Jim Wagner
The lesson of two evils
By Jim Wagner
October 26, 2016

Over the course of this election cycle we Americans seem to have entirely lost our reason. For example, in the face of a deluge of emails which reveal deep corruption within the Clinton campaign, including wholesale media complicity in debate manipulation and poll fraud among other things, our concern seems to center on the fact that the messages in question were allegedly hacked by "the Russians." And so many of us have bought the party line, which comes to us direct from Emerald City. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" We must ignore the content of the damning emails, we are told, because they were "stolen." In law, this is the doctrine that forbids "the fruit of the poison tree." And it makes some sense when we are attempting to determine the guilt or innocence of a criminal suspect. Though the illicit information may be factual and probative, in law we nevertheless disallow it because as a society we choose not to condone illegal conduct by our authorities in their prosecution of citizens.

But consider! If those same WikiLeaks emails disclosed that terrorists had just this morning planted a bomb beneath the floor of your bedroom, where would you sleep tonight? Common sense should tell us that if we wish to survive we must act intelligently in the face of a deadly threat regardless of the source that has revealed it to us. And this election, my friends, involves a threat to our survival as a nation. The WikiLeaks revelations, along with the Project Veritas tapes, make clear that the Clinton syndicate, if readmitted to the White House, would pose a danger to our existence as a free people.

Hillary Clinton intends to deprive us of our guns while simultaneously inviting millions of Syrian "refugees" into our land. In Europe these same refugees have already raped hundreds of women and children. And we now know, both from ISIS and from our own sources, that among those refugees tens of thousands of jihadi terrorists are already imbedded. Moreover our law enforcement agencies tell us that effectively vetting these immigrants will be impossible. And yet Hillary plans to admit them out of "compassion" because "that is who we are." (Of course these invaders will also reliably vote Democrat.)

So if Hillary's "compassion" does not amount to national suicide, then that in itself will be a miracle. If we value America as we have known and loved her, defeating Hillary's candidacy must be our first priority. How we deal with "the Russians," assuming they really were involved in hacking Democrat operative emails, is an entirely separate matter that can be addressed in due course, in the comfort of your Holiday Inn suite, after the bomb under your bed has been defused.

But there are even worse delusions currently at play in our body politic. Early in the primary season, when the Trump candidacy was still very much in doubt, I asked a devout Christian friend the question that has now become the major point of contention among establishment conservatives: "If the choice comes down to Hillary vs. Trump, will you vote for Trump?" Her reply was a foreshadowing of the Never Trump psychosis we now see in the halls of Republican blue bloods. She informed me that while she considered Hillary more unacceptable than Trump she could not vote for Trump because "the lesser of two evils is still evil." That is, in her view while Hillary is more evil than Trump it would still be wrong to vote for either Hillary or Trump because they are both evil.

I then proposed this question: "If you knew that withholding your vote from Trump would cause Hillary to win the election by a single vote, would you still refuse to vote for him." She reaffirmed that she would still refuse to vote for Trump on the same ground. "Then," I said, "what if Donald Trump were running against Adolf Hitler? Could you support Trump in that case?" Without hesitation she assured me that she still would not vote for Trump. "I cannot vote for a candidate who is evil," she insisted. "If I vote for Trump, God will hold me accountable for all the wrong that he does." In this very sincere woman's view, the blood of the Holocaust would not be on her hands if she allowed Hitler to win the election, but only if she actually voted for Hitler. (Conversely, if she were to vote for Trump, who might then call a woman a "slob" or use the word "pussy," I suppose we are to infer that that guilt would be very much on her hands?)

Now from a Christian perspective this reasoning is perversely flawed. But how? Let me count the ways. In the first place, Christians are not permitted to allow evil when it is within their power to prevent it. And it should hardly need noting that if we can prevent only one of two pending evils, we should prevent the greater of the two. It was the Pharisees who refused to drag their asses out of a ditch on the Sabbath. Jesus was forced to explain to them that man was not made for the Sabbath. "The Sabbath," he told them, "was made for man," and thus could be violated if the alternative was a greater evil.

