Donald Trump is Now the Standard-Bearer of the Pro-Life Movement. We Should be Ashamed.

Catholics are once again the swing vote that has decided who will be the next President of the United States. Donald Trump has won voters who self-identify as Catholic 52% to 45%, reversing President Obama’s 2012 win. Among Catholics, Trump outperformed numerous past Republican presidential candidates.

Catholic voters in America have given Donald Trump both the presidency and a Republican-controlled Congress. But for pro-life Catholics, one question must be considered: is this the person we want to represent the pro-life movement?

As a college student, millennial, and devout Catholic, I take both my faith and the right to life very seriously. I don’t simply want abortion to be prohibited, but for all people to be supported and for their humanity to be affirmed, dignified, and upheld. I am pro-life for the whole life. This means standing against abortion, the death penalty, unjust wars, and euthanasia. It also means being in favor of a living wage, accessible and affordable healthcare (especially for mothers and their children in times of need), mandated paid maternity leave, and more funding for crisis pregnancy centers. Everything that society can do to protect and support pregnant mothers and their babies should be offered, because this commitment to life and human dignity is what will ultimately end a culture of assisted suicide, abortion, objectification, and xenophobia. This will bring about a genuine culture of life. These are all things I consider when I enter the voting booth.

Many of my friends who are devout Catholic millennials support these same values, and many struggled to determine how they would cast their ballots. Sadly, due to their care for the unborn child, many felt they had no choice but to vote for Donald Trump due to his newfound commitment to appointing judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade.

Personally, I could not bring myself to vote for either major party candidate.  I voted for a whole life write-in candidate. On election night, as my friends watched the results of the election pour in, we looked at each other in disbelief. Many who voted for Trump had thought they were making a protest vote, that he wouldn’t actually become president. But now, he is the President-elect of the United States. Read More


Life after the Election: The Jubilee Year of Mercy was Just Practice


Lies we tell ourselves, when recognized as lies, tend to leave us feeling shocked or emotionally raw. I thought it was not possible for Donald Trump to be elected president, and in the shock that steadily mounted from 5 p.m. Tuesday to 2:30 Wednesday morning, I was forced to recognize that belief as not only a lie but a kind of moral superiority. I, like half of my fellow Americans, believed that the portion of the population which saw Donald Trump as a savior, even a flawed savior, had to be a minority because the America I knew could not so easily support the violence and careless cruelty of his personality and policies. The “America” I thought I knew was a lie; it was the lie that Americans truly are better than the rest of the world. Sure, the Philippines could elect Rodrigo Duterte, but America could never trust a strongman like him with the presidency. Turkish citizens could support that widespread crackdown on thousands of fellow citizens by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but Americans could never be capable of lashing out in violence on the basis of fear and suspicion. All lies, and the truths to replace them proved to be a bitter medicine.

Yet the longer I sat with the outcome of the election, the more the bitterness of that medicine turned stale. The most banal fact of American politics is that we are divided and politicized and incapable of compromise. Everyone knows that. And everyone believed in a savior, whether it was the Supreme Court or Congress or the president, who could ultimately vanquish any opponents who posed a threat to the very identity of the great American Experiment. Numerous Democrats believed in President Obama’s executive orders on immigration, in the Obergefell ruling, in the Affordable Care Act; all of these and more were a hope against the forces of bigotry, prejudice, and ignorance. As we have seen to the shock of all those who repudiated Trump’s rhetoric and worldview, many Republicans saw Donald Trump and his future appointees to the Supreme Court and a Republican-controlled Congress as the salvation of freedom, economic independence, and the American ideals of success. Almost every American saw this election and their politicians at its forefront as the only hope for the rebirth of the American Dream, and they saw the opposition as the death-knell of all that is good in this world. Dramatic, yes—but  new? No, this is normal, and has been normal since I can remember starting to pay attention to politics in the 7th grade. Read More


Politics Alone Won’t Save Us. Let’s Get to Work.

Last Tuesday evening, I sat down with a heaping plate full of Chinese food, surrounded by some of my closest friends, ready to watch history be made. Amid the hopeful excitement, a brief thought entered my mind: “What if this doesn’t turn out how I think it will?”

