Here I was, all set to write a substantial post updating the newly launched Coronavirus Ethics Train Wreck, and I encountered this question in the comments to today’s Warm-up, in reaction to my reply to another commenter:
“Wait…at the time you were lecturing all the commentariat about how it was unethical to “throw away your vote” by not voting for one of the two major political party candidates? When did you change your mind on that a do a write-in?”
The questioner was Tim Levier, one of five active Ethics Alarms regular commenters who date back to the old, still off-line (but coming back!) Ethics Scoreboard, so attention had to be paid. If he could have missed my late campaign reversal of the position he described–I would describe my stated logic a bit differently, as “the lesser of two evils is still the lesser of two evils—then that critical moment could have been missed by anyone, or even everyone.
Thus I went back into the October and November 2016 archives, which was fascinating.:
- As always when I do this, I start wondering what became of some previously active commenters. Whither THE Bill? Where have you gone, wyogranny, T Bird, carcarwhite, joed68?
I know I take this too personally, but it still bothers me.
- You know, this is damn good blog: thorough, extensive, unpredictable, well-written, diverse, funny, educational. I like it! The only one that comes close to being as interesting without descending into periodic eccentric weirdness or ideological rigidity was the old Popehat, and that’s gone now. I worked hard on it that year, and have ever since. It should have a lot more traffic and influence than it does, but that’s a reflection on the inadequacies and bad taste of those who don’t come here. I’m proud of the product.
There. I said it.
- The first time I expressed doubt in my position that I would have to hold back my gorge, defy my principles, and vote for Hillary Clinton was earlier than I thought. It was here, on September 25, 2016. The subject of the post was Clinton’s campaign manager, Robbie Mook, saying that debate moderators should run interference for her and intervene to contradict and rebut Trump’s assertions, “unlike every other Presidential debate and every legitimate and fair debate of any kind, where that responsibility rests with the debaters.”
I responded to his Unethical Quote Of The Month by writing, in part,
Well, that’s almost it for me. I am officially a hair’s breadth from deciding that as repulsive as the thought of Donald Trump achieving the Presidency is, the prospect of the United States abandoning democracy, process and fair elections to defeat him is infinitely more repulsive. What Mook is proposing is no less than the rigging of the election process, with one candidate given “special” privileges, while another is subjected to “special” handicaps and the “special” opposition of the news media. I had previously resolved, and on Ethics Alarms so stated, that in a binary choice between the most unqualified, unstable, vile, ignorant and boorish candidate ever nominated by a major party to be President and the corrupt, inept and dishonest Hillary Clinton, responsible Americans are duty-bound to cross their fingers, hold their noses, toss a horseshoe over their shoulders and vote for the certifiably awful Mrs. Clinton, in her own right the most corrupt and untrustworthy figure ever to come this close to the Presidency. (We can debate about Aaron Burr some other time.)
I no longer can say with certainty that I believe that now.
The Presidency is important, but our democracy and the sacred principles that underlie it are more important still.
…[T]he majority of the journalistic establishment is now playing Democratic party organ to ensure his election. That is unconscionable and a threat to the integrity of the election. Now, emboldened by what they see as a willingness by the press to betray its duty to facilitate a free and informed electorate to elect the leader it chooses and not the leader the news media has decided they have to choose, Hillary’s minions, with her approval and direction, are demanding that the debates be tilted by partisan moderators, because “Donald Trump’s special,” meaning that Hillary Clinton is “special.” She shouldn’t have to win the election on merit and by a fair competition, just like she made sure that the nomination process that made her the candidate was manipulated at every turn by a Democratic National Committee that had long before decided in a metaphorical smoke-filled room that she would be the party’s nominee….
I am an ethicist. I will not support or enable that false, corrosive and unethical position.
No, the ends (electing Hillary) do not justify the means of rigging the election process…
No, the American public do not have it coming, and no, the election is about us, not Donald Trump…
Let me be as clear as I possibly can. I care deeply about the office of the Presidency and understand better than most the damage that a leader of bad character can and will inflict on the culture and the nation. I detest and revile Donald Trump, his methods, his character,and the base instincts he appeals to in his supporters. Yet as much as I care about not ending up living out my remaining years in a nation of assholes, and all that will mean to the U.S. and the world, I care about the integrity of the democratic process and the fairness of elections more.
It is not worth destroying democracy to defeat Trump…
You will note the theme running through that post and the voluminous commentary here since the election under the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck tag.
However, I did not definitively make up my mind regarding what to do about this dilemma until this post, November 6, two days before the election. What I described there as a tipping point was the revelation that
The Clinton Foundation has confirmed it accepted a $1 million gift from Qatar while Hillary Clinton was U.S. secretary of state without informing the State Department, even though she had promised to let the agency review new or significantly increased support from foreign governments.
After documenting the degree to which the news media had covered this up, and after it was revealed attempted to spin and obscure it, I concluded:
So there you have it, my friends: a story that proves Hillary Clinton lied to Congress and the Obama Administration, allowed an entity she controlled to accepted a million dollar gift to her family Foundation that would benefit members of her family and compromise the integrity of her office and her government, allowed that fact to be hidden from the public and the State Department, allowed her subordinates to lied about it and avoid transparency until the last possible moment, and had all of this facilitated by the news media….all of which indicating that this potential President does not accept the principle that leaders model law-abiding behavior for society, and must be exemplars. Instead, she and her husband, as their entire careers show, believe that they are above the law, and now have a large, complicit following that agree with them.
