For Traditional Catholics, Trump’s ascendancy should be cause for concern, but not for the reasons the “establishment” is concerned or for the reasons pro-life neo-Catholics are concerned. This set of concerns over Trump’s ascendancy is an entirely different one from that as stated by Democrats, anti-Trump Republicans and neo-Catholics.
As a Traditional Catholic, I note below problems with Trump’s ascendancy, which really are the problems with America itself and other countries in the West that make an idol of democracy. America, however, the “City on a Hill,” is a special case.
- Religious Liberty
Much of the pro-life neo-Catholic and Evangelical Christian mobilization for Trump was based on the belief that Trump would stand up for “religious liberty.” Trump himself may genuinely believe that religious liberty is under attack and needs protecting.
A survey commissioned by the Family Research Council (FRC) asked Trump voters if the Republican platform’s strong positions on “unborn human life and religious liberty” impacted their vote. Approximately 60% said yes (strongly 41%; somewhat 18%; don’t know 7%; didn’t impact 34%). FRC President Tony Perkins said, “The Republican Party’s platform positions on unborn human life and religious liberty was the bridge between Donald Trump and Christian conservatives. Nearly 60 percent of Trump voters were more likely to vote for him because the platform is very clear on life and religious liberty.”
Religious liberty is an error however, and is part of the problem. It is not something we should be fighting for, but rather, against. Further, we should be educating neo-Catholics about this error and making the Social Kingship of Christ known including the problems with separation of Church and State and religious liberty.
#77 of Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors states: “In this age of ours it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be the only religion of the state, to the exclusion of all other cults whatsoever.”— Condemned
#55 of Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors states: “The Church is to be separated from the state, and the state from the Church.”— Condemned
While Vatican II suggested that religious liberty should be a civil right, Traditional Catholics know better.
The day of the U.S. election, a post titled “False Worship in the Secular State,” appeared on the SSPX U.S. District’s website. It quoted several popes on religious liberty, and ended with the following statement:
Although the faithful in the United States are far removed from the immediate possibility of living in a Catholic state, that does not mean that any Catholic has the right to accept indifferentism in religious matters. As the teachings of the Pope and the clear theological principles of the Church make clear, there is no right to false worship any more than there is a right to publicly professing error. As such, Catholics must be on guard against internalizing liberal ideology—an ideology which views all religion as essentially the same. Instead, Catholics should be vigilant in combating this attitude by living their lives in accordance with the precepts of the Church and taking every opportunity to profess the social Kingship of Christ, the true ruler of all the nations of the earth.
For Traditional Catholics Trump’s ascendancy should be a concern since it is in part based on, and perpetuates, the modernist error of religious liberty.
This was the strongest narrative in the Trump ascendancy and captured the imaginations of many.
This was a strange narrative for Traditional Catholics to buy into since the Church is an eminently hierarchical and establishment-based institution. Whatever you may say about Pope Francis, including the very worst, and however much the hierarchy has been infiltrated, a Traditional Catholic should be the first one to defend the need for an establishment—a powerful elite—if you will. One may speak out about and condemn individual members of the establishment, outside of or within the Church hierarchy, who try to undermine the Church, but we also must be clear that a hierarchical establishment is central to the Church’s governance.
One could make the case that one wants to get rid of a rotten establishment to have a better (Christian, or better yet, Catholic) one put in its place. Yet, I don’t think this was the sentiment behind the anti-establishment fervour of the pro-Trump camp (see next point).
Trump seems well-intentioned in breaking open the “establishment” that is out of touch with everyday Americans’ lives and not serving the “people” well, but let’s not forget that a ruling class or “establishment” is actually part of the right ordering of things (the King and his court, for example). In a Catholic country, which is what we are striving for, this ruling elite would be Catholic and subject to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church.
The anti-establishment cries during Trump’s campaign seemed to take on the cry of revolution, and revolution is not Catholic. It is American, however.
