The role of Catholics in the time of Trump
The pundits and columnists, including this one, got it wrong. A nation deeply divided by race, class, ethnicity, education and sex gave Hillary Clinton a victory in the popular vote and Donald J. Trump the presidency in the electoral college. Mr. Trump’s behavior and Mrs. Clinton’s campaign convinced most Americans that he lacked the temperament to be president. But they elected him because they did not trust her or believe she would bring change to Washington. Mr. Trump got fewer votes than Romney, but Mrs. Clinton got fewer votes among African-Americans, Latinos and young people than Obama. Donald Trump beat the Bushes, the Obamas and the Clintons and became a voice for angry and forgotten Americans. He is our president, needs our prayers and should not be underestimated.
This is the most improbable election since an elderly Jesuit from Argentina was elected pope. President Trump and Pope Francis are both improbable outsiders, but could not be more different. Francis began his papacy by calling himself a “sinner”; Trump campaigned as a “winner” who had never asked God for forgiveness. Francis brought humble ways to the papacy; Trump boasted about everything, including his predatory sexual behavior. Francis brought Syrian refugees to the Vatican; Trump promised to ban them from coming to America. Trump is a convert to Francis’ rejection of abortion but advocated the use of torture and expansion of the death penalty.
Francis came to Washington 14 months ago calling for the prioritizing of the poor and vulnerable, welcome for immigrants and care for creation. Mr. Trump will come to Washington in two months pledging to cut taxes mostly for the rich, deport immigrants and repeal environmental protections. When asked about Mr. Trump’s immigration wall, Pope Francis said Christians build bridges, not walls. After the election, Francis said, “I do not pass judgement on…politicians, I just want to understand what are the sufferings that their way of proceeding causes to the poor and the excluded.”
These different visions create divergent choices and challenges for American Catholics. How we deal with these contradictions will test our faith, identity and integrity. Some divisions are already clear. Sixty percent of white Catholics supported Mr. Trump, and 67 percent of Latino Catholics supported Mrs. Clinton.
These conflicts challenge Catholic leadership, whether Republicans or Democrats, in different ways. If Mr. Trump keeps his commitments, bishops will not need to defend the Hyde Amendment or federal conscience clauses. However, they must protect human life and dignity in other ways if the new administration and Congress try to undermine the safety net or access to health care, reinstate torture or abandon environmental protections. Mr. Trump has demonized immigrants and refugees and called for massive deportations and bans based on religion. Archbishop Gomez offers an example of how they need to defend the lives and dignity of immigrants, refugees and Muslims as clearly as they have defended the religious freedom of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Catholic Republicans need to ensure that Mr. Trump honors his pledges on abortion and religious liberty at home and abroad. They should resist other policies that would hurt the poor or threaten global solidarity and peace. They especially need to address the anger and vulnerability generated by a Trump campaign that fanned racial fears, scapegoated immigrants, demeaned women and won with mostly white, mostly male voters. Can they persuade their party to act on poverty and criminal justice reform, voting rights and compassionate immigration policies?
Catholic Democrats need to take on the liberal identity politics that failed to respond to the pain of working class families and a Clinton campaign that called voters “irredeemable” and rarely even said the word poor. They should make clear that a party that makes “reproductive rights” a centerpiece and overcoming poverty an afterthought does not appeal to Catholic values and hopes. Can they help their party recover its voice and refocus its priorities on workers and poor families, on environmental and economic justice over culture war issues?
All Catholics, whatever our party or ideology, should remember that the moral test of our nation is how the weakest are faring. We should recall Pope Francis’ challenge in our Capitol “to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good.”