North Carolina Voter Guide for 2016

Voting sign

It seems like every election someone asks me to write a voter guide, so I finally decided to put one together this year. Since I and many of my readers live in North Carolina, I’ll be focusing on statewide races at both the federal and state levels. Even if you are choosing to abstain from supporting either major-party presidential candidate, as I am, voting in down-ballot races is a very important way to shape our legal system and seek the best interests of our neighbors. At the state level, races for governor, lieutenant governor, judges, etc. have very real effects on areas like education, law enforcement, and taxes, while, at the federal level, having solid representatives in the Senate and House is one critical way to rein in whichever presidential candidate we end up with.

Since I write on both theology and politics, I ought to take a moment here to make an important distinction. What follows is not intended to be a guide to how a Christian “has to vote.” As Christians, we each have a responsibility to wisely and prayerfully consider biblical principles in combination with practical experience in order to determine how we ought to exercise the little bit of political power which is our vote. Personally, I believe that limited government, rule of law, and free markets are the best way to achieve the good of my neighbor, so I describe myself as politically conservative and I usually end up voting Republican. But I try to make sure my political loyalties are conclusions I reach, not premises from which I start. If you have similar political views, I hope you’ll find this guide useful.

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The Presidential Election Is Not a Binary Choice

Clinton and Trump faces

In honor of Monday night’s presidential debate, about which I shared a few thoughts here, I wanted to consider a common argument for voting for Donald Trump. (It actually works equally well as a case for voting for Hillary Clinton if you’re a liberal, but being on the conservative side of things I personally hear it being used to argue for voting for Trump.) It is the idea of the “binary choice”: If you are not voting for X, that effectively means you are voting for Y. If you are a conservative, not voting for Trump is the same as voting for Hillary. If you are a liberal, not voting for Hillary is the same as voting for Trump.

Since I am politically conservative and agree that Trump would probably be a “less bad” president than Clinton, the binary-choice argument is somewhat compelling. However, ultimately it has a fatal flaw.

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This Election Would Matter Less If We Respected the Law More

The Constitution

On both the left and the right, the 2016 election is promising to be the most intense, passionate, and fearful in recent memory—which is saying something, because the sense of potential catastrophe and dangerously high stakes seems to grow with each new election. Every four years, both sides dread the possibility that the other will get hold of the levers of presidential power, with their potential to massively shape economics, immigration, education, foreign policy, the courts, and a thousand other things. It feels as if we have quadrennial mini-revolutions, as conservatives and liberals skirmish over who gets to set the course for our nation.

To some extent, this political tension and conflict are an unfortunate byproduct of democracy. No system is perfect, and democracy’s regular elections stir up partisanship and politicization in a way that a more authoritarian system (for all its other faults) would not. But our fraught elections aren’t just the fruit of democracy; they are what happens when a democracy forgets the importance of the rule of law.

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The Minimum Wage: When Benevolence Hurts

Construction worker

The minimum wage has been the subject of much contention recently and is likely to draw more attention in coming months, as the Democratic platform endorses the “Fight for 15” campaign and Trump has come out in support of a $10 minimum. Their motivation is simple. As Trump put it, “You need to help people. I know it’s not very Republican to say.” (Thanks, Donald, the GOP replied.) But does the minimum wage actually help people? It’s worth digging into the subject both because it is not going away anytime soon and because it offers an example of how first glances can be deceiving when it comes to economics.

The case for the minimum wage is obvious. As the cost of living rises, it seems compassionate to mandate a “living wage” for all employees. Require businesses to shell out part of their profits to add a few dollars to each minimum-wage employee’s hourly wages, and they will be better able to provide for themselves and their families. In fact, the argument goes, raising the minimum wage can even help to pay for itself because it reduces families’ need for federal assistance through food stamps or similar programs.

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Never Trump. Never Clinton. Never Despair.

Trump and Clintons

You may have noticed I’m not a huge fan of either of the major-party presidential candidates this year. It’s always tempting to shout “Worst ever!” but a strong case could be made that this year’s election really does feature the most toxic combination of options in American history. And you should care about that whether or you are naturally “political,” because the presidency influences the country in a thousand ways, from the policies that are made to the example that is set.

