What might Just War Theory teach us about the 2016 election? Ross Douthat has an outstanding, and deeply conservative, column Wednesday:
[A]bortion opponents, in the 1970s and afterward, responded to Roe v. Wade for the most part like normal citizens of a normal democratic state, not as dissidents within a murderous dystopia …
To the pro-choice side, especially to lukewarm pro-choicers looking to feel better about their own muddled sense of things, this choice has sometimes been cast as evidence that pro-lifers don’t really believe our own rhetoric — that if we really believed abortion to be murder, really murder, we wouldn’t be incrementalists and small-r republicans on the issue; we would support violence, rebellion, nullification, secession, you name it.
The strongest counterpoint to this line of argument comes from the Roman Catholic catechism’s teaching on just war. As the Catholic writer John Zmirak noted in the aftermath of the Planned Parenthood shootings last years, the church does not allow nations to take up arms and go to war merely when they have a high moral cause on their side. Justice is necessary, but it is not sufficient: Peaceful means of ending the evil in question need to have been exhausted, there must be serious prospects of military success, and (crucially) “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.”
What this teaching suggests is that we should have a strong bias in favor of peaceful deliberation so long as deliberation remains possible. And that bias can be reasonably applied to the internal peace of a republic as much as to the peace between nations …
A vote for Trump is … a vote for a man who stands well outside the norms of American presidential politics, who has displayed a naked contempt for republican institutions and constitutional constraints, who deliberately injects noxious conspiracy theories into political conversation, who has tiptoed closer to the incitement of political violence than any major politician in my lifetime, whose admiration for authoritarian rulers is longstanding, who has endorsed war crimes and indulged racists and so on down a list that would exhaust this column’s word count if I continued to compile it.
It is a vote, in other words, for a far more chaotic and unstable form of political leadership (on the global stage as well as on the domestic) than we have heretofore experienced, and a leap unlike any that conservative voters have considered taking in all the long years since Roe v. Wade.
And what is striking is how many conservatives seem to have internalized that reality and justified their support for Trump anyway, on grounds that are similar to ones that the mainstream pro-life movement has rejected for four decades: Namely, that Hillary Clinton would usher in some particular evil so severe and irreversible that it’s better to risk burning things down, crashing the plane of state, or whatever metaphor for Trump’s potential effect on the republic you prefer, than to allow the other political party to hold the presidency for the next four years.
If I were still involved with the political side of the pro-life movement, I might have drunk the Kool-Aid along with my confreres, but I’m not and I didn’t. Indeed, I will have difficulty paying attention to them after this year of bad choices.
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In the same Wednesday New York Times, Thomas Friedman, who nobody ever would have thought a Trump supporter, nevertheless makes his final, irenic pre-election plea, Donald Trump Voters, Just Hear Me Out, including an (inadvertent?) echo of Douthat:
I understand why many Trump supporters have lost faith in Washington and want to just “shake things up.” When you shake things up with a studied plan and a clear idea of where you want to get to, you can open new futures. But when you shake things up, guided by one-liners and no moral compass, you can cause enormous instability and systemic vertigo.
Friedman also explains why “Trump supporters, particularly less-educated white males, should be wary of his bluster.” Paraphrasing, Trump’s a sucker bet. His promises are puffery for policies that won’t begin to do what Trump’s promising.
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In the end, Thiel made a remarkably familiar pro-Trump argument, one that has been heard in many corners: Everything is so bad, we need an outsider; as flawed as he may be, Trump can’t be worse than the current lot; and a bull in the D.C. china shop will wreck more things that should be wrecked than should not.
This is an argument that is both frustrating and almost impossible to evaluate. Frustrating because it feels like a non sequitur. Yes, I agree with Thiel that all sorts of things are bad. But he loses me at the “…and therefore, Donald Trump should be president of the United States.”
At the end of his speech, Thiel said he hopes that Trump’s candidacy will spark a political movement, one that will look beyond the Reagan era and transform the Republican Party and, afterwards, the United States. This is the best form of pro-Trump argument: It tries to defend the movement the candidate stands for, not the man himself.
But there’s a problem with this. First, votes are tallied not in favor or against the broader implications of one man’s candidacy, but of a particular man’s candidacy for a particular office. This particular man is temperamentally unfit for the particular office he seeks. (Just like his opponent is morally unfit for it.)
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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)