Why I am #NotHillary and #NeverTrump and will not vote for either of the two main candidates for president this year.

I’ve had a few folks ask me what I have been thinking in this election year and so I thought I would sketch out my thoughts on the matter and especially on why I can’t in good conscience vote either for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. And trust me, it’s worth every penny you’ve paid for it.

With regard to Clinton, my reasoning is pretty straightforward. I’m not inclined toward many of her policy choices, but my sense is that she will be a fairly ordinary, and ordinarily bad, president after she is sworn in this coming January. (Yes, I think she will win, and win relatively easily). But I can’t vote for her because she is firmly, persistently, and even enthusiastically in favor of protecting and even expanding abortion rights in our country (and overseas). She cannot even manage her husband’s “safe, legal, and rare” mantra. My judgment is that abortion (save for life-saving efforts) is an intrinsic evil and that I cannot vote for someone who thinks as she does.

Of course, lots of people describe themselves as pro-life but think that holding to my position is a mistake. They typically advance two different arguments. In the first, they suggest being this sort of “single-issue” voter goes too far, ignoring all the other reasons one might (or might not) vote for a particular candidate. In one sense, this is correct. If all you do is vote on the basis of a single issue, then, yes, it’s quite likely you’ll fall into moral and political error at some point. But everyone, I would submit, has a single issue, or even a cluster of issues, that serve as a kind of moral floor beneath which they will not go. Ask yourself: would you vote for a segregationist? No? Welcome to the ranks of the single-issue voter.

In the second, though, they suggest refusing to vote for pro-choice candidates misses the ways in which other policies—support for mothers, parental leave, etc.—might work to reduce the abortion rate and, after all, aren’t we really in the end looking to reduce the numbers of abortions? Yes, that’s the goal, but in the context of a changed political order that is at least reasonably just. It is not enough, I think, to simply reduce the numbers of abortions—even halve them—while all the more securely protecting the rest via law. Suppose that Clinton’s package of proposals would reduce abortions in the U.S. down to half, roughly 300,000 or so a year. Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Yes, it would, but what then, given that her package of proposals also includes public funding for abortions, rolling back the relatively small number of limits now on abortion rights (including lifting federal restrictions on partial-birth abortions), and expanding funding for abortions (and abortion rights) overseas? On even the most optimistic view (and I’m pretty skeptical of this optimistic view), we might have fewer abortions, but those that occurred—and 300,000 a year is a lot!—would be even more well-protected by law in the U.S. (and elsewhere). And since the real goal is rid ourselves of the elective abortion scourge entirely, we might very well actually be further from that goal, politically speaking, than we are now. Much of Europe is better than the U.S. in one sense on this issue, as they typically restrict abortion to rather early in pregnancy. But in another sense they are worse off: there are, as I understand it, almost no serious political movements trying to end abortion and the prospects for further restricting it are quite dim. (It’s probably worth noting that Europe also belies the idea that very generous welfare states would work to make abortion “unthinkable.”) Our goal should be a constitutional order that reflects what we claim about inherent human dignity, and a vote for pro-choice candidates is not a move in that direction. And so I shall not vote for Hillary Clinton (or Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, who both are also pro-choice).

Ostensibly, of course, Donald Trump claims to be a convert to the pro-life cause, but he’s so incompetent in talking about the issue and is so untrustworthy in general that we should have, to put the matter charitably, no expectation that, even if elected, he would follow through on his campaign promises. But even if he were genuinely pro-life, I would not vote for him.

First, his policy proposals are just short of awful. He, like Clinton, makes noises about opposing free trade. (She hedges better and there’s good reason to suppose that she’s dissembling, which, ironically, is probably a good thing). He is hostile to the First Amendment (which, in a way, she is as well). He is emblematic of crony capitalism and seems likely to institutionalize it further, rather than trimming it back. He is hostile to immigrants (not just immigration, legal or illegal). He seems unwilling to confront our enemies and strategic challengers in a way that is likely to produce more conflict, not less. He is, in a word, just the sort of big-government “centrist” we don’t need. (And that all assumes that he actually does have any policy commitments – it seems just as likely that he’s making stuff up as he goes along and would continue to do so in office, presuming his advisors could get him to work at all).

