Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Republican party, it is worth looking at where we Catholic voters stand in relation to the statements he has made and positions he has taken as a candidate for our nation’s highest office.
Trump has been controversial to the point of being provocative about immigration and some foreign policy issues — but there is one area where his candor and frank statements line up more closely with Catholic teaching than one might immediately assume.
Trump has connected viscerally with people who feel marginalized, left out, and put at risk by technological change and the globalization of commerce which has been stimulated by numerous trade arrangements in recent decades.
If we consider Robert Putnam’s important work, Our Kids, and Arthur Brooks’ recent book, The Conservative Heart, the genesis of Trump’s popular support and resonance is clear: America has a serious problem with socio-economic isolation, stagnant wages, and job creation.
The good that globalization and freer movement of commerce around the world has accomplished has also had serious negative consequences for many Americans, who are now seeking redress. These factors have been exacerbated by the Obama administration, whose policies have stifled economic growth and, for these voters more specifically, wage growth.
Catholic social teaching from Rerum Novarum through Caritas in Veritate urges that we respond to job losses and downward pressure on middle class wages. We have a duty to work for those in society who need help, who have been marginalized or left out of the system, or who need training and support to get back into productive employment.
In 1891, attacking the rise of socialism, defending private property, and laying out a platform for an enlightened form of industrialization and capitalism respectful of both labor and capital, Pope Leo XIII said:
“Working for gain is creditable…since it enables [man] to earn an honorable livelihood….if a workman’s wages be sufficient to enable [man] to comfortably support himself… many excellent results will follow…”
He then outlined how broad opportunity for decent work would nurture respect for private property, inhibit exploitation of one class for another, and generally stabilize society.
More than a century later, Pope Benedict XVI expanded upon the earlier encyclical in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate — making a couple crucial points on these issues:
First, that “today’s international economic scene…requires a profoundly new way of understanding”…that businesses must “assume responsibility for all…stakeholders.”
Second, that “globalization, a priori, is neither good nor bad. It will be what people make of it”….which “suitably understood and directed [can] open up the unprecedented possibility of large scale redistribution of wealth.”
In this sense, Catholic thought is in sync with what Trump has brought forward. Perhaps less nuanced than some would like, he has tangibly and succinctly brought forth the urgent need to bring more good jobs back to America and to get wages rising again.
History has demonstrated that it is much more effective to work through free enterprise and our capitalist system to solve these problems, as Pope Leo XIII and his successors have argued, than the top-down government control sought by the Obama Administration and the Democratic presidential candidates.
Even Pope Francis, who has forcefully criticized economies around the world which are corrupt, lack transparency, and fail to provide for their people, has made it clear that he is not advocating socialism and government control over peoples’ lives, which is dehumanizing and undermines the inherent natural rights of man which only God, not states, can grant.
The challenge for Trump, and for all conservatives who seek free enterprise solutions to the employment and wage challenges of today, is to come forward with specific measures which will actually create jobs and develop the skills needed to perform the jobs of the future.
In so doing, we can ensure that America always remains a land of unparalleled economic opportunity and social mobility.
Francis Rooney served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008, and is author of the book, The Global Vatican (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013.)