Sunday, August 21, 2016

#morethanredandblue: Toward A Final Vote: One-Issue Voting, Abstention, and the Wrestling Match

We've moved from the main parties' conventions into the first weeks of the final campaign stretch. Two major questions that are deeply interconnected have emerged to me as the key points for Catholics, and likely many Christians and others of various religions or generally of good will, seeking to vote conscientiously as we live out our faith:

1. Can a Catholic (or others) conscientiously vote for a politician who is openly and clearly pro-choice?

2. How seriously should a Catholic (or others) consider abstaining from voting?

Let's start with the issue of abortion. The every-four-years guide that our bishops offer us to facilitate conscientious, faithful voting gives clear advice here:
As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet if a candidate's position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support.
So, we should not support candidates based solely upon their policy toward a single-issue, yet we are justified in not supporting candidates that go on record in promoting something we oppose as morally wrong. The bishops add:
In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.
So, we shouldn't vote for candidates who support morally evil things but we can if we feel like we conscientiously can. So that's settled... not really.

The key is that we need to engage with the fullness of the picture. What has the candidate shown their character, integrity, and morality to be? What do their speeches reveal about their intentions? What does their voting record show with respect to policies they've supported? What do their platforms, stated issue stances, and campaign comments add up to? There's a larger picture to every candidate.

However, abortion rightfully grabs a lot of our attention. When it comes to abortion, there's a few degrees with respect to politicians' direct policies:
  • completely oppose abortion
  • oppose abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or health of the mother
  • oppose abortion personally but vote in favor of it
  • support abortion but favor some limits (ex: partial-birth abortion ban; illegal for minors)
  • support abortion liberally
I think the interpretation for where one can draw the line is subject to conscientious understanding.

Some Catholics feel perfectly comfortable voting for politicians who support abortion liberally or with minimal to moderate limits. Often, this approach contends that making something illegal doesn't stop it from happening, and the focus should instead be on education, health-care, and other rights that lift up at-risk populations. I think this approach is dangerous - as with many things Catholic, this is best confronted by a both/and, not an either/or. We need better support to at-risk populations and legal reform. Direct advocacy of an evil act is tough to square.

Then we come to politicians like Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate for vice president. Sen. Kaine is Catholic; he went to a Catholic Jesuit high school, did post-graduate service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and goes to Mass at a parish in his hometown and sings in the choir. Sen. Kaine has affirmed his personal belief that abortion is wrong, but he has maintained a virtually absolute pro-choice voting record during his time in politics.

Some Catholics feel perfectly comfortable voting for politicians like Sen. Kaine who sustain their personal belief but don't extend it into their political life. The argument here is that if their personal stance doesn't match the views of their constituency, the politician shouldn't vote that way; another view might suggest that the religiously informed views of a candidate shouldn't dictate the candidate's voting decisions.

I think the dialogue should continue here, but I'll admit I struggle to endorse such an approach. Even while reflecting one's constituency and respecting religious and moral pluralism are valuable, I think American politicians are an undefined blend of trustees (elected to use their best judgment as they determine) and delegates (elected to reflect the consensus of their constituency), which forces them to weigh the two out. When faced with a moral evil, I don't see how the perceived consensus of a constituency can overwhelm a moral objection that a politician might have; majority sentiment doesn't outweigh moral truth. So this option is tough too.

Finally, you have politicians who mostly or entirely oppose abortion. These politicians - increasingly only Republicans, as conservative Democrats become nearly extinct - are easier to support in this regard, as they typically support legal reforms that tighten abortion laws and seek to appoint or confirm justices who will interpret the Constitution such that abortion is not a guaranteed right.

So with respect to abortion, supporting them comes without the major moral hangup. Furthermore, many Republicans advocate for religious freedom and conscience protections for religious institutions. Unfortunately, many Republicans, including the presidential candidate, Donald Trump, are a mess on other issues that are hugely important to Catholic Social Teaching.
  • Republicans widely oppose comprehensive immigration reform and instead want to restrict immigration and refugee admissions.
  • Republicans widely oppose the Affordable Care Act and seek to repeal and replace it, though it's unclear what the replacement would be as repeal would move us further away from universal health-care.
  • Republicans widely oppose reasonable restrictions on gun purchase and use...
So, how much focus do we put on the abortion issue? If we make it a significantly elevated first priority, does that render issues on other socially crucial issues irrelevant? Or, do we put it on the same plane as other socially pressing issues? Can we then instead evaluate politicians, platforms, and parties based on the full landscape of social good?

One response is to abstain.

In talking about these issues with many friends, I've advocated for wrestling, dialoguing, researching, and praying one's way to an active vote rather than an abstention. I am a big believer that by working together with others, by sharing wisdom, by asking questions, by sharpening one's own perspective with the insights of others, one can come to a sound decision.

Then I got into a cordial back-and-forth with one friend in particular who was about ready to commit to abstaining. As we volleyed with each other, he finally declared, "There is nothing holy about the disintegrated life." To him, if choosing a candidate means compromising something that is central to our faith, then it is not worth placing that vote. Voting should not entail bracketing off any of the things that we believe to be essential to who we are and how God calls us to live.

That insight has stuck with me as the best argument I've heard yet to justify abstaining. I've always felt that my best witness as a Catholic is to be active, thoughtful, and forthright in humbly but authentically wearing my faith on my sleeve. I thought of abstention as sitting on the sidelines, but I think if it's done in the same spirit of engagement as an active protest, rather than a passive separation, then it can have the same effect as a conscientious vote.

Another response is to discern your way toward weighing out the various social positions of the candidates you are offered. I will admit that I am considering abstention more in 2016 than I ever have before, but I continue to reserve it as more of a last resort and a sort of theoretical threat. I really want to wrestle my way toward an approach that can apply social teaching to this mess of a landscape.

So I'll stick to my guns on two key questions as I continue to vet these candidates, including Mr. Johnson and Dr. Stein as I hope for one or both to somehow wiggle their way into the debates, in the lead-up to the election:

1. Who will represent our country and humanity with integrity and character? Not just in economic interests and military might but in cooperation and global solidarity.

2. Who will more thoroughly and completely uphold the consistent ethic of life? From abortion to child care to education to health-care to care for the elderly to end-of-life ethics.

I want to continue searching for answers to these two big questions as I look for the strength of Catholic Social Teaching in the candidates' social actions. I do have an evolved understanding of the reality of abstention as an actively chosen and deliberately communicated decision, but I remain hopeful that there is a conscientiously sound possibility to discern a vote.

I look forward to reading more thoughts from conscientious Catholics who are trying to weigh out these same concerns, in the presidential race, in the down-ticket elections, and throughout the campaign. Let me know what you think!

