It feels as though decades have passed since Donald Trump’s reputation rose from that of an eccentric game show host on entertainment television. In truth it wasn’t all that long ago that Trump was viewed by many as nothing more than a conspiracy theorist with too much time and money. More of a political punch line than a legitimate player, Trump seemed to be making a living off of extremist claims and wild theories that no serious person believed to be true. Even as he rose to challenge Democrats in the general election, the appearance of Trump’s growing and resilient support seemed to do little to nudge liberals out of their Clinton comfort zone.
Then 2016 happened. And now the man that Obama once smeared for his seeming irrelevance is heir to the most powerful political office in the world. And what makes Trump’s victory particularly ironic is that the American left has been trying to explain their defeat with the same type of fringe conspiracy theories they once associated with Trump himself.
Today, just a few days prior to the inauguration, Democrats and left leaning independents are still engaging in the same kind of biased, unfounded conspiracy claims that Trump pioneered years ago. Many of Clinton’s supporters have tried to console themselves, for example, with the notion that FBI Director Comey is to blame for their loss. The director’s “strategically-timed” memo reminded the public of Clinton’s inability to handle classified information, and that must have swayed last minute voters away. Russian hacking is another popular theory for the left, with resident Obama today levying ultimatums and sanctions against Russian intelligence officials and diplomats. And if either of those theories fail, progressives can always default to tired complaints against the Electoral College and the rules of American politics that preclude simple majority rule.
None of those theories hold any real potential to change the verdict of the election, however, nor do they do much to actually explain why Trump won. The reason for this is that the 2016 election wasn’t all that close, and such theories cannot begin to explain the sound defeat Clinton experienced in swing states like Pennyslvannia and Ohio. The fact that progressives are still clinging to them shows that they remain ignorant of the strong pulse of the American public that Trump tapped into during the campaign. Trump’s massive movement grew from his promise to take on the status quo and corrupt establishment in Washington, D.C. He promised to “make America great again,” and to return the country to a time when the United States had a bright economic future and a system that rewarded traditional values and hard work over elitism and political cronyism.
But as much as he talked about “the good ol’ days” and America’s radiant past, Trump’s campaign was far more about America’s future. It was this aspect of his campaign that truly captured the country’s imagination and its vote. Trump’s crowning achievement was that he and his supporters seized America’s political future from the pre-written narrative that progressives liked to believe was inevitable.
The very concept of progressivism as an ideology is built on an assumed notion that society is moving unswervingly towards the future – and not just any future but a very particular one. Progressives believe that the change they welcome into the world is of an egalitarian, humanistic variety that prizes secularism and abstract reason over the supposed simplicity of tradition, family values, and religion. Progressives assume their imagined future to be undeniably and obviously superior to the status quo as well as the past. They believe the triumph of such an agenda is ultimately a forgone conclusion merely requiring the process of time.
Donald Trump, for all his faults, threw a much-needed wrench into this false narrative. Trump reminded progressives that America’s political future has not yet been conclusively written, and he articulated the very real possibility that the America of tomorrow could look very much like the one from the past. His impassioned, unorthodox, and at times messy campaign served to breathe life into America’s stiff political process. His rise shocked the educated elite, sent college progressive students running to safe spaces, and dethroned the media’s narrative of a queen walking into the White House. Instead of the teleprompted narrative they expected to receive, progressives discovered a wide open election and an unanticipated victor. Trump reminded them what it feels like to lose, and he taught them that a progressive future is just one of many possibilities for our country.
What will Trump’s presidency be like? It’s certainly hard for anyone to predict. No doubt progressives are already predetermining his failure for not ascribing to the same values they hold. The ascension of an unscripted right wringer doesn’t fit neatly into their narrative, and so elites will soon seek to explain Trump away as a short detour on the otherwise steady path to victory. But many attentive progressives might actually be pleasantly surprised by a President Trump who personally seems to share more in common with them than the traditionalists and religious right who helped Trump rise. Those conservatives may eventually get the Supreme Court nominees they were promised, but much to their frustration they could discover an entirely different and even liberal Donald Trump if Democrats regain Congress. Even more so, the establishment should prepare themselves for a volatile love-hate relationship with a president as likely to enrich them as levy an export tax without warning. With so many groups, and so many different opinions of the soon-to-be President of the United States, only one thing can be known for certain.
We are in for one wild ride.
