Solidarity and Voting: Vote Your Conscience, Not Your Privilege

Donald Trump continues his scorched earth campaigning, this time by sinking to new lows: he attacked the father of a fallen US soldier who was killed in Iraq, along with the Gold Star mother of that very same soldier.  The repudiation of his attacks by other Republicans was swift and harsh, but, this is just latest in a slew of examples that demonstrate that Donald Trump does not have the temperament, empathy, or disposition to be President of the United States.

The #NeverTrump movement continues to gain steam, but the #NeverTrump movement is also joined by a robust #NeverHillary movement as well.  The “never” camps primarily consist of voters who feel left out of both major political parties—these voters feel they must vote for a third party as a way to “vote their conscience” or in order to lodge a “protest vote” against what they view as unsatisfactory options. This type of strategic voting, however, is a privilege that many Americans cannot afford.

The choice to vote for a third party candidate as an exercise of principle entails an inherent risk that your more-preferred major party candidate may lose the election. For many of the most vulnerable, the outcome of this election will carry very tangible and potentially catastrophic results that would make taking such a risk unacceptable.

Donald Trump advocates an under-regulated market economy which would disproportionately impact the poor.  His economic plan could devastate economies around the globe and drastically increase poverty domestically and globally.

Donald Trump shows an open disregard for the most vulnerable of people.  He has openly mocked people with disabilities.  Under a Trump presidency, 18 million people will lose their health insurance plans.

He has called for the forceful deportation of 11 million individuals.  Trump wants to round up and register Muslims living in the United States.  He plans gross violations of religious liberty for religious minorities by using the power of the United States government to close down mosques and places of worship that are “un-American.”

Trump’s call to commit war crimes by killing the families of terrorists and advocacy for torture and bombing the s— out of the Middle East all demonstrate an utter disregard for international rules of law, Just War theory, the rules of engagement, international accords, and the Geneva convention.  As Robert Christian wrote in a previous article, Donald Trump is a threat to free democracies and human rights.

These examples demonstrate how a Trump presidency would bring particular harm to the poor, sick, disabled, immigrants, and minorities – the most vulnerable people in our society. The social teachings of the Catholic Church teach us that governance, citizenship, and political life should always be directed toward the common good. The common good is the good of the social order materially and also spiritually, but the common good also begins and ends with what is good for each person.  The Catholic Church teaches that the most important measure of the common good is the material and spiritual well-being of the most vulnerable.  We are obligated to stand with the most vulnerable in society because of our principle of solidarity.  Catholic teachings emphasize the importance of strong community. Solidarity is the name we give for what weaves us together in community.

As Catholics, we have an obligation towards the poor, the vulnerable, the disabled, religious and ethnic minorities, and immigrants.  Those making a statement by saying that they will vote their conscience need to realize that they are exercising a luxury that the most vulnerable cannot afford without real tangible sacrifice.  As Catholics whose task is to be a voice for the most vulnerable, we should recognize that while the greatest outcome of the election in our minds may be impact on the ideological war we are waging or how complicit we feel in the election of a certain candidate, this is not the case for many of our brothers and sisters.

If you are one of the 11 million people who might be deported, you do not have the luxury of “voting your conscience.”  If you are one of the millions of American Muslims who will have your mosques closed or your family rounded up and registered by the government, you do not have the luxury of “voting your conscience.”  If you are one of the 18 million people who will lose healthcare coverage, you do not have this luxury.  For tens of millions of Americans, this election is about their survival or ability to live a decent life.  To tell someone who may be rounded up and deported away from his or her family that out of conscience you must vote for Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, or some minor, electorally inconsequential candidate is nonsense. And not just because these candidates are also deeply flawed.

To have a well-formed conscience means to consider the actual impact of our actions. This is not consequentialism. Intentions matter, but so too do the practical results of our actions. To ignore political realities because we find them unsatisfactory is to evade our responsibility as faithful citizens who must act to build the common good. Fixing the flaws of the major political parties is necessary work, but trying to separate oneself from both parties by voting third party in order to feel emotionally liberated or ideologically pure is not, if the cost is borne by the vulnerable.

While many of us may not personally face such a dire outcome if the presidential election tips one way or the other, Catholics are called to take the actual impact of election outcomes on the common good (which is shaped by the way we vote) seriously. The privilege to stand on political principle for the sake of one’s individual sense of purity or emotional satisfaction must not be allowed to outweigh Catholics’ responsibility to vote in a way that will protect others from harm (or at least minimizes harm to the vulnerable). Such a “victory” in November should ring very hollow to us if it comes at the immediate expense of our real responsibility to the most vulnerable in society. The ability to “vote your conscience” must be recognized as the very real privilege that it is and considered very carefully in light of its risk to those who do not share that privilege. And that is something that should weigh on your conscience.