Washington Post badly miscalculated — both Catholic and Evangelicals ended up in Trump’s Corner; Will their important understanding of working families be reflected in the staffing of the new administration?
In the 1980s, Catholics and Evangelicals formed an alliance around life issues, most notably abortion. The subject had dominated political campaigns in the past, but the 2016 presidential contest was different. Oh, to be sure, there were related, and unsettled, controversies over the scope of religious exceptions in Obama care, but except in a few places like North Carolina, what was to be given to Caesar and what was to be given to God was not in the center ring.
It wasn’t because the issues surrounding life and death were unimportant or resolved, it was because there was something else lurking in the backdrop of the election. The concern? The unhappy plight of working class/middle class families. Mr. Trump tapped into this unhappiness and began focusing his jobs, trade, tax, regulation, and even foreign policy message through the working class filter. By contrast, Secretary Clinton and her team were having difficulty identifying the underlying ferment. Some would suggest, the losing side still doesn’t get it.
The existence of a Catholic vote is sometimes disputed. Catholic teaching speaks of a “seamless garment” raising concerns over gun rights, the death penalty, war and peace, as well as unborn life. The teaching encourages Catholics to transcend normal political boundaries,
Nevertheless, there is no denying that Catholics have had a unique ability to be on the winning side in six of the last seven elections (including as it would turn out in 2016 as well). Evangelicals tend to be more uniformly conservative in orientation, and the question was could they be persuaded to deliver a big number for Mr. Trump whose personal life was not exactly that of the Evangelical poster child. Apparently, Trump’s personal shortcomings were overlooked in exchange for a Trump commitment to naming judges either on or similar to a list of conservatively-minded jurists. Trump received 81% of the Evangelical vote.
Catholics, too, were in the Trump Corner, 52-45%, which while less overwhelming than its Protestant counterpart was still remarkable rivaling what then-Senator Obama received in 2008; it was also notable because the Washington Post reported that Trump was behind with Catholic voters by 27 percentage points.
The Post should be embarrassed and presumably will want to up their game for next time. One factor misleading the Post was their inability along with the media generally to grasp the depth of the working class disaffection. Having to endure a flat or declining wage over the last three decades while simultaneously being tasked with funding the needs of the very poor, Catholics and Evangelicals were not about to be ignored again.
Trump’s outline of fairer trade, lower taxes, and limits on immigration responded directly to the working class grievance with a promise of jobs that Trump promises to bring home to America. Whether Trump will actually make progress on this economic front is of course a complex and dynamic proposition not wholly within Trump’s control. There is globalization and Trump well understands that in some of our most active trading environments, as with, for example, China and Mexico.trade deals unfair to the United States have been perceived as a way of life.
Trump’s claim of business acumen will be put to the test, and to be successful in the eyes of Catholic and Evangelicals, Trump must not forget that around these basic economic concerns are religious tripwires reflecting a distinctly non-materialist conception of work that is closely related to claims of dignity. If handled properly, this additional faith-based layer of the problem will provide opportunities for the Trump-revived Republicans that Democrats will find hard to obstruct in Congress since often what will be needed to be observed to stay clear of a religiously grounded tripwire is simply a matter of social justice.
Candidate Trump showed recognition of these sensitivities when he indicated to Sean Hannity that his immigration reform would be structured not to divide families or to deny U.S. access to those who show labor and educational effort. Catholics who speak broadly of welcoming the stranger are themselves attuned to directing the settlement of immigrant populations where U.S. labor need is greatest. Given that, there is no reason to deny President Trump the flexibility to do similar rational sorting in the treatment of migrants.
What sort of sorting? felons out permanently is easy, but decisions about who returns home before return, and who gets to stay are difficult questions calling for empathy. Trump should invite Catholics and Evangelicals in particular to submit plans for compassionately sorting who is who. This differentiation as well as keeping out radical ISIS-like adherents is important for sovereignty and security.
When I served as Ambassador in Malta, a frequent migrant landing spots in the southern EU, the Jesuits were indispensable to similar compassionate, but realistic, sorting efforts to handle asylum claims. The point is: while the religious message is always inclusion without limit, the religious believers most helpful to promoting the common good are not those involved in so-called “sanctuary” civil disobedience, which might help a few, but rather are those religious who were directing those coming to the U.S. to places where there was an identifiable labor need.
President Obama who had benefited from Catholic and Evangelical voters lost focus over time, in part because the old, non-Trump Republicans were obstructing much of everything. The new revived Trump Republicans would be smart to include Catholic and Evangelical voices prominently in the White House and critical agencies, not as an election pay off, but as a way of maintaining the focus on the average working/middle class family.
From a Catholic perspective, as President Trump reforms health care, education, immigration, etc., he would do well to remember that meeting the neglected needs of the working class families of America is the first step to strengthening or widening the ethic of care shown to all Americans. No longer will the working class be overtaxed, over-regulated, or worse all of the above, while simultaneously being told they have not done enough for especially divisive sub-groupings that demand that all disputed cultural norms bend — under legal penalty — against the-religious view. Many clashing moral norms, as a matter of liberty, should be resolved in private setting. Staying true to the needs of the working class should help prevent getting sidetracked by yet another special interest-abetted way to divide us from one another.
The Catholic and Evangelical witness affirms the working/middle class family, and the family is the very heart of the American constitutional body politic. It is the average working men and women of this country who by their daily uncomplaining labors understand that freedom and responsibility are coordinate propositions, and who ask only a fair wage for an honest day’s work – and frankly, a marketplace — in which the American people are not sold short. Saint John Paul II reminded us of the dignity of human work; work is honored for its capacity to extend our creative and constructive personalities into the physical environment and the importance of not elevating capital over labor. Work is for man; man is not for work.
So much of Catholic and Evangelical thought is well-expressed in the truth of the human person.
As the President-elect staffs his administration with capable women and men to assist him, the transition naturally looks for those anxious to deliver on the change that brought the victory to the President-elect. They would do well to keep in mind that the truth of the human person is affirmed by the payment of a family or living wage;
The truth of the human person is also honored by recognizing that a market that is not fair cannot ever hope to be free;
The truth of the human person likewise requires that we preserve the created environment so that our safety will not be put at risk by human development in disregard of nature, itself;
The truth of the human person recognizes that the health of society depends greatly upon health of its citizens in body and mind and spirit and this must come to be understood as much a cultural right as the requirements of due process are for the law;
The truth of the human person is a reflection of God, Himself, deserving of respect without reference to race or gender or ethnicity or sexual orientation;
No one is deplorable in the eyes of God.
The Catholic and Evangelical faith traditions encourage us not to cooperate with moral evil. All of us, including those selected to lead the Trump team must avoid cooperating with social injustice. To the extent that resources permit, ithe objective of the Trump administration ought to never leave a woman without the support needed to encourage a choice for life. Obama understood this perhaps because of his friendship and reliance upon his Catholic Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough. Mrs. Clinton regrettably was not as understanding.
Faith is often in the center of working class family life, not by imposition or establishment, but by what the U.S. Constitution grants to all: religious freedom. Catholics and Evangelicals re-united under the Trump banner because that cherished freedom, like Catholic and Evangelical working and middle class families themselves, was being marginalized.
To para-phrase the President-elect, those who choose to guide themselves and their families in faith and who have been wrongly singled out for derision “will be forgotten no more.”