Voting to Support a Lesser Evil vs. Voting to Lessen Evil

Voting to Support a Lesser Evil vs. Voting to Lessen Evil May 13, 2016

As the Prolife Movement has morphed, in large measure, into the “Vote Trump or the Baby Gets It” movement, the rationalization hardens into dogma that Trump’s fake Opposition to Abortion Taketh Away the Sins of the GOP. And to defend that rationalization, prolifers then spend nearly all their actual energies defending, not the unborn, but him and his evil deeds and words.  Already, I have heard from “prolifers” ardent defenses of torture and the murder of innocent women and children.  We’ll hear a lot more of this as prolifer siphon more and more of their energies away from defending the unborn and toward defending Trump and the Right Wing Culture of Death.

This demonstrates clearly a point I made in 2011: The thing your vote in a national election changes is *you*, not the outcome of the election. The impact of your vote on election is vanishingly small, just as the widow’s two copper coins in the Temple treasury had no impact on the Judean or Roman economy. But they had an eternal impact on the Widow’s soul. In selling its soul to support Trump (and therefore, inevitably, to support his evil policies in the vain hope of a Place at the Table) the present leadership of the prolife movement will not succeed in moving the needle toward care for the unborn one millimeter. But it will, if we listen to that leadership, succeed in making the prolife movement a laughingstock and a byword as “prolife” Christians prostitute themselves to defend Trump’s many assaults on common decency. They will dance to his tune, not he to theirs.

“But we must support the lesser of two evils!” goes the cry from American consequentialist culture.

Wrong. You must never vote for the lesser of two evils–because supporting evil is evil. The Righty can never say, “Well, I oppose abortion, so that makes me a good person. And that gives me the right to support torture, despite what the Church says, because you have to do some evil to win!” Likewise, you guys on the Left can never argue “I uphold a lot of liberal values about health care for the poor and so forth, so when Obama kills civilians with drones, I favor that and hope he blows away some more innocents.” You can never will to do evil that good may come of it and then hide behind some other virtuous act to cover that up.

You can, however, use your vote to lessen evil. So when two candidates both support the same grave evils but one of them supports even more grave evils besides, you cancan, mark you, not must–support the one who advocates fewer evils, not to support their evils, but to lessen the evil the other candidate wishes to do.

That’s not me talking. That’s Pope Benedict XVI:

A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.

Obviously, then, the argument centers on the question: “In a contest between Trump and Hillary, is one candidate significantly worse than the other?” (I know of nobody who imagines either candidate is good.)

Answering this is, in my view, simple. Trump is vastly worse than Hillary because he advocates the same terrible policies she does on abortion and bellicosity and service of the 1% while also advocating still more terrible ideas besides. Hillary, for all her faults, does not advocate these or, when she does, it is in a much more muted form.

Of course, one of the many pathologies of the Right is that it has, in its intense loathing of Hillary (a loathing I share) lied itself into believing the fact-free mantra that “They’re both the same and besides she’s worse”. But this just is not so and there is no evidence beyond “I loathe Hillary” to support it. Some will say, “We know she’s a criminal and Trump isn’t”. But this only illustrates my point since we know no such thing. Proof? She’s not behind bars. Indeed, the endless Benghazi investigations by a Congress that would have *loved* to destroy turned up bupkis.  The email investigations fill her enemies with hope that she will be ruined, but hope is not evidence, much less proof, that she is a criminal.

She is, to be sure, a practiced liar like her husband (and, again, like Trump), and a shady personality (ditto for Trump). And that’s the thing: Trump matches all her worst qualities and ideas and goes far beyond them. It making him–obviously–massively worse than Hillary (a truly amazing feat of incompetence by the GOP that is not the least of its sins).

