Saturday, July 9, 2016

Do Conservatives have a Moral Obligation to not vote for Trump?

Before beginning this piece, I would like to give my condolences to anyone who lost friends or family in these shootings, as well as a thank you to all men and women who serve in the police force. While there are bad apples, on the whole they do their best to keep us safe. If I have learned anything, it is that man's inhumanity to man is not dead; it is very much alive. And it our duty (not to be too much of a Kantian here) to extinguish it from the planet whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head, in any form that it appears in. We can do, I know we can.

On June 25th of this year, conservative author and commentator George F. Will left the Republican Party, the latest in a line of other commentators and politicians who decided to either leave the GOP or distance themselves from it with Donald Trump being the presumptive nominee. However, Will went beyond just leaving the GOP; he gave it some parting advice:
"Make sure he loses,” and “Grit [your] teeth for four years and win the White House"
So, it would appear that not only does Will think that leaving and not endorsing Trump are good moves, he also thinks that the party who nominated Trump should sabotage his campaign and guarantee that Hillary Clinton ends up victorious. I would simply remind Mr. Will that this will most likely happen without a sabotage, so this is a tad unnecessary.

The real question is now that Trump is the nominee, do conservatives have a moral obligation to vote for Trump or find another solution? Before addressing that question, 3 other things need to be addressed first: 1. What conservatism is 2. How a conservative approaches morality 3. Whether or not Donald Trump is a conservative. All three of these questions could be drafted into book-length texts, so I will just cover the bare minimums.

First, what is conservatism? That will depend on who you ask and where you go; British conservatives are different than American conservatives for example. But perhaps the best definition of conservatism comes from British philosopher Michael Oakeshott in his essay On being conservative:
"To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss".
Unpacking this a bit, a conservative is someone who prefers to keep traditions that work while discarding those that don't, has a skeptical view of life, tends to be pluralistic rather than dogmatic, and is pessimistic about future events because he/she realizes that the old adage "It is only going to get better" is in reality a myth.

Some readers at this point will be scratching their heads and saying "That doesn't sound like a lot of conservatives I know." This is likely true, but keep in mind that those who are generally called conservative are not necessarily adherents to the philosophy of conservatism; rather they tend to be right-wing extremists who don't really understand the philosophy they supposedly embrace. As conservative journalist and blogger Andrew Sullivan said in his blog post titled The Necessary Contradictions of a Conservative:
"A true conservative – who is, above all, an anti-ideologue – will often be attacked for alleged inconsistency, for changing positions, for promising change but not a radical break with the past, for pursuing two objectives – like liberty and authority, or change and continuity  – that seem to all ideologues as completely contradictory."
What this means is that conservatism is a method rather than a list of do's and don'ts. People who are committed to a fundamentalist view of the Bible, a religious attachment to the second amendment, an intolerance to change, and indifference towards minority struggle are not expressing tenets of conservatism; they are just being loud and obnoxious. I would encourage such people to read Oakeshott, Aristotle, David Hume, Edmund Burke, and other conservative thinkers, see what their ideas were, and then decide if they still want the conservative label to stick.

Second, how does a conservative approach morality? As noted earlier, conservatives are pluralists. For those unfamiliar with that term, pluralism is the belief that there is more than one way to approach a subject, and all can be right in some way. Thus a conservative can be practice virtue ethics (Aristotle), be a moral skeptic (Hume), be an egoist (Ayn Rand), or even be somewhat of a nihilist (Friedrich Nietzsche). Thus, pluralism is in between absolutism and relativism, and is perhaps the best way of looking at and uncovering morality (if such is possible.) Ultimately, no matter what the initial approach, a conservative will approach the ultimate question of "What shall I do?" through the view of individualism more than of society as a whole, since that is the only way morality can really be approached.

Finally, is Donald Trump a conservative? The short answer is I don't know, and I am not sure Donald Trump knows. He is not a traditionalist, has no sense of skepticism, is very absolutist, and while he is pessimistic in a sense, he is a bit more egotistical than anything. Not only that, Trump seems to have no plans on any policy other than "We are going to win", "It is going to be terrific" and "Build a wall". None of these strike me as remotely conservative; they strike me as dangerously childish.


"Ok Tarik, but he is better than Hillary Clinton!" First, since neither of them have been president yet, and more importantly both have not been president for a time and then we get to compare them, I am not sure about that. Secondly, even if Hillary were to win the presidency, it is likely that the House of Representatives and the Senate would remain in Republican hands, so her power would be limited anyway. Thirdly, as I said, conservatives are pluralists and this is a false dilemma; a choice between two things when a third alternative is  is available, namely Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate. Johnson is a two-term governor, he has supported traditional conservative positions such as limited government, low government spending, personal privacy, semi-strict interpretation of the Constitution, etc. If conservatives are unhappy with Trump, it is not like there isn't another gift-wrapped option.

So, to the question posed at in the title of this article, do conservatives have a moral obligation to vote against Trump? I would not say that they have the same moral imperative to vote for Trump that they would of saving a young child from drowning, but it would be in their best interest to see that he is not elected. He does not share their principles (if he has any), and ultimately he will make the country less safe and less free than a Hillary Clinton presidency would (no, this is not an endorsement of Secratary Clinton). If conservatives value conservatism, I would suggest they either vote for Gary Johnson, write in a candidate, or don't vote. A Trump presidency will not be a conservative embrace; it will be an embrace of a man who is in love with himself with no vision for the future. Choose conservatives. Choose.

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