Let us revisit, one final time, what has become the question for those with hesitations about voting for Donald Trump: For whom, then, shall we vote?

The nearer the election comes, the sharper the pressure will be upon those who have assumed the #nevertrump mantle to either flip and endorse Trump or offer our vote to Hillary.

As I plan on doing neither, I thought I would address a few (more) of the reasons why neither deserves our vote, and who conservatives should consider voting for instead. But we will get to him eventually.

Despair, Evangelicals, and 2016

In February of this year, I offered this bullish caution to Republicans pressuring evangelicals to sign up with Trump:

There is no world in which I would vote for Bernie Sanders. But I would consider it before I would ever consider voting for Donald Trump. And Republicans who expect us to fall in line come November should know that among evangelicals who have voted with them in the past, I am not alone.

Oh, if only. That is as quaintly optimistic a sentiment as I have ever written. I mean, look at it: Have you ever seen such a laughably false sentence in your life? The prediction is so wrong that it is almost endearing. (I want it to be, anyway, since it was mine.) We haven’t quite reached the point where I can shout with Elijah, “I alone am left,” but, well, it’s run through my head a few times. Besides Russell Moore and his Merry Band, the list of prominent, public conservative evangelicals uninterested in bowing the knee to The Donald is, alas, short.

Of course, most evangelicals — though by no means all — are unenthusiastic about their options. And that may matter for turnout come November 8. It may be that evangelical support for Donald Trump is far weaker than it might appear. Really! I promise. It could happen! The story on November 9th could be that the constituency which claims the gospel as its leading identifier finally became fed up with Trump’s antics and opted to vote for a third party instead.

Hope, they say, springs eternal. It has made fools of us all this election cycle. Or me, anyway.

This is not an election in which hope has a role. Oh, no. We had our dalliance with the virtue already, and nothing much seems to have changed.

No, for the political atmosphere of evangelicalism and beyond is one of despair. Vote for Hillary and Republic will come to an end, if history doesn’t. (An incredibly intelligent evangelical Trump supporter recently suggested this to me, in almost exactly those words.) It’s a “Flight 93 election,” as the widely-read piece has it. If we don’t act now, all will be lost forever.

I don’t have much of an interest disputing these claims. I think they’re mainly false, but I’m happy to grant them all for the sake of argument. Let us presume that if Hillary Clinton is elected, the American Experiment would be effectively over. Let us simply adopt the strongest position of those supporting Trump, and say that they are right not only in the broad strokes but the particulars: The Supreme Court will be lost forever, abortion will be permanently ratified, the war on religious liberty will end with the total obliteration of any meaningful public space for conservative religious believers to utter their views.

So?

That is the first question we should think on. So? So suppose the End of the Republic comes upon us, and Christians lose all their liberty and Everything Is Terrible. So?

I’m not playing here. Proponents of the cataclysmic possibilities of the 2016 election assume that we should attempt to avoid allowing America to go up in a flaming ball of judgment. But why? I mean, if the story the Religious Right has told us all along is right — if America really has turned its back on God for the past fifty years, if we are finally arriving at the Gomorrah we’ve been slouching toward — shouldn’t they welcome such a judgment? What sweeter vindication could such a maligned and disrespected people have than the final devastation of American political life that they have long predicted?

Let’s pick an analogy that perhaps might fit the moment. Suppose that major financial corporations purchased so much bad housing debt that they went bankrupt. The shock and let-down would be severe — but the alternative, it seems, has been to functionally exonerate their wrongdoings and spare them from the consequences of their foolish behavior. Few Trump supporters, I suspect, applauded this sort of leniency toward major corporations (at least in theory). The principle is simple: When a business goes bankrupt, it should suffer the consequences.

Suppose a country goes bankrupt, though — morally bankrupt. Suppose that there are no virtues left among its people, that self-governance is gone and that the oligarchs have taken its place. What then? A country should be no more exempt from the consequences of its actions than a business, amiright? Making America Great Again should begin by making it accountable again. The debt collectors, they’ve come acallin’. And they ought not be denied.

There’s a real paradox here for the Religious Right, and grasping it might help the baffled outsiders understand how such an overtly pious movement could possibly view the atheist pornographer playboy Donald Trump as an agent of grace for American life. If the story that they have told us about America is true, then she deserves the alleged consequences that they have predicted. She’s bankrupt, and nothing can be done.

But Donald Trump — Donald Trump! — can save us from our the judgment that awaits us, not because he’s Donald Trump, mind you, but because he has the special quality of being Not Hillary Clinton. If you squint really hard and look at him through this lens, he almost begins to appear before you as an Angel of Light, doesn’t he? The property (What’s that? He doesn’t? Oh.)

Grasp the idea that being Not Hillary Clinton is kind of magical salve which covers up a host of evils, and you will start to see why Conservative Evangelicaldom is almost certainly going to scrunch up their noses and toss their lot in with the Donald.

Which is simply to say: If you live within despair, almost anything becomes permissible.

The Gambler

The most important rule of casinos is that the house always wins. Sure, it may take time. They may go down for a bit. But the house always — always — gets its own in the end.

I should disclose up front that I am not well-studied in the fine arts of lighting money on fire. I have been in a casino three times in my life, and my only experience with scratch tickets involves purchasing them for Easter Egg hunts. Because nothing says Yay Jesus like a little Scratch ‘n Win, right? So, you might want to take what follows as a bit of amateur psychologizing that probably is false, but may be interesting nonetheless.

Let us momentarily divide up the world into three species of gamblers: the Hustlers, the High Rollers, and the Hopefuls. You know the types.

There aren’t many real Hustlers in this world, people who can count cards at a blackjack table and break the inviolable rule of casinos. Oh, sure, everybody thinks they’re a hustler. Everybody is convinced that they are the exception, that they’re going to walk out with more money than they came with. Nobody does, of course, but….was it ‘hope springs eternal’?

High Rollers? They stand in little risk of suffering because they have the capital to replace their losses. Sure, they could invest in junk bonds or penny stocks — but gambling is, for reasons I fail to understand, more exciting and fun for them. None of us are (probably) in this class, either.

