Life After an Election

“Put not your trust in princes,” we are warned (Psalm 146:3). During the last eight years, excepting possibly during the midterm elections, most faithful Catholics have heeded this warning. Let us not forsake it based solely on the fact that the lesser evil won this round of elections.

pinestrawThe US elections are over, though I would say that the fallout from them has only just begun to settle. The election fatigue set in long ago for some of us, perhaps even before the primaries were ended. We were given a choice between a cad (or at least a man who plays one on TV) and a crook (albeit one who never quite seems to be indicted), and have elected the former.[1] If he may be said to be the lesser of two evils, then we must remember that the lesser evil is still an evil.

We Christians—fundamentalists, evangelicals, Baptists, Catholics, “conservative” Christians of all stripes—collectively elected Donald J. Trump to be the next president.[2] We now have the duty to do what we can to facilitate the implementation of his good policies and to mitigate his bad ones.

However, I see that neither I nor (presumably) my readership are in particular positions of power or influence: we can’t have much in the way of direct effect on any of this. We might finally dare to believe that federal government’s culture-shaping and moral-corrupting edicts will cease or at least relent for a time, that we may be at the very least left alone. Whether we will, in fact, have a respite from the outgoing administration’s attempts at social engineering is speculation at this point. The media is temporarily cowed, but it is not thoroughly repentant; and social media will probably persist in its propaganda campaigns, thereby further polarizing the nation. Indeed, I suspect that both will return to their natural states with a vengeance long before the presidential inauguration (witness, for one, the many bitter recriminations broadcast by both in the immediate wake of election night).

man-matures-problems-politicsWe must remember that all politics are local, which is I suppose a sort of outline of the Catholic principle of subsidiarity. We cannot determine the actions of this or any other president—but we can determine our own, at least in part. In another election-related column, Mr. Ryan Kraeger offered a few ideas about how we ourselves can work to make the world a better place, to some extent regardless of the outcome of the elections [3]:

I think politics, especially National politics, is really a distractor for a lot of people. We get all wrapped around the axle and bent out of shape over these huge things that really don’t concern us. Worse, the fact of getting engrossed in them distracts us from the good we should be doing.

The government does not adequately take care of the poor in America. So? How does that prevent me from taking care of them?

The president has not solved homelessness and poverty. Does that prevent me from donating to my local homeless shelter, or volunteering my time, talent and treasure?

Abortion is legal in America. This is a tragedy, but it is not the greatest tragedy. The root of that tragedy is selfishness. It is selfishness that makes it so that babies are unwanted, that mothers feel like they have no other option, and that some so-called doctors do not care about human life. I can do foster care, or adopt, or sponsor an unwed mother, or engage in conversation with my fellow medical care providers. The government does not and cannot prevent me from doing so.

The president has not provided free healthcare for everyone. So? Why can’t I provide free healthcare, or reduced cost healthcare for patients who can’t afford it (once I get my PA certification, that is?)

The president has not stopped pollution, or saved the planet. So what? How does that prevent me from living simply, reducing my own trash and exercising stewardship of the environment?

Of course, the outcome of the elections may decide whether our virtuous actions are punishable by law. Elections do have consequences, and so for example we have spent time, energy, and even political and social capital battling over whether Catholics should be forced to pay for others’ contraceptives or abortions, and whether or not our young daughters should have to share the public locker room or bathroom with adult men. In both cases, we are fighting the good fight, but again, I can’t help but think: what a waste. To pick one more example which is keeping more in line with Mr. Kraeger’s suggestions—it becomes difficult to choose to feed the poor when doing so is punishable by law on account of not having taken the proper bureaucratic steps in obtaining a food handler’s license, a license to operate a food truck, and the right to peddle wares (even for free) on any public street corner. These are not fights we should even have to be considering; they should be non-issues, but our government has decided to make them issues. Nor can we back down here.

cs-lewis-error-in-pairsNevertheless, making the world—or our own country—better all begins with making our own small corner of the world better, perhaps only our own household. If Hillary Clinton is the epitome of what is wrong with our politics, and Donald Trump is the summation of what is wrong with our culture, we have to remember that neither is formed in a vacuum. Our society is put together from the building blocks of our own families, and these we can and do have some influence upon.

We can look at president-elect Donald Trump’s words and behavior in public and be aghast at his lack of modesty or decorum. Do we stop to ask whether we comport ourselves with modesty or decorum at all times in public? This goes for how we speak, how we act, even how we dress.[3] We may be rightly aghast at the possibility that our president elect is a racist or a bigot—I think that these charges are overblown to some extent, and that the media certainly has done its best to paint him in the worst light possible, but not all of the charges can be easily dismissed as merely more media manipulation.[4] It is certainly easier to be outraged at this prospect than to examine our own behavior in public and online: are we kind to others, do we give them the benefit of the doubt (every so often, let alone always)? Do we allow for the possibility that a disagreement may be honest and purely motivated [5], or do we assume that there is some malice afoot, that it is rooted in racism or bigotry or even simple selfishness?

We should remember above all that our political and cultural and even religious adversaries are still human, too. They should be treated with some level of respect and dignity, and above all with charity. Anything less and we are undermining whatever short-term progress we may make.

—-Footnotes—

[1] There are in addition some also-rans, some of whom may even have been better choices… but none of them were going to actually win this election. Still, a vote for the third party/write-ins is not a wasted vote: had they received a more substantial share of the popular vote, it might even have signaled dissatisfaction with the two major candidates.

[2] I say this recognizing that not all of the members of any of these voted. Full disclosure: while I suspect that Trump is the lesser evil, and that much of his TV persona is a large act, I still wrote in my vote.

[3] Though this latter point is not something with which I can generally fault Mr. Trump, or any other prominent politician. At worst, we can complain about how lavishly they dress in buying very expensive clothing, or getting expensive haircuts, etc. For my part, I have never complained about this because even buying expensive clothes is helping to keep someone somewhere employed.

[4] The Left in general and the media in particular are always quick to blame any disagreement on either a mental defect or some form of bigotry (or both). Hence, the narrative is that Trump won because of stupid, poor, angry white men. I didn’t know there were so many more stupid poor angry white men than all other demographics in America. Apparently neither did Mr. Trump’s electorate.

[5] Confession: I sometimes have to work on this too. Admonishment: so, dear reader, do you.

4 thoughts on “Life After an Election”

  1. Avatar

    Thanks for balancing out my points. It is true that subsidiarity should never be interpreted as isolationism or as an abandonment of public discourse. It is also true that without the voice of good people in government we will not long be able even to rely on being left alone. Good thoughts!

    1. Avatar

      I had rather enjoyed your original column. Thanks for writing it.

      PS Sorry for so late a response. I had lost track of my commenting login (of all things) an am generally disinclined to create a new account.

  2. Avatar

    I have an idea that might encourage you to reconsider your expressed viewpoint that, “However, I see that neither I nor (presumably) my readership are in particular positions of power or influence: we can’t have much in the way of direct effect on any of this.”
    The idea is very simple: People, following the encouragement of their ministers for them to try and do all they can to influence local politics for the better, strive to be members of screening and endorsement committees for both political parties at the local level and to influence the other members of said committees to ask questions, of candidates seeking their endorsements, questions that are not being asked today by reporters or voters and then make public the answers.
    Questions like:
    Will (should?) jury nullification be used to overturn court decisions in abortion, gun control, land use and other cases, once ministers of all faiths encourage laity of their obligation as jurors to uphold the Constitution against illegal legislation by judicial fiat and remind them that the First Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay wrote in Georgia v. Brailsford, 3 U.S. (Dall) 1 (1794):
    It may not be amiss, here, Gentlemen, to remind you of the good old rule, that on questions of fact, it is the province of the jury, on questions of law, it is the province of the court to decide. But it must be observed that by the same law, which recognizes this reasonable distribution of jurisdiction, you have nevertheless a right to take upon yourselves to judge of both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy. On this, and on every other occasion, however, we have no doubt, you will pay that respect, which is due to the opinion of the court: For, as on the one hand, it is presumed, that juries are the best judges of facts; it is, on the other hand, presumable, that the court are the best judges of law. But still both objects are lawfully, within your power of decision. “?
    Modern courts have also recognized this right. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has stated as recently as 1972 that there exists “an unreviewable and unreversible power in the jury, to acquit in disregard of the instructions on the law given by the trial judge…” See United States v. Dougherty, 473 F.2d 1113, 1132 (D.C. Cir. 1972) (this case also includes an excellent discussion of the history and evolution of the idea of jury nullification in America).

    Some suggested questions for political “leaders” so that the voters can decide whether or not to support them as competent: (Please suggest improvements and additions)

    1. Do you believe absolutely that mankind needs God’s mercy and grace to solve any and all of our many problems and therefore the first step is for each person to seek to find those actions that will “persuade” God to give us His grace to solve our problems because of His infinite goodness and mercy? AND 1.5 Do you believe that voters with a strong faith that includes the notion that we need God’s help to solve our problems should look to support only those candidates who demonstrate by their actions that they are living a life that might please God and thereby are more likely to see things as God sees them and to be channels of God’s grace to solve our problems?
    2. Do you believe all ministers of all faiths should publicly unite in encouraging all laity, of all faiths, to seek to know and believe everything that God wants everyone to know and believe?
    3. Are you competent enough to know that the original intent of the founders in writing the U.S. Constitution, as properly amended, IS STILL the Supreme law of the land, and that any supreme court decision that implicitly or explicitly contradicts the clear evidence of their original intent, as properly amended, is null and void and need not be followed?
    Is it possible that people at the local level could influence candidates at that level and the gutless politicians above that level will see the writing on the wall and switch their way of thinking? Should ministers try to encourage people to do something like this?

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