Well, it’s over. The nation’s voters spared us the corrupt criminal, and gave us instead the crazy, corrupt criminal. I had feared this, but never really expected it.
When Donald Trump began his campaign, to me, as to many people, it seemed like a joke. “Nobody will ever vote for him,” my Dad said. Now here he is President. One of the reasons he did so was he calculated appeal to racism, xenophobia, misogyny and white supremacy. He was endorsed by David Duke, former Klan leader. He promised to deport 11 million illegal Mexican and other Hispanic immigrants and to build a wall along the Mexican border. He has indicated a desire to restrict Muslim immigration to the U.S. He even indicated a day or so before the election, that it was “unfair” for Nevada to keep its polls open late because “certain people” (Hispanics) would get a better chance to vote. Now the Klan is celebrating, and isolated attacks against Mexicans, Muslims and women have been reported since his election.
The most depressing thing to me about all of it is the role that Catholics played. Trump won because of Catholics. The majority (52 percent) of Catholics voted for him. Little wonder: Catholic TV and radio in general EWTN and its satellites, Relevant Radio, Ave Maria Radio and others, have done nothing for months on end but promote him (without ever quite saying so directly), insisting that Catholics must vote “pro-life,” while expressing only the mildest reservations about him, and at the same time discouraging votes for pro-life third parties, such as the American Solidarity Party.
For months as I listened to Catholic radio, I waited, expecting someone at some point to start questioning Trump’s racist language, his urging his supporters to beat up protesters at his rallies, his hints that riots would break out at the convention. Not one radio host or guest ever did, at least while I was listening, and I listen every day. I had expected the hosts or guests at some point to at least mention Trump’s incendiary remarks about Muslims and Mexicans, or his deportation program, which is completely opposed to everything our bishops and Pope Francis have said on the subject of compassionate care for undocumented immigrants. There was basically nothing. Even months before the convention, when there were still other, more reasonable, pro-life candidates out there, no one seemed interested in mentioning, much less condemning, Trump’s positions.
Then, the day before the election, on the Drew Mariani Show on Relevant Radio, the subject was actually brought up. Talking about the election, Drew stressed the “non-negotiable” life issues are on a different level than “war, hunger and jobs.” When the first guest, Brian Burch, of VoteCatholic.org, came on the air, Drew mentioned some calls and messages from Hispanic callers saying that Trump was a racist and that Republicans and Catholics “needed to be less naive and less racist.” Burch replied that certainly Trump had an issue of character and judgment in this regard, but that “I don’t think you can say as a Catholic that he has therefore disqualified himself.” He said that Trump had not proposed any laws or policies “proposing that Americans should be more racist or treat blacks and minorities any differently.” Even if the outcomes were unequal for some people, it was a “prudential” issue. Not once did he explicitly mention Trump’s deportation program.
Exactly the same thing happened in the second hour, when Drew was talking to Monica Migliorino Miller, a pro-life activist I have always admired. She quoted a statement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” by the U.S. Catholic Bishops that in no. 42 stressed that a candidate’s support for “intrinsic evils,” including not only abortion and redefining marriage, but “racist beliefs,” would be reason to disqualify him or her for office. A Hispanic caller tried to get through. She was unable to speak because of technical difficulties, but had told the call screener that Trump was an “American Hitler.” Drew said many Hispanics were telling him they could not vote for Trump and were voting for Clinton. Miller commented, that yes, Trump is morally flawed, but he could be checked if he tried to implement any of his ideas, and in the end, “these other people groups who suffer grave injustices who are discriminated against African-Americans, the handicapped, Hispanics, illegal immigrants, we need to have compassion on them, yet they are able to speak for themselves, they can advocate, they can go to the streets, they can make real change for them[selves]. . ., but the unborn . . . have no one to advocate for them.” Once again, not a single mention of Trump’s actual policies, or how they actually compared with Church teaching — including the document she had just cited. Hadn’t Trump been racist enough, in her view, to disqualify him from office? She never said. She let the Hispanic listeners know that a Catholic action in the voting booth to stop the injustice against them really wasn’t all that important. I’m sure the show lost a lot of Hispanic Catholic listeners that day.
How do shameful spectacles like this come about? The majority of Catholics follow what Catholic Answers Radio has called the “five non-negotiable issues” – abortion, euthanasia, redefining marriage, human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research. “Unless you have the right to life,” they endlessly repeat, “all other rights are meaningless.” So, it is implied, voting on abortion is more important than anything else, and until that right is secured, everything else goes on the back burner.
They often cite Pope St. John Paul II as a justification. In his Apostolic Exhortation Christifedeles Laici 1988, no. 38, he wrote:
The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.
I believe this is a serious distortion of the Pope’s meaning. He was speaking about those in today’s culture who fought for human rights, but ignored the right to life. John Paul II stressed the right to life to point to the only sure foundation on which the fight for all other rights are based, not to say that these other rights can be subordinated or ignored.
Look, I understand how bad, how impossible, the choice was this election. But Catholic culture warriors been painting themselves into a corner here for a long time. Repeated refusal to speak about issues other than abortion and the rest of the “non-negotiables” has led to this. Years of support on Catholic radio and TV for the Republican positions, not just because of the life issues, but because these Catholics are most comfortable with the right’s positions, even on things the Church says are intrinsic evils, like torture of political prisoners, have led to this.
All this has led to a ripping of the “seamless garment” of Catholic social teaching on the defense of human life and dignity. The Catholic right demonizes this term — along with the memory of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who popularized it. They say it’s because it “gives cover” to Catholics to vote for pro-abortion candidates who advocate social programs for women, the poor, and minorities – things that Catholic teaching supports. But in reality, all too often, the Catholic right does this because they reject these social programs. They reject Catholic social teaching other than abortion. But Pope John Paul II clearly saw the fabric as a whole.
Years of this kind of thing has led to this crisis. Catholics in huge numbers gladly voted for a racist thug, making every excuse in the book for his horrible behavior and despicable policies. Yes, Clinton was horrible, extreme on abortion, and threatened Christians’ religious liberty. Was it an impossible choice? Yes, but think of those months before the conventions, when Catholic condemnation of Trump could have changed things, could have led to a true pro-life Republican candidate being chosen. Catholic Democrats could at least have tried more to speak up about their party’s extreme pro-abortion platform, but they too, have gone along with the system for years. So in the end, there is really no excuse.
The only way out of this, if there is still time, is for Catholics and all Christians to embrace a whole-life ethic, the one that Pope John Paul II advocated. We need to demand more of our political leaders. We need to reform our political parties, or get new ones. Again, the American Solidarity Party comes to mind. Above all, we need prayer and reflection, because this cannot go on: we are failing Christ in his people.