In his address to Congress last night, President Donald J. Trump said that “True love for our people requires us to find common ground, to advance the common good and to cooperate on behalf of every American child who deserves a much brighter future.” As with much of his speech last night, this turn toward cooperation was a welcome shift from the more combative and chaotic rhetoric and actions of his first weeks in office. Certainly, Catholics and all people of goodwill can and should welcome a focus on the common good. However, while the opportunities for cooperation must be embraced, some of Mr. Trump’s proposals would clearly undermine the common good and further entrench divisions rather than building common ground.
A focus on education was one of the brightest spots in the speech. Declaring that “education is the civil rights issue of our time,” Mr. Trump followed through on a campaign promise calling for an education bill to fund school choice, especially for disadvantaged and minority students, to allow families “to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.” As proponents of Catholic education, we are heartened by the call for the full inclusion of religious schools in this proposal. For too long, the politics of education reform has been mired in debates over state funding of sectarian schools, often involving constitutional provisions with a deep history of anti-Catholic bias. While school choice is not a panacea, it is a necessary part of the discussion and no reform program would be complete without the involvement of Catholic schools, especially those serving poorer communities.
Through his education proposals, Mr. Trump shows some willingness to look for common ground.
Through his education proposals, Mr. Trump shows some willingness to look for common ground. Unfortunately, his approach to immigration is still focused on division, rather than unity. Though he called for unity in support of law enforcement, his proposal for an office focused on American victims of crimes by immigrants would only increase and exaggerate fear and division. By further isolating and scapegoating immigrant communities and eroding their trust, it would likely make the mission of law enforcement officers in those communities more difficult and dangerous. Mr. Trump’s suggestion, from the first days of his campaign, that undocumented immigrants are particularly dangerous has never been supported by the facts; neither is this most recent iteration of the theme. As the bishops of the United States have repeatedly argued, real immigration reform has to recognize the dignity of all people and work for solidarity, not only border security. Common ground cannot be built on the basis of fear, and a blindly nationalistic “America First” rhetoric betrays both Christian and American values.
American Catholics know how both supporting Catholic schools and welcoming immigrants help to forge common ground and build up the common good. The task now is to help the nation—and Mr. Trump—recognize that these goods are compatible and interdependent.
These are only two of many proposals in Mr. Trump’s address. All of them need to be more fully fleshed out, including plans for their funding. As this happens, Democrats should be focused on opportunities for genuine, bipartisan cooperation where they exist. Monolithic opposition to Mr. Trump in such cases would only further entrench the dysfunctional combative political rhetoric he has finally turned away from in this speech. While this is not yet reason for celebration, it is reason for hope, which should never be rejected out of hand.