In my last article, “Welcome to the House of Moral Dilemma,” I presented the many reasons why a serious Catholic in good faith could not vote for Hillary Clinton. In summary, one cannot simply close one eye to the moral difficulties of the Democrat Party, while focusing on what is perceived as “good.” Unless you are a Catholic who has a bad case of “false autonomy of conscience,” ignoring the teachings of the Church on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and persecution of the Catholic Church and attacks on religious liberty, or simply don’t know the teachings of the Church, one cannot turn a blind eye to these issues as if they do not exist. In the last article, I presented an analogy, a model for moral consideration which I called “The House of Moral Dilemma.” In this analogy, one approaches the issues at hand as if walking through a house from the front door to the back deck where one can celebrate a sound moral decision. If along the way you encounter morally objectionable things, such as mentioned above, they literally “stick to your shoes.” This spoils any “good things” which could be found later in the house.
We also explored the idea that not all moral considerations are proportionate, as described by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2004. For instance, while I personally may disagree with the way one party handles economics and have strong opinions that fiscal decisions made by a future administration might harm the poor, that is a prudential decision to be guided by Church teaching, and those concerns are not intrinsic moral evils. No candidate, of course, states that they intend to “harm the poor” or pursue “endless unjustified war” or be “unfair to immigrants.” The disagreement on these issues lies in how best to address these issues, and Catholics can legitimately disagree on these things. Intrinsic moral evils, on the other hand, are evil for all people, in all times, and in all places. As the USCCB has pointed out, they must be weighed, but they do not weigh as heavily as overt and unwavering support for things like abortion, gay marriage, etc. Placed on a balance scale, the intrinsic evils will always outweigh even a mountain of the other considerations.
The Five Kinds of Voters
This is where we arrive at our moral consideration of Donald J. Trump. I have observed the discussion about Mr. Trump over the past few months. Catholics seem to fall into five general camps regarding the Republican candidate.
1) “Tim Kaine” Catholics: They are going to vote for Hillary no matter what. They claim to be Catholic but do not really obey the Magisterium on many key issues, similar to Jesuit-educated VP Candidate Tim Kaine, who was chastised by his bishop this past week. They will keep plugging ahead, finding positive things to say about Mrs. Clinton, and will vote for her.
2) “Return of the King” Catholics: These Catholics are seeking a candidate who closely resembles Jesus. Past personal behaviors, brash rhetoric, and other non-intrinsic items disqualify Mr. Trump in their eyes. To vote for Mr. Trump is to vote for evil. These folks typically seek out a third-party candidate with values very close to the Magisterium. Despite the fact that such a candidate will never win, they are satisfied that their personal moral decision is sound, regardless if a vote is taken from a candidate that could defeat Mrs. Clinton.
3) Hold-your-nose Catholics: These Catholics recognize that Trump isn’t perfect and that there hasn’t been nor will there ever be a candidate that is perfect. They recognize the great evils present in Mrs. Clinton’s policies, especially the several Supreme Court justices that will probably be appointed during her first term, and the devastating effects they will have on our country. They will vote for Trump, recognizing that no intrinsic moral evils are directly or indirectly being advanced by their vote.
4) GOP Catholics: These folks will vote for the Republican candidate no matter who he/she is, under any circumstances. Morality has little to do with the consideration. This is based on the belief that anything related to the Democrats is bad.
5) Monarchist / Doom Catholics – These folks don’t like democracy or the American system of government. They long for the days of the kings and queens of Christendom. They see that America is doomed and refuse to participate. ‘nuf said.
That list is surely enough to offend any number of readers, but it is presented as “food for thought” as we proceed with our analysis of how a Catholic could vote for Donald Trump.
Walking Trump Through the House of Moral Dilemma
So how can a practicing Catholic in good conscience vote for Donald Trump? Let’s use the “House of Moral Dilemma” analogy once again to examine the moral landscape.
You’re approaching a house. It’s the House of Moral Dilemma. Next door you see a similar house which you visited last month: it’s the one with the name “Clinton” on the mailbox. This house has the name “Trump” on the front door. As you approach the front porch, there are “flowers” in pots there. The flowers represent the many promises of Mr. Trump to “Make America Great Again.”
