E.J. Dionne on Ben Sasse’s Failure to Oppose Donald Trump’s “National Emergency”

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Ben Sasse, the senator from Nebraska, has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump.  Yet rarely does his opposition to Trump move beyond words.  For example, when twelve GOP senators broke with their party to oppose Donald Trump’s “national emergency” declaration on the U.S.-Mexico border, Sasse supported the president.  The conservative Washington Examiner called Sasse’s decision “myopic.”

Over at Commonweal, E.J. Dionne wonders when Sasse is going to take a stand against the president.  Last week I described Sasse’s failure to vote against the national emergency by invoking a line from the musical Hamilton: “If you stand for nothing, Ben, what will you fall for?”

Here is a taste of Dionne’s piece:

But the real takeaway here is the support Trump still won from the vast majority of Republicans—and, in particular, the abject capitulation of many who had suggested or said outright that they would oppose his invocation of emergency powers. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., wrote in The Washington Post last month that “I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress.” Yet, when the roll was called, he did exactly that, supporting Trump’s “emergency.” The Post’s Aaron Blake rightly called it “a flip flop for the ages.”

The most disappointing vote came from Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., a principled Trump opponent from the earliest days of the 2016 primaries. Sasse issued an intellectually vacuous statement saying that as a “constitutional conservative,” he thinks the president’s emergency powers are too broad. But he justified his vote to go along with Trump by trashing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and “bare-knuckled politics.” This sounded like projection, since the “bare-knuckled politics” was on Trump’s side. Sasse, like Tillis, is on the ballot in 2020.

My first encounter with Sasse was in January 2016. He was in Iowa to speak on behalf of every major Republican running against Trump. I respected his gutsy willingness to see Trump as exactly who he is. “He’s a strongman with a will to power,” Sasse told me then. “Trump has been the only guy on the Republican side of the aisle that regularly campaigns and says things like, ‘If I’m elected president, I’ll be able to do whatever I want.’” 

Three years on, we know that Sasse was right from the start. But what are he and his Republican colleagues willing to do about it? For a majority of them, sadly including Sasse himself, the answer is: precious little.

Read the entire piece here.

Has Liberalism Failed?

Liberalism FailedThis is the title of a Commonweal forum on Notre Dame political scientist Patrick Deneen‘s book Why Liberalism Failed.  Here is an intro to the forum from the Commonweal editors:

Although there’s always more than one good way to write about any book worth reviewing, Commonweal does not usually review a book more than once. Sometimes, however, a book takes on an importance beyond itself—by provoking a new discussion or marking a cultural shift—and then we may make an exception. Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed (Yale University Press, $30, 248 pp.) has turned out to be just such a book. Alan Wolfe reviewed it for us (rather dismissively, it must be said) in the February 12 issue of the magazine, but the editors agreed that there was more to say about some of the questions Deneen raises. First, has liberalism failed, as he claims? And if so, why? Is the liberal tradition equipped to correct its own shortcomings, or must it be abandoned altogether? In that case, what are the alternatives? In the age of Trump, when liberal democracy appears to be on the ropes in much of the world, such questions suddenly seem less speculative. We asked three people—Samuel Moyn and Bryan Garsten of Yale University and Commonweal’s own Matthew Sitman—to respond to Deneen’s arguments. Deneen himself kindly agreed to answer their criticisms and, somewhat less kindly, offers Commonweal a few criticisms of his own. The magazine, he informs us, is about as moribund as liberalism. Hospitality requires that we give him the last word, at least for now.

Read Garsten’s response here.

Read Moym’s response here.

*Commonweal*: The Vigano Letter is Suspect, but Francis Should Still Respond

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As we wrote about here last week, Catholic Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano recently claimed Pope Francis knew that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was a “sexual predator” and did nothing about it.  Vigano made his allegations in an 11-page “testimony.”

Yesterday, the editors of the Catholic magazine Commonweal called Vigano’s letter “a subjective account of recent church history full of unverifiable claims” with a “petty and self-righteous tone” that reads like it was written to “settle personal scores.”

