Anyone motivated by the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, and/or the Consistent Life Ethic, should be used to a certain degree of political homelessness. Knowing the practical impossibility of being presented with any candidate for a major office who fully and consistently espouses such principles, it is often all we can do, in relation to the political process, to inch that process relatively closer to a more consistent respect for the dignity of all – young and old, rich and poor, born and unborn, citizen and foreigner, imprisoned and free, black and brown and white and so on. But now, with two major-party presidential nominees who cannot reasonably be described as “pro-life” or “pro-peace” in even the narrowest sense, we are faced with an unacceptable dilemma.
To default to the concept of a “lesser of two evils” which may take precedence over conscience is not only a tempting response, it is the same idea that fueled our current situation in the first place: two broadly disliked, even despised, presidential candidates, neither of whom would have likely stood a chance simply on their own merits, have become their parties’ nominees largely on the premise that the other must be defeated at any cost. The urgent tones in which this is proclaimed tend to reach fever pitch during an election year in the best of times; now it can be noted almost without hyperbole that they’ve become downright apocalyptic. But the grimly good news, contrary to the prevailing mood, is that whatever happens this November, we will not all die come January, as Solidarity Hall’s Daniel Schwindt wrote  earlier this year, because the president is simply not as omnipotent as we tend to think:
“When something goes wrong, it’s ‘the Obama administration,’ or ‘the Bush administration,’ or whatever. In reality, the President is not really all that powerful, at least in the present context. Yes, he’s certainly more powerful than the monarchs of old, but he’s connected to hundreds of other monarchs whose powers exceed his own, if not individually then certainly as a collective. Taken together, we as Americans have really traded the ancient tyrant for a few hundred tyrants constantly at odds with one another. And so the popular idea that everything that happens in the world is something that Obama either ‘made happen,’ through his omnipotence, or ‘let happen,’ through his negligence, is an absurd exaggeration of both his office and his human powers. To call him a devil or a saint is in both cases the result of a grandiose view of the office. So…what does this have to do with the present situation? Well, if someone like Trump should win, and if our normal assumptions about the Presidency were actually true, then we’re all going to die, and fast. However, in the same way and for the same reasons that we didn’t all die when Obama became President (despite how many times Fox News promised we would), we aren’t all going to die if Trump wins either. Things will, by and large, carry on much like they always have. Terrorist attacks will continue. Immigration will increase. The family will decay. The economy will ride its roller coaster. A new flu virus with a scary new name will appear on the scene. All this will continue even if Trump wins, or if Hillary wins, or if Bernie wins. And that will, or at least it should, lead to a valuable revelation for the American people. And that revelation will be that the President does not hold the world in his hands.”
And yes, many people unfortunately will die – in deserts and nursing homes, on foreign soil and the streets of our cities, in execution chambers and their mothers’ wombs – no matter who sits in the Oval Office. And make no mistake, every death resulting from public policies that fail to respect the dignity of all human beings will be a terrible tragedy, all the more so because they are not, after all, inevitable. By refusing to choose between two candidates who represent an unconscionable “seamless shroud” – the opposite of the “seamless garment” of the Consistent Life Ethic – I am not advocating defeatism but perspective. It is of course a good act to attempt to move society toward a broader respect for human life and dignity by casting a vote, as circumstances and conscience allow. But it is far from the only act we can perform toward such an end, or the most influential. This should be at the same time consoling and challenging: there is much more to be done to defend human dignity against violence in its manifold forms, starting within our own communities and at every regional and organizational level, before and after and well beyond voting – and will be whatever the outcome of this and every future election.
Julia Smucker writes for Vox Nova .