After November: Catholics respond to the unexpected election of Donald J. Trump.
In the early hours of Wednesday, Nov. 9, Donald J. Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States. Despite polls throughout the campaign showing Catholics breaking for his opponent, Hillary Clinton, come election night, a majority of Catholics—52 percent—voted for Mr. Trump. Here are some Catholic reactions to the Republican candidate's upset victory. Additional commentary can be found at americamagazine.org.
Hillary Clinton’s Legacy
I never thought Hillary Clinton would be a shoo-in as president. Coming after two terms of a Democratic president in the White House, she was always a long shot. What has surprised me about the presidential election is not her losing it but my own strong reaction to it.
I was not a totally enthusiastic Clinton supporter. I thought her too cagey and political to ever be forthright about what she really believed and, worse, too hawkish. Her secretiveness and lack of trust in other people were constantly boomeranging on her, creating unnecessary problems. The private server to handle her email as secretary of state seemed typical of other incidents that generated suspicion and sprang from an unwarranted need to control.
And yet I liked Hillary Clinton. I never understood why more people didn’t or why they said they could not warm to her.
There has been a lot of talk this year about the grievances of white working-class men. They have them, surely, and they deserve attention, surely. But the economic discontent of the white working class does not explain why Donald J.Trump will be our next president. He did not offer any realistic policy proposals that would improve their circumstances, and millions of people who are not disadvantaged blue-collar workers voted for him rather than for Mrs. Clinton.
I do not think most people who voted for Mr. Trump did so because they are virulently racist or Islamophobic or hateful, although they may not mind his shout-outs to that crowd. I think they voted for him because Mrs. Clinton was the establishment candidate and he promised change, and they were sufficiently mesmerized by the mantra of “change” to take a flying leap into the unknown. Even more important, I think they voted for him because, presented with a choice of the smart, capable, well-spoken girl in the class who gets straight A’s or the loudmouth boy who makes outrageous, offensive remarks and serves as class clown, they chose the boy. They chose him because he was the boy. Millions of men, and no doubt some women too, do not want a woman as president and are uncomfortable with a woman as boss. The election results say more about the enduring presence of sexism in our society than about policies or even populism.
Hillary Clinton’s concession speech spoke to both the high ideals expressed in our Constitution and the aspirations of women and girls. It was thoughtful; it was gracious; it was moving; it was inspiring. I know I am not the only woman who teared up when reading it. I wish she could have given more speeches like that during her campaign. Would it have changed anything? I don’t know that it would have. Too many American men are not ready for a female president, especially not after two terms of a black one.
Margot Patterson is a writer who lives in Kansas City, Mo.
Trump Has Given Us an Opportunity
Donald J. Trump’s election is a jolt, one that presents a rare opportunity to lay aside the worn pages of our ideological script, see our problems afresh and shift old political alignments.
The alt-right has cast a pall over Mr. Trump’s victory, and it is tempting to dismiss his entire coalition as rotten to the core with racism, sexism and nativism. But that would be a mistake. Both data and anecdotereveal voters who supported President Obama previously and Mr. Trump this time. We can learn from Mr. Trump’s coalition, even if some in it really are “deplorable.” We can especially learn from the men and women of the Midwest, where Mr. Trump’s most surprising victories occurred, where voters fled the liberalism of the Democratic Party but did not necessarily do so for conservative reasons. The American electorate gave us a populist president. Seeking the best of what is possible, my hope is that if we heed the lesson of Nov. 8, the next four years might make America greater by renewing the centrality in our national life of the poor and the family.
The family, nuclear and extended—not the individual—is the fundamental social unit, and its health is an index for society. Hyper-focus on individuals has for too long made us blind to enormous problems in our society. Isolation and disconnectedness may well be the public health crisis of our time.
Signs are everywhere. Even as material well-being increases, suicides are rising across nearly all demographic categories and life expectancy among some groups, particularly white men, threatens to fall, a development without precedent. Less than half of children are raised in a home with both their parents. Last year saw over 47,000 deaths from opioid drug overdose and the numbers are rising, especially in places such as Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Homelessness bedevils our cities even as some theorize that its root cause is not mental illness or drug use but the breakdown of the family. And, of course, more unborn lives are lost through abortion than from any single cause of death for those outside the womb—and in many cases abortion is an act of desperation that comes from a feeling of helplessness and despondency.
Beneath the surface of the populist wave are the cold waters of diminished life prospects. Both parties tell us that globalization ultimately benefits everyone. The Rust Belt disagrees, and so a Republican won Pennsylvania for the first time since the 1980s by calling for economic nationalism over free trade. My view is that the nationalist reaction is less an argument about trade policy than it is about whole communities feeling used and abandoned. While I doubt the jobs can be brought back, I do not doubt that the plight of workers in this region is real, and my hope is that President-elect Trump—having won because of them—will earnestly work to respond to the very real problems of entire communities hollowed out by the vicissitudes of global trade and technological advance. He has made promises to do what Democrats and Republicans have not been able to do, and all of us should hold him accountable.