That’s why I created a petition on Saturday in a last-ditch effort to give American voters an option other than Trump v. Clinton. I’ll tell you more about that in a moment, because I really hope you will go sign it and share it with your friends. But first, I want to share why I am not worried about the fate of that petition, nor about the outcome of the presidential election. There is a broader principle here that is helpful when dealing with the setbacks that come with being “in the world, but not of it.”

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‘Black Lives Matter’ Undermines Its Own Cause

Black Lives Matter march

It is challenging to critique a movement which has little organization apart from a decentralized band of activists who have gathered beneath a slogan; especially when that slogan itself is true, important, and timely. But—precisely because “black lives matter” is true, important, and timely—we have an obligation to critically consider the movement which has adopted that mantra as its name. Black Lives Matter began as a hashtag following the 2013 Trayvon Martin shooting, and since then the movement has drawn significant media attention, featured in countless protests, and become an influential player in American politics. It has also adopted troubling tactics which undermine its own worthy cause.

With BLM back in the headlines this week, I think it is important to point out several reasons for concern about the movement and its tactics. I do so cautiously and, I hope, humbly; very aware that I observe and speak from the outside. However, it is possible to observe Black Lives Matter and evaluate the movement’s actions in light of universal standards of justice, just as Black Lives Matter asks us to evaluate the experience of African-Americans according to universal standards of justice. If I can judge the shooting of Philando Castile, I can also judge the protests it provoked.

With that in mind, here are three reasons why Black Lives Matter should be rejected or reformed by those who believe black lives matter.

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The Supreme Court Is Not Enough to Justify Voting for Trump

Donald Trump

As far as I can tell, the unofficial slogan of Trump 2016 is “Trump is awful, but SCOTUS.” When I talk with conservative friends who are debating whether they can bring themselves to vote for him—which is most of them—Supreme Court nominations are invariably among the first things they mention. And it is not an insignificant point. The prospect of Hillary Clinton appointing the replacement for Justice Scalia, and perhaps another justice or two, is appalling. If Clinton wins this election she will be in a position to shift the court significantly leftward for a generation, and that prospect is among the most compelling reasons for an “anybody but Hillary” vote, even if that “anybody” is an immature con man with dictatorial instincts.

Because (a) I think this is a compelling argument and (b) I remain firmly in the #NeverTrump camp, I wanted to explain why I don’t believe Supreme Court nominations are a good enough reason to vote for Donald Trump.

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There Are Good, Non-Bigoted Reasons to Support HB2

HB2 protestors in Raleigh

It’s been a few months since HB2 dominated the news cycle and sent “bathroom” trending on social media, but the concerns of the pro-HB2 side continue to be widely misunderstood. I have lost count of how many times I have seen serious, earnest explanations that transgender men (i.e. those who identify as women) are not interested in raping women in bathrooms, as if that prospect was the motivation behind the law. Since the Department of Justice just filed for an injunction that would suspend HB2 as part of their ongoing litigation against the North Carolina law, this seems like a good time to clarify what is at stake.

To begin with, we should be clear about what is not behind the law. I don’t know anyone who is seriously concerned about men who are actually transgender assaulting women in bathrooms. A man who genuinely identifies as a woman is not a likely rapist. The oft-repeated reassurance that transgenders will not be assaulting “other” women en masse is obvious and irrelevant.

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Free college is the wrong answer for a real problem

One of Bernie Sanders’ most popular positions is his call to, as his website proclaims, “make college tuition free and debt free.” While the proposal may strike conservatives as both absurd and unlikely, it’s worth paying attention to. For one thing, it may be less unlikely than it appears. Other countries–as Sanders is fond of pointing out–have adopted publicly-funded higher education, and the issue fits the same template that gave us Obamacare: a viscerally appealing reform for an undeniably broken system.

Whether or not we end up having a serious debate over free college, Sanders’ proposal is worth thoughtful consideration because it is the sort of policy we are going to see proposed more and more as the United States debates whether to continue our drift toward a more European system where core social functions are financed and administered by the government.

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