Thursday, February 23, 2017
I continue to be troubled by many of President Trump’s stated priorities, chosen narratives, and policy decisions. I confess that I am also troubled by the opposition’s deepening embrace of across-the-board resistance to the Trump administration per se, rather than resistance targeting particular actions and statements. This tactic did not originate with Democrats in 2017, of course, though it appears that we may witness a significant ratcheting up of the obstructionist tendencies reflected previously in the GOP’s default stance toward President Obama.
How should Catholics think about, and respond to, a political culture that appears set to cast every disagreement on policies and priorities as part of a no-holds-barred contest of good versus evil? I know that Catholic philosophers and theologians have contributed key insights to our understanding of the moral permissibility/obligation of armed resistance and conscientious objection, for example, but our current climate poses a different question: Under what circumstances should citizens and elected officials withhold all cooperation and support from those elected officials with whom they disagree? This is not just about resisting the enforcement of enacted laws (though it likely will include that); it’s also about refusing to offer even selective encouragement, build relationships, or compromise across the great Trump divide – and punishing those elected officials who do. Is across-the-board resistance morally justifiable short of a regime that lacks any political legitimacy (e.g., took power by force) or reflects a sustained and deliberate course of action that conflicts totally with the moral law (e.g., the Nazis)?
I believe that Catholic social teaching on the importance of participatory political structures and practices is premised on an orientation toward optimism, cooperation, good faith, and a willingness to discern the potential for positive outcomes, even from elected officials who lack virtue. I do not believe that a stance of across-the-board resistance to our duly elected officials is morally justifiable unless and until we are at the point at which political revolution is morally justifiable. That might be simultaneously harshly judgmental and hopelessly naïve on my part. I’m certainly open to being persuaded that I’m wrong. This strikes me as a subject that warrants more insight from the Catholic intellectual tradition, and soon.