I am equal parts astonished and horrified that at this depressingly low point in American political history there are still faithful Catholics—even young faithful Catholics—who keep clinging to the promise of liberalism, as if one more First Things article paying homage to the public square or another Ethika Politika piece on civic engagement or a Crisis entry that mentions Tocqueville and Kirk two-dozen times in the span of half-a-dozen paragraphs will reverse our fortunes and make America that great bastion of religious liberty and civic virtue which it allegedly was during some distant point in history now lost in the fog. Granted, there does exist a contingent of Catholics who believe that we have entered a post-liberal age where liberalism has collapsed in on itself, but how quickly do they fall into unimaginative rhetoric concerning multiculturalism, tolerance, freedom of speech, and other sacred cows of the liberal order. Even ostensibly Left-wing Catholics, posturing Marxist (or whatever), can’t extricate themselves from liberal strands of thought concerning equality, pluralism, and the promise of a life without demands but plenty of room for entertainment.
Not that things are much better on the conservative-to-traditional side of the divide. Out of a mixture of fear and cowardice, many Catholics of the conventional Right are fleeing to their strong man, Donald Trump, to save them from every socio-political hobgoblin under the sun. “A failure to vote for Trump is a vote for evil!” Now, some might not use the T-word, but everyone knows what is meant with Catholics—clerical and lay alike—call on the faithful to “use all reasonable means” at the polls to stop Hillary Clinton’s ascendency. Following this “logic,” it appears that voting for a third-party candidate amounts to a sin of omission.
If there is an authentically Catholic and airtight case for voting for The Donald, I haven’t come across it. Sure, Trump and the alt-right camp(s) that claim to support him speak a big game when it comes to globalism, immigration, international trade, and a plethora of domestic social ills, but it is doubtful that a Trump presidency will deliver what many Catholics have been fighting for over the decades, namely a repeal of so-called abortion rights. The most optimal time in recent history to curtail abortion came during the first term of the Bush II Presidency and the Republican Party failed to act. Now it is more than a decade later and abortion, just like same-sex “marriage” and over curtails to religious freedom, have been accepted as a normative part of American political life, even among a growing number of conservatives.
I make mention of all of this not to throw in the towel or set the stage to propose some “Option” which will save those who can afford to flee to out-of-the-way communities of likeminded folks dedicated to preserving their imported craft beers and immaculately bound books. For Catholics truly committed to the Faith in full, here is no other “option” than following the perennial teachings of the Church, stretching all the way back to the Apostolic period. Yes, Tertullian’s Apology reminds us that we have a duty to pray for our temporal rulers just as the anonymous Epistle to Diognetus recalls that Christians “live in their own countries as though they were only passing through.”
Some may be inclined to read this and other passages in the letter in a hyper-eschatological fashion, leading to the forsaking of politics for an endless gaze toward the Second Coming. Indeed, there is a powerful argument available that the Roman Church’s decision to shift the forthcoming Feast of Christ the King from the Sunday prior to the Feast of All Saints to the final Sunday of the liturgical year (on the eve of Advent) has, intentionally or not, helped pull Catholic consciousness away from the temporal sphere altogether. And yet it cannot be denied that, at least in the United States, there remains a continuing Catholic quest to make peace with the present age, to become part of the liberal order in toto, and forego the always uncertain quest for Heaven in favor of some decaying pleasures and breathing room during the time that remains.