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Live by the Binary, Die by the Binary
As anyone who’s read my columns over the past few years probably could have guessed, I won’t be voting for Donald Trump this year (nor did I last time). He has proven himself glaringly unfit for his job at just about every opportunity, and I'm not interested in helping him retain power to continue to disgrace the office.
That said, I have liked some of the things he has done over the past four years, specifically with initiatives that any Republican president would have pursued (including on the judiciary, tax reform, and regulation relief). But he has been a disastrously incompetent and destructive force in other areas. Beyond his narcissism, pettiness, chronic dishonesty, and complete disinterest in growing into one of our nation’s most important roles, he has treated the presidency as a reality-show spectacle that has worsened our divisions and grievances, and caused perhaps insurmountable damage to important institutions and the conservative movement.
I also won’t be voting for Joe Biden. As a conservative, I think he has had the wrong ideas, and been wrong on policy after policy (domestic, fiscal, foreign… you name it), over his long, largely unimpressive career in government. Prior to Donald Trump entering the political scene, Biden was perhaps the most gaffe-prone, confidently-spoken furnisher of rhetorical b.s. in all of American politics. I think he has very poor judgement, and I do worry about his mental fitness and capacity for the job.
Rather than choosing to vote for the lesser of two evils, I’ll be choosing not to vote for evil. Instead, I’ll be writing in a candidate — a conservative with integrity, competence, and admittedly zero chance of winning.
Still, I sincerely understand and respect the belief of a lot of my fellow conservatives (and an overwhelming majority of voters of all persuasions) that this election, and every general election for that matter, is a binary choice between two viable (aka major-party) candidates. It's the argument both sides resoundingly use to garnish support for their preferred candidate. I don’t personally subscribe to the doctrine, but the position is absolutely defensible.
And because I respect the methodology (like I did in 2016), I’m not going to think any less of those who choose to vote for Trump… or for his 2020 Democratic opponent, Joe Biden. That includes conservatives.
The mere notion that conservatives would choose to vote for Biden seems to mystify a lot of righties, including one conservative writer in particular who’s near and dear to me. But it shouldn’t be all that confusing to anyone who subscribes to elections being a binary choice. If you believe that's how voters should approach these contests, there is indeed a legitimate case for genuine conservatives choosing to support the Democratic nominee, at least on election day.
I'm using the word “genuine” to clarify that I’m not talking about people like the Washington Post’s “conservative” columnist, Jennifer Rubin, or some of the folks affiliated with The Lincoln Project. Their Trump Derangement Syndrome has compelled them to reverse long-held political and ideological positions to align with the Democratic Party’s… purely for the purpose of opening up more angles from which to assail Trump, and impress his liberal detractors.
No, I’m talking about individuals with strongly held conservative principles: fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, constitutional conservatives, etc., who haven't abandoned those principles for the sake of either supporting or opposing Trump.
I know a number of these people. Their choice does not stem from TDS, but rather an earnest belief that more harm will come to this country from four more years of Trumpism than four new years of a Democrat of Biden’s ilk in the Oval Office.
It’s a nuanced position for sure, and reasonable people can of course disagree, but there are some compelling arguments that bolster their stance.
Let’s take things from a fiscally conservative point of view…
When looking at the national debt accumulated under President Trump, fiscal conservatives see a dollar figure that nearly matches, in just four years, what they saw (and protested from the high heavens) under President Obama in eight years! Trump-era spending was made possible by a GOP majority in the House for Trump’s first two years in office, and a GOP majority in the Senate for Trump’s full, four-year term... most of it at a time when the economy was very strong and tax revenue was very high.
It’s an observation that has led many to justifiably conclude that the only time Republicans in Congress are interested in even trying to reduce (or even reduce the rate of) government spending is when a Democratic president is in power.
Think about that for a second. Had things gone differently in 2016, would the GOP House and Senate have ever allowed our national debt to surpass $27 trillion before the end of President Hillary Clinton’s first term in office? I don’t think anyone believes they would have. Yet, it happened under Trump because our president has never cared about fiscal responsibility (he was on pace to outspend Obama even before a single cent was allocated for COVID-19 relief), and the Republican base, in their intoxication over Trump’s charisma and propensity to “fight” anyone and everyone, has refused to hold him accountable on the issue.
Under these circumstances, does supporting Biden, in order to compel Republicans in the House and Senate to wake up and return to their regularly scheduled programming, seem all that deranged from a fiscally-conservative point of view?
How about on trade? Free-trade conservatives have watched Trump start completely unnecessary trade wars that have raised taxes on Americans, closed off foreign markets, sent U.S. farm subsidies through the roof, shut down a number of U.S. manufacturing plants and family-owned farms, increased U.S. trade deficits, and earned approval from the likes of Democratic Socialist, Bernie Sanders. Furthermore, they’ve seen the president threaten and even impose tariffs over mere personal slights, burning through the good will of our allies.
Under these circumstances, and out of fear of another four years of self-harming trade conflicts, do free-trade conservatives, and U.S. industries that rely on cheap foreign materials, see the situation getting worse under Biden? I kind of doubt it.