But his awful policies on their own wouldn’t be enough, probably, to say that I categorically wouldn’t vote for him. (Though his opponent would have to be really, really, really bad, Hugo Chavez sort of bad).  What really seals the deal for me is that his character makes him distinctively unfit for the office of the president. Any politician’s character matters (just as everyone’s character does), but it matters especially for those who occupy an executive office. Presidents make all sorts of promises and have all sorts of goals, but they are often defined by their reactions to events imposed upon them. President Bush campaigned promising a “modest” foreign policy and 9/11 changed all of that. Jimmy Carter did not expect to deal with the Iranian Revolution (and the ensuing hostage crisis). And so on. Ask yourself how you think Donald Trump would react to a China throwing its weight around in the South China Sea? Or to a major terrorist attack in the U.S.? Moreover, the presidency has great latitude to implement/shape policy in some ways independent of Congress, as presidents have increasingly discovered. Inasmuch as you might be disturbed with the scope of President Obama’s executive orders or administrative decisions, imagine a President Trump with the same kind of leeway. I don’t think there is any reason to trust him with that sort of power.

Finally, and this is really an extension of the previous point, it is no accident that Trump’s candidacy has worked to redefine normalcy down. He is cultural and moral poison, inducing otherwise sane people to defend his vulgar admissions of sexual assault as mere “locker room” talk and making open proclamations of racial, ethnic, and religious bigotry once again acceptable as part of our public discourse. These things had not, of course, ever gone away, and it was always possible to find them muttered sotto voce by clever politicos (or less guardedly in some of our country’s byways) but even the patina of hypocrisy was an example of vice paying tribute to virtue. We all knew—or all pretended—that we shouldn’t talk that way. It was unseemly and would bring about the end of one’s political or business career. What Trump’s candidacy has done is, to mangle his own phrase, to make open bigotry great again—and he is not at all concerned about that. Consider: have you ever heard him really worry about or condemn the sorts of racist or racialist or sexist or anti-Semitic rhetoric some of his supporters use?

Trump is, by almost all accounts, a deeply immoral man who resembles more the tyrant of Plato’s Republic than anything else. (Except that Trump isn’t, thank God, nearly so competent). No one who wishes our country well (and that would not include the current KGB Tsar in Russia) should think he should be president. And so I shall not vote for Donald Trump.

Am I, then, “wasting” my vote if I vote for some third party or, as I plan to do, vote for a write-in candidate (e.g. Evan McMullin)? Well, consider what you’re doing when you are voting. Are you effecting a particular outcome, e.g. the election of a candidate to office? Consider scenario A, where you vote for one of the candidates and then Scenario B, where you don’t vote for either. Is there any difference in the outcome between the two Scenarios? The answer is almost certainly, as in one-in-six million (or however many voters you have in your state), no. Your vote matters only in an infinitesimally small way—and, really, not at all, at least as far as the outcome is concerned.

But your vote does matter for you, in the sense that it matters to who you are and who you are hoping to become. When you vote, you are expressing a view that this person (or party) would do better at moving your country (or state or town or whatever) toward what you take to be a just (or more just) state of affairs. You are, then, expressing something about yourself. What are you saying about yourself if you say, as any number of GOP voters seem to be saying, that you think Trump is a terrible person, not worthy of the office of the president, and yet a good choice to be president? You might frame your choice as a vote against Clinton (and perhaps it is that) but it is also, inherently, a vote for Trump. (The logic works for the converse as well). Is that who you want to be, someone divided against yourself?

It seems to me that one of the things we should try to do in this messy world is to live, so far as we can, an integrated moral life, one where our actions reflect a coherent set of moral commitments, including a commitment to the sort of social and political order we would like to inhabit. That’s certainly not always possible and we may indeed sometimes be faced with genuinely tragic choices, but that’s just not the case with our vote in this presidential election. We need not sully our consciences in the vain expectation that we are somehow effecting the “least bad” outcome—we have next to nothing to do with electoral outcomes as individuals. We have a great deal to do with who we eventually become. (It’s worth noting that the smaller the group of electors, the more likely it is we might be forced into tragic moral trade-offs, but the numbers for a presidential election make that possibility vanishingly small. But note further that the title of the post refers to #NeverTrump and #NotHillary—I will vote for neither, but my dislike of each is not equivalent. She is ordinarily bad while he is extraordinary in his bad-ness).

