Editorial: Election Lessons
What are the lessons learned for Catholic leaders and the faithful?
Donald Trump’s upset victory in the 2016 election has prompted soul searching from political operatives, media outlets and pollsters that betted on a “Latino surge” for Hillary Clinton, but miscalculated the considerable groundswell of frustration in Middle America that tipped the scales to the outsider Trump.
In the months ahead, the 2016 election postmortems will yield fresh insights into the views of Trump supporters — many of them white-collar and blue-collar Catholics. For now, let’s consider a related question of special interest to our own readers: What are the lessons learned for Catholic leaders and the faithful? Here are a few takeaways from our editors: Donald Trump’s upset victory in the 2016 election has prompted soul searching from political operatives, media outlets and pollsters that betted on a “Latino surge” for Hillary Clinton, but miscalculated the considerable groundswell of frustration in Middle America that tipped the scales to the outsider Trump.
Blue-collar communities in the Rust Belt need the Church more than ever. “The weak economy has, over the decades, contributed to a tattering of the county’s social fabric. Church attendance is down since 2000, opioid addiction is up,” reported The Wall Street Journal in its coverage of one heavily Catholic Pennsylvania county that broke for Trump.
Four years ago, Charles Murray’s disturbing portrait of fading white working-class communities — Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 — was intended to be a wake-up call for U.S. elites, but that never materialized. Murray warned that this demographic was on a downward spiral. Men in their prime working years no longer held steady jobs. Marriage rates and church attendance had plummeted. And these problems left many individuals isolated and civic institutions badly weakened.
Since Coming Apart was published in 2012, blue-collar neighborhoods have seen no letup in broken marriages and fatherless homes. But they have also been pummeled further by opioid addiction, alcoholism and a spike in suicide rates. Still, no one seemed to notice. One explanation for the oversight, as Murray noted, is that the nation’s bottom 30% and top 20% — including those who set policy and run the economy — rarely cross paths. Parish communities were the one exception to this rule, he noted, and so could play a major role in building bridges.
President-elect Trump has promised to help these struggling communities recover, and we pray his work will be fruitful. But the government can’t do the job alone. Adopting Pope Francis’ model of the Church as a “field hospital,” local parishes should look for opportunities to become community lifelines. They can offer religious formation and support groups designed to restore the dignity of working-age men and women, revive a marriage culture and stabilize families.
Shifting attention to the president-elect, his victory doesn’t dispel legitimate concerns about his policies or character flaws. But Catholics have good reason to support the election of a presidential candidate who is pro-life; as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception” (2270). And Trump, who campaigned with a strong anti-abortion message, has vowed to nominate pro-life justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, seek to repeal the HHS contraceptive mandate and defund Planned Parenthood.
Those who did not vote for Trump also have an obligation to accept the election results and give him a chance. Taking the lead from the U.S. bishops, who recently concluded their annual fall gathering, we should carefully monitor administration policies. And, given Trump’s many incendiary campaign-trail comments on several subjects, it will be imperative to draw a bright red line when his campaign rhetoric translates into policies that threaten to violate established moral norms.
Regarding immigration, good Catholics disagree on the best path to reform, but we should defend the fundamental human dignity of undocumented immigrants and support sound policies that will not break up families, while protecting the national sovereignty of the country.
Political and social change is not inevitable; leadership and policies matter. Over the past eight years, the Catholic Church seemed to be playing defense, as the Obama administration sought to advance a regime of sexual rights and redefine bedrock social institutions, like traditional marriage. Key rulings by Obama-appointed judges bolstered this campaign.
Meanwhile, opponents of same-sex “marriage” and policies like the Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate were smeared as religious bigots who clung to outdated beliefs that impeded the progress of sexual minorities and women.
Trump’s campaign did not focus on all of these social issues, and it is not yet clear whether his administration will reduce or cut off the executive branch’s rhetorical and regulatory support for new sexual orthodoxies. But Trump has sympathized with the religious-liberty concerns of Catholics and evangelicals; and homosexual-rights activists, sensing a shift in focus within the Oval Office, have joined the anti-Trump protests organized after the election.
Of course, the tendency to hold up a permissive vision of society as a sign of progress is nothing new. For much of the 20th century, atheistic totalitarian ideologies predicted that Christianity, and all of its social and moral trappings, would soon be consigned to the dustbin of history.
The election challenged the narrative of progress that has shaped Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s agenda. But it has also burrowed deep within our culture, and many young Americans will need help deconstructing a confused, individualistic understanding of human sexuality and identity.
This is the proper work of faith communities, not political parties. And in his address before the U.S. bishops at their meeting this month in Baltimore, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Holy See’s ambassador to the United States, acknowledged the challenge ahead.
Young people, he said, often “no longer have an awareness of their identity, of belonging to a particular history, tradition or community. … [T]hey need the help of a cultural, religious and moral tradition so that they can discover the path that leads to authentic fulfillment in Christ.”
Our presence at their side, he said, “will remind them that they matter; that they are part of the family; that they belong.”