Donald Trump, social issues, and Catholic witness

A better world requires better leaders with a more developed view of things. The Church is the custodian of such a view, but her leaders, spokesmen, and scholars mostly decline to present it with any force or conviction.

Pope Francis meets U.S. President Donald Trump during a private audience at the Vatican May 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Catholics responsible for presenting Church social teaching who are dismayed by the rise of Donald Trump, and by the support he has received from their co-religionists, should look in the mirror for an explanation of the turn events have taken. His triumph has a great deal to do with their failed leadership.

The “social issues” mark a profound crisis in modern society that the Church as a whole hasn’t adequately faced or understood. The failure grows worse as time passes.

We live in a society marked by increasing ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity, in which more and more of life is carried on through commercial or bureaucratic arrangements. In such a society problems are expected to be resolved by money, legal considerations, and administrative decisions rather than personal connections, informal social networks, and common goals and understandings. The result is that people feel entitled to pursue whatever they feel like pursuing rather than consulting social ideals and expectations, which are increasingly understood as foreign to what they really are.

That development has led to the social issues. These have to do with the habits, attitudes, and beliefs that order people’s day-to-day lives and their connections to others. These include understandings of what men and women are and what they owe each other. They also include religion, what people think the world is all about and what is ultimately behind our rights and obligations. That means they relate to inherited culture, to the customs and understandings that develop among people who have lived together for a long time and found common ways of dealing with life. And they relate to identity, to the things that make us what we are: men or women, Americans or Chinese, Catholics, Muslims, or dedicated secularists.

When such issues arise they are hard to deal with politically. They have to do with subtle and complex considerations that are hard to formulate explicitly, but help give us a position in the world that enables us to deal sensibly with more particular issues. So they concern the things that constitute a society as a society and enable it and its members to govern themselves.

So it’s normal for the social issues to remain pre-political. But what happens when they are no longer taken for granted, and enter politics as disputed questions? The impulse in a society like our own, in which the most powerful institutions are based on money, procedural rules, formal grants of authority, and claims of expertise, is to simplify life by getting rid of them. It is assumed that the world can run on global markets, transnational bureaucracies, and private contractual arrangements, and do without the authoritative common understandings and networks of informal connections to others that have traditionally been fundamental to society.

Matters relating to sex, identity, culture, religion and the like can then be reduced to hobbies, impulses, or personal commitments and so kept out of public life. In effect, it’s an attempt to deal with all social life on the model of foreign policy: independent sovereign actors deal with each other in accordance with their interests and goals, which are accepted by other actors as legitimate except to the extent someone’s goals are at odds with equal treatment or the stability and efficiency of the system.

The approach seems to work reasonably well for some types of people, at least for a while. It works for those who are highly functional, career-oriented, and have weak impulses or good impulse control. Such people can find the meaning of life in their careers, and act in prudent ways that help advance them. It doesn’t work for people who don’t have the qualities and inclinations required for a career in any personally sustaining sense. Such people rely much more on informal human connections to orient their lives and connect them to others. In a society that turns such matters into private preferences, they are set adrift.

And that accounts for what we see around us. The meritocratic class, who run things and want to get rid of the social issues, allies itself with various marginal groups: people from minority cultural backgrounds, people who for reasons such as sexual oddity find it difficult to live in a traditional way, and the increasing numbers of people who suffer from the weak social ties and chaotic lives produced by cultural dissolution.

So we end up with an alliance of insiders and outsiders against the middle group Jerry Falwell used to refer to as the moral majority: those who remain attached to the standards, practices, and culture that have traditionally ordered society. The more cultural dissolution disconnects people from society, the smaller the middle group becomes and the more people look to government to protect and provide for them. As a result, the insiders progressively gain power, the outsiders grow more numerous, and the middle group becomes not only smaller but less cohesive and self-confident.

The obvious role for the Church in such a situation is to stand for the protection and reconstitution of moral tradition. That would help the outsiders far more than propping up insiders who first make them helpless by disrupting sustaining habits and ties to others and then profess to help them. With her thousands of bishops, thousands of journals, institutes, and academic institutions, tens of thousands of scholars and journalists, hundreds of thousands of clergy and religious, and millions of concerned laity, all professing faith in God, love of man, and the deepest concern for social matters, she is uniquely suited to do so. As in the Middle Ages, when she resisted noble and royal domination, she could be a powerful and above all independent voice in support of a better world.

