Voting In No-Win Elections

The Bible does not mention democracy. Christian faith is a completely adaptable faith in political terms because God knew his church would always be a minority. He knew that the people of Christ would have to be able to exist in a dictatorship as well as a republic, and everything in between. Because of this, there is no Bible passage on who we should vote for. We are left to theology and prudence: our best understanding of the implications of scripture and the wisest way to apply them.

This is relevant in the present American election. We have before us four unhelpful choices:

  1. The most personally distasteful candidate of a major party
  2. The most corrupt candidate of a major party
  3. Three candidates that can’t possibly receive a majority of votes
  4. Not voting

So, what do we do? 

Inaction, or taking the cleanest route is often not the most virtuous. There is going to be a soiling to living well in a fallen world—and politics is a dirty pen. Jesus was no fan of the Pharisee’s safety commands, and the servant who buried his talent was cursed by his master. Therefore, the only case in which I think a Christian should not vote is if you believe you are not informed enough to vote. However, there is no reason you cannot become informed, so I do not recommend this option.

If you don’t feel qualified to vote, it is okay to ask someone else—who you respect and think is more qualified and informed—what you should do. I often do this in local elections when I do not know the candidates involved. Use your ability to judge character to choose someone to ask if you don’t think you can do that work yourself, or if you believe that the other person can do it better.

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What to consider when choosing a candidate:

In a recent interview at Q Commons, Ross Douthat mentioned three categories that should be considered in making a voting decision for president. I added a fourth:

  1. Platform: What is their policy platform? What do they say they want to accomplish?
  2. Character: Do they have the dignity and integrity for the office they are seeking?
  3. Capacity: Can they actually execute the office that they seek?
  4. Appointments: Who will this person appoint to the positions beneath them, and what sort of people will they be?

Sadly, these categories will not make the decision for us—but they can help us prudently consider the choices we have.

Platform

Platforms are well and good, but platforms are always unevenly enacted and always through compromise. It is unlikely that any presidential winner in this election will have Congress completely on their side. This means compromise. And since legislation isn’t even the job of the president, it is arguable that a president shouldn’t even have platform. According to our Constitution, only legislators are supposed to have platforms.

Character

Regarding character, it is my belief that Secretary Clinton does not have the integrity for the office while Mr. Trump does not have the dignity for the office. Which is more basic? In my view, if someone is running for an office, then the integrity of the office is more basic. However, for others, I know they believe that the dignity of the country’s figurehead is more important.

Capacity

Having the capacity to run a global multi-trillion dollar bureaucracy that is as complicated as United States is impossible for anyone. I doubt there is any such human capable of the feat in question. I find the idea itself preposterous—which leads to the fourth consideration. If no one has the personal capacity to lead the full sprawling amoebic bureaucracy of the American government, then they must lead it by their many appointments.

Appointments

The next president will appoint between one and five Supreme Court justices. This will make a court either a court of original intent or progressive intent. Experience has shown us that there is no such thing as an objective judge, especially in an era where law schools intentionally teach their students not to try.  Judges focusing on original intent are the closest thing to impartial since their philosophy is to “let the law be the law,” but there is plenty of opportunity for conservative ideologies to fill in the gaps.

The president will not only be making appointments to the Supreme Court. There will be numerous appointments to appellate courts which create the judgments the Supreme Court is considering, and predisposes their decisions in the direction of the decision already made by the appellate court—as in the case of same-sex marriage.  There will be also numerous appointments to departments. Administrations profoundly affect how the departments of government function; examples of the impact include the IRS scandal, who the Department of Justice chooses to prosecute, and so on.

In my view, when living in a bureaucratic state, appointments become the most important thing. They are the people in the bureaucracies that create their cultures, set their policies and make their decisions. Therefore, for me, number four is number one.

In the end, our responsibility before God is to do the best we can when we vote. 

All voting requires judgment, and all candidates are at least imperfect. All of our knowledge is mediated through the media. And we are all voting for someone to represent us in the future that hasn’t happened yet—that will certainly throw us some curveballs.

We should vote. We will never know what would’ve happened otherwise, if the other person had won. And we may all second-guess our decision decades later. But it is best to act according to conscience. Do what is best according to the best of your knowledge.

Pray.

