The GOP: A "Vehicle" for RC Concerns or a Moral Disgrace?

by Michael Sean Winters

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I have said in these pages repeatedly that although Donald Trump poses a unique problem for American democracy, the real problem lies in the voters (and their circumstances) that support him. He has tapped an anger that was already there, and instead of channeling that anger towards an improved commonwealth by invoking the better angels of our natures, he encourages that anger to descend into a deep and abiding resentment that will not be washed out of the culture anytime soon.

Some Republicans have seemed alert to the danger Trump poses. Few, if any, take responsibility for their complicity during the last eight years for fomenting that anger and especially its uglier, nativist and racist overtones. A group of prominent Catholic Republicans took to the pages of National Review to urge their fellow Catholics not to support Trump, in the course of which article they stated “in recent decades, the Republican party has been a vehicle — imperfect, like all human institutions, but serviceable — for promoting causes at the center of Catholic social concern in the United States.” That claim has been debated elsewhere and I have linked to some of that debate.

Now, however, we have direct refutation of the claim that the Republican Party is any kind of “vehicle” for Catholic concerns. Not only do we have that refutation from those who oppose Trump, that is from the supposedly sane, establishment of the party, but we find that refutation in three recent articles published IN THE SAME MAGAZINE. Indeed, National Review has led the anti-Trump effort, so the vileness of these three articles demonstrates, I think conclusively, that the problem with today’s Republican Party is deeper than the narcissism of one man.

Kevin Williamson took aim at the white, working class, non-college educated voters from whom Trump has garnered the bulk of his support: “the truth about these dysfunctional downscale communities is that they deserve to die.” He continued:

Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul. 

It appears to me that the white, working class are not the only ones “in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture.” This writer’s lack of compassion for people’s whose lives have been upended by a host of complex socio-economic changes, of which globalization is the most dominant, to say nothing of his disregard for the suffering of those who face addiction, astounds. This is the literary equivalent of the cold-cock administered by a Trump supporter to a Trump protester. Does this kind of thinking represent itself as a “vehicle” for “Catholic social concerns”?

David French blames a lack of effort for the maladies of the white, working class. He writes:

Yet millions of Americans aren’t doing their best. Indeed, they’re barely trying. As I’ve related before, my church in Kentucky made a determined effort to reach kids and families that were falling between the cracks, and it was consistently astounding how little effort most parents and their teen children made to improve their lives. If they couldn’t find a job in a few days – or perhaps even as little as a few hours – they’d stop looking. If they got angry at teachers or coaches, they’d drop out of school. If they fought with their wife, they had sex with a neighbor. And always – always – there was a sense of entitlement.

The intractability of social dysfunction is undoubtedly a problem, and not only at Mr. French’s church in Kentucky. But, are we then to just walk away, throw up our hands, and do what? And, the lack of any indictment of the consumer capitalism that has created this culture of moral and economic lethargy, that never gets mentioned at National Review.  Both articles traffic in the kind of social Darwinism that is contemptible from a moral point of view.

Mr. Williamson last week turned his attention to Guantanamo Bay and the prisoners held there, which provides my third piece of evidence for asserting that the non-Trump wing of the GOP is hardly a fit vehicle for Catholic concerns. His solution to the question of what should be done with the prisoners at Gitmo? Shoot them. In this great free country of ours, Mr. Williamson, like all of us, is entitled to his opinion, but what really galls is his attempt to employ Catholic teaching to justify his proposal for judicial murder. He writes:

While U.S. military policy is not governed by Catholic teaching, it is worth considering Rome’s thinking on the question. If you listened only to U.S. bishops, who have an unfortunate weakness for peddling social-justice nostrums, you’d be tempted to conclude that the Catholic Church is categorically opposed to the practice of capital punishment. In fact, canon law is much more sophisticated than the Nerf-headed progressivism that dominates the American episcopal corpus, and it takes account of such relevant considerations as whether the sparing of an offender’s life might put innocents in mortal danger.

Of course, he leads aside Pope Francis’ repeated calls to abolish capital punishment. And his suggestion that the American episcopate is dominated by a “Nerf-headed progressivism” makes me wonder if there is some alternate Catholic hierarchy he has in mind. Mr. Williamson is identified by his magazine as a “roving correspondent.” I think they should replace the “o” with an “a” to make the adjective more exact. There is no, repeat no, justification in Catholic moral theory for shooting the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

It goes without saying that the Democratic Party today is no picnic: They have become the party of abortion on demand and liberals generally have forgotten their commitment to religious liberty which, as recently as the 1990s, was understood to be one of our nation’s signature accomplishments. Still, the Democrats are not about to nominate someone who incites violence and bears a too close resemblance to Mussolini for my tastes. But, even without Trump, today’s Republican Party, in countless ways and on countless issues, lacks any moral sensibility worthy of Catholic admiration. Social Darwinism and judicial murder are not of the Gospel. Both parties may be afflicted with libertarian sensibilities that run counter to Catholic Social Teaching, but only one party today is characterized by real hatred.  Today’s Republican Party is a moral disgrace and the problem is deeper than Donald Trump.


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