A few weeks ago I tweeted: “Priests cannot support a political candidate, but no one says I can’t get down on both of them.”
As a Catholic priest, blogger and writer this was my aim. Tapping away at the keyboard, I pointed out Donald Trump’s gigantic personal flaws. The next time I was up to bat I wrote about Hillary Clinton’s appalling history.
Over the months I discussed politics with my parishioners, and found that they were typical of many Americans. A few were enthusiastic about Trump, none supported Clinton, and most felt the choice was between a knave and a fool.
At Mass we distributed Catholic voter guides from the Bishops’ conference. We encouraged people to weigh each candidate’s stance on the issues and to consider the platform of each party.
For my parishioners who were keen pro-life campaigners the choice was easy. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party were enthusiastic supporters of abortion rights while Donald Trump adopted the traditional pro-life Republican platform. They were for Trump.
When pressed, they acknowledged his sordid personal life, egomania and shady business deals, but were willing to hold their nose and vote for him as long as he held true to the pro-life cause.
Catholics concerned with social justice were not so sure. They disliked Clinton’s stance on abortion, but Donald Trump’s anti-immigrantion rhetoric sounded racist. His rants against Muslims were disturbing and his sexist remarks and lascivious behavior were disgusting.
In their view Trump was a vile, racist, sexist braggart: an aging lothario with demagogic tendencies. Clinton might have been pro-choice, but they rationalized that her policies to help the poor would reduce the need for abortion. They decided to hold their nose and vote for Clinton.
Now that Donald Trump is the president-elect, are Catholics also the winners?
On the plus side, we can hope that Donald Trump will maintain his pro-life promises. With a majority in both houses of congress we may see Planned Parenthood lose federal funding. We might hope that creative and positive legislation will be enacted to assist women in crisis pregnancies and support those who choose the adoption option.
We could hope for change in the Department of Education, recognizing the value of religious schools and providing a universal voucher program for students in church schools and colleges. We could hope for a fair, balanced and efficient universal health insurance program administered at the local level.
Despite his confrontational style, in foreign affairs Trump might be a dove. The business man may choose negotiation and making deals over the temptation to rattle swords and pull triggers.
If Trump follows through with his Supreme Court promises we might be set up for future decisions that will strengthen religious freedom, bolster the constitution and establish the foundation for the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade.
All of these moves would be welcomed by Catholics.
However, in the midst of the euphoria of the Trump Triumph, Catholics should keep their eyes wide open. Trump’s character has not changed because he has started reading a presidential sounding script from a teleprompter.
The braggart and the bully remain beneath the gracious veneer. Catholics should remain cautious. Trump’s demagogic demon may simply have gone into hiding.
Trump has ridden to the White House on a wave of anger and fear. He has stoked up a latent xenophobia, and the patriotism he has promoted has too often felt like mindless nationalism.
President Trump will need to temper his flag-waving rhetoric with good counselors, common sense and compassion. If things go wrong he will be inclined to blame everyone but himself. In the face of a national or international crisis, the big boss man will have to find some other response to being challenged than, “You’re fired!”
If there is social unrest will President Trump restore law and order as he has promised? Would that mean the imposition of an authoritarian government controlled by a militarized police?
When it comes to international affairs, rather than speaking softly and carrying a big stick, will he simply wield the big stick? It is a real worry for many.
So is Trump’s victory a win for Catholics? On the pro-life issue: a cautious “yes”. On possible Supreme Court appointments: optimism. On foreign affairs, fingers crossed. On law and order, some nail biting. On care for the poor, the homeless, prisoners, the immigrants: not good. The new President likes winners not losers.
So, for Catholics I’d say the Trump win takes us into uncertain territory. All the more reason to focus on what we can do with what we have where we are.
We should strive to build God’s kingdom by living locally and loving locally. We should work hard, pray hard. We should strive to love God and love our neighbor.
Despite our doubts and fears we should remember St. Paul’s advice, “I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered on behalf of all men for kings and all those in authority, so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity.”
St. Paul was dealing with Caligula and Nero, so I think we can do the same for Donald Trump.