Eric Metaxas on Donald Trump, Some Problems

Eric Metaxas was recently interviewed by the National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, about his new book If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. In the interview Metaxas argues for something that many Christians believe—that faith, freedom, and virtue are all connected. Given this, it was surprising to hear Metaxas go on to argue that those who agree with him, must vote for Donald Trump. In sum, Metaxas is opposed to Hillary Clinton. And when I say “opposed”, I mean something along the lines of, “would rather see just about anything else happen.” So, the obvious question is whether seeing Donald Trump elected President is included in that “just about anything else” preference. For Metaxas, the answer to that question is even more obvious, of course a Trump presidency would be better than another Clinton presidency. Since Trump would be better than Clinton, vote Trump!

There are many who wouldn’t agree with Metaxas on this, but at the same time there are plenty of others now advocating the same position even though they were previously opposed to Trump. The problem is that Metaxas goes much further than simply saying he’s decided to vote for Trump. He goes on to say that “we must vote for Trump.” This is where it would be wise to slow down and examine Metaxas’s reasoning for this demand. It’s one thing to argue that one must not vote for Clinton, but another thing entirely to argue that one must vote for Trump. Unfortunately for Metaxas, a closer examination of his reasoning turns up some problems.

What’s the main reason for Metaxas’s demand that we vote for Trump? Well, the short of it is that given the current political realities, Trump is “the last best hope of keeping America from sliding into oblivion, the tank, the abyss, the dustbin of history, if you will.” That is, according to Metaxas, a second Clinton presidency spells doom for America.

There are at least three different problems with this serving as the reason that those who care about freedom, faith, and virtue “must” vote for Trump. First, Metaxas seems to be one of many who believe that a withheld vote for Trump equals a vote for Clinton. But this is just silly. By parody of reasoning, a withheld vote for Clinton equals a vote for Trump. So I suppose that maybe one could in good conscience vote for Trump simply in virtue of not voting for Clinton, though I suspect that’s not what Metaxas had in mind.

A second worry for Metaxas’s argument is that, as intimated above, it’s clearly a false dilemma. Contrary to popular opinion, the available options are not simply (1) Vote Clinton or (2) Vote Trump. There’s a clear third option, we could refrain from voting for either (but still support those in Congress who pledge to hold either of them accountable). A fourth option may not be far off either. The longer conservatives refuse to throw in with Trump, the more likely it is that someone new enters the race who they could actually support with a modicum of enthusiasm.

Finally, Metaxas’s demand that we “must vote for Trump” is dependent on utilitarian reasoning which demands a good number of Americans to violate their conscience in order to prevent a Clinton presidency. The popular critique of utilitarianism is that “the ends don’t justify the means.” Preventing a Clinton presidency doesn’t justify voting for Trump, given all of his well-known flaws (to put it politely). But the popular critique of utilitarianism isn’t adequate since sometimes the end does justify the means. (A more accurate slogan would read, “the end doesn’t always justify the means.”) The real problem with utilitarianism is that it makes questions that should be hard to answer too easy to solve. This is because utilitarianism requires one to abandon principles-based decision making altogether and simply act upon that which produces the greatest utility. It doesn’t matter if you believe it’s more important to stand for your principles than to win an election. It doesn’t matter if you have a principled objection to a leader like Trump who makes racist and sexist remarks. It doesn’t matter if you want nothing to do with a candidate who advocates for torture. As long as Trump is better than Clinton, that settles the issue. It doesn’t matter if your faith, your understanding of freedom, or your desire to grow in virtue lead you to not vote for Trump.

And that is precisely why so many conservatives refuse to support Trump. Contrary to Metaxas’s demand, they are unwilling to abandon their principles, even if it means another Clinton presidency.

(This post originally appeared on the blog of the Tyndale University College Philosophy Department.)