[Editor’s Note: Skylar Covich is the chair of the American Solidarity Party, which draws its influence from European Christian democracy. He recently received a doctorate in political science from the University of California Santa Barbara, with research interests in the relationship between religion and politics, and is teaching college courses in American government. He spoke to Charles Camosy.]
Camosy: Give some info to those who are unfamiliar with the American Solidarity Party (ASP). What is the backstory on how you came to be?
Covich: After several years as a discussion group, interest increased as more pro-life Democrats, Never-Trump Republicans, and various alienated centrists and radicals began arriving in hopes of a new kind of pro-life politics. The party got a late start on a presidential campaign in the summer of 2016, and I joined the party right after Mike Maturen was nominated. I found out about it in the comments section of Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative magazine.
I was working on my doctoral dissertation largely concerning difficulties and opportunities for socially conservative, economically progressive movements, and desired to get involved in such movements rather than just analyzing them. I’m totally blind since birth, and realize that government has responsibility to take care of the disadvantaged. But after converting to Catholicism and becoming pro-life in college, I eventually decided that I could not be comfortable working within the Democratic Party. I also became convinced that few in the major parties (or the older minor parties for that matter) present the right solutions to our economic, ecological and foreign policy problems. I became interested in distributism and other economic systems that prioritize the cohesion of communities, and was glad to see that ASP was interested in applying such ways of thinking to contemporary issues.
After joining the ASP Facebook groups, I got in touch with Desmond Silveira (at that time the national vice-chair, and later the party’s candidate for governor of California) and other members; I found a friendly and motivated team which welcomed the efforts of newer members like myself. I quickly began researching ballot access and mobilizing the party’s members especially in my home state of California. We got the Maturen-Munoz ticket on the ballot in Colorado (the easiest state for presidential ballot access) and filed necessary paperwork to get write-in votes counted in about half the country, and since then we have run several candidates for public office.
I was appointed and later elected to the ASP National Committee, and was chosen chair by the National Committee this summer. Our goal is to run as many candidates for local office as possible, and for 2019 elections we have at least one announced candidate, Raynard Phillips, who is running for city council in Inkster, Michigan. That said, we want candidates to run for whatever office they feel called to, and we do plan to run a 2020 presidential campaign. You can learn more about the roots and activities of the American Solidarity Party here.
I’ve heard some people (both as a compliment and as a criticism) refer to the ASP as “a Catholic party.” What is your reaction to such a description?
The party’s roots are definitely based in Catholic social teaching. That said, eastern Orthodox and Protestant individuals have been involved in the party at every stage; one of our past chairs, two current National Committee members and one recent candidate for public office are Protestant. We also have some non-Christian members whose perspectives we very much value.
Principles such as the dignity of each human being from conception to natural death, environmental stewardship, a just foreign policy, solidarity and subsidiarity, don’t require Catholic faith. Many members arrive at them through Protestant sources such as Kuyperian thought, through secular pro-life work, and many other ways.
That said, it would be a mistake to distance ourselves from Catholic social teaching. Many of our Catholic members were attracted to the party specifically because it proclaimed its roots in CST and because of some of the online conversations about Catholic thought. I believe that more Catholics can be recruited by continuing those conversations; millions of practicing Catholics already agree with our values, and we should cultivate that base while making others feel welcome.
It must be difficult to keep a coalition of disaffected people coming from both the right and the left together. Can you speak a bit about that difficulty?
In 2016, many of us hoped that the collapse of the two-party system was imminent, but this now seems unlikely in the short-term. In an era when our platform as a whole seems countercultural, and with all of the legal and cultural obstacles in the way of third parties, it takes great passion and dedication to spend time with a movement like ours.
We believe the work is necessary; winning local elections should be possible soon with the right candidates, and even the campaigns which fall short spread a message of whole life politics while hopefully pushing the major parties in our direction and giving people a way to vote their conscience. And, one never knows when the right candidate will succeed in winning higher office.
It has become clear to me, though, that many people want a more detailed policy message under these circumstances; feel-good talk about common principles and values only goes so far. Party members understand that each party leader and candidate for public office is going to have their own emphases, but our most active members are here because they are passionate about specific causes; about those whom they see being left behind by contemporary culture and politics. Their knowledge and experiences lead them to address very different locations of suffering, whether that be families separated on the border; or a small farmer or other business owner nearly driven out of the market by the combination of monopolistic big business and poorly designed state regulations; or the laborer who hasn’t gotten a raise in years; or the child from an unstable family who is so addicted to screen time that he can’t learn the skills needed for a balanced lifestyle; or the people suffering from our misguided foreign policy far away in Yemen.
We need to consider how we can address all this suffering, and how many of the causes are in fact intertwined. But it’s natural that people get frustrated if some of the party is less interested in the issues they are most concerned about, and that they are then less able to persuade friends with similar interests to become active. We are also in a time when it’s harder to put a concise unifying label on our kind of politics, as terms like Christian democracy or Consistent Life ethic aren’t understood the same way by all discussing them.
As a result, there have been disagreements on what might be called, though imperfectly, the left-right axis, especially over religious liberty concerns and pro-life strategy; also whether Universal Basic Income or single-payer health care would work as intended. I suspect that specific proposals to address climate change will be a difficult topic in the coming years.
I have also witnessed a divide between the center and the radical. Many of us hope that by advocating a compromise between the two major parties on most issues, or a combination of compassionate conservatism in some areas with some progressive policies, we can achieve balance, and perhaps assure that our party is taken seriously. Others, with whom I also sympathize, argue that we must prophetically demand a more deep analysis of the roots of our problems, and suggest less mainstream policy solutions.
Some emphasize Dorothy Day’s call to nonviolence and Christian service, or Chesterton’s concern about centralization of property and resources, or Elul’s critiques of our overuse of technology, or Wendell Berry’s agrarianism.
I have urged that we bring people together by working on issues that we can all agree on such as ending assisted suicide, reforming voting methods and ballot access laws, urging school districts to respect the rights of homeschoolers, better local zoning laws, demanding clean drinking water and calling for better working conditions especially for those in our most difficult jobs. But even on these issues there will be differences on policy details, and people inevitably want to know our positions on tough issues. So, we must continue the difficult discussions in a spirit of charity, recognize that we won’t agree with every social media post or statement or candidate’s speech, and advocate our individual beliefs in the best way we know how while recognizing the need for a relatively broad coalition.
In light of some of that debate, what is the ASP’s view on abortion policy and law? Both the Democrats and Republicans have very specific positions. Does the ASP?
The ASP’s platform advocates for “A constitutional amendment that affirms that personhood begins at conception and declares that there is no right to abortion under the U.S. Constitution,” and “Federal and state laws that protect the rights of both mothers and their unborn children.” It advocates that the government should not fund organizations that “promote, provide or facilitate abortions.” Instead, the government should provide support for the needs of mothers and children, including a strong social safety net, tax reforms, workplace accommodations and other measures to assist families.
There is also wide support in the party for policies assisting the work of pregnancy centers that do not provide abortion. That said, while demand reduction and cultural change are critical, the party stands firm in its conviction that legalized abortion is unjust.