Saturday, July 30, 2016

Advocating "Lesser Evilism"

Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States, barring some completely unforeseen and/or truly tragic event occurring between now and next January 20.
There are, however, historically large percentages of voters who dislike both Hillary and the Donald. Consequently, many people say they will vote for neither. Some won’t vote at all, and others will vote for a minor party candidate.
But choosing either of those options is highly questionable.
For those on the left, there may be much that is attractive and appealing in the positions of Jill Stein. But she will not be elected President this fall. Single digit support at the end of July will not turn into 270 electoral votes in November. That just isn’t going to happen.
And what possible good would not voting do?
So this is where talk about voting for the “lesser evil” is pertinent. (I started thinking about this article months ago after reading “Lesser-Evilism We Can Believe In,” an article in The Nation, and I urge all of you anti-Hillary progressives to read it.)
There is, admittedly, a problem with the term. As some say, “evil is evil” and should be rejected. Long ago Charles Spurgeon, the famous British Baptist preacher, advised, “Of two evils, choose neither.”
But that is not necessarily good advice in a binary election.
I have mentioned to several people that I was going to post this article at some point. One of those people later asked about when I was going to write about voting for evil. But that sort of misses the point: voting for the lesser evil is, arguably, good – or at least it is sure a lot better than voting for, or not voting against, the greater evil. 

Actually, I am going to vote for the person whom I think will be a very good President. In doing so, I would like to think that I am voting for the greater good rather than for the lesser evil —although, honestly, I find little good in the candidate I am definitely not voting for.
But even for those who don’t like either candidate, surely they see one as better, or worse, than the other. Surely not many think, as someone said to me the other day, “Both candidates are rotten to the core.”
According to the late Joseph Fletcher, Professor of Social Ethics at Episcopal Theological School, “whatever is the most loving thing in the situation is the right and good thing. It is not excusable evil, it is positively good” (Situation Ethics, p. 65).
Even though the candidate I will be voting for has said things and done things I do not particularly like, voting for that candidate is, I believe, “the right and good thing,” and not an “excusable evil.” That is equally true for those who vote for the “lesser evil.”
But why not take the “high moral ground,” as some of my Facebook friends advocate, and vote for a candidate that is clearly better than the either of the two major party candidates?
Voting for a candidate who doesn’t have a chance to win, or not voting at all, helps only the pride (self-righteousness) of the person who thinks they are not stooping to vote for someone not worthy of their vote. (See more about this in another article I highly recommend to progressive anti-Hillary people.)
So why do I advocate lesser evilism? Because any vote not cast for the lesser evil makes it more likely that the greater evil will be elected. Why would anyone want that?


  1. ​The article was written mainly with people who are anti-Hillary progressives in mind, but the same sort of argument can be made, and has been made, for those on the Christian Right who are anti-Donald.​ A noted conservative theologian posted an article on July 28 declaring that voting for Trump is the lesser of two evils and thus "a morally good choice."

    Here is the link to that article by Wayne Grudem:

    1. Here is the link to an article written in direct rebuttal to Grudem's article:

  2. I would like to think that I am approaching the vote as an MCDM: multi-criteria decision making process (see the VIKOR method). It aims to maximize utility and minimize disutility when all options are weighed by identical criteria. I think I first learned of this in seminary (I was just this week thinking about my ethics prof, N. Larry Baker). No hand-wringing necessary, here.

  3. Thanks, Milton, for reading and responding to my new blog article. Your mentioning Dr. Baker brought back good memories of knowing him years ago.

    But I was not familiar with MCDM (or the VIKOR method). (That was not a part of my seminary ethics course.) When I looked up the latter, I was soon aware that it was over my head. Here is what I read before giving up:

    "The VIKOR procedure has the following steps:

    "Step 1. Determine the best fi* and the worst fi^ values of all criterion functions, i = 1,2,...,n; fi* = max (fij,j=1,…,J), fi^ = min (fij,j=1,…,J), if the i-th function is benefit; fi* = min (fij,j=1,…,J), fi^ = max (fij,j=1,…,J), if the i-th function is cost."

    1. In an email response, which he gave me permission to post here, Milton wrote,

      "Yes, the symbolic logic symbols are confusing; I once tried to solve them with a symbolic logic course. I think the key idea, though, is one that advocates compromise in consequentialist terms. That’s not to say that 'utilitarian' thought does not rest on its own assumptions about the greatest utility, nor that it is flawed in only thinking about the aggregate rather than individual good. It’s strength to me is in advocating the notion of necessary compromise between limited choices and the impossibility of absolute values.

      "So, in my case, I list the top ten possible outcomes, based upon current states of economic, political, cultural, social, spiritual, moral, scientific and technological conditions of the world (I’m not denying, either, that these are interrelated), of choosing one candidate over the other. I must choose both in the best interest of my self and the world, to be responsible. The one that maximizes well-being in the most categories is the one I must choose. I may think that Hillary is too closely aligned with Wall Street (which I do), but that notwithstanding, her presidency, even with that flaw, will maximize utility for more people than a Trump presidency (who is also in bed with Wall Street).