As you enter the front door, you examine the Living Room. In the living room are trophies of a man who has succeeded in business. There are posters on the walls of his speeches where he talks about building a wall in order to enforce immigration law, and other posters of the speeches about allowing legal, law-abiding (but undocumented) citizens to pursue a valid status. There are books in the living room about removing undocumented aliens with criminal records, or those who have committed crimes. There is a magazine with a cover highlighting Trump’s policy on carefully screening immigrants from Syria; laying next to that are several magazines with pictures of terrorist attacks in Europe, the chaos in the streets in Paris and in Germany, and the promises of ISIS to bring this fight to America. There is a musty smell coming from the basement. This is the odor of Trump’s immoral personal life: divorces and other bad behaviors. His past support of abortion is down there as well. But you notice, as you leave the living room and walk past the basement door that a work order is pinned to the wall. It says, “We will overturn Roe v. Wade,” “We will stop all federal funding of abortion,” “We will stop attacks on Christians.” Wow, what a promising improvement from the past!
Entering the kitchen, where all good and delicious things are prepared, we see pots on the stove with sound economic policy: renegotiated trade treaties, putting more responsibility on other countries for their defense, building up America’s schools and infrastructure. We see desserts on the table, namely a concerted effort to protect America and recognize ISIS for what it is and DEFEAT it. We also see reasonable and compassionate immigration policy that does not leave America vulnerable and recognizes the dignity of human beings in need. Sitting in the center of the kitchen table is a large multi-tiered wedding cake with candles: these are the five Supreme Court justices friendly to life and liberty that Trump will appoint.
Like before, when you were in Hillary’s House of Moral Dilemma, you look down at your shoes. There is nothing sticking to them. There’s just the musty odor of a less than perfect personal life, brash rhetoric, and perhaps policies that may not go far enough to emulate the Magisterium. There is no reason why one can’t proceed out the back door to the barbecue, where sound moral decisions are celebrated with God!
Can a Catholic Vote for Trump?
In conclusion, while certainly there is no candidate that is perfect in a moral sense, it is possible to make a sound moral decision by closely examining what the Church defines as intrinsic moral evil. In our earlier analysis, it was obvious that no Catholic in good faith could even remotely begin to consider Hillary Clinton as a viable candidate, based upon her unprecedented support of abortion, gay-marriage, and attacks on religious freedom. Using the same instrument, the House of Moral Dilemma, to examine Mr. Trump, one does not arrive at the same conclusion. While the man may have a secular and immoral past personal life, and in his third marriage which by Church teaching is adulterous, he appears to be no worse off than Ronald Reagan who was once divorced. And he’s certainly a lot better off than active philanderers John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. This appears to be a non-issue in terms of public policy. While he does not agree with everything taught by the Catholic Church, such as matters of contraception for instance, he is not hostile to religious freedom. While many may criticize Trump for “flip flopping” on abortion, he’s actually only flipped. Trump was pro-choice until 2011, until he changed his position. Similar to Reagan after his 1967 support of Therapeutic Abortion Act as California governor, Trump has continued on the right trajectory on this issue and is now clearly pro-life, vowing to both overturn Roe vs. Wade and ban federal funding for abortion once and for all. Reagan, who once supported abortion for political expediency, became so prolifically pro-life that his statements on the subject has filled volumes. Additionally, Trump has now appointed 33 faithful Catholics, including Rick Santorum, as advisers to the campaign. Most recently Father Frank Pavone and Janet Moreno of Priests for Life are now advising Trump on abortion policy. Trump’s stance on immigration is simply a common sense enforcement of the law, and has moderated in recent months by a more compassionate stance. Numerous instances of his pro-minority support have surfaced, including those from his current employees. Trump’s stance is exactly the same as Bill Clinton, and nobody complained about that in the 1990s. The man is no bigot as many have charged. After considering all of this, the biggest issue relative to the well-being of America remains the potential appointment of up to five Supreme Court justices. We simply cannot give that responsibility to Hillary Clinton, a person whose extreme opposition to common morality and rule of law, and devotion to socialist ideology would no doubt devastate the American landscape for generations. The most reasonable and morally acceptable course of action in this coming election, if you will forgive the metaphor, is to get on the Trump Train!