Here Catholic pro-family activist Peter Wolfgang argues that, despite his failings, Donald Trump did much for the Church and for the causes she supports, and that we will miss him when Biden becomes president. In the companion article, theologian Holly Taylor Coolman argues that, whatever good he may have done, many of his actions were deeply opposed to Catholic teaching, and that alliance of many Catholics with him damaged the Church.
Donald Trump’s presidency ended in disaster. He lost his bid for reelection. Democratic victory in the Georgia Senate runoffs will put the pro-life and religious liberty causes at an extreme disadvantage in Washington. Worst of all, the MAGA raid on the U.S. Capitol will be hung around the neck of these good causes for years to come.
This is, by all the appearances, the hour of the Catholic Never-Trumper. But appearances can be deceiving. For all the ignominy of Trump’s bitter end, Catholics were right to vote for him. In fact, the Catholic Church will soon come to miss Donald Trump. Here are five reasons why.
As President, Donald Trump did more for the pro-life cause than Reagan or either of the Bushes.
He moved heaven and earth to put three originalist judges on the U.S. Supreme Court in four years and appointed hundreds more to other federal courts. He allowed states to defund Planned Parenthood, he defunded the pro-abortion U.N. Population Fund, he restored and expanded the Mexico City policy, he protected groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor against oppressive Obamacare rules, and he supported the nuns in their Supreme Court fight. He implemented the Protect Life Rule, which prohibits federal funds from going to facilities that perform on-site abortions.
Granted, the Biden administration might reverse these policy achievements. But in many cases, it will not be easy and it will not happen overnight.
Had Hillary won in 2016, the long pro-life quest to overturn Roe v. Wade might well have come to an end. She would have been the one to appoint all those judges, including the three Supreme Court Justices. She might have repealed the Hyde Amendment, a position she required of her Catholic running mate. And the religious liberties of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and many others, might be long gone by now.
Equal to — perhaps even greater than — Trump’s policy achievements, is the positive psychological effect he had on the pro-life cause. He was the first president to ever address the March for Life in person. He attended the Susan B. Anthony List’s dinner. For the first time in the history of our movement, we were not treated as pariahs by a presidential administration that was supposed to be on our side.
Can any future pro-life president now get away with merely calling in to the March for Life? Can they ever afford again to give us a Roberts or Souter or Kennedy for the Supreme Court? Trump has raised the bar for any future pro-life president.
The late Fr. James Schall said it in 2011: “Almost everything is now in place for a full-scale legal persecution of the Church, all concocted under the aegis of government protection of ‘human rights.’” See the Little Sisters of the Poor. Or Fulton vs. City of Philadelphia, a case currently before the Supreme Court that threatens to put a Catholic adoption agency put of business. Or virtually any situation where religious liberty is at odds with pro-abortion or LGBT agendas.
Donald Trump did not just fight these attacks in a piecemeal, reactionary, catch-as-catch-can way. He got out in front of it. He established a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights to deal with it. He prioritized the vetting of judges precisely because he knew they would be the last line of defense against it. Just recently, his work paid off in the Diocese of Brooklyn’s win over Gov. Cuomo.
Roberts — a Bush appointee — voted against the Diocese. After John McCain lost, his wife and daughters promoted same-sex marriage. After Mitt Romney lost, many of his top advisors signed a brief to the Supreme Court calling for the repeal of DOMA.
These were the people who were supposed to fight for us? This is the Republican Party that Catholic Never-Trumpers want us to return to? No thanks. I would rather have the result we got after Trump’s defeat: a solid win for religious liberty in the highest court in the land.
Here, too, Trump’s positive psychological effect on the cause is as noteworthy as his policy achievements. His proclamation on the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Beckett was historic. His speech in Poland in defense of Western Civilization might have been cribbed from a George Weigel book. For all his many faults, Trump still demonstrated a better understanding of what ails the West than ignorant Vatican advisers who misinform Pope Francis about a supposed “ecumenism of hate.”
Biden is not simply someone who favors abortion rights. Ever the human weathervane, Biden is someone who will take whatever positions are most popular in his party. In 2020, that means abolishing the Hyde Amendment. It means late-term abortions. It means suing the Little Sisters of the Poor again.
Worse, it means the public will think these are acceptable positions for a Catholic to hold because Biden will be the highest profile Catholic in the nation.
In 2004, when John Kerry was the candidate, the bishops knew that a pro-abortion Catholic in the White House would represent a sort of counter-magisterium. Some of them denied him communion. It became such an issue that the moderator mentioned it in the final presidential debate.
For whatever reason, the bishops seemed much less alert to the problem this year. But it’s still a problem. Even principled non-Trumpers see it. As the great Helen Alvare recently warned, “If We Don’t Teach the Faith the Man in the Oval Office Will.”
Biden is a 78-year-old man who can’t even play with his dog without fracturing his foot. We all know a Harris presidency is coming. It will be all of the bad things above, on steroids.
Abortion? Harris wants the Justice Department to declare state-level pro-life laws invalid. Authoritarianism? Harris’ persecution of David Daleiden on behalf of Planned Parenthood is the treatment we will all be getting soon. Religious liberty? This is a woman who thinks you are not fit to sit on a federal bench if you ever handed out a tootsie roll for the Knights of Columbus.
Finally, Trump made conservatism less libertarian and oriented it more toward a common good conservatism. It’s why he won states in 2016 that hadn’t voted Republican since the 1980s. It’s why he won more nonwhite votes in 2020 than any Republican since 1960.
The Thing that Used to Be Conservatism did almost nothing for the Catholic Church. And Biden-Harris will do far worse.
The Church Will Miss Trump
The question his presidency raises for us is: Do you have the courage of a Donald Trump? Yes, we know about the bad that he did. But can you match or exceed the good?
Trump did not win the culture war for us. And we may still lose it. But that we have not lost it yet, that we fight on, is something we owe to Donald Trump. His presidency was the temporary respite we needed from the never-ending cultural aggression of the Left.
Trump did a lot for the causes the Catholic Church believes in and even for the Church herself. And when the dust is settled, the Catholic Church is going to miss him.
Peter Wolfgang is president of Family Institute of Connecticut Action. He lives in Waterbury, Connecticut, with his wife and their seven children. The views expressed here are solely his own.