- Government Controlled by the People
Trump’s assertion that his presidency will give control of government back to the people is related to the previous point about the pro-Trump cries of de-establishing the establishment.
“Our movement is about replacing a failed and corrupt political establishment with a new government controlled by you the American people,” Trump stated.
“This is a crossroads in the history of our civilization that will determine whether or not we the people will reclaim control over our government,” he said.
The problem with this aspect of Trump’s campaign is the problem of modern liberal democracy. It is the problem on that which America and the western democracies are founded upon, and, it is in direct contravention of that which Traditional Catholics profess: the Social Kingship of Christ. That is, power and the authority to govern comes from God. Yet, in American democracy, power and the authority to govern comes from the will of the people—this is the opposite of the Social Kingship of Christ. The people may designate a leader, but they do not give him the authority to govern.
Traditional Catholics know well that the Church before Vatican II condemned both liberalism and modern democracy.
The Church has condemned liberalism in encyclicals such as Gregory XVI’s Mirari Vos (On Liberalism and Religious Indifferentism, 1832), Pius IX’s Quanta Cura and Syllabus Errorum (Condemning Current Errors and the Syllabus of Errors,1864), Leo XIII’s Libertas Praestantissimum (On the Nature of Human Liberty, 1888), and St. Pius X’s Pascendi Dominici Gregis, (Feeding the Lord’s Flock, 1907).
There is little point in discussing what liberalism has become as neo-Catholics are wont to do (the mistaken idea that everything went wrong in the 1960s) because all liberalism—classical, modern, old, new—sits on the same Enlightenment foundation.
Traditional Catholics are also familiar with the Church’s pre-Vatican II critique of modern democracy. Yves Dupont wrote an excellent essay on this topic, The Popes and Democracy, which can be read here.
For now I’ll include a quote from that essay:
Modern democratic ideas are rooted in Liberalism and Humanism. As such, they are the result of a state of mind the outcome of certain philosophy which projects its evil effects into every aspect of our lives. It is futile to acknowledge and fight some of these evils whilst, at the same time, praising the alleged virtues of popular power. Both derive from the same cause, and that cause must be eradicated: it is the spirit of revolt of the 18th century ‘The general revolt in the depths of the human conscience.’ (Pius XII “Summi Pontificatus”) Modern Democracy is inseparable from other evils; it inevitably evolves into tyranny.
Trump’s ascendancy is also the ascendancy of modern liberal democratic ideals. This is a problem.
- Expediency vs. Principle (lesser of evils argument)
For Catholic voters much was said about voting for Trump as the lesser of two evils. This may be true, but it should also be noted that such expediency does not help to make known the Social Kingship of Christ, which is what is most needed right now in our secular or, as some call it, our post-secular world.
The Social Kingship of Christ is the denied reality that must be recognized, why should we who know what is the Truth accept a compromise—crumbs thrown to us by the liberal democratic system?
If we do not reject the system, we prop up the system, and a system that promotes the heresy of religious liberty is one that should not be propped up.
Rejecting the system doesn’t mean not paying your taxes or not obeying the rule of law, or not voting. However, the dominant thread of debate for Catholics during Trump’s campaign was about the morality of voting for Trump. Yes, by all means vote for one such as him. Why though, is there not a more pronounced thread of discussion on Traditional Catholic blogs and websites about the need for professing the Social Kingship of Christ and praying for Trump’s conversion to Catholicism—since that would be a logical first step in that direction? Rejecting the system means working to realize the Social Kingship of Christ privately and publicly, constantly.
- True Conservatism
Much was said during Trump’s ascendancy about the much-vilified neo-conservatives vs. the “true conservatives.” Who are these “true conservatives?” I shed the label of conservative when I realized that the term “conservative” is ambiguous—even meaningless. Many conservatives of the libertarian type, for example, are merely classical liberals. With a large swathe of pro-Trumpers actually being libertarians or classical liberals, the assertion that a Trump victory means a victory for “true conservatives” is problematic.