Members of the Department of Defense know the importance of handling classified information. It is ingrained in us before we even begin our jobs through various forms of entry-level training, annual requirements, and certifications designed for program access. Many government offices designate specific personnel, called security managers, to ensure all personnel meet these requirements. Such accountability exists to teach and remind government workers of their important responsibility: the government and people of the United States have decided to trust these certain employees with sensitive information, and these workers must be responsible with that information. The secrets entrusted to them, in many cases, involve specific information about people, places, and methodologies that are classified in order to protect American lives.
In many ways, the responsibility to handle classified information responsibly is a lot like operating a vehicle. Government workers know that the information they possess has a specific use, and they understand their responsibility to “stay between the lines” and ensure the information doesn’t fall into the hands of America’s enemies. Being casual or reckless with this information would put others in danger in a manner comparable to a person operating a vehicle while intoxicated. And just as ignorance is no excuse for driving under the influence, it is inexcusable for any government worker to claim lack of awareness when it comes to handling classified information.
And yet this is exactly the excuse, combined with an attempted cover-up, that Hillary Clinton has utilized to salvage her political career. In a video released by Reason.com this fact was made succinctly and abundantly clear. The video contrasts Clinton’s words against FBI Directory Comey’s, showing the obvious disparity in their stories. Undeniably, the FBI proved that Clinton and her staff violated security requirements, lied about their egregious mistakes on record, and tried to cover up those mistakes. To the average worker this negligence seems comparable to a person driving a vehicle while intoxicated, and then trying to hide the DUI reports and fain ignorance after being caught.
The FBI and Department of Justice refused to prosecute Clinton in this case based on a “lack of criminal intent.” The reasons for Clinton’s actions, however, are abundantly clear to anyone working in a similar capacity. Her excuse of “convenience” masks an obvious inner belief that Clinton and her staff believe themselves to be above the law. Why should security requirements apply to someone at such a high level of government? Why should formalized computer-based training, routine memos, and bureaucratic accountability apply to the busy, important people running entire agencies? Why should America’s leaders of government answer to the same rules made for entry-level positions?
Such thinking no doubt led Clinton and her staff to bypass routine security protocols in order to focus more exclusively on the major tasks and decisions at hand. But in doing so, the former head of the Department of State violated the pledge she as a government worker made to uphold the United States Constitution. This oath was designed to bind her to the rule of law and ensure that Clinton understood that no amount of power gave her the authority to violate the established will of the people. As John Adams claimed, adherence to this principle of the Constitution is the only assurance we the people have to maintain a “government of laws and not of men.”
Hillary Clinton knowingly and willfully violated this sacred trust. Despite her claims to the contrary, the FBI proved that her negligence was dangerous and put Americans’ lives in danger. Like Richard Nixon and numerous morally deficient leaders before her, Clinton chose to serve her own interests instead of those of the American people as she violated necessary and important statutes. The difference is that in previous cases the American people have been outraged by such blatant inequity in government, but in Clinton’s case we are going to elect her for it.
According to German legend, the Pied Piper of Hamelin was a rat catcher who owned a magic pipe. The Piper could play his magic pipe to seduce any creature he wanted into following him. For a large fee the Pied Piper offered his services to the town of Hamelin, which was facing a terrible rat infestation at the time. The town accepted the Piper’s offer and afterwards the Piper played his magic pipe to lead the rats to a nearby river and drown them. However, upon the Piper’s return the mayor of Hamelin believed that the Pied Piper had originally caused the infestation in order to become rich. He accused the Piper of being a conman and refused to pay him. The Pied Piper retaliated by using his magic pipe to lure away the town’s children. Depending on the version of the story, the Piper enacted revenge by either killing the town’s children or holding them for ransom.
Thanks to certain Clinton campaign emails obtained by Wikileaks, we now know that the Pied Piper of Hamelin is a metaphor for how leading Democrats viewed Donald Trump. In a leaked memo entitled “Strategy on 2016 GOPers,” assistant campaign manager Marissa Astor referenced the campaign’s strategy to “elevate” certain candidates to the Republican nomination. Rather than fearing Donald Trump or his anti-establishment message, leading Democrats actually wanted the real estate mogul and television star to win the Republican nomination. They purposefully didn’t want the media or campaign to “marginalize the more extreme candidates” and instead preferred that they “take them seriously” and elevate publicity for their campaigns. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats believed that a Pied Piper nominee would prevent Republicans from gaining the board coalition necessary to win the general election.
