My life was saved on June 6, 1944, in a hail of bullets on the beaches of Normandy, even though I was not yet born. It was saved again at the Battle of the Bulge. And at Iwo Jima. Thousands of soldiers, American soldiers, laid their lives down, bled on the beaches, took bullets to the head and grenades to the gut, so that my father, a 7-year old Jewish boy fleeing the Nazis, could survive.
It didn’t begin that way. In the article, “Dear Senator: Tidal Wave of Anti-War Letters Hits Congress,” (October 2, 1939), LIFE magazine shows just how different the sentiment was. Letters urging US neutrality were running at staggering 200,000 per day. All within the first month of the war. Millions begged Congress to keep America out of the war—but in spite of this, when it really mattered, the American people went forth and fought anyway. They battled, bled, and died, for two profound principles: life and liberty.
America is rightly revered for its role in the war. Switzerland—and others who remained neutral—not so much. And that’s the point: neutrality in war is rarely glorious. Had America remained neutral in World War II, the consequences would have been unthinkable.
Today, in America, we are experiencing another type of conflict, a titanic cultural struggle. This tumultuous election is a symptom of what is happening within the body politic as two very different worldviews vie for dominance. As the increasingly loud percussive media blasts land around us, we reflexively run for cover. We pull back, tempted to say like Mercutio: “A pox on both your houses.”
Like no other election in American history, we’re hearing a cry—almost a rallying cry—of “conscience.” Unfortunately, it is becoming a code word for voting third party, write-in—or not at all. Anything to avoid voting for either of the major candidates. But therein lies the problem.
Voting according to conscience does not release one from the responsibility that all American voters face: the nation must choose between Trump and Clinton. No matter how much we disagree with the selection of candidates, the process, the platforms, the parties, the candidates themselves, the reality is that this election is a national decision between Trump and Clinton and, more importantly, the ideologies they represent.
Some argue that they cannot vote for either. The challenge is that voting third-party or not at all in this election is like declaring neutrality in war: ineffective, inglorious, and at risk of giving aid to those who should not receive it. Certainly, some conscientious objectors in history can be said to have acted nobly and at great personal cost but as the Catechism of the Catholic Church also clearly states: “Conscience can remain in ignorance or make erroneous judgments. Such ignorance and errors are not always free of guilt” (CCC 1801). In other words, while conscience itself is inviolate, its judgments are not infallible.
Furthermore, even if we debate the semantics, go extensively into Catholic or Christian political philosophy, moral philosophy, theology, and any number of other areas, the practical result is the same: either Trump or Clinton will win and that worldview will prevail. The counterclaim is: “Without my help.” But is that true? And even if it is, is that desirable? I acknowledge the conscientious objector in World War II who suffered for his beliefs; but am I not eternally grateful to the leatherneck who bled his blood so I could live? The first lived for his beliefs; the second died for ours.
It goes without saying that an extraordinary amount hangs in the balance in this election: whether we wish it or not, the US Supreme Court is balanced 4-4 and the next president will decide and nominate the tie-breaking justice. With three justices aged 78, 80, and 83, the president could nominate as many as four justices this term and possibly more in a second term.
People outside the United States think this election is about the president; but we Americans know it is about far more than that because of the power of the Supreme Court to shape the cultural landscape. In addition, there are hundreds of federal and appeals court judges—Obama already successfully placed 329—who are younger and who will be the pool of candidates for future Supreme Court benches and who will effectively enshrine the winning ideological viewpoint for generations—plural.
Only one of two people are going to make those nominations: Trump or Clinton. Not a third-party candidate. Not a write-in. And not the ghost of “no ballot cast.” So, as part of formation of conscience, the voter weighing those options must ask: Is my hesitation strong enough that, looking reality in the eye, I am willing to cede that control to a candidate I do not choose?
Let us look at this another way.
As I’ve written before, in May of this year, the British medical journal, The Lancet, published the most comprehensive worldwide abortion statistics to date in an article entitled, “Abortion incidence between 1990 and 2014: global, regional, and subregional levels and trends.” The number of abortions worldwide has now climbed to an all-time high of 56.3 million per year, based on estimates ranging from 52.4 million to 70.0 million. Translation: over the next 10 years, more than half-a-billion babies will lose their lives. If the higher estimate is accurate, accounting for population increases, the number could total 750 million, or three-quarters of a billion children. In 10 years.
