I’ve avoided writing on this topic so far, partly because it is so very wearing to see everyone in a righteous snit over it, on one side or the other.
But with time to reflect, I’ve seen that point, in itself, emerging as significant. The righteous snits are exactly what we get, when we insist on government and politics being about every last detail of our social mores.
The first real question for all of us is not what we expect of Roy Moore, or any other politician. It’s what we expect of government.
And that in turn is not a question about the character of the people who should be running government. There are, legitimately, standards of character, but that’s not what I’m getting at.
Instead, by “what we expect of government,” I mean what we expect it to do for us. The role we expect it to play in our lives. The proper relations between man and the state; what the healthy and proper function of government is.
Erick Erickson had a marvelous essay at the Resurgent on 10 November, in which he pointed out the many avenues of social-mores attack the American left is using government for. He acknowledged that he couldn’t blame Alabama voters for sticking by the one guy who wholeheartedly agrees with them that that has to be stopped (and who, as his voters see it, has accepted professional censure from a corrupted state in order to defend his principles).
Erickson has tweeted points from that essay in the last couple of days – and he’s right.
It’s hard to take the righteous crusaders seriously when they take morally inconsistent positions for politics’ sake.
For example: when they wax sanctimonious about a 32-year-old man trying to “date” or “grope” a 14-year-old girl, but the next minute insist on any of the following:
(a) that a grown man who claims to think he is a woman be allowed to disrobe in front of 14-year-old girls in a women’s locker room, and women and girls just need to get over it;
(b) that it’s bigotry to take precautions against the possibility that a grown man who enters a women’s changing room (perhaps not even on the pretext that he thinks he’s a woman) might assault or engage in voyeurism at a 14-year-old girl there;
(c) that adult employees of the public schools must be allowed to lead 14-year-olds in “exploring their sexual feelings,” and indeed, must suggest to them lists of feelings to explore.
Erickson’s political point is unassailable. Alabama voters have good reason to believe that anyone who gets sent to the U.S. Senate other than Roy Moore will simply leave in place the apparatus of government that is now used, in locales across America, to impose these social-mores enormities on the people. These issues may not be their primary concerns, but on the ones that are — e.g., illegal migration, and its impact on their lives — they can expect the same thing.
At the very least, meanwhile, they have every reason to dismiss opportunistic sanctimony about Moore for exactly what it is.
At one level, the point is simply this: if you want to force voters to make ugly choices, raise the stakes on what the government can do to them.
However, it’s the next level at which I say we need to frame this first question. That is, if we take a step back, and look at the parade of issues Erick Erickson runs us through, we have to ask ourselves the meta-question: why in the world are we talking about all these things as mandates and prohibitions of government?
What hellish idea of government have we backed ourselves into? And why would any of us rather caterwaul about Roy Moore than change that variable in the equation?
I think we know why the radical-collectivist left prefers to keep it unchanged. For the rest of us, this really is an emergency for our republic.
And it is imperative for those on the right to take seriously the imposition it already is on the people, and do something other than lecture them for their voting choices when the stakes just keep getting higher. Demanding that the people accept having no options is not a defensible position.*
This leads naturally to the second key question, which was also prompted in part by something I saw on Twitter and now can’t find again. Although I think I remember who said it, I don’t have it in front me, and won’t make an attribution without that.
Basically, the (right-wing) tweeter’s point was that if voters feel they need to vote for a man accused of sexual assault, because that’s their only choice in a race that matters so much politically, they should change perspective and trust the God they believe in instead.
In other words, don’t assume that the only option is to hold your nose and put your faith in a vote that may violate your moral beliefs.
This is actually an admonition to let go of what the stakes are for you: to put them in God’s hands, rather than thinking the stakes are in yours.
I am certainly in sympathy with that sentiment. (In fact, it’s why I wrote in a candidate for president on my ballot in 2016.)
But on behalf of Alabama voters, my response to the tweeter who said that would be: You first, brother. Consider the possibility that you can put in God’s hands the choices other people make.
The question in this case is a bigger one than what we think government is for. The question is who we think God is. What is His nature, and what does He intend for us? How does He work among us? Whom and what does He use? For Christians, in the age of grace, what should we expect of Him, when we don’t understand what He is doing?
I suggest it’s time for the old-consensus right to take its own medicine in this regard. Consider that maybe you don’t know everything, or know how everything should go on this earth. I had to do that myself, back in 2015 when the Trump surge began. I was pretty sure, early on, that it would come to an abrupt end. But I was wrong.
I knew a lot of Trump voters – including folks who saw sooner than I did that Trump was resonating with a lot of people – and I can say confidently that they didn’t suddenly turn into oily bohunks with lice in their hair and no morals in 2016. It’s clear to me that the YHWH Sabaoth I believe in is working a larger purpose that He can see the end of, but I can’t. He is using flawed people throughout the world to work out a purpose of His.
Personally, I think He has determined that for the time being, the politics of American government – to the extent that we put faith in it and think it defines the course of our hope and our future – will not be the chosen vehicle for His purpose.
Nor will resolving our conundrums of national governance be the key to regaining confidence in our future.
I think that’s as much about weaning us off government-worship as it is about anything else.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the best we can as citizens, according to our lights. But it does mean we really need to cease berating each other over what our lights command us.
The voters of Alabama are due mercy as much as anyone else is. So are their defenders. We can all see only so far in front of us. I may have an opinion on the allegations made about Roy Moore, but who cares what I think? I don’t know any more than anyone else does, and I don’t vote in Alabama.
Roy Moore hasn’t had charges brought against him. There is no statute of limitations in Alabama on sexual abuse of a minor under 16; if charges are brought, then there may be more to talk about, and my opinion might matter in some marginal sense. (My point here is the same one that keeps me from weighing in on the allegations about Harvey Weinstein and others, for that matter. These are allegations that need to be taken seriously, but cheap tsk-tsking over them, from a position of ignorance, is pretty much useless as a token of that.)
In the meantime, I recommend that everyone, including those on the anti-Trump right, take the excellent advice to trust God over this. The voters of Alabama can’t use more lectures. They really can’t. It’s more important to take that to heart than it is to keep telling them what is the righteous thing to do in one instance after another.
Righteousness itself is being weaponized against the people today, through government, the media, and the political “chattering class.”
Yet our lights – the lights we each make our decisions by – are so very dim. We really are not in a position to snap-judge each other’s motives or imputed moral standards. Not a one of us knows what really happened in Alabama in 1979. Somehow, that hasn’t stopped everyone with a computer or a smart phone from instantly knowing exactly what’s right and wrong in this situation, and what everyone else involved should do.
Trust God, and be extremely careful about pronouncing judgment? Yes. I recommend each of us start with him or herself.
* As a quick refresher, the Framers’ solution on this was making a government that was limited, constitutional, and federal. Local and state governments might well make laws with more social-mores content in them. But it was never the intent of the Framers that the national government adopt single, unappealable positions on the many social-mores issues the people may disagree on.
If our common thinking on this point needs to be clarified – and I believe it does – now is a really good time for it. There is a tremendous heritage of political thought to draw from.