The Volokh Conspiracy

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Election 2024

If Neither One Is Acceptable, Then Neither Is Acceptable

Matthew Franck on "Choosing Not to Choose" in November


In The Dispatch Matthew J. Franck explains why he will not be voting for Donald Trump or Joseph Biden in November, just as he refused to vote for either Trump or Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Eight years ago, I published an essay for Public Discourse about why I could not vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. "Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character," the piece concluded. "Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences. The country will go whither it will go, when all the votes are counted. What should matter the most to you is whither you will go, on and after this November's election day."

There is nothing in what I said then that I would now retract. I rejected the idea that I, as one individual, must treat my choice as confined to the binary of Clinton versus Trump, as though the weight of the outcome were on me alone. It is frequently the case that we vote for one major-party presidential candidate principally because we are against the other one—usually because we find "our guy" a less than optimal choice but "the other guy" strongly repellent. But when we conclude that both of them are wholly unfit for office, our habitual partisan commitments, and our fond hope that the one representing "our side" will be normal, or guided by normal people, do not compel us to cast a vote in that direction. What we must consider, I argued, is not our role in the outcome of the election (which is negligible, and unknown to us when voting), but the effect on our conscience and character of joining our will to a bad cause. . . .

And here we are in 2024, with the same choice again. Only this time the overwhelming majority of voters have already voted at least once—successfully!—for these feckless men. That means the emotional investment of many voters in both Trump and Biden is very high, since each has a term as president to be defended—which ain't easy to do in either case. Trump's signature qualities were incompetence and recklessness, constrained to positive effect only by Congress, the courts, and many of his own appointees. Then he did his utmost, up until the evening of January 6, to steal the election from Joe Biden. A second term for Trump would be a four-year master class in indecency and mendacity, strongly inflected by an urge to authoritarianism that may sorely test our civic institutions. . . .

A vote for Biden would be contrary to an adult lifetime of conservatism. But I could write that sentence again almost verbatim, only substituting "Trump" for "Biden." For a conservative like me, who has refused twice to vote for Trump, it is not that hard to refuse a third time. (What's disappointing is the number of people I know who will vote for him a third time, despite everything.)

If you think you might be a "double hater" (in Ramesh Ponnuru's phrase), the whole thing is worth a read.