Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Presidential Campaign 2016: Clinton, Trump, "Catholic Spring," NYC's Al Smith Dinner & the Lady Macbeth Factor


That the non-story focusing on the ‘Wikileaked’ email exchange conducted among Clinton campaign staffers fizzled a few days after it broke shouldn’t surprise anyone who pays attention to Catholic politics in this presidential campaign. Presidential race 2016 is the first in a few decades in which the Roman Catholic hierarchs can’t really favor either candidate. (They never endorse outright—that’s a violation of tax law—It’s always under the radar.) It may be the first campaign ever in which one of the candidates publicly insulted the pope. It is also the first campaign since Roe v. Wade in which no genuine “pro-life” candidate is running. Catholics who imagine Trump to be “pro-life” are deluded. Trump is paying lip service to anti-abortion Christians---that’s one of the reasons he chose ex-Catholic Mike Pence, a born again evolution denier, as his running mate.

As I pointed out in my essay  “Jesus Was a Loser: The Gospel Truth About Trump and the Catholic Vote,” Donald Trump is out of sync with the Roman Catholic hierarchy on sanctity of marriage, immigration, the treatment of the poor, and “pro-life” issues apart from abortion. Trump is pro-gun, pro-torture, pro-war and pro-death and he exhibits a hatred for the weak that is inconsistent with Catholic values. Catholics of all stripes recognize that Trump is a non-believer who has changed his position on abortion for one reason alone, political expedience. The U.S. bishops cannot explicitly support Trump because he is an alleged sexual assailant, an unapologetic adulterer and (again) a man who has had the temerity to publicly deride the Supreme Pontiff. They can’t support him outright but my hunch is that a few of the U.S. Bishops wish he’d win.

Like their counterparts in the laity, politically conservative bishops hate Clinton more than they dislike Trump. Indeed most Catholic fervor for Trump is likely due to hatred of Clinton. She is not the first presidential candidate to unequivocally support Planned Parenthood and Roe v. Wade, but she is the first woman doing it while poised to become President of the United States. Clinton is not just a candidate who supports a woman’s right to have a safe and legal abortion; she’s a woman supporting that right. I think of it as “Lady Macbeth factor.” Clinton is the first presidential candidate who could have torn a suckling child off of her breast and bashed its brains out. For ultra traditional Roman Catholic Hillary’s uppity aspiration to be the leader of the free world and “pro-choice” stance constitute a toxic witch’s brew.

While I am accustomed to being called a hell-bound apostate and such, some of the responses (from readers) to my “Jesus Was a Loser...”essay took me by surprise. Several were lurid descriptions of Clinton’s all-consuming drive to murder “babies.” Behold a sampling of the musings of the Catholic devout:
“So ... you will vote for Hillary Clinton ... who would eat the unborn for breakfast if Planned Parenthood was hosting the meal?”
  “This poor blind fellow (author) neglects to point out that the Left (Hillary & her evil minions) supports the Planned Parenthood killing factories and baby chop shops;”
  “In Hillary’s world, Jesus’s infant body would be biomedical waste and resold body parts.”  
“…while Trump is an anathema Clinton is a woman who sees no problem with plunging a knife into a baby’s skull and twisting it until the necessary puree is obtained…Trump views children with distaste, and that is disgraceful. Clinton views babies as human waste...”
Clinton is a doting, diaper-changing grandmother. She started her professional life advocating for children. She honored her marriage vows when the husband she loved would not and kept her family whole.  These are Christian values and Clinton is a Christian with a vital and enduring Methodist practice. Her opponent, on the other hand, is a thrice-married serial adulterer who has broken two families, has never held a job in government, allowed poor men to serve in the (draft) armed forces in his stead, has been credibly accused of numerous sexual assaults, was an absentee father, does little to support any charitable efforts and has no substantive religious affiliation.

