These are tough days to be a voting Catholic. It was easier when we could pull the “intrinsically evil” card, and feel morally justified because we had avoided voting for anyone who supported an action which — as the American Bishops put it in their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship — is “always opposed to the authentic good of persons” and “must never be supported or condoned.”

This simplified voting tactic was never entirely kosher. There is no exhaustive list of intrinsic evils provided to us, and those “voting guides” that pretend otherwise brush over the fact that, just because a candidate does advocate an intrinsic evil, we can still support their candidacy. The Bishops again: “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.”

Even if we ignore this and remain stalwart, saying, “I will not support any candidate who supports an intrinsic evil, period,” there is still the fact that, of the intrinsic evils that the Bishops do mention in Faithful Citizenship, both our current candidates are guilty advocates.

Trump’s policies violate at least two in the list of “direct assaults on innocent human life, such as genocide, torture, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war” which “can never be justified.” Hilary indulges a prime example of intrinsic evil, namely, “the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia,” which, for the sake of argument, we won’t apply to Trump, though few trust his convenient pro-life conversion. Most would argue that Trump manages to score a few more points in the “violations of human dignity” category, which includes “acts of racism, treating workers as mere means to an end, deliberately subjecting workers to subhuman living conditions” and “treating the poor as disposable,” while Hilary, at the very least, gets the last of the list: “redefining marriage to deny its essential meaning.”

At this point, we could play the “pick the least evil of the intrinsic evils” game, but then we forfeit any power the “intrinsic evil” method holds. We are admitting what the Bishops say: that we can support a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil if we have a grave reason and don’t support the evil itself. But if this is the case, it is silly to begin with the (admittedly easy, clear, and succinct) position that we cannot vote for anyone who advocates an intrinsic evil.

It seems that we are in the position described by the Bishops as “extraordinary”: “When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.”

Thus, unless we want to pick and choose which directives from the episcopate we follow, no Catholic can be blamed for not voting in the national election. That we have arrived at at this point — in which a Catholic, dutifully following the guidance of their Church, can end up with the strong, justified position of non-participation — indicates that something has gone rather wrong. This same Church says, after all: “It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person. . . . As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life” (CCC 1913-1915).

One would think that, if ever there were a time for a political revolution to blossom out of the Catholic laity, this would be it. What could inspire the establishment and advance of a third party (and a fourth, and a fifth) more than the fact that the candidates of the two major parties are forcing a kind of moral disenfranchisement on Catholics who care about the teachings of their Church? Such a vote (a vote, say, for the American Solidarity Party) would not win the election. It would take at least 20 odd years of “lost” votes to build up a party imposing enough to challenge our red and blue Goliaths. But this would be foolish voting only if this were the last election in the world. This would be imprudent only if time had run out, if all had become a question of absolute urgency, and if the national election had taken on essentially religious significance, in which one must “choose now who you will serve.”

Unsurprisingly, the only way our current election attracts earnest voters to its booths is by posturing as an apocalypse. Neither candidate are liked except insofar as they portray themselves as salvation from the Hell that the other will bring. Their positive visions are uninspiring and rarely spoken of. And why would they be? A campaign advocating a genuine vision of the good apart from the Looming Disaster of the other candidate would be a reminder that the point of the political is to seek the common good and not merely to avoid the bad. Such a campaign would inspire voters to politically participate over a period of time rather than in an instant: though we act immediately and urgently to avoid the bad, we act slowly and carefully to achieve the good.

Quick to put out house-fires, we are slow to build houses — we accept the costs and setbacks of such long-term projects. If we considered ourselves as builders, as voters-over-time seeking to establish a society which chooses men and women of genuine virtue as possible leaders, then we would be comfortable voting in large swaths for third-party candidates, knowing they will lose, as we work towards the time when they won’t. This would destroy our political establishment, which is currently frightening us away from the ideal of long-term civic participation by the rhetoric of the major parties and their two horsemen. As it stands, we have acquiesced to the mode they require of us to justify their absurd rise to power — short bursts of civic participation to stave off the end of the world.

11 01 2016
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  • Teresa Grodi

    Thank you for your insights (and congrats on your engagement!). I'm excited about the American Solidarity Party! God bless!

  • Paddy

    Still waiting on TCM's and the author's source material on Mr. Trump's support of genocide, torture, and targeting of non-combatants...if drawing moral equivalencencies to the tortured murder of 3300 children per day, a source would be nice. Dare I say, it's time to "man" up.