And then there are the Hopefuls. This is the saddest type of gambler, and I suspect the one upon which the industry makes the bulk of its money. They may be lower or middle class, they may be young or old, they may have a family or not. They may be desperate for a change or simply living on the dream of one. The one thing that keeps them standing at the slot machine is the rush of hope when they pull the lever down that this time it will be different. This time things are gonna change.

You can see where I’m going with this.

Donald Trump knows the psychology of the Hopefuls better than he knows anything else in this world. I know, that’s not saying much. But he understands it so well that most of the non-real estate business ventures he’s undertaken have played upon it. His interest in casinos is a perfect example— but so is his mastery of reality TV, and Trump University, and so on. He knows we are all looking for an easy way up. We all think that this time it’s gonna go different. We’re finally going to get ours.

But the house always wins.

See, the Hopeful Evangelicals are a classic Trump constituency. They have a desperate need, an urgency for a quick escape from their predicament. There’s no time to do the hard work of working and saving and investing and living within our means: we’re past all that, which means we must Take the Risk of allowing Donald Trump to be President. Trump can smell the desperation, and knows how to exploit it better than anyone else in the world.

I am not even trying to criticize evangelicals here. Despair makes every promise glitter, every new possibility seem like new life itself. I get it, I think. That is simply how the psychology of despair works: Prosperity gospel preachers get it too, and use it for their own ends. When we are at the ends of the rope, we behave irrationally, and then make up the rationalizations afterward.

But the house always wins. (If Trump’s casinos didn’t, well, that is a further sign of his incompetency.) Simply put, betting on Donald Trump is a gamble that will never pay off for those who take it.

The Alternative

Let’s think for a moment about voting for Hillary Clinton. I suggested that those who oppose Trump are under pressure to cast their vote for Hillary Clinton, on grounds that Trump represents an obviously worse choice.

Now, as I did above with Trump, I am happy to grant the premise. Donald Trump would doubtlessly be a worse president than Hillary Clinton in many respects. As a conservative, I think a relative stability can be worth preserving, even if it contains many evils. Clinton offers that kind of evenness in foreign affairs, even if her judgment in the past has proved deficient: Trump, shall we say, does not.

But that still isn’t enough to impel me to vote for Hillary Clinton. For one, her position on abortion is simply a non-starter for me. (I assure you I am not trying to be one of those irresponsible “single issue voters”: I’ve worked very hard to make my single-issue voting as sensible as possible.) I take it that as a foundational principle that the United States government should treat every human being with equal respect and regard, and a policy that permits and promotes abortions fails to do that.

An excursus that is, I think, relevant: It is a common trope these days to say that really if you want to vote pro-life, you should vote Democrat. After all, abortions decrease during Democrat Presidencies, and go up during Republican. Set aside the accuracy of this claim for a moment: That line of reasoning accepts a direct causal relationship between the Presidency and the White House that is far too simplistic and convenient to take seriously. We could just as easily attribute such a decline to the economy, advances in medical technology (both ultrasounds and contraceptives), increasing state-level restrictions, expanded efforts by crisis pregnancy centers, etc. And probably the abortion rate has more to do with all of these than any direct policies of the President.

Besides, even if the President and their policies really were the cause, it would doubtlessly take a few years to show the effects, no? If the abortion rate is a lagging indicator, then maybe it goes up in Republican years because it takes a long time for social policies to work their way through the system.

I raise that last point simply to point out that the line of argument needs work before I’m the least bit moved that a pro-life vote must really be for the Democrats. But the chief claim on which the argument rests also doesn’t seem to be true. Guttmacher’s chart is here. The CDC’s is here. Both of them call into question the thesis that Democrat Presidents are somehow more effective at reducing the abortion rate than Republican Presidents.

Which is to say, I am all for a viable pro-life contingent among Democrats. Keep that flame alive, sure. But don’t try to make the argument with data that simply doesn’t support it, especially on behalf of a candidate whose pro-choice commitments are widely known to be deep and pervasive.

You were saying?

But let’s get back to the main thread, though, which is why I won’t vote for Hillary.

It is a cruel feature of this election that we must choose between a degradation that is swift, obvious and painful and that which is silent but still lethal.

Donald Trump is no savior from judgment, against those within the Religious Right who are trying to talk themselves into believing him so. He is its manifestation, its public persona. He is a pure and perfect reflection of our country’s inner life, and will be everything that we deserve. (The house always wins…) He will not keep us from the consequences of our national sins: He is the consequences, and if (only!) the social conservative Right had any Religion left in them, they would see that clearly.

As one person put it to me this cycle, Trump ‘defines deviancy down.’ He lowers the bar and forces anyone who supports him to rationalize behavior they would otherwise never permit. (I’ll donate $100 to anyone who gets every evangelical endorser on the record about The Donald’s appearance in a porn film.) That’s precisely how minds corroded by sin and despair work: They rationalize and excuse. When King David pours out his laments for sin, he suggests he has “become like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are no rebukes.” I know of no more fitting description of the legion of Evangelical Trump Endorsers.

But a Hillary Presidency would be a judgment of another sort. You may think her emails don’t matter because the FBI decided to not indict her. But such a miscarriage of justice represents a deep, corrosive breakdown in the integrity of our government and its credibility with the people it governs. And that breakdown matters more than any of us might ever want to think about.

In one of the more haunting op-eds I have read in recent years, Troy Stenik argued that both Clinton’s emails and the Obama administration’s flouting of the Constitution represents a grave disorder in American life. Writes Stenik:

That’s the organizing precept of this era in American politics: The rules apply until they put those in power at a disadvantage. Because we’ve arrived at this point incrementally, perhaps we’re not conscious of how sweeping the transformation is. So let’s be clear about what’s at stake: This is a wholesale abandonment of the foundational American principle of the rule of law.

There are only two options available here: Either the country returns to a form of government bound by the strictures of the Constitution and its subordinate laws or we give up the ghost and accept the fact that our politics are now entirely about power rather than principle — that we live in a nation where the president, whether his name is Obama or Trump, is limited only by the boundaries of imagination.

There are a lot of ways to describe that form of government. “Constitutional republic” isn’t one of them.

I think Stenik’s diagnosis is right, and Clinton’s email-related indiscretions are but the most obvious manifestation of it.