Kevin E. Stuart, is the executive director of the Austin Institute for the Study of Family & Culture in Austin, Tex.
Meeting Our Neighbors
The political left is ashamed to share the same homeland, let alone neighborhood, with Trump voters. In response, they resolve to protect those made vulnerable by a Trump presidency. They vow support for racial and religious minorities and victims of sexual violence.
Rolling up our sleeves for the least among us is at the heart of Catholic social teaching. If we are not yet exercising a preferential option for those made vulnerable by a Trump presidency, we must absolutely do so now. If we voted for Donald J. Trump, our responsibility is even greater.
Yet we must recognize that many Trump voters do not fit, or even endorse, the categories laid out for them. It’s necessary to ask the hard question, “What moves them?” This is the work of solidarity, which recognizes our common humanity in Christ in spite of every kind of difference. Solidarity is bound to the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. It must be, since both are rooted in love of neighbor.
In the case of President-elect Trump, solidarity means seeking to know the undesirable neighbor, and this search will certainly end in a mea culpa. In particular, we must be open to acknowledging that Mr. Trump’s election delivered a condemnation of the intellectual and cultural elitism that has incensed many voters.
Intellectual elitism contents itself with dismissing beliefs without unpacking them. One example is the assumption that traditional views on marriage, sexuality and life are so outdated and irrelevant that they do not deserve engaging. Sociocultural elitism manifests itself in the term “flyover states,” in classist jabs that pass as jokes and in conclusions we draw about Associated Press photos of people at Trump rallies. Most of all, elitism asserts that those who think differently have nothing to contribute to the development of the society, and they are better off if enlightened progressives decide what is good for society, at least until they get on board. We need to call this elitism what it is: a failure of charity that, much like the worst of the Trump campaign, communicates that the “other” is unwelcome and undesirable.
We must replace these failures of love with the understanding that half of Americans espouse political concerns that differ greatly from the ones progressives embrace. We must recognize that while some Trump voters really are terrible people, most are good people with good reasons for their values, people who are sick of being told their voices do not matter because they hum church hymns and eat at Red Lobster.
Joining the work of solidarity with the work of the preferential option is critical for people of faith. It is what people of faith can offer to a wounded country. There are some neighbors we love, and others we do not know. It is time to meet those neighbors. And maybe love them.
Jane Sloan Peters is a second year doctoral student in historical theology at Marquette University.
Students of Color Face a Trump Presidency
Tonight, as a tenured faculty member, I make my way to the back and find a seat, because this is their night. The organizing student group, Black Student Union, has called this emergency meeting, but it is clear that “everybody” is here, a variety of colors and faces so beautiful it fills my eyes with tears.
Some sit as they speak, their voices quiet; others stand, owning the room. Comments are sprinkled with nervous laughter and often greeted with approving finger snaps. Some weep openly as they speak; others are defiant. The adults in the room listen attentively.
This is a summary of their major concerns, which need to become our most urgent concerns, too. The country is extraordinarily divided. Is there any way back from such polarization? How can there be, they ask, when the issues dividing us are so vital and so personal? They point out the fear of exclusion of L.G.B.T.Q. people and their basic human dignity. They speak vehemently about experiences of Islamophobia and the demonizing of Muslims. One young woman speaks through tears about her experience as a survivor of sexual assault and the terror of knowing that rape culture has now been normalized. “I don’t know who I can trust anymore,” she cries.
Then the room is electrified by the testimony of young undocumented students standing in front of hundreds of their peers, shaking and sharing. “I am a senior, and I am undocumented.” This is a student leader who two weeks ago was at the helm of a highly successful event to raise funds for breast cancer research. She explains that if President-elect Trump rescinds the Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals, or D.A.C.A., there will be direct consequences for her. Her study abroad semester, the first time she would ever be out of the country in her life, will be cancelled, as will her work study and her job outside of campus, because her work permit will be taken away. More frightening still, the knowledge that they are now in a government database. The adults in the room hang our heads. A while back when the students expressed fear about going through the process we assured them to go through it, confident in the decency and fairness of our system. Now, no longer anonymous, they know the deportation force promised by the new president-elect could come for them.
Just then, one young woman stands. I was with her the night of the election. She is diminutive, an honor student, an extraordinary writer and she is also “undocu” as she calls herself, eschewing the name Dream-er because it doesn’t include her family. On election night, feeling the painful sting of the country she so much loves rejecting her, she wept and wondered how quickly her family might flee. Yet, tonight, surrounded by the love of her fellow students, she stands up and declares, “I’m not going anywhere!” The applause can be heard reverberating through the entire campus.