So far, Pope Francis has not addressed the Vigano accusationsbut the Commonweal editors think that he should:

But Francis should do more than respond to those who “seek scandal” with “silence,” as he put it in a recent homily. When he was first asked about Viganò’s charges during an in-flight press conference on his way back to the Vatican from Ireland, he replied, “I will not say a single word on this.” And he hasn’t. That is unwise. However dubious or questionable Viganò’s charges, Francis should respond to them directly, especially given that a number of the claims refer to private conversations between the two men. If Francis did not know about Benedict’s request that McCarrick should keep a low profile, he should say so. If he is afraid of implicating his two predecessors, who promoted McCarrick and allowed him to continue in public ministry, he shouldn’t be. The truth is more important. As the church once again reckons with its leaders’ failures to confront and punish abusers, the faithful deserve answers.

Read the entire editorial here.

*Commonweal* Magazine on Trump’s Evangelical Supporters

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The Catholic magazine Commonweal has had enough.  In the March 6, 2018 issue, the editors chide the evangelicals and Catholics who voted for Donald Trump.   Here is a taste:

…[Christian Broadcasting Network journalist David] Brody’s “reason” for Trump’s ascendency, however, seems to confuse the political agenda of conservative Evangelical Christians with God’s will, something that is much harder to discern in the opacity of historical events. Thanks to Trump, Brody proclaims, the reliably prolife Neil Gorsuch sits on the High Court. The U.S. embassy in Israel is moving to Jerusalem. Obama’s alleged assault on religious liberty has been reversed. As a consequence, Evangelicals have learned their lesson. They vote in “the macro” now, meaning a deal with the devil gets a Christian imprimatur. “The goal of Evangelicals has always been winning the larger battle over control of the culture, not to get mired in the moral failings of each and every candidate,” Brody writes.

Is this really what it means to be a conservative Christian in America today? At a time when the nation and the churches are desperately in need of the moral, spiritual, and intellectual contributions of thoughtful, traditionally minded Christians, it is alarming to see “macro” calculations of expedience replacing the Gospel. Is championing a “bold culture warrior” who promises to reverse what Brody and his allies insist is the nation’s precipitous cultural decline now the Christian mission?

Easter will soon be upon us. Christians across the world will once again participate liturgically and sacramentally in the drama of Christ’s death and Resurrection. They will be reminded that the savior of the world was a political scapegoat and a marginal cultural figure. It is a false hope—some might call it blasphemy—to think that a bold culture warrior in the White House can bring about a revival of Christianity, or reverse the troubling transformations that have occurred in our culture and politics. It is always a grave mistake for Christians to align themselves too closely with any one political party or politician, especially with a man who has proudly confessed that he has never asked God for forgiveness. “If I do something wrong, I think I just try to make it right,” Trump has assured us. “I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

Read the rest here.  Then go pre-order Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

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Does Nativism Still Exist Among U.S. Catholics?

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Catholic University historian Julia G. Young believes that it does.  Here is a taste of her piece “‘We Were Different‘”:

A few years ago, I taught an undergraduate course on migration at the Catholic University of America. During one lecture, I compared nineteenth-century Italian migration and contemporary Mexican migration to the United States. A hand shot up, and a student—one of several with an Italian surname—objected. “They’re not the same,” he protested. “My great-grandmother came here legally, and learned English—Mexicans don’t do that.”

As a historian who studies Mexican immigration to the United States, I’m used to hearing statements like this. Concerns about new immigrants’ legal status and failure to assimilate are widespread, and nativism has re-emerged in recent decades. Still, I wondered why this proud young Italian-American Catholic was so unwilling to compare his ancestors to the Mexican Catholic immigrants of today. Why did he not feel a sense of sympathy and solidarity for contemporary immigrants, who share so much with the great waves of Irish, Italians, Poles, and other immigrants of the late nineteenth century?

At the time, I didn’t quite grasp how many U.S. Catholics feel the widespread American discontent over immigration. After all, the Catholic hierarchy is vocally pro-immigrant, and the U.S. Catholic population is entirely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Catholics have a proud tradition of social justice, and numerous Catholic organizations have done immensely valuable work to protect immigrants. Nevertheless, in our new Trumpian era of border walls and travel bans, it has become more apparent to me (and others, such as Paul Moses in a recent piece for Commonweal, “White Catholics & Nativism,” September 1, 2017) that white Catholics have a nativism problem of their own.

