In my column last week, I offered some personal thoughts about the nature of the presidential race this election season and both candidates’ removal by several light years from the experience of ordinary Americans. Each candidate has skills and deficits. Both are remote in wealth, privilege, influence and education from our nation’s everyday life as many millions of citizens actually live it.
Wealth, of course, can result in great generosity. And it needn’t disqualify a person from national leadership — but in a real democracy, belligerent egotism, political-class derision for whole blocs of the voting population, and an elitist, insider sense of entitlement to power, clearly do.
All three of these behaviors are prominent in this year’s election. And American Catholics, however they end up deciding to vote, have good reason to be frustrated with the choices they face in both major parties.
Politics involves the exercise of power for good or for ill. Therefore politics always has a moral dimension. And while politics is never the primary focus of a Christian life, Christians can’t avoid applying their faith to their political reasoning without betraying their vocation as disciples. Christians should never be “of” this world, but we’re most definitely in this world. We have the privilege and duty to engage the world, including the public square, with the truth of Jesus Christ.
To put it plainly: The separation of Church and state does not mean, has never meant, and can never mean, the separation of our religious faith from our political, economic and social lives.
We also need to remember one other thing: The Church belongs to Jesus Christ, not to us. The Church is his spouse and our mother, not our personal property; and if we revise or ignore her teachings according to our own opinions or vanities or convenience, we’re simply lying to ourselves and to others.
Eight years ago, “conservative” Catholics were criticized by Catholic “progressives” as culture warriors and apologists for the Bush presidency. But Catholic progressives have played the same role, often more effectively, for the Obama presidency. And if we hold the Bush years responsible for the consequences of a naïve and disastrous war in Iraq, we also need to hold the Obama years accountable for a systematic, ideologically driven attack on the unborn child, on our historic understandings of sexuality, marriage and family life, and on religious liberty.
Here’s the point: The deepest issues we face as a Church and a nation this year won’t be solved by an election. That’s not an excuse to remove ourselves from the public square. We do need to think and vote this November guided by properly formed Catholic consciences. But as believers, our task now is much more difficult and long-term.
We need to recover our Catholic faith as a unifying identity across party lines. And we can only do that by genuinely placing the Church and her teachings — all her teachings, rightly ordered — first in our priorities. Larger forces shape our current realities. If we fail to understand those forces, we’ll inevitably cripple our ability to communicate Jesus Christ to generations not yet born.
I’ll close by suggesting at least one place to begin our thinking. One of the most thought-provoking commentaries I’ve seen in the last year appeared earlier this week (Aug. 15), penned by First Things editor R.R. Reno. Readers can find it easily on the web. But with the author’s permission, I include the full text here. We don’t need to agree with it. But we’d be unwise to ignore the issues it raises.
The elephant in the room
By R.R. Reno
Of all our major columnists, Peggy Noonan has thought the most deeply about the anti-establishment sentiments roiling our political culture.
In last week’s (Wall Street Journal) column, “How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen,” she puts her finger on the central issue. Ordinary people in Germany, Great Britain, France, America, and elsewhere aren’t just experiencing the dislocations of economic globalization. They’re not simply responding to cultural change, which is often driven by immigration. They’re losing their trust in those who rule them.
As Noonan puts it, over the last generation there has been “a kind of historic decoupling between the top and the bottom in the West that did not, in more moderate recent times, exist.” Those at the top of society no longer share the interests of those less fortunate. “At its heart it is not only a detachment from, but a lack of interest in, the lives of your countrymen, of those who are not at the table, and who understand that they’ve been abandoned by their leaders’ selfishness and mad virtue-signaling.”
I’ve written about this phenomenon in the American context. It’s striking how often our leadership, both right and left, punches down. Conservatives call half of Americans “takers.” Liberals call them “bigots.” I can’t count the number of columns Bret Stephens has written in the last six months expressing his unqualified horror over the ignorance and stupidity of the Republican voters who have the temerity to reject the political wisdom of their betters.
