Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Ending the Train-Wreck Presidency (or Why I'm Voting for Biden)

In my professional life, I have not been reticent to express my opinions on matters of the law and legal reform, taking clear and I believe well-informed public positions on matter of public policy.  In my personal life, I have not been quiet in expressing my political views, including judgments about candidates.  (And in expressing political opinions here, I of course do so in my personal, academic, and professional capacity, not on behalf of my Mirror of Justice colleagues or speaking for the University of St. Thomas.). My colleagues, professional associates, family, and friends know where I stand on major issues:

  • I believe in robust protection of religious liberty, including the right of individuals, religious schools, and churches, mosques, and synagogues to express religious views and exercise religious practices that may not be in vogue with the cultural elite.
  • I believe that educational choice — including (especially including) religious schools — is one of the most powerful engines for progress, equal opportunity, and racial equity.
  • I believe that the right to life of the unborn should be recognized as a compelling civil rights cause.
  • I believe that people in urban areas, as well as suburban or rural, have a right to be safe from violence, whether safety is endangered by racist police subcultures and unnecessarily militaristic practices or by foolish calls to defund and abolish the police.
  • I believe that law-abiding citizens have a constitutional right to own a gun for self-defense or sport and am a gun owner myself.
  • I believe in freedom of speech and defend it against threats by self-righteous intolerant persons in the cultural elite of academia, media, and government or elsewhere in society.
  • I believe that socialism is a dangerous ideology with a long history of destroying economic prosperity and undermining liberty throughout the world.
  • And I believe that government and politicians are as often the problem as the solution, so that we often (not always, but often) are better advised to look for community-based partnerships for the common good.

I understand and respect that most people who share all or most of the beliefs that I have just articulated will find it difficult or impossible to support Joe Biden for president.  They instead find themselves, even with grave misgivings, forced to the conclusion that President Trump is the lesser evil in this election.  I love many people and know and appreciate others who, while acknowledging the grave flaws in this disordered man and saddened by the choice, will reluctantly cast a vote for Donald Trump.  And I know others who conclude the only alternative is not to vote for president or to cast a protest vote for a write-in or third-party candidate.

Train-wreck_137015But I submit these conclusions are badly mistaken at this moment in history.  The greater good, the higher priority right now is to bring an end to this train-wreck presidency.

I do not think that religious liberty, free enterprise, educational opportunity, public safety, or the right to life of the unborn are at all safe in the insecure hands of this president.  Indeed, I fear that the principles that I hold most dear are endangered in the long run (and not so long run) by being so closely associated with this toxic figure.

The pro-life movement is not primarily about Supreme Court battles, important though they may be.  To be sure, I am gratified that the imminent confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett will strengthen a majority on the Court that should skeptically and critically approach the deeply flawed argument that an unlimited license to abortion is to be found in the Constitution. I’ve previously described the Roe v. Wade decision (which discovered a new abortion right) “as a jurisprudential black hole that drew in and deformed everything that came near its wandering path through spacetime.”


But limiting or even overruling Roe v. Wade would be a pyrrhic victory if we forever lose the culture in the meantime.  If our fellow citizens become cynical about our principled cause, because we have compromised our moral standing through our intimate alignment with a repugnant political figure (as noted here), then changes in legal precedents will not save unborn lives.

I am saddened to think of how many Americans would have listened to our message of love for the sanctity of unborn human life and of generosity to women who face a challenging moment in their lives.  But these fellow citizens have not been able to hear our witness over the clamorous noise of childish insults and hyperbolic rhetoric constantly shouted out by the loudmouth in the White House.

Beyond any reasonable doubt, this president has bungled the pandemic response.  While we may pray that each person will turn to God and find reconciliation in confession, this should be politically unforgivable.  Our president has failed the most important national leadership test, that of keeping Americans safe.  Donald Trump has turned a wicked disease into a wedge issue of political division and thereby contributed to the destruction of our economy and the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

When Joe Biden says it did not have to be this bad, he speaks what is simply and indisputably the truth.  If we had seen dedicated, informed, and engaged national leadership on testing, tracing, and masking from early on, or at least by late March, each of us would be at much less risk of contracting the virus today.  The economy would be undergoing a much stronger recovery.  And schools would be reopened with minimal controversy.  As the nation’s oldest and most prestigious medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, put it here, the Trump Administration has been “dangerously incompetent.”