But with shining exceptions like the last two popes and those they inspired she has mostly failed to do so. Instead, those who speak for her increasingly support the top class in the name of looking out for those at the bottom. So they get the rewards of selling out along with a reputation for compassionate concern for the marginalized and prophetic boldness in rejecting pharisaic legalism. They can live comfortably and with the approval of everyone respectable while presenting themselves as successors to John the Baptist.

But how does Donald Trump fit into all this? He’s not much of a social conservative and didn’t run on social issues. He said the usual things Republicans say about such things, but his campaign mostly had to do with trade, immigration, and foreign policy. Even so, he’s become the flag bearer for social conservatism because it was a job others wouldn’t do.

People complain he is a crude vulgarian, and there’s something to that. He seems to resist external influences, so he retains a lot of the outlook of the ordinary untutored man. He’s a billionaire New Yorker and Ivy League graduate who talks the way a blue collar guy might be expected to talk in a bar in Queens.

But that turns out to be an advantage today. Respectable public orthodoxy and the intellectual class that propagates it have fallen into a black hole of technology worship and scientism. Our rulers believe in studies and statistics but refuse to understand basic features of everyday life. Trump’s immunity to instruction means he retains some of the normal cognitive abilities that education today suppresses—like the ability to recognize that the world can’t really be managed, “cultural diversity” often means conflict, a baby is a baby even before it’s born, and the human race is divided into two sexes that are different from each other.

That peculiarity, together with his comparative lack of contempt for his supporters and unwillingness to kowtow to his supposed betters, has led him to reverse some of the more outrageous Obama-era initiatives, like forced support for contraception and transgenderism, and support judges who don’t wholly buy into the religion of our governing classes, which is progressivism.

That’s obviously not enough. A better world requires better leaders with a more developed view of things. The Church is the custodian of such a view, but her leaders, spokesmen, and scholars mostly decline to present it with any force or conviction. It would put them too much at odds with respectable opinion. That leaves Donald Trump as the champion of ordinary loyal people who don’t like where we’re headed. That’s not a good situation, but it’s the one the conduct of their betters has placed them in.

About James Kalb 74 Articles
James Kalb is a lawyer, independent scholar, and Catholic convert who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of The Tyranny of Liberalism(ISI Books, 2008) and, most recently, Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It (Angelico Press, 2013).

35 Comments

    • Folks, it is disingenuous to defame President Trump, when democrat after democrat after democrat is being charged with gravely evil misconduct. Remember a democrat named Bill Clinton? Wasn’t Lewinski 25 years younger than him? Yeah. Remove the log from your own eye first. Trump ain’t perfect and needs to repent and change his life to get to heaven, but he is doing many great things.

      Of utmost importance is his promise to deport all illegal immigrants, build the wall, and stop most immigration. Illegal immigration is itself a form of theft, and Catholic social teaching implies justice needs to be done in the form of deportation all illegal aliens.

      Similarly, the Dream Act of 2017 and DACA dreamer amnesty are forms of theft.

      DACA dreamer amnesty is theft of a sort of property known as citizenship.

      DACA dreamer amnesty is theft of American jobs.

      DACA dreamer amnesty is theft of American citizens’ tax dollars.

      DACA dreamer amnesty is theft of peace and security because amnesty encourages more illegal immigrants to flood America, thus causing chaos.

      Many DACA dreamers have already committed multiple felonies (see Center for Immigration Studies for evidence); many have already committed ID theft, and many have also lied to get jobs and welfare.

      DACA dreamer amnesty is clearly contrary to the 7th commandment, and those who support the Dream Act of 2017 are condoning multiple forms of theft.

      And so, in supporting deportation of illegals and opposing amnesty, President Trump is merely following Catholic social teaching. On the other hand, most, if not all, bishops are not following the Church’s authoritative teaching on migration.

  1. Donald Trump cannot be compared to anyone or any prior president. I am thoroughly amazed by the surrounding intellectuals that continue enable him.

    You say that “Obama forced support for contraception and transgenderism, and support judges who don’t wholly buy into the religion of our governing classes, which is progressivism”. Trump just had the senate reject four candidate to district courts because they were even too far right for Grassley.

    On the subject of contraception… There is an article on the NCR blog that challenges contraception as being a way out of poverty. The author says “to the contrary, propagation of the masses is the way”. I am sure there were conflicting views.

    • Too far right for Grassley? What the heck do YOU consider too far left? In the past year, Democratic Party leaders have said that pro-life people need not apply for leadership in the party. So, I my humble estimation, that keeps out ALL faithful Roman and Eastern Rite Catholics.

