There is no doubt that we have been through a difficult and painful election cycle. There were many strong, acidic, and even hateful things said by the candidates and their supporters; the knives were surely out. Even within the parties there were strong differences. It is clear that we are a very divided land.
And thus there are very different reactions to the results. Sadly, at least among the most vocal, two extremes are apparent. Some see catastrophe while others think that all of our country’s problems will be solved. Some demonize; others canonize. Neither extreme is helpful or accurate.
To those who see catastrophe and those who see utopia, I would point out that this is not the first political earthquake in the United States nor will it be the last. But we did not elect an autocrat; we elected a president. And like others before him, he is going to have to deal with our political process within a divided land. He will encounter resistance and will be forced to negotiate and compromise; the founding fathers deliberately designed it this way. Previous elections considered as great upheavals (e.g., the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the 1994 shift to a Republican majority in the House of Representatives) did bring about change, but not overly dramatic change. Whatever the campaign rhetoric of the candidates, political reality tends to temper the results.
To those who would canonize the President-elect or any political leader, or who would see him as “God’s choice,” I say, beware. Some people can become inordinately devoted to a candidate, so much so that they seem to believe that he or she can usher in the Kingdom of God! Every leader is flawed, some more deeply than others. Frankly, Donald Trump is a hard man to categorize—politically or otherwise. Mr. Trump’s campaign promises are in accord with the Church’s position on abortion and religious liberty, but he is not with us on other key matters such as euthanasia, immigration, and likely LBGTQ-related issues. I’m sure that we will have to deal with his administration and Congress on an issue-by-issue basis. That a candidate is right on certain important issues does not mean that we should be unquestioning of his views on others. When we grow too devoted to a candidate, reflection often shuts down and we don’t issue the challenges we should. This is true with respect to political parties as well. No party perfectly reflects Catholic teaching; Catholics in both parties have many reasons to challenge their candidates and the parties with which they are affiliated. And yet there is only marginal evidence that such challenges take place. Mr. Trump is not aligned with the Church on some important issues. Even those who support him and are pleased with the outcome of this election should be prepared to issue challenges. I will be publishing an article at the National Catholic Register with more detail in this regard.
To those who would demonize our next president, I admonish that no Christian should succumb to the temptation to use the sort of vitriolic language we saw during the campaign, both from the candidates themselves and their respective supporters. There are legitimate concerns about the character and behavior of the President-elect as well as his stated views and policies, but comparing him to Hitler or using demonic terms to attack the man and/or his family is lamentable. Neither should the language and behavior at some of the anti-Trump rallies over the last few days infect our own speech and conduct. The scriptural stance from St. Paul regarding our leaders is clear: I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered on behalf of all men for kings and all those in authority, so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior (1 Tim 1:1-3). And remember—when St. Paul wrote this, Nero was Caesar! When it comes to Mr. Trump, we ought to skip the invective and start the prayers.
Finally, with all this outward focus on the federal election cycle, it is time to rebalance our priorities. For most Americans, Washington is a world far away. Perhaps now is the time to devote more attention to the things and people closer to home. We ought to tend more the vineyard of our own soul. The problems and sins of the world are not isolated to Washington; they exist in our own souls, too. We should focus more on our families and communities and seek to improve them; Washington should not get all of our attention. Washington is not irrelevant, but neither is it all-important. It is time to find the proper balance.
These are just a few of my thoughts as a pastor. Avoid the extremes and find a via media, a middle way.