Friday, August 12, 2016

#morethanredandblue: Tax Plans

This week, the main parties' candidates unveiled their plans on taxes and other related economic issues. Here are some reactions to the content as it relates to the calls of Catholic Social Teaching.


Mr. Trump emphasized the need for simpler laws and regulations, calling for simplified brackets in taxes, a halt to added business regulations, and less tax code overall.

These emphases may be good jumping off points to keep money in the hands of citizens, to restore their ability to spend their money as they decide. This can even sound like subsidiarity at work. However, there's not much talk of the poor and vulnerable, or the need for private citizens to take ownership of supporting whatever public and social services are cut by the government.

The Republican philosophy of cutting taxes, shrinking government, and minimizing state involvement is only just if the services which the government will no longer provide can be filled in by private citizens and community organizations. If the economic philosophy is geared entirely toward financial gain and personal wealth, if doesn't cut it as a just way to behave socially.

Indeed, in Mr. Trump's speech, the rhetoric relating to legal simplifications all has to do with a particular type of financial gain. These reforms will make companies more profitable. They will make private citizens wealthier. They will make America richer.

Mr. Trump makes some passing references to how lower- and middle-class Americans will benefit most from these measures, but they are not followed by any specificity.

Instead, Mr. Trump continues to take shots at marginalized people who are, in his view, sapping money from the American revenue streams. Take this quote for example:
"When we were governed by an America First policy, Detroit was booming... When we abandoned the policy of America First, we started rebuilding other countries instead of our own... Our roads and bridges fell into disrepair, yet we found the money to resettle millions of refugees at taxpayer expense."
In really confronting poverty, Mr. Trump says President Obama and Mrs. Clinton's policies raise tax rates and ratchet up onerous regulations, which he says kills jobs and induces poverty. I don't know what the facts bear out, but I find it hard to give his policies much credit for doing anything much for the poor and marginalized as stated here and so far.

Mr. Trump also goes after President Obama and Mrs. Clinton for energy policies:
"As a result of recent Obama EPA actions coal-fired power plants across Michigan have either shut down entirely or undergone expensive conversions. The Obama-Clinton war on coal has cost Michigan over 50,000 jobs. Hillary Clinton says her plan will 'put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business.' We will put our coal miners and steel workers back to work. Clinton not only embraces President Obama’s job-killing energy restrictions but wants to expand them, including going after oil and natural gas production that employs some 10 million Americans."
Mr. Trump adds several ways in which unrestricted energy can raise GDP and revenues, again focusing on wealth of people, businesses, and the country, but not really adding anything about the positive ripples of that wealth for the poor or marginalized.

Additionally, on another social teaching front, these policies are terrible with respect to Care for God's Creation. Unrestricted energy usage and consumption may open up capitalistic competition, but such a marketplace only considers wealth and not stewardship.

Reasonable restrictions on pollution-creating energies are a good starting point to help us manage the negative impact that we are having on the earth and ease us toward alternative energy solutions, which can be good for our economy, our national security, and the environment. The trouble with these policies is that they take widespread consensus, mutual agreement in limiting ourselves voluntarily, and a steep and frustrating climb through transition - none of which are popular or immediately financially advantageous.

One other noteworthy item that is a positive for our social teachings is that Mr. Trump intends to make childcare costs, up to the average amount of care, fully tax deductible. While this doesn't quite stack up to wider concerns like paid family leave for new parents, health-care access for at-risk mothers and families, and other elements, it's a nice step in the right direction for family life.

Overall, there's not much to get worked up about, but the common thread throughout the speech focuses on personal, corporate, and national wealth without much attention to how that can have a positive impact on the poor and marginalized.

And once again, the make-America-great-again candidate is sure to tell the rest of the world, its problems, and its marginalized people, that all of that matters explicitly less than looking out for #1: "Americanism, not globalism, will be our new credo," Trump said.


Here are the thesis questions of Mrs. Clinton's approach:
"So here are four questions that I hope the American people will ask of both candidates – and that the answers should make your choice in November crystal clear:
First, which candidate has a real plan to create good-paying jobs?
Second, who will restore fairness to our economy and ensure that those at the top pay their fair share of taxes?
Third, who will really go to bat for working families?
And fourth, who can bring people together to deliver results that will make a difference in your lives?"
So we start from a point of creating jobs and taxing the rich but also doing so for the sake of families and community and collaboration, according to her remarks.

Mrs. Clinton starts to answer her first question with a reference to her mega-jobs stimulus plan, and she does so with attractive vocabulary:
"I believe every American willing to work hard should be able to find a job that provides dignity, pride and decent pay that can support a family. So starting on Day One, we will work with both parties to pass the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II."
How the government will pay for this is unclear, but the focus is on helping people help themselves with dignified work on American infrastructure, which social teaching can easily support. She also wants to tie this prosperity growth to universal broadband internet access, which sounds like a good step toward an important social responsibility.

Building on this infrastructure emphasis, Mrs. Clinton adds that some country will emerge as the "clean energy superpower of the 21st century," and she wants it to be the US. This commitment to energy evolution to work toward cleaner technology is a much better observance of caring for God's Creation. The economic struggle up front could yield an economic advantage if and when American groups make the advances first and best, and such progress would help us be better stewards of the earth.

Another wrinkle here is Mrs. Clinton's "New Markets Tax Credit":
"Let’s also expand incentives like the New Markets Tax Credit that can bring business, government, and communities together to create good jobs in places that have been left out or left behind. From neglected neighborhoods in Detroit and Flint, to Logging Country, Coal Country, Native American communities, from rural areas ravaged by addiction and lost jobs to industrial regions hollowed out when factories closed."
This is the first mention, explicitly, in either speech, specifically about marginalized people. This initiative specifically targets areas that have been left behind and not supported for recovery after hardship has beat them down. Such an initiative is one of the more clear-cut, direct things I've seen in this campaign season that opts for the poor and marginalized. Cheers to that. Mrs. Clinton even piles on a bit more good stuff in calling for a better living wage for service industry workers, including those in child-care.

Building out on this message to economically marginalized people, Mrs. Clinton shrewdly points out that a four-year degree shouldn't be expected for all and it shouldn't be the primary path to make a living. She singles out trade school as a valuable way for people with the right skills and determination to make a solid living, supported in part by increased emphasis on apprenticeships and community colleges. This is good for the Dignity of Work and Workers' Rights, good for Preferential Option, and good to give rising students more options and less pressure as they seek stability for themselves and perhaps a family.