  2. Why is it “not a good situation” that the “ordinary people” have found a leader in Donald Trump. I would say “Who better to represent them?”
    No, Trump is not a philosopher-king (the philosopher-kings are all sitting around in the think tanks, where they’ve been sitting for going on 50 years). Trump is a man of action and, I submit, he’s done more for the pro-life, pro-family, religious liberty causes in the space of less than a year than all of his predecessors have done in the previous 50 years.
    Let’s get behind a leader who’s on our side, owes nothing to anyone and can speak and act with the directness of the guy on the Queens barstool.

  3. It’s tiresome to read an evaluation of Pres Trump’s success or failure in respect to the utter failure of the culture that permitted him to be elected. If it’s true we’ve failed as a Christian culture we compound it by judging the one person as Robert Miller argues who has actually politically achieved things. Good things. The author analyzes Trump’s success and seems to offer merely accidental credit. A misfit with uncanny skills. Grudgingly acknowledging his wherewithal. However he achieved more for Christianity in a few months than previous presidents during their entire term. A man with a sullied record is capable of redeeming himself. its happened before in history. He wants to be a success and his vision to date has been outstanding. He deserves credit not intellectual bracketing. Grace works in the strangest places and we make a mistake by denying that.

    • Father, you missed a few things. Trump’s association and secret meeting with Pavorov and Keisliak in the WH the day after he fired James Comey and allowed only Russians to cover the session is highly suspect, Trump’s continual disparagement of his intelligence support and most importantly his mental state… “psychotic” say the psychiatrists with evidence of bipolar dysfunction.

      The man is an antagonist. He refuses to release his taxes using the ploy that they are “being audited” and which could reveal whether he was in cahoots with the Russians financially thereby shortening Mueller’s investigation. He somehow got the Republicans to start their own investigations. The interrogation of Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, a Republican, attempting to disparage Robert Mueller, also a Republican, was a bust.

      On the campaign trail Trump was quick to discount his Intelligence findings of Russian hacking of the DNC data as a “hoax”. That was determined to be on the edge of treason.

      He has to go.

      • Morgan he’s a successful psychotic. Inordinately benevolent [suspect by the cognoscenti] toward Christians, wildly championing the underdog worker and minorities for years kept in tow by Dems who promised the moon and worsened their dependency of the state destroyed initiative solely for their vote [insanely hypocritical according to Schummer]. Foaming from the mouth pro industry. Unlike Caligula whom you come very close to comparing him to considering the dog eat dog urban kennel he grew up in [I’m a New Yorker too]he’s done pretty damned well for a nut job. Imagine a slew of like nut jobs. But I understand you’re concern.

        • If you judge me for words of jest I will not judge you. Instead I will ask God forgive you when you meet the Eternal Judge and need answer for your words of calumny against me.

  4. The piece is directed at DT’s cultured despisers. It says he understands what’s going on better than they do and so has done good things that other politicians wouldn’t have done. It also says he has serious lacks, but the reasons we don’t have someone better include the failure of Catholic apparatchiks to look at what’s going on and respond in a way that makes sense. So their lacks are greater than his. And the reasons for them include secular ambition. They want to be respectable.

    What do you disagree with? When Catholics comment on public affairs does it all have to be cheerleading for their guy, who may indeed be the best guy available but is probably not perfect? Or do you really believe Trump will set civilization on a new and better course?

    • James I read your point and agree. What I have difference with is that many of us are aware of the character deficiencies and aren’t supporting him without reservation on that score. Many who are “cheerleading” are likely also aware but seize the moment. Trump’s vilification by the Press and Dems far exceeds his laudits. Insofar as setting civilization on a better course King David [Bathsheba and Uriah] and Hernan Cortes [wealth and power] had enormous flaws yet achieved precisely that.

    • ?Trump is NOT PERFECT?? Iam heartsick and dismayed that Catholics are not standing up and proclaiming they want nothing to do with Trump and his bizarre, demeaning behaviour! So, we cogradulate the bull, who left one or two pieces intact at the China Shop?? Trump brags about sexually assualting women, he brags about walking into the miss teen dressing room unnounced and how beautiful all the girls were on Howard Sterns show,Trump speaks about his daughter in a sexual way, but we dont believe his accusers, only the accusers of Democrats?? Trump says this about Senator Gillibrand ” “would do anything” for campaign contributions.” and Catholics are ok with that? GOD HELP US –Trump speak in circles, lies constantly, flies into rages, and this man has his finger on the button, I’ve never been so scared in my life. I have voted Republican since 1980, but will have nothing to do with this man.

