Catholics Have Role in Rebuilding America’s Political Culture

March 14, 2016 | , . | Posted in From the Director

Very little about what is to come between now and Election Day is clear, except this: when the dust settles, at least one of America’s great political parties will never be the same.

The 162 year old Republican Party seems on the verge of coming apart at the seams. The country is watching it careen towards Cleveland in much the same way onlookers might observe a car without a driver barrel through an intersection: with a mix of fascination and horror. And whatever the short term electoral fallout, the GOP’s implosion could have very unpredictable consequences for the world’s oldest political party, the Democratic Party, which already has serious stresses of its own.

There is ample reason for concern about the direction our politics are taking, however this also has the potential to be a moment of creative destruction. And if there is to be a new political alignment, Catholics have the opportunity to help shape it.

The Catholic moral tradition can play a vital role in helping to steer our politics away from interest group tribalism. Concepts like “human flourishing” and “the dignity of the person” need to be reintroduced into our political discourse. Catholic moral thinking can help turn the conversation towards what is good for society, instead of what is good for me, myself, and I.

The Catholic bishops have for years been encouraging the faithful to put principle before party. Parties are, after all, a means of organizing politically, nothing more. The widespread dissatisfaction with party “establishments” should make this an opportune time to warn against uncritical devotion to political brand names.

Yet a decrease in attachment to party does not automatically translate into an increase in sober minded citizenship based on moral principle. Witness the trend in recent presidential elections towards cult-of-personality politics. It is not exactly progress if blind loyalty to a political party is replaced with blind loyalty to a messiah in a suit and tie.

It is said on an almost daily basis now that the voters are angry. This is not in and of itself a bad thing. Even the Lord grew angry at the money changers who had turned his father’s house into a “marketplace” and a “den of thieves.” One can only imagine what he would have thought of Washington.

Righteous anger is not the same thing as rage, however. If these immense levels of voter frustration are not joined to a genuine concern for the common good, the temple may be torn down rather than cleansed.