A response to Wayne Grudem’s Trump article

I’m writing this article mostly for conservative Christians to read, and I promise I won’t pull you into a conversation about libertarianism. I’m not trying to convert you, I just want to try to clarify issues that I’m sure have caused you a lot of frustration and confusion, and I want to shake up some presuppositions that cloud current issues in politics. I’ve seen this article floating around a little bit and thought I should respond to it, because I think its reasoning is flawed and its arguments contribute to the problems in American politics today.

http://townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2016/07/28/why-voting-for-donald-trump-is-a-morally-good-choice-n2199564

I’ve commented a bit in the recent past about American civil religion, which I think is bad for the church and bad for the country, and that ties in quite a bit with the article here. Most of what I’m going to say will sound rather harsh, but I’ll try to smooth it out at the end, because I see where Grudem is coming from and I sympathize with large portions of the population who have lost their voice and feel the need to compromise and support a candidate they don’t actually like. This happens every election cycle, but it seems worse in recent memory than it did in the past. I could be wrong about that, I’ve only been old enough to vote in the last three presidential elections, so my experiential scope is a bit limited.  I’m writing this assuming you at least skimmed Grudem’s article.

For the most part, it sounds like Grudem’s argument is that Trump is a Republican candidate and that Clinton and the liberals are bad. Never mind that Clinton is really more of an establishment candidate than a proper democratic candidate. She’s not much more liberal than Mitt Romney was, and besides John McCain’s angry face and aggressively pro-war positions she is more or less in the same political ballpark as the candidates Republicans have run for the last two election cycles. She’s part of the moderate centrist establishment bloc that dominates the beltway, and once you’ve made a few connections in that crowd, you’re guaranteed a lifelong career in political circles, regardless of who is in office. To this type of politician, it’s less about positions than it is about power, and I expect Clinton would be a better president than Obama has been for the last 8 years. She has more connections to the status quo and is less politically idealistic than he is, so she would be a much more smooth continuation of the current system than Trump would be. She wouldn’t shake things up as much, and stability is good for the system. This is, I believe, the root of what Trump has leverage against as a candidate. Trump is a populist who has gathered together a base of voters who don’t trust the establishment and feel ignored. The establishment has arranged itself in a way that allows them to largely ignore the voters on a large number of issues while remaining in power and pretending to care about the issues the rest of us get wound up about. Back to the article…

 Grudem is essentially giving the reader permission to vote for someone they are uncertain they can support because they think he’s an immoral pick. He is trying to calm their fears that they’re doing a bad thing. I’m uncertain what Grudem’s role is in the spiritual hierarchy of heaven, but I expect that his opinion doesn’t affect whether voting for Trump is morally acceptable or not. The real problem is that we’ve been trained as Americans to vote for the lesser of two evils every four years, but this year it’s really hard to see which of the two evils is lesser. Grudem is trying to assuage the fears of moral culpability that come with supporting this year’s Republican candidate, because we’ve come to believe the lie that Christians have to be conservatives, and that conservatives have to support the Republican Party at all costs. This has been a generally psychologically comfortable place to stand for a lot of Christians over the years, and it makes it a lot easier to vote for a lesser of two evils if you can talk yourself into believing that your guy is at least a conservative Christian, even if he’s not the one you preferred out of the batch of options you started with. This year, though, voting for the lesser of two evils has gotten a lot more difficult. This should be a sign that the system hasn’t been working for a while (at least it hasn’t been working for the voters), and that we’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The square peg here is simply voting for your party because they’re your party and they claim to support (more or less) your own political and moral views. The round hole is that the government can’t fix everything, but politicians are more than happy to promise you that it can. They’ll say anything they can to get your votes. They aren’t all bad, I do have a few names I trust out there, but by and large it’s a winner’s game, and if a politician doesn’t play the game, they don’t stay in power.