Noonan admits she hasn’t quite gotten her mind around this decoupling of the leaders from the led. I, too, am struggling to understand. It’s odd, as Noonan says, “that our elites have abandoned or are abandoning the idea that they belong to a country, that they have ties that bring responsibilities, that they should feel loyalty to their people or, at the very least, a grounded respect.”
Viewed humanly, yes, it is odd. We have a need to belong. Loyalty is a natural human impulse. But a recent book by international economist Branko Milanovic, Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization, has helped me grasp some of the underlying forces that are driving the leaders away from the led.
Milanovic draws attention to an “elephant graph,” so called because it looks like the hulking body of an elephant raising its trunk. On the horizontal axis, we see global income distribution. The citizens of very poor countries are at the elephant’s back end. Their median income is quite low. Those on the trunk-end of the elephant are the citizens of developed countries. The vertical axis charts the rate of growth of incomes.
Here we see a very telling story. Emerging economies have given birth to a new middle class that has experienced rapid income growth. Meanwhile, the rich world is diverging. Middle-class wage growth is stagnant in the globalized economy, while the well-to-do have seen great gains.
Much of the story this graph tells is well known. We’ve heard a great deal about income inequality in recent years. But seeing the whole world at a glance shows something more. Those whom Noonan called “the protected,” which is to say the rich and powerful in the West, share with the rising middle class in the developing world a remarkable harmony of interests. Both cohorts benefit from the new global system. By contrast, in the West, the middle class is losing ground.
In short, the global system — which is committed to the free flow of labor, goods, and capital — works well for the leadership class in Europe and North America, as it does for striving workers in China, India, and elsewhere. It doesn’t work so well for the middle class in the West. Thus, in the West, the led no longer share the economic interests of their leaders.
It’s natural, therefore, to see a decoupling. We’re fallen human beings. We often develop convictions that conveniently correspond to our interests. When it comes to the rising nationalism in Europe, elites there see as much. They don’t interpret the striking new support for right-wing parties as expressions of patriotic fervor, but instead see patriotic rhetoric as a front for, at best, economic frustration, but more often racism and xenophobia.
What elites don’t see is how their own interests are dressed up as cosmopolitan idealism. Noonan points out that German elites compliment themselves on the moral rectitude of Angela Merkel’s decision to admit a million Muslim migrants. True, but they’re also insulated from the consequences. And more than insulated, they stand to benefit from lower labor costs.
Over time, the elephant graph predicts large-scale changes in democratic politics in the West. Elites now have a strong interest in weakening the nation-state, and thus diminishing the power of the voters to whom they are accountable.
A radical ideology of open borders is one way to do that. Another way is to increase the power of international human rights tribunals. In a decade’s time I can easily imagine rulings that override national majorities that are deemed “unprogressive.”
But I need not evoke the future. For at least a generation, America’s most elite colleges and universities have explicitly refashioned themselves as global institutions. By implication, they are no longer accountable to America’s national interest. Their mission is more noble: the world’s interest. The same dynamic gets repeated in the corporate world. Silicon Valley answers to the world, not to America.
What goes unnoticed is the fact that a global mission provides reasons to discount the concerns of non-elites in America. Convenient theories about the inherent racism of ordinary people nicely discredit their opinions. The critical fire of a plastic, easily manipulated multi-culturalism can be trained this way or that to degrade patriotic loyalties.
Meanwhile, a strict utilitarianism tells us citizenship is a construct designed to secure “rents.” Ordinary people feel abandoned and frustration builds, driving today’s populism.
Noonan is right. The decoupling of the leaders and the led is “something big.” The economic forces driving this decoupling are powerful. The ideological supports — a morally superior cosmopolitanism, a flexible multi-culturalism, and now dominant utilitarian thinking — are strong.
