The hour is late, and I feel compelled to join others in making a final appeal to the NeverTrumpers who are refusing to vote for the Republican nominee and thereby increasing the probability of, if not ensuring, a Hillary Clinton victory.
My appeal is simple: Put your rigid moralism aside and do what is best not only for the country today but for our future.
PJ Media co-founder and CEO emeritus Roger L. Simon made a similar appeal in a recent article in which he wrote that, given the extent of Hillary Clinton’s corruption, “it’s time for the NeverTrumpers to take a final look at their position.”
Do they want to enable such a crime syndicate to be running the U.S. government? And if so, how do they expect it ever to end, if not now? Through litigation? Under whose auspices? Do they not think, if Hillary is elected, that the paramount goal of her administration will be to further entrench the syndicate, making it impermeable to change, turning the USA into the ghost of itself? These things happen in history.
Not simple, is it?
If I were writing my book on moral narcissism today, I would have to add a chapter on the NeverTrumpers, because — like it or not — their stance, while once idealistic, at this point seems rather too substantially based on self-regard. They want to have “clean hands” to avoid any tarnishing by the unseemly Mr. Trump.
Simon is right. It’s not simple. As Hoerderer said in Sartre’s play, politics is a nasty business and sometimes you get “dirty hands right up to the elbows.”
The case of the dirty hands is heard in many political debates but most frequently and passionately as it applies to torture, which might be fitting since many NeverTrumpers think it would be torturous to vote for Trump. I’d like to draw from that debate to make a point Simon also makes regarding the “moral narcissism” of many NeverTrumpers—those who want to avoid any stain of Trump debauchery so they can lift their heads proudly, saving not only themselves but hopefully the GOP from the inevitable and fatal stigma of sexism, racism, and white nationalism.
Little do they realize the GOP already has these labels firmly fixed on it by the Left, and it probably always will until the Left is defeated and the labeling they have been successfully executing for decades is defied and destroyed. But that’s another post for another day. For now, I’d like to borrow from one of my favorite intellectuals regarding this moral narcissism that keeps the pure and pristine from pulling a lever for Trump: Jean Bethke Elshtain.
In a series of articles that have been combined into a book edited by Sanford Levinson simply called “Torture,” Elshtain wrote a brilliant essay called “Reflection on the Problem of ‘Dirty Hands.’” If you’re not familiar with her, Elshtain was a ethicist and political philosopher who wrote on a wide range of topics, including terrorism, bioethics, and feminism. Her close colleague William Schweiker, professor of theological ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School, described her work as “hard-nosed realism and a very humane heart.”
Often those two don’t go together. We either have bleeding hearts who seem unable to pump blood to the brain or hard, cold realists who fail to intuit the depth of emotional struggles and inevitable inconsistencies within the human experience.
Elshtain brings her realism and humane heart to the discussion on the problem of “dirty hands” as it relates to torture, making the case that when lives are to be saved—and can be saved—then at least some lesser forms of torture (such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, as opposed to cutting off limbs, etc.) should be used. In this extreme circumstance, torture should never be sanctioned or seen as a “good.” Raw utilitarianism must be rejected. Torture is not and never can be a good. It’s an evil, often used by brutal regimes to subjugate not only external but internal enemies.
Nevertheless, “torture-lite” or “Torture 2,” as Elshtain called it, should be used with great caution if the goal is saving lives. When one is acting with “concrete responsibility” within history for the sake of what is to come, for the sake of saving lives, then these lesser forms of torture should not be rejected.
“To condemn outright Torture 2, or coercive interrogation,” Elshtain writes, “is to lapse into a legalistic version of pietistic rigorism in which one’s own moral purity is ranked above other goods.”
This, she says, is a form of “moral laziness,” very much akin to the moral narcissism Simon describes. While those who want to avoid getting their hands dirty think they are being principled and morally true, they are really being morally lazy because they are repairing “to a code rather than grappling with a terrible moral dilemma.”
Of course, voting for Trump is nothing like the moral dilemma of torture, despite how some might feel. Yet, there is a dilemma. As Simon said, this election isn’t simple.
When you have someone like Hillary Clinton, who is an existential threat to the integrity of our political and legal system, the stakes are high. Is your “moral purity”—or the perception of it—really so precious that you would give a corrupt individual, whose bent on turning the Justice Department into an Orwellian ministry, even more power?
As free individuals, we have the responsibility to act in concrete ways that are best for our neighbors and our posterity. Elshtain described this as “neighbor-regard.” Alexis de Tocqueville called it mutual affection within the civil society. This regard for others and for what is to come “in Christian moral thinking ranks concrete responsibility ahead of rigid rule-following.”
That’s because rigid moralism in response to a moral dilemma, such as the one we’re facing now, is really a kind of civil cowardice, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it. It’s putting concern for your own reputation, or your political party, over what is best for your country and its future. It’s putting yourself before others, even your children.
This neighbor-regard, Elshtain says, “involves concern for forms of life and how best to make life at least slightly more just or, to cast it negatively, slightly less unjust. One is willing to pay a price and, if necessary, to incur moral guilt, when the lives of others are at stake.”
To do otherwise is to be morally lazy, and moral laziness is not what we need in these final hours. Are you willing to put others before your own reputation, your own fears of how you will be judged in the future? If you haven’t voted yet, I urge you to contemplate that question with the seriousness and sobriety it deserves.