Two days ago we had an election which certainly startled everyone. While there was an expectation of Democratic gains, nobody expected them to be as strong as they were. The gains may or may not continue. However, I did notice that there was a missing argument in the pre-election political circus. It was an argument that started to become prominent toward the end of the election cycle a year and a half ago. It was summarized in the saying, “If you choose the lesser of two evils, you are still choosing evil.” That saying has not shown up at all in this election cycle, and that is significant.
Back then, the two candidates in play were Hillary and Trump. There were significant parts of the moderate population of this country that liked neither one of them. Hillary has consistently been shown to be purely a political animal with doubtful practices to her credit. We are still hearing about her doubtful practices today! She bought the DNC. She was/is arrogant. She was no team player, being only concerned about her election. She was a dull entitled candidate who expected to be crowned and behaved like Machiavelli in order to achieve that dream. Trump has consistently been shown to be a narcissistic person who predictably responds on Twitter to any and all criticisms. He has a wink-wink relationship with the alt-right, espouses a nationalistic agenda, and has been ignoring the people of Puerto Rico in their suffering, leaving me to consider that he does not think they are white enough to save.
Faced with those two candidates, the meme about still choosing evil if you choose the lesser of two evils appeared appealing. It was a way to keep yourself righteous. It was a way to keep yourself pure. Unfortunately, it was an utterly naïve, uninformed, and misguided view of ethics. Despite the arguments of many of us, who pointed out that the Principle of Double Effect is a quite Roman Catholic ethical stance, those who claimed the meme persisted in thinking that this would preserve them from any moral responsibility regardless of who was elected. So, what is the principle of double effect? Well, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says:
“The doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. According to the principle of double effect, sometimes it is permissible to cause a harm as a side effect (or “double effect”) of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end.”
In real life, this is the way we often have to think in order to make choices. I may choose to cause a child emotional pain when I put the child in a time-out if I am promoting the maturing of the child into a moral adult. I may stick a needle in a child’s arm if I am giving the child medicine in order to improve its health. A surgeon often chooses to cause heavy pain to a patient, in order to improve the quality of life of the patient. What we need to realize is that real life often forces choices on us, whether or not we want to make them. Often, the ethics we use to make the decision is an ethic based on the doctrine of double effect.
What most people do not realize is the real life is not a friendly laboratory of ethics in which circumstances are easily discerned and are well-defined. Sometimes not choosing to take an action can also result in an evil. As we have seen with some of the mass shootings, sometimes the person who chooses not to get involved and does not report the oddball neighbor with too many guns and too much anger may incur some moral responsibility for the failure to report. Years ago people rightfully were angered when they heard about a case in New York in which multiple people watched a woman being killed, yet not one of them called the police to report the violence. The failure to act can sometimes be its own moral offense, depending on the circumstances.
There is a reason why we did not hear the argument that choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil. Too many people realized that the failure to make a choice may sometimes lead to a worse result than making a choice. For all too many independents and Democrats, the events of the last year destroyed the meme about choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil. They realized that the results of their lack of choice had led to a result with which they did not agree. And they turned out in full strength. They lined up in lines for hours. They realized this time that all too often not making a choice is allowing an unwanted effect to happen. I realize that Republicans would have a different view of events. However, that does not invalidate my observation that those who turned out in large numbers completely threw out the notion that not making a choice would somehow keep them pure.
Another way to put it is that an illogical meme gave way to a return to a sounder understanding of how to make ethical choices in an imperfect world. It also has been quite a lesson for the populace in how important it is to turn out and vote rather than giving in to such a cynical view of politics that you allow what you actually most dislike to take power (to be elected). What a tough way to learn an important lesson.