Whitetail deer bucks locking antlers in Cades Cove, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. Photograph by Brian Stansberry (12-23-13) [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license]
[see my previous related piece, Statement on Catholic “Trump Wars” & Civil Discourse, from 7-23-16]
Catholic writer Austin Ruse recently bemoaned the “open war between and among faithful Catholics” regarding “politics” which has “poisoned practically everything.” That led me to make some extended remarks on the issue, as a longtime critic and observer concerning constructive discourse on the Internet (and massive lack thereof).
I submit that we should simply refuse to enter into political “discussion” (so-called) about Donald Trump, until the hysteria and mania subsides. That’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve written articles about the campaign [see the second section on this web page], but have (almost totally) refused to enter into the mutual recriminations and farcical exchanges.
I’ve condemned the insults and calumnies, from whatever political “side” they originate, and have written about how it is possible to disagree genially about Trump, if (and it’s a huge “if”) the discussion is between friends who have mutual respect and an established relationship [and probably in private as well, not online; or else in a very limited group online]. Other than that, forget it, in the current noxious atmosphere.
First, the devil divided orthodox Catholics over “traditionalist” issues, then regarding Pope Francis. Now he is doing it again via American politics. The next big (4th) civil war may be this nonsense of wondering whether Catholics should write publicly, using the most vulgar and crass gutter language: talk that used to be confined to locker rooms and drunken parties, back when I was a young man (35 years ago): certainly not fit for mixed company. All that is gone now; anything goes.
Our task as disciples of Jesus is to be in the world but not of it: to share the Good News and the spiritual and theological fullness of the Catholic Church with the fallen world, not to imitate it at every turn and be more worldly than those who are limited to the worldly sphere. You don’t pull someone out of the muck and mire by getting in it with them. You have to pull them out by standing above it. One would think this is elementary: if not self-evident for Christians, but it now has to be argued and established.
Divide and conquer! Satan’s oldest and probably most successful strategy . . .
Civil talk about Donald Trump (even if we confine ourselves to orthodox Catholics) has proven well-nigh impossible, though there are rare exceptions that can always be found. I had a very good discussion about this matter on my Facebook page with Mark Brumley: President of Ignatius Press. He eloquently stated:
I prefer to risk of public discord to the certainty of public silence on these issues. Of course one still must be prudent about what one says and with whom one discusses matters publicly. But there is a civil good to be attained through public discussion. It cannot be attained by private discussions alone. Only in severe circumstances does it seem better to me to refrain altogether from public discussion on matters pertaining to the common good and the public order. I don’t think we are generally in that situation and what’s more, if all the responsible people refrain from public discussion for fear of facilitating public discord, they guarantee that irresponsible people will be the only ones engaged in public discussion.
We agree about prudence. I am saying that such refraining would be temporary, given the noxious atmosphere we have right now. No one is more in favor of public discussion, generally speaking, than I am. That’s why I have so many dialogues posted.
I think the present time is a “severe circumstance”: that’s my point. If all the “responsible” people temporarily refrain from public discussion, when little good is coming from it, few will pay attention to the irresponsible people who remain.
Mark replied: “I understand. I prefer to have examples of good public discussion, in the midst of the current controversy.”
We agree that the model of a good civil public discussion is a good thing. I don’t believe I have seen a public discussion about Trump be entirely civil in the last year. And I have looked and looked. But maybe it exists. I did have one, myself, in public with two people, and privately at great length with a good friend.
Moreover, the Bible has much to say about avoiding fruitless controversies, contentious people, etc.:
1 Corinthians 5:11 (RSV) But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber — not even to eat with such a one.
1 Timothy 6:20 . . . Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge,
2 Timothy 2:14, 16 . . . avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. . . .  Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness,
Titus 3:9-11 But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile.  As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him,  knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned.
There is a time to refrain, and St. Paul repeatedly urges us to do just that. So I see that I am following his advice: now is the time to stop talking (i.e., discussing back-and-forth) politics in public, because it’s not working 99% of the time, and is a bad witness. I say we stop it by refusing to participate; just walking away from it, till the passions and mania (on all sides) die down.
A few people then stated that they had had good discussion about Trump on their pages. I replied as follows:
I can still argue, however, that even if rare exceptions of civility can be found, it is still a reasonable plausible judgment at this time / temporarily, that the Trump discussions have become so toxic that it is a net gain to refrain from them in public. I have the same view about discussions on Pope Francis. I have argued (to no avail) that all the criticisms should be confined to the private sphere, so as to avoid scandal.
Mark Brumley again did a good job explaining his contrary opinion:
Of course a good public discussion needn’t be a perfect one. Just because someone loses his temper here and there doesn’t invalidate the discussion, so we don’t need to find examples of discussions wholly lacking rancor or acrimony.
In any event, I plan to continue to discuss these issues publicly and invite others to do so as well, and to be civil when they do. If you choose not to participate out of concern that bad things will happen, that’s your right. But I remain unpersuaded that the best course is to refrain from such discussions and to encourage others to refrain.
And I counter-responded:
I respect that and respectfully disagree. I agree with you in most cases and on most topics, because it has been my own discussion policy, too, over 35 years of apologetics. I’m an idealist and optimist by nature. I almost always think that folks ought to be able to talk about anything. Given that, it’s very rare for me to advocate such a position. That’s how bad I think it is right now.
It’s a matter of prudence, not an absolute. It depends on how bad one thinks things are. I think it’s very bad, in discussions about Trump, at the present time. It’s not a problem of an occasional temper loss or outburst here and there, but rather, systematic exhibition of same, on both sides. In that scenario, I think it’s wise and prudent to step back for a time, to let passions and tempers cool down.
Another way of putting it is to say that “if there was ever a time to prudentially refrain from public discussion, it is now with regard to Donald Trump.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much unbridled contempt expressed for the man and for his voters or detractors.
And so the discussion about discussion may very well continue on. I hope I have provided some food for thought for my readers.
Meta Description: Plea to Catholics to temporarily cease discussing Donald Trump in public, due to the outrageous nature of most attempted discussions online.
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