The Case Against the Case Against Not Voting, or One More Reason Eric Metaxas is Wrong

My piece, “Refusing to Play the Game: Profaning the Idol of Presidential Politics,” is up at The Exchange.

I can hear the outcry already. Many have objections to not voting. In a
recent Wall Street Journal essay
making the case for Donald Trump, evangelical Christian author Eric Metaxas addresses
Christian voters considering withholding their vote: “A vote for Donald Trump
is not necessarily a vote for Donald Trump himself. It is a vote for those who
will be affected by the results of this election. Not to vote is to vote [for
Hillary Clinton]. God will not hold us guiltless.” Metaxas’ logic is specious,
to say the least – he seems to suggest that a vote for Trump is not necessarily
a vote for Trump, while a vote for no one is actually vote for Clinton. This is
sophistry. As Alan Jacobs writes, “a vote for ‘x’ is a vote for ‘x.’”

Nevertheless, Metaxas means to convey that not voting is no way to keep hands clean. This is fortified by his invocation
of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Though I have my reservations about how Metaxas handles Bonhoeffer (for more informed reservations, see Charles Marsh’s “Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer Delusions”), I think he means this: When Bonhoeffer faced a seemingly impossible choice
between passive responses to Nazi atrocities and some level of engagement with a plot to
assassinate Adolph Hitler, he knew that neither idleness nor intervention was
obviously self-justifying. Neither could keep his hands clean. Nevertheless, he
would have to act, bear the costs, and depend only on God for his
justification. Metaxas likens support for Trump to Bonhoeffer’s agonizing
decision to participate so fully in the resistance, and he urges voters to
understand that not voting does not absolve them of responsibility for the
election’s outcome any more than not plotting against Hitler could absolve
Bonhoeffer of entanglements with the Nazi status quo.

This is the one thing Metaxas gets right: Passivity offers
only the illusion of innocence. One cannot avoid responsibility by not voting. Not
voting will not fulfill dreams of disentanglement from the knots of politics.

 But there is another way to think about not voting – one
that need not be passive or irresponsible. Indeed, not voting for either
candidate can be a responsible way to actively profane the idol of presidential
politics.

(Another objection to not voting is that it is a missed opportunity to vote “the other” or “the vulnerable.” I think I can make a pretty straightforward case that profaning idols is a way of voting for the other, but that’s for another time.)

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