But the corrosion of the rule of law is one to which any and all Americans should say a firm and resounding “no.” Why should we lower ourselves to accept the pervasive and ongoing degradation of our government by endorsing Hillary Clinton for President? The fact that she is one of two unfortunate options does not commend her to the position.

Which is simply to say that I think that the harbingers of doom in this election might be right: A Hillary Clinton Presidency may very well spell the end of the American Republic as we know it, because it is an order built on the premise of equal justice for all.

So I will see the evangelical despair and raise it: If it is judgment that we will have either way, we should have no illusions about us. Let us take our Babylonian captivity straight, pure and unmitigated, and meet it with gladness and good cheer — and not with a helping hand. The Republic will only begin to be renewed when ordinary citizens, people of good will, begin demanding better than they are being given. A day will come when we are ready for it. But I suspect our country has a blacker night to walk through yet.

On the Varieties of Decadence

I have no doubt that very many reluctant supporters of Hillary Clinton read the previous section in sheer exasperation for my obtuseness. When compared to Donald Trump, surely Hillary Clinton’s email foibles are irrelevant? Surely she is the ‘lesser of two evils’? Isn’t all that business about the ‘rule of law’ and ‘corruption’ irrelevant in the face of the unmitigated evil that is The Donald? Surely!

I have some sympathy for this point of view, I assure such readers. I simply do not agree with it.

As a form of judgment, Trump’s vices and his sins are too many and too obvious to name. His badness is flagrant: He promises a spectacle, which is not what I want in a leader. I have no doubt that Trump would be a horrendously awful President, and that his failings would be of the flamboyant and shameless sort.

Suppose, though, that the above is right, and that Clinton is in fact willing to flout the law for the sake of her own political aims. The degradation of the rule of law that comes from making her President would not be as obvious as a President Trump. No, the effects of a President Clinton would doubtlessly be more subtle and less sudden, but still — I fear — as deadly.

It is not merely that Hillary Clinton offers no cure for what ails us. No, the situation is worse than that: By cloaking behavior that jeopardized American national interests and lives around the globe under the guise of ‘respectability’, Clinton unintentionally would legitimize gross and grave irresponsibility among the highest levels of our civil servants. How, pray tell, can a Republic, a nation of laws, survive that sort of corrosion of its own integrity? What trust would We the People be able to have in our government,? And what happens to a nation when its people no longer have confidence in such a pervasive and central institution?

The consequences of such an erosion of trust will not happen overnight. But they may be far-reaching.

Now that our society’s debts are coming due, it is manifestly clear that Americans do not have the capital to pay them. It is judgment on either side. The question of this election is whether we wish to bail out the failed institution of our government, to try to string along our society in hopes thatperhaps things will turn around in four years time, or whether we want to accept the sudden shock of dissolution of cleansing the system. We have shown no stomach for such pains and struggles before; I think it highly unlikely that come November 8th we suddenly will.

On Purity and Third Parties

I have sometimes in this election been accused of disavowing my responsibilities, of simply reveling in my moral purity and thereby attempting to exonerate myself from whatever consequences would come about if Trump is elected (or Clinton, depending on who is making the objection).

I think this objection is not very compelling, and I aim to say why.

But first, it seems to me odd to lament that some people would steadfastly hold on to their ‘purity’ in when everyone else is dirtying their hands voting for either of our Two Deplorable Options. It is not exactly an excess of conscience or of moral integrity that has brought our society to this moment. I understand, I think, why it is tempting to decry those who stand and say “No further” as Pharisees or Purists: misery loves company, and in this case, needs it.

The objection, though, is strongest when aligned with the claim that voting for a third party is vote for Donald Trump precisely because it is not a vote for the only candidate who can possibly beat Donald Trump. I do not think that even the conjunction of the two claims means that anyone is obligated to vote for Hillary Clinton to prevent Donald Trump from winning, even if they live in a swing state.

The question of whether or not the ‘purity’ of not being complicit in voting for either Trump or Clinton is permissible seems to hang on how we identify who is responsible for electing our President. The claim seems to be that when a President is put in office, responsibility for it falls upon (a) those who voted for him directly and (b) those who voted for a third party.

Now, that way of approaching the question conveniently lets a huge group of people off the hook, as it were, namely those who voted for the other major party candidate. That seems intuitive: “Don’t blame me, I voted for the other guy” is a popular sentiment, and not obviously false.

And yet, I wonder whether that way of dividing up ‘responsibility’ within the electorate obscures more than it reveals. For one, the question of who is responsible for electing a President is not necessarily the equivalent of who is responsible for the actions or consequences of that President. Suppose that the President represents in their office and their Presidential actions each and every American. All the citizens act in their acting, we might say. By virtue of that representative relation, each and every citizen might be in some way implicated by their behavior.

On this account, there is no escaping the bad consequences of a subpar President. But neither might there be any escape from complicity in those consequences. Inasmuch as they are our representatives, we are all accountable for their behavior. We have been given the means of recall, after all. On this account, ‘purity’ may simply be an impossibility: every citizen shares equal responsibility for the actions of its government, after those representatives are elected. Of course, this view entails that elected officials are representing not the interests and needs of the enclaves who worked hardest to elect them, but every citizen who resides in their respective geographical area of representation. Remembering that principle, and acting accordingly, may be essential to reestablishing the Presidency and our government to its proper place in American life.

I will happily admit that the above is elusive. I’m trying to capture an intuition that I have that handing out blame and responsibility as is currently popular in voting is, in fact, contrary to the character of the American political order.

But suppose all that is wrong.

At the very least, those who vote for the President seem directly responsible for electing them. The party officials who pave the way for his nomination also seem responsible. But why are those who vote for a third party responsible? Surely they are not always responsible. In an election where one side wins in a landslide, abstention seems as mathematically meaningless as a vote for the losing side. So, voting for a third party does not intrinsically make one responsible for electing a particular person.

Let us suppose, though, that in a close election third party voters are disproportionately responsible for the results because they did not choose either of the two major candidates. Under that scenario, the suggestion that third-party voters simply treasure their ‘purity’ is better framed as an accusation of self-deception: Those who seek purity cannot have it. Those who both blame third-party voters for throwing the election to Donald Trump and decry their commitment to “purity” cannot have it both ways. Either third-party voters are responsible, and so not pure. Or they are not responsible, and so can maintain their moral purity.

