- - Sunday, November 6, 2016

After strongly opposing Donald Trump in the primaries, I now plan to vote for him, for I have come to understand that elections are not about demonstrating my moral sensitivity or spiritual maturity. Rather, they entail a very practical decision about what will further the peace (shalom) of the city (Jeremiah 29:7) and most likely enhance the lives of my fellow citizens.

I am quite clear that Donald Trump is no 21st-century Saint Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa. He is a flawed human being — as indeed we all are. His vulgarity and occasional coarseness rightly bother us, and we reasonably question whether his inability to guard his tongue ought to disqualify him for the presidency.

But remembering that Jesus consorted with tax collectors and sinners, my advice for Christians on November 8 is: Do not try to be more pious than Jesus.

Rather than obsess about Mr. Trump’s flaws, Christians should recall that the God of the Bible often uses less than perfect people to do his will. Moses was a murderer; David an adulterer and a murderer; Rahab, who saved the lives of Joshua’s two spies, a prostitute; Paul a persecutor of the nascent Christian church.

Politics, like marriage, deals with the needs of people in the here and now, not in the life to come. In the realm of politics, to try to be more pious than Jesus is not just impractical; it is also a mixing of categories, a confusion of what is appropriate for the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. Neither voting nor not voting will save our soul, but how one votes can either strengthen or weaken the integrity of our governmental institutions and the quality of our life together as citizens. Voting for the lesser of two evils, is one way of fulfilling Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. It is neither an endorsement of every aspect of a candidate’s character, nor, rightly understood, does it need to burden the voter with a bad conscience.

Similarly, this is not the right time to sit on the sidelines because you believe the election “is all in God’s hands.” To be sure it is, but God works in human affairs most often through your hands and mine, not through miracles. Even if we are deeply frustrated with the alternatives before us, this is the time to act and to do so in good faith and with sober-minded realism.

Mr. Trump’s flaws are obvious. But Hillary’s are more serious politically, for she has corrupted the very office of secretary of State itself. She colluded with others to sell access and shake down foreign and domestic donors who knew that they were expected, not just to make large gifts to the Clinton Foundation, but also to enrich Bill and Hillary personally. All of this has become a millstone around her neck that could virtually incapacitate her as president.

But what most decisively tips the balance for me toward Mr. Trump is not his character but his policies. Hillary will appoint Supreme Court justices who will turn the Court into a superlegislature. Mr. Trump will not. She will give us an economy that is basically the same — perhaps worse — than the past eight years. She will be soft on religious freedom and will oppose enlightened policies like school choice and charter schools, both of which are important to African-Americans and other minorities. She will jeopardize our safety by keeping the borders wide open, a move than also makes it harder for unskilled American workers to find jobs.

I know that Mr. Trump’s character makes it difficult for thoughtful and morally-sensitive Americans to vote for him. But voting is not about you or me. It is about the well-being of the nation as a whole. And whether we like it or not, sound morality sometimes requires us to practice damage control by choosing the lesser of two evils.

Three additional factors make supporting Mr. Trump easier for me. First, he is more impeachable than Hillary. If he gets too far out of line, establishment Republicans would likely join Democrats to give him the boot. Second, Hillary is more “blackmailable” than Mr. Trump. Both domestic and foreign friends and foes with access to her emails could pressure her to act in ways antithetical to America’s interests. And finally, Mr. Trump’s superb choice of Mike Pence for vice president and his intention to to rely heavily on Mr. Pence’s expertise and experience in day-to-day governing is a strong plus.

Jesus, the Bible tells us, emptied himself and, as the Greek text says, “pitched his tent among us.” He condescended to live in a messy world full of sadness and disappointment, but also a world where, by God’s grace, love and peace and courage can flourish.

So consider the possibility that voting for Donald Trump on November 8, rather than burdening your conscience, may be one of the ways God makes such good things come to pass.

Richard A. Baer Jr. is a professor emeritus of environmental ethics and policy at Cornell University.

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