Here’s reality: Hillary, while a terrible candidate and a deeply dislikable human being, is simply not as bad as Trump, much less worse than him. She is a competent, functional, corrupt Nixonian moderate Republican who will surround herself with the same people her husband did. She will not change the abortion regime any more than Trump would. She will blow up aspirin factories and kill people with drones like Obama (and her husband) when some scandal (and there will be lots of these) threatens to embroil her. She will, I think, be vengeful to political enemies, like Nixon was. She will likely grow the economy as her husband did. And she will play race games at the expense of minorities, and support the stuff a moderate Republican supports without the messianic sense of World Salvation through War that animates neocons. She will be a dutiful servant of the 1%, continuing to use her power to enrich herself with people like her dear friends the Saudis (just as Trump would). Meanwhile, it is quite possible that abortion rates will drop (as they have to their lowest point since Roe under Obama) due to economic and social policies that ease pressure on the poor to abort.

So: lousy, but not an unstable narcissist, racist, misogynist swine with no clue what the Constitution says and liable to do anything in the reckless misuse of lawless power he barely understands. For all her flaws and repellent personality she does not

  • boast her ignorance of the Constitution,
  • bawl for a policy of torture and murder of women and children civilians and pledge to order our troops to commit war crimes (though she has little trouble with her boss doing it) ,
  • advocate destruction of the first amendment so she can ban and spy on Muslim citizens and sue critics,
  • suggest war with Mexico over a fantasy of a wall,
  • make racism, misogyny, mockery of the disabled, and contempt for POWs applause lines for a base of Neanderthals who see that as a feature and not a bug,
  • cultivate a habit of speaking of nuclear war as political Viagra.

She will, in short, be a terrible President, but not “the same as Trump”. That Tu Quoque lie is, by force of habit, now the only thing an empty-headed GOP has left to relieve itself of the burning shame and guilt it bears for creating the disaster for which they and they alone are responsible.

Given, therefore, that Trump really is–to any prudent and sensible person–the documentably worse choice of two terrible choices, I will not sit in judgment of any Catholic who, using his or her prudence, feels bound in conscience to take Pope Benedict’s permission to heart and vote for Hillary in order to hand this dangerous fascist and his followers the crushing defeat they richly deserve. Indeed, if I lived in a swing state, I would not only feel free to vote for Hillary with a clear conscience in order to stop Trump, I would actually feel bound by my conscience to do so, precisely *because* of my Catholic–prolife–faith.

Happily, I do not live in a swing state. Here in Violet Blue Washington, a Hillary win is a foregone conclusion and does not need my help to defeat Trump. So I have liberty to register a protest vote for Joe Schriner against both parties.

When you make an argument like this, it is not uncommon for people to be feel judged and lash out in judgment, particularly when you tie your argument to the Church’s teaching.  It is not my intent to either judge nor provoke judgment.  Rather, I am telling you my reasoning and what my conscience bids, not enjoining a duty on anybody else (except the duty to not support Donald Trump for the sake of not staining the prolife movement and the Church’s witness to the world).  Many people feel that they cannot, in conscience, vote for Hillary under any circumstance–even to stop Trump.  I would never I urge anybody to support Hillary if their conscience forbids it. I merely note that Trump is even more at odds with Church teaching than she is and there is no logical way around that fact–and that Holy Church says it’s okay to lessen evil by voting for less terrible candidate in such circumstance. But let your conscience be your guide as long as you don’t vote for Trump.

If you do vote for Trump, face the fact that you are committing yourself to support every evil thing he supports (including abortion) and choosing to make war on the Church.

Someone will ask, “Why wouldn’t somebody who votes Hillary to stop Trump be doing the exact same thing?”

Those who seek to stop Trump can vote for the less terrible candidate in complete obedience to the Church’s teaching per Benedict’s permission–because they do so not to support evil, but to lessen it.

But those who seek to support Trump can only do so by committing to a multi-front defiance of the Church’s teaching, not merely on abortion, but on is advocacy of torture, war crimes, unjust war, contempt for the poor, a living wage, racism, misogyny, mockery of the disabled and a whole lot more. And the proof is that they already are doing so–all while lying to themselves and the world that Trump’s views on abortion are different than Hillary’s.

This will be the permanent effect of every prolife attempt to rationalize support for Trump. As somebody who opposes Trump, I do not need to lie to myself that Hillary’s views on abortion are not evil. They are. But the Trumpkin has to lie to himself that Trump’s views are not identical to Hillary’s. And then he has to go on to lie to himself that Trump’s calls for war crimes, his worship of mammon, his contempt for the poor, his racism, misogyny, contempt for the disabled and POW’s, his threats of war with Mexico, his reckless encouragement of talk about using nukes, and a host of other things are actually compatible with Catholic teaching.  And then he has to divert his energies from his putative “non-negotiable” of defending the unborn to his real world, actual, practical non-negotiable of defending Donald Trump’s evil words and deeds–constantly.