Foremost at this time, do what our secular neighbors might despise but that we believe is the most important: pray. Pray that God will give us leaders better than we deserve. Pray that the One who truly rules over all things will rule through even this president And pray that somehow these events will lead to an opportunity for awakening—spiritual, and then perhaps political.

For further Christian reflections on this election, here are some links to things the staff has found helpful:

16 thoughts on “Voting In No-Win Elections”

  1. Concerning Character, Trump does not meet the definition:
    Integrity-
    the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness

    He does not demonstrate strong moral principles. Quite the opposite. He is not an acceptable candidate for the office.

  2. the distinction I made is integrity in relationship to the office, versus dignity in relationship to the person holding it. So integrity towards an office would be not committing high crimes and misdemeanors, not engaging and obstruction of justice, fulfilling the legal obligations of an office positively, and not using one’s office for illicit personal gain. Since Trump has not held a governmental high office, this question is moot concerning him for the most part. My point is that it seems to be an objective fact that Mrs. Clinton has shown a lack of integrity in relationship to the OFFICE. Which I argue is fundamental for anyone who wishes to hold an office. That is not the same thing as arguing whether or not Trump or Clinton has more personal integrity. It may be the Trump does not have strong personal integrity, or that his level of integrity is worse than Clinton’s. That’s a different point, and irrelevant to the one I am making here.

    1. Since Trump hasn’t held any kind of elected office (an issue in and of itself and explains his lack of knowledge required of a President) the only measure we have is his business and personal integrity. He doesn’t appear to have the will or the temperament to change so what we see from his past and present behavior we can likely expect more of the same should he become president. He continues to hide his tax returns which raise many questions about what they would reveal. Bottom line is he doesn’t meet the test of an integrity, trust and respect that the country and the world needs. Given our choices, he’s a risk we can’t afford to take.

  3. That may be, though I wouldn’t go as far or agree with you conclusions, but that’s not the argument I’m making. I’m saying that, for example, a police officer can’t be a felon. You can’t give a accounting position to someone who has been found to be an embezzler. There are certain breaches of integrity specific to offices that would disqualify someone categorically from holding such an office. I’m not talking about the general judgment one would hold about general integrity, I’m talking about specific abuses that are directly related function of an office- a public trust.

    Because Hillary Clinton has engaged in a number of failures of integrity DIRECTLY RELATED to the function of the OFFICE she seeks, I am saying that in my judgment she doesn’t have the official integrity for the particular office that she seeks. And I’m saying that that is an even more basic category than the general concept of personal integrity (which would be comparative between the two, not objective), and dignity (the manner one carries themselves in).

    You are arguing in relationship to the second concept- what might be called general integrity. I’m talking about a different concept, what we might call official integrity. And I think official integrity has to be the most foundational question of whether or not someone is qualified to hold an office. That has nothing to do with expertise. And it has nothing to do with general personal honesty (which in my view Mrs. Clinton lacks even more than Mr. Trump). I will even concede that Mrs. Clinton has more official dignity than Mr. Trump, and would win in that third category.

    But I am saying in my judgment, she does not have the official integrity for the office of president. I can see that she has more experience as an official (though I might argue that her record is reprehensible in those offices), and I agree that she has poor dignity (though I’m not sure I would concede for the right reasons), but those are irrelevant to the point I’m making about the office.

    If she has very carelessly handled classified information, then should she be at the top of the classified information heat? If she excused herself from basic rules for using official technological constraints at the State Department, should she be the chief executive officer enforcing that for all members of government? If she is continually engaging and obstruction of justice in handing over materials, should she be the official head of our Justice Department? And so on.

    your argument that Trump should be disqualified relatively, may be a good argument. But I am saying the fact that Clinton should be disqualified officially is an objective argument, and more foundational than the relative question of judgment related to general integrity.

    1. The media including social media has been used to spread rumors and conspiracy theories like never before. In fairness to Clinton she has not been found guilty by law of anything. Concerning the emails, no harm was done. No top secrets hacked. She is not the first government official to use a private server. The Bush administration destroyed millions of emails. No one batted an eye. So we should be evaluating candidates based on knowledge and leadership ability, including temperament, qualities needed for the office of President. Not on the campaign propaganda that’s meant to sway us. When the KKK supporters a candidate it’s time to think where we are headed. “You can tell a tree by the fruit it bears”. This link sums it up for me.

