Matthew Dowd, chief political analyst at ABC News, is one of those Catholics working off the radar who is quietly helping to change U.S. political culture. Over at listento.us he is seeking to build a “community of independent-thinking to recapture America’s promise,” by putting country over party in a search for a politics of the common good.
Dowd has worked for candidates in both Republican and Democrat parties and now describes himself as a “die-hard independent.” He has four children (Daniel, Benjamin, Jacob, and Josephine Marie).
- After the election you wrote an astonishing apology for the ABC News blog which began by recalling the words from the Latin Mass of your childhood (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa) while also invoking the “unknowing” of John of the Cross. I speak for many theologians when I say that we were stunned to see such confident, public theology coming from the chief political analyst at ABC News. Can you say a bit more about your faith and how it intersects with your public life and work?
I grew up in a very large Irish Catholic family in Detroit – six brothers and four sisters. My Catholic faith has been a huge part of my life and my identity. Though I have wandered much in my journey through this world, my faith has always helped keep me centered and focused on what matters and the person I want to be.
I was an altar boy when very young and an altar server in college. My Catholic faith shapes how I think, and how I approach the world. It enables me to get perspective in both good and trying times.
I have a practice each morning of centering prayer and meditation that I have been very disciplined about every morning for more than ten years – and I don’t think I could function well without doing it. It is a practice I started in reading St. Teresa of Avila and Fr. Keating.
I also understand the faith I have is a gift from God. I didn’t create it within me or build it on my own; God did. And I am forever grateful for that. I wish each person can find a center of faith to guide them in some way.
- You are a must-follow on Twitter, not only because of your regular insights from daily Mass, but because of your ideas for shaping post-2016 politics. Where do you think we need to go from here as a political culture?
I think we are in a very disruptive time in our American story, and we either need to create new stories or rebuild the broken political and governmental institutions that no longer serve a majority of the country efficiently or effectively.
I am a big believer in the cycles of history. Every 75 or 80 years (composed of four generations) we go through a monumental and important turning. It happened in the 1850s-60s, in the 1930s-40s, and now today.
We should use our founding fathers and mothers as a basis for how we need to innovate with institutions that celebrate our independence as well as put a premium on fellowship and community. They were the ultimate entrepreneurs where they put wealth, position and their lives on the line to create a startup – a country. And they also feared the development of bitter partisanship and political parties that become tribal.
We need to start with that entrepreneur spirit, and create a new political movement of independents, separate from our current political duopoly, based in commonsense, accountability and compassion.
This movement is coming, and I think in 2018 we will see many folks running as independents locally across the country.
- How might Catholics contribute to the kind of political culture you have in mind?
I think all people of faith as well as folks who are secular have an important role in reforming and recreating our political institutions. As Catholics, I believe we have a particular role in this process.
Our faith is based in three pillars: love of God, love of each other, and love of this Earth. These pillars can be used as a foundation to give up our selfish ways and see each other as part of a larger whole, and that every human being is a son or daughter of God.
Our new political institutions should reflect that basis of faith, hope and love that imbues our faith. We need principled individuals who are willing to listen to each other, seek common understanding, and let go of the ends-justify-the-means politics we have descended into.
We need to fix the process of governing before we get to the ends. As a Catholic I have a particular faith tradition that informs me and guides me, but we have to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit from every person who cares about our country.
- You tweeted out recently the provocative claim that, because Trump and company are not playing by the old rules, journalists should also adapt in their holding this administration to account. What specifically do you think needs to change?
Donald Trump is creating a whole new set of rules on many things but especially he isn’t guided by certain traditions of transparency, accountability and openness. He is counting on the media paying strict attention to their old rules. This won’t work.
We have a freedom of press in this country to speak truth to power and to help guide us to the truth. The media needs to go through some serious reflection on adapting their rules to this new environment.
They need to figure out how they conduct interviews, investigations, and insights in a way that helps us all find the truth and hold power accountable. The press should approach each interview they do with the administration in a very strategic way, and really think through a plan to unearth the truth.
- Many theologians and religious leaders believe there is no real way for people with serious religious belief to help lead the national discourse. Gatekeepers either marginalize such people as “religious” (and therefore in some way irrational and/or “niche”) or force them to use “secular” language as the price of admission to the discourse—losing the heart of what they believe in the translation. As someone who has found a way to balance serious theological commitment with having a public voice, what do you think about this?
We absolutely have to find a way that people of faith and folks who are fundamentally secular to be able to communicate with each other that respects each other and their beliefs. Forcing groups who disagree to give up their traditions and languages isn’t the way to reach consensus—it only serves to quash differences.
Along with politics and governance, we need to find a better way to have a faith conversation in America that doesn’t divide but unites. In nearly every major movement in our country that benefited large groups of Americans, it was a faith tradition that created the space for change.
Look at the movement to rid us of the scourge of slavery, or against wars, or for civil rights—it was people of faith that helped lead the way. We each need to respect each other more from all perspectives, and we need to not let the faith conversation be captured by judgmental folks and people who want to divide us.