When I listen to Benedict’s counsel on lessening evil, I don’t have to fight the Church.  Similarly, when I listen to the Church on all the other issues that Trump and the GOP Culture of Death oppose, I don’t have to waste time fighting the Church.  I can simply get back to the task of, among other things, fighting to save the unborn. I can say, “Be more prolife, not less.” I can urge people to fight Hillary’s evil policies tooth and nail because I never supported them: I merely opposed Trump.

The Trump supporter must actively support lies and evil from start to finish and spend all his time fighting, not for the unborn, but against the Church on a host of fronts from war crimes, to the death penalty, to murder of civilians to contempt for the poor, all while lying to himself that Trump’s approach to abortion is any different than Hillary’s.

Just listen to the Church and stop fighting it.

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  • For the record, I don’t support either of them and will never vote for either of them.

    However, you should stop asserting that people who disagree with your politics are automatically against the Church. Especially if you say that it is permissible for a Catholic to vote for Clinton but not for Trump.

    Either it is permissible to vote for either, or for neither. You cannot advocate that a Catholic is only permitted to vote for one of those two evil people. Your analysis of how Clinton is better is your personal opinion, not the Church’s.

    • Artevelde

      Would you make the same statement if it was Cruz versus Hillary? Kasich versus Hillary?

      • Yes.

        • Artevelde

          Anyone versus Hillary? I’m asking because to me it seems your position is one of extreme relativism. Are you saying there is no way we can weigh one candidate against another based on catholic teaching AT ALL? Is it all just personal opinion?

          • Obviously you can weigh one candidate against another based on Catholic teaching. But the weighing process is definitely your personal opinion and not the opinion of the Church. That is not relativistic at all: it is simply saying that your opinions do not become the teaching of the Church, even if you are doing your best to base yourself on the teaching of the Church.

            And of course some people draw true conclusions about which candidate fits better with the teaching of the Church. Other people may be mistaken. That does not make anyone else into a heretic, the way Mark Shea is constantly asserting.

            But some assertions like that are more ridiculous than others, and the assertion that “anyone who votes for Trump over Clinton is a heretic” is especially ridiculous.

            • chezami

              Good thing I didn’t make that assertion then.

            • Artevelde

              Well, not ‘heretic’. I think Mark would reserve that word for other cases, but I do agree he suggests that in some cases a vote can be judged as objectively wrong, a wrong application of doctrine, and that some votes are more objectively wrong than others. I can see how this won’t work apart from an official statement of the Church on each and every candidate. At the end of the day, Mark doesn’t speak for the Church. But I’m not willing, somehow, to go your path either. Taken to its full consequence, you nor the Church would have anything final to say even about a candidate who suggests hanging every last priest with the entrails of the last layman.

              • jim

                Again, I was most impressed with the Pope when he said “who am I to judge” when asked about such in other discussion. I would think that the Pope, here too, would need admit that he does not have the power, ability, or authority to discern a candidate’s heart.

                • chezami

                  Don’t need to discern his heart. Just need to read his words, as Jesus *commands* us to do when he say “You will know them by their fruits.” Trump’s fruits are the same as Hillary’s, with more in addition.

            • jim

              I would advise against throwing such words (heretic) around. First, the definition and application is very specific, and second, it suggests that we can be terribly judgmental when we use that word.

    • chezami

      It will not be possible for Trump supporters to support him without setting themselves to defend him. And to defend him, they will *have* to set themselves against the Church. Somebody voting to stop him need offer a word of defense for the awful Hillary. It’s simple logic.

      • jim

        What makes you think that the Church truly knows and believes that Trump should be condemned? Until I hear a strong non vote position against Trump by the Pope, I would have to presume that I am just hearing more political biased speech.

