they do have.

Power Child said...

Sorry, I tried ineptly to ask a simple hypothetical question. Not as a challenge but because I'm curious about your take on it. Let me try one more time:

Consider Condidate A, who is immoral in his private life but will do good moral things from his public office if he is elected to it. Then there is Candidate B, who is moral in his private life but will do horrible immoral things from his public office if he is elected to it.

Given that one of them is going to win, who do you prefer?

Note: I am not asking who you'd vote for, I'm asking your preferred outcome given realistic constraints. FYI I'm not voting in this presidential election for reasons that largely overlap with yours--but I have a (weak) preference for one outcome over another.

Lydia McGrew said...

"Consider Condidate A, who is immoral in his private life but will do good moral things from his public office if he is elected to it."

This is ambiguous. If you mean that it's a *secret* that he does these immoral things, the question arises how you, the citizen, know about it. I suppose that you might be a personal friend of his or something or have "inside information."

But I'm assuming that actually you mean something different: We call this his "private life," but actually it's so far from "private" that everybody in the whole country knows about his supposed "private life" and his--let us specify--gross and on-going immorality in his so-called "private life."

Now, given that that is what is meant, the intended sharp distinction between his "private life" and what he will "do" from his "public office" if elected really breaks down.

Because his very act of occupying this position of high office while carrying on in this way in his so-called (but not really) "private life" will *do things* from his *public office*. It will normalize that behavior. It will lead members of his own party to think that that behavior is not really so bad. It will bring justified embarrassment and reproach to the country. And it will make him vulnerable in various ways related even to matters such as national security. A man who cannot control his passions is hardly to be trusted with the nuclear football and with high security clearance!

Let's go now back to the supposition that by "private life" we are talking about someone with massive discretion and major cover-up abilities who really keeps his on-going immorality a secret. Frankly, I doubt this is practically possible in 2016, but it has been possible at times in the past.

In that case, the final point above concerning practical dangers to our country from such a person still remains. Moreover, the possible fallout if and when his behavior is later discovered is a practical concern for the outcome when you ask "which outcome I would prefer."

If I could really *foresee* all outcomes, then I could perhaps concoct some situation with a highly controlled hypocrite who "does a lot of good," never gets taken in by foreign spies while dead drunk, and keeps his mistresses "in the closet," and for God knows what reason was highly motivated to vigorously, intelligently, and successfully promote a lot of excellent policies, where I might say that as it luckily was going to turn out the "outcome for the country" was better than it would have been in the case of a person who was out there passing bad laws.

But then, let's remember: If I could foresee all outcomes, I wouldn't be a real, finite human being making political predictions, would I?

Meanwhile, on real Earth, that doesn't generally happen and is not the way to bet.

And obviously this hypothetical and overwhelmingly improbable hypocrite who is a paragon of hard-working public virtue while keeping his debauchery carefully closeted and sealed off from everything else is utterly irrelevant to the present situation, as you are easily able to see.

Power Child said...

Yes, I meant a hypothetical scenario like you described last: a Candidate A who is highly controlled hypocrite, never gets taken in by foreign spies while drunk, keeps his mistresses in the closet, and so on.

And let's say this is possible not because you're a superhuman who can foresee all outcomes, but because Candidate A is simply not Kennedy-level debauched (actually sleeps with two or three interns a day, heavy drinking problem, etc.), but more like Trump-level debauched (has grabbed a few women's privates and speaks about them in crass, objectifying language, maybe has sniffed a few lines of coke in his day but isn't a drug addict or even much of a drinker).

You make a good argument that if this candidate won, it would create its own set of risks to standards of behavior, trust in authority, etc. So then the question is, are these risks "riskier" than the assured disasters that Candidate B would wreak on the country?

For instance, suppose it's certain that Candidate B, if elected, would push to legalize: polygamy; bestiality; and full-term abortion; and to ban: school prayer; references to Christmas on public airwaves; and the enforcement of immigration law.

Yes, in reality I think Trump and Clinton are both mixtures of the worst aspects of Candidates A and B. Both are reprehensible individuals, and as leaders have either promised to do terrible things or made impossible-to-believe promises to do good things.

Lydia McGrew said...

Wait, wait! You're seriously implying that Trump somehow qualifies for the outlandish scenario I painted????

Um, no! His entire history is out there for anyone in the world to know. He's made not the remotest attempt to keep anything "in the closet." He's bragged on, for God's sake, the Howard Stern show about all the women he'd like to "do." We now have tapes of his bragging about grabbing women. Women have come forward and stated that he actually does this. He's appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine and at the beginning of a soft porn video. He's openly had affairs and you can find pics all over the place of him posing with some sexy woman. I could go on and on. The man positively revels publicly in his sexual debauchery.

