The Presidential Election

The Presidential Election

Dr. Craig comments on the wild 2016 Presidential election, the debates, and where we should go from here.

Transcript The Presidential Election

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, was that a rip-roaring barn-burner election?

DR. CRAIG: Just unbelievable, and the result was so unexpected. It just bewildered and baffled the pundits and commentators as these results began to come in. You could see the shock on their faces. I remember one saying, We could wake up tomorrow and find Donald Trump to be President of the United States! He just couldn’t believe it. It was truly historic.

KEVIN HARRIS: And the fact that the polls tended to show the opposite of the results. That makes me wonder about polling.

DR. CRAIG: It really does raise questions. I think the best spin that could be put on it would be that we need to remember these polls are simply opinion polls, and it could very well be that the polls were accurate in registering the opinions of those surveyed but that it didn’t actually measure voter turnout. Therefore the polls could have been accurate in terms of the opinions they registered but they didn’t accurately predict what the voters who actually turned out would do.

KEVIN HARRIS: People have – in the evangelical community in particular and conservative people – talked about how important this election was. In fact, it got to the point that I think we were worrying ourselves to death. This really was a “the sky is falling.” This really is crucial. Was that warranted? What are the main things? The main thing, I think, that you mentioned was Supreme Court nominations.

DR. CRAIG: That certainly is huge, though I am inclined to think that the most important election was actually the 2008 election in which Obama beat John McCain. When you think of the implications of that election for turmoil in the Middle East, chaos in Iraq, Libya, Syria, you think of the Supreme Court, you think of health care in the United States. That election seemed to me to be truly the turning point. The question will be whether or not this also historic election will reverse some of those trends. I don’t want to minimize the importance of this election by any means, but we don’t need to engage in hyperbole by saying it is the most important election of our lifetime. The choice of President Obama over John McCain was huge as well.

KEVIN HARRIS: You mentioned in your Defenders class some times we have to take the lesser of two evils, and that is appropriate. Some people have trouble with that. They are going to either not vote or they are going to write in their uncle, which I heard about people doing.

DR. CRAIG: I think there is a kind of immaturity among some people about moral decision-making where they think that moral decision-making is a matter of choosing between the good alternative and the bad alternative. That is a very naïve, almost childish, view of moral decision-making. We are frequently confronted with moral choices in which we have no good alternatives or, alternatively, we have two good alternatives to choose from and you have to then choose between two goods. But sometimes you have to choose between two bads. Intro courses in philosophy or ethics major on this point by presenting moral dilemmas to clarify students’ values. For example, a textbook illustration is the runaway streetcar example where if you do not throw the switch the streetcar will hit and kill a man working on the tracks.[1] But if you do throw the switch then the streetcar will kill five people who are on the tracks. So which choice do you make? You don’t have a good choice in a case like that. There are two bad outcomes and you have to choose the lesser of two evils. I think the most poignant illustration of this point is Sophie’s Choice where the young mother is presented by the Nazi soldiers with a choice as to which of her children will be sent to the death camp and which one she can keep alive. If she refuses to choose one of her two children then both will be sent to the death camps. In a case like this, this poor mother had no good choice. She had to choose the lesser of two evils and pick one of her two children to be exterminated. It is just horrible.

Similarly, in a case like this, we didn’t have two good candidates to choose from. Both were flawed in multiple ways, and the outcomes were flawed in multiple ways. Yet, that doesn’t exempt you from having to make a decision in a case like this. You choose the lesser of two evils – which outcome would be better for the United States of America than the other? I think, as you already indicated, the implications for the Supreme Court are just huge in this case. We were choosing which President would be appointing not only the replacement for the late Antonin Scalia but perhaps for other justices as well. That could radically affect the direction of the Supreme Court for a generation to come.

KEVIN HARRIS: There are no perfect candidates. These two particular candidates, according to so many, really did have some glaring high-profile problems. Donald Trump wasn’t exactly aligned with evangelicals, conservative Christians, and his well-known boisterous behavior. Ironically, it seemed that in choosing the lesser of the two evils, he is more in line with preserving a lot of the heritages of our country – the Judeo-Christian heritage. Isn’t that ironic because as compassionate and passionate as Hillary was about so many social causes she would have, according to most evangelicals, taken us further away from our Judeo-Christian heritage – a trend started by the Obama administration – and we wanted to retain that.

DR. CRAIG: I think the trend started much earlier – way back in 1973 with Roe v. Wade where the state laws regulating abortion were all overthrown because the court found somehow in the Constitution the right to abortion on demand. Now more recently five lawyers appointed to the Supreme Court have determined that two men can marry each other or two women can marry each other; that same-sex marriage is a right somehow found in the Constitution. Lest anyone think that these Supreme Court battles are over and done with, what is looming on the horizon now is a threat to religious liberty that is extremely significant. I want to just refer here to a report from the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights entitled “Peaceful co-existence: Reconciling non-discrimination principles with civil liberties.”[2] What this Commission has said is that exemptions based upon religious conscience are illegitimate, that these are really concealed forms of discrimination and should not be allowed. Let me just quote from the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights. They state:

Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights.

