Matt Malone, S.J.: This election actually could be the most important in a generation

In every election cycle some politician tells voters that “this is the most important election in a generation.” Yet it’s rarely true. Most elections are not that dramatically consequential. More often than not, our national elections do not produce lasting political realignments or tectonic shifts in the nation’s strategic priorities. There are exceptions, of course: 1932 and 1980 come to mind.

This year could also prove to be an exception to the rule. It should be clear by now that the two major-party presidential nominees have dramatically different visions for this country. Depending on whom America chooses, then, 2016 could prove to be a turning point. At the very least, it will prove to be an important election for the generation Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton represent.

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If Bill Clinton was the first baby boomer to occupy the oval office, either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump may very well be the last. So the faith profiles we offer in these pages (Mrs. Clinton’s appears in this issue; Mr. Trump’s will appear in a future issue) have to be read in light of the peculiar religious experiences of the postwar generation. “The kinds of religion that the baby boomers got was not like the religions of their parents or grandparents,” writes Kenneth L. Woodward in Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics From the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama. During the boomers’ formative years, “Americans witnessed an unexpected exfoliation of religious belief, behavior and belonging” that paralleled “the cultural and political upheavals that convulsed American society as a whole.”

Mrs. Clinton’s journey, however, was different. At a time when many of her peers were abandoning the religious commitments they had inherited, Mrs. Clinton’s devotion to her Methodist faith only deepened. As Michael O’Loughlin reports, Mrs. Clinton’s church is “integral to how she lives her life and the decisions she makes.” That sets her apart, not only from her own generation but from the generation coming of age today. “Institutional religion is experiencing a long overdue winnowing effect,” writes Woodward. “American ‘belongers-but-not-believers’ and the vague ‘believers-but-not-belongers’ are properly identifying as Nones,” folks who have no institutional affiliation at all. For a new generation, “religion has become progressively less relevant to their own self-identity.”

By his own account, Mr. Trump has enjoyed “a good relationship with the [Presbyterian] church over the years. I think religion is a wonderful thing,” he’s said. At the same time, Mr. Trump’s faith commitments, like those of most of his generational peers, are still evolving. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said in June that Mr. Trump had recently accepted a personal “relationship with Christ,” one that is more characteristic of evangelicalism. “I believe he really made a commitment, but he’s a baby Christian,” Mr. Dobson said.

No one, of course, should vote for either of these candidates simply because they are this or that sort of Christian. We have no religious tests for public office. Still, the faith lives of both of them offer clues to their general temperament and character. It’s also true that if we want to know where the next generation is headed, then we need to look whence they came. “Every new generation,” writes Woodward, “inhabits social structures created by their elders. If the young no longer understand themselves in relation to these inherited social institutions, neither do these institutions support, in the ways they once did, basic social needs.” The question then is what will take the place of the institutions and commitments largely abandoned by the boomers? How we answer that question could indeed make this the most important election in a generation.

