Respecting the Office

Respecting the Office May 2, 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron and American President Donald Trump disagree on just about everything–economics, immigration, the Middle East, climate change, you name it.  And yet in Macron’s recent state visit to the U.S., the two got along swimmingly.  President Trump called his French counterpart “perfect”!  How is that possible?

Columnist Marc Thiessen observed that Macron treated Trump with respect.  Which prompted Trump to treat him with respect.  Thiessen notes our current political and governmental dysfunctions, blaming Democrats for projecting nothing but sheer contempt for the president, and, instead of pursuing normal opposition, promoting “resistance.”  This has gotten so bad, he says, that Democrats won’t even co-operate with Trump on actions that they agree with!  (Thiessen’s column came out before the scabrous White House Correspondents dinner.)

From Thiessen’s column,  MWhat Democrats Can Learn from Emmanuel Macron:

How can two men so diametrically opposed get along so well? Simple. Macron holds his ground on issues that matter to him, but he treats the president of the United States with respect — and has found his respect reciprocated.

Democrats in Washington should try it.

In a toast at the state dinner, Macron explained his approach this way: “We both know that none of us easily changes our minds, but we will work together, and we have this ability to listen to one another.” Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) say the same? At the end of his visit, Macron was asked how he could have such a warm relationship with Trump while disagreeing with him on so many issues. “It’s the same thing in all families,” he said. “Let’s share the disagreements . . . To just say ‘I disagree and I don’t want to speak with you’ [is] ridiculous.”

Yes, it is.

After Macron delivered an address to Congress in which he warned against the dangers of “isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism,” many suggested that his speech was a “rebuke” to Trump. No, it wasn’t. Macron didn’t rebuke the president; he expressed respectful disagreement on a host of issues. Too many in Washington can no longer tell the difference.

Instead of simply applauding Macron’s words, perhaps Democrats ought to emulate Macron’s actions. Today, the Democratic Party is no longer the opposition; it is the self-proclaimed “resistance” that considers its job to stop Trump from doing or accomplishing anything. Even in areas where both parties traditionally cooperate, such as the approval of qualified nominees, Trump’s candidates face near unified Democratic opposition. While cooperation on difficult issues such as tax cuts or Obamacare may be a bridge too far, Democrats are so blinded by their contempt for Trump that they cannot bring themselves to work with him on issues where they profess to agree, such as infrastructure or extending protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. These failures hurt the millions of ordinary people who depend on leaders in Washington to work together for the good of the country.

But what if you don’t respect Trump?  Then you respect his office.

The distinction between the person and the office is a long held Christian teaching, most fully developed in the Doctrine of Vocation.

You may not like your pastor and he may have all kinds of serious failings.  And yet, by virtue of his office as a called and ordained servant of the Word, God works through him so that the absolution he pronounces and the Sacraments he presides over are valid.

Your father may have been a drunk who neglected his family, but he is still your father, through whom God gave you life and by virtue of his office is entitled to the honor required in the Ten Commandments.

Your boss may be a no-good skinflint, but because of his office he can fire you, so you need to do what he says on the job.

You may disagree with and dislike the person who was elected president, but the office of the presidency has the dignity placed on it by our Constitution and American history.  This is true even if the holder undermines the dignity of the office.  So there should be self-imposed limits on expressions of derision and hatred for the person placed, by his office, in authority over us.  And, yes, Republicans have often been guilty of violating this principle, just as Democrats are today.


Illustration by Bloomberg L.P. (Bloomberg L.P.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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