Getting Some Distance
Let us try to tear ourselves away from the gaudy spectacle that is American politics right now, and work through the theological logic of voting. I know that it is hard to tear ourselves away from the gaudy spectacle, which resembles nothing so much as a circus wagon full of mutant monkeys that is also a helicopter trying to crash-land sideways on a tin bridge. To say nothing of the total effect, the noise is considerable. We are getting lots of excited commentary from the monkeys, mostly on MSNBC.
But let us put that out of minds for the nonce. Isn’t it a shame that nobody says nonce anymore? A sign of our troubled times. Anyway, is it fair to say that a refusal to vote Trump is a vote for Hillary? There are at least three issues tangled up in this. The first is the morality of it, and second the wisdom of it, and the third the accuracy of it.
Where Does It Stop?
The argument is that we have a binary choice, and that it is mandatory for everyone at some point in the electoral process to rally behind one of those two choices. But this is to say that there are circumstances under which you would have to vote for Hillary, right? To say that Trump is appalling but that Hillary is worse is to allow for a future set of circumstances in which Hillary was appalling but that Candidate X is worse. But isn’t there a point in this downward ratcheting process where you abandon both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, ceasing with the vain attempts to figure out which commie faction is worse, and just go underground to join the resistance?
Dealing With Trump Without Losing Your Soul
What about the wisdom of opposing Trump? Now I happen to believe that Trump stands a very good chance of getting elected. That could be wrong, obviously, but we order our affairs in the light of what we think likely to happen. I am not predicting anything here, just explaining my thought processes and operating assumptions. If Hillary is elected, I and my kind of people are simply locked out of the game anyway. But if Trump is elected, there will be good people scattered throughout his administration that I think real conservatives could appeal to, and could work with. Let us say that the new Secretary of Energy is a good guy, and so this means that he would work with good people on policy and principle, whether or not they supported Trump in the election. But if he plays quid pro quo, and settles scores with people who did not support Trump, then this means that the entire administration has been corrupted, even the ostensible conservatives, and we would officially be in our banana republic phase. Pay to play has become the formal policy, and you have to sell your soul to get in the game. No thanks.
At the same time, I need to make a distinction here. I am among the NeverTrumpers, but do want to mark a difference between conservatives who are obviously holding their nose as they offer qualified support for Trump, and those who have gone rah-rah all-in. I differ with the former, but understand it (e.g. Tony Perkins). I differ with the latter, and don’t understand it at all (e.g. Jerry Falwell Jr.) This latter category is a big part of our problem.
A Two Party System
Third, the accuracy. A refusal to vote for Trump might not be what everybody is thinking. We might be assuming that this election is about whether Trump or Hillary is going to occupy the White House for the next four years. It might instead be about whether one or both of the major political parties implodes. A vote for Trump might be a vote to keep the Republican Party alive, which would be a shame.
Now the United States has had a two-party system from the beginning. This is part of our unwritten constitution, but one that is a necessary result of the written structures that the Constitution put into place. In a parliamentary system, the chief executive is a “congressman.” This cedes a great deal of power to splinter parties, and so it is that splinter parties tend to form. The structure encourages the alliances to form after the voting. Our structure encourages the alliances to form, in the form of parties, beforehand.
In our system, the executive is elected directly, independent of the elections for the legislature. This causes the factions to cluster beforehand, and the alliances come together in major political parties. Sometimes these alliances are pretty stable and at other times they blow apart. When they blow apart, another party forms. I believe the conditions are ripe for this to happen, and perhaps with both parties.
In the history of the United States, all two and a half centuries of it, we have always had two major parties. I think that this is a structural necessity. But those two parties have not always been the same parties—one of the parties can become a smoking crater, and sometimes has. If this were to happen, then that party would soon be replaced by another one. But it is unlikely in the extreme that we could ever have a stable and standing three-party system.
For example, in the era of the Founders, we had the Federalists and the Republicans. Later we had the Whigs and the Democrats. Currently we have the Democrats and Republicans. There is absolutely no reason why one or both of the current parties could not go the way of the trilobite. There are all sorts of reasons for believing that this is actually happening, both to the Democrats and the Republicans. Both parties are deeply divided and/or fractured. This may be a year, in short, when it is possible to vote against the current parties, both of them together.
Donald Trump was nominated on the strength of an infusion of Independents, displacing many conservatives from their own party. Those conservatives need somewhere to go. I am among them. My current plan, unless providentially hindered, is to research my available options, about which more later.