Matt Malone, SJ: What Joe Biden could do to heal our divided nation

Editor’s note: On Wednesday, Matt Malone, S.J., the editor in chief of America, shared with Sebastian Gomes his thoughts about the election results and his hopes for a Joe Biden presidency, should the former vice president reach the needed 270 electoral votes. A selection of questions and answers are excerpted below. They have been edited for clarity. The full conversation can be viewed above. 

Father Malone interviewed Vice President Biden in 2015. You can watch the full interview here.

Sebastian Gomes: What can you share with the country about Joe Biden’s life or his faith perspective?

Matt Malone, S.J.: I had a long conversation with him in 2015. I, of course, don’t know him personally, but I saw what a lot of Americans see, which is a good and decent human being, seemingly. In the course of that conversation that we had, I was mindful of the fact that this was the first real interview since the death of his son, Beau Biden. And I knew that that was going to be very much on his mind.

So a friend of mine shared with him an article I had written about my own father and the death of my brother so that he would know I had some inkling of what it is like for a parent to lose a child and that I would not put him in an uncomfortable position by asking him intrusive or awkward questions about it. Then he brought it up without my asking. He brought the story up about my father that I had written about in America with great care and compassion. I was very impressed by that. Afterward, he gave me a message to deliver to my father, which was just between two fathers. So yeah, I have one of those Joe Biden stories, too, where he does the decent, human thing.

What do you think the responsibility of President Joe Biden will be to try to rectify the deep polarization in the country? What do you think would be an effective way of approaching that?

I think that the defeat of the politics of Trumpism—which I think is the result of this election—is a victory for the country, not just for Joe Biden. As the editors of America said in our editorial, President Trump—the way he conducted himself in office—represented a unique threat to the constitutional order that was really unprecedented in modern American history. So the repudiation of that, which I think we see even in this very narrow result, is an important outcome.

In light of that, Mr. Biden has to govern for the entire country. We have just spent four years with a president who governed for 40 or 45 percent of the country. And we see where that has gotten us. We really need the new president to govern for the entire country, along with Congress, which means doing some difficult things. He needs to talk to Republicans. He needs to sit down with them. He needs to talk to Independents. He needs to not only fight with some Republicans; he needs to appoint some. He has to model that kind of leadership for the country.

What do we say when the soul of the country was yearning for a kind of unity and didn’t seem to get it on election night?

I would say there are different ways to achieve unity. One way that the country can be united and express its unity is by having a landslide election result. We don’t have that, and we’re not going to have that. But there is also a way in which the result that we do have, which is a Democrat in the White House, a Republican-controlled Senate and a Democratic-controlled House, affords us an opportunity to work together. In other words, if we had had a landslide and let’s say the Democratic Party controlled the White House and all of Congress, then they could have pushed through any agenda of their liking. But now, in order to get anything done, they are going to have to work together.

So there is still an invitation to unity if our political leaders in both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are willing to work together. This result doesn’t necessarily have to be the end of that hope for unity. It could be the scenario in which we actually realize it.

What’s the role of the church in this moment? What should we be looking for from the bishops in terms of leadership and even just ordinary Catholics, many of whom have this disunity within their own local community or their own family?

I think our responsibility is to model the change that we want to see. In that sense, if our hope is to be unified, to act as one country or at least in to act in some kind of bipartisan way for the common good, we need to model that behavior ourselves. As individuals, we need to be reaching out to people who voted the other way, people who disagree with us, people who have a different view of the issues. We need to reach out to them, and we need to listen as well as talk.

In terms of the bishops, I think they should start with where there is agreement between Catholic social teaching and the priorities of the new administration. I suspect that that is what they will do. But the temptation in a polarized world is to say, O.K., now we have to erect a bulwark and get behind it and say, “That far, but not this far, and no further.” And I don’t think the bishops would do that. And they shouldn’t.

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