Now, voting is a collective action problem. That is, in order to elect a particular person, I have to act in a particular way — and a sufficient number of other people have to act in the same way. The reason that third-parties struggle to catch on in American public life is because when we vote as we do, people will naturally gravitate toward those with the highest chances of success. That keeps third parties irrelevant: their insignificance is a feature, not a bug, of our current political system.

But that means that we can assess the responsibility for a vote from any number of angles. For instance, suppose that in an incredibly tight election one campaign did absolutely nothing to persuade voters alienated from their own party, but simply expected them to sign on because of the badness of the alternative. Suppose that campaign then lost the election, an election that they would have won handily if they had made certain strategic moves. Who is responsible for their loss? The campaign and its staff, at least. And probably any supporters who saw the opportunity and did nothing to pursue it. If there is blame to go around, that is where it should fall.

But let’s just ignore the impossibility of sorting out all the factors in an election cycle that play a role in getting a candidate elected, and simply simply grant that those who vote for the third party do have a small share of the responsibility for the results. In a situation like this, where huge swaths of people — he said, rather optimistically — have serious and deep qualms about both our major party candidates, refusing to vote for either one does not seem to be in principle wrong. If it is wrong, it is so only because of the collective action problem, namely, that the meaning and significance of my vote is contingent upon what everybody else does. It is wrong only on the grounds that one major candidate is in fact a ‘lesser evil’ than the other (a proposition I doubt), and because a sufficient number of fellow citizens voted for them.

But the third party voter who objects to both candidates does so in part because they represent ways of thinking and forms of life that have and will corrupt the very constituencies they aim to represent. That is, the third party voter wants the collective action of the Republic to go in a very different direction, and does everything possible toward that end. If they are responsible for contributing to the election of the winner, they are not culpable or blameworthy for it. The effect of a bad candidate becoming President is indirect, unintentional, and a byproduct of the third party voter’s commitments.

The third party voter neither wants it, agrees with it, nor — unlike those who actually vote for that candidate — chooses it. Their opposition to the disease that rots our civic life would not be registered politically, that is, within the spheres of government if they do not vote for a third party. Demanding that each and every citizen vote for our major party candidate means their repudiation of both candidates will have no political representation. Such a demand alienates individuals from their governments, and sows the seeds of resentment toward the institution that are coming to bear in this election.

So, no, I am not worried about being culpable for Donald Trump’s actions if he is elected President and I voted for a third party. Not at all. I will not play in the asinine game of of trying to escape responsibility because he’s “not my President” or because “I voted for the other guy.” Whoever wins will be my President — and if that is Donald Trump, then as an American citizen who spends part of the year abroad, I will bear that with a sense of shame that he is lacking. But in voting for a third party, I will vote for a candidate who can fulfill the duties and preserve the integrity of the office. If Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are elected, there will be responsibility enough to go around that none of us shall lack for it.

Strategic Voting?

Having said that, let me say the one (utterly fanciful) scenario where I would wholeheartedly commend voting for either Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton. If we could coordinate ourselves at the level required to do it, I would wholeheartedly endorse a vote for either major party on the groundsthat doing so would keep everybody below 270 electoral college votes.

Achieving that end would be easier if Gary Johnson won New Mexico and Evan McMullin won Utah. And even then, the rest of the map would have to fall out perfectly to avoid it. But if the Religious Right is really praying for a sign of God’s grace toward America in 2016, waking up on November 9th and having an electoral college which would fail to elect a President would be about as good as it gets.

A Vote for the Future

So, what’s to be done?

Were he available on the ballot in Texas, I would vote for Evan McMullin. I would encourage anyone around the country who can vote for him to do likewise.

William Buckley famously and frequently said that he would rather be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston phone book than the 2000 people on Harvard’s faculty. The principle behind supporting Evan McMullin is not identical to this, but it’s not far off either. In this election, I would rather choose a relatively ordinary, previously unknown citizen than either of our major party candidates.

Among other virtues, McMullin seems like a serious and sober fellow who answered a call to serve because nobody else would. That itself is laudatory. It is an insanely difficult thing, running for President, and McMullin had to know well what sort of scrutiny he would be under. You can say that he is simply doing it for the Twitter followers — but his history of service suggests otherwise.

Sure, McMullin doesn’t necessarily line up exactly where I’d hope on policy. Complaining about his responses on marriage in an election that features Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, though, is a bit like grumbling about the seats on a lifeboat. Just be glad you made it on board, man, rather than going down on the Titanic.

And sure, McMullin doesn’t have the executive experience we’ve come to expect from those seeking the Presidency. So? The best thing McMullin could possibly do would be to diminish the power of the executive branch, by refusing to wade into areas (through executive orders) where Presidents have no business being. And the area of the job that the President is particularly responsible for — foreign policy — is that which McMullin knows best.

One final reason, with all due respect to the other aspirational candidates: Evan McMullin has a real and professional campaign apparatus. And that matters, not just now, but through the next election cycles. Here’s the ending of that (excellent) Jonathan Last piece:

McMullin’s campaign actually appears to be about something bigger than the 2016 presidential race. If Trumpism is the future of the Republican party, I asked him, do we need a new party?

His answer surprised me in its certitude. “I believe we do,” he said evenly.

“We’re organizing and building for a movement,” Searby, the campaign strategist, explains. “We already have state chairs in 35 states and they’re helping organize. In places like Wisconsin, we already have 35 county chairmen lined up. In places like Ohio, we already have county chairmen lined up. And Iowa. And Utah. So the kind of things that a traditional party would do, we’ve already been doing those things. And so we’re laying groundwork to have an army of people who want to be a part of whatever comes next.”

The reality is that disaffected conservatives need an institutional home, not simply for this election but for long into the future. Even if those conservatives (like me) currently alienated from the Republican Party eventually make peace, doing so responsibly will be much easier and more effective if there is an ongoing, viable alternative which will constantly threaten to suck away votes. Forcing Republicans into coalitions with conservatives — a phrase I can’t believe I just typed — will require real and serious organization among conservatives. McMullin and his operation provide that, which is why I would be happy to lend him my support.

But as I live in Texas, where I won’t have the pleasure of doing so. And so I will follow through with my plan of voting for the most qualified person I know to run this world: my wife.