      • I seem to remember the Democrat party denied God three times, on TV, for all to see at their convention…and continue to proclaim there is no room in the “Party” for Pro Life members..I will take my chances with a modern day “Cyrus”. After all, according to the Good Book, God brought the “Cyrus” of old to do his will and rebuild the Temple.

        • Phil, it isn’t politics that drives DT, it’s immorality. Remember when he told a reporter that “HE WAS THE ONLY ONE” who was important in DC. What ever the message here… Trump is really ridiculous. He let Pruitt dismiss 200 scientists at the EPA, many working on mitigating the effects of flooding on closed and still highly toxic, contaminated chemical sites like the Stauffer Chemical Co. Superfund not far from our home in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Most people living near these sites are unaware of the danger.

          How Pope Francis accepts this flawed man is a mystery.

  5. Considering what the Left has become, which more than simply includes the Democrats, I can not fathom how any Christian – let alone Catholic – could ever countenance voting for them. The modern Left is godless, regressive, wicked and parts of it surely evil.

    President Trump may be the Providence of God.

    • How as a Christian can we vote for the socialist, abortion loving, gay marriage promoting hateful left who have no love for God, Country or our troops’
      Hate Israel, and keep minorities addicted to the handouts instead of encouraging with a hand up. The open boarders isn’t out of love but the need to bring in more dependents on our generosity knowing they will always vote democrat.
      We are trillions in debt and cant keep these handouts going on forever and isn’t it time to put the citizens of countries ahead of illegals? We need a president who loves this country, loves our troops, looks after Israel and wants a conservative supreme court.
      Are we supposed to over look the fact that we are meant to life and protect Israel and is homosexuality no longer an abomination?

  6. A long boring and somewhat pedantic article, supposedly about Trump, that doesn’t even mention his name till the near end, and in a dismissive way. The author seems to be part of the very problem he tries to describe. Catholic Democrats, in particular, are a peculiar lot. Most of them are Modernists, I think, and form the very core of the limp moral present-day public stance of the Church’s leaders.

    • It’s not long, nor is it boring or pedantic. And, yes, it is about Trump, as it presents an argument about factors contributing to Trump’s rise. You either didn’t read the article or failed to comprehend the argument being made.

      • Carl:
        I take Kalb very seriously and I read everything he posts on CWR. On this thread I’ve read everything from vitriolic denunciation of The Donald to adulatory comparisons of him to King David and Emperor Cyrus.
        I would recommend that everyone think Constantine — brutal and cruel, perhaps, waited until his last breath to be baptized, but his vision at the Milvian Bridge (in hoc Signo vinces) created Christendom. And his call to Nicaea yielded the splendid Credo (with some differences between East and West) we intone today every Sunday and Holy Day.

  7. When I’m not sure about something I pray I wasn’t crazy about him but he was better than Hillary. About a month after he became President I had a dream (there’s more to the dream but I’m not going into that) but the end I was shown he had humility. I wasn’t so sure but only God knows a person’s heart . I do at times get prophetic dreams and visions that come to fruition. I feel I get these things because I ask God about these thing and he answers .

  8. Hillary Clinton (and the Democratic party) stands behind the killing of unborn babies – i.e. abortion. No Catholic can vote for this type of evil leadership that goes against a fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church, which is abortion is evil. Trump is pro life and already is moving to get some morally upright Supreme Court Judges in place to protect life. If you’re Catholic and would have voted for Hillary, or still would — better go to confession and then begin to make a fundamental change in your corrupt soul.

  9. I live in the northeastern part of KY, in the hills. Let me tell you what the last 8yrs of Democratic rule has done to us. They closed our steel mill, closed and demolished our power plant, more than doubled our electric bills, shut coal mines, downsized our hospital (lost doctors and closed hospital run x-ray school). The influx of drugs coming from across the border is KILLING our people. They’ve left us jobless, hopeless, depressed and drug addicted. They dismiss us as ignorant hillbillies. And I’m sorry to say the church treated us little better. While they have programs for migrants in big cities we are left spiritually dead. I don’t like or agree with everything President Trump does however, he knows we NEED jobs. Now, since Jan, we are receiving an aluminum plant with headquarters in our town, our rundown city hotel has been bought by the Marriott corp who are remodeling and building a parking garage and convention center, and now a plant that manufactures batteries is coming. The state is finally, starting to address the drug problem and our state has only 1 abortion facility in Louisville…one. Now, I don’t appreciate all the sexual harassing that is going on and it must stop but our culture that promotes perversion shouldn’t be surprised that it’s going on. I could never, never vote for a person that promotes dismembering babies, selling baby parts, etc. That’s a million times worse. I’m fed up with Catholics who resort to name calling and belittling everyone who doesn’t agree with them. You either follow Christ, or you don’t.

