On Monday, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska fired another fusillade of criticism at Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In an essay posted on Medium, Sasse reiterated his charges that both candidates lie routinely, and that voters should not feel compelled to cast their ballot for either candidate.
Sasse began his assault by acknowledging what most polls have shown: “Most of our country believes this election is a disaster. Unless something changes, America — the greatest experiment in self-government the world has ever known — is going to spend the next four months shouting that the other party’s nominee is the bigger liar. Tragically, everyone knows that neither frontrunner tells the truth.”
Then Sasse segued to educating voters as to the true importance of why they vote, thus enlightening them so they could be better prepared to vote in the future and avoid the catastrophic results the two major political parties had precipitated. Sasse wrote, “We need more wrestling together about: 1) What voting means; 2) How DC should be disrupted; and 3) Why admitting that everyone is broken and fallen does not mean we stop caring about the character of the person in the Oval Office.”
Sasse elucidated three distinctions, beginning with strategic vs. conscience voting. Attacking the “choosing the lesser of two evils” argument, which he called, “strategic voting,” Sasse championed the idea of “conscience voting.” He asserted, “To us, voting is not merely about 1/130-millionth of deciding who should preside over 1/3 of the federal government from 2017 to 2021. To us, the act of voting is also a civic duty that tells people what we think America means, what we want to teach our kids about moral leadership, what face we want America to present to the world, and what sort of candidates we want more of in coming years.”
Turning to his second distinction, constructive vs. destructive disruption, Sasse explained that although he indeed opposes the nomination of Donald Trump, “The establishment absolutely needs to be disrupted. This is why I ran in the first place.” But then he asked, “Exactly why do we want to disrupt this city? Because some men just want to watch the world burn? Not me.”
Instead, “I want to see our Constitution dusted off, followed, and restored to its rightful place in American life as we again teach our kids about universal human dignity, natural rights, limited government, and public service. It isn’t enough to simply tear down — nihilism never built anything or ultimately satisfied anyone. We do need to disrupt Washington, but not for disruption’s sake.” He adds a swipe at Trump: “If a candidate says they want to disrupt Washington, then they darn well better be able to explain why — to what end. They need more than slogans; they need to lay out an actual vision for the future and where they will take us.
Sasse then offered his third distinction: civil vs. theological righteousness. Extolling the need for “virtue,” Sasse acknowledged many people get squeamish when a candidate trumpets their virtue. He explained what he meant by “theological righteousness: “My faith begins with the simple fact that ‘all have sinned’ and that doesn’t just happen to include me — it especially includes me … whatever your worldview, no one who is at all honest about his or her heart denies that they have sinned against their neighbor, that they have at some point lied, or stolen, or hurt the people they were supposed to love.”
Then he explained further: “But that is different than political righteousness or civic virtue … Not all law-breaking is equal … We don’t have a murderer on our hands, but neither of these people are just low-level speeders, either. Sadly, they both appear to be willfully dishonest … I do not believe this country can long survive if the public concedes in advance that people in government do not need to be consistently aiming to tell the truth.”
He added, “A minimum-bar prerequisite is that I must believe that, on January 20, 2017, he or she would be taking the oath to 'preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution' and actually mean it. Today, I do not have this confidence about either of the current frontrunners. I think one of them does not even know what the Constitution is about, and the other doesn’t care.”
Sasse stated bluntly: “Ask yourself: Why are these two the most unpopular candidates in the history of presidential polling? Because they are not honest. And everyone knows it. They do not embody the best of America … If we shrug at public dishonesty — if we normalize candidates who think that grabbing power makes it okay to say whatever they need to in the short-term — then we will be changed by it.”
Sasse concluded with a ringing tribute to American troops, using their feelings as a barometer of what really matters:
I started writing this as a letter to a friend last Monday, early in the morning on the Fourth of July, at Camp Resolute Support, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Although my outdoor table was backed up against razor wire, what a blessing it was to feel safe because of the service of the men and women in uniform on the other side of that wall. On that base, just like at U.S. bases I’ve visited across the world, troops almost never want to talk about the divisive parts of politics. They rarely mention candidates or positions on marginal tax rates. Instead, troops talk about “American values” — about what we’re fighting for — and about how we’re seen by the folks we are persuading to help us fight the jihadis.
Having looked these young men and women in the face, it is my sincere hope that we return to a tradition where a man or woman’s word is his or her bond, and where our public servants are virtuous leaders who run campaigns based on constructive ideas about where the country needs to go next.
In the end, Sasse cited a famous story about George Washington to illustrate the depths to which the 2016 campaign had sunk: “It seems like we’ve gone from ‘I cannot tell a lie,’ to ‘I need not tell the truth.’ What am I missing? You tell me…"