Four summers ago I was golfing with my reasonable, decent Republican friend, and he told me he didn’t like Trump but he couldn’t stand Hillary either. He didn’t tell me who he was going to vote for. I assumed he voted for Trump, and I did not hold it against him, as part of my ongoing effort to understand.
At that time, conservatives had despised the Clintons for a very long time, and for many good reasons (and some bad ones). I used to ask my liberal friends who couldn’t see how reasonable, decent Republicans could vote for Trump: What Democratic candidate would be so offensive to you that it would drive you to vote for a Republican that you’ve loathed for a quarter century, like Newt Gingrich?
But now—four years later—my friend doesn’t seem to have moved an inch.
“I’m not much of a fan of Donald Trump and don’t defend his handling of the COVID pandemic, which has really been a failure of leadership at virtually every level of government,” my friend began a post that concluded, “The sad reality for Americans as we think about the choice ahead of us in November is that we really don’t have any great choice.”
Which set off a predictable series of comments that sounded like the Levy family reading the menu at The Café Tropical:
“Let’s be honest-they all suck!!! No one is for making the country better! You can only vote for which one doesn’t suck worse!! How awful is that?!?”
“It’s another ‘no great choice’ election which seems to be the new trend.”
(We get this on the left, too. I had a fight with my wife last week when she said one too many times how she’s having to her hold nose to vote for Biden, as if the rest of us are too unrefined to smell a fart.)
Everyone points to Biden’s record over five decades of serving in the United States Senate and finds votes and statements and performances that were out of step, short-sighted, tunnel-visioned or shabby. Which is like pointing to the career of a fish and declaring it wet.
I want to ask these people: What would a great choice look like to you? And don’t say “Ronald Reagan,” because he is dead. Don’t say “Bobby Kennedy,” for the same reason.
Look: Everyone who loves the country and can fog up a mirror wants somebody better than Joe Biden or Donald Trump, much as we might argue about what “better” might be. Imagine running into an asshole at a barbecue who told you, “I gotta say, I love both presidential candidates. I’m having such a hard time choosing. Such an embarrassment of riches! Such great guys! Couldn’t you just thank God for leadership like this!?!”
But if you honestly struggle to figure out for yourself whether you’d prefer the bitter, purposely divisive chaos of Donald Trump or the compromised corporate liberal mediocrity of Joe Biden, then I really think you shouldn’t vote, because at some important level, you’re still under 18.
Adults need to sort these things out in their minds. That’s how they become adults. “I have been allowed to do my thinking casually and incompletely, and if I chose, to come to no conclusions at all,” my father Thomas Murray wrote in a book, A Child to Change Your Life. “As a teacher, I must spend much less time in that small, cozy hideout in my head where thoughts are strewn carelessly about, waiting for me to make them into convictions or crumple them up for their lack of logic. Now that I am his teacher, my child will see to it that I no longer just think of my thoughts, but that I say them. And if I don’t he will wrench them from me with his questions. And he will watch to see how consistently, how courageously, I handle their consequences.”
To my reasonable, decent Republican friend, I say this: I believe you have actually sorted these things out. You’re voting for Trump, you’re writing in someone irrelevant or you’re not voting at all.
And that is what, with a post suggesting that Biden and Trump are equally bad, is what you are suggesting your friends do, too.
Why not just say so directly?