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Lisa Weber
1 year 7 months ago
As a casual observer of politics and politicians, I have seen little evidence of a faith life in Hillary Clinton and no evidence of a faith life in Donald Trump. This is a very important election but not because of issues related to religion.
William Rydberg
1 year 7 months ago
This article strikes one as a farrago of sentiment and non catholic theology and is perplexing in that it contains a number of terms very familiar to Catholics (at those who go to Mass regularly every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation) like "the faith" that do not necessarily track to some of the faiths mentioned. For example abortion and same sex marriage comes to mind among others. I know that I have said this before to you, Matt, that as time goes on you write as though your Jesuit formation has become coloured by an American main line protestant point of view. A point of view that sees Religion as a matter of personal opinion. Catholicism does not teach this. Which is why the Mass is a public event and all are welcome of good will. I could go on, but expect that you reside at a Jesuit Res with Theologians of great learning who can clarify. Just my opinion. in Christ,
Vincent Gaglione
1 year 7 months ago
I often find your comments to be self-righteous, arrogant, and demeaning. Is it really necessary to be so? Just my opinion. in Christ,
Sandi Sinor
1 year 7 months ago
Demeaning America magazine, Fr. Malone, and the New York Province of Jesuits is what gets Mr. Rydberg out of bed in the morning. The arrogance and self-righteousness seem to reflect a lack of proper formation in Catholicism. Ironically, Mr. Rydberg, a Canadian citizen, is a big fan of Bernie Sanders, in spite of his support of both abortion and gay marriage.
William Rydberg
1 year 7 months ago
Ms Sinor, Although I seem to have committed the transgression in your eyes of commenting while Canadian. One finds the latest Rasmussen Poll about Mr Senator Bernie Sanders being the choice of replacement for the current Democratic Nominee interesting. You seem to put high value on hyperlinks than opinions, so here is the link http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/elections/election_2016/which_democrat_should_replace_hillary Happy reading, in Christ,
J Cosgrove
1 year 7 months ago
Mr. Rydberg, Keep up your comments. I don't agree with them all the time but apparently you must be over the target given all the flak you are receiving from people here. America, the magazine, is not a religious site, it is a political site. The religion will be stretched, bent or broken as necessary by some to support political positions. Often, those who don't stretch, bend or break are then call intolerant or other ad hominems. Alice in Wonderland has come to American Catholicism in the 21st century.
Sandi Sinor
1 year 7 months ago
I suspect you haven't paid much attention to the comments of Mr. Rydberg. He is "conservative" as far as Catholicism goes, as are you. I often disagree with your understandings and opinions, but there is a big difference between your comments and his. Your comments include real content. You provide information, sometimes you provide links or citations. IOW, while I don't often agree with you, your comments are worth reading. Sometimes they even inspire me to learn about something I am unfamiliar with, such as the Frankfurt School, which I looked up on a previous occasion.. Your comments are not simply a series of repetitive, negative comments that basically all criticize the same things sin the same words. In Mr. Rydberg's comments, there is never any new information, no actual content. Repeatedly saying that Fr. Malone, the Jesuits on the America staff, and the Jesuits of the New York Province do not understand Catholic theology, and clearly have not, in Mr. Rydberg's mind, had "proper formation", contributes nothing to any discussion. He also uses some passive-aggressive techniques apparently meant to demean the person he is engaging with. For example, in the interview by Fr. Salai, he responds to Mr. Guillermo Reyes with the name "Willy". Why would he do this? Is using a diminutive normally associated with children a way to discredit Mr. Reyes' comments? Or is the fact that Mr. Reyes name reflects his Spanish heritage something Mr. Rydberg is deliberately trying to disrespect, by using the diminutive of William, the English version of the same name? There are several others that he uses regularly, that I won't bother to describe here. They are cleverly done, staying just inside of the commenting "laws". Mr. Cosgrove, I will continue to disagree with you on many subjects. But, I at least your comments offer something to think about. They are not merely gratuitous attempts to discredit America, its editor, its Jesuit staff, and the entire New York Province of Jesuits.
joseph o'leary
1 year 7 months ago
You do realize that not only will the next president be the last from the boomer generation, but also the first in eight years? Mr. Obama falls into the Generation Jones demographic lying at the tail end of boomers and the few years before Generation X. Did it occur to anyone that the unpopularity of both current presidential candidates may have something more to do with their both being boomers? Especially among those who supported Mr. Obama? Could a Gen X Democrat be doing better than Mrs. Clinton in the polls right now? Would he or she have an strong affiliation with a mainstream Christian church, or self identify as "spiritual, but not religious" with a background in activism in social justice issues?
J Cosgrove
1 year 7 months ago
