As a coda to the recent special election for senator in Alabama, I have some thoughts on watching the whole thing descend into the worst Benny Hill skit ever.
This was the most issue-free election I have ever witnessed, or even heard about. There were more trenchant policy discussions when Betty ran against Veronica for Riverdale student body president than during the Moore/Jones senate race. The gist of the entire race was, “That guy is terrible! Look how terrible that guy is! You’re not going to be terrible and vote for that terrible guy, are you?!” Or, as Richard Fernandez wrote:
But perhaps the most salient and disturbing lesson of the Alabama campaign is both sides are truly at political war. The sound of the closing polls was the sound of the door of history shutting behind us.
The election was not fought over the question not of what is best but “whose side are you on.”
Now that the dust has settled, we’re getting a little glimpse into the alternate reality where Hillary won the presidency in 2016, and seeing how that narrative would’ve been written. The whole story of the post-election wrap-up is that the decent people won, the evil people lost, and everything can keep chugging along like normal — no shake-ups, no recriminations, no significant changes of any kind.
Meanwhile, the sizable majority of the electorate will now be represented in Washington by someone who doesn’t feel the need even to pay lip service to their beliefs and policy preferences. Rather, their representative is someone who will ally himself with people who hold those beliefs in contempt. But it’s okay, everybody keeps telling me, because the good guys won! Right? Yay?
To my evangelical Christian brothers and sisters, let me ask you to join me in a thought experiment:
Let’s imagine that you live in ancient Rome. You have to keep your Christianity close to the vest because it’s still considered a weird fringe cult, but you still try to live out your values. And you’re a citizen, so you get to vote for your representative to the Roman senate. (I know that’s not what elections were really like in ancient Rome; just work with me here.)
On one side, you have an acolyte of the temple of Zeus, with a reputation as an honorable family man, who wants to have Christians boiled in oil. On the other side, you have a candidate who is known to frequent the temple of Venus and the temple prostitutes, but he only wants to see Christians whipped and released.
Who do you vote for?
American Christians are still living under the belief that they should be able to vote for politicians who both support their views and are upstanding Christians in their personal lives. Because this is America, right? There should be lots of people like that around.
Well, no. As in ancient Rome and other places where Christianity isn’t the default culture, in the world of big-time politics, people like that are few and far between, and now they’re getting fewer and farther betweener. We are destined to face more and more elections in which there are no good options.
But in cases where one of the candidates at least makes it marginally easier to live life as a Christian (as opposed to, say, being a member of a party that sues nuns for being Catholic about birth control or fines bakers for holding Biblical views of sexual morality), I hope that Christians will learn to vote in their own best interests. Because one way to guarantee that there are never any good options for us is to keep checking out of ugly elections (and they will usually be ugly) so that the worst option always wins.