It’s many years ago now that I faced my first election as a Catholic. I was a young convert, and I was deeply convinced by the arguments that I had heard in favour of single issue voting. Abortion, after all, involved the deaths of millions of the most innocent people in society. How could any other issue matter in comparison to that?
At the time, almost all Canadian parties were pro-choice. So voting pro-life meant voting for the Conservatives. We all knew that the Conservative party was not going to end tax-payer funded abortion on demand, but we also knew that this was the only party that promised to do anything to restrict abortion. Specifically, in this particular election, they had promised that if they were elected that no more abortion clinics would open in Ontario during their tenure. In spite of the fact that I disagreed with the party on nearly every aspect of their platform, and had seen first hand the detrimental effects of the Conservative government’s “Common Sense Revolution” on public education, I knew my duty. I had to protect unborn babies. Even if only a few were spared, it was worth it. I marked my ballot accordingly.
About a year later, out on the pro-life picket lines, I learned that there had been some fine print in the Conservative’s promise to pro-lifers. It was true: they did not approve any new free-standing abortion clinics in Ontario. Instead, they allowed abortuaries to open in ordinary medical clinic buildings, where sidewalk counseling was nearly impossible. The death-toll continued unabated, and in the meantime I watched as social services, including services for pregnant women, were rolled back in the name of common sense.
I vowed that I would never be duped again.
As it happened, it didn’t much matter. By the time the federal election rolled round, the Conservative party had more or less ditched any pretext of being pro-life. Their leader, Steven Harper, proclaimed that he was “personally opposed, but…” Canadian politics had reached a point where being pro-life was more of a liability than being pro-choice, and the right-wing accordingly dropped the abortion issue like a mouldy, unsavoury old potato.
I was, however, deeply confused. The Catholic media that I read continued to insist that it was evil to vote for anyone who was not pro-life. Single-issue voting was still trumpeted as an absolute moral obligation – even in Canadian pro-life publications. The fact that there was not actually even a nominally pro-life option on the table did not seem to be a deterrent. LifeSite continued to publish lists of pro-life backbenchers every election season, and people within the movement openly mused that maybe we should vote for the Christian Heritage party – never mind the open racism. Not that this was practicable for the majority of Canadian pro-life voters, because most of us did not live in ridings where pro-life candidates or minor pro-life parties were even on the ballot.
Since I didn’t know how to vote, I sat down with the relevant documents and combed over them. I quickly learned that actually Catholics were not only permitted to weigh a range of different issues in their electoral discernment, but that in fact it was morally obligatory to do so. Not only abortion, but also issues like war, torture, and the care of the poor were all relevant considerations. Each voter was to make a determination in conscience, and vote accordingly.The point I want to make, though, is not that Catholics should stop telling other Catholics that they have to vote for a particular candidate (if anyone tells you that, they are lying and trying to interfere with your conscience for political reasons – forgive them, pray that they have a conversion of heart, and don’t feel bound by what they have said.) The point I’m trying to make is that right-wing power-mongers do not actually give a damn about your concerns. They don’t care about abortion. They don’t want to save babies. The heart and soul of the right, in America as in Canada, is free-market liberalism: lower taxes for the rich, fewer services for the poor. There’s a reason why Trump bragged about not paying taxes: he was signaling to the economic base of the Republican party that he is one of them. These people will give you plenty of lip-service, and occasionally throw you the odd pro-life bone, so long as the pro-life movement continues to function as a reliable vote-cow. But they don’t actually care.
And right now, you are being tested.
What economic conservatives want to know, is how little will you be satisfied with? How transparent can the lies be? How blatantly can a man trample on Christian values in his personal and professional life and still get the pro-life vote by mouthing the right slogans? How easily can you be duped?
They want to know this for a very simple reason. They’re businessmen. The Trump campaign is a fantastic opportunity to figure out just how much they can optimize the party machine in order to reap the greatest dividends in terms of votes for the lowest outlay in terms of actual support for pro-life and pro-family causes. Can they actually get away with nothing more than empty promises? Because if they can, then by gum! they will.
This is why it is a deadly, deadly mistake to throw the weight of the pro-life vote behind Donald Trump. I’m not saying that individual pro-life people can’t vote for the man. If your honest discernment in conscience is that he will make the better President, then as incomprehensible as I might find that personally, I must affirm your obligation to follow your conscience in this matter. But what I am seeing is not simply individuals arguing in favour of Trump, but pro-life organizations and pro-life priests using their authority to convince Catholic voters that they have a moral obligation to vote for the man.
Not only is this dishonest, it is incredibly short-sighted. This is not just about who is going to be on the Supreme Court for the next fifty years. This is about whether politicians in Washington will continue to see the pro-life movement as a real, relevant voting block, and whether they will believe that they have to actually do anything for you in order to tap your potential in the electorate. A vote for Donald Trump says, “No. We do not matter. We’re easily led, easily duped, easily placated. Just mouth a few platitudes in our direction every four years, and we’ll be yours for life.”
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