As the evening continued and Donald Trump gained more and more states, I was filled with a sense of dread that felt all too familiar. I had been here before. The hope of a sure win, slowly crumbling – replaced by fear, uncertainty, and the sight of my future falling apart. It was eerily similar to a scene I’d witnessed two years before.

My first job out of college was a nonpartisan fellowship at the Governor’s Office – the ideal path toward a lifetime of political advocacy. I believed that the best way to share my gifts with the world was to give myself fully to politics – to change the system from the inside, working to serve the people and better the world. This all hinged upon the Governor under whom I began my internship – a role model and someone whose career inspired me – winning his reelection.

In a turn I didn’t expect, on a night that should have been filled with celebration, my candidate lost…badly. Suddenly, I went from visions of social justice and a job waiting for me at the end of the year to all of my friends, co-workers, and colleagues losing their jobs. Aside from about eight other young adults, everyone I had worked with would now be fired. I was sad for my co-workers. I was scared for my state – afraid that the many programs whose growth I had witnessed would now go away. And I was terrified for my future. I couldn’t follow the path I had expected. I couldn’t work in this world of hatred and back-stabbing. I couldn’t see a path out, and my plan was falling apart. Read More


Catholics Down the Road, But a World Apart

It was a beautiful day. Too nice, if you ask me, for early November in the upper Midwest, but nice nonetheless. US Highway 52 winds north along the west side of the Mississippi River, crisscrossing northeastern Iowa’s rolling hills and the driftless region of southeastern Minnesota. It was the deer opener, so there were plenty of pickups parked on the shoulder, a fact which should’ve given me a bit more pause before we pulled off so my wife could nurse our two month old son. Despite not wearing blaze orange, our pit stop went just fine.

Looking back, it makes sense what we saw along Highway 52 as we wound our way north the Saturday before election day. The signs. The Trump signs. Lots of them, all shapes and sizes, both homemade and campaign-supplied. Sure, a few Clinton-Kane signs dotted the drive here and there, but this was clearly a trip through Trump territory. And as we pulled into the driveway of our home, nestled in our urban neighborhood, totally insulated in the growing metropolis of the Twin Cities, I thought to myself: “Yeah, well, yard signs don’t vote.”

Fast forward to today, after the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States, and suffice it to say, though they may not vote, yard signs certainly do paint a pretty powerful picture. But besides the signs, what I can’t get out of my head is, on this drive from my hometown of Davenport, Iowa to Saint Paul, Minnesota, we not only passed dozens (hundreds?) of Trump signs, but a good number of Catholic churches as well. No doubt the parishioners of these churches, my fellow Catholics, were some of the farmers, the small town residents, the exurban dwellers who planted those very Trump signs in their yards and then went on to cast the ballots that helped vault him to the White House.

And what’s most troubling to me is this: I don’t know a single one of them.

And how could I? Each Sunday, my family makes the short three-block walk down to our mainly white, mainly upper class city parish to celebrate Mass. It’s a wonderful community of faith and fellowship, with an intelligent, caring pastor and vibrant parish school. While I suspect more than a few members of the parish voted for Trump, they never talked about it. The  tone and tenor of our hymns, homilies, intentions, and conversations leads me to believe that most parishioners, most Catholics, rejected Trump’s candidacy, in large part because of their faith. At least I did.

But just a short drive away, down Highway 52, or east on I-94, or north on Highway 169, it appears that many Catholics embraced Trump’s candidacy, deciding to do so perhaps also because of their faith. This obviously isn’t the first time Catholics have come to different decisions in the political sphere. And the question isn’t so much as to why we ended up at different conclusions on Trump’s fitness for the office. The question, rather, is how we, as Church, have failed to tend to our shared identity as Catholics, how we’ve failed to connect ourselves through Eucharist to those with whom we may share little else besides Eucharist.

I, and many urban Catholics I know, don’t have the slightest clue as to why these rural Catholics voted as they did because, put simply, I don’t know these rural Catholics. And truthfully, I don’t know many Latino Catholics, or African American Catholics, or “insert qualifier here” Catholics either. And while I certainly shoulder the blame for my own lack of bridge building in this regard, this reality of “not knowing” illustrates a central problem: our shared faith, our Catholicity, is not a bridge over the cultural chasms that exist in America today.