Moving on to child-care, Mrs. Clinton pans Mr. Trump's tax credit for child-care, saying that it doesn't help poorer families with affordability much while giving a break to wealthier families. I'll confess that the tax code is over my head here, and the best help I found was from NPR's fact-check: "Trump's proposed income tax deduction on the average cost of childcare was criticized for likely being more of a help to higher-income families than to many working-class families. However, the Trump campaign has also said that it will allow lower-income families to deduct the cost of childcare from their payroll taxes. The campaign says it will offer more details in coming weeks on their childcare plans." Mrs. Clinton doubled down here with emphases on equal pay for women (shout out to couples and families like mine where the woman is the primary bread-winner!) and paid family leave for new parents.

On the health-care front, Mrs. Clinton recommitted to the Affordable Care Act, affirming the state marketplaces and their competition in working toward universal coverage and lowered costs to consumers. I'll reiterate that I believe Rights and Responsibilities calls us to support and advocate for universal health-care, either through the ACA, a reform, or an alternative law, but not doing anything cannot be an option.

On the whole, given that Mrs. Clinton steered clear of abortion implications in family issues during this speech, there's not much by way of red flags in this plan. A lot of Mrs. Clinton's social policies, as manifested here in economic terms, square fairly well with many core principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

Stay tuned as the messages develop and the policies and positions are clarified...!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

#morethanredandblue: Dr. Stein's Acceptance Speech

Following up on a closer look at the Libertarian Party platform, I also want to look at Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president. Her acceptance speech transcript was posted to her campaign website, so I'll be reviewing excerpts from her remarks as she accepted her party's nomination.
"[The Green Party has been] ahead of the curve in so many ways - on climate change and green energy, on marriage equality, free public higher education and health care as human rights, on stopping the Trans Pacific Partnership, on reparations for slavery, opposing Saudi war crimes in Yemen, and Israeli human rights abuses and occupation in Palestine, on recognizing indigenous rights... That arc of justice is moving through us as we mobilize to make black lives matter, and to end violent policing – as the Frisco Five and the Millions March NYC just did. The arc of justice is moving through us as we sit in and lock down to stop fracking pipelines, fossil fuel bomb trains, coal and LNG export terminals, and all manner of fossil fuel and nuclear infrastructure... From living wage campaigns, to fossil fuel blockades, to the fight to end mass incarceration, to cancel student debt, to restore the rights of immigrant rights, indigenous rights, LGBTQ and women’s rights and disability rights."
That is just a sampling of some of the litanies from the first chunk of her speech... starting to wade into Dr. Stein's remarks unveils quite an enormous swath of claims. Starting from quite the broad appeal, she simultaneously claims successes in ecology, marriage rights, education, health-care, war crimes, and social unrest as basically being the purview of Green Party progress. As an amateur political scientist, I will say that third parties have it rough in America because any time they make progress in emphasizing a social issue, one of the main parties co-opts it along with their voters. As a result, it can be difficult to trace the third parties' impacts depending on the genealogy of these issue progressions. My gut just says Dr. Stein is painting with quite the broad brush here as she kicks off.
"There are 43 million young people – and not so young people – who are locked in predatory student debt, with no prospects for getting out. And there is only one candidate who will cancel that debt – and you’re looking at her. And by the way, we bailed out Wall Street, the guys who crashed the economy with their waste, fraud and abuse. It’s about time we bailed out the young people who are the victims of that abuse. So if young people come out on election day 2016 to vote green to cancel their debt, they can actually take over the election, not only to cancel student debt, but to advance the whole agenda for justice. And the world will be a better place for it! And millennials are the self organizing demographic that can do this."
Here, Dr. Stein starts to hone in on a specific issue - student loans and debt. She promises a righteous bailout of student debt, juxtaposed with the wasteful bailout of Wall Street. Her appeal is largely to grassroots organizing and mobilization, which is a good move for subsidiarity and community participation. However, she doesn't build a bridge from debt forgiveness toward the way to pay for it. Hooray for idealism, but misgivings over how such a giant amnesty can work.
"We also have the power to create emergency jobs program, with 20 million living wage jobs as part of a Green New Deal. It’s like the New Deal that got us out of the Great Depression… but a Green New Deal to fix the climate crisis as well as the economic crisis. It creates a wartime level mobilization to green our energy, food and transportation systems, and restore critical infrastructure, including ecosystems."
Here's where I get a bit intrigued: an FDR-style New Deal that's focused on economic stimulation and driven by infrastructure and ecological improvements. This is appealing on many levels. It reflects a better Care for God's Creation by moving us toward more sustainable fuels and lower pollution. It puts people to work to be able to realize their dignity as workers and potentially earn a just and living wage, upholding bits of Call to Participation as well as the Dignity of Work. It mobilizes society to take charge of some of its problems.

I like where her head's at for this one, as the social ramifications are positive and the financial factor is clearer her as stimulus spending than for the student debt idea. Dr. Stein even claims that this strategy "pays for itself in health savings alone" because it will reduce pollution- and climate-change-related health problems so drastically, so that's bold and maybe exaggerated but hints at an additional positive.
We can create health care as a human right through an improved Medicare for All system of everybody in, nobody out, and you’re covered head to toe and cradle to grave. You get your choice of doctor and hospital, and you and your doctor are put back in charge of your health decisions, not a profiteering insurance company CEO.
Dr. Stein here comes out in clear support of universal health-care, and her plan is to universalize the Medicare system as the new coverage for all Americans. This is a necessary right that we are called to support, and she states a specific approach for pursuing this universally. Again, whether you're for the ACA, for repeal or reform, or for a third way, I think Rights and Responsibilities calls us to choose a path that actively moves toward universal coverage.
We can create a welcoming path to citizenship for undocumented Americans who are critical to the diversity and vitality of our communities, economy and culture. We must end the shameful night raids, detentions and deportations of hard working, law abiding immigrants. In fact, one of the most important things we can do to fix the immigration crisis is to stop causing it in the first place with predatory policies like NAFTA, the war on drugs, military interventions, CIA-supported coups and US trained death squads.

We say to Donald Trump, we don’t need no friggin wall. We just need to stop invading other countries. And by the way, the Republicans are the party of hate and fear mongering. But Democrats are the party of night raids, detentions, and deportations.We will put an immediate halt to deportations, detentions and night raids for people whose only crime was to flee the poverty and violence created by predatory US policies across the border. And we can end racist violence and brutality not only in policing, but in courts and prisons, and in the economy at large.
Dr. Stein charts a clearly divergent path from Mr. Trump here. Dr. Stein is all for diversity and welcome while being anti-exclusion, anti-profiling, and anti-targeting. She is clearly for community and participation here and rings true to our rights and responsibilities in welcoming the stranger. She might go a bit too far in widely blackballing trade negotiations, drug enforcement, and military defense, but her general support of immigrants is strong.

