Several persons have contacted me and asked me to share some thoughts on the election and its meaning and aftermath. What are our responsibilities as Americans, as Christians and Catholics? If anything, Tuesday’s results and the response of those who opposed Mr. Trump have crystallized in my mind certain ideas in moral philosophy that the brothers and I have been hammering out together for many years. I have found it difficult to convey these ideas in other fora, especially on-line discussions such as take place on Facebook. Our ideas tend to get distorted by the typical political and cultural narratives that pervade the internet and other media. Last year, I began to write out a systematic outline on this blog, but I think it’s worth going through the exercise again, with newer insights from Nietzsche, Max Scheler, James Alison, and William Cavanaugh. Not only that, but much of our work turns out to be applicable to the present political situation.
But this first post is meant to establish the context for everything else that is to be said, lest the rest of what I write appear as an irresponsible escape into navel-gazing.
We are still a nation of laws
…or at least we have always aspired to be. When political rhetoric of any kind is used as an excuse to perpetrate bodily harm or issue threats, this should be met not only with disapproval but with the full force of the laws against such behavior. Those of us who denounce violence will make our own insistence on this point more credible by our own principled respect for the law. There are multiple reports of violent incidents that are being connected to the election results. Most of what appears in the media (and, plausibly, most of what has actually taken place) is violence directed against persons such as Muslims and Mexicans, whose religious and ethnic identities are bound up not only in Mr. Trump’s rhetorical gestures, but in his stated policies. Some of the violence has been against Trump supporters. All violence is out of bounds and deserves the condemnation of every American.
Christian discipleship is authenticated by love of enemies
This past political campaign was demoralizing in its constant ratcheting up of the language of demonization. This happened on both sides, and neither side seems to see its own demonization for what it is. This makes civil discourse impossible. Or, perhaps the gradual breakdown of civil discourse has left us with no way of engaging in truly rational discussions (see Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, chapter 2). Without the possibility of rational argument, the temptation is to resort to demonizing those who disagree. In many cases, we have no way of making common cause, even with those inclined to agree with us, without scapegoating someone (this Girardian insight has been inverted and made into a conscious political tool by Saul Alinsky). Christians cannot settle for this state of affairs, and certainly ought not to demonize those who hold divergent ideas from our own. Pope Saint John Paul II, while an archbishop in Poland, used the strategy of holding the communist regime to account for the gap between their official rhetoric and the actual state of affairs. Václav Havel followed a similar strategy in the former Czechoslovakia.
The simplest way of stating this is that we are commanded to love our enemies and not to meet violence with violence.
Christian social thought is grounded in love of neighbor
Who is my neighbor? The rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump was an indication of a widespread sense in communities blue and red that the general drift of American politics has been at the expense of a great many Americans. Trump’s hope to “make America great again,” and Sanders’s “political revolution,” need to be seen in the long-range context of a failed war in Iraq, the ongoing symbiotic relationship between the federal government and defense contractors, banks, et al, 5.5 million home foreclosures, with virtually no repercussions for those responsible for this widespread suffering. The Washington and media elites are widely understood to belong to a utopian (i.e. “no-place”) globalist class that has forgotten the responsibility they have for their fellow Americans. Instead of seeing fellow Americans as neighbors with a common cause, elites unthinkingly deride the suffering as the irresponsible “47 percent” or lob them into the bucket of deplorables.
Again, I will have much more to say about how we got here, and what sort of strategies are needed to recover a sense of solidarity between Americans. In various ways, the healing follows from the principle of love of neighbor. The priest and the Levite, political insiders and beneficiaries of political power, were afraid to show compassion to the man left for dead on the way to Jericho. Perhaps we need to become outsiders, like the Samaritan, in order to see the suffering in front of us for what it is. Through the strengthening of local networks of concern, we can bring to bear a properly political pressure to bear upon government leaders, most of whom, after all, are chosen by us and work for us.
Love of God, love of neighbor, love of enemies. These are the measure of Christian witness, which is needed now.
Next: Why emotivism leads us to court political power.