And that’s a shame. Because if the communion we claim is to be real, to be lived, it has to unite all of us who gather around the table of the Lord, whether that table is in Minneapolis or Millville, Saint Paul or Saint Charles. The Catholics in the rural Midwest whose signs I saw on the road are every bit as believing as me, and I don’t know a thing about them: their joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties. That’s the stuff of prayer, right there, the stuff we don’t know about each other. And it’s sad to say that we, the Church of rural and urban America, have apparently done very little to make our prayer together.

Still only a few days since the election, and this reality of “not knowing,” of missing communion, lingers. Reasons for this reality and ideas on how to respond pop up in mind like those signs I saw on the road last Saturday. But the questions I return to are these: What does it mean to be Catholic up and down Highway 52? How do believers in the same faith, on the same road, end up at such different destinations during an election year like this? And what are we, as a Church, going to do to move from being just people in cars and people with yard signs to being fellow travelers on the way?

Joe Kolar is a communications and development professional with over a decade of experience in the field of Catholic education. He is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago and holds a Master of Divinity from the University of Notre Dame.


Donald Trump’s Supporters and the Banality of Evil

A few days ago, I watched a video that I found, perhaps surprisingly, very disturbing.  There was no bloodshed–no violence of any kind–nor was anyone verbally abused.  No animals, even, were harmed in the making of it.  In fact, the video was meant to be humorous.  It was a Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog special, produced by Funny or Die, in which a group of Donald Trump supporters is pranked.  If you aren’t one of the two and a half million people who’ve already seen it, it’s worth taking fifteen minutes of your time to watch.

The premise of the prank, designed by Triumph’s creator and voice Robert Smigel, was to attempt to trick members of a Trump focus group with fake campaign ads.  As Smigel told Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on Sirius XM, “All we were really hoping for is that they would believe that the ads were real. That was the goal, to fool them, and give the piece some added life by seeing people just react honestly to it.”

The group’s reactions are certainly honest.  They earnestly discuss–and voice their almost unqualified approval for–every idea, from installing gun dispensers in women’s bathrooms to forcing “150 million Mexicans” into shock collars to building “four-star abortion resorts” in economically depressed areas.  Though there are a few bemused expressions as the participants view the phony commercials, and at one point a woman does appear to object to late-term abortions (though she fails to elucidate exactly where the line should be drawn), they neither reject the proposals nor express doubt as to their authenticity.  One man, remarking on a plan to lock Mexican immigrants in Porta Potties and transport them across the border on trucks, compares Donald Trump to the illustrious inventors of the lightbulb and iPhone.

I knew the video was supposed to be funny, but I didn’t feel at all like laughing as I watched it.  I felt more like cringing, or crying, or throwing up.  When it was over, I sat in stunned silence for a minute or two before calling my husband into the room.  “You’ve got to see this,” I said.

*****

During my time as a high school English teacher, my tenth-grade classes studied the novel Night by Elie Wiesel.  As a supplement to historical information about the Holocaust, we also read about Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience experiments.  Milgram, a professor at Yale, set up a series of experiments in the early 1960s that sought to determine to what degree and under what conditions participants could be induced to inflict physical harm on total strangers for no significant reason.  The methodology was as follows: an administrator, a volunteer, and a “learner” would meet in a vacant room on the Yale campus.  The administrator would ask the volunteer–the “teacher”–to administer electric shocks when the learner failed to correctly identify word pairs.  What the volunteers didn’t know was that the learners were actually collaborators and no shocks were being delivered.  The purpose of the experiment was to see what percentage of volunteers would go on to administer the full 450 volts–a potentially fatal electric shock–even as learners screamed in pain from behind a partition.

Before beginning the experiments, Milgram polled his students and colleagues at Yale and dozens of psychiatrists, all of whom predicted that a very small number of participants (one percent or fewer) would continue to administer the shocks in increasing increments until reaching the full 450 volts.  In fact, 65 percent–two-thirds–of participants delivered the final voltage.