As I’ve written elsewhere, odds are good that the democratic era will come to an end. The elephant chart suggests the future will be one of empire.
R.R. Reno is editor of First Things.
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Reno wrote: “They don’t interpret the striking new support for right-wing parties as expressions of patriotic fervor, but instead see patriotic rhetoric as a front for, at best, economic frustration, but more often racism and xenophobia.”
The empirical demographic data do not support the working class narrative regarding Trump support.
Neither does the Elephant graph in any way depict significant numbers of middle class Americans falling into poverty. Instead, the decline merely illustrates their relative repositioning as billions in developing and emerging nations have indeed been lifted out of poverty.
Reno also wrote: “Convenient theories about the inherent racism of ordinary people nicely discredit their opinions.”
Convenient theories are indeed inappropriate when an abundance of empirical polling data is so readily available revealing voter attitudes toward other races, other creeds, other nations, immigrants and a host of —phobias. The politics of resentment have been around a long time, present across the ideological spectrum. Presently, Trump does seem to have a substantial cohort of disaffected supporters whose attitudes toward immigrants, other races, creeds and sexual orientations show up in those polls? Opinions, of course, should rise and fall on their own merits and not via ad hominem arguments.
Over against globalistic tendencies, which would violate subsidiarity principles, there’s a happy medium to be discovered. The proper response is not geopolitical isolationism.
Over against unrestricted market tendencies, which get exploited by transnational corporations, there are economically and socially responsible free trade agreements, which can continue to lift billions of people in emerging and developing nations out of poverty without unduly burdening our own citizens, throwing large swaths of them into poverty (hasn’t happened). The proper response is not nationalistic protectionism.
Over against unrestricted open borders, which can disrupt social and economic stability, there can be well reasoned and generous immigration policies, not very unlike those we presently enjoy in the US, although our polarizing political environment has prevented any substantial reform of its flaws. The proper response is not a fear-based anti-immigrant stance.
Geopolitical isolationism, trade protectionism and an anti-immigration stance would have catastrophic economic consequences for the US and be terribly destabilizing for the global order.
Excellent article your excellency. There are several different ways you can explain our current political/cultural climate. Some are more accurate than others. Reno and Noonan have chosen a more superficial explanation that, although somewhat helpful, deals with symptoms and not the sickness, which is spiritual. Personally I would rather spend my time reading political or cultural commentary by someone other than Peggy Noonan who fully supported Obama in 2008 and proclaimed her ‘love’ for Joe Biden running up to that election and would ignore anyone who would say a negative word against him.
It is hard times that we are facing. I appreciate Archbishop’s thoughts. In addition to his thoughts I found Cardinal Burke’s 2004 Letter, “On Our Civic Responsibility for the Common Good” very helpful in clearing my thoughts in making a decision.
I find these ” lofty” digressions most unhelpful.The average faithful and discerning Catholic reader will have difficulty deciding between these two unsuitable candidates because neither of them holds as true, the tenets of Roman Catholicism based on the life and teachings of Jesus. Personally, the consideration of pro life supreme court justices wins out for myself and not voting aids in the selection of anti life justices. One must come to this decision prayerfully and consider how we Will answer the Lord when he asks us how we protected the Gospel of life while on earth. St. Michael, defend us in battle.
I agree with Karen Capie. The selection of the supreme court justices is the number one issue for all Christians in this election. Two predictions if Hillary gets in: 1) All clergy will be required to perform gay marriages in their church’s. 2). There will be a massive effort to eliminate all tax exemptions for all religious institutions. These issues will be linked together.
Archbishop Chaput has given his flock, and by extension all of us, much to think about. As usual he is clear thinking and ever reminding us of our role in the world — to be IN it but never OF it. God bless Archbishop Chaput!
Archbishop Chaput was an early and ardent supporter of amnesty for illegal aliens, even inviting 100% pro-abortion Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) into a Denver-area Church to advocate it.
Someone should be allowed to address this on your pages.