This is not a double standard being applied to Hillary Clinton. I’ve checked: No Secretary of State ever engaged in anything like this. The recent popular and cynical rationalization (“All politicians lie and she’s no worse than the rest”) being used by Hillary enablers is not applicable, even it if it were not already demonstrably false. Nor can anyone claim that it is a “right wing story.” This is a corruption story, and only being reported predominantly in the conservative press because the mainstream media has betrayed its duty to democracy. Nor is it trivial.
A politician who would willfully use the position of Secretary of State to enrich her family by holding out the promise of access and favors is a danger to the nation, and that is not a partisan conclusion. Hillary Clinton has proven that she is such a politician, and that is fact.
Finally, on November 8, right after voting, I posted “The 2016 Election And Ethics Zugswang.” the first time I used that useful concept on Ethics Alarms. I summed up my reasoning like this:
My own decision, then, came down to these factors:
1. My reverence for the office of the Presidency, the nation, and its history. I have been a student Presidents and American leadership since the fifth grade, and it is one of my four greatest passions.
2. My conviction that the United States, its society, its culture and its values require that citizens refuse to accept lowered standards and corruption among its leaders’ character and conduct.
3. My insistence that the integrity of the democratic process is essential to the survival of the nation.
4. My dedication to ethics, and my belief that society’s ethics must be protected by never accepting that the ends justify the means, and never sending the message to wrong-doers that their conduct or their values are acceptable.
The exercise I engaged in yesterday, meticulously examining all of my posts about Trump and Clinton, and distilling them into a summary that could be used by confused and conflicted voters, was for my benefit as much as that of anyone else. I was struck by just how relentlessly dishonest and ethically corrupt Hillary Clinton has been. You would think, wouldn’t you, that having been assured that she would be the nominee for years, she could have managed to avoid scandals and controversies? She couldn’t. She proved herself greedy, careless, incompetent and arrogant.
Then, as I reviewed the Trump files, I was even more stunned at how different in kind his unethical conduct was. It was the difference between an incorrigible juvenile delinquent and a corrupt investment banker. I was also struck by how many posts I had to write defending Trump from intentional or biased exaggerations or misinterpretations of what he said or meant, because the news media was so clearly determined to defeat him.
… Obviously it would be madness to elect Trump, who is a narcissist, a misogynist, an ignoramus, and, for bluntness is sometimes necessary, an asshole, who possesses neither the experience, temperament, trustworthiness nor integrity to be given such power and influence. Then I reminded myself of how I defined this particular instance of ethics zugswang.
Trump must not win, but Clinton’s party, followers and supporters must not believe that the undemocratic, unethical, hypocritical and dishonest methods and values they have displayed are now the nation’s. By every measure, Clinton deserves to lose. By any definition of justice, the Democrats deserve to lose. They want to use their victory to corrupt the nation and democracy…
I then referenced another post I had put up that day about the revelation that Donna Brazile had helped Clinton cheat in a debate and a town hall. I had written in part,
When you vote for Hillary Clinton—and voting against Donald Trump does not change the fact that you are still voting for Clinton—do understand what this statement, in an interview yesterday on satellite radio, really means. It means that the Democratic Party officially embraces the anti-ethical principle that the ends justifies the means. It means that the party endorses lying and cheating, which was what Brazile did, as long as the “right” people lie and cheat. It means that the Democratic Party—-not just Hillary and her staff, who we know have the core political ethics of Lenin and Goebbels, but the entire party—agrees with Brazile. Her mistake was not cheating, but failing to get away with it, by hiding her conduct insufficiently.
She, like the party she leads, is so confident that the American public, at least the voters she and the party care about, accepts these ugly and undemocratic values that she is not even pretending to regret her actions. If it helps elect Hillary Clinton, it’s fine. It it acquires power for the Democrats, it’s fine. If it deceives the public to the “right” end, it’s fine.
Thus my post-write-in vote post concluded,
That settled it. For me, the least unethical course was not to vote for either candidate. As a citizen, I cannot responsibly vote for an utterly unfit man like Donald Trump. As an ethicist and a patriot, I cannot participate in sending a message to Clinton and all those who have become corrupted under her and Barack Obama that cheating, lying, influence peddling, destroying a free and independent news media, restricting free speech and individual rights, manipulating the process and undermining democracy is now acceptable in the United States of America, because cheating and lying work.
I am confident that I came to this decision as a result of a the best ethical analysis I could muster, taking all factors, including my unique situation as an ethicist, into consideration. The decision can be legitimately criticized; of course it can. It’s unethical. That’s ethics zugswang. I take some solace and pride, however, that I have spent many, many hours over more than a year doing what I could—and admittedly, what I could wasn’t enough or very much— to avoid this point.
Damn those who put us there.
And that, Tim is how my vote came about.
Thanks for asking.