Also, she said "friggin," so that's fun.
We call for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to get to the bottom of the crisis of racism, and to provide reparations to acknowledge the enormous debt owed to the African American community for the unimaginable price they paid in building this country and sustaining our economy for generations while they were denied dignity and freedom.
This is one of my favorite pieces of her speech. Though I'm uncertain on the efficacy and necessity of reparations, I love the idea of restorative-style justice through this kind of dialogue. The opportunity for people involved to give public testimony and enter into an open forum. It's a great way to gather witness and get people's stories and history out into the open and hopefully to discern a communal response. This would be an interesting project to undertake in areas of the country with heavy racism issues.

Bits and pieces from her campaign's issues page:
  • Dr. Stein identifies education and health-care as rights: thumbs up.
  • She calls for a $15/hour minimum wage: iffy.
  • Dr. Stein emphasizes work to limit climate change, protect resources, and take care of Creation: thumbs up.
  • Dr. Stein says nothing about abortion or life issues explicitly: thumbs down.

Monday, August 8, 2016

#morethanredandblue: Mr. Johnson and Mr. Weld's Platform

As sort of a bonus, I wanted to review the third party campaigns that are trying to gain traction in this unusual election year, starting with the Libertarian Party, presidential candidate former Governor Gary Johnson (R-NM), and vice presidential candidate former Governor William Weld (R-MA). Given that it was difficult to locate a reliable transcript of the acceptance speeches from the party convention, I will review their official issues stances from their campaign website (quotes from content accessed on August 5, 2016).
Gary Johnson and Bill Weld want to get the government out of your life. Out of your cell phone. Out of your bedroom. And back into the business of protecting your freedoms, not restricting them. 
This is why Gary Johnson embraced marriage equality before many current Democratic leaders joined the parade. He was also the highest ranking official to call for an end to the drug war and start treating drug abuse like a disease instead of a crime.
His vice presidential running mate, Governor Bill Weld, was not only an early proponent of civil rights for gays and lesbians, he actually appointed the judge who wrote the opinion that established marriage equality as a matter of constitutional right. He is also an outspoken defender of a woman’s right to choose, rather than allow the government to make such an important and personal decision for them.
This is the one moment where an approach contrary to Catholic Social Teaching can really be detected. Because libertarians are so committed to keeping the government out of as many things as possible, they prefer that the government not legislate on many social issues. So to some extent, they abstain on hot-button social issues; however, Mr. Johnson's issues page is sure to point out that these candidates were on the front lines of gay marriage advocacy and support a woman's right to choose, even if largely as a way of keeping those decisions out of government and in the hands of citizens.

To me, this falls somewhere between abstaining on the issue and advocating for it. I don't think these gentlemen would be fervent advocates for abortion, but they likely would obstruct any legal movement toward tightening abortion restrictions or moving to overturn the court decision. In this regard, I find their stances troubling in the context of The Dignity and Value of Human Life, as the unborn are not likely to be protected here.

In terms of gay marriage, I don't think I'll ever be settled with the use of "marriage" to describe any same-sex relationships. However, I do support legal protections and rights for homosexual people, as I believe these are part of our calls to community and rights and responsibilities. I believe disconnecting the word marriage from these relationships is a necessary first step, but on the other hand, protecting the social rights of homosexual people is important as well.
Gary Johnson and Bill Weld don’t want to build an expensive and useless wall. The only thing a big wall will do is increase the size of the ladders, the depth of the tunnels, and the width of the divisions between us. Candidates who say they want to militarize the border, build fences, and impose punitive measures on good people, ground their position in popular rhetoric, not practical solutions. 
Governors Johnson and Weld believe that, instead of appealing to emotions and demonizing immigrants, we should focus on creating a more efficient system of providing work visas, conducting background checks, and incentivizing non-citizens to pay their taxes, obtain proof of employment, and otherwise assimilate with our diverse society.
Making it simpler and more efficient to enter the United States legally will provide greater security than a wall by allowing law enforcement to focus on those who threaten our country, not those who want to be a part of it.
Mr. Johnson appears to be in favor of more comprehensive immigration reform, and specifically calls out policies that close off our country or don't dignify immigrants. In a CNN Town Hall, "Johnson, a former border governor, called Trump's calls for the deportation of all undocumented immigrants and the erection of a border wall 'incendiary,' and bordering on 'insanity.'" He seems to desire a fair balance between legal reforms to utilize the people who are here and legal reforms to improve the processes by which future people will enter. This strategy is more human-focused and to me reflects the calls of social teaching better that closures.
And who is most harmed by the War on Drugs? Minorities, the poor, and anyone else without access to high-priced attorneys. More generally, mandatory minimum sentences for a wide range of offenses and other efforts by politicians to be “tough” have removed far too much common-sense discretion from judges and prosecutors. 
These factors, combined with the simple fact that we have too many unnecessary laws, have produced a society with too many people in our prisons and jails, too many undeserving individuals saddled with criminal records, and a seriously frayed relationship between law enforcement and those they serve.
Interestingly here, Mr. Johnson combines drug problems, social discriminations, and police-community relations. There seems to be increasing momentum toward decriminalizing drugs in low amounts to try to depopulate our prisons from having so many non-violent offenders and to redirect police resources from these type of arrests to other more pressing concerns. My gut says this could be a good thing, as we can focus law enforcement efforts on reigning in violence, but I do worry about the negative impact that this might have on the long-term atmosphere of drug traffic. It's tough to balance the calls of social teaching to have a clear sense of what's best, here. It is good to see a wider approach that aims to improve multiple root issues.
Consistent with that responsibility, the proper role of government is to enforce reasonable environmental protections. Governor Johnson did that as Governor, and would do so as President. Johnson does not, however, believe the government should be engaging in social and economic engineering for the purpose of creating winners and losers in what should be a robust free market. Preventing a polluter from harming our water or air is one thing. Having politicians in Washington, D.C., acting on behalf of high powered lobbyists, determine the future of clean energy innovation is another.
A solid nod to Care for God's Creation here. Free market principles lead Mr. Johnson to limit government involvement, which can also be good potentially for subsidiarity. It seems like there's a decent balance between seeking intervention where the environment must be protected but also allowing free market competition to guide the energy economy.
Governor Johnson’s approach to governing is based on a belief that individuals should be allowed to make their own choices in their personal lives. Abortion is a deeply personal choice. Gary Johnson has the utmost respect for the deeply-held convictions of those on both sides of the abortion issue. It is an intensely personal question, and one that government is ill-equipped to answer.