    • Christopher Helle

      Paddy - I believe Mr. Barnes' is referencing Mr. Trump's call to take out the families of terrorists. Your point about the legitimacy of the comparison is a fair one, I think.

      • Christopher Helle

        Targeting non-combatants; https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=I1eXRXL0nkk

      • Christopher Helle

        Advocacy of torture; https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BMidbXX9uX4

      • Christopher Helle

        Mr. Barnes quoted the list of war crimes which the Church considers gravely evil. The quote is an inclusive list, but he notes that Mr. Trump is guilty of two (as cited above)

      • Paddy

        Thanks. I didn't see anything on genocide which is quite the charge to level.

        By the way the current admin policy which HRC would continue believes in executing US citizens without due process via drone strike (which often kills non-combatants, I might add). How much of leap is it to go from executing US citizens abroad to US citizens at home?!? Just a thought...

  • Larson Holt

    If we know that one of the two major party candidates is going to win, it seems a sad dereliction of our duty as Catholic Men to waste our votes on any third party candidate. Anyone who has paid attention knows beyond any doubt that Mrs. Clinton's election will result in more abortions and less religious freedom - with Catholics front and center in her crosshairs. You may not trust Mr. Trump, but you certainly do not know his mind; the fact that he could be telling the truth about his pro-life conversion, even if it's not 100 percent definite, provides us with enough reason to vote for him over his opponent. If a vote for Trump - and his subsequent election - saves the life of even one unborn child, it has been a vote well cast.

    • PatH

      I agree but we need to take into consideration that the situation may be different for Catholic voters who live in states that are not swing states and in which Catholics are a minority.

      If I lived in a swing state I think I'd have a moral obligation to hold my nose and vote for Trump, as a Clinton victory will be a moral disaster. However, I do not live in a swing state. Indeed, the state I live in will overwhelmingly go for Trump.

      That being the case, I feel that I may have a duty to register a protest vote over having such poor choices. That is what I am likely to do. I'm seriously considering voting for the candidates from the American Solidarity Party as they are informed by Catholic Social teaching and as a protest against the two major parties for nominating such detestable candidates.

      • PlanetJuggler

        Excellent response! This is why I have been having so much difficulty deciding how to vote - I live in the biggest swing state.

        It does sound like your decision, however, is very clear. You must register a "protest vote".

  • Doyle M. B. Baxter

    While I thought this article was very well written and thought provoking, I believe that it was just as unhelpful as every other 'Catholic voting guide' article/pamphlet that I've read. The unhelpfulness comes from its unwillingness to take a stand and endorse a candidate with well-reasoned explanations for why a Catholic ought to vote for that candidate. So let's use names and talk about policies. I, a Catholic and classically educated white male from suburban Indiana, will be voting for Donald J. Trump. My reasoning ultimately boils down to three main issues: 1) the Supreme Court, 2) Non-Intervention, and 3) a Multi-Party Future.

    1) Donald has pledged to nominate only conservative, pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. The Court now wields incredible power in matters of abortion, same-sex marriage, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, etc., etc. and this means that Catholics must keep the court ever in mind while voting for president. We know that Hillary's nominees will not uphold what we Catholics believe and teach, but Donald's will.

    2) The United States are indeed great and while that does not mean that further greatness does not lie ahead, we must not interpret our greatness as license to intervene in the world's conflicts and act as global police. The United States are responsible for innumerable humanitarian crises in the Middle-East, Africa, and South America. We have intervened in wars, armed revolutionaries, overthrown stable governments--all for the sake of our own interests. Those interests were mostly economic (think oil, trade, etc.) and came at the cost of hundreds of thousands of human lives. Hillary Clinton was a mastermind in US intervention during her time as Secretary of State and Senator, while Donald Trump has pledged to secure our safety by defeating the Islamic State and then focus on issues at home, rather than policing the world.