The formula was simple. Hillary Clinton’s campaign would stimulate Donald Trump's nomination chances with extensive media coverage and lure conservatives away from mainstream, wide-appealing beliefs. A volatile candidate like Trump would exhibit personal vices and lead the Republican Party into extremist, untenable positions that would severely limit crossover appeal. By the time Republicans realized that they had been duped into an indefensible candidate, the Pied Piper nominee would feel entitled to support and seek vengeance for any questioning of his credibility. The result would be disastrous for Republicans and give Hillary Clinton the easiest possible path to the presidency. Today, with the Republican Party currently in chaos and Clinton surging weeks before the election, the situation seems to have played out to the letter of the campaign’s design.
This leaked memo means that conservatives now have proof that Donald Trump’s campaign was subsidized and favored by the same Democratic leader that Trump aims to defeat. The memo means that Trump supporters, the very same conservatives and independents who have been most vehemently anti-Clinton, have been playing into the Democrat's gameplan from the beginning. Conservatives must understand that the Clinton campaign preferred to face off against candidates with “scandals or ethical lapses” and an anti-establishment message, and of course in Trump’s candidacy they found the best possible scenario they could imagine.
This truth offers little solace or comfort amidst an election nearing its end, but it should be broadcast to the American right as a warning for the future. It is worth noting that the reason the Clinton campaign favored Donald Trump and anti-establishment candidates was because Democrats explicitly feared the message and credibility of up-and-coming establishment candidates. The “fresh ideas” of Marco Rubio, Rand Paul’s “appeal to millennials and communities of color,” and even Jeb Bush’s “concern about average Americans” were touted as threats to a Clinton victory. Establishment or mainstream candidates like Rubio, Paul, and Bush may not have promised as much immediate change as Trump, but few if any would now dispute the notion that they would have fared far better than the failing general election performance thus far.
In the future, perhaps we conservatives should take vetted candidates more seriously before we throw our support behind a Pied Piper and play ourselves right into the hands of Democrats.
As Americans we aren’t accustomed to facing a lack of options. The home of the free and the land of the brave also happens to be the oasis of choice – everywhere you look in your average American town you find a flourishing of options for any given need or want. Later today, for example, I will visit a local grocery store where I will choose between numerous options for items as simple as milk. Shall I buy chocolate or plain? 1%, 2%, Vitamin D, or whole? Almond or dairy? Like every consumer I will decide this within seconds and move on to the next item. Of course an even greater diversity presents itself to me for bigger, more complex choices like investing in cars and homes. And in our society even relational choices are expansive -- popular dating websites like Match.com open one’s options well beyond those presented otherwise.
With so much choice, it is easy to see why most Americans are struggling over their limited options for the presidency. On the left, Democrats are trying to reconcile the fact that the party of change has now nominated a lifelong establishment candidate. They try not to consider the fact that the person President Obama called “the most qualified candidate in history” is someone beholden to the same banking system that Bernie Sanders railed against. Besides not sharing their ideology, progressives know that Clinton has overlooked egregious lapses in judgment in an effort to contort her political image. Her closest advisors’ “extremely careless” mishandling of classified information smacks of hypocrisy, as we all know she wouldn’t have excused such actions for Republicans. That she knowingly lied about this, and has since faced no punishment for it, badly blunts the purist progressive surge that Obama rode into the White House.
On the right, conservatives are trying to find ways to justify the candidacy of a man who seemingly shares none of their values. The same members of the once Moral Majority who decried Bill Clinton for his infidelity are now trying to excuse similar behavior, as they claim their own candidate just happens to be “a good man with flaws.” The irony is thick with Christian leaders like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell Jr. now arguing in favor of an unrepentant, promiscuous strip-club owner for America’s next president. Others like Wayne Grudem have performed rhetorical somersaults to try and convince readers that voting for Donald Trump is morally defensible. In his recent piece for Townhall.com, Grudem argues that “Trump’s character is far better than what is portrayed by much current mud-slinging” even as Grudem himself calls Trump “egotistical, bombastic, and brash.” Such advocates want conservatives to believe that Trump’s ignorant, racist, and juvenile statements are correctable mistakes while his red-meat politics are instead heartfelt and trustable.
When honest with themselves, however, conservatives know a true believer when they see one; and like the progressives they know that their current nominee isn’t anywhere close. And Christian leaders, despite what they may pretend, know that Donald Trump falls far more into the mold of a self-righteous, unrepentant Pharisee than a humble, penitent follower of Christ. The problem for many people isn’t discernment, ignorance, or corruption-- it’s a lack of options.
We as Americans desperately want an option we can rally behind; we crave it because we are a society of action and we must have something to do. Without a legitimate option we aren’t sure where to turn. We are completely unfamiliar with doing nothing; to us it smacks of little more than cowardice. The Trump and Clinton campaigns know this, and it is why they are almost exclusively making their case by smearing their opponent. Both campaigns are attempting to bypass the quite obvious flaws of their candidate and convince voters that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. You must choose, they say, between horrible and worse.
