I understand what it means to adopt an unpopular stand and to say unpopular things – things that could possibly cost valued relationships and reputations – purely on the basis of conscience, as you have elected to do in your decision to either refrain from voting altogether or to vote for Donald J. Trump. I would only ask you to reflect on the particular building blocks that together make up the foundation of such a choice. The question to be borne in mind as you do so is very direct and very simple: Given your decision to support – if only by default – the candidacy of Donald Trump, will your conscience also accommodate the principles that go into that decision? (This is really just an updated phrasing of that hoary old maxim in ethics "If you will the end, then you must will the means.") In particular, please consider the following:
o Donald Trump is on record as supporting severe restrictions on “abridgement”-clause liberties of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, based purely on content.
Even fellow conservatives have grave reservations about his proposed infringements. Content-based restrictions on speech and press have almost always been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, but Trump would advocate for a return to the First Amendment jurisprudence of the late 1790s, when a law called “seditious libel” was on the books whereby any criticism of the government for any reason was a criminal act. To say nothing of landmark cases like New York Times v. Sullivan, are you really sure you want your Facebook posts, your letters to the editor, your speeches before your local political-party caucuses, etc., subject to government censorship, and are you really sure you want to be held criminally and civilly liable for any “unapproved” speech?
o Donald Trump is also on record as being opposed to due process, as enumerated in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution.
Even the Second-Amendment advocates are nervous about Trump’s stand on due process, because Trump questions whether the Fourteenth Amendment extends due process protections to anyone except American citizens – despite cases like Ex parte Quirin, in which due process was extended, not only to non-citizens, but to agents of a hostile foreign government bent on the destruction of American infrastructure during World War II. The reason Trump is so hostile to due process is not far to seek: only by dispensing with due process would Trump ever have a hope of being able to deport 11 million – his number – illegal immigrants.
o Donald Trump is opposed both to the “free exercise” of religion and to the equality of all religions before the civil law, both of which are guaranteed by the First Amendment.
He is already on record as favoring the “shut[ting] down” of mosques – not the arrest and detainment of individuals, mind you, but the wholesale closing of mosques. And as everyone knows, he also favors identifying Muslims – even Muslims who are American citizens – by requiring them to carry religious i.d. cards identifying them as such. One can only wonder how long it would take a President Trump to issue an executive order, analogous to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s infamous Japanese-internment executive order 9066, requiring Muslim-owned businesses to identify themselves as such, to create “Muslim-only” ghettos in American cities, to restrict what parts of cities Muslims may inhabit, and to enforce curfews on Muslim American citizens. The religious i.d. cards would be only the first step leading to a 21st-century American version of the Nuremberg Laws of the 1930s.
As I said at the beginning of this column, I understand what it means, and what it can cost, to act in accordance with one’s conscience. (I lost a lot of good friends when I delivered a eulogy to Dr. Martin Luther King at a very conservative church one Sunday evening back in 1968 -- the same year I got my head split open by a Chicago cop in Grant Park while writing my weekly column for the Wichita Eagle about the protesters outside the Democratic National Convention.) But pleading “Conscience!” does not exempt one from criticism. Would you respect a plea of “Conscience!” from someone who said their conscience required them to advocate for the repeal of the 13th Amendment and for the reinstatement of slavery? Would you respect a plea of “Conscience!” from someone who said that their conscience required that they advocate for the repeal of the 19th Amendment allowing women to vote? If not, then how am I to go about – and, more importantly, why should I bother to go about – respecting the conscience of people who advocate for the candidacy of someone who, were he to be elected, would begin his Presidency by subverting the very US Constitution that Capt. Humayun Khan died to defend? The very Constitution that my father risked his life in World War II to defend? The very Constitution Trump himself would be required to take an oath to defend as part of his inauguration into the Presidential office? How do you reconcile voting, even if only by default, for a man who, from the moment he raised his hand to take the Oath, you knew to be implacably hostile to the Foundation of the Office into which he was entering? What does your "conscience" tell you about that?
But aside from even those considerations, your conscience-driven stand is logically incoherent in its own right, historical circumstances aside. Consider the privileged position from which you speak about your conscience. You sit secure behind a phalanx of protections, both civil and military, literally unprecedented in human history. Your freedom of speech and expression are guaranteed by the “abridgement” clause of the First Amendment, your right to due process is guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, your right to worship according to your own beliefs (or not worship at all) is guaranteed by the “establishment” and “free exercise” clauses of the First Amendment, your right to a jury trial is guaranteed, and, if found guilty, your right to be free of “cruel and unusual punishment” is guaranteed by the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments. Furthermore, your ability to exercise these rights is guaranteed because you sit, comfortable and secure, behind the serried and awesome might of a military establishment that, given the requisite legal orders of the National Command Authority, could, if exerted to its maximum, utterly annihilate any adversary on the planet in a span of time varying between two hours and two days.
Yet those liberties, which were bought and continue to be bought, at the ongoing cost of immense massifs of blood and treasure … those liberties you would use to elect a President who would deny those self-same liberties to others, based on nothing more than race and religion. And also based on – let’s speak plainly – your own fear. Your own hands and feet are unbound. But you would use that freedom to forge chains to bind the hands and feet of others.
Yet – and this is the bitter irony – you continue to choose to live here. That is entirely as it should be. It should be a matter of choice. No law should compel you to move. (In that respect, I also disagree with Speaker Gingrich, who would deport Muslims, even American citizens, who believe in shari'a. One can only speculate on what Mr. Gingrich would do with Catholic lay people and clerics who believe in Catholic canon law.) Such a law would be repugnant to the US Constitution itself, and I myself would oppose such. However … to return to the matter of one’s conscience … do you not find something troubling about your continued presence as a citizen of a Nation that continues to afford guarantees in the civil law to people that your support of Trump indicates you do not consider equally worthy of such? How could I, in good conscience, continue in the free exercise of my religion when my Muslim friends and neighbors have to carry an i.d. card because of theirs? How could I, in good conscience, go to church on Sunday morning, confident that my church will be open for services, knowing that my Muslim friends’ mosque may very well have been closed by the government? How can I, in good conscience, continue to live in a country, secure in the knowledge that, even if the government wanted to deport me, it would first have to run the gauntlet of 14th Amendment due-process protections, when my neighbor, who may be here illegally, is nevertheless subject to being rousted out of bed, separated from her family, and forced on board a bus headed south with no hearing or legal counsel? How could I, in good conscience, continue to enjoy my own liberty while being complicit in the arbitrary abridgement of the liberty of others?
I cannot speak for you. I cannot form your conscience for you. But the point in this concluding paragraph is not conscience but logic. Whether I realized it consciously or not, voting for Trump would also – for me and my family – also at the same time be a vote to move from the US to a nation that would more closely approximate the US as it would be under a Trump Administration – say Iran, Somalia, or North Korea – anyway, someplace that officially sanctions, as a matter of law, the inequality of rights, the extirpation of religion, and criminal penalties for those who disagree. So on the morning of Election Day in November, I would go to the polls, I would vote for Trump, I would return home, and then I would do the only thing that would preserve my honor and moral integrity in the light of the choice I had just made: start packing. For I would no longer be at home in the very Nation that my vote would have helped to create.
If I could not love it, I would leave it.
Such would be the counsel of my conscience.
James R. Cowles
Jewish women wearing stars ... Bundesarchiv Bild 183-N0619-506, Paris ... CC BY-SA 3.0
Muslim calligraphy ... Library of Congress ... public domain
Trump rally ... Evan guest ... CC by 2.0
Political rally, Weimar Germany ... Bundesarchiv, Bild ... CC-BY-SA 3.0