Cecilia González-Andrieu is an associate professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, Calif.
Praying for an Imperfect President
As a conservative who has spent the last year opposing Donald J. Trump, I have some advice for my friends to the political left of me. Don’t play the game in which you reject the legitimacy of Mr. Trump as president.
I still think he is unfit for office. But the U.S. founders knew they were building a republican system that would check executive power. In fact, were it not for the immense admiration the founders had for George Washington, the United States might not even have had a president.
Since the end of the 20th century, we have experienced the expansion of the executive power. Some have called it the cult of the presidency or simply the imperial presidency. Liberals were happy when Barack Obama was the emperor but now are beside themselves at the prospect of President-elect Trump wielding that same power. My advice to liberals is simple: Recapture a belief in limited government, separation of powers and civic responsibility to resist unjust laws.
Intelligent conservatives did an enormous amount of soul-searching this year. I really hope intelligent liberals will start doing the same. Maybe ditch the whole progressive project to transform traditional faith? Stop promoting abortion? Knock it off with the identity politics? Stop calling anyone and everyone who supports traditional values a bigot and deplorable. Remember that history doesn’t have sides, and nothing is inevitable. Having a majority does not make something true or good.
I opposed Mr. Trump in the primaries. I opposed him in the general election. But nothing would please me more than to be wrong about him.
Mr. Trump is America’s biggest gamble. It’s worth remembering that it is really only desperate people who are willing to gamble so much. We all must address the real distress that underlies the choice for Mr. Trump. I encourage everyone to set aside thinking that the millions of Trump voters who voted for Mr. Obama twice are racist xenophobes. There are racists and xenophobes. The alt-right ethnonationalists are a small but real presence. They are not how Mr. Trump got elected. Mr. Trump was elected by ordinary Americans, many struggling in the Midwest and the Rust Belt, who have been exhausted by socially liberal elitism and by neoliberal policies that served the 1 percent better than the 99 percent.
Though a dark horse destroyer of norms and conventions, we must pray that Mr. Trump’s vulgar ambition and vanity will be a check upon his excesses and that, surrounded by people better than him, his own actions will be turned to the common good. More important, we have to pray that ordinary citizens will turn to the common good as well, working to build a better life on the ground for all our neighbors so that they don’t go looking for blunt instruments again.
C. C. Pecknold is an associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America. Follow him on Twitter: @ccpecknold.
Our Election, Our President
There is a story about the “Saturday Night Live” actor Chris Farley’s time as a student at Marquette University that has been running through my mind as I’ve thought about our presidential election.
Apparently one night he and some of his roommates went out and really tied one on. When they got home, Farley crashed hard. Meanwhile his roommates got some permanent marker and wrote on him, then followed up by wiping food all over him, stuff like butter, potato chips, leftover pizza.
The next morning, when Farley got up and came out of his room, everyone was waiting, anticipating his reaction. But Farley just poured himself a bowl of cereal and sat down with them to watch TV, like nothing had happened.
Before long his roommates started to get irritated—not only because he was not giving them what they wanted but because he was still covered in all that food. It was dripping off him. He stank of it. It was disgusting.
So someone told him he needed to get up and take a shower. But he just looked at them and smiled.
“Oh no,” he said. “You made me. You live with me.”
I had been using that story as an analogy to electing Donald J. Trump. You elect the guy who has said and done the things he has said and done, you had better be prepared to live in the America he creates.
But in the wash of emotion and confusion that was the day after the election, it strikes me that maybe that story is actually not about electing Mr. Trump, but about the United States—how we as a country have allowed large parts of our nation to become both more and more disenfranchised and more and more comfortable with prejudice and misinformation.
Some are arguing the election is a repudiation of “liberal elites” and their “arrogant dismissal of the common man.” But to believe that is to ignore that much of what those “elite” voters fight for are things like justice for all and the protection of our weakest and most vulnerable. It is also to miss that Mr. Trump’s election equally repudiates the nation’s right wing.
It is the entirety of the establishment that has been condemned and what is perceived as their disinterest or just plain hostility toward the concerns of many, many Americans. And not just white male working class Americans, either. As “Saturday Night Live” demonstrated so perceptively in its recent Black Jeopardy sketch, in many ways the insights and anxieties of Trump supporters are exactly the same as those of low-income African-Americans.
Over the course of a generation at least, we have allowed this mess, if not helped to create it. Now we have to live with it.
Jim McDermott, S.J., is America's Los Angeles correspondent. Twitter: @PopCulturPriest.