A Final Thought

I am firmly committed to the proposition that America’s best days are ahead of her — but until we begin acknowledging the indispensable importance of character for the highest offices in our land, those days will remain a long ways off.

Voting for someone like McMullin is a vote for a future beyond 2016 and even beyond 2020. It is a refusal to resign ourselves to lowered standards for public service, and a repudiation of the despair that currently animates our political lives. Such a vote begins the process of demanding— slowly, surely, but ever more insistently — that our professional political class act with integrity, that they serve, that they restore the trust that the American people once had in their government.

Such an emphasis on character was once the provenance of the Religious Right. That they have abdicated that role is only one of a great number of tragedies in this election cycle.

The deepest problem, though, with the evangelical Trump supporters is not that they are in an apocalyptic frame of mind: It is that they are not apocalyptic enough. Their pessimism about the state of the country and our government animates their support of Trump — but it does so only by conveniently excusing themselves for the role they had in bringing this state of affairs to pass. My own pessimism about the state of the world is far more radical and extensive: I am so down on our political systems that I amalready in rebuilding mode. If evangelicals really had the courage of their apocalyptic convictions, they would go all in on a Quixotic effort like McMullin’s, rather than continue to compromise with the Party (and nominee) that clearly disdains them and their values. In this way, a vote for a third party like McMullin takes the form of a political lament: it signals our sorrow and our dismay at the political options and environment before us.

But a vote for a candidate like McMullin is also indication of our hope that the world will not always be as it now is, unlike abstention or retreating from political life in a huff. Such a vote prefigures a world where candidates have the honor, integrity, and conviction to serve responsibly. It reminds our friends and neighbors of what we have lost as a country, of what might have been. Oh, such a vision is idealistic, to be sure. But ideals make us resilient in the face of struggle. They evoke us to become better than we are. There is nothing more practical than an ideal, as Chesterton well understood.

The final word, then, may be one of gladness. The old doctrine of Providence means the nations are kept by the hand of God and ordered toward the goodness which will endure. Such nations may rise, and they may fall. But beneath and behind the rising and falling is a kingdom in which justice, peace, and goodness will reign forever and ever. Those for whom the gospel is more than a means of marketing or of political action have been set free to be irrationally cheerful in the face of decay. They have been set free to care about this world, precisely because they have learned the joy of indifference toward it. Their gladness and their hope resound in the prayers and service they offer on behalf of those around them. They know that responsibility for judgment lies not in their hands, which frees them to carry the sorrows and burdens of those they love.

“O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace.”

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • Justin Vest

    I appreciate your point about a coming judgment, which is unavoidable if an obvious spiritual revival doesn’t manifest. Still, I think your problem is one of knowledge, which makes sense…I don’t see how one can be a theologian and a policy expert on worldly affairs at the same time. If you knew more about John McCain, you’d have written a similar piece eight years ago. Trump is an angel compared to McCain, a man who loves his position and the body of the Senate exclusively, and let the rest of the country be damned. If you knew more about the recent history of the Middle East and Russia, you’d see that foreign policy may be Trump’s strongest advantage over Hillary, and that our Christian witness is highly damaged by our constant support of the candidate most likely to take us to war. If mainstream news outlets didn’t comprise such a high portion of your intake, you’d know that Trump’s supposed verbal outrages have only occurred on about one of ten occasions in which the media rent their clothing in grief over it. Above all you’d see that, whatever moral failings the man has, he’s 1) patriot, and 2) a missile aimed right at the moral inferiors of our edutainment industrial complex. And that puts him head and shoulders above not only Hillary, but over most of the Republicans he deposed in the primaries. I can’t wait to vote for Trump.

    I’ll add also that your cavalier attitude about the destruction of the nation probably owes much to the fact that you don’t have children, and therefore don’t have to worry about hordes of Muslims in the year 2050 enslaving your grandchildren. Habakkuk had the right attitude in the face of destruction, but holdout evangelicals are foolish to help hasten the day, regardless of how awesome McMullin is.

    • hoosier_bob

      This response to Mat’s piece highlights the reason why I walked away from evangelicalism. It’s become a movement more concerned with articulating the temporal resentments of middle-class whites than with proclaiming the triumphant grace of the risen Christ.

      I agree that’s it’s silly to speculate about any supposed coming judgment. By a fair number of social indices, we’re doing better today than we were 25 years ago. Yes, the situation is more difficult for middle-class whites. But since when has the economic and social fate of middle-class whites served as the key index of God’s goodness to the nation? Besides, America’s non-college-educated workforce is one of the least technically competent in the developed world.

      As to Trump’s foreign policy, I see nothing to suggest that his policies are anything different from those of conventional GOP candidates like John McCain. Yes, in February, it appeared that Trump was setting a different course. But his need for campaign cash seems to have persuaded him to sing a different tune. I agree that a focus on foreign wars undercuts moral strength at home, especially when the strategic value of those wars is dubious. But I see nothing to suggest that a President Trump wouldn’t be just as reckless in that respect than any President we’ve had over the past 25 years.

      It doesn’t comfort me that Trump only loses his cool and goes ballistic 10% of the time. A chief executive faces a myriad of challenging situations every day. I’m supposed to be comforted by your assurance that he’d only blow up and make an abysmally bad decision in 10% of those situations? No thanks.

      Your statement about Trump’s being “a missile aimed right at the moral inferiors of our edutainment industrial complex” probably gets closer to what’s motivating you. Resentment. As J.D. vance and others have noted, Trump’s popularity among downscale whites rests primarily with the fact that they see him as their version of a Molotov cocktail thrown into the living rooms of elite Americans. I’m not sure that any Christian should ever pursue a course of conduct whose purpose is to inflict harm onto others. Even so, such reasoning is abysmally short-sighted. Any economic disarray caused by a Trump presidency is likely to hasten current economic trends, which will only hasten the transfer of wealth to the cognitive elite.

      Lastly, Trump is a huge albatross to those who favor reasonable restrictions on immigration. By exploiting this legitimate issue for his personal political gain, Trump has made it more likely that we will accept more immigrants into the US in the future. That’s because any opposition to unrestricted immigration can be labeled as a form of Trumpism. I doubt that your grandkids will end up becoming slaves to Muslim hordes, regardless of who’s elected. But Trump’s exploitation of the immigration issue makes it more likely that your grandkids may need to learn Spanish just to order lunch at Taco Bell.

