It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the spring of Trump, the summer of de Blasio, the fall of Francis, and, for some, the winter of despair.
Several weeks ago, I wrote an entire TSW post about Donald Trump and the bizarre trajectory of his presidential candidacy. It contained lots of quotes about polarizing language and some of my own quizzical reflections on how and why he seemed to rocket full speed ahead to the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidential election. I wrote of the weird popular success of the Trump campaign as an utter mystery, at least to me, but in the end I scrapped the entire post and moved on to something else.
I scrapped the post because I simply could not reconcile in my own mind Donald Trump’s popular appeal in this election with some of the statements he makes, which, thanks to modern media, are global sound bites the moment he utters them. Trump swept the popular vote in most states beginning in New Hampshire with its equally mysterious hold on its first-in-the-nation presidential primary status.
That post ended up being titled, “Did Michael Jackson Moonwalk a Path to Civil Discourse?” The part about Donald Trump was reduced to a brief media skirmish with Pope Francis over Mr. Trump’s bloviating about a new Berlin Wall between the U.S. and Mexico. I personally thought it was a better post than its title might imply. If you passed it by, it wasn’t really about Michael Jackson, though he did have a brief appearance in it. It was about the sacrifices we’ve made at the altar of political correctness.
And it is that, I am told, that is the great lure behind the great spring forward of Donald Trump. A TSW reader here in New Hampshire told me in a letter that he and his college age son have been arguing about Donald Trump. He voted for Trump while his son supports Bernie Sanders who represents the far left socialist wing of the Democratic party. Both candidates prevailed in New Hampshire, but no one seems to understand the meaning behind their popular appeal in this election except to suggest that most people have had it with the state of politics in America.
Peter Beinart, writing in The Atlantic, called Trump “the most dangerous presidential nominee in American history.” But one major newspaper pointed out that Trump is leading not so much a political campaign as “a movement of Americans who are desperately unhappy with the direction of the country.” Matthew Tully in The Indianapolis Star wrote that Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is “the clearest … of any we’ve seen in a long time in presidential politics.”
The person who wrote to me suggested that Trump’s popularity rests in his “saying the things many of us think, but don’t say because we risk being stifled as politically incorrect.” At a recent Trump rally, someone described him as the “anti-PC candidate,” while another held a sign that read, “The Silent Majority Stands with Trump.” I haven’t heard “the silent majority” invoked since the days of Richard Nixon, but it made sense. The rise of Trump might well be a groundswell of disdain over political correctness “progressively” imposed.
THE SUMMER OF MAYOR BILL de BLASIO
Then, as if right on cue, the Mayor of New York City provided a perfect example of the oppression of political correctness that is driving the silent majority out of its silence. It
was described in a recent editorial in The Wall Street Journal, “Progressives Against Lunch” (WSJ.com, May 9, 2016). The gist of the story is that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for a boycott of Chick-f il-A restaurants in New York because its CEO, Dan Cathy, responded to a question with his personal belief in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. “It is this sort of political PC nonsense,” one writer observed “that empowers the spring of Donald Trump,” and it’s the only thing that makes sense to me.
But even more enlightening than the WSJ editorial, however, were the responses of readers. Several letters to the editor were published under the heading, “The Chick-f il-A Boycott and Human Rights” (WSJ.com, May 13). If these published letters represent the mood of the country, then the exasperation with PC politics of the left should sound some alarms about the silent majority and the status quo in American politics. The letter writers simply make sense, and here are some stand-out excerpts worth repeating:
“The personal religious affiliation or religious convictions of a CEO never cross my mind when I am ordering a chicken sandwich. Progressives show they are controlling and narrow minded in asking me to boycott a restaurant chain because of the religious convictions of its CEO.” (Jerry Brown, Louisville, KY)
“I suspect there are many Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims who own businesses in New York City and share the Chick-fil-A owner’s sincere religious belief in the traditional institution of marriage… Perhaps Mayor de Blasio would like to engage the force of his office to identify these good Americans and urge a boycott of their businesses.” (John S. Mester, Darlington, MD)
“You might be surprised at what happens if Mayor de Blasio succeeds in urging a boycott against the new Chick-f il-A restaurants… When a boycott was promoted in my town of Jacksonville, Fla., the number of cars and people waiting in line skyrocketed.” (Catherine Baum, Jacksonville, FL)
When that boycott was last launched on a national scale, the Chick-fil-A chain had its most profitable week ever. Political correctness has its limits, but political hypocrisy seems to know no bounds. One of WSJ’s published letters presented the Mayor with a mirror image of his own hypocrisy, and maybe even a new political slogan: “You are what you don’t want us to eat”:
“Mayor de Blasio’s call for a boycott of Chick-f il-A in New York, just because its owners believe in traditional marriage, is a new high in political hypocrisy, even for this mayor. Mr. de Blasio has long been an ardent fan of the Castros’ Cuba and even spent his honeymoon in Havanna in 1994. Just last September he sought a personal meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro at the U.N…. Never once in all this time, however, has New York’s mayor publicly denounced the Cuban government for its constitution, which effectively bans same-sex marriage… It doesn’t take much courage to try to shut down a fast food restaurant and put scores of New Yorkers out of a job on a specious charge of anti-LGBT bias…” (Kathleen O’Connell, New York)
Kathleen O’Connell raised an important point. In recent weeks, the U.S. news media was filled with photos of the first cruise ships with American tourists to dock at Cuban ports since the 1960s. If Mayor de Blasio, or for that matter President Obama, wanted consistency in their PC agenda, there would be calls to boycott Cuba. As Ms. O’Connell challenged, “Call us when you’re ready to take on some heavy hitters, Mr. Mayor.”