No good – to reform the political order the pope and bishops must consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart in public. They must stop disobeying God.
This is terribly confusing. All rhetoric about globalism and elites is coming from one side in this election, so to not only quote but end with this article from R. R. Reno comes across as a hint that–in the archbishop’s opinion, understood as not put forth as Church teaching but obviously expressed publicly because his opinion is influential–Catholics ought to support that one side. The reason it’s terribly confusing is that the most obvious reasons for Catholics not to vote for the other, “progressive” side,” and arguably to vote actively against it, are barely referenced and are emphasized barely more than in the previous column. That previous column essentially said that it would take a “mysterious calculus” for a faithful Catholic to vote for either major candidate, while clearly not implying that to vote for neither would in the end be the best choice. It’s understandable Catholics might feel compelled to vote for one major candidate against the other because of their respective known or unknown intentions regarding abortion, the meaning of family, and religious freedom. In this very unusual election, it is also understandable that, as the archbishop previously wrote, some faithful Catholics might believe that neither is “clearly better than the other,” and perhaps even that some in good conscience might vote for one with positions normally disqualifying for the Catholic vote. But the emphasis here on global “elites” and the perceived economic neglect of the middle class is unexpected and disconcerting. It’s not even clear whether, in choosing to reprint the entire article, the concerns of the Western middle class are being held up by the archbishop himself as more important, in this one American election, than those of the global poor. All in all, this column seems to refer more to matters on which Catholics might reasonably disagree than to those that make this an unusually wrenching voting decision, with the two major candidates’ positions, attitudes, and behaviors so in conflict with our faith, when stated positions on intrinsic evils typically make the choice seem clear to most faithful Catholics.
I wrote this lengthy comment in the third person and with more passive verbs than might be recommended because I’m trying to avoid making it about my personal opinion, which I hope is somewhat obscure, because my agenda is genuinely to understand. I seek guidance in forming my opinion, not echoes of a pre-existing opinion, from especially trusted (older) “brothers in the faith.”
spoken like a true republican
Democracy will give way to empire? Won’t it give way to a universal islamic empire?
I am beginning to tire of all the adjectives in front of “elites’, and wonder if Peggy has dealt with the heartache of her lielong parish or the lifeong school of her family being closed or does she benefit from all the new building to keep suburban communities whole?
“We do need to think and vote this November guided by properly formed Catholic consciences…..We need to recover our Catholic faith as a unifying identity across party lines. And we can only do that by genuinely placing the Church and her teachings — all her teachings, rightly ordered — first in our priorities.” Dear Achbp Chaput, please, could Catholics in America receive some very clear teaching on the right ordering of those Catholic priorities. For far too many Catholics, Life and education funding are of equal value, and subsidiarity is an unknown concept.
Justices that are pro-life, from conception till natural death. That and religious freedom is the most prioritized issue of our times. Without pro-life justices, time and again we lose all other rights, immigrants included. I see that the USCCB is now addressing contraception by implementing NFP classes to pre marriage couples in many diocese, I pray it continues and spreads.
Aside from which individual will win the election, what will affect the country beyond they themselves, is who they will choose to fill certainly one, probably two Supreme Court seats. This could reach over 30 years into our future, should we have one.
This assumes that the Senate will finally agree to give any presidential nominee a hearing.
Referencing your personal thoughts about the nature of the presidential race and noting the candidates’ remoteness “in wealth, privilege, influence and education from our nation’s everyday life as many millions of citizens actually live it,” you drew attention to your own unique lifestyle that is not only religious but clerical and episcopal. Life in the chancery or the capitol is undeniably distinct from everyday life.
You tell us that “while politics is never the primary focus of a Christian life, Christians can’t avoid applying their faith to their political reasoning without betraying their vocation as disciples.” Given your personal assessment of the candidates, does that mean Christians should not vote, or should they vote for the “lesser evil”? How are we to accept the privilege and fulfill the duty to engage the world, including the public square, with the truth of Jesus Christ.”? By not running for public office? By not voting? By prayer and fasting?