    3) The author of the article above summarily treats the possibility of a multi-party future, but I think his analysis is surface level. Insofar as multiple parties ensure that monolithic entities do wield too much power, the Catholic social doctrine of subsidiarity would prefer a multi-party system. I see Donald Trump's victory as the only sure route to a 4 or 5 party future. If Trump were to win, he would begin leading the Republican Party to a place where 'country-club,' establishment figures like Romney, Bush, McCain, and others, would not be willing to go. The likely outcome would be a split within the GOP. The establishment ilk would either go off and join the Democratic Party or attempt to found their own party. In either case, the already center-leaning establishment Democrats would recognize the disenfranchised former Republicans as allies. Each group would pull a little further toward the center in hopes of working together toward common goals. This would reignite the fire of division in the left between the center-left establishment and the far-left of the Bernie Revolution. Whether the Bernie coalition would go off and establish their own party or flock in droves to the Green Party makes no difference. As we have seen in recent months, such political turmoil will be good for the Libertarian Party, which will continue to gain members throughout the process described above. Thus Trump's victory could spell the reality of a four party system. Something for which we should be striving.

    • Christopher Helle

      I think these are excellent points and you lay out many outcomes of this election cycle that are desirable. But, I think that all of the above commentary is underscored by the concerns many conservatives have about this election cycle which place them in a tight spot. That is, everything written above is contingent upon the accuracy of our political forecasting and on the presumption that Mr. Trump's governance will play out precisely as he says he intends. Till now, his style and presentation seems largely inspired by opportunity more than principle. This is not to say he will lead a bad administration. This is not even to say I will never vote for him. It is to say that our incessant, almost compulsive, need to celebrate Trump as a champion of virtue is misguided and to a point discredits the legitimacy of a conservative movement so easily prepared to blindly ignore principle. This is no nod to the Hillary camp. She supports the advancement of blatant immorality and is currently under (I've lost count of how many) FBI investigation(s). I can certainly appreciate the logic of ensuring she does not enter the White House and accepting Trump as "the alternative". ...but "oh fine you can do it" does not a great President make.

    • PlanetJuggler

      So, you see a Trump victory as the catalyst to splinter both parties... interesting analysis...
      I was thinking that a Trump victory only furthers the "lesser of two evils" argument and continues the progression toward evil (just at 45 mph instead of 60 mph).

      I shall seriously have to consider the points you raise in paragraph 3. (I disagree with point 1, because I do not believe or trust a single campaign pledge or promise.)

  • snowshoes

    Sorry, what year are you writing from, old chap? See Father Rutler's column for this past Sunday. It would appear that we ARE at the apocalypse, at least for the US. The lights are on here at the moment, but we're way overdrawn at the bank. Oh, then there's the jihad, the Chinese, the Russians, drugs, "migrants", etc. And don't look now, but us few Catlicks who are left are pretty much members of an illegal organization.... If that's not the apocalypse, it'll do til the real one comes along. If by the grace of God we do have a few more days, and we can organize a third party, how about some real, practical, name some name-type ideas?

  • John Luongo

    A non vote now means a non vote in the future. Trump isn't perfect, no one is, And we have survived less than perfect candidates in the past. Hillary is pure evil, we will not survive Hillary, we will not survive 25 years of a stacked Supreme Court. There really will be no opportunity to grow a third, fourth or fifth party with a Hillary presidency. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Go for the good.

    • naturgesetz

      The sexual predator, would-be war criminal, unprincipled megalomaniac Donald Trump is not "good" by any stretch of the imagination.

  • PlanetJuggler

    Excellent summary of the current situation - and the way out.
    We don't have to vote for a major party candidate, just because each is saying that it'll be the end of America or the world if the other gets into power. From their statements, at least one is (and likely both are) lying/exagerrating about the fears they peddle.
    The key trick, though, is getting people to build the Catholic 3rd-party during non-election years. How does one fight two Goliaths during those times when people *aren't* watching them like the last furlong of a horse race?

  • I actually think it's easy for a Catholic to decide. One candidate has clearly stated SHE will appoint liberal - abortion supporting - judges to the Supreme Court. One has said HE will will lean conservatively when he appoints judges. Now, is he being truthful? Who knows. But we know, for sure, what Hillary will do. As such, Trump gets my vote.

    • Osbrew

      I think you're missing the point of the article. While you're choice to vote for Trump based on his tentative choice of justices is to be respected, it doesn't have to be so for all Catholics. As the author said, both candidates support intrinsic evils, so this is more complicated than voting for or against a single issue. If abortion is the most important issue for you, that's fine, but other Catholics may faithfully discern otherwise.

  • Paddy

    Would appreciate the source for Mr. Trump's support of "genocide, torture, and the targeting of noncombatants". Mrs Clintons support of the tortured murder of 3300 children per day for any reason at any time is well documented. Just curious as to the genocide and targeting call.