The following column appeared in the Nov. 18 issue of The Catholic Exponent, newspaper of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio. It was written by Pete Sheehan, editor and general manager.
The divisions for the presidential election earlier this month were not absent from the Sheehan home. One of our sons — a Bernie Sanders enthusiast — couldn’t abide Donald Trump. Another son, who thinks his father is a liberal, couldn’t stand the idea of Hillary Clinton as president.
Their parents agreed with both of them — not liking either candidate — but somehow made peace with it. (I was rooting for Evan McMullin, but don’t spread that around).
Our disagreements, however, were mellow — less of a source of tension than how soon the boys get to the dinner table.
The intense negative, even apocalyptic, rhetoric by both candidates and their supporters has been well-documented. Clinton called half of Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables.” She apologized, but one of her top campaign aides later repeated the sentiment.
Trump, never short of insults, suggested that he might not accept the election results if he lost — provoking widespread criticism all the way from the media to President Obama that he was threatening the foundation of American democracy.
I have friends who went off Facebook, discouraged by the acrimony of the political postings. Many people “unfriended” each other. I avoided expressing any preference for either candidate on Facebook but I tried to offer some balance when I saw outrageous comments.
One friend placed a really nasty post about Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, which was supposed to be funny. I told him that I thought it beyond the pale. Say what you want about her parents but leave her alone.
When another friend posted something vile about Trump supporters, I raised the possibility that she had gone too far. Well, I got a barrage of nastiness, telling me to move out of fantasy land and if I didn’t like what she posted it I could just unfriend her. So much for sweet reason.
Sometimes when I tried to offer perspective on either anti-Trump or anti-Clinton broadsides, it led to respectful exchange but, sadly, about as often it elicited insults.
So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the intensity of the negative reaction when Trump, against the expectations, won.
Though most of the Democratic leadership has been generally gracious, many of the Clinton supporters have not. I get that they are not happy, but the irony is that many of the same people who blasted Trump for suggesting that he might not accept the election results if he lost, are protesting on the streets and saying: “He’s not my president.”
Of course, many opponents of President Barack Obama committed similar rhetorical offense against him during his presidency. So, where should we go from here?
Much of the answer lies in the best of the American tradition.
“Let us neither express nor cherish any harsh feelings toward any citizens who, by his vote has differed from us,” President Abraham Lincoln declared during a time even more contentious and bitter than our own. “Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a common country.”
That does not mean that we shouldn’t be vigilant as the new president takes office — and be ready to speak out if the worst of our fears are realized. Still, it’s been my observation that few if any presidents are as bad as their opponents warned or as good as their supporters promised.
Toward that end, we can look to our faith. The U.S. bishops have written eloquently on the importance of the political process and the right and the duty of Catholics to participate in it. At the same time, we have to keep perspective and not allow politics to dominate our thinking.
C.S. Lewis, in his classic, “The Screwtape Letters,” depicts an elder demon instructing a younger demon, Wormwood, in the art of tempting humans.
Screwtape directs Wormwood to keep his “patient” (the person he is tempting) “completely fixated on politics.” He noted that “obsessing over the faults of people they never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control.”
Such obsession, Screwtape observed, fosters a general disdain toward the rest of the human race, undercutting “any sense of charity or inner peace” and fostering the belief that “the problem is ‘out there’ in the ‘broken system,'” rather than looking inward.
As the church’s Year of Mercy ends, let us seek healing and hope, asking God to help our new president, our country, and ourselves serve our nation and its people.
The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of Catholic News Service, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops or CatholicPhilly.com.