        • chezami

          I didn’t say that. I said that Trump advocates all the evils Hillary does and many more besides, and we know what the Church says about those evils. Catholics who support Trump support those evils and will have to spend all their time defending their rejection of the Church’s teaching on those evils in order to defend their position.

  • MT

    I think Hillery is just as bad as Trump, as she will probably continue the current US policy of provoking Russia and China into a war, which has the prospect of turning nuclear.

    Not that Trump is a good candidate, but his ideas to disband NATO seems to have the military-industrial complex scared that the US war machine will get stopped.

  • Eugene Edward Yeo

    Third parties do exist…

    • chezami

      I know. I’m voting third party.

      • My state has “official write-ins” and I’m not sure he’s on the list. And to be honest a perennial protest candidate, for me, is like just saying I’ll put a beanie on my head and declare myself a Monster Loony. I wish the American Solidarity Party could field a real candidate, even if it’s just a guy who was on the town council in Ogdenville.

        But to each is own.

        • wineinthewater

          Well, when perennial protest is your sanest option….

  • Dan13

    Mark, you are being just as bad as those clowns on Catholic Vote and Crisis.

    If a Catholic chooses to vote for Trump, then we should assume that he or she honestly believes that Trump will appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court or that he or she honestly Trump’s domestic policies will increase employment for the working poor, thus indirectly reducing abortion.

    Or perhaps they honestly believe that the Democrats are planning to upgrade the culture war and essentially put Catholic hospitals and colleges out of business? (there have been recent lawsuits trying to force Catholic hospitals to perform procedures that go against Catholic teaching and I think it is a matter of time before the threat of removal of federal aid is placed against Catholic colleges that won’t, for example, allow married student housing for same-sex couples)

    Or perhaps they honesty believe (as someone has pointed out below) that Hillary actually seems to be more of a war-monger than Trump? Trump, outside of his racist, wall-plan in Mexico, seems to favor pragmatic peace-keeping. Trump, for all of his other faults, is not a Republican neo-con.

    Like you, I am skeptical of Trump’s claims regarding abortion and his ability to fix economic problems. And I deplore his plans on immigration and his pseudo-racist talk. So I will not vote for him. However, my skepticism regarding his views on abortion is due to my prudential judgment. If another Catholic, using her own prudential judgment, honestly believes that a vote for Trump will bring back blue collar jobs and possibly bring an end to legal abortion and solely bases her vote on these points then who am to criticize her moral judgment or to call her evil?

    Overall, you are being just as bad as Novak, Weigal, Ruse, etc.

    • chezami

      No doubt such a Catholic does believe those visible-from-space falsehoods. That’s why I point out the evidence that there is no basis for those falsehoods and that Trump is–obviously–the far worse candidate. I’m talking about reality and how navigate it prudently, not how to truckle to the delusions of people clinging to the GOP’s last tu quoque straw. For prudent people and not those blinded by propaganda, it is clear that Trump is vastly worse. Given that fact, I will not sit in judgment of Catholics who feel bound in conscience to stop him with a vote for Hillary.

      • You are not psychic. I don’t think he’ll pick genuinely Pro-Life judges either, but to say it’s a “falsehood” implies you can see the future. Trump is mercurial and seems ignorant about the government. It’s not impossible, maybe not even implausible, he’d just pick whatever judges someone tells him to pick because all he really seems to care about is money and keeping brown people from the country.

        (I clearly dislike him too and am not voting for him.)

  • I basically agree, but I think she is a narcissist for sure.

    • chezami

      No argument from me. A terrible human being.

  • jim

    It seems that you believe you are clairvoyant—but you’re really not. What I know is that Hillary by her past behavior is an obvious evil and like you say—you cannot vote for an obvious evil. Perhaps you might want to examine the motivations behind how you present things???

    • wineinthewater

      Trump, by his past actions, is also an obvious evil. Even just four years ago, the idea of a man who abandoned two wives for mistresses would have been a non-starter for a presidential candidate, especially a Republican candidate. That things have swung so quickly is astounding.

  • Traditionally I felt your stance on this was somewhat ridiculous perfectionism and that as the US is not a Catholic nation it’s a bit unreasonable to want a candidate to be as compatible to Catholic social teaching as you wanted. That you were basically advocating withdrawal and marginalization.