It would seem that for ultra-traditional and politically conservative Roman Catholic conservatives protecting the unborn trumps protecting the born. If Sarah Palin were (Heaven forbid) about to be elected president, many of the same politically conservative and religiously traditional Catholics who despise Clinton would forgive her ambition. If Catholic Joe Biden were running for office, many of these same Catholics might overlook his pro-choice stance while noticing that Trump’s authentic views on abortion are not genuine. But given the choice between a soul-less, faux “pro-life” lecher with zero experience in government and an immensely experienced pro-choice Christian woman, many ultra-traditional and politically conservative Catholics will indeed vote for the man.

Because no man is Lady Macbeth.

The capacity of women to control their fertility is threat to the Vatican coffers. The Roman Catholic Church hierarchy has depended upon, and benefitted mightily from, a cultural norm that encourages Catholics to have large families and raise them in the church. Furthermore, the Vatican is engaged in a strenuous (ultimately losing, I believe) battle to preserve its all-male priesthood.

Then there is the complication of Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, an actual Catholic. I think of Kaine as the patron saint of the “Catholic Spring” traditional and politically conservative Catholics outraged by the Wikileaks emails fear Democratic party staffers had in mind when they wrote those personal notes. Catholics with penchants for policing fellow Catholics (in an effort to feel super-Catholic) have taken to social media to furiously characterize Kaine as “not Catholic,” “self-excommunicated,” and a “Cafeteria Catholic.”

It’s all sticks, stones and fringy zealous hysteria. There’s no theological there there.

Tim Kaine was baptized, is faithful to worship, has a life in the sacraments and works in ministry. He understands what “primacy of conscience” means, and thus he discerns. Catholic politicians, priests and super-Catholics---even those who claim expert knowledge of God’s will, have no standing when it comes to Tim Kaine’s degree of Roman Catholicity. They can whinge and but they can’t unbaptize him. The delightful irony in this is that Tim Kaine is most United States Catholics. Most Catholics support a compassionate immigration policy. Most Catholics frown upon Trump’s xenophobia. The pope himself has enlightened views on climate and has boldly spoken out against the sin of greed. Most Catholics use/support the use of “artificial” birth control (Natural birth control is canonically permissible.) and most Catholics will, come November 8th, cast votes for the candidate who has promised to protect and uphold Roe v. Wade.

The Catholic Wikileaks story came and fizzled---such that mention of it didn’t even find its way into the third debate. It was dud from the start for several reasons: The conversation the Catholic staffers were having is a conversation that Catholics have been having in public view for 50 years. Our church has been engaged in a “Catholic Spring” since the Second Vatican Council. Another reason is that the majority of Roman Catholics are already too disgusted with Trump to eschew voting for Clinton. The U.S. bishops are keeping quiet because they are wise enough to recognize know that Trump will never make good on his promise to appoint a “pro-life” justice to be Supreme Court.

I remember watching a tape of the 2008 Al Smith Dinner shortly before Election Day of that year, and being surprised to see Archbishop Edward Egan chuckling at jokes cracked by presidential hopeful Barack Obama. He views Obama as being a supporter of infanticide? I remember thinking, but chuckles over schtick?’ How can that be?


The answer is that many of these virulent anti-abortion folk do not really believe abortion is infanticide. They just say it. Especially those who make allowances for girls and women who conceived as a result of a rape or incest.” If they believed it, there would be more discussion of jail time, more concern for the right of a the child born of rape to be born and more ejecting of pro-choice pols from parishes and Communion lines. It’s rhetoric. That’s why the cardinal can laugh at a pro-choice candidate’s speech. A cardinal who believed abortion was murder could never. And that same refusing-to-guffaw cardinal would vigorously question the “pro-life” character of any candidate who would eliminate supports for refugees and the nation’s poor---most of whom happen to be children. In my opinion, it would be a mistake to disparage the prelate in charge---or the Catholic laity---for feasting with Clinton and Trump, this evening, at the Al Smith dinner. There’s Christian precedent to support the choice. God loves everyone, and Jesus dined with sinners. Nevertheless, we should look closely and wonder. John Cardinal O’Connor disinvited presidential candidates in 2004 in protest against Bill Clinton’s abortion position. Will Cardinal Dolan will laugh at Lady Macbeth’s jokes?

October 19, 2016

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