My absentee ballot went into the mail last week. It looked a lot like 2016’s ballot: conservative selections for various state and local positions, write-ins for President and Vice President of the United States.
I didn’t vote for Biden and Harris, because I believe they would be bad for the country. I didn’t vote for Trump and Pence, because I believe they’re also bad for the country. It’s not clear to me which would be worse, all things considered, but it doesn’t matter. Both major party tickets add up to “Absolutely no way do you get my vote”—not “maybe,” not “it’s a close call,” not “this is a tough decision”—just no. Emphatically, no.
I wrote in a couple of individuals who have demonstrated leadership ability, above-average wisdom, key conservative principles, and a sense of responsibility for their public discourse. They’ve also given me reason to believe that—if they were President and Vice President—they would see themselves as the leaders of the entire nation, not just those who already adore them.
They would attempt to persuade detractors rather than merely rouse their faithful and try to compel everyone else through policy.
So why didn’t I back one of the “electable” candidates? Several reasons.
1. I didn’t have to.
Much of the rhetoric on voting ethics assumes that no alternative exists to backing Trump-Pence or backing Biden-Harris. Actual ink on actual paper on the ballot I submitted proves that assumption is false.
Some object that failure to support Option A is defacto support of Option B. But a bit of reflection reveals that we don’t hold anything else in life to that standard, and rightfully so. Elections are not the exception.
I’m referring to the ethics of forced dilemmas—when someone wrongfully presents us with two bad options and insists we’re responsible for the outcome of whichever we choose. The truth is that the ones who created the dilemma are responsible, and no one else.
I had no hand in nominating Donald Trump. People with very different principles from me did that, and the national social cost of leaving voters with no suitable candidate to vote for is on their heads.
There is a third option. I took it. I don’t regret it.
2. It was not a “wasted” vote.
I realize that some are so focused on voting as a transaction (and on the immediate outcome of that transaction) that they can’t even begin to consider other factors. The fact remains, though, that as human beings, our principles, values and intentions play a huge role in the moral weight of our actions. We’re not machines, and our choices are more than mere math.
So a vote is an expression of beliefs and desires, regardless of how the electoral mathematics turns out. And for Christians, beliefs and desires matter—forever. It’s literally impossible to waste a vote, because votes are counted twice: once here below, as humans count, and once more above using a fundamentally different standard—just like everything else we do.
That said, for those who only see tangible, practical outcomes as real (an odd point of view for Christians!), I have arguments as well. Read on.
3. We won’t get a better result if we keep doing the same thing.
If you read the Federalist Papers and the views of many of the founding leaders of the nation, as well as the Constitution itself, it’s evident that there was a design they had in mind, and that design includes—ultimately depends on—the citizens choosing from among their own best and brightest to serve as the executive of the nation.
How did we get so far from that?
The answer is complex, but voting for candidates who fail the “basic leaderly character” test sure hasn’t helped!
I’m mainly talking to the “hold your nose and vote for Trump because he’s not Hillary and not Biden” crowd. Call me an idealist, but you’re going to develop a permanently sore nose if you keep making that compromise.
Moving past chronic rhinitis, consider what we know about political parties. They hate losing. When they lose, they reflect at least a little on why, and sometimes they learn and behave differently in the future. What the GOP needs is a lesson in the school of hard knocks. There’s no guarantee they’ll get the message—or that enough of them will get it to produce a better candidate in 2024, but if large numbers of GOP voters refuse to back Trump there’s at least a chance.
Rubber-stamping their abysmal candidates will never teach them to do better.
4. Government power doesn’t change minds.
Peter Drucker is credited with saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He wasn’t wrong. While who controls the reins of power is a huge factor in what life is like for us and our families, and a huge factor in shaping the future of the nation, it’s only huge until you compare it to the biggest factor: the reins of persuasion. What matters most is what millions of individual humans actually believe and value and do.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how persuasive is Donald Trump as a voice for conservative ways of thinking?
At a time when virtually everyone recognizes that the nation is “polarized” and not listening to reason, we elected a president who is the quintessential polarizer, who listens to no-one he doesn’t already agree with, and who mischaracterizes opponents’ viewpoints—as well as hard, verifiable facts—almost as often as he exhales.
He is the anti-persuader.
He speaks to the dazzled-and-delusional crowd who view him through near messianic lenses. He speaks to the hold-your-nose and back him because he’s not Hillary and not Biden crowd. To the rest of the nation, the people who are most essential in this culture war, his communications have less than zero persuasive value. He flings verbiage at the center and the left like a middle-schooler throws cow pies and rotten eggs at an enemy’s house.
So what Trump offers to public discourse isn’t merely a zero in the people-won-over column. He pushes undecideds further from the things we believe in and galvanizes the committed left toward increased opposition to much of what we hold dear. (The old adage was never more apt: “With friends like these, who needs …”)
People of the center or left who were once for something (increasing funding for police training and technology, for example) often decide they’re against it as soon as Trump begins vocalizing support.
We may have already lost the culture war. 2016 may have sealed that outcome. Regardless, I’m against the current course of anti-persuasion and voted accordingly.
5. Character is upstream of politics.
The office of President of the United States is one of such high stakes that candidates must be filtered by some character essentials before we even begin to consider their political views and agenda.
- What if war breaks out (from outside the nation or within it)?
- What if a far deadlier pandemic than COVID-19 sweeps the world?
- What if a series of other natural disasters of unusual scale strikes the nation?
- What if mob violence and riots occur in five or ten times the number of cities we saw in 2020?
In these situations, sober-minded, competent, big-picture, adult leadership matters far more than Democrat or Republican. Political philosophy matters in these situations, but philosophy can’t compensate for basic character and competence.
6. There must be trust.
I can’t trust Donald Trump. He’s not unique in that regard. I can’t find it in my heart to trust anyone who openly admires dictators, who has at any time in his adult life publicly bragged about groping women, who fires employees by Twitter and publicly shames people who have loyally stuck their necks out for him over and over again, who has made disrespect of any and all who differ from him the one enduring principle of his public life.
I also can’t trust people who display a fondness for conspiracy theories and for encouraging others to do same. I’m talking about narratives that are clearly contrary to verifiable facts. If you’re out of touch with reality, I might be your friend; I might be your relative; I might like you personally; I might love you as a fellow Christian or a part of my family. But I can’t trust you.
It’s not that I won’t or don’t want to. I can’t.
“Trust” is always a scoped term: Trust for what? Trust to do what? In this case, demagogs, bullies, narcissists, and fantasy-worlders can’t be trusted to make decisions for the good of the organizations they lead. Whether it’s U.S. President or president of the town glee club, they don’t get my vote.
Aaron Blumer is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He and his family live in small-town western Wisconsin, not far from where he pastored Grace Baptist Church for thirteen years. In his full time job, he is content manager for a law-enforcement digital library service.