 Grudem starts by saying that Trump isn’t really as bad as the media has made him out to be. To some degree, I expect that’s true, but I think Trump is probably one of the few people with the gall to run for office who is a wild enough character that the media doesn’t have to exaggerate stories about him to make him look bad. I don’t agree that Trump isn’t racist or misogynistic, just this week I saw another video of Trump from the past where he made inappropriate comments to a woman on his TV show. Trump’s business record is littered with examples of him screwing people over to save himself money, and he supports eminent domain for private benefit, where the government can confiscate private property for another private entity for the perceived public good. He’s had 6 bankruptcies in 18 years, which is either a sign that he’s not as good of a businessman as he claims to be, or that he’s good at moving money around and strategically declaring bankruptcy to keep from having to pay off debts. He’s an egotistical populist moderate fascist who is somehow effective at talking a dissatisfied middle-class nominally-Christian crowd into believing only the good things he says and can “change his mind” whenever his opinions don’t get him more support. Grudem seems to put a lot of hope in a president Trump’s Supreme Court appointees to sway abortion rulings to the conservative side, but Trump’s own positions on abortion are wildly inconsistent over time (just do a quick web search for “Trump abortion” and see what you can find), and I’m not convinced he really has much to say on the subject beyond what gets his base wound up.

What we’re left with really is an insubstantial blowhard who can whip energy into a crowd of people who know the system hasn’t represented them for a while. I can appreciate the desire for government accountability and representation, I don’t believe Trump has anything to offer America besides a chance to vent frustration. Trump is a protest vote against a crooked system, but I have no expectation that Trump wouldn’t use his newfound political connections to benefit himself, his family, and his friends. He has never portrayed himself as principled businessman who refuses to take advantage of the system, there’s no reason to expect he’ll suddenly have a desire to reform the system instead of using it to bring himself more wealth and power. I don’t trust him on his policy positions and as a person I think he’s a disgusting thug. Grudem’s argument can be summarized as “it’s okay to vote for the lesser of two evils as long as you agree enough with what you think your candidate might do to improve the country.” That’s a defensible enough position in the short term, but it’s the kind of nearsighted thinking that got us into our current political mess, and it’s a pretty poor way to justify a candidate that should, by all rights, appall us if we were willing to look at the system as a whole and what kinds of garbage it produces.

The psuedo-Christian American civil religion that conservatives espouse is bad for Christianity and it’s bad for America. Think about this for a second: have you ever seen Jesus portrayed with any flag except an American flag? What does it mean to be a “Christian nation” that is flying drones over countries we’re not even with war with and bombing targets because we suspect terrorists live there? Is this what Jesus would do? These civilian deaths are the only picture of the American Jesus many people in these countries will ever see. Moreover, our ideas of a “Christian nation” are the kind of thinking that more or less makes it mandatory for our politicians, particularly presidential candidates, lie about being a Christian so we can talk ourselves into supporting them. It’s the kind of thinking that makes us construct religious justification for supporting our wars overseas and trying to exert moral control over domestic issues, claiming that Jesus is on our side of any policy debate. Heaven help us if we elected somebody honest about not believing instead of the loudmouthed warmonger braggart who recently claimed conversion to evangelical Christianity. If anybody believes he’s not just lying to try to excite the evangelical voting block, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. In fact, I would venture to guess that of the 4 most viable candidates for the presidency right now, there might only be atheists. I don’t know anything about Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s religious views, but she claims to be Jewish. Do you believe Clinton is a Christian? I expect she’s playing the same pandering game Trump is with his religious declaration. Gary Johnson is admittedly an atheist, so at least he’s not lying about it. If you can’t vote for an atheist, you had better hope that, as a conservative Christian, you can vote for a Jewish eco-socialist who is critical of the Israeli government, because Stein is your only option.