Grudem’s article, for example, argues for precisely this. While opening by giving ground on Trump’s flaws, he then proceeds to try and change the issue from “Can I as a Christian voter support Donald Trump for president?” to questions far more palatable for his readers to answer. Among these are “Which vote is most likely to bring the best results for the nation?” and “Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?” Grudem goes on to delve into a particularly existentialist form of ethics (as opposed to the Christian form he claimed as his expertise), to say that making any choice besides voting for a major party amounts to “doing nothing.” He then declares a non-vote for Trump to be a “direct vote” for Clinton, and oddly misapplies scripture (Obadiah 1:11) to say that voting for anyone other than Trump is an abdication of Biblical moral responsibility.
But Grudem is wrong; a non-vote for Trump is by no means a vote for Clinton. An actual direct vote for Clinton, of course, involves walking into a voting booth and marking the box next to her name. To pretend anything else is to base our actions on predictive polling and the expected outcomes of others’ private choices. It is to delve into the indirect effectual nature of utilitarianism and take the focus away from the true basis of Christian ethics – the intentions of the heart. In so doing we fall into “ends justify the means” morality rather than doing what we know to be right and trusting God with the outcome. And it is ultimately to take a great leap down a very dark path. For where, I would ask Grudem, does such justification end? Imagine, for example, were the race solely between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Would not those same existentialist, calculating voices like Grudem’s be arguing on behalf of Clinton as the “good but flawed” life-long Methodist versus her atheist, socialist opponent?
Instead, Christians must make our choices on the basis of our conscience. In so doing we must have a threshold, or lines of integrity we will not cross no matter the outcome. What this means is that there must be a level at which our political options cease to exist and we exit or refuse to participate in the majority system. For myself, I came very close to this threshold in supporting Mitt Romney in 2012. His lack of understanding of conservatism, his personally lavish lifestyle, and his obvious flips on important issues like healthcare and abortion disturbed me greatly. Much like Grudem I made the practical decision to support him, but I resolutely told myself no further – to continue voting Republican I must have a candidate who better understood and respected our nation’s founding principles and shared my values. Mitt Romney was my threshold. The next candidate didn’t have to be perfect, but he or she needed a better record of adherence to sound principles and consistent moral discernment. I was delighted to find among the 2016 Republican primary field that all but one person met that criteria; yet, alas, it was precisely that one person who achieved victory.
And so like many voters in this election I have reached a political limit. I find that of the two most powerful nominees neither comes anywhere near having the moral integrity, commitment to principle, and devotion to public service that would qualify them for the American presidency. What am I to do? Of course, both of their campaigns and advocates are quick to dismiss the viability of a third party. They decry “writing in” a man or woman of noble character as cowardice and slam such a move as no better than not voting at all. But third parties, write-in options, and the long-established democratic practice of abstention were created for precisely the political quandary we face today.
To abstain, as defined by Webster’s dictionary, is “to hold oneself back voluntarily, especially from something regarded as improper or unhealthy.” An active abstention is that action in which a present voter takes a stand, not against one option or the other, but against the entire field. Unlike “staying home,” abstaining requires a presence and with it the devoted time and attention. It signals that the abstainer has the knowledge, presence, and capability to make a vote but is choosing not to for some larger reason. Historically, there are hundreds of examples of groups abstaining from electoral politics for the purposes of boycott or to make the point that their interests were not represented. And philosophers such as Jason Brennan have made compelling moral arguments for why an informed citizen should abstain rather than vote when a nomination process produces no viable options.
Abstaining, of course, can be an act of cowardice just as the major campaigns will claim. To abstain without reason is indeed worthless; the burden is squarely on the abstainer to articulate their moral imperative and make the purpose of their boycott clear. One must be adamant, resolute, and unequivocal in their abstention for it to have any effect. This in fact is what separates an active abstainer from the person who would hide behind the option or shirk civic responsibility by remaining idle.
Citizens who vote third party or write in names like Bernie Sanders or Marco Rubio will be called abstainers and boycotters in this election. And so we are, but cowards we are not. To make this point clear we must be resolute and explicit in our action. Active abstention signals that we respect the American system of government and its Constitutional electoral process, but we find no valid options among the leading nominees. It is a statement that we as informed American citizens believe that we deserve better candidates than what the Republican and Democratic nominations have produced. And given that neither of those party’s candidates meets the threshold of viability, our act of abstention is the only morally sound, defensible option we have left.