This president has also been deaf to cries for racial equality.  By his incendiary rhetoric, hostile personality, and apparent incapacity for empathy, he manages to make every difficult situation even worse.  To achieve racial equity and cultural understanding, we must have difficult conversations.  But this president cannot engage in a civil debate and, in fact, does not want to.  For a President of the United States to have to be dragged reluctantly into denouncing white supremacists and crazy extremist conspiracy-mongers is appalling.  Racial reconciliation will be difficult indeed as long as Donald Trump remains in office.

Donald Trump has been no genuine force for law and order.  Having proudly served my country in the U.S. Department of Justice, I have been appalled at how often Trump has violated legal constraints, turned his nose up at the Constitution, and converted the Department of Justice into a political instrument.  And no president has had so many of his close associates and high administration officials indicted for federal felonies.

In any event, questions of public safety in a city are ultimately for local and state government, with a very limited role for federal law enforcement.  Who resides in the White House has little to do with law enforcement policies about street crime.  For example, Trump said repeatedly last month that riots shook Minneapolis for weeks and only ended when he as president sent in the National Guard.  From someone who actually is in Minneapolis, I can tell you that nearly every word uttered by Trump was false.  The riots went on too long, but not weeks.  And the Democratic governor, not Trump, sent in the National Guard.  Trump did exactly nothing — but run his mouth.

One can criticize the mayor of Minneapolis for waiting too long to ask for and the governor too long to send in the National Guard.  And one should certainly call out the city council for its reckless announcement that it would abolish the police department.  The Minneapolis city council has laid out the welcome mat for criminals.  The surge in violent crime has been devastating to Minneapolis, while the city council has proven incompetent and blinded by ideology to the point of delusion on questions of public safety.  But that is a local issue.  These issues will be resolved by citizens of Minneapolis and Minnesota, regardless of who is elected president.

In terms of national safety, the world has become far more dangerous during the Trump years.  He has embraced dictators, damaged alliances, and destroyed the moral standing and credibility of the United States in the world.  From the time that Donald Trump told us that he “fell in love” with the North Korean dictator, the nuclear threat has only worsened.

I’ll not add further to the length of this post by looking at the long list of troubling personal behavior by Donald Trump, other than briefly commenting on his tax returns that have been much in the news lately.  We’ve of course learned that Trump engaged in questionable tax dodges, paying next to nothing in federal income tax.  And we’ve learned that, far from being successful, Trump’s business empire has been failing for years and fallen hundreds of millions into debt.  But these are not the most revealing aspects of his previously hidden tax returns.

We learn much about a person’s character by how they spend their money.  Do they spend only on themselves or do they contribute to charitable organizations for those in need and for religious purposes?  Despite claiming to be a multi-billionaire, Donald Trump contributed to charitable organizations (including churches or religious groups) exactly ZERO.  And this has been his selfish practice for decades, even using his own “charitable” foundation to spend for his own benefit and not that of others.

Now Joe Biden is not the vessel of my hopes and dreams.  No politician should be.  We should not worship any political figure as our Messiah.  And we should shun like the plague any politician who says he alone is the answer.

Biden is wrong on many of the issues that I find most important.  But he is not a left-wing radical who seeks to destroy our American way of life.  Indeed, he ran in the primaries as the alternative to the socialist candidate — and won handily.

Joe Biden will not advance the cause of school choice, but he is not going to do away with Catholic education and other alternatives.  And school choice, like education generally, has always been primarily a state issue.

Joe Biden probably will interfere with my gun rights more than I like, but he will not confiscate my guns.

Joe Biden has consistently spoken against proposals to defund the police.  Indeed, he has proposed increases in federal funding for more community policing, while the Trump Administration has cut funding for law enforcement.

I have no illusions.  I expect to be regularly disappointed with a Biden presidency.  I expect that I will be yearning for an alternative by 2024.  But with Biden replacing Trump, I also expect I will not as frequently be disgusted, embarrassed, and horrified.  In fact, I pray that we might return to a period when on most days, even most weeks, the White House will not be center of attention.  I hope that we will not have to pay any attention at all to the latest outrageous words and behavior from the White House.  Instead we might have some peace.

George Will well expressed my views here.  Trump promised that America would be winning so much that we’d get tired.  Well, he kept half of that promise.  We are tired.


Sisk, Greg | Permalink