Given the history of Catholic immigration to the United States, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Catholic nativism toward other Catholic immigrants is a recurring sentiment that dates to at least the second half of the nineteenth century, when the influx of Catholics changed the religious landscape of the United States. From then until today, Irish, Italian, Polish, Mexican, and other Catholics have fought over power, identity, religious practice, and shared spaces.

Read the entire piece at Commonweal.

A Message to Irish-Catholic Trump Supporters

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John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, sends an important reminder to pro-Trump Catholics who think immigrants are “too lazy to get off their asses.”

Here is a taste of his piece at Commonweal:

Kelly, an Irish-American Catholic from Boston, is either oblivious to the irony of someone with his family’s background trafficking in pernicious stereotypes or knowingly tapping into the power of caricatures to dehumanize people. Irish immigrants were similarly demonized in the nineteenth century when they fled the Potato Famine. Like the parents of today’s Dreamers, they took great risks in search of a better life for their family. The Irish were viewed as so alien to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority they were not even regarded by many as “white.” The Boston Globe described the zeitgeist of the era in a 2016 article.

In the popular press, the Irish were depicted as subhuman. They were carriers of disease. They were drawn as lazy, clannish, unclean, drunken brawlers who wallowed in crime and bred like rats. Most disturbingly, the Irish were Roman Catholics coming to an overwhelmingly Protestant nation and their devotion to the pope made their allegiance to the United States suspect.

It was out of this context that a nativist movement flourished. By the 1850s, the Know-Nothing Party, originally called the American Party, included eight governors, more than one-hundred congressmen, and held power in half a dozen state legislatures. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan expanded in New England and the Midwest, targeting immigrants and Catholics. A massive KKK rally in Worcester, Mass. attracted as many as fifteen-thousand people in 1924. At the end of the rally, the Klan clashed with Catholics who came to counter protest under a Knights of Columbus banner.

The politics of nativism is not new. But there is something particularly galling about Catholic members of this administration such as Kelly, and powerful members of Congress, including Speaker Paul Ryan, leading or enabling the contemporary incarnation of anti-immigrant policies and xenophobia. Ryan posted a picture on Twitter this week showing him welcoming a member of the Irish Parliament. “Even if my Gaelic is a little rough,” Ryan tweeted, “always great to connect with my roots.”

Kelly, Ryan, and others should remember those roots included immigrants from a different place but with the same dreams. In the face of craven politicians who perpetuated fear and ugly stereotypes, those immigrants persevered and made America great.

Read the entire piece here.

Marilynne Robinson on John Calvin

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Fans of Robinson‘s fiction and non-fiction know that she is an admirer of John Calvin.  Over at Commonweal, Matthew Sitman just publishe an interview he conducted with Robinson that focuses on her love of the Genevan reformer.

Here is a taste:

MS: I have heard your fiction, especially Gilead, described as being “sacramental.” Yet it also possesses an obvious debt to Protestantism—for example, John Ames is informed largely by Protestant theology and the literary tradition that derives from Calvinism—which often, if perhaps mistakenly, is associated with “disenchantment,” a world increasingly emptied of God’s presence. How much of your work is an intentional retrieval of an alternative Protestantism, a non-disenchanted Protestantism? What’s distinctive about a Protestant vision of a world imbued with grace?

MR: I don’t think I had heard until I was in college that the Protestant world was “disenchanted,” so the notion has never had much importance for me. It is not surprising, given European history, that there is a tradition of polemic available for use against Protestantism and Catholicism as well. It really ought not to be taken seriously as cultural analysis. I know it is a feature of modern thought that these drastic pronouncements are made and pondered. But they can be remarkably superficial. From a Protestant point of view the world is intrinsically enchanted. Nothing need be added. The world is filled with the glory of God. I doubt a Catholic would disagree! The two traditions simply respond to the fact differently. Protestants acknowledge only Baptism and Communion as sacraments, using ordinary water in the first and ordinary bread in the second—which implies the holiness of the ordinary, of all bread and all water. This seems to me to broaden the sphere of the sacramental and to give every holy—that is, loving or generous—use of the ordinary things of life a sacramental character.

Read the entire piece here.