It was a tough election season. There were grave reasons for voting for Mr. Trump, but also many aspects that Catholics and others found deeply troubling such as his demeaning remarks about women. Despite the positives for conservatism and pro-life principles propelled by a vast majority of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, voting Republican, now is not the time for a victory lap, but rather to dig in take part in accomplishing the magnanimous words of President-elect Trump’s acceptance speech: “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division.”
The divide is beyond cultural, as an insightful Wall Street Journal article and graphic, has shown: “news on Facebook can differ for liberal and conservative users.” How we get our information, the words we use to think about it, and the underlying assumptions that inform our beliefs and opinions, differ widely. Many Americans of goodwill, however divergently informed, voted for Mrs. Clinton, and expressed shock and even fear at the election’s outcome. Doctors have even reported that post-election stress plagues many patients.
If this election of Mr. Trump is to be a true victory for people of faith, advocates for life and for all Americans, much work needs to be done in understanding, not demonizing, the other side, in building the hard linguistic, philosophical and relational bridges that alone can lead to mutual understanding, even if not necessarily agreement. Finally, as citizens and as Catholics, we must all be willing to do the actual work of enacting the basic human values that respect the Image of God imprinted into each person. Here are some ideas for doing this:
1. Put your feet on the ground. Get involved, not just in politics, but in your actual community. Go to church, get involved in some sort of ministry of your parish. Talk to the cashiers at the supermarket. Try a club, class, civic organization, or even a political party.
2. Get to know the lower income or higher income people who are around you. Learn their concerns, seeing others as your brothers and sisters. Envision how policies might affect them. Real concern for those around us, whatever their views may be, will help to build real solidarity. Only genuine good will can overcome resentment and division.
3. Pay attention. Though the election is over, it’s not time to stop paying attention and hope that his policies only negatively affect “other people.” We can stay informed, watching how his words and promises are panning out, avoiding alarmism but also staying alert to problem areas.
One advantage of the generally left-leaning bias in major news outlets, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN, is that they will not overlook Mr. Trump’s errors, which could help keep him accountable and the public informed. At the same time, that left-leaning tendency must also be watched for exaggeration and unfairness. Caution and prudence in evaluating news stories are always sensible.
4. Learn the issues and Catholic Social Teachings. Once we are involved, paying attention and learning the viewpoints of others, we must learn to stand in our Catholic faith, in Catholic principles, learning to apply them to hard problems such as healthcare, immigration, abortion and euthanasia with reason, realism and compassion. The USCCB website has good resources on this, and The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is available on the Vatican’s website and as a printed book.
5. Write to your Congressman. This is an accessible way for all Americans to tell their representatives directly which values and policies they support or reject. If religious freedom concerns you, be it for Christians and/or Muslims, tell them. Tell them that life matters, that seniors matter, that euthanasia is an inversion of the true practice of medicine, that immigration must be handled with respect both to our nation’s security and the dignity of persons themselves. As the USCCB put it, “A sincere commitment to the needs of all must prevail.” Senators and Representatives must know what their constituents actually think if they are to represent us.
6. Consider wearing a safety pin. This movement has the dubious overtone of collegiate “safe spaces,” but as Catholics, as those who believe that God loves all human beings, we should be able to listen to another person’s experience with compassion, even if it challenges us. We need not agree or approve of others’ behaviors, but we can always be open to talking, listening, understanding because God wants to love and forgive all of us.
Yes, the safety pin movement has hints of a liberal tribalism, of signaling to others belief in a certain position, but if silent Trump voters or third party voters could wear it, listen to others, and show good will, it would go a long way towards dismantling some of the stereotypes that surround conservatism.
If we can kindle a conversation with someone who does feel threatened by a Trump presidency, and listen with earnestness, we can start to build the respect and relationship that can lead to unity.
7. Do something. Looking around us, it becomes obvious that leaders and organizations are working already in local areas to move in healthy directions. Rather than look to the government to legislate on every issue, we forget that we the citizens can make real change. Consider Kathleen Eaton Bravo, who founded Obria Medical Centers, full-service women’s health clinics that provide pregnancy support, post-natal care and general gynecological care. They bought up properties next to or near Planned Parenthoods, the nation’s largest abortion provider, to offer a concrete alternative to women in hard situations. No government intervention required.
There is much to be grateful for in a Trump presidency, but much also that should concern us. Victory should not allow us to ignore the troubling aspects of his behavior nor the concerns of our neighbors. With empathy and action, with prayer and with work, “it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will” (CCC 898). And there is no one to do it, but each one of us.