Yesterday in a New York Times column Linda Hirshman said she believes Tara Reade, but she’s going to vote for Joe Biden anyway because anything is better than Donald Trump.
That is to say, she believes Biden sexually assaulted Reade in a locker room when Reade worked on his Senate staff years ago. It’s nonsense at this point to try to discount or denigrate every new corroborating witness who comes forward to bolster Reade’s claim, Hirshman says. The accusation of sexual assault against Biden is credible, period.
Therefore, supporting Biden, she says, is “agonizingly hard for me to do.” But it must be done because Trump is “the worst president in the history of the Republic.” Plus, compared with the good Biden can do, “the cost of dismissing Tara Reade—and, worse, weakening the voices of future survivors—is worth it.”
A presidential election is a binary choice, and sometimes you have to bite the bullet and make a utilitarian calculation. Sometimes you have to say to yourself, “I don’t care what he did, I don’t care that he’s a moral degenerate and a narcissist and a liar, it’s better than the alternative.”
That is, you have to justify your vote not on the basis of some unrealistic purity test but on whether you think your candidate will advance the things you care about and protect you and yours. You also have to consider whether it’s morally acceptable for you to tacitly support the opposing candidate by not voting or casting a protest vote for some random weirdo.
Based on that cold logic, Hirshman should now understand why half the country voted for Trump in 2016.
One wonders if Democrats realize this. After all, what Biden is accused of sounds a lot like what the left and Never Trump argued was a completely unacceptable calculation for Trump voters to make.
Yet plenty of Republicans (as well as some Democrats and not a few independents) believed that the absolute worst thing that could happen to the country in 2016 would be for Hillary Clinton to become president. After Trump won the GOP primary, many Republicans who had supported other candidates—and even actively opposed Trump’s nomination—went through the same moral struggle Hirshman is going through now. They didn’t like it, but in the end they sucked it up and made a purely utilitarian choice.
They did this because they asked themselves, like Hirshman does, “what is the greatest good or the greatest harm?” It’s the right question, even if she doesn’t seem to grasp the implications.
Hirshman admits that supporting Biden is an injustice to Reade and indeed all victims of sexual assault. But she justifies that injustice in part by citing the philosopher David Hume’s notion that nobody can be expected to behave justly while trying to survive a shipwreck. Trump and the Republican Party he represents, she says, are “unassailably the political equivalent of Hume’s shipwreck.”
Well, many Republicans see just the opposite. That’s what Michael Anton was getting at with his now-famous “Flight 93” essay. Charge the cockpit, he said, because the alternative is certain death.
If you admit, as Hirshman does, that a utilitarian approach to presidential elections is best, then it stands to reason those on the other side of the aisle might come to the same conclusion and vote accordingly. Even if they have to support is a thrice-married reality TV star and lifelong Democrat who only discovered his opposition to abortion five minutes before he decided to run in the Republican primary, they’ll do it because on balance the good outweighs the bad.
Democrats have a hard time applying their own logic to their opponents because they earnestly believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the great debates of our time are over, as President Obama liked to say. They think the only possible explanation for conservatives’ views on things like abortion, immigration, and same-sex marriage is that they’re bigots. All these battles have been fought, and they lost.
Well, conservatives got the message. That’s why they voted for Trump.
Democrats were shocked and scandalized when Trump said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still vote for him. But as Hirshman’s logic makes plain, Democrats are no different. At least some of them are willing to admit it.