I read through Wayne Grudem’s defense of voting for Trump the other day, and I thought I would use this as an occasion to articulate my own argument in favor of the “Never Trump” position that grants his assumption that a Clinton presidency is unacceptable. Grudem’s article is characteristically long and wide-ranging, yet his core argument is simple enough:
- Christians ought to vote for the candidate who is most likely to improve the country.
- The candidate who is most likely to improve the country is Donald Trump.
- Therefore, Christians ought to vote for Trump.
One of the virtues of Grudem’s argument is that he denies the “lesser of two evils” approach to voting that has become so prevalent in this election. This is a good thing, because no one should intentionally favor evil in any form. That would be to violate a first principle of practical reasoning: pursue the good and avoid what is evil. To act in favor of what one knows to be evil while believing that what one is doing is good, is to perform a senseless act. And if one doesn’t believe that what one is doing is good, then one is doing evil. So, the first premise on Grudem’s argument is on solid ground as far as practical reasoning goes, and it applies to everyone, not just Christians.
What about the second premise? Grudem rests much of his case on what I take to be the best argument for a conservative Christian to vote for Trump, what I shall call the SCOTUS argument. The SCOTUS argument goes like this:
- Appointing conservative Justices to the SCOTUS is most likely to improve the country.
- Appointing liberal Justices to the SCOTUS is most likely to damage the country.
- Either Clinton or Trump will be elected.
- If Clinton is elected, she will appoint liberal Justices.
- If Trump is elected, he may or may not appoint conservative Justices.
- Therefore, if Clinton is elected, she will most likely damage the country.
- Therefore, if Trump is elected, he may or may not improve the country.
Given, the first argument above, it is more reasonable to vote for someone who may or may not improve the country than someone who will most likely damage it. Therefore, Christians should vote for Trump. In Grudem’s mind, premise  is even stronger: he thinks that Trump will most likely appoint conservative Justices, so this only bolsters the conclusion. Since SCOTUS Justices serve lifetime appointments, and since they seem to have the most efficient power with respect to making or nullifying laws, and since their opinions shape our culture in deep and profound ways, we ought to get as many conservative Justices on the court as possible.
Is this a good argument? I think not, because appointing conservative Justices to the SCOTUS is not sufficient for most likely improving the country, all things considered. A little reflection shows that this is obvious. If a Mussolini-like figure came on the scene and intended to implement Mussolini-like policies in America, he would not merit our vote even if he promised to nominate conservative Justices to the Court. If the nation were to come under the spell of his personality, and we were to amend our Constitution to deny, say the rights of a free press, a conservative Justice would not be able to help and perhaps would compound the problem. This is not to say that this is likely to happen or that appointing conservative justices is not necessary for improving the country. But it does show that the there is more to improving the country than just nominating conservative Justices to the SCOTUS. Thus, to make the argument go through, one must assume that a Trump presidency would be tolerable insofar as the welfare of the nation is concerned, as if it would be benign or only modestly damaging and that we have little to lose and everything to gain. That is a questionable assumption, for at least four reasons.
First, his denigration towards hispanics, particularly those who are from Mexico, is intolerable. His insistence that we could round up 11 million people and deport them humanely is preposterous. The scapegoating mentality he brings to the issue of illegal immigration has also compelled him to question the impartiality of a Judge who ruled unfavorably against him over his sham university (which is a paradigm example of all that is wrong with “for profit” education in itself). This is simply unacceptable. Not only is it unbecoming of a presidential candidate, it emboldens those who are openly racist towards hispanics and exemplifies a contempt of court. (A lot has been said about Trump’s racism; the most compelling analysis of it I’ve read from a conservative Christian viewpoint comes from Thabiti Anyabwile). Muslims and POW’s are other classes Trump has spoken contemptuously of, and his treatment of women in public and private is disqualifying in itself. No one seeking high office should have the sort of character that so wantonly denies the command to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Second, there is no reason to believe his trade and economic policies would be effective. Given his mixed track record and multiple slides into bankruptcy, there is no evidence to believe that he can reliably deliver favorable outcomes to those who support him — the lower-middle class worker. Tariffs are always a political red-meat, but they have a track record of hurting those they purportedly help, because our own exports become subject to retaliatory tariffs, the price of once-cheap goods goes up, and the cost of living becomes more burdensome, especially to those who live paycheck to paycheck (examples aren’t hard to find).
Third, his is a conspiracy theory mind that is both impervious to facts and uninterested in learning them if they do not fit his short term goals. His insistence that Obama was never born in the U.S., that thousands of Muslims were celebrating in the streets of New York on 9/11, and that Ted Cruz’s father had something to do with the Kennedy assassination are the bizarre manifestations of a paranoid imagination that now imposes itself on the psyche of a nation from a large bully pulpit. Predictably, he casts himself in the role of messiah; only he can deliver us from such pernicious enemies within — those who cross our borders, those who rape our women, and those who shoot our police officers (never mind that violent crime is down in the U.S.). With respect to ISIS, his plan is to involve the military not only in a costly ground war in the Middle East (something he criticizes Bush for), but to go after and torture enemy noncombatants — the family members of ISIS fighters. War crimes apparently aren’t a problem for Trump. Entrusting such a deluded and morally perverse mind with the codes to the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world simply makes no sense.
Fourth, his hostility toward NATO and friendliness towards Russia are utterly baffling and perhaps the most dangerous of all his inane ideas. The invitation to Russia to interfere with an American election cannot be tolerated. If Trump finds it expedient to invoke the aggression of a foreign power against his political rivals in a campaign for president, why should we think he will have no compunction to do so when he is president (update: see the statements of GOP national security leaders)?
I could go on, but these four reasons provide sufficient evidence against the belief that a Trump presidency would be benign or only modestly damaging to the American people. Admittedly, none of these reasons appeal to the usual issues that conservative Christians care about, which more or less fall under the categories of “family values” or “religious liberty.” They are right to worry about these issues, and are fully entitled to vote their conscience according to the level of importance they believe they have (I happen to think that the life issues are very important). But Christians are not free to bind the consciences of others by appealing to the fallacious argument above, or the nonsensical belief (affirmed by Grudem) that a no-vote for Trump is a vote for Clinton (it “helps” her in his words). If that were true, then it would also be true that a no-vote for Clinton is a vote for Trump, which leads to the absurd conclusion that to vote for neither is to vote for both.
We can do better. We can champion our values out of protest against the two candidates on offer and cast a wider vision of the kingdom of God that is not besmirched by venal and expedient politicians who present their candidacies as cure-alls for our national ills. This is a birthright that should not be sold for a bowl of pottage that is here today and gone tomorrow.