On a personal level, Gary Johnson believes in the sanctity of the life of the unborn. As Governor, he supported efforts to ban late term abortions. However, Gov. Johnson recognizes that the right of a woman to choose is the law of the land, and has been for several decades. That right must be respected and despite his personal aversion to abortion, he believes that such a very personal and individual decision is best left to women and families, not the government. He feels that each woman must be allowed to make decisions about her own health and well-being and that the government should not be in the business of second guessing these difficult decisions. 
Gov. Johnson feels strongly that women seeking to exercise their legal right must not be subjected to prosecution or denied access to health services by politicians in Washington, or anywhere else.Appreciate Life. Respect Choice. Stay Out of Personal Decisions.
This is where Mr. Johnson may lose the solid strands of Catholic Social Teaching. The libertarian impulse is strong and consistent, continuing here as his platform continues emphasizing the government's unfitness to decide these types of things. Like Senator Kaine, Vice President Biden, and others, Mr. Johnson personally opposes abortion but does not apply that position to his political positions. This might satisfy some but disappoint others as it veers away from actively reinforcing social teaching.

In the CNN Town Hall, "Johnson and Weld also both affirmed their abortion rights positions. Johnson said Republicans 'alienate a lot of people' when they attack Planned Parenthood, a women's health organization that provides abortion procedures. 'We're not looking to change the law of the land in anyway,' Johnson said."

Again, I think this is a hugely important dialogue that needs to get further fleshed out as this campaign unfolds. As Catholics are constantly faced with candidates who don't entirely match with the consistent ethic of life, we have to consider how we want to evaluate candidates who match our values with their personal positions but don't advocate for them in policy.

Friday, August 5, 2016

#morethanredandblue: Mrs. Clinton's Acceptance Speech

Finally, we review the speech by former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president. Thanks to Politico for the full transcript of Mrs. Clinton's speech; all excerpts are in indented italics as worded in their transcript.
Our Founders embraced the enduring truth that we are stronger together. America is once again at a moment of reckoning. Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart. Bonds of trust and respect are fraying. And just as with our founders, there are no guarantees. It truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we all will work together so we all can rise together. Our country's motto is e pluribus unum: out of many, we are one. Will we stay true to that motto? Well, we heard Donald Trump's answer last week at his convention. He wants to divide us - from the rest of the world, and from each other... And most of all, don't believe anyone who says: “I alone can fix it.” Those were actually Donald Trump's words in Cleveland... Americans don't say: “I alone can fix it.” We say: “We'll fix it together.”
Early in Mrs. Clinton's speech, we see a clear divergence from Mr. Trump's isolationism that puts America separate and walled off; here, Mrs. Clinton instead talks about meeting this crossroads moment by choosing the path toward collaboration. While it might be too big a leap to excitedly connect this directly to the Call to Family, Community, and Participation, I think it's a clear, intentional nod to the power of banding together. This is the headline emblazoned on the banner boards of the arena as she spoke - Stronger Together.

Talk can be cheap, but it's almost all we have during campaigns, so I'll take some initial solace in the idea that collaboration is declared as integral rather than repetitious insistence on supremacy and separation.
We will not build a wall. Instead, we will build an economy where everyone who wants a good paying job can get one. And we'll build a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who are already contributing to our economy! We will not ban a religion. We will work with all Americans and our allies to fight terrorism... [Mrs. Clinton later adds] I believe that when we have millions of hardworking immigrants contributing to our economy, it would be self-defeating and inhumane to kick them out. Comprehensive immigration reform will grow our economy and keep families together - and it's the right thing to do. Whatever party you belong to, or if you belong to no party at all, if you share these beliefs, this is your campaign.
Here, Mrs. Clinton elaborates by tying her collaborative starting point to the economy and immigration. She wants to solidify and strengthen the economy by acknowledging the presence and contributions of undocumented people and finding a comprehensive way to integrate them for fully into formal contribution. This comes with the explicit word to do so without prejudice toward any religion, as well. These are positive extensions of the atmosphere of collaboration and inclusion hinted at before.
Look at what happened in Dallas after the assassinations of five brave police officers. Chief David Brown asked the community to support his force, maybe even join them. And you know how the community responded? Nearly 500 people applied in just 12 days. That's how Americans answer when the call for help goes out. 20 years ago I wrote a book called “It Takes a Village.” A lot of people looked at the title and asked, what the heck do you mean by that? This is what I mean. None of us can raise a family, build a business, heal a community or lift a country totally alone. America needs every one of us to lend our energy, our talents, our ambition to making our nation better and stronger. I believe that with all my heart. That's why “Stronger Together” is not just a lesson from our history. It's not just a slogan for our campaign.
Here is where Mrs. Clinton thickens up her perspective on collaboration and moves even into the importance of community. She gives the beautiful example of Dallas' response to the terrible tragedy they experienced, where a leader challenged his community with invitation and opportunity and the people responded by taking accountability via their actions.

Mrs. Clinton backs that up by reaching back to her earlier writing, showing that the value she places on how it takes a village to raise a child is a long-standing ideal for her. This ideal is at the forefront of her acceptance remarks, and it holds promise for setting a course of inclusion and welcome to grow in our society.
She made sure I learned the words of our Methodist faith: “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.” I went to work for the Children's Defense Fund, going door-to-door in New Bedford, Massachusetts on behalf of children with disabilities who were denied the chance to go to school. I remember meeting a young girl in a wheelchair on the small back porch of her house. She told me how badly she wanted to go to school – it just didn't seem possible. And I couldn't stop thinking of my mother and what she went through as a child. It became clear to me that simply caring is not enough. To drive real progress, you have to change both hearts and laws. You need both understanding and action.
Here, Mrs. Clinton makes explicit reference to her Methodist faith and shares some of her life experience working on behalf of the poor. She shares this anecdote that illustrates part of why Mrs. Clinton came to believe that caring must be accompanied by action, action that targets for legal change as well as a change in hearts.

This principle is something most people would probably echo, and it will come into play significantly as Catholics struggle over whether or not to vote for politicians that do not advocate for abortion restrictions. Abortion rates do not predictably rise and fall based on the party in power, in the White House or Congress, or based on the balance of the Court. Arguments are often made that legality versus illegality is not the primary place to target; rather, systemic change will come from education, economic improvements, and stronger support to at-risk populations. Let's continue to hear that out.

Nonetheless, many Catholics would prefer both legal transformation and societal/cultural transformation. The approach of allowing legality and constitutionality of Roe v. Wade while working to reduce the number of abortions solely through other means is likely unsatisfying to fervent Catholic voters, but the conversation should get some additional spotlight, especially with Mr. Kaine, a Catholic, and his mixed position on the ticket.
So we gathered facts. We built a coalition. And our work helped convince Congress to ensure access to education for all students with disabilities. It's a big idea, isn't it? Every kid with a disability has the right to go to school.
Mrs. Clinton next talks about the universal right to education for people with disabilities. This is a great example of opting for the marginalized in political and social decisions. It's just unclear what the details here are, and Politifact did not include it in their survey of her factuality.
I believe America thrives when the middle class thrives. I believe that our economy isn't working the way it should because our democracy isn't working the way it should. That's why we need to appoint Supreme Court justices who will get money out of politics and expand voting rights, not restrict them. And we'll pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United! 
This is an interesting thread that Bernie Sanders' campaign certainly helped weave. Campaign finance is out of control, and the unlimited spending of independent expenditure groups is simply wild. In addition to the crazy amount of influence and visibility that spending can buy, the fact that campaigning has become a multi-billion dollar industry, with the presidential campaign alone costing over $1 billion, is unjust.

