politics is serious business – and that’s why it’s important not to let it destroy relationships

politics is serious business – and that’s why it’s important not to let it destroy relationships November 4, 2016

” What will Republican Catholics do now?” I asked, back in May, after Trump was nominated.

In my dewy-eyed optimism, I imagined either a grand stampede away from the party towards something like the American Solidarity Party (if you haven’t heard of them, check them out) – or a strategic regrouping around a party leader who remotely adhered to the values of the typical Catholic Republican voter. At the very least, I imagined that they would shuffle shame-faced along, into the fold, feeling it their only option, while recognizing that in a political scenario such as this one there really is no easy obvious choice for a pro-life Christian.

The responses, even at the time, should have alarmed me more:

Proudly voting Trump along with 28 other Catholic family and friends in our never Democrat group. Our pastor gave a great sermon on the issue of a pro life vote with Trump the obvious choice over pro abortion Hillary.

So, pastors were violating the policy on not openly endorsing a political candidate from the pulpit, even then?

Nobody should have any problem voting for Trump when the alternative is a pathological liar who promotes abortion (Planned Parenthood cheerleader), euthanasia, grand larceny, socialism, feminism, homosexuality, separation of church and state. and gigantic unresponsive government. Unfortunately 50% of Catholic bishops agree with this Marxist.

Of course, if you can’t stomach Catholic Social Teaching because it looks “Marxist,” maybe Trump does look palatable? The unfortunate fact is that Clinton really isn’t Marxist at all. A little dose of Marxism might be a nice corrective of her neoliberal capitalist imperialism (all the best criticisms of Clinton come from the Left).

I honestly never imagined that the time would come when I would be publicly denounced, formally unfriended, that I would lose business customers, simply for refusing to vote for Trump. Not for attacking Trump supporters, not for telling them they’re in mortal sin, not for expressing any intention of voting for Hillary – simply for saying, no, I will never give my vote to a self-proclaimed sexual predator…..aside from all the other reasons why he’s dreadful (including the one where he pretends to be prolife in order to get your vote).

I take politics seriously – always have. I think we have a moral obligation to remain informed of and involved in the decisions that affect our lives and communities. Man, said Aristotle, is a political animal – and I’ll add to that: “women, too, no less so.”  But our politics is not simply about what we do in the voting booth. It’s not about who we elect once every four years. Politics, classically understood, has to do with our whole network of interactions in the res publica, with our exchanges in the marketplace, our interactions at work, our friendships, our responsibility to common spaces. I’m not saying, “politicize everything.” I’m saying, everything already is politicized, because to be a person, to act as a person, is to be political. It’s only in times of tyranny when it becomes necessary to protect the personal utterly from the political: which is why under dictatorial regimes, or within controlling cults, secret spaces are created for the worship, the education, the erotic, which is forbidden by the tyrants. The horror of tyranny is not that it makes everything political, but that it strips us of our freedom to be political in a healthy way.

And this is what I am seeing, in the way people are relating, days away from this election. I am seeing the creation of an atmosphere of threat and manipulation, in which individuals fear to express what they might really be thinking about politics, for fear of retaliation. And this is very, very bad – because, whatever happens a few days from now, we are going to need as many open, free political spaces as we can manage. We’re going to need to do politics in our daily interactions, working towards justice and peace, not towards fear and prejudice.

The manipulative rhetoric is coming from both sides, and I refuse to be a part of it. As much as Trump disgusts me, I am not going to unfriend someone simply because he or she has worked out a different line of prudential reasoning than my own. As irritating as it is to have Clinton supporters act as though her hawkish foreign policy doesn’t matter in relation to first-world issues, I am going to try to be understanding. It is true that there are people I will never think of the same way again – people I no longer respect as much, from the standpoint of a Catholic academic. But I can still give every single person the respect due to her, or to him, as a being created in God’s image. That’s called being pro-life.

And that’s why what so many Republican Catholics are doing now is so harmful. Spreading around false theology, telling people it’s a mortal sin not only to vote for Clinton, but even to vote third party – this is terrible politics, and worse religion. Parishes should not be permitting the spread of innacurate moral theology; nor should they be violating their tax-exempt status by doing anything other than making sure Catholic voters are as informed as possible, on church teaching, and on the many issues at stake. Tara Simons, over at our New Prolife Movement site, writes on the importance of informing your conscience prior to an election, emphasizing:

Be wary of guides from sources other than the Magisterium — the official teaching authority of the pope and bishops. Though these guides may be well-intentioned, they often present Church teaching as an oversimplified set of prescriptions or prohibitions, and often lose sight of the whole. Think of it this way: if you are planning a trip and don’t know the way, how helpful would it be to receive only half the directions? What if, instead of telling you where to go, the directions only told you where not to go? “At the corner, do not make a left.” “At the next light, do not go straight.” How helpful would that be? Chances are, somewhere along the way, you would most likely get lost. Quoting Pope St. John Paul II, the USCCB cautions us not to fall into this trap:

“The fact that only the negative commandments oblige always and under all circumstances does not mean that in the moral life prohibitions are more important than the obligation to do good indicated by the positive commandment” (Veritatis Splendor, no. 52). Both opposing evil and doing good are essential obligations. (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,№24, p.12)

The thing is, folks, there is no one way we, as Catholics, are obliged to vote. Please take a look at Charlie Camosy’s excellent piece on this subject – not to sway your decision about how to vote, but perhaps to help you think more carefully about how you interact with other voters:

Though we should obviously show respect for the views of fellow Catholics on these matters, the teaching of the Church is clear: faithful Catholics may vote for Hillary Clinton. They may vote for Donald Trump. They may vote for a third candidate or not vote at all.

And let me close with a final important point: Catholics cannot “win” this election, and we must stop thinking and talking like we can.

And no, I have not, anywhere in public, stated whom I will be voting for this election season – because it’s no longer a safe climate for having these discussions. Does this worry you? It should. There’s been a lot of talk about how this or that side is ushering in a reign of authoritarian tyranny, but remember, we can create authoritarian tyranny all on our own, in our family lives, our business relationships, our workplace culture. The rise of white racism, legitimized by Trump, is a very serious problem, and it has roots deep in our history, unfortunately – but it’s only part of the problem. And it’s not going to work to fight hatred and violence with more hatred and violence.

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