Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Racism Is Not a Non-Negotiable: White Catholic Voters and Trump, Responsibility of the U.S. Bishops and Catholic Neocon and Centrist Lay Leaders

And so who's voting for Donald Trump in the primaries now being held around the country? The "surprising" (but entirely predictable, for those of us with close ties to white evangelical culture) finding that white evangelicals are gung-ho about Trump keeps being noted and is no longer surprising to anyone, though it apparently presents quite a conundrum for political and religious commentators who have blinded themselves to solid evidence for several decades now that the defection of white evangelicals in the South from Nixon forward has been all about race.

As Josh Marshall reports this morning, after his sweep of yet more state primaries yesterday, Mr. Trump trumpeted,

I tell you, with the evangelicals, they get it. They get me. They understand me. I'll be the best thing that ever happened to them. I mean that. 100%.

So who's voting for Mr. Trump in the various primaries now taking place around the nation? In addition to white evangelicals, Catholics are doing so, white Catholics. As poll results released (pdf file) on 3 March by Mitchell-FOX of Detroit show, Trump enjoys robust support of Michigan Catholics: 52 percent of voters identifying as Catholic reported to these pollsters that they support Trump, as opposed to 42 percent of Michigan Republican voters overall. As Mark Silk reported several days ago, the Catholic vote was, in fact, key for Donald Trump in Michigan.

And who else is gaga about Donald Trump these days? Why, these Catholic high school students from Indiana are: as Des Bieler indicated recently for Washington Post, when two Catholic high schools, Bishop Noll of Hammond and Andrean of Merrillville, both in Indiana, met near the end of February for the "Catholic Cup" basketball match at Andrean, Andrean students displayed "Trump fathead posters, the ESPN Deportes [the sports network’s Spanish-language channel] sign, a sign from 'Dora the Explorer,' and the 'Family Guy' Hispanic maid" pictures, according to Ashley Howard, who captured what was happening in photos and reports on her Facebook page (and here).

Bishop Noll has a high percentage of Hispanic students and a racially diverse basketball team. After Ashley Howard publicized the racist, xenophobic behavior of some Andrean students at the game (she reported chants of "We speak English," and "Build that wall!"), Catholic bishop Donald Hying of Gary, Indiana, issued a statement indicating that the behavior of Andrean students was "antithetical to the Christian faith" — a memo they somehow seemed not to have gotten, curiously enough, up to that point, despite their Catholic schooling.

The effusive Catholic support for Trump in Michigan, the use of the Trump brand as a racist, xenophobic bludgeon by Catholic high school students in Indiana: perhaps these are isolated incidents. Perhaps there's no strong evidence that white Catholics in the North are as a group gung-ho about Donald Trump, and that, as influential Catholic political commentators like Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter like to suggest, if white Catholics are angry and that anger is shoving them into the Trump camp, they're angry about feminists and abortion (Winters's bĂȘtes noires) — not about sensing that they're being challenged and displaced by people of color and brown-faced immigrants. They're angry because, as Winters sneers in the piece to which I've just linked, "President Obama bathed the White House in rainbow colors to celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage."

It can't be about racism, Winters and other influential Catholic political commentators have long reassured us. Many white Catholics in his home state of Connecticut are, after all, as poor as African Americans (!!) are elsewhere in the country. "Racism" is a taunt that elites whose real agenda is to promote "gender ideology," same-sex marriage, feminism, and abortion use to try to cow angry, disaffected white voters, Catholics and otherwise, into voting for political candidates whose agendas betray the conservative religious and moral values of working-class voters, notably Catholic ones.

Perhaps. Perhaps racism (and xenophobia) have nothing at all to do with those Trump fathead posters brandished in the faces of a multi-racial, multi-ethnic team by Catholic high school students chanting, "Build that wall!"

In any case, if we granted that it's not about racism — that angry white Catholics are flocking to Donald Trump because he appears to them to be their savior in their battle against gay rights, women's rights, and liberals — then the question would need to be asked, Why does displaced anger justify political movements that target marginalized members of our society seeking human rights? 