A decent argument for subsidiarity could be applied here. Banding people together into big groups that raise millions to slam politicians is a far cry from people taking care of things at the most local level. Politically speaking, a strong argument can be made that grass-roots campaigning - local volunteers, door-to-door visits, phone calls, yard signs, etc. - is still the most effective, even if the war chest and independent expenditure money is what makes candidates viable in the early stages. The principle of simplicity here suggests a shorter, less exorbitant campaign could be just as effective, if not more.
If you believe the minimum wage should be a living wage… and no one working full time should have to raise their children in poverty… join us.
Here's a tricky one with the Dignity of Work and Workers' Rights. We do need a just economy that serves the worker and not simply the owners and management. However, I struggle to discern what the limit is on how much intervention is good. Is a $15 minimum wage a good thing right now? It's good for the minimum wage worker, but can businesses sustain that in this economy? Will it be able to grow faster than inflation if minimum wage is forced to lurch forward that much higher that much faster? I'll admit I'm pro-living-wage and pro-just-wage but struggle with ratcheting up the minimum wage. I'm abstaining a bit here on this since I think it might be a bandaid or a house of cards.
If you believe we should expand Social Security and protect a woman's right to make her own health care decisions… join us. And yes, if you believe that your working mother, wife, sister, or daughter deserves equal pay… join us... [Later, Mrs. Clinton added also] We're going to help you balance family and work. And you know what, if fighting for affordable child care and paid family leave is playing the “woman card,” then Deal Me In!
I didn't pull this quote because of Social Security, though caring for the elderly is important and something that only gets harder as fewer working citizens are paying into it and more people are drawing out of it. I do also appreciate the bigger lens that sees beyond abortion and lifts up women to have equal pay and benefits.

But obviously, Mrs. Clinton's advocacy for a woman's right to choose is troublesome, not because Catholics hate women but because we don't want abortion, artificial birth control, and abortifacients on the table here.

Mr. Kaine is an intriguing balance to this, especially since he remains supportive of the Hyde Amendment even though it is contrary to the platform, but he scored a 100% from NARAL as a political advocate of pro-choice policies. There's been some good dialogue so far about Catholics grappling with wanting to vote Democrat/non-Trump but bristling at such abortion support. Remember - though abortion is a profound evil, neither party fits the consistent ethic of life totally.
Bernie Sanders and I will work together to make college tuition-free for the middle class and debt-free for all! We will also liberate millions of people who already have student debt. It's just not right that Donald Trump can ignore his debts, but students and families can't refinance theirs. And here's something we don't say often enough: College is crucial, but a four-year degree should not be the only path to a good job.
Here's some big talk toward our Rights and Responsibilities. Public education guarantees Americans the right to school through 12th grade, but we haven't crossed the bridge to include higher level education yet. Mrs. Clinton throws this in here, building off Mr. Sanders' emphases on it, and takes a swing at student debt as well. As usual, "how do we pay for it" will be the refrain from skeptics. Stay tuned on whether or not there's a feasible path toward universal college education and student loan debt reform.
You want a leader who understands we are stronger when we work with our allies around the world and care for our veterans here at home. Keeping our nation safe and honoring the people who do it will be my highest priority. I'm proud that we put a lid on Iran's nuclear program without firing a single shot – now we have to enforce it, and keep supporting Israel's security. I'm proud that we shaped a global climate agreement – now we have to hold every country accountable to their commitments, including ourselves. I'm proud to stand by our allies in NATO against any threat they face, including from Russia. I've laid out my strategy for defeating ISIS. 
We will strike their sanctuaries from the air, and support local forces taking them out on the ground. We will surge our intelligence so that we detect and prevent attacks before they happen. We will disrupt their efforts online to reach and radicalize young people in our country. It won't be easy or quick, but make no mistake – we will prevail.
I will say that I found this section to be quite heartening, as it builds on the reality of Mrs. Clinton's work as Secretary of State, during which she did a solid job improving American international relationships following some rocky times under President Bush, who I supported. I highly value global solidarity as an ideal, and I think her commitment to diplomacy and coalition-building can manifest that ideal for America.

I think Mrs. Clinton is hawkish enough where her recourse toward military might can be taken seriously, but liberal enough (in the political science sense of the word) that she will prioritize non-violent means, negotiation, and collaboration. This relationship-building abroad is the right step for human rights and global solidarity. I'm not saying she'll certainly succeed with flying colors, but this tack is much more fitting than isolationism and brute threats.
And if we're serious about keeping our country safe, we also can't afford to have a President who's in the pocket of the gun lobby. I'm not here to repeal the 2nd Amendment. I'm not here to take away your guns. I just don't want you to be shot by someone who shouldn't have a gun in the first place. 
We should be working with responsible gun owners to pass common-sense reforms and keep guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and all others who would do us harm. For decades, people have said this issue was too hard to solve and the politics were too hot to touch. But I ask you: how can we just stand by and do nothing?
This is a pretty nice follow-up to some of the ways I summarized our bishops' teachings on guns, gun violence, and gun control. Mrs. Clinton echoes their basic position - allow the second amendment but contextualize it with reasonable limits and restrictions. Mrs. Clinton appears to fall in line with that while challenging gun advocates to find reasonable ways to agree to place boundaries on their second amendment rights to help the country reduce violence and preserve life.
So let's put ourselves in the shoes of young black and Latino men and women who face the effects of systemic racism, and are made to feel like their lives are disposable. Let's put ourselves in the shoes of police officers, kissing their kids and spouses goodbye every day and heading off to do a dangerous and necessary job. We will reform our criminal justice system from end-to-end, and rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. We will defend all our rights – civil rights, human rights and voting rights… women's rights and workers' rights… LGBT rights and the rights of people with disabilities!
Here's a nice, fairly straight-forward nod both to Rights and Responsibilities, and in terms that sound a lot like solidarity, calling us to mindfulness for all of brothers and sisters.