In other words, if this Commission’s recommendations were to be followed, that would mean that Christian churches, Christian charities and organizations, would not be exempt from having to hire people irregardless of their gender orientation or their religious beliefs.[3] So you could be forced as a church to hire a Muslim as your youth pastor, because if you don’t you are guilty of religious discrimination. Or to hire a practicing homosexual as your youth minister because if you don’t you are guilty of discrimination. This is going to be coming before the courts in the future. Therefore it is just critical that we have a Supreme Court that will protect the free exercise clause in the Bill of Rights that would not force religious organizations to hire people who are fundamentally at odds with their religious beliefs.

KEVIN HARRIS: We may have to do an entire podcast on this because there is so much to this.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. I just want to underline here the importance of the Supreme Court appointments. That’s all. Because this is the issue looming now that is going to be coming before the Court eventually.

KEVIN HARRIS: The chairman of this report, Martin R. Castro, led his opinion with this statement: “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” The John Adams quotation. That is how he led that. We can get into that later. Technically, that is true.

DR. CRAIG: Right. That is right.

KEVIN HARRIS: But there is a difference between our founding and the Judeo-Christian heritage that has undergirded it. But it is interesting that that is how he led it. I want to say one more thing about it and get your opinion about it on the fact that he says, “‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for . . . homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”

DR. CRAIG: Exactly.

KEVIN HARRIS: I still have trouble with “phobia.” A “phobia” is a clinical disorder. So if you have religious conviction against a certain behavior, you have a clinic disorder? That has gotten so entrenched in our lexicon that it is even in this report from our government.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, shocking isn’t it? That it would be part of this report from the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights. It is really astonishing.

KEVIN HARRIS: As a debater, you’ve got to say something about the debates.

DR. CRAIG: Well, I am not a big fan of these presidential debates. They are not genuine debates. They are more like Q&A times or interviews. Sadly, the winner of these debates seems to be determined by who has the best zinger or who expresses your views most clearly. There is very rarely a substantive exchange of ideas in these debates. It is mainly mudslinging and rhetoric. Having said that, I did think that the third debate between Trump and Clinton was very substantive. I don’t think in any presidential debate have we’ve seen more clearly laid out the policy differences between the one candidate and the other. So I did think that the third debate was profitable in simply clearly laying out the alternatives. I didn’t think there was a winner and a loser of the debate. The winner was the American public who could see very, very clearly the differences between the two candidates that we had to choose from.

KEVIN HARRIS: I noticed the next day after each debate, the press counted the interruptions – who interrupted who and how many interruptions. There were a lot of interruptions in these debates.

DR. CRAIG: Especially – I just interrupted you! – the Tim Kaine debate with Michael Pence. Kaine was just like being on electric therapy being shocked. He was just constantly interrupting.

KEVIN HARRIS: That reminds me of a certain debate you had with a certain Dr. Krauss.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, in Australia.

KEVIN HARRIS: This is something new. I don’t know of a past presidential debate that had interruptions like this. They’ve always been very civil. This doesn’t need to be a trend, or what are we going to be reduced to? Shouting matches?

DR. CRAIG: I think that this is a result of the kind of discourse that goes on on talk radio and television interviews. So often in these interview programs on television, the two people being interviewed try to talk over each other, and you just hear a cacophony of words without any clear understanding.[4] The moderators are so weak. I blame the moderators to a great extent. They are so weak that they cannot control the dialogue, so you get both people talking at the same time, constant interruptions. One would hope for more civil discourse in these presidential debates.

KEVIN HARRIS: This is nothing new. For the last fifteen or twenty years university administrations have been telling students who come to shout down a speaker, If you can do that to them, that can be done to you. Do you want to go that route? Because then you are back to might-makes-right. And that is a fallacy. But I think that perhaps that has calmed down a little bit on college campuses, but there was concern for a while of going to a lecture to shout him down.

As we wrap up, let’s talk about now that this election is over, a lot of people are breathing a big sigh of relief and a lot of people are very upset. What are your thoughts on where we go from here?

DR. CRAIG: I think where we go from here is that we really hold Donald Trump accountable for the promises that he has made, particularly with regard to the Supreme Court appointments. Since we’ve got a Republican Senate and a Republican House, there is going to be a check upon any excesses that Trump might try to exercise. I don’t trust Donald Trump. I don’t think that we just accept carte blanche that what he said he would do he will do. He needs to be held accountable. So this is a call for vigilance on the part of our House and Senate to make sure that he keeps his promises and does what he was elected to do and not try to go off the reservation.[5]

[1] 5:08

[2] (accessed November 14, 2016).

[3] 10:19

[4] 15:11

[5] Total Running Time: 18:10 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)