THE FALL OF POPE FRANCIS
Please do not misunderstand my subtitle. Pope Francis has experienced no fall in the Biblical sense. The image that I want to convey is that for this Pope we are in a time when the leaves are falling from the trees and their branches are laid bare for all to see. Or, at least, for some to imagine what they are not seeing so clearly.
After my recent post, “Pope Francis and the Lost Sheep of a Lonely Revolution,” a few TSW readers observed that I seem to “like” this Pope more than they do. The word, “like” doesn’t enter into the equation at all. I think my recent post was an unusual take on the situation behind the election of Pope Francis, and I hope you will read it and share it if you have not done so already. Several readers wrote that they see Francis in a clearer context because of it. Others wrote that they feel just a bit less dismal about the state of the Church after reading it.
For those observations alone, I am proud of that post, despite the fact that it invites – no, urges – traditional Catholics who feel set upon (and of which I happen to be one) to see this pope for whom he really is – the Pope! In what parallel universe does Catholic tradition allow for widespread, open hostility toward the occupant of the Chair of Peter?
I am actually quite uncomfortable about some of the direction and emphasis this pope seems to prescribe, and the key to my discomfort is in the last few sentences of “Pope Francis and the Lost Sheep of a Lonely Revolution.” I am equally alarmed by veiled calls for near or actual schism which can in no way be seen as fidelity to the Catholic faith. Hence my post, “Pope Francis Has a Challenge for the Prodigal Son’s Older Brother.”
Also at the end of that post was a link to a Patheos posting by Father Dwight Longnecker entitled, “Ten Traits of Catholic Fundamentalism.” One well-intentioned reader whom I hold in high regard wrote to me asserting that “Everything Father Longnecker said about Catholic fundamentalists applies equally to a Catholic progressive/liberal.” It strikes me that the reader is pointing out that extremist views on either side of the ideological fence fail to lend very much to the life of the Church and the experience of faith.
(Editor’s Note: Father Longenecker’s follow-up post addressed the so-called progressives in Catholic Fundamentalists Take Two.)
I think that over time on These Stone Walls most readers would find that I have been far more critical of entrenched views on the theological and political left than on the right. The truth is that I am never surprised when Catholic voices on the left attack the Church, or priests, or the hierarchy in a language and tone that lacks civility, basic charity, or any sense of solidarity in faith. And I have made no secret of my disdain for cowardice or hypocrisy in the Catholic press. For an example, see why “The Catholic Press Needs to Get Over its Father Maciel Syndrome.”
I have been reading a good deal about the anxiety among some traditional Catholics over the tone and substance of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, but I am left with some difficult questions. Holy Orders is also a Sacrament with an indelible and permanent bond. Where was all the angst over the integrity of the Sacrament and the defense of the bond when hundreds of accused priests were summarily dismissed from the clerical state – many without any real canonical or civil due process? It’s a state of affairs I described in “The United Nations High Commissioner of Hypocrisy.”
And where was any defense of the sacramental bond when the bishops of the United States aggressively lobbied the Holy See in 2002 to dispense them from prescription, the time limits in Canon Law that allow for such prosecutions and sanctions? At the same time, the same bishops argued nationwide against a similar extension of statutes of limitation in civil law that would allow bishops and dioceses to be sued more easily for decades-old claims. Our bishops insisted, that in civil law, “statutes of limitations exist in legal systems to promote justice, not hinder it.” And those bishops were right.
But at the same time they said it, those same bishops espoused the polar opposite principle in regard to Canon Law, a double standard that I addressed in “Due Process for Accused Priests” in a 2009 issue of the Catholic League Journal, Catalyst. Many Catholics on the left urged the bishops on to draconian policies that made a mockery of Church law and trampled upon the rights of accused priests. Many Catholics on the right remained silent.
Above all else, I hope my several posts about Pope Francis do not suggest that I agree with every unscripted word that he utters, or that I lack any concern for the beauty of tradition, or the necessity of defending it, or that I agree with him theologically on every point, every nuance, and every emphasis. In fact, I do not. But I hope my posts DO convey that I agree that he is the pope, the Vicar of Christ validly chosen in the conclave of 2013. Above all other considerations, I am resolved to present him charitably, with deference, and with respect even as I disagree. I believe this is the duty of every committed Catholic.
On the same day that I wrote this, I was contacted by the editor of a major source of online Catholic news and opinion who wrote:
“We are altering the tone and scope of our coverage of Pope Francis and affairs in Rome. Don’t get me wrong; we still have concerns at times, but we have a greater concern that criticism of this pope in some Catholic venues has extended beyond what is in the best interest of the Church and reflective of the common bonds of charity and fidelity to which we are called.”
Amen! I was very glad to hear this, and if my voice means anything at all within the Church and priesthood (and that’s indeed debatable!) then I call on all Catholic media to take that same approach. I know of only one entity who truly delights in our polarity and entrenchment, and the contentious tone of our arguments. We must be ever vigilant not to serve his interests. We must be ever vigilant in the practice of fidelity to this faith that is so at odds with the raging sea upon which it ventures as a Church in the modern world.