But there are other more subtle and yet equally sound reasons why the "evil of two lessers" voting abstention is morally flawed. Christians generally agree that we have a duty to support and defend the nation. They are often quick to remind us that we must "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." But what does it mean in practice to "render unto Caesar?" After all, we have no emperor.

In a democratic republic "rendering unto Caesar" means, for one thing, that we have a moral duty to intelligently participate in the process of electing those who will rule us. Thus to refuse to vote is, strictly speaking, an evil act. It may indeed be less evil than voting for either candidate if we are uncertain as to which of them would do worse, as for example if Hitler and Stalin were our only choices. But note! That fact does not make our refusal to vote for either candidate a morally good choice. It only makes it "the lesser" of the two available evil choices. In other words, to refuse our civic duty to participate in the election process is, in and of itself, to choose "the lesser of two evils." Of course that is the choice any sane person would take, given those very improbable circumstances I proposed. Still, it reveals a serious defect in the doctrine that "the lesser of two evils is still evil." To wit, it demonstrates that the doctrine is self-refuting.

In practical matters as well we often seem to choose the lesser of two evils because it is the obviously preferable moral alternative. Are we wrong in this regard? When a doctor decides to amputate a gangrenous limb or a cancerous organ, is he choosing to mutilate his patient because that is a lesser evil than allowing her to die? If a school bus driver chooses to run over a jaywalker in his path rather than drive over a cliff, is he choosing to murder the pedestrian as a lesser evil than killing a bus load of children?

There must be a better way of looking at this question! Because quite obviously, this "evil of two lessers" principle does seem to present a dilemma. What if a kidnapper were to say to you, "If you give me a nickel I will kill half my hostages? But if you don't give me the nickel I will kill all of my hostages?" Some people would not give him the nickel, and would consider themselves to have acted rightly because they did not engage in the act the killer promised would provoke him to take the lives of half his hostages. "I refused to kill half," they would say to themselves, "and the other half is not my problem."

But of course that view is backward, because it is based on a linguistic trick. It is the glass-half-empty ploy. And most of us realize this at some level, because we would know exactly what to do if the kidnapper had instead said to us, "If you give me a nickel I will spare half the hostages." We would then of course give him the nickel right away, realizing that we are not causing the kidnapper to kill one half of the hostages, but rather to spare the other half. And yet, setting aside a single intricacy of sentence construction, both cases involve exactly the same moral choice.

To be clear, I did not start out a Trump supporter. Even when he won the nomination my support for him was cold. "He may be a lout," I wrote grudgingly, "but he is our lout." In voting for Trump, as I will do since Hillary is the only other viable alternative, we are not voting for whatever evil Trump might do. We are voting to prevent the greater evil Hillary most certainly would do. Hillary will support partial birth abortion and appoint Supreme Court judges who will do the same. She supports amnesty and open borders, the racial divisiveness of "Black Lies Matter," and homosexual marriage. She will impose confiscatory taxes while expanding the national debt. She is corrupt to her core, and from all appearances has betrayed our national security in a criminal way. As her emails show, she has sold her office at State to hostile foreign interests – to the ruler of Morocco, for example, for $12 million. To protect her base of power she has persecuted individual women who were victims of her husband's lechery while pretending to be the champion of all women. And not only is she terrible in international affairs, but as Secretary of State through her "Arab Spring" she directly caused much of the death and chaos we see in the world today. For the life of me, I cannot think of a single issue upon which Hillary has the slightest prospect of being better than Trump. Can you?

Actually, I have warmed to Trump since he began to lay out his policy positions. But even for those who haven't, in a very important sense the quandary involved in our present choice is better explained by the principle of double effect. Crudely stated, this principle asserts that an act which causes both good and evil is permissible if you intend the good rather than the evil and if the good result outweighs the evil. Suppose you are on board a submarine. The oxygen has failed in your cabin and the many occupants will soon suffocate if someone does not open the door. But the door is controlled by a biometric signature, and you are the only one able to open it. Standing outside the door is a guard who will certainly be crushed to death by the hydraulic force of the door if it is opened. You can see him through the one-way glass, but you have no way to communicate a warning to him. Time is running out. The people in the room with you are beginning to lose consciousness. Some may have died already, and you are growing light headed. If you do not open the door soon, you may pass out. And then everyone in the room will die. But if you do open the door you will kill the guard. What do you do? What does God want you to do?

