The election of 2016 confronted me with a crisis. My actuarial life expectancy has me down to about three-and-a-half presidential campaigns in the years ahead, so as I entered the voting booth this year, I wanted this one to really count. But there was no one anywhere on the presidential ballot for whom I could vote with a settled conscience.
No third-party candidate had any appeal, not even as a protest vote. I did that once, you know—1976—and it turned out poorly. President Ford had made a stupid remark about Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and I, I confess, voted Libertarian. My lone vote evidently robbed Mr. Ford of his reelection. Others claim that his gaffe made no difference at all, but still, after all these years, I feel inordinately responsible for Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
That left Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton. Of course, I was already on record saying I had no plans to vote for Mr. Trump. The comment box—before the First Things monitor shut it down—was not universally approving. But I had not yet decided to vote for Mrs. Clinton. “Blank” was a tempting option.
My only goal was to select the candidate who would be most subject to the constraints of power under our constitutional system. In an Augustinian two-cities sense, finding somebody with some sense of restraint is not a bad goal, not bad at all. We do not find perfection here in the City of Man. We elect presidents, not saviors. Being “gentle as doves” finds its “clever as serpents” counterpart in the voting booth.
I concluded that Mrs. Clinton was the safer bet. Donald Trump is a caricature of Donald Trump. He speaks in loops, gets lost in a sentence and doubles back to the beginning. He lost me at his candidacy announcement and at a half-dozen or more pronouncements following. He needs a three-member review panel, minimum, for his tweets.
Hillary Clinton gives off icky smarmy creepy vibes, and a fair number of people must visibly resist an urge to count their fingers after shaking her hand. She’s never met a government regulation or a Wall Street donor she did not like. Yet I thought she was the one most subject to political constraints, who understood the reality of politics and the value of tactical compromise. The election results would give Republican obstructionists (a phrase I am embracing) at least a House majority in Congress. Divided government has a happy and distinguished history. So it was Hillary.
And then I got in the voting booth, and had one of those “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” moments. I started thinking of the working guys I had known as a kid, the ones who got me through Boy Scouts; the working-class folks I served as a pastor; and the Trump supporters I kept encountering. Mr. Trump couldn’t do any worse by them than had already been done. And I voted Trump—but more with fear and trembling than with any expectation of salvation.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?