The day after Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, I wrote a short column about the chief challenge that those who had voted for him would face over the next four years. I had not voted for Trump — nor did I vote for Hillary Clinton — but I knew many people who had, and I understood why. In contrast to the caricatures painted by much of the media, they had voted for Trump for good reasons: some had been convinced that he had truly had a conversion on abortion and other life questions; others were voting in favor of a more modest foreign policy, including Trump’s promises to end foreign wars that had been opposed by all of the last three popes; still others found his plan to strengthen the economy of Main Street rather than that of Wall Street refreshing.
The chief challenge that Trump voters would face, I argued, was one that has become worse and worse across the political spectrum with every passing election cycle. Let’s call it political Manichaeism, after the ancient religion that saw all of the world in stark black and white, good and evil. We start out agreeing with a candidate on Issue X and disagreeing with him on Issue Y; but when he’s attacked on Issue Y by other people who disagree with him on Issue X, we’re tempted to defend him anyway.
And in the process, our disagreement with “our” candidate on Issue Y begins to erode, and we find ourselves adapting our views to the candidate we voted for, rather than holding his feet to the fire on issues where we disagree.
Sadly, that became the reality with Donald Trump, as many of his supporters ended up defending him across the board, including on issues where, in November 2016, they would have said they disagreed with him. In a democracy in particular, political division tends to wipe out all nuance, to erode principle, to push issues to the side and elevate the man.
Four years later, the shoe is on the other foot. Donald Trump will leave office in January, and Joe Biden, a baptized and practicing Catholic who dissents from Church teaching on several essential matters, will become president of the United States. (For the record, I voted for neither Trump nor Biden in 2020.)
Some Catholics who voted for Joe Biden are themselves dissenters from Church teaching on abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and marriage. The rest of this column isn’t for them. It’s for those Catholics who accept the Church’s teaching on these matters but convinced themselves that they could vote for Joe Biden despite — not because of — his positions.
If you’re one of those voters, resist the temptation to political Manichaeism. Don’t fall into the trap of defending, or even simply excusing, Biden when he acts in ways contrary to the moral truths that the Church teaches. Don’t say, “His position on abortion was clear; we can’t expect him to change it.” It was clear, but we can — and should — expect him to change it. We can — and should — encourage him to embrace the truth. If he carries through on his promises to revoke the Mexico City policy, to overturn the Hyde Amendment, to enshrine Roe v. Wade into federal law in the wake of any U.S. Supreme Court decision to scale Roe back and to return the matter of abortion to the states, make it clear that you find such actions unacceptable.
The great danger here is not simply to the lives of unborn children; it’s to your own soul. Donald Trump was no messiah; Joe Biden isn’t, either. They’re both politicians with some good ideas and many more bad ones. We don’t have to accept the bad ones in order to embrace the good ones; in fact, our support for the good ones becomes more valuable when we reject the bad ones.
But if we excuse the bad ones because he’s “our guy,” we may find, at the end of four years, that we’ve not simply made our peace with his dissent from Church teaching but, for all practical purposes, embraced such dissent ourselves.
Scott P. Richert is the publisher of OSV. Visit OSVNews.com.
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