Milgram redesigned the experiment with several variations–all-women test groups, non-university locations, administrators in regular clothes rather than lab coats, etc.–but under every set of circumstances the number of participants willing to administer the highest voltage was much higher than predicted.  Under every set of circumstances, that is, except one: when two other teachers (actually collaborators) refused to obey the administrator and continue the experiment, the volunteer almost always refused as well.

At the same time Stanley Milgram was conducting his experiments in New Haven, the German Nazi Adolf Eichmann was standing trial for war crimes in Jerusalem.  Hannah Arendt later wrote about the trial in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, in which she argued that Eichmann was neither a sociopath nor an ideologically-driven fanatic; he was just a regular guy.  Indeed, the team of psychologists who studied him found that not only did he exhibit no signs of mental illness, but the most striking thing about Eichmann was how completely normal he was.

In her account, Arendt describes Eichmann, who had little education and lower than average intelligence, with words like “stupid” and “clown.”  Having been unsuccessful both at school and in the workforce, he was far more motivated by personal advancement than by ideology.  Eichmann admitted during the trial that seeing the respectable citizens of Germany embrace Hitler’s Final Solution made it easier for him to participate in its implementation.

Such is the banality of evil, that ordinary people are just as likely as bloodthirsty monsters to let–even to make–it happen.

*****

Which brings me back to the members of Trump’s focus group.  They too look like perfectly normal people.  There isn’t a neo-Nazi or a Klansman in the bunch.  It’s easy to imagine them cooking dinner or playing with their children or grandchildren; some, no doubt, are churchgoers.  And yet, even as they try to work out the logistics of making guns available for use against transgender people or debate whether or not late-term abortions for impoverished women should be incentivized with casino chips, they never seem to question the morality of such acts.  One participant only expresses reservations about locking human beings in Porta Potties and shipping them to another country when it occurs to her that “one of us” could mistakenly get locked inside.  It’s as if a group of reasonable-seeming people, after reading Swift’s “Modest Proposal,” arrived at the consensus, “What a visionary idea!  Their babies!  Of course!”

The most appalling moment for me came when, discussing options for how best to give electric shocks to border crossers, one woman suggests a vaccine rather than a shock collar.  When the moderator asks how such a thing might be accomplished, the woman answers, laughing, “They wouldn’t know.  They’d think they were getting vaccinated for something.”  (Incidentally, the same participant later endorses a plan to lower Chinese I.Q.s by “injecting their water with various painting solvents.”)

One thing was clear: the members of the focus group were prepared to accept whatever idea they believed Donald Trump had put forward, and based on how few Republican public figures have disavowed Trump (to their credit, some have, though I think it’s noteworthy that none did until months after he made his infamous claim about Mexican drug dealers and rapists), I don’t think we could reasonably expect a significant number of them to stand up to him after the election either.

His supporters obviously believe that Donald Trump, having subverted everything we thought was true about our political system in the course of a few short months, can accomplish the seemingly impossible–and, as a matter of fact, I don’t disagree with them.  If a man with no political experience whatsoever, who’s patently unfit for public office, even, to invoke the old saw, that of dogcatcher, now finds himself with a 50/50 shot at the presidency of the United States, what can’t he do?  Perhaps the ideas in the series of fake commercials won’t be on the table, but some very like them may.  The deportation of millions of people seems improbable, for example, but Donald Trump hasn’t given any indication (other than not mentioning it in the presence of actual Mexicans) that he wouldn’t pursue such a plan if elected president.  A complete ban on Muslims attempting to enter the United States sounds extreme, but it’s exactly what Trump has promised–and it begs the question, what about the Muslims already within our borders?  Might they not be rounded up and placed in internment camps, like those used to house Japanese-Americans during World War II?  At the very least, couldn’t the government impose a ban on hijabs, burkas, burkinis, and the like?  It’s been attempted elsewhere in the First World.  The federal government had to take Donald Trump and his father to court in the 1970s after the Justice Department investigated their practice of turning away potential Black tenants, and a recent New York Times investigation revealed “a long history of racial bias at his family’s properties, in New York and beyond.”  Can we really believe that he’d fight for equal treatment for African-Americans if he were to become president?