      "Again, it’s a method of compromise. There are no absolute values (you and I may disagree over that, I know)."

    2. In my email to Milton, I wrote,

      Thanks, Milton. What you wrote made much more sense that the Wikipedia article.

      . . . .

      I really enjoyed the logic course I had in college, and did very well in it. But it did not include symbolic logic, and I regret I never took the time to learn more about symbolic logic.

  4. Worth considering. I may still vote 3rd party. Although my only real hope is that the major candidate who wins will be impeached and found guilty within the first month. (Not holding my breath, since I do not trust Republicans or Democrats in DC.)

    Thankfully, for my vote I put together a matrix about a year back which has not changed. The two leading candidates came in 17 and 18 of the 18 evaluated. Even the third party candidate in consideration only came in 11th. The choice is clearly evil.

  5. Charles Kiker here: Leroy, as one who continues to drink deeply from Anabaptist wells, I am suspicious of statism. Thus I am suspicious of state politics. It is part of a fallen system. But I am a fallen person, living in and participating in that system. The only alternative is to flee to the desert as some early Christians did. So I participate in the political system, knowing that it is far less than perfect. When I vote, I seek to vote for the person or program that comes closest to being on the side of the righteous in the "Parable of the Judgment of the Nations" in Matthew 25. I do not have to do a lot of hand wringing to decide which way to vote in this presidential election.

  6. In order to avoid all evil one must be completely separated from everybody else. Doing so (separating from others) is evil.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Clif.

      But even being separated from others might not work. This afternoon I happened to see these words by Solzhenitsyn: "The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either--but right through every human hearts--and through all human hearts."

  7. As he often does, Thinking Friend Eric Dollard, writing from Chicago, makes very pertinent comments:

    "In many elections, we often feel that we are forced to choose the lesser of two evils, but in this election, the difference seems more stark. One of the candidates is genuinely terrifying.

    "As a resident of a state that is not a "swing state," I have the luxury, if I choose to do so, of voting for a third party candidate without feeling guilty. My vote in Illinois will not affect the outcome of the election. Ms Clinton should carry Illinois handily; if Mr Trump were to win Illinois, he would win by a landslide nationally. Voters in Kansas, and to a lesser extent, Missouri, have the same luxury.

    "Perhaps the most dismaying thing about this election is that the really important issues are not being seriously discussed. Instead, we are being fed a feast of character assassinations. It will be a very ugly election."

    1. Thanks, as always, Eric, for your comments.

      I appreciate you mentioning about the "luxury" of voting for a third party candidate in states such as Illinois or Kansas or Missouri. Some of my local progressive, anti-Hillary friends have pointed that out, and certainly you (and they) make a valid point.

      A few thousand votes for a third-party candidate in Illinois likely won't make it much more likely that Hillary will lose there. "Upshot" in the New York Times gives her an 88% chance of winning Illinois's 20 electoral votes.

      At the same time, a few thousand votes for, say, Jill Stein isn't going to make much of a difference either. She could get twice the percentage of votes as she got in 2012, and that would still be only 0.72%--and it still wouldn't be of much significance if she even got twice that, making nearly 1.5% of the total votes.

  8. Dennis BoatrightJuly 30, 2016 at 1:31 PM

    Of all the years for a third party candidacy, this seems like the most opportune. I am hoping the Libertarian (or other party) gets to 15% so he/she is included in the debates. That should make things more interesting, and I hope more serious and less (solely) character assassination. I would like to think a good showing might make a third party vote valid, but I doubt that will happen.

    The other point I will add, which is inherent in your argument, is false equivalency. Bill Maher's show raised this point. While I would like a better choice than Hillary, her negatives are not the same level as Donald's or not based on the same motivation. For example, both candidates lie, but her lies do not match the number or level that his do. Of course, that is in the opinion of the listener. And some could just be misunderstood sarcasm.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Dennis. It was good to hear from you again.

      While it would add some interest to have a third person in the presidential debates this fall, that doesn't seem likely to happen. Right now a summary of the most recent polls show Gary Johnson having 6.8% support--which is a long ways from the 15% needed.

      I think your point about "false equivalency" is one that needs to be taken more seriously by the populace than it probably is.

  9. (CEO of local non-profit responding to my comment that all those I voted for lost.) Me too! BUT if we all unite they will make it. I am sick of people telling me that I am wasting my vote. I think that voting for someone I really don't like just so that the person that I don't like even more doesn't get elected is stupid. Did that even make! In this presidential election I will NOT be voting for the crazy man or corrupt woman. I will for the 4th time be voting for a third party. My vote will not be wasted. It is a vote for sanity! I refuse to just vote for the lesser of two evils. The end of my rant....thank you for listening:-)

    1. Well, if the CEO's vote for a third party candidate makes him feel better (more sane--or more righteous), then I guess his vote is not wasted. But can he point to any good his vote did in the previous three times he voted for a third party--other than making him feel better?

      I repeat (and so far no one has question the logic of this statement): "Any vote not cast for the lesser evil makes it more likely that the greater evil will be elected." And again I ask, "Why would anyone want that?"