In what way does anger, as an excuse for working-class support for Donald Trump — in what way does white Catholic working-class anger in the North — justify behavior that targets and attacks fellow citizens and fellow human beings seeking to be treated with dignity and justice? Why has Catholic social teaching, which places supreme value on a communitarian ethic, had, to all appearances, so little effect on the thinking of many U.S. Catholics as they confront issues of racism, immigrant-bashing, maltreatment of the poor, and abuse of queer people?

If white working-class anger in the American South, which fueled the ugly, insupportable reaction of many white Southerners to integration and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was not acceptable, then why does this same kind of anger suddenly become acceptable for Catholic commentators when it's expressed by white Catholics in the North? Why is it tricked out in explanations about religious and moral beliefs when it's so obviously fueled by raw racism?

The answer to these questions does not seem self-evident to me. As someone who grew up in the American South during the Civil Rights period and who became Catholic precisely because the Catholic church in the South at that time seemed to defend human rights, it has long seemed to me that, with centrist Catholic political commentators like Michael Sean Winters, there's a glaring double standard as those commentators confront issues like racism.

What they expect of white Southern working-class people is not the same thing they expect of white Catholic working-class people outside the South. Or, to put the point more bluntly, they simply play games with the abundant evidence that demonstrates to us that white working-class Catholics in the North have been defecting to the Republican party for a long time now due to racism.

And not primarily due to culture-war issues like Winters's bĂȘtes noires of feminism, abortion, and gay rights . . . .

And so how do we know that Michigan and Indiana are not isolated cases? Well, I'd propose that we can divine just how concerned the movers and shakers of the American conservative Catholic establishment are about the widespread support of white Catholics for Donald Trump by the fact that some of those movers and shakers have just posted a public notice to U.S. Catholics pleading with them to stop Trump. A notice which implies that strong Catholic support is pulling the Trump bandwagon along . . . .

As Cathy Lynn Grossman reports for Religion News Service, forty Catholic neocon leaders including the leading light of the Manhattan Declaration Robert P. George just issued an appeal in The National Review to Catholic voters to stop Trump. It's about the culture-war issues for goodness' sake, their letter says: it's about 

the right to life, to religious freedom and the rights of conscience, to rebuilding the marriage culture, or to … the principle of limited constitutional government.

Where on earth did you working-class white Catholics ever get the idea that, as we urged you to jump on the anti-abortion, anti-feminist, anti-gay bandwagon, we were urging you to jump onto a racist bandwagon? 

There's a grand irony running through this hysterical reaction to a movement these folks themselves have set into motion, which has now gotten out of their control, isn't there? The culture-war agenda of the American right, including its religious right, has always been wrapped up in hidden appeals to racism. Racism is the sweet coating that, in fact, has made the bitter culture-war pill go down so easily among white working-class voters in much of the country.

And now that the racism has yielded Donald Trump, whose ascendancy threatens to divert the country's attention from those same culture-war issues and to bring the racism out into the open, the people who have employed that racist coating to carry out their culture war want the racism to be stopped? When they have successfully encouraged the U.S. Catholic bishops for years now to teach American Catholics that their votes should be cast on the basis of the "non-negotiables" of abortion and same-sex marriage?

And when racism and the fragmentation of American society due to ugly attacks by people of faith on minorities including people of color, LGBT people, and immigrants have never been on the bishops' pastoral radar screen as they instruct the faithful about their responsibilities as Catholic voters . . . . 

It's . . . interesting . . . to see the chickens coming home to roost now, isn't it?

(Please see this footnote to the preceding posting.)

The graphic is a clip from one of several "Catholic voter guides" that have circulated in the past several elections — with the U.S. Catholic bishops' obvious consent — instructing Catholics to cast their votes on the basis of "non-negotiables." The clip is from Colleen Kochivar-Baker's Enlightened Catholicism blog, October 2012 — seemingly a century ago, now that Trump has burst on the scene and exploded the pretensions of the "non-racist" culture-war agenda of The U.S. Catholic bishops and their right-wing neocon handlers.

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