The Washington Post Monkey Cage blog has an interesting story up on religious freedom and last night’s caucus vote in Idaho and Utah for Ted Cruz. I think it gets a few things wrong. Effectively it is asking why Mormons voted for Cruz, who isn’t exactly a religious freedom champion when they opposed Trump.
The problem is that this election cycle is a perfect example of having any good choices. Thus any choice you make is bad. A vote for Katich at this stage is really a vote for Trump. There’s no way Kasich can win. Exactly why he’s still in the race is not at all clear. He should have left long ago if he cared about the danger of Trump.
Cruz is a very bad choice too for a slew of reasons. I suspect there’s actually a fair bit of sincere support for Cruz for various reasons in Utah. I think it incorrect, but at this stage I think it doesn’t matter. Trump is a huge threat for both the Republican Party as well as the nation. Most of those supporting Trump are either severely projecting onto him what they want him to be like or just don’t care. That is they think a vote for Trump will shake up politics. (It will, but not likely the way they want) Cruz at this stage, as bad as a candidate as at least many Utahns might think him to be is the best chance of stopping the greater threat of Trump. Beyond that the next best bet is to vote for Clinton. It’s worth noting that Utahns in general are not fans of the Clintons. This was the one state where in the 90’s Bill Clinton actually came in third. But I think many people see Clinton as a lesser threat than Trump.
Ignoring these political calculations of why people might vote for Cruz or even Clinton while disliking them as candidates, there are a few other problems with the story. The following paragraph just strikes me as very odd.
There is a deeper point to these inconsistencies than mere “gotcha” politics. For a minority religious group like the Mormons, religious liberty is both a necessary condition for their ongoing survival and a continuous threat to it. Without it, they could potentially be subject to coercive restrictions at the hands of democratic majorities — as they were when the federal government outlawed both polygamy and the immigration of polygamists in the 19th century. With it, however, Mormons have to deal with continuous and relentless historical examination of their founding theological claims and the ever-present fear that their youths will either leave the faith or radically reshape the way it is practiced and understood.
I think there are very real reasons to be concerned with religious persecution. I’m old enough to remember a fair bit – especially in the south where some very ignorant and naive people actually did think I had horns on my head. (Because their pastor told them we were devils) So that’s not just an urban myth. That said, that was more than 20 years ago and I think Mormons don’t face much religious persecution. Especially nothing compared to how Mormons were treated in the pre-WWII era.
However I confess I just don’t see what religious liberty has to do with “historical examination.” For one I don’t particularly mind historical examination. I and many others know the history quite well and it doesn’t affect our religion. I don’t think that facts are a threat to youthful commitment to Mormonism. I suspect bad teaching, boring services and the attraction of activities we see as wrong are far more of an effect on Mormon membership. That was always true but I think in an era when so many are not religious there are far stronger social norms pushing people away from religions. Especially ones that end up being “costly” in terms of commitment like Mormonism is.
Getting back to the original topic, I’m not sure Mormons are doing a calculus in terms of our religious persecution potentially by Trump and to a lesser extent by Cruz. Rather I think they honestly just think Trump is bad for the country. There’s no need to see every political decision through a lens of what’s good for the person voting. Surely it’s been well established now that people don’t make decisions just out of selfishness. Rather they frequently and arguably usually vote the common good. They may be wrong in what they think that is, but they are looking through that lens.