Re “Presidential Powers” (Editorial, 4/18): Although I disagree with the fundamental argument about President Obama’s “overreach,” I concur that the four topics selected by the editors are important domains for discussion. I am thankful that the editorial staff of America does not have to solve the overwhelming challenges, at home and abroad, that the president has no choice but to confront. Armchair, post-hoc critiques of how the executive keeps the United States safe (i.e., the first task of the presidency) are commonplace, but collecting intelligence and stopping destructive extremists must be done either by humans or robots, which is a decision the president must ultimately make. To provide transparency about how and where this is done may satisfy journalists, but it can all too easily become informative to the perpetrators we are attempting to halt.
I agree in principle with the editors’ contention that the better method for dealing with these and many other matters would be to go through Congress. But how many times does a sane person bang his head on a huge rock before he sees blood flowing and tries to move around the rock in legal ways? The president is aware of much more, including consequences for the decisions he makes. Criticizing him is our First Amendment right; however, criticizing without knowing the entirety of what he knows is questionable.
I salute the editors for (a) recalling their strong April 2008 reservations about George W. Bush’s abuse of constitutional power and the magnitude of its impact and (b) their choice to close the editorial with a critical paragraph on President Obama’s drone strategy. It is a shame, however, that they cannot bring themselves to see more clearly the extent of his abuses on issues on which they agree with Mr. Obama’s agenda (the environment, many aspects of health care and immigration) as well as the ways his overreaching harms constituencies whose agenda they seem not to share (business’s rights, for example, or the rights of people holding what have become in just a few years politically incorrect views). The constitutional erosion is furthered by both.
Re “Facing the Frontrunners,” by Margot Patterson (4/4): The comparison of Donald J. Trump to Hitler and Mussolini may not be appropriate, but it is a sad commentary on our politics that the comparison has to be made. Mr. Trump may not be exactly like them, but he can still be a menace. His strident, ill-informed and crude language, appeals to victimization, hyper-nationalism, incitement to violence and lightweight and counterproductive policy positions (especially on national security) are not the qualities of a statesman and presidential timber. They are the qualities of an amoral demagogue who will disappoint his followers because the United States is not a kingdom.
The checks and balances in our system will defeat his preposterous proposals if he is elected president, a very unlikely prospect due to high unfavorability ratings. If Mr. Trump is “authentic” we should keep in mind that many demagogues and authoritarians in history have been “authentic,” including Hitler and Mussolini.
Re “Fix the Primaries” (Current Comment, 4/4): One can see the sense of our current primary system in an age where travel and communication were very slow. But nowadays, with television and the Internet, it seems very antiquated.
How about this as an alternative: Let the parties nominate as many contenders as they wish by a certain date. Then have a national primary for all registered voters of that party. The votes will be made online. This should not be difficult to authenticate with modern secure communications technology. Then, any candidate who does not meet a certain threshold (say 1 percent in the first round) drops out. The remaining candidates continue to debate and advertise, and votes are held every few weeks with subsequently higher thresholds, until a candidate reaches 50 percent.
The advantages of this include that every person has a vote that counts, not just people in the earliest states, and candidates with higher support in some regions and lower in others are not at a disadvantage.
‘Over the Pope’
“Examining Conscience” (4/4), by James F. Keenan, S.J., addresses a subject that is not spoken about very frequently in the church. I have questioned several Catholic priests about why our conscience is never preached about or discussed, and the answer by three of these priests was that most people are not knowledgeable enough to understand what it really means; basically, ordinary Catholics cannot be trusted in many situations to make their own informed decisions. This attitude toward the laity is why Father Keenan’s article is so important.
It is also important to note the former Archbishop Ratzinger’s commentary in 1968 made in the Second Vatican Council’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”: “Over the pope...there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.” The church should be giving more time and attention to the development of people’s consciences so that they can make informed personal decisions.
The Right Words
Re Of Many Things, by Matt Malone, S.J. (4/4): As a priest and homilist, I struggle mightily on the great festivals of our faith, especially Easter, to find words adequate to the occasion—words that will fill the hearts and minds of my hearers with wonder and awe of the mystery we celebrate. While I regularly fall short, the ancient, anonymous homily in America’s Easter issue, with extraordinary imagery and deep religious insight, hit that elusive mark. Thank you for one of the most personally inspiring and moving experiences of this Easter season.
In “His Final Act” (3/28), Michael V. Tueth, S.J., offers a great reflection on “the little-known spiritual side” of Tennessee Williams. Mr. Williams’s sexuality placed a large barrier between him and traditional Christian doctrine. Yet there is a profound tension in Mr. Williams’s plays between the brutality of human behavior and the desire for grace and companionship. It is some of the same searching that Christian theology concerns itself with.
Mothers at Work
I have a couple of points in response to “Revisiting Welfare Reform” (Editorial, 3/21). TANF needs to be adjusted by location—higher in cities like Boston, New York and San Francisco than, say, in the rural South. And the ceiling for “poverty level” needs to be much higher.
I wish policymakers would treat TANF and other programs the way they do grants to businesses—as an investment. Every cent of this money is going back into the local economy—for food, rent, baby items, drugstore purchases—not to mention the human investment in strengthening families.
Finally, I believe that any woman who wants to should work for her own satisfaction and career development. But women who want, or need, to stay home with their children should be enabled to do so. A number of years ago a major women’s magazine had a campaign with the slogan “Every mother is a working mother.” One of my favorite cartoons shows a husband coming home to a messy apartment—dishes in the sink, soggy diapers, vacuum in the corner. The caption has the wife saying, “Honey, you know the ‘nothing’ I do all day? Well, today I didn’t do it.” There is still a lot of work to be done to get a just and livable income for everyone.
I am a devoted reader of America; still, there are times when I find its liberal bias on certain issues annoying. I enjoy the work of Matt Malone, S.J., and his description of his dad introducing him to town hall meetings made it most understandable how Father Malone learned to love the democratic process that is so much at the heart of our nation (Of Many Things, 3/14). My dad, an Irish immigrant, loved baseball and he passed that feeling on to me. I can still see him hitting the ball a mile and running the bases with joy. A basic value he taught me was that a central part of sportsmanship was to be fair.
I am very much in agreement with Father Malone that the several of the Republican debates have been an embarrassment to watch. Still, it did bother me that he never mentioned the Democratic candidates. Senator Sanders has made promises on spending that almost everyone knows would be impossible to implement without already straining a troubled economy. I recently saw Secretary Clinton say in an interview that she cannot recall ever having told a deliberate lie. Yet a Quinnipiac University poll from 2015 found the word liar to be the word respondents most frequently associated with Hillary Clinton.
Father Malone, is it only Republican candidates who are making a poor impression on the citizens of the United States? How about a little fairness?