Early in the 2016 presidential primary season, I declared that I would never vote for Donald Trump. Even though I wouldn’t ever consider Hillary (I’m Catholic, after all), I could not bring myself to vote for the GOP nominee, either. So, I voted third-party, and for three reasons.
First, I considered Mr. Trump a wild card. He had the upbringing of a hedonistic, New York limousine liberal and the platform of a conservative Republican. How would he govern? It was anyone’s guess. Based on how many “conservative” Republicans had been disappointing in the past, my bet was that he’d be more liberal than either of the Bushes, and perhaps even more liberal than Barack Obama.
Second, I believed he was fundamentally unstable. I didn’t want him in charge of the most powerful government in the world. Based on his public statements (particularly his tweets), I thought it a reasonable worry that he could cause a major war. Short of that, it still seemed likely a Trump presidency would further instability in places like the Middle East.
Third, I was deeply concerned with the impact of Catholics embracing Mr. Trump. I fully recognize that we are not voting for a “saint-in-chief,” as many of my condescending conservative friends told me time and again. Yet, at the same time, I saw far too often otherwise-faithful Catholics either look the other way or even defend Mr. Trump’s most indefensible acts. It’s one thing to say that a president doesn’t have to be a saint, and I personally believe they are almost all raging egomaniacs. But it’s another to support sin in an effort to get “your guy” elected.
For these reasons, among others, I didn’t vote for Mr. Trump in 2016. I don’t regret that decision; I believe it was the best one based on the information I had at that moment. Yet this year I’m going to do something I said I’d never do: vote for Donald Trump.
What changed my mind?
When I vote, first and foremost, I prioritize life issues. Legalized abortion has led to mass infanticide of incalculable scale, and it clearly is the most important moral and political issue of our time. Sadly, neither major party has done much to end it. One revels in the evil, and the other mostly brings it up during election season for political gain.
Second is avoiding war and military conflicts. As Catholics, we know that killing innocent non-American lives is as great of a sin as killing American ones. I don’t believe that any conflict America has been involved in since at least World War II meets the Just War criteria, and I’m always desperate for a candidate who isn’t a neocon warmonger like both parties typically produce. (Try to name a country that either John McCain or Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have bombed.)
My third priority is limiting the size of government. Massive government is the cause or inflamer of most evil in the world today. Big government harms the poor and limits freedom, including religious freedom. It granted itself the power to legalize and even promote evils like abortion and sodomy by fiat, back when public opinion was still on the side of virtue, thereby encouraging greater public acceptance of those vices. Severely limiting the size of government is the most direct way to build a more just society today. During the 2016 campaign, I didn’t believe Mr. Trump on the life issues, and he appeared to me an advocate for massive government.
Well, Mr. Trump has been in office for four years now, which mean we have a substantial track record to examine. And, unlike many Never-Mr. Trumpers, I didn’t catch Trump Derangement Syndrome. So, I’m willing to give him credit for things he did well.
On life issues, Mr. Trump has done far better than I expected. Unlike previous Republican presidents and presidential candidates, Mr. Trump is unapologetically against abortion. (I remember well the days of GOP candidates like Dole and Romney squirming anytime they were asked an abortion-related question.) He has nominated Supreme Court justices that at least appear to question the inviolability of Roe v. Wade. He spoke at the March for Life, the first sitting U.S. president to do so. He fought for the rights of the unborn in the United Nations, the largest pro-abort organization on the planet.
Further, Mr. Trump is the first president since Jimmy Carter not to begin a military conflict. Far from sparking off World War III, as his critics claimed he would, he is the most pro-peace president of my lifetime. Under a President Hillary Clinton, we probably would have declared war on North Korea, Iran, and Syria by now.
Of course, Mr. Trump is not perfect on the life issues. He hasn’t pushed to defund Planned Parenthood as he should have, and he has yet to withdraw from any of our existing military entanglements. But compared not only to Hillary but even the typical Republican, Mr. Trump has been a pleasant surprise.
Mr. Trump is like too many Republicans (and all Democrats) in embracing big government at times. Yet his response to COVID-19 has revealed a president who respects the rights of states to govern themselves. As much as Mr. Trump is called a tyrant, his deferment to the States during the COVID panic has been the opposite of tyrannical. My small-government heart approves. Yes, he supports huge budget deficits and irresponsible bailouts—but, again, he’s been a pleasant surprise in the restraint he has shown. It goes without saying that a Democrat would have been far worse in this regard—as would most Republicans.
Perhaps the biggest gamechanger for me is the Left’s full-blown and open embrace of anarchism, socialism, and anti-Catholicism. Although it was obvious in 2016 that the Left was degenerating toward madness, in 2020 the process is complete. The Left has made clear—through oppressive lockdowns, endorsements of riots “peaceful protests,” Big Tech censorship, and unhinged politicians—that there is no reasoning with them. They want to destroy any semblance of Western civilization and its foundation, the Christian Faith.
We must do all we can to fight back. There is no “dialogue” with madness. And at this point, we can’t be too picky whom we choose to defend society, but we do need someone to defend it.
As a friend said to me, Mr. Trump is like a bodyguard protecting our valuables. When the threat seemed more far off, I was happy to vote for a third-party candidate. But today the enemies are at the door. We may or may not like our bodyguard but, when enemies are closing in, you need somebody to defend what is precious.
I still have my reservations about Mr. Trump but, to be fair, I’m not enthusiastic about any political candidate. My political views can be summed up by Psalm 146:3-4: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help. When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish.” To me, a politician can be a useful tool, but he is neither a priest nor a prophet, and our world desperately needs good priests and prophets.
While I still have reservations about Mr. Trump, I recognize that the election of his Democratic opponent is a direct assault on the cause of Christ and His Holy Church So I’m going to do what I said I’d never do: vote for Donald Trump for president.
Editor’s note: Crisis Magazine is a nonprofit organization and does not endorse any candidate or party.