Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson Credit: MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Image

One of the handiest things about ideals is how they offer an easy way around an impossible choice. That’s the big reason I’m suspicious of them.

Just the other day I was having an exchange on Facebook with a friend who made it known she was sitting out this presidential election. “My vote is sacred,” she wrote, “and I will NEVER cast it in favor of anyone I do not consider worthy of a public office.” That meant Trump and Clinton; it also meant Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

“What do we mean when we say our vote is sacred?” I replied. “It’s precious and well worth fighting for? But sacred? It seems to me it’s just the opposite. We’re not simply rendering unto Caesar. We’re deciding who Caesar will be—not God. It’s a utilitarian decision that calls on our common sense, not spirituality. Common sense can be as ordinary and dispiriting as acknowledging the lesser evil. . . ”

I didn’t persuade her, and if I’d favored the Tribune with the same reasoning I wouldn’t have persuaded it. That paper posted online Friday its choice for president in November. It’s not Trump and it’s not Clinton and there’s no real surprise there—the Tribune said before Illinois’s March primary that it couldn’t bring itself to endorse either one of them. 

Instead, the Tribune endorsed Johnson. Its logic ran along feel-good lines. “We offer this endorsement to encourage voters who want to feel comfortable with their choice,” said its editorial page. “Who want to vote for someone they can admire.”

The Tribune doesn’t expect Johnson to win, and it showed no concern for how Johnson votes might affect the election if he doesn’t. (Just as it showed no concern that Johnson, if elected, would be a world leader who had no idea who any of the others were.) The important thing is that Johnson’s “principled,” and that those principles are the Tribune‘s—personal freedom and limited government. “Every American who casts a vote for him is standing for principles—and can be proud of that vote,” says the Tribune. “Yes, proud of a candidate in 2016.”

Which reminds me of something else I posted recently on Facebook. Someone reluctantly willing to vote for Clinton, if it comes to that, was saying he hoped to be able to vote his values instead and vote Green. 

Why are we proud to make a statement that we’re green, I wondered, yet a little ashamed of a vote that says we’re pragmatic? “What is more admirable than the strength of character to choose substance over symbolism?”

Sometimes I think my role on Facebook in recent weeks has been trying to talk down adolescents who think this election is all about them asserting their virtue. Age is a factor in this: I’ve seen too many decent candidates go down because voters who agreed with them on most things and wouldn’t have minded a bit if they were elected, decided nevertheless that it was necessary to teach them a lesson. 

The Tribune is 169 years old but—I don’t know—when the company became Tronc in June, it may have entered a second childhood. For one, Michael Ferro, CEO and father of Tronc, is no fan of Hillary’s. I’d like to think he kept his hands off this endorsement.

No, for the Tribune staff’s sake, I’d like to think he didn’t. 

(Later Friday, the Sun-Times endorsed Clinton.)