Another example: when Ivanka Trump, daughter of the “true conservative” candidate, addressed the Republican National Convention she announced that her father would “fight for equal pay for equal work” and “focus on making quality childcare affordable and accessible for all”—two typical feminist planks. Although these planks did not appear in the official Republican Party platform, it is safe to say that Trump approves of what his daughter said at the convention. These planks put Trump in liberal territory, the same territory as Hillary Clinton.
Does “true conservatism” exist? What is it then? While Russell Kirk’s ten principles can fit with a general Catholic “ethos,” they are not Catholicism. If we are to rebuild Christendom, and that is the goal, we will not do it based on Kirk’s ten principles. We will do it on a traditional understanding of Catholicism.
Perhaps then there are only liberals and Traditional Catholics.
MAGA was the most obviously problematic part of Trump’s campaign—the problem of which it might be almost impossible for a “patriotic” American to see. But, America was never great in the sense of a “great civilization” as Trump referred to it.
America was never part of the only truly great civilization, which was Christendom, or later, Catholic Europe, and which America rejected in its “war of independence.” America is actually famous for and proud of rejecting its European Christian heritage. What could have been healthy roots for a beautiful new world were cut off instead.
America will only become great if it acknowledges Christ as its King. And when Christ is the King there is no separation of Church and State, there is no religious liberty, and the Catholic Faith is acknowledged as the one true religion. In many ways Trump’s campaign ran on opposing ideas, such as religious liberty and control of government given to the people.
Implicit in Trump’s promise to “make America great again” was changing immigration policy to stop the flow of illegals and Muslims into the country.
The problem of immigration, however, is related to the error of religious liberty. In a Catholic country with no separation of Church and State all citizens should be baptized Catholics and those that profess other religions are only to be tolerated with the acknowledgement that they are in error. If they pose a threat to the Church and the faith and morals of the people in any way, they should be ejected. In other words, in a truly Catholic country immigration would not be a problem because Catholicism would be the state religion and other religions would merely be tolerated, in effect making the problem of immigration a religious problem. We should be looking to convert souls, not deciding who should live within our borders based on economics or security (security is obviously a concern, but divorcing it from the question of religion fundamentally changes the issue of security).
#78 of Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors states: “Hence in certain regions of Catholic name, it has been laudably sanctioned by law that men immigrating there be allowed to have public exercises of any form of worship of their own.” – Condemned
7. Pro-Life Trump
Trump initially fumbled around with his position on abortion but ended up campaigning on a strong pro-life platform which won over the pro-life movement to varying degrees.
The dream of the pro-life movement is overturning Roe v. Wade and at one time it was also to have a human life amendment made to the constitution. They see possibilities for the realization of Roe v. Wade being overturned with Trump. Catholics should be wary of what effect this would have on the morality that leads to abortion, legal or illegal. Would it have any effect?
While it is obviously right that the law of the land is that abortion is illegal, what kind of foundation did this law (for abortion was once illegal) and would this law sit upon?
Americans, including Catholics, are generally pro-choice with restrictions, and even Antonin Scalia said in a democracy if the people want abortion the state should permit it (1996 speech at Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome). In a modern liberal democracy doesn’t the majority rule? What if the will of the people, not the will of the Supreme Court judges, is pro-abortion? Recall that before Roe v. Wade many states had passed legislation legalizing abortion with restrictions. New York made “abortion on demand” legal through the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Trump has said let the states decide about abortion. In his recent 60 Minutes interview, while he plainly stated he is pro-life and he will appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court, he obfuscated when the interviewer said that “some woman wouldn’t be able to get an abortion” if Roe v. Wade was overturned and the issue, as per Trump’s wishes, goes back to the states.
The only way to ensure the sanctity of human life is respected from conception until death is to join Church and State so that those who govern are subject to the moral order as defined by the Catholic Church. Only when governance is beholden to that which is greater than man’s designs will we be able to battle the impact the sinful nature of man has on society, which will always pose a problem until the end of time.