Let’s look at things from a socially conservative point of view…
Many social conservatives certainly feel as though they’ve been getting some wins under President Trump, most notably in the form of three conservative Supreme Court nominations that they hope will produce rulings favorable to them and the country for years to come. Though that assumption has proven somewhat faulty in the past (a number of “conservative” justices over the years ended up not being reliably conservative, even in the constitutional sense), many conservatives feel validated by their vote for Trump in 2016, based on his judicial picks.
Their reasoning makes sense. However, one could also make the argument that now that conservatives have gotten three of their own on the Supreme Court (with the safe assumption that Amy Coney Barrett will be confirmed), and they’re comfortable with the perceived balance it has brought, Trump is less useful to them now than he was four years ago.
A lot of people who consider themselves social conservatives have had to make incredible allowances for Trump, routinely exempting him from even the most minimum standards of morality and basic decency that they continue to apply to others. While some have performed this duty without shame or apparent regret, and have even adopted some of Trump’s poorest character traits for themselves, others are tired of all the dishonesty, cruelty, bigotry, and callousness that make a mockery of their belief system. They’re tired of looking like hypocrites for dismissing and even defending our president's worst instincts.
In Biden, they see a man who is wrong on abortion. They see a man whose coyness on court-packing and certain far-left themes brings them concern, even if they suspect there wouldn’t be follow-through. They see a blowhard with a history of getting too handsy with women.
But unlike with Trump, they also see someone who is dedicated to his family, cordial and kind to others, even in temperament, and has a seemingly genuine relationship with God.
Under these circumstances, under the binary choice philosophy and the current make-up of the Supreme Court, is Biden an acceptable alternative? I don’t think it’s a deranged to believe so.
Here’s a personal story to assist with one last point:
Last week, I joked on Facebook that there's “a disproportionately high number of anti-maskers in steakhouse lobbies.” This came from some personal observations, as my family has done a lot of carry-out ordering from restaurants during the health crisis.
At most restaurants, at least in my town, everyone in the lobby wears a mask (per state guidelines). This includes the employees, and patrons entering the building (they can take off their masks once they are seated at their table). But in steakhouse lobbies, when I walk in to pick up my order, it’s pretty clear that the other patrons no longer care about wearing masks (despite the sign on the door still stating that they’re required). Fewer and fewer people have been wearing them, and when I went in to pick up an order last week, the lobby was overflowing with mask-less individuals, standing and sitting just inches apart, laughing and talking while waiting to be seated.
It was as if the pandemic was over.
I haven’t seen that level of disregard at Asian restaurants, or fast-food restaurants, or pizza places. Just steakhouses. Hence, I presented my anecdote on Facebook… which I figured would be good for a couple of laughs.
Well, this struck a few people I know as some kind of political statement (apparently "steak" is a dog whistle in some circles), in which they made the point that “conservatives” like them are tired of this “mask b.s.”
After reminding them that I too am a conservative, that conservatives have traditionally stood for the protection of innocent life, and that nearly a quarter of a million Americans have already died from COVID-19, I was met with laughter emojis, and the insistence that those deaths were statistically insignificant, and that people’s immune systems were doing just fine in resolving the situation.
Furthermore, at least a couple of the individuals weren’t even familiar with the basic science behind mask-wearing, believing, as one of them stated, that the "decision to not wear a mask doesn’t affect anyone else.”
In reality, if someone is unknowingly infected with COVID-19, their decision not to wear a mask absolutely affects others… potentially in some very bad ways. And based on some of the other comments I read, I’m not convinced these people — friends of mine — even understand that one can be asymptomatic and still infect people.
How is such denseness even possible eight months into this health crisis, and why is there a political stigma overshadowing it? The answer is failed messaging and failed leadership.
When the leader of the free world — a man who carries a tremendous amount of weight with his political base — regularly disseminates misinformation about a deadly virus, stokes baseless doubt in the best tools and simple practices available to mitigate that virus, and actually facilitates additional spread of that virus by organizing big social events, those who’ve placed trust and faith in him will do the same.
This is the most consequential failure of the Trump administration, on an extraordinarily important issue that should (and would, in normal times) transcend politics. For all of Biden’s faults (and there are plenty), virtually no one believes he would be spending his time in office, during the current health crisis, pretending the virus isn’t dangerous, stoking COVID-19 conspiracy theories, ridiculing mask wearing, undermining and mocking his medical professionals and scientists, calling on states to "liberate," and holding huge in-person events in his honor.
On that difference alone, it’s not deranged or even unreasonable for conservatives subscribing to the binary choice belief to view crisis management as a transcending issue for the foreseeable future, and deciding that a Biden administration would be far better equipped to deal with it.
As the old saying goes, live by the sword, die by the sword. If the insistence is that a voter must choose a candidate from a pool of exactly two, then that voter's decision must be respected, accepted, and not held against them on grounds of moral or ideological principle.
Again, I don't subscribe to the binary choice. But those who do need to own it, regardless of the results.