Despite the general disappointment that the United States has just elected an incompetent, immoral buffoon to embarrass us before the nations, there are several reasons for American Catholics to celebrate a Trump victory. By “celebrate”, I mean “to quietly, timidly, and ironically shrug thy shoulders skyward”, for these are not victories guaranteed or even strongly assured. They are the campaign promises of a business mogul with no reputation for heartfelt sympathy with the moral concerns of Catholics. Nevertheless, we’ve been promised a conservative Supreme Court nominee, a pro-life leader, and the protection of religious freedoms. Insofar as we can genuinely hope to get them, we can allow ourselves a smile.
There. We smiled. Now it is time to frown. The main argument made by conservative Catholics pulling their eyebrows out over who to vote for was that, in comparison with Clinton, “Trump is the lesser of two evils.” Very well: We have elected an evil. If we have an elected an evil then an active Catholic celebration of Donald Trump would be disingenuous in the extreme. At the very least, it would show that all this “lesser of two evils” talk was just that – talk – and that conservative Catholics who so argued are wedded to conservatism; flirting with Catholicism.
If we have elected an evil, the primary responsibility of Catholics is to distinguish ourselves from it. If we have put on the dubious and unholy armour of big-business brashness to protect ourselves against the quieter evils of Clinton, it is time to take that armour off, and put on instead the full armour of Catholic Social Teaching. We cannot pretend that the ills of our society will be solved by corporations and their millionaire class “coming back to America” – we must assert, with the Popes, that the goal of a just economy is to spread the ownership of property and the means of production to as many families as possible.
We cannot mindlessly assent to the capitalism that Trump offers up as our salvation – it is not individual self-interest and market competition, but a genuine pursuit of the common good, that will make America great again. We are still called to agitate (with Leo XIII, Pius XI, Benedict XVI, Francis, and all the rest) for a just wage for labourers, a wage “sufficient to lead a life worthy of man and to fulfil family responsibilities properly” (Pope John XXII, Mater et Magistra). A Catholic economy is not a liberal economy any more than a Catholic morality is a conservative morality. It is time to make the distinction.
The Republican party is shattered. Its identity is split between being the moral voice of the nation, a populist fist, and an unbridled display of apocalyptic, power-hungry, and extremely wealthy men. The Democratic party is idiotic. They could have nominated Bernie Sanders, a crotchety populist who would have competed brilliantly with Trump for rural America. He was abysmal on life issues, but his genuine concern for the poor and his uncanny coherence with the Church’s economic teachings could have made him a justifiable Catholic vote in accordance with American bishops’ basic principle: “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons.” (USCCB, Faithful Citizenship) This was the man, after all, who not only championed Pope Francis’ rebuke of Congress, but also showed a genuine proficiency with Catholic social thought, as when he addressed the Vatican:
The essential wisdom of Centesimus Annus is this: A market economy is beneficial for productivity and economic freedom. But if we let the quest for profits dominate society; if workers become disposable cogs of the financial system; if vast inequalities of power and wealth lead to marginalization of the poor and the powerless; then the common good is squandered and the market economy fails us. Pope John Paul II puts it this way: profit that is the result of “illicit exploitation, speculation, or the breaking of solidarity among working people . . . has not justification, and represents an abuse in the sight of God and man.”
Instead they nominated an extremely wealthy, hawkish, pro-abortion, career politician. The message is rather clear: the Democratic party is concerned with safe victories long before they are concerned with genuinely representing the people. The message for Catholics is even clearer: we have been morally disenfranchised. There is no Catholic vote. There is only Catholic self-defence. Between two broken, shamefaced parties, it is time for Catholics to distinguish themselves.
We should take advantage of these massive intellectual and spiritual divisions in the two parties by asserting, with firmness and charity, the vision of social order given to us by our Church. Whether this involves the reform of the Republican party according to the brilliant lights of the social encyclicals, or the establishment of a new party guided by the same, is a question we need to answer as quickly as possible. If we do not begin to genuinely sanctify the political economy and public morality by disavowing ourselves from the muddleheaded and stale ideals of these two behemoths, I will bet all my money (a scant lump, sure) on the following prediction:
Under Trump, we may very well see a reduction of abortions, an increased protection of religious liberty, and the return of several moral issues (gay marriage especially) to the decision-making capacities of the state. These moral and legal gains will lure Catholics into a sense of security, and we will allow them to rise up simultaneously with an increasingly anti-Catholic and inhuman economy of ill-distributed property, massive scale, inequality, and the continued media-propagation of the values of big business and (barring conversion) a President whose attitude to adultery will encourage sexual immorality.
We will thus create the conditions, not only for a continued cultural desire for abortion (a desire conditioned by the economy of competition, individualism, and materialism) but also for the largest leftist kickback the nation has ever seen, which will not convert, but rankle and stew under what will be described as a conservative dictatorship. Within eight years, whatever temporary political victories we gain for our cherished pro-life and pro-religious movements will be swept away by a rebellious (and thus fantastically attractive) left, precisely because we had not the wherewithal to be radical – to radically assert a new vision of culture and society that orders the hearts of men towards true peace and justice.
Without a Catholic counterstrike of charity, the Trump years will paint a veneer of conservatism and family values over an unchanged, unrepentant culture of greed, which, to no one’s surprise, will end with a greater hostility to the vulnerable and the unborn. The evils we decapitate by legal means will rise, two-headed, because of our inability to couple our victories with a culture and an economy of justice that roots these moral gains in the actual lives, hearts, and minds of the American people. After Trump, without the Catholics – the deluge.