Wednesday, March 16, 2016
At Commonweal, Anthony Annett has a characteristically hard-hitting but, in this particular case, I believe overstated and in places unfair post called "Catholic Republicans Are Implicated in the Rise of Trump." He is, among other things, responding to our own Robby George's recent call for Catholics not to support Trump (and, in so doing, to prevent the Republican Party from being a reasonably effective even if obviously imperfect vehicle for some causes about which many Catholics care, including the pro-life cause).
The Trump phenomenon is, to me, extremely discouraging and most unwelcome. That said, I appreciate that it's also complicated and that the explanations for it are, too. (I've found folks like Rusty Reno, Ross Douthat, and Charles Murray helpful in understanding what's happening.) The argument in Annett's post is, basically, that conservative Catholic Republicans are "directly implicated in Trump’s meteoric rise. They actively supported the economic policies that fed the beast of insecurity, and they actively undermined the values embedded in the Catholic social tradition that might have acted as a bulwark against this narcissistic blowhard."
Readers can decide for themselves if Annett's descriptions of the policies he mentions, and their effects, are accurate and can determine whether they agree with his understanding of and claims about the implications for policy of Catholic Social Thought and of principles like subsidiarity. It does seem to be the case that many Trump voters are motivated in part by frustration having to do with their understandings of free-trade and other economic policies that Republicans (and, in recent decades, most leading Democrats) have favored. (Whether these voters are correct to think that Donald Trump -- or, for that matter, Bernie Sanders -- has an understanding of economic matters that would ameliorate their frustration is another matter.) Again, there are some commentators who have written thoughtfully on this. But, in my view, Annett paints too broadly, and neglects the many ways in which the loss of a "bulwark against this narcissistic blowhard" (and I certainly agree that Trump is one) is a result of civil-society-institution-and-moral-ecology undermining policies, values, and social changes that are more accurately associated with the Democratic Party and the left-liberal side of American politics. (He does, in one parenthetical sentence, acknowledge that "[t]he Democrats don’t have a stellar record here either. They have spent the past few decades favoring Planned Parenthood, Wall Street, and the 'creative class' over their traditional constituency." I'd call this a considerable understatement.)
Now, all that said: I agree with Robby and others that, on balance and all things considered, the Republican Party has been a useful vehicle -- and that's all, for me, a political party can and should be for Catholics: not part of our identity and not, in itself, an object of loyalty -- for several causes and on several issues that matter to me (e.g., school choice, judges, religious freedom, life, anti-communism, etc.) On some other issues (e.g., criminal justice, immigration, etc.), I would prefer different policies to the ones that Party generally promotes. If the nominee of the Republican Party, however, is Donald Trump, then it seems to me that it becomes unable -- disqualified, really -- from playing even this "vehicular" role (for me). I think the same is true of a Democratic Party led by Sec. Clinton (and, in effect, by Cecile Richards). And so, as I suggested in an earlier post, I'm becoming resigned to writing in my former governor, Mitch Daniels, and spending a fair amount of time praying the rosary and drinking Basil Hayden's (a good Catholic bourbon).