    • Hi Denise, remember all of us that voted for Trump are deplorables. I hear your passion, and God’s Blessings on turning your economy around.

    • Denise:
      Good to hear such wise and generous words from a fellow Kentuckian. I’m a life-long Louisvillian, and I’m ashamed of my beloved city’s anti-life and anti-family record.

  10. Trying to draw a clearer picture of Trump.

    Do I know treason when I see it? Better yet, does the Republican Congress know it when they see it? My party runs mute in the face of the overt and direct treasonous involvement by Trump with the Russians. Below are some of the questionable, (liable to judicial action), actions attributed to Trump.

    Has President Trump lost the trust of the nation? With a paltry 32% approval, YES

    Has he shown disregard and disrespect for his Intelligence agencies? YES!

    Has Trump admitted that he molested women? YES

    Has Trump dealt cavalierly and dangerously with our Russian adversaries? YES!

    Does Trump accept the fact that Russia hacked US data? NO!
    While in Europe this year did he agree with Putin by calling the hack a “hoax”? YES!

    Is Trump playing games by not implementing the Russian sanctions voted
    for by 90% of the congress? YES!

    Is trump a congenital liar? By all means. YES!

    Does Trump promise what he can’t deliver? YES!

    Did he remove us from the Paris Accords prematurely? YES!

    Does he present himself as presidential? NO!

    If Trump were to do the nation a favor by releasing his taxes would it clear up a lot of the Russian investigation confusion? YES!

    This is only a painfully short list..

    Webster’s definition of Treason…
    the offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign’s family

    2 : the betrayal of a trust : treachery

    • Ignoring most of the silliness and inaccuracy in your post, let’s look at just this: “Has he shown disregard and disrespect for his Intelligence agencies?”

      Why should he, or anyone, have any regard or respect for agencies that appear to be staffed largely by political hacks?

    • I’m going to ignore your character assassination of The Donald.
      But, I’m sorry, I seem to remember that Russia stopped being a militantly Communist and atheist state almost 30 years ago. So why is Putin our “enemy” and why is it “treasonous” to accept his advice and intelligence on political matters? (Dream on if you don’t think the US meddles in other countries’ elections). Putin has shut down homosexual propaganda in his country and that looks to me like something we ought to look for his counsel on. And maybe a lot of other things as well.

      • Robert, you seem to ignore a reason for treason. It is blatantly obvious that Trump has played softball with Putin even though Russia is our arch enemy!

        This segment has revealed Trumper forever and Trump enablers.

        He just blasted his the FBI with a term “deep state” a term I don’t know. I do know that Trump is making every effort to discredit his own intelligence. He is getting so bad he crawls with hate.

        • “Our arch enemy?” What’re we, Batman or Dick Tracy or something?

          You seem to be ignoring the fact that the only collusion with the Russians appears to have been by Democratic operatives.

          If you genuinely don’t know what “deep state” means, you could do a very quick Internet search and find out. “A body of people, typically influential members of government agencies or the military, believed to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy.”

          Think Sir Humphrey Appleby.

          The intelligence folks are quite capably discrediting themselves; President Trump doesn’t have to do it for them.

          And speaking of crawling with hate – you really need to look in a mirror.

  11. This is an excellent article. The left in the USA and Europe are inherently anti-Catholic, self serving elitists who care nothing for the poor and dispossessed. They believe that the solution to all problems is to throw other people’s money in their direction and hope for the best. They are intent on destroying our Christian heritage and replacing ithrough a laissez faire attitude to any creed or culture that the immigrants they encourage wish to adopt.
    For all his faults, Donald Trump speaks with more sense and moral authority than the Pope on social, economic and climate issues.

  12. Look folks, no one is perfect! We should be very, very, thankful that Donald Trump is not a Hilary Clinton! Contrast what you think she would have done in her 1st year to further destroy our perilous morality and security, vs. what Trump has so obviously done to turn things around. I am grateful that altho he is flawed, he is doing so much for the values we all cherish.
    BTW, I am a retired psychiatrist who practiced 40 years. The recent statements of the 2 dozen shrinks led by the Yale woman, are just so wrong as to be ridiculous, besides unethical. Trump is not “unraveling” or about to become psychotic. Trump is enjoying himself.

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