      If preserving the future promise of America for our grandchildren depends on Trump, Lord help us! Thankfully, I refuse to believe that this election matters all that much.

      • Justin Vest

        I agree that proclaiming the triumphant grace of the risen Christ is far more important than these temporal concerns, though I marvel at your lack of awareness that every single comment you write on this site constitutes the exact same failing.

        Oh, and resentment? The right has been losing the cultural and therefore political war for five decades and would like a victory, and you chalk it up to “resentment”? Yeah, everyone’s just resentful that we’re leaving our children with an unpayable mountain of debt You’ve enlisted the scholarship of J.D. Vance to buttress your own agenda, and reduced his profundities to a cheap rhetorical point. Not surprising coming from you, though. You’re a leech that uses the writings and web traffic of this site to get a platform for your boring, lukewarm theology and politics, so why not also compress J.D. Vance’s thoughts to a Salon/Vox/HuffPo inanity. No big deal, though. Your oligarchy-approved thoughts have been duly noted, and I’m sure everything is going to be just fine, as “by a fair number of social indices, we’re doing better today than we were 25 years ago”, except, of course, for the technical incompetence of our non-college-educated workforce (that used to be the best in the world, guess that’s not one of the improved social indices). We have to import the Third World because we’re incompetent boobs. I bet in 25 more years everything will probably be even more awesome than it is now.

      • Justin Vest

        And believe what you want about this election. Of course it matters. The demography of this country is at a tipping point. If HRC wins, no Constitutional conservative will ever take the White House again, and Congress will be helpless against the judiciary and executive, until they, too, are populated by a vast majority of collectivists. Maybe you think that’s a desirable outcome…if so, fine. But don’t say it doesn’t matter. Look at how much passion this election is rousing, in everyone from the poorest to the richest, to the least intelligent to the most. Of course it matters. The permanent victory of the Left is at hand, and I suspect you know it, and don’t give a damn.

        • stan schmunk

          Lots of hysteria there. A GOP Congress guarantees that your prodiction is a bit over-stated.

  • JB93

    I would summarize this article as follows: Christians can’t support Trump because he is a very bad person and incompetent. Clinton is less bad, but I can’t vote for her because 1) abortion, 2) emails, and 3) religious liberty. There is a lot more nuance, and it’s very well-written, but I am going to focus on what seems to be the main sticking points for refusing to choose between the two main party candidates.

    I agree that abortion is wrong and we should try to stop it. But how? Should it be enshrined in law, or something that we try to change in the culture? If in law, should our efforts focus on the federal level or the state level? If the federal level, will a vote for one presidential candidate or another have an impact on whether or not abortion is legal? I think that Christians are misguided focusing all their efforts on getting Roe V. Wade overturned (which doesn’t mean I don’t try, I do, but I do not believe it will accomplish anything). I think a better focus is on making birth control widely available and strengthening support for families. And I think that policies Clinton supports will strengthen families, like paid parental leave, affordable childcare, quality early education, etc. I did a graduate research project in the Netherlands. I remember meeting a 30-something year old woman who was pregnant and was very relaxed about it. I asked why she seemed so at ease, and she said it was because she had paid leave, child care, and the availability of a part-time job with health benefits. It’s a lot less scary to think about raising a child in a country like that than it is in our individualistic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps country. Having two young children myself, I feel very unsupported, and I often wonder how people with fewer resources than I have manage to raise their families.

    Supporting a pro-choice candidate does no mean that you support abortion. No candidate will fully align with your values. I get the sense that you’re arguing against folks like Rachel Held Evans [http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/pro-life-voting-for-hillary-clinton] who make the claim that abortions go down under Democratic administrations. You argue with that point, but not the others made about how to be truly pro-life in a broader sense. You say “ I take it that as a foundational principle that the United States government should treat every human being with equal respect and regard,” but only mention abortion. What about how we treat foreigners or those of a different faith? What about racism? What about cops that shoot unarmed civilians with their hands in the air? What about corporations exploiting workers, and those workers needing two minimum wage jobs in order to support their family?

    But onto the emails. So the emails represent “a deep, corrosive breakdown in the integrity of our government and its credibility with the people it governs” and a “wholesale abandonment of the foundational American principle of the rule of law.” That seems a bit extreme. She used a private email server, just like Colin Powell before her (double standards make me so tired), and she is certainly not the first president to have lost emails. Search online for “George Bush email scandals” and read about him losing over 20 million emails. You will see this is nothing new, nor something that needs to be overblown. I think this particular concern is a bit of slippery slope argument. An email scandal will not lead to the erosion of our entire legal system. One solid step we can take towards reducing corruption and mistrust of government is overturning Citizens United. Clinton has pledged that she will propose a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United within her first thirty days in office.

    Also, this idea that the email scandal will cause the breakdown of our legal system just lacks perspective. If you travel to or read about developing countries where there truly is no rule of law, where politicians steal taxpayer dollars, murder their political opponents, take away property rights, etc. that provides some perspective about our country’s legal system. Ours is not going to just evaporate because Clinton gets elected. Or even disappear over eight years. Is Clinton that much worse than Obama? If not, how have we survived eight years under Obama? Is it really that bad? He got us out of a recession, poverty is declining, abortion rates are low, we ended two wars, and his approval rating is high. But I digress. Our country is great in large part because we have the rule of law, and one politician who bends a few laws for political gain is not going to undo that. And all politicians do bend laws. I know that as Christians we hope for more in our leaders, but a reading of history shows that we aren’t going to get more. You wrote of the email scandal: “How, pray tell, can a Republic, a nation of laws, survive that sort of corrosion of its own integrity?” We have survived plenty of corrosions of our integrity. Think of Nixon and Watergate. Starting a war with Vietnam based on false pretenses. Starting a war with Iraq based on weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. We survived all those times where trust in government was [rightfully] low. It’s naïve and idealistic to think our politicians will be paragons of virtue. If you think so, please point me to a president who was that paragon of virtue and maybe I will reconsider. But first I will have to cross-check it against this wonderfully comprehensive list of federal scandals [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_federal_political_scandals_in_the_United_States]. Our country and rule of law will carry on. And we can choose to build it up or tear it down. Or just sit this one out.

