Some perceptive comments on the Trump situation

Gabriel Sanchez, at Opus Publicum, has a very perceptive post on the assault launched against Trump by Catholic neocon thought leaders George Weigel and Robert George. (Sanchez is commenting on this piece by Rod Dreher, for your reference.) He concludes,

The whole situation reveals one of the critical flaws in contemporary (American) Catholicism, namely the belief that liberal democracy can still provide the pathway to a better future. It won’t. Although I will be the last man in Michigan to mourn the death of neoconservative Catholic politics, I am fine with elbowing my way to the front of the line to declare that no Catholic in good conscience should support Donald Trump or any of the other disappointing choices on offer this election cycle. Conservative-to-traditional Catholics who support Trump are no less seduced by Americanist ideology than those who commonly (and perhaps thoughtlessly) pull the lever for Democrats on the belief that the latter rigorously uphold Catholic social teaching. Instead of taking this moment in American history as a sign that we have no earthly political home (at the moment), Catholics are at war with one another over which earthly messiah will save us. Better, I think, to recognize our post-political situation and prepare for the storm on the horizon rather than squabble over which brand of liberalism will best satiate our basest longings.

(Emphasis supplied.) Indeed. In the discussion on Twitter over our previous piece on Weigel and George’s attempt to enlist Catholics to save the Republicans from Trump, one person suggested that there is a widespread sense among Catholics that the Republican Party are their agents or friends in Washington. Not so, Sanchez rightly points out.

This is the point which we were driving at when we explored the morality of staying home on Election Day. Voting for any candidate whose views diverge from Catholic teaching in all of its aspects is at best a compromise, justified by the reminder that all moral teachings do not have the same weight. But when every candidate diverges from Catholic teaching in important respects—or espouses Catholic teaching incredibly, as some candidates do—there is no requirement that one go to the polls to agonize over the candidate who is, on balance, the least out of step with the Church. Furthermore, the obligation to vote comes from shared responsibility for the common good; if all candidates threaten the common good more or less equally, then it may well better serve the common good to stay home. Obviously it is a question of conscience, and, therefore, we do not deny necessarily that a Catholic could come to the conclusion that he or she could vote for a given candidate in this cycle. But, so far, like Sanchez, we fail to see that any of the candidates is the thoroughly Catholic candidate that Pius XII told us we were bound to support.

Furthermore, in the context of the debate over Trump, Sanchez has also interrogated Chad Pecknold’s assertion that “limited government” is an Augustinian doctrine, despite the fact that “limited government” is a code phrase for “free-market capitalism.”  Sanchez makes this point,

Anyone with eyes to see knows by now that this commitment to “limited government” is essentially code for a commitment to free-market capitalism with modest (if any) economic intervention on the part of the government. While “limited government” can and often does imply other restraints on centralized coercive power, it is difficult to discern how they square with Catholic social teaching. Libertarians (and their loosely estranged social-liberal brethren) routinely speak of “limited government” with regards to most moral issues held near and dear by Catholics, which is why they take a generally low view of legislation restricting social blights such as abortion, prostitution, and pornography. If the principle of subsidiarity is truly what Catholics are after, why not speak instead of “localized government”? The expression has the benefit of  being free from the ideological baggage long associated with “limited government” while pointing to the true meaning of subsidiarity.

(Emphasis supplied.) For our part, given the clarity of the phrase “limited government” in our political discourse, we are inclined to think that anyone who uses it is referring to the conventionally conservative sense.

Certainly, Weigel and George—and, we suppose, Pecknold, since he signed Weigel and George’s “appeal”—have some explaining to do when they try to claim that Republican notions of limited government and constitutionalism (which is the same thing, near as we can tell) are “America’s unique expression of Catholic social doctrine’s principle of subsidiarity.” They’re a unique expression because they’re really not an expression of subsidiarity at all. At least not a subsidiarity recognizable in Quadragesimo anno. Subsidiarity holds that the smallest competent unit handles an issue, not that government needs to be restrained to let individuals do as they please. Such liberalism is an inadmissible error. And the notion that the Church ought to change its doctrine to catch up with modern thinking about liberalism is also an inadmissible error. It may also be economic or moral modernism, another inadmissible error. (We concede, in passing, that one could argue, we suppose, that John Paul introduced personalism into the concept of subsidiarity in Centesimus annus, but one would have to recognize, however, that John Paul’s notion of subsidiarity may break with his predecessors’ concepts.)

Read both of Sanchez’s posts. Hugely interesting stuff.