    But…things have changed. Marginalization has happened much more thoroughly than I could have expected so it’s not like “choosing to be marginalized.” And in this case both of the major candidates truly are so wacked out it’s difficult or impossible to justify supporting them.

    Now in fairness I think I always said this could happen. And also you have managed to go a bit further than in the past in your disdain for Republicans. Still in this election the GOP deserves some disdain. Even if you are way to the Left of me in ways I guess I still can find irritating.

  • Linda Daily

    Glad you’re back. We need your voice.

  • Hammond

    Yeah. Pretty much although I reject the notion that only two choices exist- Trump or Hillary. I can’t vote for Trump. The same Catholic voices telling me now why I should vote for Trump spoiled me on the idea when they gave me all the reasons I should only vote for Cruz and #nevertrump.
    lol. What’s a poor girl to do?

    • Linebyline

      Yeah, I kind of gave up what little hope I had for the GOP (either I didn’t think I had any left until the moment I lost it, or else I now have negative hope) when Cruz, Rubio, and even Kasich stood on stage and declared that they would support the Republican Nominee, even if it was Trump, after all their rhetoric about how dangerous Trump was and how he could not be allowed to win.

      They worship not Christ nor even Mammon but the Elephant.

  • margaret1910

    I will not vote for one over the other. Trump is a total jackass, but Hillary is more likely to manage to get her way. It is a puzzlement.

    • chezami

      As long as you don’t vote for Trump, I have no complaints.

    • Margaret, I share your thinking to some degree. I expect to hold my nose and mark my ballot for Mr. Trump come November, only because I think that he will have the press and the legislature working full-time to oppose him. Should he be elected, I plan to encourage those elected to represent my district and state in Congress to oppose him also. Mrs. Clinton is likely to have 80% of the press and at least 40% of Congress backing her every move, making it much harder to prevent her from doing whatever she wants.
      When everyone is progressing towards a larger, more oppressive government, gridlock is better than progress.

      • wineinthewater

        That is the strongest “lessen the evil” argument in favor of voting for Trump I have heard. “Yes, he is terrible, but since he is the right wing’s version of terrible, he will be more hamstrung because of the media and other liberal establishments than the left wing’s version of terrible.”

        Of course, I’ll still be going third party. The only long-term solution I see is for the electorate to prove to the parties that we will no longer accept the lesser of two evils candidates. As long as we continue to swallow the bitter pills they give us, the pills will just continue to get more and more bitter.

  • MarylandBill

    Clearly our “Democratic” system leaves us with about as much say as a peasant had over the Beckett affair under Henry II. Our system seems designed to eat at our souls by forcing us to support candidates who clearly have little interest in ruling according to Natural Law, let alone by God’s law.

  • Shellie Garrett

    Whichever of these morally remarkable people is elected will immediately move into the 100th position of all-time US Presidents.

  • Jonathan Atchley

    Oh, my! I have to dissent with you on the Hillary summary, Mark Shea, though I enjoy your oft-invoked Chestertonian style and wit. Let’s revisit your list:
    Knowledge of government (or should that include, for Hillary, “how best to manipulate it for your own ends”).
    Experience, ditto. (Some sources offer a list of people she has had killed to cover her exploits. We want that knowledge in a candidate?)
    Diplomacy? You’re kidding. Maybe snake in the grass, fingers crossed behind your back diplomacy.
    Commitment to free trade? Ha! All the entrepreneurs I know are terrified of her.
    Tolerance of dissent? What sources are you referring to? Mine have it the other way. She consistently works to undermine Christian values.
    Rational and level-headed. Um, have you heard her screeching speeches?
    I’m not pro-Trump by any means, but hey, what do I know? I’m a simple, ignorant, foolish Catholic parish priest who should keep my private opinions to himself. Right?
    Sorry. Wrong. This article is slanted in so many ways I cannot read it judiciously as anything other than ignorant or biased propaganda. One point on Benghazi and I’ll end my rant for time’s sake: because she’s not in jail she isn’t guilty? Fool-proof investigations don’t take time? What kind of backward thinking is that? This is why I love Chesterton all the more. He saw clearly and was no one’s fool.