I wrote yesterday that the fact that white working-class Catholics are flocking to the out and out racist and xenophobe Donald Trump as he aims for the presidency is a serious indictment of the pastoral and intellectual leadership of the American Catholic church in the recent past. It's an indictment of the pastoral leadership of the U.S. bishops and of the lay leadership exercised by Catholic academics and journalists.
The people who profess to "lead" the U.S. Catholic church — its bishops and its lay leaders in the media and academy — have, to a great extent, not been leaders at all in the past several decades. If they had exercised any pastoral and intellectual leadership in the U.S. church, we wouldn't be confronting what's so unimaginable to these leaders, namely, wide white Catholic support for an out and out racist and xenophobe.
Here's Massimo Faggioli in Huffington Post today making similar points. Noting that Trump's rise in places like Michigan "is based in part on a consensus among conservative Catholics in America, who prefer him over the other Republican candidates," Faggioli states,
The third element [in Catholic Trumpism] is the involution of political culture among conservative American Catholics. Catholic support for Trump cannot be explained simply by the fears and decline of white America's lower middle class. Instead it should be viewed through the lens of decadence within the neo-conservative Catholic intelligentsia in the US during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. On one hand the "victimology" elaborated by bishops and conservative Catholic Americans concerning the religious freedom of Catholics around the country who felt under fire from the Obama administration has found its surrogate in the ethnic and nationalistic victimhood professed by Trump against Latinos and the Chinese. On the other hand, there is a culture of moral excommunication of a political adversary, now one of the distinctive features of Trump (who adds theatrical elements that further perfect the media circus that is US presidential primaries) (my emphasis added).
During the early '90s, conservative American Catholicism morally and politically excommunicated Bill Clinton, and in 2008 it was Obama's turn -- the only difference being that the "excommunication" reserved for Obama was not merely political and moral, but also civil and not devoid of racial undertones, aimed constantly and consistently at undermining and delegitimizing his presidency. The libertarian rhetoric of the Tea Party, with its "let's take back our country" (in other words, let's take it out of the hands of an African-American president), is extremely similar to Trump's brand of xenophobia -- two things that American bishops proved themselves incapable of reacting to, back then and today. It's a short step from libertarian-liberalist rhetoric to the death of the key idea of "the common good" for Catholic morality, and the Republican Party already took this step over the course of the past decade.
And then he concludes:
The moral excommunication brought to bear on Obama starting in 2008 and today on Hillary Clinton by conservative American Catholics is now backfiring on those among the political and intellectual elite who played around at being wizard's apprentices as they manipulated the various and diverse ethnic and ideological positions in order to delegitimize the Obama presidency.
No wonder America's white lower middle class is now turning to Trump, a man who is not afraid to point a finger at the disasters of the Bush era. In their own way, Catholics for Trump are presenting the country and the American Catholic church with the bill for a moral and intellectual bankruptcy that it will not be easy to recover from, even for one of the most important churches in modern global Catholicism.
If Donald Trump — an out and out racist and xenophobe — wins the White House, white working-class Catholics will have placed him there. This is a terrible indictment of the pastoral leadership of the U.S. Catholic bishops for several decades now, and of the intellectual leadership exercised by the academic and journalistic lay leaders of the U.S. Catholic church.
The photo of Massimo Faggioli is from his faculty page at University of St. Thomas, Minnesota.