While laws which make abortion illegal and punish those involved in procuring and performing abortions are good and necessary, with such laws in place abortion is still an issue (before Roe v. Wade there was a clear demand for abortion). So, simply passing laws is not enough. What is enough? We hear of suggestions from pro-life circles such as “changing the culture” and “changing hearts and minds” and such. These phrases mean little, because abortion is essentially a grave mortal sin and the proliferation of abortion is essentially a sign and symptom of our rejection of God both in private and public life.
What is missing in America is God. “Nature’s God”—the God of Deism—set America on a terrible course. God who is really present in the Holy Eucharist and has a Kingship over us would have set America on a different course. The latter God, which Catholics well know, cannot be relegated to private practices and personal beliefs, but stands over all of us (non-Catholics too) as Christ the King Who has dominion over all things and Whom we are subject to in all things.
We need to start rejecting the system that rejects us. The liberal democratic state which espouses religious liberty as exemplified in the U.S. is opposed to Catholicism which teaches that Christ is our King. The Social Kingship of Christ cannot abide religious liberty. Catholics trying to work within the system that has rejected, from the beginning, Christ as the ultimate head of a government, only support and uphold that which seeks to destroy the Catholic Church.
Americans do not acknowledge the Social Kingship of Christ, quite the opposite. That is the problem. America’s civic religion takes precedence over Christianity. That is the problem. The Founding Fathers were Freemasons and Deists. That is the problem. Anti-Catholicism is interwoven into the fabric of America. That is the problem.
America is not Catholic. That is the problem.
Catholics in America, with the exception of a handful I assume, have become part of the American Catholic Church which is subservient to America’s civic religion. That is the problem.
There seems to be something in the American ethos that does not fit with Catholicism.
The 19th century Catholic writer Orestes Brownson discussed the problem of Catholicism in America. He wrote that there was “scarcely a trait in the American character as practically developed that is not more or less hostile to Catholicity.” Americans, he said, were “imbued with a spirit of independence, an aversion to authority, a pride, an overwhelming conceit, as well as with a prejudice that makes them revolt at the bare mention of the Church.”
He also said:
Catholics as well as others imbibe the spirit of the country, imbibe from infancy the spirit of independence, freedom from all restraint, unbounded license. So far are we from converting the country, we cannot hold our own…. How many Catholics can you find born & brought up in the country that do in reality hold the Church to be higher than the people, or who do not consider her voice authoritative only when it coincides with that of the people?
These considerations make me feel that the whole influence of democratic ideas & tendencies is directly antagonistic to Catholicity. I think the Church has never encountered a social & political order so hostile to her, & that the conversion of our republic will be a far greater victory than the conversion of the Roman Empire…. I have heretofore wished to effect a harmony of the American & the Catholic idea, but I believe such harmony impracticable except by sacrificing the Catholic idea to the National.
What Trump has appealed to in the American electorate won’t lead to a Catholic civilization or one that is even amenable to Catholicism. He appealed to Americans via what are essentially lies about how people should be governed. He told Americans that they should be governed by the will of the people not by the will of God, that is, by a government that receives its authority to govern from the people, not God. This is essentially America’s problem, not the “establishment.” The problem is that America—the country, not necessarily individuals within it—has always been Godless—for “Nature’s God” is a Deistic principle and is not the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The leaders in America, beginning with the Freemason George Washington down to Donald Trump, deny the truth that the authority to govern comes from God, not the people. Until America changes in this way, it will never be well and its influence in the world will never be of lasting good.
That is why for a Traditional Catholic, Trump’s ascendancy can rightly be met with an attitude of “sorrow and bitterness.”