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To continue vetting Mrs. Clinton in the early going, here are some links to read more:




Thursday, August 4, 2016

#morethanredandblue: Mr. Kaine's Acceptance Speech

Next, we review the speech by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic nominee for vice president, and a Catholic. Thanks to NJ.com for the full transcript of Kaine's speech; all excerpts are in indented italics as worded in their transcript.
"I went to a Jesuit boys school – Rockhurst High School. The motto of our school was 'men for others.' That's where my faith became vital, a North Star for orienting my life. And I knew that I wanted to fight for social justice. That's why I took a year off law school to volunteer with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras. I taught kids welding and carpentry. Aprend√≠ los valores del pueblo — fe, familia, y trabajo. Faith, family, and work. Los mismos valores de la comunidad Latina aqu√≠ en nuestro pais. Somos Americanos todos."
Saving some of Mr. Kaine's other political positions for a moment, here we get a glimpse of Mr. Kaine's autobiography that speaks to the centrality of Catholic Social Teaching to who he is. While the influence that these teachings hold in Mr. Kaine's political positions is suspect, we at least can appreciate the concrete experience that Mr. Kaine has in working with and for those on the margins.
He explicitly credits his Catholic, Jesuit formation and celebrates the Jesuit slogan of being men and women for others. Kaine even took time from his prime years to move to another country, learn their language, and work directly with those on the margins. It's worth commending Mr. Kaine for the time and effort he has dedicated toward opting for the poor. I am hopeful that it endures strongly in his spirit and continues inspiring him to think intentionally about the poor and marginalized people in our world.
"[Mr. Kaine's father-in-law] Lin's example helped inspire me to work as a civil rights lawyer. Over 17 years, I took on banks and landlords, real estate firms and local governments, anyone who treated people unfairly — like the insurance company that was discriminating against minority neighborhoods all across America in issuing homeowners' insurance. These are the battles I've been fighting my whole life. And that's the story of how I decided to run for office. My city of Richmond was divided and discouraged. An epidemic of gun violence overwhelmed our low income neighborhoods. People were pointing fingers and casting blame instead of finding answers. I couldn't stand it. So I ran for city council."
Here, we see a glimpse of how Mr. Kaine's early career as a lawyer and his initial foray into politics were his way of responding to the plight of the poor and marginalized. In his case, Mr. Kaine answers that call while also living out the call of Rights and Responsibilities, valuing his own social rights while also seeking to level the inequalities that endured in American society, first through legal advocacy and then through local government. Again, while some of his ultimate positions are suspect, Mr. Kaine's roots seem to lie solidly along the lines of our social teachings.
"We shed tears in the days after a horrible mass shooting at Virginia Tech, but we rolled up our sleeves, and fixed a loophole in our background check system to make us safer."
Speaking briefly about his time as a "hard times governor" in Virginia, Mr. Kaine talks about the circumstances of the Virginia Tech shooting. Here, he makes a small allusion to his action in tightening gun control laws. The bishops do not push for a repeal of the second amendment, but they do push for reasonable limits and restrictions.

This appears to be a small example of a reasonable limit, where Mr. Kaine tightened a gap that ensured people with mental health histories were more closely monitored and prevented from gun ownership (H/T Politico).
"She's ready because of her faith. She's ready because of her heart."
Mr. Kaine praises Mrs. Clinton's faith. Stay tuned for a closer look on how Mrs. Clinton's remarks square with Catholic Social Teaching.

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To continue vetting Mr. Kaine in the early going, here are some links to read more:





Wednesday, August 3, 2016

#morethanredandblue: Mr. Trump's Acceptance Speech

Next, we review the speech by Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president. Thanks to ABC News for the full transcript of Trump's speech; all excerpts are in indented italics as worded in their transcript.
[At the end of a lengthy anecdotal litany of law and order statistics, Trump tells the story of a border-crosser who murdered a woman, and concludes...] "But to this Administration, their amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting. One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders."
I would argue a secure border is part of our call to rights and responsibilities, just as comprehensive immigration reform is. While we need to have a safe way to control the flow of people in and out of the country, temporarily or permanently, for visits or for citizenship, we also need to have a complete and total way of addressing the problem that dignifies all people involved, both those aspiring to immigrate and those who have already found their way here.

Assuming Trump's anecdote is true, there obviously needs to be justice for those that commit immoral acts. But the poor behavior of a few people should never muddy the waters for the entirety of any group to which they belong - this is a dangerous and undignified tack that could easily be used to disqualify any group of people (like, say, Muslims).

Much like with health-care - where universal health-care is a right we must pursue someway, whether via the ACA or by an alternative way - comprehensive immigration reform must be pursued. We must respond to the situation of undocumented people who are on our soil now, and we must have an approach to the issue that persists at our borders as well. Even if one feels that a border wall will secure our country and control immigration, the root causes of why people seek to emigrate from countries to our south and into the US must be addressed, and we need to reexamine the processes by which those people are able to pursue citizenship legally.
"Tonight, I will share with you my plan of action for America. The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponent, is that our plan will put America first. Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo."
This quote encapsulates the "Make America Great Again" attitude that Mr. Trump has popularized. While few would fight making America great, the undertones by which Mr. Trump seeks to accomplish this are troubling to our social mindset. In his words here, he sounds very isolationist, ready to cut off the interconnectedness and global connections that help us to collaborate with others around the world and learn and grow socially, culturally, and even economically.

Mr. Trump's business ideals may have a positive impact on American businesses pursuing a better bottom line, and that may in fact benefit the poor and marginalized via a trickle-down of wealth and charity. However, it will hurt the Call to Family, Community, and Participation to create a society that is excessively skeptical and hostile toward other cultures and their influences. America's greatness is built largely on the welcoming of diversity that has faced many crossroads and consistently, even if too slowly or painfully, chosen plurality over homogeneity. We have made tremendous strides in learning from mistakes made when dealing wrongfully with Native Americans, black people, east Asian people, women, LGBTQ people, and more. While the scars of those missteps endure, the greatness of our society comes from openness to globalism in which our American ambition and pride dialogues with the contributions of Native Americans, Europeans, Africans, Asians, and Latinos alike.

