The 2020 election pitted a violent leftist movement against a crass, self-centered incumbent who uses the levers of power to benefit himself. The campaign hardly proved inspiring. It also ended up with results that confounded the professional political class and distressed tens of millions of Americans. Days after voters cast their ballots, the presidential race remained undecided, and a nasty legal and PR battle continues to play out.
For Catholics and other Christians, the temptation to become agitated, concerned, and outright fearful should be outweighed by our belief that God has already won. In reality, we must fight every day to keep from being overwhelmed with what we read, watch, and hear. It is with this reality in mind that we should take the following four actions to keep ourselves and those who rely on us in a positive state of mind and spirit:
- Be charitable;
- Take responsibility for our own conduct;
- Remember that elections matter but are not permanent; and
- Practice subsidiarity in our own lives
Charity is about more than being polite to people with whom we disagree. In the context of the election, it means to be loving. It means having a cup of coffee or a phone conversation with someone who ferociously disagrees with your politics and philosophy but with whom you desire to have a relationship, because our common humanity comes before our political differences. It may require keeping the relationship on an even keel and communication open while pressing someone about their position on a moral issue. And it definitely requires us to assume (unless proven otherwise) that people whose moral positions conflict with our own – who, for example, support abortion or who believe that America is an irredeemably racist nation – are acting out of ignorance instead of malice.
The fact is that charity is the core of how Americans of all faiths, and no faith, will get through the coming months and years. We have a president who thrives on conflict, a radical leftist movement that thrives on violence, and social media that profit off of bringing out the worst of humanity’s interpersonal characteristics. Yet as a liberal atheist friend and I wrote just before election day:
The fact is that humanity, free speech, and elections are messy. But they don’t have to be a mess. Being part of the world means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable – breaking down silos so that our common humanity comes to the fore. By avoiding the mess, by creating caricatures instead of detailed pictures of real people, we deny others the opportunity to learn from our gifts and ourselves the opportunity to learn from the gifts of others.
Our second post-election action is take responsibility for our own conduct. Blaming Trump for dividing us is to give him power he does not have. If God cannot make us stop sinning because we have free will, Trump definitely cannot cause us to start sinning. Likewise, social media platforms are not responsible for how we act – we are. We choose to let social media keep us up late, act uncharitably, and post rashly. Trump and social media are no more to blame for what we do than alcohol is for intoxication, food I for gluttony, or cars are for speed-induced accidents.
Third, remember that elections matter, but they are not permanent. This is a variation on former Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner’s maxim: “In Washington, there are no permanent victories or permanent defeats, just permanent battles.” His wisdom reminds us that, yes, America is becoming less Christian and less open to the free market. Both parties are exploding the debt, abortion is widespread, and we keep voting in people who are more concerned with political victories than public service. But America has won two world wars, reunited after the Civil War, reduced abortion, and created a racial environment that reflects an equality of opportunity that is more in line with Catholic and American values than at any point in our history. Rest assured, we can survive the 2020 election.
Our fourth and final responsibility is to practice subsidiarity in our own lives. This Catholic principle takes on more than a governmental dimension in this context. It forces each of us to focus on keeping ourselves healthy, providing for our families, deepening our friendship, and performing our jobs well. It requires us to sign off of social media and the news to get enough sleep instead of worrying about the latest twist in the election. The latest political dopamine hit will always come, and the parties will continue to act like spoiled children. In the meantime, our kids need diapers changed and meals made. Our bosses and clients need to receive our best service. Our spouses and families need to be reminded that they come first. And our faith must be fed from the One source Who alone can sustain us.
Through these four principles – charity, responsibility, recognizing the temporal nature of politics, and subsidiarity – Catholics and other people of faith can overcome the despair and fear that is gripping so much of America. We can also influence those closest to us to uphold their responsibilities to themselves and to their loved ones, creating a widening spiral of positive change that does exponentially more good than our fear does.
America’s decline does not have to be permanent. This leads to one final responsibility: to maintain hope. Our choices for president in 2016 and 2020 were not exactly inspirational or visionary leaders, but the good news is that neither violent populism nor violent leftism won a mandate. Some centrist Democrats are acknowledging that their party slid too far toward the Left and considered ousting Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. The GOP will likely retain the ability to stop far-Left policies in the Senate. This practical hope means that Catholics can push for liberty through our faith, and show how America is best when it follows Christian principles. The GOP will certainly be open to many of these arguments, and the actions of House Democrats may mean pockets of that party will be, as well.