By Daniel J. Smiechowski
There are approximately 78 million Catholics in America. Fifty percent of them voted for President Obama in 2012. Donald Trump has a problem if history is a window to this election.
The name Donald is a Celtic baby name meaning, ironically, “world ruler.” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ought to take this would-be ruler’s rhetoric seriously otherwise collection plates throughout the Southwest will be clean as a whistle. America’s Catholic Church is at a crossroads. Learn from the past or continue with past mistakes.
In perhaps one of the strangest presidential campaigns in modern presidential history, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party is set to realign or redefine the GOP. The devil in the details may come back to haunt the campaign of Donald Trump. Truth may indeed be the first casualty of war but the past one hundred years of political history offer a lesson in why Donald Trump and his supporters will follow the Dodo bird to extinction.
Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the Mexican border is anachronistic and a throwback to building moats around castles in the Middle Ages. His vulgar, irrational and plain stupid comments regarding the Mexican people fly in the face of the Holy Pontiff. But Pope Francis understands this inflammatory rhetoric because American Catholics have been down this road precisely one hundred years ago.
From before World War I until the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as President of the United States, hate was consistently directed at immigrants from Eastern Europe, Italy and Ireland. Quota laws were standard procedure during those isolationist years. So again, the more things change, the more things stay the same. It was no coincidence that the Democratic Party’s nominee for President in 1928 was a Catholic, New York governor Al Smith, who lost in a landslide to businessman Herbert Hoover. But these are different times where the immigrants of yesteryear are being replaced by Mexicans, Muslims and others.
The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson buried the Democratic Party in the South. The Republicans chose to capitalize on this by nominating someone who was outspoken in opposition to the new law — Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Goldwater lost in a crushing landslide.
Many in the Party of Lincoln, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, are prostituting their beliefs in favor of electing someone who is at least Republican in name. This is proving one of the greatest moral and ethical political dilemmas of modern times. Republican moderates are now relegated to the political graveyard. The Grand Old Party is now the bull in a china shop.
The Democratic Party kissed Old Dixie goodbye in taking the moral high road of enacting civil rights legislation throughout the South in the middle sixties. Donald Trump is taking the low road of scapegoating of ethnic divisions among us. America’s doctrine of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” is precisely what makes our nation stand out as a humanitarian beacon, while reaping the economic benefits of immigrants who are driven to succeed. While Pope Francis has rejected the politics of division and hate exemplified by Donald Trump, the deafening silence of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops may prove fatal to America’s Catholic Church.
It was not until the 1960 presidential election that John F. Kennedy broke the Catholic barrier. Those same immigrants so maligned during the Twenties were over the moon with joy. My, how they loved the Kennedys.
Things are different now and the GOP is on the ropes fighting for political relevance. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan are heavily Roman Catholic. More immigrants from Pennsylvania are buried at the American Cemetery in Normandy than any state. The former governor of Pennsylvania was a devote Catholic named Robert Casey. His son Bob Casey Jr. is a senator from the Keystone state.
It would be prudent of our local Catholic bishop to take a position on Trump. But then again, we all know what happened to another great Jesuit, the late Daniel Berrigan.
Daniel J. Smiechowski is a Clairemont resident, prolific writer on education issues, and former candidate for San Diego Unified School District Board of Education.