Of Differing Political Opinions
The presidential campaign continues and we are one month away from Election Day. The two major candidates and their most vocal supporters are extremely polarizing. Often, the choice is cast as finding the lesser of two evils. The trouble is that different ones of us will identify the greater evil in different ways.
Here is my concern, especially within the Church: Are we so vocal and insistent in our own perspective that we isolate, demean, or belittle those whose opinions might differ from our own? I live in an especially conservative area. To many in my neck of the woods, Hillary Clinton might as well be the devil herself. But Donald Trump is a demon in his own right, albeit in different areas.
The current election dynamic has been compared to the 1968 election between Richard Nixon (R) and Hubert Humphrey (D). That year was filled with civil unrest, including the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., (April 1968) and of Robert F. Kennedy, who was himself running for president (June 1968). The Vietnam war was going poorly and news media was finally reporting it as such. The Democratic party had split badly. Nixon ran on a law-and-order platform, which Humphrey claimed was a subtle appeal to white racial prejudice. (Sound familiar?)
During that political dynamic, President Hugh B. Brown (then first counselor of the First Presidency in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) gave the commencement address at the church-owned Brigham Young University that is titled God Is the Gardener (May 31, 1968). (Yes, this is the talk with the story about the currant bush.) He addressed the dynamics of the election head on:
You young people are leaving your university at a time when our nation is engaged in an abrasive and increasingly strident process of electing a president. I wonder if you would permit me—one who has managed to survive a number of these events—to pass on to you a few words of counsel.He then includes four paragraphs in his speech about the political process. Although his introductory sentence, "I would like you to be reassured that the leaders of both major political parties in this land are men of integrity and unquestioned patriotism," and what I observe in reality in both parties makes me question whether the integrity part is really still true, I do believe that both parties are motivated by patriotic duty, albeit with different visions of how our country should grow. Nevertheless, I want to highlight a few key points.
1) "Beware of those who feel obliged to prove their own patriotism by calling into question the loyalty of others."
2) "Strive to develop a maturity of mind and emotion and a depth of spirit that will enable you to differ with others on matters of politics without calling into question the integrity of those with whom you differ."
3) "Allow within the bounds of your definition of religious orthodoxy a variation of political belief."
4) "Acquire tolerance and compassion for others and for those of a different political persuasion or race or religion."
I do not feel that any candidate matches my personal philosophy of government. If you feel the same way, I understand. Some of you have decided that you must choose to support Donald Trump, if only because you are afraid of a future Supreme Court that is formed by nominations of Hillary Clinton. From my social media feeds, I would guess that this is the majority of my friends.
Today, I feel that I should publicly state what some of you surely have guessed, that I will vote for Hillary Clinton in an effort to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president. I am not endorsing all of her policies and positions or all of her past actions, just as I trust those of you who would vote for Donald Trump do not endorse all of his statements (I hope).
I personally think that Trump represents a character and attitude that does not belong in public office, let alone the presidency of the United States of America. His demeanor demonstrates self-centeredness and bullying. He belittles those around him, including calling other politicians by demeaning and racist nicknames. His sexist behavior and speech is unacceptable. I can not support his broad brushstrokes of intolerance against the religion of Islam or of his shallow generalizations of immigrants. I am incredibly frustrated at the voters in the Republican primary process that put Trump on my ballot giving me a de facto unacceptable candidate.
Further, I think that while Trump's strategy to play off of the fears of mainly white Americans might be effective at mobilizing his base, it is ethically fundamentally flawed by running counter to meaningful and relevant data. He paints a bleak picture of America that is unsubstantiated by a reasonable analysis of the data. The now infamous Skittles ad illustrates what I find to be typical. With a bowl of skittles, the ad says that three of the candies would kill you and then asks, "Would you take a handful?" That, supposedly, is the dilemma of the Syrian refugee crisis. To me, the problem is not just the dehumanization of a humanitarian crisis—people are not Skittles—it is also the ridiculous misappropriation of risk or hazard. While I think the use of past terrorist attacks do not capture current risks, a reanalysis of how many Skittles should be in the bowl illustrates the enormity of the numbers involved.
I realize that some of you who plan to vote for Trump might have a similar construction of argument for why you will not vote for Hillary. And I likely would disagree with you on the reliability and validity of sources of information that might have brought you to your conclusion. I might even suggest that you look inwardly to why you really distrust her and trust so many allegations that just don't manage to hold water. Odds are that you'll stick to your current perceptions. But maybe you will choose to support a third party candidate (like Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin) to take support away from Trump but not directly give it to Clinton, accepting that this might make it that much more likely that Clinton wins.
Did you know that I'm afraid that my support of Clinton will make some people question my commitment to the gospel? And do you realize how ridiculous that should sound, especially if you really know me? So why would I come out publicly to state my support?
In part, it is to reassure anyone else who might be feeling similar pressure that it is okay to have a different political perspective than the majority of the local church membership. The Church's official position is one of political neutrality. This is not just a formality to avoid violation of tax code regulations relating to political activity. One of the points from the Church's position page is a statement that the Church expects "its members to engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner, respecting the fact that members of the Church come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences of opinion in partisan political matters."
We can still unite with one another to advance the gospel on the earth even while differing in opinions about politics. Please do not feel that because you see so many people of one opinion that you are not welcome because you hold a different opinion. I hope that we can avoid "wonderful contentions" spoken of in Alma 2 or "warm dispute" spoken of in Alma 51.