Putting America first is not a new sentiment, but the desire to do that by closing off from global influences and contributions is a throwback we could do without as we seek to uphold the consistent ethic of life for all people and build stronger community.
"Every day I wake up determined to deliver a better life for the people all across this nation that have been neglected, ignored, and abandoned. I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals. These are the forgotten men and women of our country and they are forgotten but they’re not going to be forgotten long. These are people who work hard but no longer have a voice. I am your voice. I have embraced crying mothers who have lost their children because our politicians put their personal agendas before the national good. I have no patience for injustice, no tolerance for government incompetence, no sympathy for leaders who fail their citizens."
I am going to have see this in action before I believe it. Mr. Trump is most famous for firing people, even if on a contrived television show, and his reputation is for being a great pursuer of corporate success and financial wealth. We are called to opt for the poor and marginalized people in every decision we make individually, communally, and socially. I want to hear more from Mr. Trump that honors this preferential option, and I want to see actions in which he encounters marginalized people concretely. I'll stay tuned.
"I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it."
Again, I will give Mr. Trump some time to walk this walk after talking this talk, but I am skeptical of it for sure. I agree with him that politics often involves the powerful inflating their influence to sustain their interests. However, I am not sure that Mr. Trump is a person who can claim the mantle of being their advocate. I need to see some first-hand opting for the poor from him and his campaign to put any credence to this claim.
"Millions of Democrats will join our movement, because we are going to fix the system so it works fairly and justly for each and every American."
I define the Dignity of Work and Workers Rights as the call to uphold the inherent value of work so that a just wage and a just economy can serve the individual and society. Economic principles are an elusive thing for Catholic Social Teaching, which upholds and decries capitalism for varying reasons, just as it does the same toward socialism and communism. Capitalism is at its best when it creates opportunity and mobility for its citizens, but at its worst when it creates inequality and massive division in socioeconomics. We'll see what Mr. Trump articulates to be the nature of "fairly and justly."
"Only weeks ago, in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist. This time, the terrorist targeted our LGBTQ community. No good. We are going to stop it. As your President, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology, believe me."
I would be very interested to see what LGBTQ think about Mr. Trump as this campaign unfolds. I think a lot of work has yet to be done to create a social norm of respect and inclusion for these marginalized people, and I know our Call to Family, Community, and Participation pushes us to ensure that our relationships and interactions include people who identify as LGBTQ and do not ignore their activity in society. I don't want to overemphasize perception and reputation, but I doubt many would perceive Mr. Trump as an advocate in this area, especially long-marginalized LGBTQ people; let's see.
"...we must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place. We don't want them in our country."
The proliferation of terrorist attacks in recent months, both at home and abroad, has only further intensified our sensitivity to terrorism, as the Islamic State movement endures in the Middle East and inspires acts of evil throughout the world. To a certain extent, it is justifiable to question immigration, refugee, asylum, and vetting policies as foreign people attempt to come to the US. It is legitimate to review and reconsider the standards and processes in order to ensure our security. However, went Mr. Trump goes so far as to say "we don't want them," it extends beyond justifiable concern to become excessive, generalized discrimination. It's easy to say we don't want terrorists and thus to exclude entire nationalities of people; it's harder to step up our game in vetting and screening to ensure that only people of good will gain entry to our country. This falls directly under our call to welcome the stranger as a corporal work of mercy and a responsibility of solidarity.

We have a right to that which we need to become who God created us to be, but we have a responsibility, in solidarity, to help our brothers and sisters gain access to these rights. We are called to be a society of active participation and belonging. And we must uphold the consistent ethic of life for those whose life value has been belittled.

Concern is legitimate; blanket exclusion is excessive. This plank is a dangerous one in Mr. Trump's plan to "make America great." Mr. Trump did later add, "We are going to have an immigration system that works, but one that works for the American people," but that doesn't carry any stronger implications of what our CST calls for and reinforces his isolationist positions.
"We are going to be considerate and compassionate to everyone. But my greatest compassion will be for our own struggling citizens."
On a wider scale, this sentiment is not unique to Mr. Trump. This is an attitude that is fairly universal to America. When we consider getting involved in international relations, the first question is, "What American interests are at stake?" When a tragedy strikes abroad, such as the attack in Nice, our news outlets are sure to report how many Americans were killed, as if it may be more tragic since Americans may have been victims. When we catch up with the news, we often focus on our local area, our region, and our country, but don't take the same time to learn the happenings in other parts of the world. The US doesn't necessarily have to be the world police, inserting its military into every conflict worldwide; however, because of our power and influence, we should be using our status to broker peace and facilitate justice, which may sometimes require more significant involvement.

There's a great moment in The West Wing when Will Bailey, at that point a contracted speech-writer for the Bartlet administration, requests all of Bartlet's public remarks from his political career because he is searching for hints as to the president's policies and positions. Will uncovers transcriptions that show Bartlet's desire to be more interventionist in humanitarian conflicts. Bartlet surprises Will in his office while Will is working, and in an off-the-cuff conversation, Bartlet wonders aloud, "Why is a Kundunese life worth less to me than an American life?," referring to the genocide beginning in fictional Kundu. Will replies, "I don't know, sir, but it is." They go on to create the Bartlet doctrine, that the US will involve itself in humanitarian crises to intervene in cases of crimes against humanity.

Solidarity calls us to be mindful of all people as if they are our brother or sister. We should be able to care about and feel for all victims, all marginalized people, and all who suffer as if those people were our closest friends or our immediate family. We are not meant to bracket off our empathy to the narrow scopes of what's right before us. America is our home and should be a priority. But it should just be the starting point, the launching pad, for our work toward doing greater justice.
"My opponent wants to essentially abolish the second amendment. I, on the other hand, received early and strong endorsement of the National Rifle Association. And will protect the right of all Americans to keep their families safe."
I talked at length in my Theology on Tap presentation (see part 5 of the full talk text) about the American bishops' comments when teaching on gun control. Essentially, they do not call for the repeal of the second amendment, though other groups within the Church have (like the editors of America Magazine). However, the bishop are clearly for reasonable limits on gun access and restrictions on what guns can be purchased and used. The moral principle of legitimate defense is central to our moral theology, upholding one's right to use lethal force when faced with an aggressive threat. Nonetheless, the gun culture must evolve to centrally include gun safety, gun control, and an attitude of restricted and minimized usage. Otherwise, violence will continue to spiral us downward, further and further away from peace.
"At this moment I would like to thank the evangelical and religious community because I'll tell you what, the support that they've given me, and I'm not sure I totally deserve it, has been so amazing and has had such a big reason for me being here tonight. True. So true. They have much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits. An amendment pushed by Lyndon Johnson many years ago threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax exempt status if they openly advocate their political views. Their voice has been taken away. I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and to protect free speech for all Americans."
This is a dangerous position that Mr. Trump advocates. The Church encourages its members to be politically active and aware, but also insists that the Church never become a political entity. As communities of believers, churches are all called to band together in community toward praise and worship of God, toward serving God by serving one another, and toward spiritual formation and growth. While this can entail teaching one another what is right and moral, it cannot become political partisan engagement or politician endorsement. This distracts from the transcendental and eschatological reality of the Church, and it wrongfully mixes religious liberty - our constitutional right to live in a country where no religion is considered the national religion - with political activity.

Given our Rights and Responsibilities and the animation our churches give to the Call to Family, Community, and Participation, I think restricting candidate endorsements and partisan affiliations such that religious leaders cannot talk about them within their faith communities is a reasonable balance that ought to be preserved.

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To continue vetting Trump in the early going, here are some links to read more: