It seems that the political process in America has left many faithful conservative Catholics behind. This is nothing new to the American political process. Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence was unable to take part in political life in his home state of Maryland because of explicitly anti-Catholic laws that barred Catholics from holding political office, from proselytizing, or having mass anywhere other than a private home. Only in the mid-18th century did Catholics begin again to have some type of religious freedom in Maryland, which ironically enough was founded as a safe haven for Catholics.
There was also a rise of the Know-Nothing movement in the middle of the 19th century that arose from national fears of the influence of Catholic immigrants to the country. The widespread anti-Catholicism of this period is widely forgotten in American history. There was a deep concern that Catholicism was incompatible with republicanism and that the loyalties of Catholics would always be abroad rather than to their home country. The Know-Nothing movement established secret societies to prevent Catholic influence in America. They made wide use of newspapers and editorials espousing conspiracy theories that the influx of Irish Catholic immigrants to the Midwest was a precursor to an invasion by the Pope, who would land his troops on American soil and establish a New Vatican in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In modern history, JFK’s 1960 speech has shaped the Catholic political atmosphere more than people realize by influencing the way Catholics like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden think about the relationship between their faith and their politics, allowing them to hold to the idea of complete privatization of their faith in the public square. In Kennedy’s 1960 speech he was trying to address the concerns that many Protestants had toward Catholics which was a vestige of the Know-Nothing era. In his speech, Kennedy says, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” He claims that he would never “accept instructions on public policy” from any clergyman or Church teaching and asserts that religion is a politician’s “own private affair.” Kennedy went too far and the shape of Catholics in political life has been hurt because of it. Fast forward to 2016 and Catholics by and large vote no differently than any other voting group. Our efforts to find our identity in the American experiment have made us virtually indistinguishable from the American electorate.
There needs to be a revival of the Catholic intellectual tradition in American Catholic life. If you are influenced more by pop culture, the NY Times, Hollywood, Oprah, and Joel Olsteen than you are by G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Flannery O’Connor, Tolkien, Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson, Thomas Merton, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas More, St. Theresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, John Henry Cardinal Newman and the thousands of Catholic writers and saints throughout history who possessed that distinct Catholic thing, than you have lost a piece of who you are and the Church is less off because of it. If you merely happen to be Catholic, and the faith doesn’t influence your thoughts, sentiments, or politics than you need to rethink some things. If Catholics in America voted according to the principles of the faith than they could truly shape the future of this country. But, as it stands we are just like everybody else. So here are the four major candidates up for the presidency of The United States of America:
Donald Trump: An egotistical man who doesn’t want to change government as much as he wants to become government. Whatever principles he is guided by, we don’t really know. His actions as president will be as unpredictable as the mood he wakes up in.
Ted Cruz: Every word out of his mouth seems scripted and rehearsed. His father is a prominent Baptist pastor who has been going around to Evangelical congregations preaching that his son Ted will protect Israel and prepare the way for the Second Coming. The idea that the fates of Israel and America are so interlinked is not a conservative idea but a Neoconservative idea. The nation-state of Israel is not the Israel of the Bible. If you have an unexamined allegiance to the nation-state of Israel that comes more from Protestant Dispensationalism rather than a robust Catholicism. There are Palestinian Christians and Catholics that we have completely abandoned!
Hillary Clinton: An overtly corrupt politician accepting money for favors to the highest bidder. She was involved in a coup in Honduras, destroyed Libya, and made arms deals with the Saudi’s to conduct a war in Yemen. (If you didn’t know we’ve been unconstitutionally waging war in Yemen and killing Saudi Arabia’s political enemies for over a year). Along with being a warmonger, murderer, and liar, she also has never seen a baby she didn’t think you could abort.
Bernie Sanders: The fact that a self-declared socialist in the tradition of Marx can do so well, especially among millennial voters, shows how we have done so poorly a job of teaching history, philosophy, and the great ideas of Western culture. The idea of economic leveling is not true economic progress. Until we again start educating the future according to the classical model that shaped so much of what is great and brilliant about Western society, people will unknowingly hand over their liberties to overarching Leviathan, which always tries to make us less than what nature or God meant us to be. It will do this through regulation, taxes, social engineering in public schools, and bureaucracy.
We see in both parties the success of the “non-establishment” candidate. It’s pretty simple really, people are frustrated and looking for alternatives - this is why Sanders and Trump have done well. The Republican establishment doesn’t like Trump because they know he can’t be controlled - whether that’s good or bad people find that attractive. For some reason Bernie Sanders hasn’t attacked Hillary Clinton on any of her warmongering or corruption. It’s blatant that she had a private email server because she had something to hide. Bernie Sanders is there merely to keep the ultra-liberals in the Democratic party and push his voters to Hillary. Imagine Trump and Hillary on stage together. Trump will prevail easily only because we live in the age of sound bites and quips rather than reason and truth.
Every...single...one of these candidates is authoritarian. The fact that every candidate here is proposing to enact policies and laws means we have strayed far from the original intent of the Constitution when it comes to the role of the executive branch and the Presidency . The common American can no longer recognize tyranny because the idea of rights based on natural law has been eroded and all we have left is Nietzsche’s “will to power.” Modern politics is simply a battle of wills where reason, logic, truth, goodness have no bearing in discussion.
As a whole the Democratic party has bought in wholesale to a collectivist, socialist, materialist, communist worldview that seeks the destruction of the individual under the false notions of equality. On the other hand, the Republican party although espousing limited government and the sacredness of life, has done nothing to limit government or truly end abortion. The Neo-cons have control of the party and continued the doctrine of war and nation building that the Obama Administration has continued as well.
With all that being said, I wish I could give be more positive about the state of politics in America especially in regards to faithful Catholics and where we go from here. The truth is, the path we are on now is bleak. However, it is a great time to be Catholic in America because there is so much work to be done! What I am calling for is a revival in the American Catholic consciousness of what it means to be Catholic and what it means to be truly conservative. Our great hope lies in Christ alone, not in political institutions that have come and gone and will continue to come and go as the Church remains. As a whole the 20th century was influenced mostly by “progressive” thought: Woodrow Wilson, Lenin, Mao Zedong - (and yes I am putting Wilson in that category) but ultimately the Soviet Union collapsed without a single shot fired because the worldview of the “progressive” revolutionary rebel is unsustainable.
“But the new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. . . . As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”
- G.K. Chesterton in "Orthodoxy"
G.K. Chesterton figured out long ago that the current political order is unsustainable and we must be prepared to fill the void that will come lest we again be sucked into tyranny. We do this not by government programs of bureaucracy, but by training ourselves and the future to have the eyes to see.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are heavy of hearing,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should perceive with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their heart,
and turn for me to heal them.’
To read more about the history of the American Church I recommend "American Church" by Russell Shaw