You remind us of the disparity between “conservative” Catholics and “progressives,” equating Bush’s illicit waging of a pre-emptive “naive and disastrous” war with Obama’s legislation concerning the civil rights and duties of individuals regardless of religious affiliation or sexual orientation, the standardization of civil unions between two adult individuals, and national health care with provisions that allow for essential religious beliefs. Is the unjust never-ending war in the Middle East the equivalent of legislation that can be amended?
Your warning that “larger forces shape our current realities” is menacing. Those “larger forces” are not new. It’s not “the elephant in the room” that is crippling “our ability to communicate Jesus Christ to generations not yet born.” It is the attempt to “genuinely place the Church and her teachings — all her teachings, rightly ordered — first in our priorities.” That sounds like Catholic Sharia Law.
We are all called to holiness, “to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 5:8) It is a call that each one must accept or reject, no matter what civil or religious law does or doesn’t say. In the words of our holy brother and founder, “Let us begin, for up until now we have done little.”
Thank you again Archbishop for this timely article. We loved to follow your words when you were Archbishop of Denver, and now the call is much harder in Philadelphia. When a person spits in God’s face, as the current American administration does daily, you can’t expect many blessings. Fortunately, we know that Goodness will prevail.
Archbishop Chaput, I am a big fan of yours – and surprised you would embrace this Reno article. In the elephant graph, 50% *worldwide* is less than $10,000 American. I can’t find what 65% is – where the graph falls off – but I’d guess less than $20,000 American.
What Noonan and Reno are defending is the right of “poor” Americans – who are themselves part of the global elite – to be protected from those who are truly the global poor. I like Noonan except for her take on immigration – but her drumbeat is that immigration represents the “rich” of America and Germany not caring for the “poor” of our countries. But to the contrary – as Reno’s elephant graph shows – the “poor” of America and Germany are the “rich” of the world, demanding, for example, that Mexicans pay for a wall so that their American privilege can be protected.
I think Charles Murray’s Coming Apart is much more helpful. Something is deeply wrong with America, and especially America’s “poor”. It’s something, ironically, that probably has a lot to do with being rich and privileged. Within our country, to be sure, I totally agree (with you and Murray) that our rich need to care better for our poor. But I think Francis is right that it begins by acknowledging that we in America are all the global elite. The wickedness of Trump is precisely in pitting our “poor” against the true poor of the world – as the Church, including yourself, so wonderfully, so clearly, have constantly taught.
I don’t think there really is any kind of culture war from the left or the right. You see a tiny, tiny fringe minority of ultra-left and ultra-right, (and, actually, a few Catholic bishop) who are fighting what I think is a phantom culture war, but most of us may agree or disagree on things like marriage equality, but to be honest, we don’t see any kind of apocalyptic threat to our religious freedom.
There is much good about the internet, but it does tend to overamplify those fringe voices.
While I agree that our political leaders have ceased serving us long ago and do indeed serve the elites, I think this theory that the elites want to weaken our nation-states to further their agenda smells suspiciously like that crackpot theory of the New World Order. The conspiracy theorists say these elites who are promoting this one-world global agenda all have a giant secret meeting place under the Denver Airport. Somehow or other the Federal Reserve is supposed to be involved. Its all way too out there for me.
I would suggest reading about Hitler and Nazi Germany. Same underlying force.
Another great article your Excellency. May God continue to bless you abundantly.
I am worried for my Children’s future. The world is becoming a dangerous place, and it seems that many of your fellow bishops are trying to force us to ignore the elephant also. They seem to want what the elite want. They think as they think, and act as they act.
It is worrisome, and disheartening. May God send us more bishops like yourself. We need you.
Thank you for the information. Our children and grandchildren will be facing a number of problems. Our country is as well.