Catholic “Trump Wars” & Civil Discourse

Catholic “Trump Wars” & Civil Discourse July 23, 2016


Photograph from [CC0 license; free for any use with no attribution]


[the initial impetus for this article came from learning about a friend who opposes Trump, who expressed that she had been deeply hurt by friends]

There is plenty of vitriol on both sides. No one has a monopoly on it. We need to condemn harsh rhetoric and gratuitous insults wherever it comes from. I will vote for Trump, not because he is a canonized saint, but because he is (according to my best lights and sincere rational analysis) the best available choice in terms of actually being elected (note that he was my 15th choice out of the 17 original GOP candidates). Anyone who wants to understand my reasoning as to why I have that opinion, can read one or more of my ten articles about it: listed on my Political and Ethical Issues web page (second section).
That said, I wholeheartedly condemn any hurtful rhetoric or foolish polemics that have hurt anyone on either side of this. It’s a disgrace, but Catholics seem to be specializing in pathetic divisiveness and mutual anathematizing these days.
We do it even regarding the Holy Father and now concerning the presidential campaign. There seems to be few limits or restraints, and almost no shame anymore (again, many on both sides of both debates are guilty and need to step back, deeply ponder and do a self-examination). Only the devil and those who oppose the Catholic Church (and, I would say, the GOP and/or political conservatism) gain by all of this pitiful, outrageous garbage that is taking place.
On this thread (both at Patheos and on my Facebook pages), I will only allow comments that agree to condemn personal insults wherever they are found. Any “partisan” / polemical / insulting comments will be deleted, since I have studiously avoided getting into the middle of the disgraceful internal fighting all along.
Meanwhile, I had a perfectly civil, mutually respectful discussion about the Republican nominee Donald Trump in person with an esteemed friend and fellow author last week (many of you would know his name). Blessedly, we found several areas of partial agreement, but he will not vote for Trump and I will.
It’s entirely possible, but note that it was 1) in person, and 2) with a good friend, within an established relationship of mutual trust and respect. Those two things are key. On the Internet, people often say things that they would never say in person. They lower themselves to a sort of “lowest common denominator.” I’ve always believed that true dialogue is only possible if mutual good will and sincerity are granted, and within an outlook of some measure of mutual respect (preferably actually friendship).
It is possible to constructively talk about even this, minus the trash talk. But it takes much concerted effort, and it takes a conscious attempt to apply basic New Testament ethics: particularly regarding humility, the esteeming of others higher than ourselves, and believing the best of those with whom we disagree, not the worst.
I said to my friend in our own dialogue that, even with discussions between actual friends, there are two approaches to take when the friend expresses an opinion vastly contrary to our own:
1) “If [s]he believes that, then [s]he must be a scoundrel and all-around wascally wascal and jerk.”
2) “If [s]he believes that, then there must be something to it that I haven’t considered (since I respect him/ her so much), and I need to hear him out.”
The emphasis in the first instance is on the opinion, whereas in the second it is on the person and our respect for them. The first approach quickly judges and is willing to send a friend packing. The second believes the best of the other (in intentions, sincerity, thinking issues through, etc.) and is willing to shut up and listen, because our trusted friend is expressing his / her opinion.
When my friend and I had our lengthy discussion, he expressed some understandable trepidation at first. I kept urging him to tell me his opinion, which he clearly had given much thought to (as he does with all important issues that concern him). I said, “because you’re my good friend and I highly respect your opinions, I want to hear your reasoning, precisely because I know you will give sensible, thoughtful rationales, and not merely insults and raw emotion, like most Internet discussions.”
Indeed, he did so. I wasn’t convinced. We agreed on several “sub-issues.” We disagreed on the ultimate decision concerning voting for Trump. But we listened and talked to each other (I listened probably 80% of the time), and did so charitably and with open minds.


If that’s not possible for people to do online (which seems to overwhelmingly be the case), then I urge anyone who feels compelled to start lashing out, to go play chess or watch an old movie, find a punching bag, or (best of all) read our Lord Jesus’ and St. Paul’s innumerable ethical commands instead. Have the willpower, sense, and wits (and mercy on potential victims!) to decide not to contribute to the disgraceful rhetoric that we observe everywhere right now.


Meta Description: Plea to Catholics to stop engaging in civil war over Donald Trump, & to respect the contrary opinions of friends & colleagues: to apply NT ethics.

Meta Keywords: 2016 presidential campaign, American politics, American presidential election, Catholics & Trump, Catholics and presidential election, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, discussion ethics, constructive dialogue, rhetoric, polemics, personal insults

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