    Lastly, religious liberty. I know many evangelicals feel they cannot vote for a Democrat because they feel their liberty is being threatened. Laws that won’t let Christian institutions hire based on their own faith-based standards, etc. These are legitimate concerns. But again, I think we need some perspective. Consider a Clinton presidency vs. a Trump presidency when it comes to freedom of religion. You wrote: “A Hillary Clinton Presidency may very well spell the end of the American Republic as we know it, because it is an order built on the premise of equal justice for all.” What about equal justice for Mexicans? Trump wanted to disqualify a judge in one of his cases because of his heritage. What about equal justice for blacks, whom Trump wants to racially profile and stop and frisk in order to establish what he views as law and order. What about equal justice for Muslims? Trump wants to deport them all because of their religion. What about the First Amendment? Does it apply only to Christians? If we want to talk about the rule of law, Trump stands in fundamental contradiction to our founding principles of the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. Here is a good article on this topic written by a professor of constitutional law [http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/08/2016-donald-trump-constitution-guide-unconstitutional-freedom-liberty-khan-214139]. I think this whole line of “Hillary will bring down the rule of law” bit is engaging in the false equivalence error that many are making between the two candidates generally. But, I realize that saying the religious liberty lost under Clinton is far less than the liberty lost under Trump is not compelling if you are not voting for either and feel no responsibility for the outcome of this election.

    But I do think that the argument that we should vote for Clinton, imperfect as she is, because “democracy or something” is a legitimate one. And it is one that many, many conservatives and people of faith have been making. The threat is very real, and Trump is more of a threat to some people than others. As a Christian, I feel compelled to use my vote to protect those people that a greedy and lawless Trump presidency would harm. “‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD.

  • spparks

    Matthew – Considering past articles on this site, I was wondering why you are choosing to support an independent candidate like McMullin, rather than a party-based movement like the American Solidarity Party?

    • spparks

      FYI, I’m not a member of the party, and though I would vote for them if they were on my ballot, I’ve been a bit disappointed in their lack of organizational progress. Still, the ASP platform seems to be a compelling (and authentically faith-informed) vision for society, rather than simply a return to Reagan-era neo-conservatism.

      • SamHamilton

        Yeah, I like their platform, but they’re just not organized or even on my ballot. I hope next time around the ASP offers an alternative.

  • tb03

    I’m confused with 2 arguments made in this article. First, the POTUS is an entire branch of government, so it’s naive to believe they do not have much influence on public policy. Abortion rate declines can be traced back to particular political ideologies. Ideologies that support funding and access to healthcare reduce abortion rates (democratic platform), while politics that support religious ideologies and sentimentalities, while promoting pro-business economic policies that upholds a free-market approach to healthcare increase abortion rates (republican platform). Unfortunately, the argument swirls over who is most deserving of autonomy: Pregnant individuals who can advocate for themselves, or a fetus who others advocate for (even though that is supposed to be the pregnant person’s job). Even though we have shared goals, the conversation is sadly misdirected.

    Secondly, we need to chat about this email server…Frankly, it’s an odd fixation. There is no evidence that Clinton’s servers were hacked, although this does not absolve her from questionable judgement. My interest is the proclamation of harm which seems entirely presumptuous. The facts are that there is no proof her server was hacked, while we know the State Department’s servers were actually hacked. Given the facts, plus the totality of accusations against her (first degree murder, seriously?), for those outside of the far right the argument lands like baseless vilifying, not arguments based on careful though and sound judgement. At this point your argument seems, well, trite. I don’t care that you’re not voting for her as long as you’re not voting for Trump. I just want to know…is this really all you got?

  • Stephen

    Alright, loved the post. Question: If you are in a swing state and the election could go either way THEN who do you vote for? Would you vote for Clinton as the lesser of two evils for the sake of preventing Trump to become president? Isn’t your advice on voting inapplicable to voters whose are more than symbolic? Would love to hear your thoughts, especially if you would still vote for McMullin.

  • hoosier_bob

    As the Trump campaign has hit its most recent speed bump, it appears that evangelical Christians are his last stalwart supporters. Even as a number of mainstream Republicans withdrew their support over the weekend, evangelical leaders doubled down.

    Even so, there appears to be some head-scratching among certain evangelicals as to Trump’s popularity among their fellow churchmen. Collin Hansen of the Gospel Coalition penned a piece for the WaPo over the weekend that gave voice to this head-scratching. But where has Hansen been all of these years. I didn’t grow up within evangelicalism; I came to it when I was in my early 20s, and left it after about 15 years. But I was within the same Gospel Coalition penumbra with Hansen (in PCA churches). And when I left, I did so because politics–particularly of an alt-right flavor–had come to dominate church life.

    If I could see that, why couldn’t Hansen? Part of it probably had to do with the fact that I was an outsider, who never fully embraced evangelical hagiography. I held to something more akin to the big-tent evangelicalism of John Stott and C.S. Lewis. I didn’t join because I felt that evangelicals had all the answers. But, in the mid-1990s, I felt like evangelicals were moving further away from fundamentalism and toward a big-tent Protestant orthodoxy that would someday absorb conservative mainline communions and become a new religious establishment in the US. So, I never joined evangelicalism for what it was; I joined it for what it had the potential to be. And that probably makes a difference in how one views the movement.

    But let’s look at the reasons why evangelical support for Trump is unsurprising.

    1. “Take Back America” versus “Make America Great Again” — For nearly two decades, the rallying cry for American evangelicals has been, “Take back America.” And they didn’t mean taking it back for Christ. Rather, they meant returning America to its pre-1960s glory. Look at the organization that employs Hansen, the Gospel Coalition (TGC). The central focus of TGC’s message is not the Gospel, but is, instead, promoting the biblical basis for pre-1960s gender roles. Evangelicals fetishize the 1950s, including those who were born decades after that era ended. Trump does the same thing.