Why *in the world* would you *remotely* connect that with *this* election? It has nothing whatever to do with it. Trump is, in fact, one who deliberately indulges his passions and thinks nothing of it. Indeed, is proud of it.

I'm sorry, but you are straining to say something that has something to do with this election, and you seem to be ignoring the first rule of holes: Stop digging.

And no, "the question isn't are these risks riskier," etc., etc. That whole way of thinking is just plain wrong.

Power Child said...

First, I did try to explain what I thought a lot of Trump voters would say to your argument about morality even if, as conservatives, they agreed with a lot of the underlying premises. You provided an excellent response back.

Second, I wanted your take on an abstract sorta-philosophical question that occurred to me and that I found interesting, and it indeed has nothing to do with this election. You have so far refused to treat that question seriously, and I think it's because you're conflating the second thing with the first.

Or maybe you're worried I'm some kind of sophist who's going to use your answer to the second thing to try and do a "gotcha" to your answer about the first thing? If that's the case, I'm not sure how I gave you that impression, but that's not something I would ever do. Maybe you spend the rest of your time wrangling trolls, but I've commented here enough times I would hope you have a better sense of me than that.

Lydia McGrew said...

I'm afraid I'm finding it difficult, I have to admit, to keep track of your various strands of argument. For example, you said you wanted my response to a purely abstract question. I take it this concerns the probable consequences of electing someone who keeps his immorality strictly in the closet. But then you said,

"You make a good argument that if this candidate won, it would create its own set of risks to standards of behavior, trust in authority, etc."

But if we are really talking about someone whose behavior *is not known*, then that wouldn't presumably change standards of behavior in society, because his behavior would be known only to a close coterie who are "in the know." So it almost sounds like you didn't take me to be talking about someone as incredibly unusual as I meant to be talking about when I answered your "abstract question"--namely, someone whose immorality really was *a strict secret*.

Even more confusing, you said,

"Yes, I meant a hypothetical scenario like you described last: a Candidate A who is highly controlled hypocrite, never gets taken in by foreign spies while drunk, keeps his mistresses in the closet, and so on.

And let's say this is possible not because you're a superhuman who can foresee all outcomes, but because Candidate A is simply not Kennedy-level debauched (actually sleeps with two or three interns a day, heavy drinking problem, etc.), but more like Trump-level debauched (has grabbed a few women's privates and speaks about them in crass, objectifying language, maybe has sniffed a few lines of coke in his day but isn't a drug addict or even much of a drinker)."

But part of being "Trump-debauched" is being very _public_ about one's bad behavior. That's part of what he likes. The theoretical possibility I was considering really does require, and did even fifty years ago require, someone who is unusually well-controlled (for a guy with mistresses) and also picks mistresses who have very closed mouths. Hence, not even remotely similar to Trump.

And again, in the 21st century the idea of a man who is actually able to keep mistresses in the closet is a joke anyway, so the whole discussion is pointless.

It's not that I think you're a troll, PC. It's just that I think you're trying too hard to discuss something that has no real cash value.

Power Child said...

We frequently hear stuff like "Smith was an asshole, but he got a lot of important things done" or "Jones was the most dangerous and incompetent leader we ever had, but he was deeply loved and admired by his family and other people who were close to him."

Clearly, a lot of people assume it's possible to judge a leader's personal and public qualities totally separately. I guess I did too, and working from that assumption I thought I had an interesting abstract question about what kind of leader would be preferable.

You seem to be arguing that this division doesn't really exist, and people are deluding themselves by even assuming there is one. Am I summarizing correctly?

Lydia McGrew said...

One of the great things about a fully moderated, private blog is that I can simply neglect to moderate through comments that are OT, even if they are not nasty.

To the commentator who just left a comment all about how Trump is so great at foreign policy because he luvs Russia and would cooperate with them to stop the jihadists: I don't write these posts to have every Trumpite in the world come in and offer his favorite reason in Trump's so-called "policies" (most of which are just fake claims, because he's both an utter ignoramus and an utter liar) for why we must VOTE TRUMP.

This post, like most of them, is about the corruption of good people and their adoption of the "character doesn't count" perspective. Since it looks like you never really thought character counted but just your preferred paleocon foreign policy, I'm not interested in dialoguing with you at all on how we have to VOTE TRUMP because feverish paleocons think he has genuinely internalized their foreign policy preferences. So don't bother.

