I was asked this morning whether my deep, profound objections to casting a direct vote for Donald Trump are based solely on his (total lack of) character, or whether Trump has actually campaigned on promises to enact intrinsic evils. While this was the first time the question has been put to me directly, it wasn’t the first time I’ve seen similar. There seems to be an idea going around that, while Trump has done bad, gross, perhaps illegal things in his private life, his public political platform is free of any intrinsic evils, and thus conscientious voters can feel free to support him.
“Intrinsic evil,” for those who haven’t seen the phrase before, is a bit of a magic wand in voting ethics debates, especially Catholic voting ethics debates. To briefly explain:
A candidate who supports something that might cause evil (but might not) is a candidate who might, debatably, be worthy of your support. Tax plans are often used as an example of this kind of thing: people of good conscience can disagree about whether it would be best for our society if we raised taxes on the rich or cut them. People of good conscience can even disagree about really important, life-and-death matters, like whether or not a certain war is a just war.
But there are some questions which are absolutely beyond debate. If a candidate supports rounding up the Jews, putting them in slavery camps, and then gassing them, that is an intrinsic evil. It is evil not because of its causes or consequences, but in and of itself, with absolutely no room for debate. A candidate who supports this is unacceptable, and must be opposed. The only case in which a voter can ethically support a candidate who supports intrinsic evil is when all viable candidates support intrinsic evils, and the voter is thus forced to either choose the lesser of two evils or not vote at all. In that case, the voter may, in conscience, cast a vote for the candidate who seems “less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods”
(This is a bit of a simplification; a fuller treatment of Catholic voting principles can be found here. And, honestly, while they come from the Catholic intellectual tradition, they are pretty non-controversial voting principles that are pretty applicable to all pro-life voters of good conscience.)
In practice, of course, this situation arises fairly often in American politics: the Democratic candidate nearly always supports the legalized murder of unborn children without limit, including destroying human embryos for research, resulting in nearly a million deaths per year in America alone, while the Republican candidate nearly always supports limiting the legalized murder of unborn children to just rape cases. The generic Republican position is still intrinsically evil (though we had several chances this year to finally nominate someone who is actually a decent human being for once), but, since rape cases constitute a tiny fraction of abortion cases in America, even the generic Republican candidate is clearly the least of evils, and the Catholic voter is compelled to either support the Republican, vote third-party, or not vote. (Again, I’m simplifying a bit.)
On the Democratic side, this is a pretty normal year: Hillary Clinton supports an effectively unlimited right to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. One of the few true and honorable things Donald Trump has said this campaign season was his accurate description of Clinton’s support for partial-birth abortion:
If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month you can take baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby. Now, you can say that that is okay and Hillary can say that that is okay, but it’s not okay with me. Because based on what she is saying and based on where she’s going and where she’s been, you can take baby and rip the baby out of the womb. In the ninth month. On the final day. And that’s not acceptable.
Hillary Clinton also supports dramatically expanding direct taxpayer funding for abortion by repealing a forty-year old compromise called the Hyde Amendment. And she has vowed that her Supreme Court nominees would do all in their power to defend the reckless and unconstitutional judicial decisions that have led to a national “right” to kill children. She’s proud of all this. You can read about it on her website. She is extraordinarily evil.
But Trump complicates the usual voting-ethics math enormously, because Trump has introduced brand-new intrinsic evils into our national conversation that weren’t really there before — at least, not at the presidential level.
For one, Trump claims to be pro-life, but has never renounced his support for abortion-on-demand “up to a certain point.” This is a position on abortion indistinguishable from that of Harry Reid; it is dramatically worse than anything Mitt Romney and G.W. Bush (who shamefully defended abortion in cases of rape and incest) ever even hinted at.
And, of course, his early endorsement of Marianne Barry for Supreme Court — Berry is a New Jersey judge who notoriously struck down a state ban on partial-birth abortion, and incidentally is Trump’s sister — plus his later rumblings about wanting to place the Kennedy-esque Peter Thiel on the Supreme Court in violation of his judges pledge, cast the gravest possible doubts on his judicial appointments in a time when we need every assurance on judicial appointments. This is mere doubt, not proof of support for an intrinsic evil, but enough for anyone chiefly concerned with ending legal abortion to seriously reconsider support for Trump.
For two, Trump has endorsed torture. And I don’t mean he was arguing for “enhanced interrogation” while making the argument that it isn’t really torture, as often happened during the late Bush Administration. (That’s a difficult argument, and I don’t buy it, but it’s an argument a person can make without committing to intrinsic evil.) Trump has directly endorsed “torture,” by name, said, “Torture works,” and announced plans to implement it here, which allows us to skip right past questions of whether it’s really torture — he thinks it is, he directly intends it, and it is an intrinsic evil.
For three, Trump announced plans during the primary (repeatedly) to deliberately and intentionally murder the families and children of terrorists. This is not merely a grave intrinsic moral evil — murdering children is not okay just because they’re outside the womb or they live in a different country or they’re brown — but is also a clear war crime under both U.S. and international law.
We put Nazis to death at Nuremberg for committing acts Trump openly embraces. That’s extraordinarily evil. It is imperative that he never become President.
Unfortunately, it is (perhaps) even more imperative that Trump’s principal opponent, Hillary Clinton, never become president.
Because of the grave situation in which we find ourselves, I have suggested that voters of good conscience either write in registered third-party candidate Mike Maturen (where possible), or consider “voting the slate”: vote for Republican electors, in order to block Clinton, while withholding any direct support for Trump, in hopes that he might still be barred from the White House even after an Election Day victory.