There has been a constant drip, drip, drip in our teaching institutions since the early 1960's by the Frankfurt School and their insidious philosophy of Critical Thinking. I believe they have won to a great degree. The United States as was formally understood by most over 40 years of age is no more. Obama has accelerated this but it was well underway before he was elected. One of the many indications of this decline is the two presidential candidates we have. The people have chosen them. Are they getting what they deserve? To think that either of these candidates is affected by their religion is absurd. The real question is what will be the end game. To think that anyone's religion will matter is folly. Religion will persist but in shaping the future world in North America and the rest of what was Western Civilization, it will be minor at first. Hopefully, in the end it will matter but it has no potential and authority at present to shape the near future.
Joshua DeCuir
1 year 7 months ago
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Fr. Malone, so I read this column twice in an attempt to make sure I was giving him a fair & open-minded hearing. But I must say that this column strikes me as quite off-key in some significant ways. First, I think as a matter of history, this election cannot be seen as a generational shift. Fr. Malone leaves off the 2008 election, which I generally think genuinely shifted political discourse further left. This election is more akin to 1988, where Bush 41 was elected more for "continuity" than a decisive new course. In Church terms, I think it more akin to the election of Benedict XVI rather than John Paul II or Francis. Add to this the overwhelming unpopularity of both candidates both within their own parties & with the general electorate, & I just cannot see how this election fits the mold a generationally decisive moment. Second, I think Fr. Malone mistakenly hangs his hat on that fuzzy notion of the candidates' "visions" for the country. I think that wrong because those visions are smudged over by the grotesque personal characteristics of both candidates. It goes without saying that Trump is a vulgarian realty TV star who has hoodwinked a disaffected group within the GOP & cannot be counted on to follow through on anything remotely resembling a policy. But Mrs. Clinton's troubles with veracity, candor & her ever-shifting policies should also lead to great skepticism about what, in fact, her vision for the country really is. Are we really supposed to believe, for example, that a woman who has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to give secret speeches to Wall Street financiers can be trusted to hold their feet to the fire? She can't even be bothered to tell us she has been disagnosed with pneumonia in the midst of a campaign without media firestorm. How can she be trusted? Finally, with respect to faith impact on both, I have a very hard time agreeing with the suggestion that "the faith lives of both of them offer clues to their general temperament and character", particularly in reference to Mrs. Clinton (and I will probably vote for her). Being married to a Methodist, & frequently attending her Methodist Church, I have gotten quite familiar with a tradition that values humility, balance, & common sense decision-making. Her support for repealing the Hyde Amendment strikes me as discordant from the Methodist tradition. And most Methodists would have some degree of discomfort with the amassing of a great fortune & the over-coziness with corruptionin pursuit of wealth that seems to follow both of the Clintons wherever they go. So, for once, I hope that Fr. Malone is wrong with respect to the importance of this election. PS - If America wanted to see the impact of Presbyterianism & Methodism on a political candidate running for office in the current cycle, perhaps it would be useful to look at Rob Portman, a Republican trouncing his Democratic opponent in Ohio. As a Republican, I hope he takes on Hillary in 2020!
Anne Chapman
1 year 7 months ago
One small correction. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were born at the very beginning of the baby boom - Trump in 1946, and Clinton in 1947. The baby boom generation is more or less officially designated as those born from 1946 - 1964. Those born in 1964 would be 52 years old this year. It is not likely that these two candidates will be the last members of the baby boom generation to run for President. But this election may indeed be one of the most important in US history. The fact that both candidates are baby boomers is largely irrelevant. I would add that it is likely that their level of participation in organized religion is also irrelevant. What is relevant and very important about this election is - will the US continue to support the American values represented by the US Constitutlion, and by the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty- "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free".. Will the US continue to be the shining beacon of hope that it has always represented for those caught in poverty, in war, or subject to religious and/or political persecution? The waves of immigrants from Europe throughout our country's history reflect all of these factors. The waves of immigrants today reflect them also, although our recent immigrants are mostly not of European heritages. Will the US continue to welcome immigrants as it has throughout its history - economic immigrants, those fleeing wars, those seeking a country where there is no state-imposed religion, and all are free to worship as they choose? Will Catholic Americans whose ancestors