Power Child is being rather annoyingly persistent with some confusions, but as he's pointed out, he's a long-standing non-trollish commentator, and I judge that he's at least in the ballpark of the topic.

Lydia McGrew said...

PC: Short answer to your most recent is yes, that’s a pretty fair representation of what I think, when we are talking about positions that are at least moderately complex and require a suite of abilities and character qualities.

The Presidency is a public leadership position and is incredibly complex, both morally and technically. For the Presidency of the U.S., which requires (just to start with) the ability to keep one’s word, to keep one’s head, and to keep secrets, plus a great deal of knowledge and the capacity to live in the fierce light of publicity without radically embarrassing the whole nation or abusing vast power, the idea of a hermetic Wall of Separation between so-called “private life” and “public life,” so that egregiously bad present character does not matter, is utterly ludicrous. The President of the United States is not an auto mechanic or even a brain surgeon. He is not a narrow technician whose desires and interests align with a "customer's" because he's been hired to "do a (highly specific) job." Nor can his so-called "private life" be kept secret even if he wanted it to be. And even a phrase like “getting things done” is silly as a semi-argument for electing a man of no character, since there is no good way to know that what such a man would want to “get done” would be what should be done or what the elector making the argument wants done.

If you knowingly hire an unscrupulous lawyer to litigate a malpractice suit for you, it may work out well for you, especially if you’ve checked out his specific track record with malpractice suits. If you knowingly designate an unscrupulous lawyer to be the trustee of a large estate for your minor child in the event of your death, you are a fool.

Lydia McGrew said...

Let me also add that I think it's a good thing, not a bad thing, that a President who went around grabbing random beautiful women by the private parts as part of his Imperial Privilege would be publicly excoriated. A Republican who did so would possibly even be impeached and removed from office. There is doubtless a double standard on these matters, but that just means the standard should be the same for Democrats, not that it should be something a Republican politician, much less the President, could get away with.

I find that some anti-feminists this election are suddenly finding themselves tongue-tied about condemning Trump, because God forbid they should seem to agree with those danged feminists.

The heck with that. More than one road leads to Rome. If feminists think that a Donald Trump who sexually assaults women is a creep and unfit to be President, they are right. I'm not so insecure in my non-feminism that I can't bear to find myself agreeing with a feminist on the moral equivalent of, "The sky is blue."

Power Child said...

Makes sense to me.

Do you think a lot of people maybe perceive the job of president to boil down to "do the one or two policy things I'm really concerned about, and beyond that I don't care"? And if so, why do you think they think that way? Are they being *asked* to "harden their hearts" or is it just a typical condition of many people's hearts to be hard?

Lydia McGrew said...

I think conservatives by nature have up until now really wanted a president with good character. That's one reason why some of them can't handle the cognitive dissonance and either a) downplay Trump's bad character to justify supporting him or even b) go so far as to say that he has good character in order to justify supporting him.

A Facebook friend of a Facebook friend recently told me that she knows a lot of Christians who literally insist that Trump is "a godly man." The mind boggles, but what I think it shows is that the cynical idea of the "narrow technician President" still doesn't sit well with Americans, especially American conservatives. In their hearts they know that we are supposed to be able to *respect* the President and that he is, de facto, a role model. They know that his name will be in the history books. They know that if he's a slimeball and an embarrassment, this is a real matter of national shame. They also know that as President he will have tremendous power which *of course* you wouldn't trust to a moral cretin.

So they lie to themselves about his character.

However, there's also a lot schizophrenia. In Trump's case, his bad character is so egregiously obvious that a lot more people, including conservatives, can't really deny it. But because conservatives are flogged by our two-party system and by the literally religious sense of duty that we have (bizarrely) told people that they have to vote in the Presidential election for one of the two major-party candidates, they feel they must harden their hearts, stifle all of their knowledge that character counts, and justify voting for the Republican candidate. It's an absolutely blatant partisanship: God will be angry at you and you will be responsible for all the evil that the Democrat does if you don't vote for the Republican.

It is in that context that they turn to the myth of the narrow technician President and to the further myth that a man like Trump can be in any degree trusted to do something effective even about the one or two policy things they are most concerned about.

I saw someone yesterday refer to Trump's "promises" on a laundry list of things some of which he hasn't even _bothered_ to make promises about. (Religious liberty, for example.) So people are literally hallucinating promises from Trump so as to fix in their minds this false picture of his being bound to some kind of contract with them as "his base" to do what they want on certain crucial issues if elected even though he's a bad man. It's all an illusion.