The American Solidarity Party: still very much alive

The American Solidarity Party: still very much alive June 28, 2018

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The political party to which I belong, the American Solidarity Party, has been going through a lot of internal conflict in the past year. Founded in 2011 as the Christian Democratic Party USA, the ASP has roots in Catholic social teaching as well as the thought of the Reformed theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper. It’s an attempt to bring the European “Christian Democratic” tradition into American politics. Our most fundamental commitment is to a consistent ethic of life. If you have ever asked the question, “why don’t prolifers care about. . . . ” we are the prolifers who do. Many of us, on economic matters, are influenced by distributism–the idea that both capitalism and socialism are fundamentally flawed and that property should be distributed as widely as possible. We tend to be anti-war, anti-death penalty, pro-immigrant, pro-welfare, pro-universal healthcare, as well as anti-abortion. You can read our platform here.

We have all kinds of disagreements about the details of these positions. However, in the past year a fissure has opened between two different broad visions of our mission. In one, our goal is to become a mainstream, secular political party centered on a consistent ethic of life:  a “whole-life progressive party.” The other side prioritizes our roots in Catholic social teaching and traditional Christian values more generally. The issue that most clearly divides these two visions is same-sex marriage. When I joined the party in 2016, our platform called for a legal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman for life. I was one of the people who wanted to change or eliminate this language, since it seemed completely unrealistic as a political program, however correct as an expression of Catholic thought on the matter. And in 2017 the plank was eliminated. Many who were unhappy with this change and with the direction of the party generally formed a group called the “Dorothy Day Caucus” to advocate for their vision of a party rooted more firmly in Catholic social teaching.

Now here’s where things get weird. You would expect–and I did expect–that the “DDC” side of the party would be the intolerant, purist side. The group that dominated the National Committee 2017-18 talked about a broad tent, and I expected that with the anti-SSM plank removed, we could draw to the party people from a wide range of positions across the political spectrum, united by commitment to a consistent ethic of life broadly conceived. To some extent we did, but many on the “whole-life progressive” side were concerned that the vocal presence of the DDC in online discussions was tarnishing our image and hindering the recruitment of the “right” people. The legitimate concern here was that, as a small party, we were vulnerable to a “hostile takeover” by extremists. And in fact we did attract some members who, for instance, would love to see America turn into a monarchy with Catholicism as the state religion.

Hence, the dominant faction on the National Committee put a lot of energy into denouncing the DDC and distancing the party from it, repeatedly warning them that they were not allowed to use the party’s name for any of their forums or other online expressions. Eventually, in compliance with these warnings, the DDC renamed itself “Imago Dei Politics,” an independent political organization most of whose members still belonged to the ASP.  In May, shortly before a national (online) convention in which seven of the nine seats on the NC were up for grabs, the NC passed a resolution saying that no one could hold office in both the IDP and the ASP. This seemed to be an attempt to disenfranchise the conservative opposition right before the convention. (Here’s a defense of the decision from one of the NC members.) While this resolution was later modified in order to remove that impression (allowing IDP leaders to run for the NC and then resign from the IDP if they won), it seemed to me and many other people to be part of a pattern of authoritarian, even Machiavellian, behavior by the “progressive” side of the party. I think this is the main reason for the sweeping victory, in the election last weekend, of a slate of candidates who ran on what they called the “Contract with the ASP.” (I myself voted for nine people–we have a system called “approval voting” that allows voters to choose more candidates than there are slots–five of whom were “contract” candidates, and four of whom, all contract candidates, won.)  The “contract” candidates were largely supported by the IDP but ran on a promise to decentralize the party and to avoid discriminating against party volunteers based on ideology.

Unfortunately, the opponents of the IDP understood this electoral defeat as a sign that the party has been taken over by right-wing extremists. Both the chair of the national party, Lillian Vogl, and the chair of my own state chapter, Ephrem Bensusan, are leaving the party as a result. Ephrem has given his reasoning here. This leaves me as the acting chair of the Kentucky chapter (I was previously Ephrem’s Vice-Chair).

As you can see from the foregoing, I disagree strongly with Ephrem’s assessment of the situation. I disagree as a result of my experiences over the past year, beginning as a supporter of Ephrem and becoming increasingly alienated by his approach to those who opposed his vision for the party. I remain broadly in agreement with Ephrem’s positive vision for the party, though I am much more sympathetic to distributism than he is and am also more interested in the party serving as a radical witness than in the unlikely prospect of our actually becoming a major party. (That would be nice if it happens, but not at the expense of selling out our principles.)

So in spite of our recent rough weather, I encourage anyone reading this to give us a try. Read the platform, particularly our four core principles. If you agree with them, then join us and help us get better at implementing them. Let’s overcome the left-right dichotomy that is tearing this country apart. Let’s come together around the core principle of respect for human life, even if we disagree on some of the specifics of implementation.

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