    2. “Biblical Manhood” versus Trump’s machismo — Evangelicals have a certain fondness for a form of masculinity that’s embodied in Trump. Sure, they frame it in different ways, and may not be as crass about it as Trump is. But I see a fair number of similarities between how Trump has handled his speed bumps and how guys like C.J. Mahaney and Mark Driscoll–both of whom have maintained their superstar status within evangelicalism–handled theirs. Heck, Hansen’s TGC recently threw a big bro-fest to permit Mahaney a further opportunity to rub salt in the wounds of his victims. And I hardly need to mention the evangelical obsession with the “manly man” and its pathologization of anything deemed to be effeminate.

    3. Lying — Evangelicals are no strangers to lying when it suits their interests. Take, for example, the whole web of lies concerning some mythic “Christian America” that existed somewhere in the past. The whole story is a fiction. But evangelicals continue to believe it because it flatters them. And what about the web of lies surrounding human origins and the age of the earth? And what about the incessant effort to promote lies about non-heterosexual people, not to mention the whole web of lies that evangelicals have relied on to Christianize the Freud’s notion of familialism as the “family values” theology? Not to mention the web of lies spun to prop up “heterosexuality” as a Christian ideal and to pathologize anything that departed from it. Evangelicals have shown over and over again that they are far more interested in winning the Culture Wars than they are in speaking the truth. So, why would Trump’s incessant lying matter to them?

    Yes, Trump doesn’t present his nostalgia, misogyny, and lying along the same narrative that evangelicals are accustomed to hearing. But he’s in the ballpark. And that’s all that matters for many. This places some evangelical leaders in a hard position. They saw all of these problems, but they were, in my opinion, too willing to excuse them because they too wanted to win the Culture Wars. Yes, Russell Moore would have preferred to win them without the lies, the misogyny, and the useless longing for a pre-1960s America. But he was willing to benefit from the tailwinds created by these activities, and was loath impeach hucksters like Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, David Barton, Ken Ham, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and James Dobson. The same goes for other evangelical leaders like Al Mohler, Tim Keller, and the like. They feared secularists more than they feared God. And now they risk losing their entire movement because of it. As far as I’m concerned, this brand of Christianity can’t end soon enough!

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  • Thanks, Matt.

  • stan schmunk

    McMullin is a Mormon and so opposes the God and Christ of the Bible. Can you imagine the world-wide positive publicity Mormonism would’ve received if Romney would have been elected? As Christians it’s up to us as individuals to vote for whoever we want or not vote. It’s our own business and no one elses. But the most important decision is to honor, respect and pray for whoever our president is. Evangelicals haven’t done that with Obama and the watching world is disappointed in us.

    • hoosier_bob

      Huh? Most Christian scholars of Mormonism do not believe that it “opposes the God and Christ of the Bible.” It’s probably best viewed as a form of Restorationist Christianity.

      • stan schmunk

        No, it’s actually a blasphemous cult. No conservative Christian scholar who studies Mormonism would call it a form of Restorationist Christianity.

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  • DAV

    McMullin has write-up access on the Texas ballot, as well as most other states. You can still vote for him. Instructions are on his website.

    • DAV

      Oops….meant write-in….autocorrect!

  • ALS

    Good news — you can now write in Evan McMullin for president in Texas! That’s what I am going to do.

  • That the writer of this article lives in Texas explains his adherence to conservatism and the selective analysis on when our nation departed from the rule of law. For it has done so both before and after WW II in its foreign policies, in particular in its military interventions. Former Marine Corps Major General Smedlley Butler writes about how he realized that his service in the Marines made him nothing more than a muscle-man for banks and businesses. The same could be said for many of America’s interventions after WW II. For then, we replaced a number of democracies with dictatorships such as in Iran (’53), Guatemala (’54), Brazil (’64), Greece (’67), and Chile (’73). During the 80s, we supported or conducted terrorism in Central America such as in Nicaragua and El Salvador. In fact, the now American gang MS-13 were a result of our training and supporting of El Salvador’s military and paramilitary units. We also replaced democratically elected leaders in Honduras (2009) and Haiti (1990s). Why all of these interventions? Most of the time it was because those leaders leaned to the left and we looked at that leaning from a binary worldview. BTW, we World Court decision that found us guilty of crimes for our intervention in Nicaragua.

    We also have supported and still support dictators and even terrorists for as long as they serve our business (a.k.a., national) interests and/or follow our strategic orders. We supported Batista in Cuba prior to their revolution, Samoza in Nicaragua prior to their revolution, Marcos in the Philippines, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Noriega in Panama, and Osama bin Laden and his “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan. So how is it that the US has only now just violated the rule of law with Clinton and her use of email servers? Do we think that George Bush’s invasion of Iraq was justified? They are beginning to question that in England concerning Tony Blair’s support.

    We must face facts. With over 800 military bases spread throughout the world and with defense spending exceeding the defense spending of the next 8 to 9 nations combined, and with the interventions listed above, we have an empire. And it was the late historian Chalmers Johnson, who said that nations could either be republics or empires, but not both. He cited Rome and how it lost its republic to an empire and he cited Great Britain as it decided to shrink back from being an empire as examples. See, the control and dominance that a nation must exercise in foreign affairs when maintaining and empire is eventually turned inward in order to garner enough support for that empire. For empires are very costly.

    Finally, we have today what I call ‘election bullies.’ These are people who try to lay guilt trips on those voting for third party candidates because such votes helps elect those whom they don’t want to be elected. The guilt trip is an authoritarian move designed to keep people in the two-party system. And the line is virtually same each election. We are told that we must vote for the lesser of two evils because we can’t afford the election of the not-them candidate. And thus, we are told that we can’t vote for the person who best represents our convictions because of what would happen if that not-them candidate is elected. Right there, with that authoritarian appeal is the end of our democratic republic.

  • stephen bendavid

    Your article was great, sir. Surprisinly, i am an athiest. However, i have heard a lot about christian beliefs. I also have been neutral on issues that divide christians from the secular. It has really seemed unbelievable to me that Trump has been almost a messiah to so many christians.i perfectly understand why they oppose Mrs. Clinton. Your article was really inspiring on the need for depth of conviction. Few Americans, probably myself included, have that conviction. Thanks, Ari

  • Brian M.

    Regardless of political affiliation, your proposed political candidate Evan McMullin is a self professing Latter Day Saint (a.k.a. Mormon). How does that line up as to whom Evangelical Christians should vote for. The same issues were surfaced during Mitt Romney’s run for president in the not too distant past.