were shunned and reviled because of their ethnicity or religion, as most Catholic immigants were, remember - and choose to not mimic the animosity towards new immigrants that was shown to their grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great grandparents? Will our country and its people continue to work towards eliminating bigotry of all kinds, including bigotry towards those of different religions and races, which include most of the more recent immigrants? Will the US turn it's back on the world, refusing to come to the aid of long-time allies? Will it refuse to honor the Geneva Conventions, and our committments in NATO? Will it ignore the increasing aggression shown by Putin's Russia towards neighboring nations? Will the US refuse to honor its national debt? Will Americans decide that in "putting America first",it will turn its back on the poor throughout the world, the poor who have no safety nets, who are benefited not only by foreign aid, but by jobs that they have obtained because of globalization, [not a dirty word to this international economist], which has succeeded in pulling millions of the world's poorest of the poor out of the World Bank category called "extreme poverty (less than $1.25/day/person)"? Is it not very good news that the percent of people globally who are living in extreme poverty is below 10% for the first time? [http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2015/10/04/world-bank-forecasts-global-poverty-to-fall-below-10-for-first-time-major-hurdles-remain-in-goal-to-end-poverty-by-2030] Will the US start a trade war that would very likely push the US economy back into recession, but the entire world into one? The choice of candidates really comes down to this - one candidate proposes policies that are completely counter to traditional American values and strengths - the other will stay the course. It has nothing to do with the generation the candidates are part of, nor with their personal religious values, or lack of them. So the real turning point that might occur because of this election is whether or not the US will turn its back on everything it has always represented. Will lthe people, in electing a President, choose to support the values on which this nation was built - or to renounce them?
J Cosgrove
1 year 7 months ago
Your link is broken. It should be http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2015/10/04/world-bank-forecasts-global-poverty-to-fall-below-10-for-first-time-major-hurdles-remain-in-goal-to-end-poverty-by-2030 This link undermines the meme by many that the world is a cesspool of poverty caused by the rich nations and capitalism.
Anne Chapman
1 year 7 months ago
I thought I had responded, but perhaps forgot to "submit" before running off. Thanks for correcting the link. There is good news as far as the decline in severe poverty, but almost 10% of the world's population still tries to survive on less than $1.25/capita/day. Not much. Capitalism and globalism are not perfect, and there are certainly aspects of both that should be improved to remove exploitation where it exists. But the progress made in helping the poorest of the poor is certainly partly, probably largely, due to capitalism/globalization. The poorest of the poor in the world do not have the safety nets available to those in rich countries, so helping them is a moral imperative. Personally, I believe that the best help, the most enduring, is not foreign aid, but "teaching people to fish", and helping them with the tools needed to support themselves. Skills, education and jobs where they can use both. This comes largely from investment in poor countries by corporations based in rich countries. Too many people have come to think that both are somehow evil. They are not, but they must have oversight because there are still people without ethics who seek to exploit the poor. We need to find a way to ensure the benefits while taming the exploiters.
J Cosgrove
1 year 7 months ago
Thank you for your response. No system is perfect but most of the poor in the world are concentrated essentially in two places as your link indicates. These are sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. As far as another comment you made
Personally, I believe that the best help, the most enduring, is not foreign aid, but "teaching people to fish", and helping them with the tools needed to support themselves. Skills, education and jobs where they can use both. This comes largely from investment in poor countries by corporations based in rich countries.
Everyone, but especially the authors here, should watch the documentary titled "Poverty, Inc" which makes your point. http://bit.ly/2cf6RDd
Chuck Kotlarz
1 year 7 months ago
US wealth and democracy perhaps “…no longer support, in the ways they once did, basic social needs.” “If it were up to me, we would not have a tax code that subsidizes the wealthy. We (also) have this corporate welfare that benefits established companies and makes it very difficult for somebody to get started.” Charles Koch, US billionaire, April, 2016 http://money.cnn.com/2016/04/25/news/economy/charles-koch/ “Epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett found that the most consistent predictor of mental illness, infant mortality, low educational achievement, teenage births, homicides, and incarceration was economic inequality.” Bill Moyers, Broadcast journalist, September, 2016 http://billmoyers.com/story/plutocrats-vs-people/ Historical data show that on average, the years of major US abortion rate decline coincide with years of significant growth in US personal income.

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