Last week, I predicted (here) that an increasing number of “evangelical leaders” would begin endorsing a certain Republican presidential candidate, especially after a scheduled “meet-cute” slated for June.

I also lamented this.

To be honest, I don’t like posting on such topics, primarily because discussing politics on the internet is about as promising as trusting your three-year-old with your stock portfolio (Why do we own four hundred shares of Dora the Explorer, Inc.!?).

Still, I feel enough of an obligation to distance the gospel of Jesus from the gospel of Trump that I’m willing to deal with the inevitable fallout. All things being equal, I’d happily write a similar post on Trump’s likely opponent. But it’s not necessary. The number of evangelicals rushing to join the family Clinton is similar those rushing to join the family Manson. Roughly.

THE CRITIQUE

In regard to all the comments, both positive and critical, the most common critique (by far) ran basically as follows:

Jesus isn’t running, so we must choose “the lesser of two evils.”

Because this point was made by many different people, I thought that it deserved a respectful response.

THE “LOTE” (LESSER OF TWO EVILS) 

Since I agree with the first claim (“Jesus isn’t running”), I’m only going to examine the logic of the second part (“In elections, we must choose between the lesser of two evils”).

And I do mean logic. Given this, I will intentionally avoid all mention of particular candidates: No Trump, Hillary, Bush, Bernie, or Adolf Hitler references allowed. Hallelujah. I’m only examining the premise.

Here’s my thesis:

While choosing the “lesser of two evils” (or: LOTE) may often be warranted, it is not always so.

Thus, it is not an “axiom” to live by.

To clarify, an axiom is a statement regarded as being established or self-evidently true.

The LOTE argument is not an axiom, because it is very far from being self-evident. And for Christians especially, there are instances in which it may be especially problematic.

But let’s start with the obvious.

THE OBVIOUS

The fact is that choosing the better of two imperfect options often makes great sense.

To use a ridiculous example: Let’s say you commit a terrible crime and the judge gives you a choice of punishment: “For the next week, you must either listen to non-stop Nickelback, or watch non-stop episodes of PBS’s Caillou.” (If you have kids [or ears], you know the terror of this verdict.) And in this scenario, you should try to choose the lesser of two evils.

I also agree that a LOTE vote often makes good sense. It has even been my own approach.

It’s not inherently wrong; it’s just not always right. So it’s not an axiom.

Here’s why: The following are three instances in which it may be wise to set aside LOTE logic.

1. WHEN YOU REACH YOUR “GAG THRESHOLD”

Personally, I begin re-thinking the LOTE mentality when the two major options presented to me make me feel physically ill. Like: I-need-to-go-lay-down-now ill. Let’s call this “the gag threshold.” Of course, some things that disgust me may not bother you at all. You may like beef in your seven layer desserts (Friends reference). I do not.

In elections, I can easily vote for someone that I disagree with on a variety of issues, especially if I perceive them to be the slightly better option. But once both major choices cross far beyond my gag threshold, I jump off the LOTE boat like it’s the Titanic.

In such cases, choosing either one feels dirty and complicit, as if one is siding with ideas that are base, inane, or dangerous.

I think most people know this. We just have different gag thresholds. If the general election came down to Vader versus Voldemort, I’m joining the dark side just because one might technically be worse (#GryffindorForever).

The gag threshold is the first sign that one may look beyond the LOTE.

2. WHEN IT’S UNCLEAR WHO’S WORSE

A second problem for the LOTE axiom is the assumption that one always knows the lesser evil. In some cases, I don’t. And in others, I think I do, but I am probably wrong.

As someone asked me recently: “How does it feel to be wrong?”

Answer: “It feels exactly like you’re right.”

As an axiom, the LOTE approach may presume infallible knowledge of the future, and I don’t have that.

3. WHEN THERE ARE MORE THAN JUST TWO OPTIONS

A third and final problem for the LOTE rule is the idea that there are always and only two options in a given election.

In fact, there’s no rule requiring you to vote for either the Republican or the Democratic nominee in order to be a responsible citizen. Vote for whomever you want. Especially if you’ve reached your “gag threshold” (point one), or if it’s not clear (to you at least) which candidate is actually worse (point two).

Now for the likely objections:

“But I want my vote to count!”

Good news: your vote counts for the same amount regardless. You have one vote (Unless you lived in Chicago in 1960).

Now, if what you really mean is “I want my vote to determine the outcome,” then there’s bad news: your vote has probably never counted, and it probably never will.

“But if I don’t vote for A, it might as well be a vote for B.”

Not exactly. This claim has rhetorical force, but it’s logical nonsense. Strictly speaking, no one takes all the votes for Mickey Mouse and adds them to the total for the Republican or Democratic nominee. Choosing “A” is the same as choosing “A”; choosing “C” is not.

Also, one reason for not always following one’s usual party affiliation is to demonstrate that you will not simply rubber stamp whomever they set forth simply because “the other side” might win. If that mentality wins out, then parties are not held accountable.

“But I want to vote for someone who can actually win.”

Why? Since when is “voting for the winner” a core value in democracy? And when did Jesus ever say: “Blessed are the winners”? That sounds like someone else.

Betting on the winner makes great sense at a dog track, but you don’t get points for it in elections. If you’ve reached your gag threshold, or if it’s not clear who’s worse, then what do you gain from (possibly) siding with the winning candidate? What you might lose is credibility if your candidate proves to be a “Vader-mort.”

To paraphrase the great Atticus Finch says in To Kill a Mockingbird,

Sometimes [conviction] is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you … see it through no matter what.

CONCLUSION

In sum, I’m thankful for all the interaction on my prior post.  And I completely agree that there is often nothing wrong with trying to choose the better of two imperfect options.

It may be wise.

But it doesn’t automatically make good sense.

And if a day comes when the two major choices make death by Nickelback or Caillou seem desirable, then one is free to look for other options.

6 thoughts on “Why choosing “the lesser of two evils” is not always a rule to live by

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