Finally, some might ask (and people do), what if everyone did as I suggested, and voted 3rd party/write-in or simply didn’t vote at all? How would our democracy work? That’s an interesting thought experiment, but it’s the wrong question. The right question is, what would happen if people genuinely voted their conscience and looked to affirm who they thought would make the better office-holder and not just who would beat some despised opponent? Would we have ended up with the two most unliked candidates in memory? I suspect not.

So vote your conscience, keep your soul, and things might even turn out better than the alternative.




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13 responses to “Why I am #NotHillary and #NeverTrump and will not vote for either of the two main candidates for president this year.

  1. Bryan, this is a great post. I might add one thing: it’s also possible to think of your vote not as having an effect on the outcome of this particular election, but perhaps having an effect on future elections by signaling as powerfully as you can that the choices the major parties have put forward are not acceptable. Of course, you’re not likely to have much influence in that way either, but trying to get the parties to rethink is something that can be done incrementally — it’s analog rather than the binary yes/no of a vote.

    • Agree entirely. A null vote (leaving the line blank) when you vote a way in the other races should signal to a party that yours is a vote that could be secured in the next election. Thanks!

  2. David A Covington

    Thank you, Bryan, for these encouraging reflections.

  3. Thanks Bryan. You are correct, as usual. I would agree and (dare I say it) disagree with Alan Jacobs – both of you do have a voice in what the parties do next because you both have connections (first, second and third degrees) to relatively powerful people.

  4. Ryan Patton

    Thank you for posting, I greatly appreciate your thoughts. I wonder how much of your rationale rests on your vote being purely expressive? The collective action model assumes that the behavior of every other is fixed, but of course in reality there is margin to change at least some people’s minds through dialogue ahead of the vote itself. If you were in a position to influence a meaningful chunk of voters, would your calculus change? Would you be more concerned about “wasting” votes?

    • I’m not quite sure what you mean, Ryan. I very much think that, in fact, our voting probably ranks pretty low on the scale of how we can have political effects. And I think my voting calculus might be different if we had different sorts of voting systems. And as Alan noted, part of the calculation in voting might be to move a party or political system in a particular direction.

  5. Excellent blog, Bryan! Thank you!!

  6. chrisdeboer09

    I wonder why you are skeptical that policies that increase access to contraception won’t reduce abortions? We actually have peer-reviewed evidence from randomized control trials that strongly suggest access does in fact dramatically decrease abortions. See the New England Journal of Medicine. To me, this is stronger than any political rhetoric or promises. In addition, we also have data that suggest making abortion illegal does nothing to decrease rates and in some countries, increases them. Finally, every study ever done that examines risk factors that I’m aware of in the literature identifies poverty and level of education as factors associated with abortions. Why do Christians only focus on their vote as a means to reduce abortions?

    • Even if that is all correct, that hardly changes my argument, which was about how I would think about *voting*, not how I might think about other ways to reduce abortion. And even if we can do things (and we can) to reduce factors associated with abortion, they will not work the same everywhere and they certainly won’t work to the point where abortion is “unthinkable.” Or do you think otherwise?

  7. Similar to the top comment, voting 3rd party, especially where such a cause is “doomed,” also has the effect of reducing the victor’s popular vote (without affecting the electoral college vote). Reducing the victor’s popular vote also lowers the political “mandate” given to the victor. Landslide victories are so much more rhetorically powerful than “fewer than 50% of the electorate thought you ought to be president.” I shudder to think what either main candidate would do as president, but a squeaking victory for Clinton might make her more cautious as she thinks toward possible re-election, which might therefore mitigate her “ordinary” badness as president. (I doubt “cautious” is a term in Trump’s vocabulary.)

  8. Western Yankee

    Your sentiments closely echo my own. Thanks for giving them voice.

  9. Jack Scott

    I am newly acquainted with your blog and am reading it considerably after Trump actually managed to defy the odds and win. Your sense of his incompetence and immorality certainly has played out along with another factor – his ability to corrupt those around him and to corrupt the Republican Party. I voted for a third party knowing, here in Illinois, that Hillary would certainly win. But I explain it this way – it gives me a clear conscience to look at the Trump Presidency without having to defend my having voted for him. Some may view this as a cop-out but, like you, I saw these two candidates as being pitifully poor examples of the kind of candidates this country has and should produce. If you see Doc McKenzie in the halls, tell him “hi” from Jack Scott. Just finished “The Age of Eisenhower” by Hitchcock – a great read and a reminder of the quality of leadership of which our nation is possible.

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