I guess what Grudem really means, then, is that you shouldn’t feel bad about voting for a conservative if you’re a conservative. I guess if you believe Trump represents your positions, then vote for him, I don’t have a problem with that. I think Trump is a horrible person and would make a horrible president. I think Clinton is a more conservative option than Trump is, and there are noteworthy conservatives who have backed her since Trump became the Republican nominee. Christian conservatives are faced with a difficult situation, because conservatism is growing less and less Christian, and conservatives in general have a hard time voting for someone who doesn’t hold the same moral perspectives as them. If you’re having trouble with knowing where this leaves you as a voter, there are a few points I’d like you to give some thought to.

You don’t need Wayne Grudem’s permission to vote for whoever you want. Your choice is between you and God. Some Christians don’t believe voting is morally good at all, so consider that option as well. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t consider Grudem’s points if you haven’t decided yet, but I don’t think it’s wise to take comfort in his reassurances that it’s okay to vote for Trump. Whether it’s okay or not is not up to him, and I think his arguments are pretty weak at best. Voting for the lesser of two evils still puts evil in office, and that’s how the system stays operating and as broken and corrupt as it is.

If you don’t live in a swing state, your vote doesn’t really matter. Here in Minnesota, Clinton will win. It doesn’t matter if I vote for her or Trump or Johnson or Stein, Clinton will win. Minnesota hasn’t gone to a Republican since 1972, and Trump isn’t popular here. Barring some major shakeup, Clinton will win. That means that if you vote for Trump in Minnesota, you didn’t get anything out of your vote for the lesser evil, you still lost. I would encourage you to consider voting for a third party in this case, since at least bringing bigger vote numbers to minor parties will shake up the system a bit more than continuing to support major parties you aren’t comfortable with.

If there’s ever been a good time to stop voting on party lines, it’s now. Learn what candidates will be on the ballot in your area and figure out what they believe. If you don’t stand by their positions, it might be a better idea to not vote at all. If a Republican you don’t like wins, that just gives the Republicans more momentum in running more candidates like that in the future. If enough Democrats win, that might help mobilize change in the GOP and maybe you’ll get to see somebody in the future you support more. Consider running for state and local offices yourself if you can’t find someone you stand behind. Consider voting for third party candidates, even if only to shake up the system.

This is a pet project of mine, but learn about alternative voting systems, like ranked choice voting. FairVote Minnesota is an organization here that is trying to encourage voting systems that break a bit of the strangle hold that the Republicans and Democrats have on political office. This system would let voters rank the available candidate options instead of only choosing one option. For example, you could have ranked your Republican primary choices as Rubio, Cruz, Carson, Kasich, and then no vote after that. If Rubio didn’t pull enough support to stay in it your vote would be transferred to the next option on your list, so that you might at least get your second option. It’s not a fix for all of our problems, but it would be a good step in the right direction. It’s a system that is useful at many levels of government, and it’s at least worth learning about (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEvAYKhYNs8). The system doesn’t have to work the way it does, and things could be better.

Lastly I would encourage you to ask yourself what a Christian vote looks like. Sit down with a list of your positions and ask yourself why you hold the position you do. Learn about the arguments for and against that position. Play devil’s advocate and see if you can make an argument against a position you hold. Learn what policy positions the candidates hold and see where your vote would go if you were able to vote for someone you actually support instead of voting for the lesser of evils. The Republican party is changing at the least and some claim it is dying. I expect it is only transforming into something a bit different from what we’ve known in the recent past, which may or may not be to your liking. It’s a great time to give some extra thought to what you believe politically and why. Furthermore, think about whether your position is properly a Christian position or if you’ve been suckered into following party lines because you didn’t have a firm opinion of your own. I grew up as a conservative Republican and now stray towards the agorist/minarchist camp, while voting for whichever candidate I can find that is the most libertarian option. I decided that as a Christian, I can’t support the vast majority of military actions, and I don’t think it’s right to try to force other people to follow my moral beliefs. It took me a long time to get to that position, but I’m much more comfortable here than I was in my beliefs before. It’s not an easy thing to deeply examine your own positions, and it can be pretty uncomfortable, but I think we can agree that politics right now are already pretty uncomfortable. At least the discomfort that comes from self-examination is productive.

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