Now read this section from the current 2016 Democratic Party Platform (p. 46) approved in July:
We will support sexual and reproductive health and rights around the globe. In addition to expanding the availability of affordable family planning information and contraceptive supplies, we believe that safe abortion must be part of comprehensive maternal and women’s health care and included as part of America’s global health programming. Therefore, we support the repeal of harmful restrictions that obstruct women’s access to health care information and services, including the “global gag rule” and the Helms Amendment that bars American assistance to provide safe, legal abortion throughout the developing world.
Note the undisguised words: “America’s global health programming.” The agenda is hidden in plain sight. It is no secret that Clinton is “all in” when it comes to promoting abortion; she has never wavered in her virulent, active, determined support of it, right up through partial-birth abortion. Never for a second.
Today we find ourselves in the situation where Trump needs every vote while the media launch an unprecedented media tsunami against him. Of course it is dreadful—the October surprise is that so many are surprised. What did we expect?
Yet what irony: millions of devout, pro-life religious voters will sit this election out or vote for a “purer” third-party candidate who has absolutely no chance of winning. The votes of these religious elite will be replaced by millions of Democrats—the very same who helped put Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in office—who now see the futility of the current direction of the country and who will act to reverse the trend by voting for Trump.
If Trump wins, it will not be thanks to the religious intelligentsia who fail in the clutch. Yes, their consciences are eased. Their consciences. But at the most critical juncture, once again, the babies are left bereft. The heavy lifting will be done by those less squeamish, the leathernecks, those who get that we are in a war and that this binary election is just that: binary.
Those who invoke conscience must do so clearly looking reality in the eye. Should we really sacrifice the Supreme Court, the hundreds of federal judgeships, the thousands of political appointments up and down the Washington power-structure—for Trump’s foolish, indefensible sexual comments? Is it righteous and just to risk the lives of so many millions of babies with the enshrining of Roe v. Wade for additional decades because of the possibility—unproven at this point—of behavior allegedly similar to that of former president Bill Clinton? How is that justice for them?
The key thing here is that we are not asked to choose between two candidates who are both avowedly pro-abortion: the conscience clause would be much easier to invoke. No, here we have two candidates who are opposites on this. Trump has stated he is firmly pro-life.
Many scoff. Yet they forget that the president most responsible for abortion deaths is neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama. It is none other than the towering pro-life figure of Ronald Reagan. Yes, the Reagan who wrote Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation is the same Reagan who as governor signed the bill legalizing abortion in California in 1967 (six years before Roe). Reagan deeply regretted it—but hundreds of thousands of deaths ensued.
Trump, a businessman, makes no pretense to having a deep theological grounding on this issue. Whether he has sincerely converted is not provable yet—but we know with great certainty what Clinton has done and will do. Trump has put forth 21 names of conservative, pro-life judges for consideration for the US Supreme Court, something no other candidate has ever done. Trump has met with Catholic, Protestant, and evangelical leaders; sent letters expressing his support of pro-life and religious freedom initiatives to key groups; and set up a 33-member Pro-Life Coalition to address the topic. The members represent a who’s-who of the pro-life movement, including Marjorie Dannenfelser, Rev. Frank Pavone, Gary Bauer, Tony Perkins, Ralph Reed, and many more.
Could he double-back after being elected president? It would be hard: the leaders in the Pro-Life Coalition have contact lists that together run into the millions. With Pence as vice president and the need to play nice with Congress if he hopes to advance legislation, Trump would find it difficult to not keep his word.
That brings up the final point about neutrality: To those who want neutrality, why not neutralize a vote for Clinton with a vote for Trump? Every vote for a third-party candidate represents a vote that does not answer or oppose Clinton. At the heart of it, one votes on behalf of others. As my just-shy-of-voting-age daughter observed: “It’s not about you! It’s about your children. And grandchildren.” The vote you cast today is for the nation they inherit tomorrow. Are you willing to let them inherit the country after Clinton is finished with it?
The soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines of World War II, those who fought and died, bled and struggled, persevered and broke forth valiant and victorious—they did not desire to go to war. They acted for others. Valor is always for others.
My friends, whether we wish it or not, we are at war. The shells are already falling; the hour is already here. The future is has arrived and we are being called to account. What sayeth thee? In a binary election, will you really flee? Will you really plead neutrality in the hour of decision?
If you cannot vote for Trump for Trump’s sake, then vote for the babies’ sake. For your children’s sake. For the nation’s sake.
If you cannot vote as an act of love, then vote as an act of valor.