As part of Our Sunday Visitor’s special election coverage in which four writers make the…
The Catholic case for Donald Trump
Polarization. Division. Friends and family turning on one another. A pandemic. Widespread protests against injustice. Riots. The death of a liberal Supreme Court justice, and the nomination of a conservative woman to take her place.
And, in a few short weeks, Election Day will be upon us.
In our editorials this summer and fall, we have addressed this discord. But political division, in and of itself, is not the problem. A healthy society can and will engage in healthy debate. We are not a healthy society. But we can be one — and, as Catholics, we can lead the way.
In this special issue, we are presenting four points of view on the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The authors disagree with one another. As an editorial board and as individuals, we disagree with some of what each author has to say. But we and they are united in one purpose: to provide a model for charitable discussion of the four major options that we as Catholic citizens must consider as we approach the ballot box.
In this essay, Carson Holloway, Ph.D., a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, makes the Catholic case for President Donald Trump.
As the bishops remind us in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” Catholics have a duty to participate in American politics and to guide their participation by Catholic principles. Charity — love of God and of neighbor — calls us to do good in all our activities, including in political life. Faithfulness requires us to do good not according to our own personal conceptions but according to the Church’s teaching. In politics, we must seek to protect and advance the Catholic conception of the common good.
America is a large and diverse nation that is not predominantly Catholic. In such a country, we cannot realistically expect to find a party, or even a candidate, that is perfectly satisfactory according to Catholic standards. Therefore, we must, as the bishops suggest, exercise prudence in order to make the best choice possible in the given circumstances. This requires us to prioritize, and the most reasonable way to prioritize is to attend first to what is most fundamental and most urgent.
As the bishops indicate, the dignity of the human person is the fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching. The Church thus rejects as “intrinsically evil” any direct attack on innocent human life. The taking of innocent human life cannot rightly be willed by any person or rightly authorized by any law. Accordingly, the bishops present “the threat of abortion” as their “preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.” Besides its immediate human cost, the ideology of abortion “rights” obscures our understanding of the minimal moral requirement of a just society: that every innocent human life should be protected by law.
Here a powerful case can be made for President Donald Trump’s reelection. In a mass democracy such as ours, it is vitally important to have a political movement that is willing to openly and consistently affirm the truth that life is a sacred gift from God and that abortion is therefore wrong. This is especially necessary where, as in America, powerful organs of politics, entertainment and culture relentlessly teach the opposite — that abortion is a “right” and therefore some human lives may be regarded as disposable. Trump has spoken out on this key issue more forcefully and more openly than any president since abortion became a national issue. He has repeatedly affirmed the truth about human life and about abortion in the most prominent possible settings — in State of the Union addresses, at the Republican National Convention and in countless other public statements. He has told the truth with a courage and consistency that no Catholic should overlook.
In a mass democracy such as ours, it is vitally important to have a political movement that is willing to openly and consistently affirm the truth that life is a sacred gift from God and that abortion is therefore wrong.
Moreover, the president has matched his actions to his words, moving American public policy in a pro-life direction. His administration has restricted federal funding of abortion and restored the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits American tax dollars from being used to promote abortion in other nations. He has called upon Congress to enact legislation protecting the lives of children born alive after an attempted abortion.
The Trump administration has also worked to protect the Catholic conception of the common good in another area of fundamental importance: the family and religious liberty. The bishops remind us that the family is the basic cell of human society, and that it is founded on marriage, understood as a union between a man and a woman. The Church teaches that this conception of marriage expresses an essential truth about our humanity and a necessary requirement of a good society. Due to the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, this understanding of marriage is no longer reflected in American law. It is therefore all the more vital that individuals and the institutions of civil society remain free to proclaim and act upon the truth about marriage. The continued freedom of Americans in this area, however, depends on a robust conception of religious liberty. The Trump administration has defended religious liberty in the courts, seeking to protect the rights of conscience of Catholics and other traditional religious believers.
Moving beyond these matters of fundamental importance, there are other aspects of Trump’s record that Catholics ought to cheer. Although war is sometimes necessary, the Church urges us to avoid it as earnestly as we can. Trump differs from the two previous presidents in that he has not involved the nation in foreign wars and has instead begun to end our involvement in them. The Church calls on us to improve conditions for the economically disadvantaged. By cutting taxes, cutting regulations and promoting American manufacturing and labor, Trump succeeded in bringing unemployment to historic lows and — particularly noteworthy — helping the wages of the lower half of American earners to rise more quickly than the upper half. While these gains have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, there is good reason to expect that they will return as the pandemic recedes — if the nation continues under Trump’s astute and humane economic leadership.
On these and many other issues, Trump has kept the promises he made as a candidate in 2016. This brings us to another matter that ought to be of deep importance to Catholics and all Americans. The bishops remind us that we have a right and a duty to participate in politics by voting. The promise of our democracy is that ordinary people can promote their understanding of the common good by electing public officials who share their concerns. This process becomes a farce — a mere show of self-government without the substance — if candidates for public office use issues to get elected and then discard them once they have won public office. This has been too common in our politics, and Trump is a noteworthy and welcome departure from it. Despite serious and even unprecedented opposition, he has worked to advance his campaign agenda with a firmness unmatched by any recent president. American Catholics, and anyone who values real representative democracy, should respect that.
Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the co-editor, with Bradford P. Wilson, of “The Political Writings of Alexander Hamilton” (Cambridge University Press, $150).