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A Difficult Dilemma

Tuesday, February 14, 2017
After the election, I broke off relations with my mother, as well as with my former stepmother (who was a virtual 2nd mother to me when I was younger). It was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever made, and I've continually re-examined that decision without changing my mind. I thought it made sense to explain that decision here.

I want to begin by saying that I do not judge anybody for making a different calculation than I have. Morally speaking it's a very grey area, and different people are going to give each of these premises different weight, and also reach different conclusions. What I'm explaining is MY logic when applied to ME.

The first step in my reasoning is this: voting for Trump for President in 2016 was an evil act. Now generally I think it's difficult to attribute moral responsibility to a voter for the consequences of his vote - after all, we can't always tell what these candidates are really like, or predict with confidence what they'll do once they're in office. But I think that the Trump candidacy is kind of unique, in that his campaign was manifestly evil. I don't think there's much doubt that he campaigned as a candidate of white nationalism, or that he was patently unqualified for the office, or had an authoritarian temperament, had no respect for democratic norms, and that he's an outrageous liar and sexual assaulter. The evidence in each instance is pretty overwhelming - you don't have to be living in the liberal media bubble to reach these conclusions. All you had to do was to believe the things that he said.

But wait a second, says my invisible interlocutor - what about the other candidate? What if I think she was a threat to democratic stability, a corrupt criminal who would subvert the republic to feather her nest. On this point I have to say that there is FAR less evidence to support these propositions, and there is also the fact that Hillary Clinton was First Lady and a very influential figure in the Clinton White House for 8 years - without any of these dire outcomes, or any scandals involving her that amounted to anything. I would also say that the worst case scenario for both candidates made this election between a) a potential crook & tyrant, and b) a potential crook. That is not a hard choice. Finally, I'd argue that any seamy behavior you might have gotten in a Clinton administration would not remotely outweigh the fact that Trump is utterly incompetent to hold office (ZERO RECORD OF PUBLIC SERVICE!!!!), especially when it comes to foreign policy, and quite explicitly played footsie with some of darkest impulses in American social life. Hillary Clinton did none of that - she was a totally boring conventional liberal Democrat. And given that the House wasn't going to switch parties, a vote for her would be a vote for the stalemated status quo. So from a risk-avoidance perspective, voting D for President was the safest choice.

A second argument that might be made is that said Trump voter might vote not because of any qualities that Trump might have, but because they were pro-life, or wanted tax cuts, or believed in smaller government, or whatever garden variety conservative policy position you hold dear to your heart. With Trump in the white house, you get conservative policy outcomes, and you wouldn't with a Clinton white house.

This is a very plausible-sounding argument, but doesn't really cut any ice with me either. Bracketing my opinions on those issues, what it really boils down to is "I care more about abortion/tax cuts than I do about democracy/a qualified officeholder/racism/etc." You might, just might, be able to make an argument about abortion - if you really thought that it was murder - but to push the priority of that issue to that extreme it would also require you to say that women who had abortions and the doctors who committed them should be convicted of manslaughter at minimum. And if THAT is your opinion, then you are once again falling into the morally unacceptable category, since now you're saying that you believe that your fellow citizens (and friends and loved ones of mine thank you very much) should be imprisoned because they think that human rights kick in at around 7-8 months rather than 3 weeks. As for the other policy areas - sorry, but there's no way you can believably claim that tax cuts outweigh democratic rights or social equality for minorities. So what the vote for Trump really means it that you don't think democracy/racism/sexism MATTER. That the rights of your fellow citizens are simply of no concern to you (which also sort of undercuts your abortion argument, now that I think about it).

Okay so if we grant for the sake of argument that voting for Trump as a morally dubious act, that next get us to the far more contestable proposition: that because someone I care about voted for Trump, I should break off contact with them - that it's a fundamental betrayal of my relationship with a person, so much so that it makes further association impossible, just as one is not morally required to accept that a lover in a monogamous relationship has been unfaithful. In short, the person I cared about isn't the person I thought they were. They've become abhorrent to my eyes. And the closer the relationship to the person, the worse those feelings of betrayal.

I want to make clear that this is not about forgiveness. To forgive, the transgressor must first acknowledge that they have committed a wrong. If my Trump-supporting family member were to write me and say "oh my god I've done a terrible thing please forgive me" I would probably do so. I say "probably" because this was a decision with one's eyes very much open. There wasn't much doubt about the person they were voting for. However, I believe in the principle of charity so I'd probably end up forgiving.

But this isn't what we're talking about here - we're talking about a situation in which the other party continues to assert that their decision was morally praiseworthy, or neutral, or none of my business. That I should be indifferent to their evil action. We're also not talking about an immoral action - a simple personal bad - but something that does active, willing harm to other people. (And no, it doesn't matter if they think it's harm - it's that I think it's an active harm that's the salient point. That's one of the reasons that I can't impose my rationale for all this on other people, and say that they have to break up with their loved ones too).

The argument against my position is that I should not let differences about politics interfere with an otherwise solid relationship with a close friend or family member - that we have to accept political differences, even profound ones. I don't accept this argument, because there are always going to be outer bounds. What if a family member commits pedophilia, and refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing. Am I required to still engage with them? Too extreme an example? Okay, let's say that they knowingly concealed pedophilia by a third party, in effect enabling it, and defend their actions by claiming that they were being loyal/protective of someone close to them? I hazard to say nobody would blame me for deciding that this family member had become complicit in evil acts, and to refuse to accept those acts as long as they continued to defend them.

Again, one might assert that pedophilia (or protecting a pedophile) is not equivalent to voting for Trump. To which I respond - well, now we're just debating where the line is. You've already abandoned the idea that one "always forever" accepts the actions of a loved one by recognizing that s sufficiently evil act (in the absence of contrition) absolves me of my moral obligations.

Okay, this blog is already going on too long, so I'll continue it another time!

Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:21 PM

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Well here are

Thursday, February 02, 2017
Like many bloggers I fell out of the habit. I suspect Facebook played a role, as did complacency (and a measure of frustration) during the Obama administration. After 2011 it was clear that little more that was productive could be expected from the Obama years, and so it was safe to take a step back from politics and tend to our own gardens.

I'm not sure whether I'll make a new habit of posting regularly in this space, but for the time being there are thoughts I need to sort out for myself, and writing is (for me at least) the best way to do so. I do not know if I will have any readers in this space, but I'm not terribly concerned if I don't.

So here we are, in a time of great doubt about the future of the republic. It is unclear whether the constitutional order will survive the pusillanimity of the conservative movement or the bungling authoritarianism of the new president. I find myself in the rather strange situation of being far more calm about this situation than most. Many of my friends and colleagues have become obsessed with political news, breathlessly consuming all of the many outrages. I've been oddly detached, since I've always spent a lot of time paying attention to politics and have gotten used to maintaining a certain distance from the froth of the day. You have to pick your moments, and buffer yourself a bit, or risk utter exhaustion and moral paralysis.

Having said that, it's quite clear to me that my self-imposed hiatus from political life has to end. I'm not quite sure in what capacity I'll become involved, or to what degree, due to the practicalities of my professional life and because politics can be all too consuming. Of course, there are times when we can't afford the luxury of remaining aloof from politics, when it demands everything of us that we're capable of giving, and I'm beginning to fear that this is one of those times.

The inspiration for this blog's title may be sadly appropriate. The French Revolution was no time for focusing on our private affairs either.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:56 PM

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