How the White Catholic Vote Helped Trump

(and could be part of the healing process)


Many reasons have been offered as to how Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote, breezed through the Electoral College and stole the election.

Some have emphasized that Hillary’s personality, her apparent coldness and aloofness, hurt. That she could not mobilize African Americans the same way as Obama had. Not enough young white millennium women voted for her just because she was a woman. It is also normal and traditional that, after eight years, the major party returns and wins.

Let me add one other reason that seemed to have been in play in the Rust Belt and other Midwestern states, with their blue collar, non-college voters, which went beyond economic reasons. It was the white Catholic voter who deserted the Democratic Party and Hillary, abandoning a coalition that had begun during the New Deal. One poll placed their numbers at 57% for Trump.

How did this happen? What was going on? We know that white Evangelical voters, who largely condemned aspects of Trump’s personal life, ended up voting for him in even greater numbers. Strange for a group that emphasizes personal moral conduct as so important. One significant insight and detail, however, was given by one person who said he was not voting in favor of Donald’s lifestyle and way of doing business, but for someone who would nominate Pro-Life Supreme Court nominees.

For Catholics, led by a strong branch of conservative bishops, there has been a leaning right for over a generation. A constant emphasis on abortion and birth control has overshadowed many other issues, which are part of a Consistent Ethic of Life, championed by Cardinal Bernardin of recent memory. Immigration reform, fixing and cleaning up Wall Street, taking in refugees with Muslim backgrounds, etc. were left to a handful of radical activists. In every large city there was one or other progressive pulpit, but if moral issues were addressed, they generally pertained to the 6th Commandment!

It has been noted in the Catholic press how many current bishops, many influential in the National Conference, have not been on board with Pope Francis and his ideas on the environment and married life. At the recent November gathering, his document, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) was hardly mentioned. The reason given by the new President of the Conference was that there was a lot going on at the grassroots level. Many others, however, were looking for leadership on this concern. But then that majority had been nominated by popes John Paul II and Benedict, remaining loyal to that brand of faith in public affairs.

So when Hillary Clinton chose to champion the rights of Planned Parenthood to continue receiving federal funding and not condemn a nine-month partial birth abortion, plus the release of videos about sales of body parts of aborted infants, the dye was cast, even if Obama had restored many parts of the economy.

One hopeful sign has been a renewed interest in a Consistent Ethic of Life, from womb to tomb, slowly reappearing among progressive theologians, not yet always visible at the neighborhood parish. Pro-Life campaigns have remained largely Pro-Birth, and do not included lobbying for equal pay for the mothers (“shouldn’t moms stay at home and take care of their kids?”), education and housing for these new Christians, prison reform, immigration reform (the fastest growing section of the Church is the Hispanic). If classical historical Protestants have been losing numbers, Roman Catholics have held their own at about 22% of the population; it is because of the influx of new brothers and sisters from south of the boarder!

Recent appointments to wear those red hats (e.g. be a Cardinal) caught everyone off guard when the Pope remembered a newfound friend in Redemptorist Joseph Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, N.J., who was named a cardinal, passing by holders of more traditional sees of larger dioceses. In one swipe of the pen, Pope Francis has mixed up the balance of power and influence in the American hierarchy appointing people more concerned with mercy than morals. Not that abortion will ever be endorsed or forgotten. It will remain on a list considered an unfortunate choice.

Even if Trump succeeds in loading the Supreme Court his way, the history of Prohibition has taught us that what was most prominent during that time was people broke the law and people like Al Capone arose. You cannot legislate morality. The best and surest hope for reducing abortions is through a proper education about sexuality and its purpose, persuading people to value life over convenience. If the Social Security trust fund is running out, can we look to the fact that we have eliminated 50 million potential tax payers?

As this article is being written, we are seeing new signs of hate and discrimination against minorities. It is not only children who are fearful or full of dread over deportation and denial of entrance. Therefore, a role which Catholics (and other Christians) can play is that this country is not yet that weakened and that our future is not necessarily in bad hands. We must practice a bit of patience. Some call that practicing the virtue of Hope.

Some protesters are said to be paid. It would be a shame, however, to think that all of them are, that there are not millions who are worried about what changes may be coming. We used to give new Presidents 100 days to get organized. Yes, Democracy means that there are lawful forms of protest. Our history is full of manifestations that have shaped public policy, like the Vietnam demonstrations. But wisdom and prudence ask that people wait a bit to see what will really come about. Let’s move on, even Obama seems to be saying.

Even if it may seem too spiritual for some to exercise any hold upon actual events, praying for peace and harmony is not unpatriotic. To respect others who look different, worship in another way, speak English (or not) with an accent, we need to be reminded that all of our ancestors have something in common – we all came from other countries.

The churches can help create climates of trust and concord, unity and community, agreement with room for diversity. We do not have to all be the same and do everything the same way. But we do need to respect and revere all the cultures which make up this vast social experiment we call America.

Churches can be useful to bring people together as uniting nations and neighborhoods who “in God we trust” continue a journey of creating a life of freedom with responsibility; promote oneself, yet practicing a life of service, to encourage the young as we value our elders who have given us a great place to life.

To insult, call names, attack, and belittle others only proves incompetence and inferiority. To support and lend a hand reveals greatness. America is supposed to be about a land for being able to make choices. Now is the time for all to work together and pull for success at all levels. May our profound religious beliefs continue to inspire our better angels.

Father Donnell Kirchner, CSsR, received a degree in moral theology in Rome and taught for 39 years as a Redemptorist priest in Brazil, teaching at a regional pastoral institute in Manaus. He is currently working with theologians in Chicago.

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2016

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