Vote for Trump, of course. As the principle of double effect makes clear, you will not be voting for the evil you fear Trump might do, but rather to prevent the greater evil Hillary has already made clear she will gleefully do. The evil Trump might do is not your intent. It is only an unavoidable concomitant of your determination to prevent the greater evil Hillary certainly will do. It is the amputation of a cancer – a rotting limb – to save the patient. It is driving the bus into a pedestrian who blocks your path to safety, so that you will not drive all our children over a cliff.

In making difficult real-world decisions, sometimes the crucial thing is to properly understand which moral principle is in effect. I would not have belabored this question, except that it is so very important at this moment. There is a crucial lesson to be learned from the predicament of two evils. Trump is a flawed man, much as I am. He occasionally uses the same crude language I have sometimes used. While at times he can be almost larger than life, at other times he can seem venal, and petty, and small. But in refusing to actively support him, I wonder if some are not taking refuge in a certain obscurity, a certain anonymity that the voting booth allows.

So here is my final question: Some Germans really did vote for Hitler, while many others refused to vote at all. If you were a German who had refused to back the scandal ridden Paul von Hindenburg against Adolph Hitler, could you tell you're your children with pride that you had refused to vote for the other guy because "the lesser of two evils is still evil?" Hindenburg was disgraced by his petty corruption, his tax dodges, and his poor showing at the polls. As a result he felt powerless to resist the demands of Hitler, who was his chancellor. Tragically, that is how the Fuhrer came to power.

When these decisions get too confusing, and people all around you are ardently proclaiming contradictory principles that sound, if not convincing then at least comparably plausible, throw all the theory out the window and do what the love of your fellow man compels you to do. Because that is what true morality comes down to. Love God! And then love your neighbor as yourself! "There is no commandment greater than these!"

© Jim Wagner


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

Jim Wagner

Jim Wagner is a retired businessman and freelance writer. His degree is in Psychology with a minor in English from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, where he lived, worked, farmed and studied for nine years after his repudiation of the Vietnam War... (more)


Receive future articles by Jim Wagner: Click here

More by this author


Stephen Stone
HAPPY EASTER: A message to all who love our country and want to help save it!

Stephen Stone
The most egregious lies Evan McMullin and the media have told about Sen. Mike Lee

Siena Hoefling
Protect the Children: Update with VIDEO

Stephen Stone
Flashback: Dems' fake claim that Trump and Utah congressional hopeful Burgess Owens want 'renewed nuclear testing' blows up when examined

Matt C. Abbott
Acquitted priest: I received no justice, mercy from diocese

Peter Lemiska
Last chance to save the soul of the nation

Linda Goudsmit
CHAPTER 15: Conflict Theory and the Hegelian Dialectic

Michael Bresciani
The fine line between ignorance and idiocy

Jeff Lukens
Congressional spending goes full Weimar

Rev. Mark H. Creech
Scriptural sobriety: Rethinking wine in the Lord’s Supper

Cherie Zaslawsky
April 13th, 2024: Iran’s shocking dress rehearsal

Jerry Newcombe
Is America a 'failed historical model?'

Victor Sharpe
The current malignancy of America's Fourth Estate

Tom DeWeese
The University of Tennessee uses our taxes to advocate radical energy agenda. I took them to court!

Bonnie Chernin
Pro-abortion Republicans

Cliff Kincaid
Make Sodom and Gomorrah Great Again
  More columns


Click for full cartoon
More cartoons


Matt C. Abbott
Chris Adamo
Russ J. Alan
Bonnie Alba
Chuck Baldwin
Kevin J. Banet
J. Matt Barber
Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
. . .
[See more]

Sister sites