  4. That may be true- but it’s hard to argue that the media is in the bag for Trump. IT is also a fact that there are plenty of less connected people rotting in federal prison for doing much less than the secretary has done.

    Also some of your arguments prove way too much. Many American socialists and communists are going to support the secretary. Does that mean she’s a communist and we shouldn’t support her because her movement has killed 100 million people? No. Trump is closer to the views of the KKK than Clinton. That doesn’t make him wrong. Shoot, if Bernie sanders (or Joseph Stalin for that matter) and Clinton were our two nominees, Clinton would be closer to the KKK. Would you vote for Senator Sanders because of Sec Clinton was closer to the KKK? I wouldn’t.

    Concerning Cranston, He’s just wrong. I’d grant him that Trump is kind of like King Lear, but Sec Clinton is a classic Macbeth character. Take your pic- vanity or ambition. Rashness or rebellion. Truth is, everyone is a Shakespearean character- that’s why the bard is universal. If I had to chose a president on the basis of tragic Shakespearean likenesses, and I have to admit this is one of the more interesting ways to think about it, I’d take Lear over MacBeth any day. There is little worse than feckless vanity, but avaricious ambition makes the cut. Again, Cranston proves too much. Trump should be his man on that logic.

    1. Not sure why the hypothetical comparison of the KKK to the other people. Fact is the KKK identifies with one person. Trump. As do other white supremacists. That alone is freighting. The are mobilizing if Clinton wins to do who knows what. And threatening to “monitor”. Polling places. Intimidation. This is crazy.

      1. The Supreme Court is a priority for many Christians in this election concerning the right to life issue. I ran across this today from Russell Moore relative to the election:
        “The life issue cannot flourish in a culture of misogyny and sexual degradation. The life issue cannot flourish when you have people calling for the torture and murder of innocent non-combatants. The life issue cannot flourish when you have people who have given up on the idea that character matters. If you lose an election you can live to fight another day and move on, but if you lose an election while giving up your very soul then you have really lost it all … When you have someone who is standing up race baiting, racist speech, using immigrants and others in our communities in the most horrific ways and we say ‘that doesn’t matter’ and we are part of the global body of Christ simply for the sake of American politics, and we expect that we are going to be able to reach the nations for Christ? I don’t think so, and so I think we need to let our yes be yes and our no be no and our never be never.”
        This and other issues directly related to the Gospel, such as race (if one part of the body suffers all parts suffer) are troublesome to the body of churches throughout the country. Should there be some guidance from the pulpit 2 days prior to this all important election on how we should be looking at the Gospel when making the decision on who of the flawed candidates comes closest to what we value most as Christian citizens? Followed by prayer.

      2. both sides of the political aisle have people to their far extremes. On the right you tend to get ethnic nationalists. In the United States that would be the KKK. On the left you tend to get revolutionary communists. Now the KKK is pretty dang fright. I’m not minimizing. And I am very concerned about people who want to hurt other people on purpose. and if they “monitor” any polling stations in a way that is intimidating, they shall be rounded up and taken off to jail.

        so the KKK argument is a bad argument for two reasons. 1. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that people on the extreme far right are going to like the candidate that is more to the right of the other candidate. If Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were the two nominees, when we vote against Sen. Clinton because she was closer to the KKK and they liked her better? 2. Both sides have extremist groups that endorse the candidate closer to them. That doesn’t mean that candidate is sympathetic to the idiosyncrasies of that group, nor will connect anything that they like. They, like most Americans, think that that candidate is less catastrophic than the other.

  5. Excellent post. Thank you for adding the fourth category of appointments! My decision is largely based on the Supreme Court candidate choices that Secretary Clinton or Mr. Trump would make as President and I haven’t come across a lot of emphasis on this important factor.

    1. I completely agree that were comparing Mr. Trump most morally normal human beings, and we were voting on moral purity, he would almost certainly lose.

      The problem is we are comparing him in political competence and general character to Sec. Clinton.

  6. Interesting that the two Gibson brothers, both thoughtful evangelical pundits, have such stark disagreement on these critical national issues, which reflect not so much a difference in their values, but how they weigh, prioritize and triage between Christian values in conflict. There divide is a microcosm of the macro divide in our congregations, communities, and nation. When no one candidate embodies what we believe, this makes it a no-win election.

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