The following are the words of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (emphasis is mine):
So, the State has to recognize the Catholic Church as the only true and official Church. It cannot allow proselytism of false religions, even though it recognizes them in their proper place in society – which is not one of relevance – and tolerates them when there is no other solution…
All the laws of the State should be inspired by the Church, as it used to be before the French Revolution. Indeed, at that time, when the Church would promulgate a law, it would also be applied in the State without the need to be ratified. Let us say the Church would establish new laws regarding births, burials, marriages or education: the State would automatically accept and apply them as well.
The religious authorities were the object of public respect and honor because they were the authorities of the true Church of the true God, who was the King of the State…
Therefore, the true and faithful vassal of Christ the King, the true warrior of Christ the King, must constantly maintain a full notion of what is happening around him, seeing and lamenting all that denies the royalty of Our Lord. It is of no avail just to have generic abstract ideas if they are not applied to the practical situations of our lives.
A Catholic who does not assume an attitude of sorrow and bitterness when he sees the royalty of Our Lord being denied today is not a true soldier of Christ the King. We should be known for constantly taking this attitude of bitter sorrow to see the rights of Our Lord denied around us. It should not be a sterile, academic thing, but a manly indignation that prepares a counter-attack to put things in their correct order as soon as possible.
One could argue that a Catholic social order is not realistic in our time in such countries as America and so we must seek compromise. Or, one could agree that we should work toward a Catholic social order, but we must start small and Trump’s presidency is starting small since he is standing up for religious liberty (at least Catholics won’t be thrown to the lions). But I have argued here that in some ways what Trump stands for is the opposite of the Social Kingship of Christ. At this stage of the game it is better to “go for broke” than to compromise (easier said than done, I know).
Yves Dupont had something to say about not compromising:
…Why should we adopt the “strategy of silence”, or even worse, why, as St. Pius X said, should we attempt to reconcile error with truth? Human prudence in this respect is folly in the eyes of God. Silence is the beginning of compromise; and compromise, apart from being the surest way to disaster, is a betrayal of our principles. Principles, not expediency, must direct our actions. Principles are based on permanent and objective truths, whilst expediency is based on the subjective appreciation of the circumstances of the moment. Policies based on expediency are unstable and forever changing…
…But, miracle or not, our will to fight should be the same. There can be no compromise with a social order rooted in Liberalism. What is called “moderation” is a facile excuse for doing nothing. It is often a mask concealing a lack of courage and determination. To be sure, compromises can secure some immediate advantages. But an immediate and limited advantage is a very poor reward when the price is the long-range and essential interests of Christianity!
Thomas Storck put it well when he recently wrote: “If we find the notion of a resurrection of Christendom too daunting a task to think seriously about, then we might as well sit back and watch as secular Europe dies. For there is no other task that is worthwhile, and none other for which divine assistance has been promised.”
I’ll end this essay not on a note of sorrow and bitterness, however, but with an anecdote about Orestes Brownson that illustrates the problem of Trump, the problem of America, and the problem of other countries that make an idol of democracy and turn away from Jesus Christ our Lord and King.
One Friday night in 1845, less than a year after his conversion to Catholicism, Orestes Brownson was spending the evening in a small public inn near the center of Andover, Massachusetts. For the last thirty-seven years Andover had been the home of the Congregationalist seminary known as the “West Point of Orthodoxy.” Founded by Jedidiah Morse in 1808, the school had become the intellectual center for the moderate Calvinists and New Divinity thinkers who attempted to carry on the vigorous breed of Puritan idealism that had inspired men like Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Hopkins a century earlier. In such a place the distaste for “popery” and “Romish doctrines” ran high, a fact that Brownson knew as well as anyone seated around the innkeeper’s supper table that night. When the meal of stewed beef, carrots, and potatoes was served, Brownson slowly lifted his huge, six-foot-two frame, looked the innkeeper straight in the eye and bellowed out in a loud voice: “Have you nothing that a Christian can eat?” Astonished, the innkeeper replied that there was plenty of stew for all, to which Brownson said “But today, sir, is Friday, and Christians do not eat meat on Friday!” (This anecdote is from a 1986 Crisis Magazine article by John Farina.)