If November comes and goes without seeing Donald Trump elected president, I think many of us will give a collective sigh of relief at having averted a potential disaster.  But our relief will be tinged with a lingering uneasiness.  Our eyes have been opened by this campaign to how very fragile our democracy is, and how much in need of vigilant protection.  The racism awakened by Trump’s campaign won’t disappear just because he loses the election; indeed, it might intensify, as it has during President Obama’s administration.  So, though a battle will have been won, the larger war will remain to be fought.

I wonder how the focus group dynamic might have been different if a single person had stood up and said, “I think this has to be a joke,” or “This is against everything we stand for as Americans”?  If some of the focus group members, or the moderator, had been African-American, or Asian-American, or Hispanic?  And what about the participants–and there were several–who didn’t speak at all?  Were they really in agreement with the absurd ideas they were being pitched, or just unwilling to call attention to themselves by disagreeing?

As Edmund Burke famously stated, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  That is all that’s necessary, but sometimes, given the right conditions, the good people are also the ones throwing the switches.  If Stanley Milgram’s experiment and Adolf Eichmann’s trial teach us anything, it’s that we can never afford to “go along” with evil.  We must be the respectable citizens whose dissent makes the Eichmanns among us think twice, the “teachers” whose refusal to hurt innocent people prompts others to take their own stands.  We must find the courage to oppose evil, in all its banality, or we may regret too late that we didn’t.

A native of the North Carolina foothills, April Vázquez holds a B.A. in Literature and Language from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and an M.A. in the Teaching of English as a Second Language from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  She currently lives in León, Guanajuato, Mexico, where she homeschools her daughters Daisy, Dani, and Dahlia.  April’s work has been published or is forthcoming in The Elephant Journal, The Missing Slate, Windhover, Manifest-Station, The New Plains Review, and The Fieldstone Review.


Hey Coach, Immigrants Made America Great

Last Tuesday at the RNC, the Daily Beast reported that former University of Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz went on an anti-immigrant tirade. In his speech, Holtz lamented the “invasion” of immigrants into the United States, harped on the differences between the immigrant “you” and the American “me”, and demanded immigrants attempt to better assimilate. He also noted that he would not be cheering for their soccer teams, implying that in this country, there is only one type of “football” that matters.

Like anyone else in this country, Lou Holtz has a right to speak his mind, and as a proud alumnus of the University of Notre Dame, I listened with respect.

Nonetheless, I do wonder what would have happened to our shared loves—Notre Dame, football, and this country—if anyone listened to the rhetoric he presented on Tuesday 100 years ago.

In many ways, the University of Notre Dame can be seen as a microcosm of the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Founded in 1842, immigrants, predominately of Irish, German and Italian origin, but also by a good number of settled American citizens, built the university. They hauled mud from the nearby lakes to create the iconic yellow brick buildings that speckle Notre Dame’s campus in the same way that the immigrants in the rest of the country built our roads and buildings.

In exchange for their work at Notre Dame, these immigrant laborers could send their sons to Notre Dame to receive an education. In this way, Notre Dame became more than an old boys’ club; it came to embody the promise of American opportunity. These dirty, oftentimes illiterate immigrants are the true founders of this university, and, indeed, of this country.

By the 1920s, Notre Dame’s football team began to gain national attention. Traditionally a gentleman’s game, athletic conferences across the country hesitated to let Notre Dame join them because of the school’s Catholic and immigrant identity.  As a result, Notre Dame traveled nationally, happily picking up misfit fans along the way.

Around this same time, Notre Dame took on a Norwegian immigrant coach named Knute Rockne, who assembled a bunch of “Fighting Irish”. Rockne embraced the name and refused to assimilate to the traditional game of football—he instead transformed the entire sport with the forward pass.

Rockne loved the idea of a fight (in fact he boxed on the side from time to time). After the death of a young promising star player, it was Rockne who demanded his team come back from a large deficit to “win one for the Gipper.” On that day, Rockne the immigrant taught all Americans how to fight.

In many ways, immigrants around the country were doing the same thing: inventing, innovating, contributing, building, fighting for their place and for a place for their children. They were making America the country it is today—making America great.

Therefore, I admit I shuddered when I heard a coach of the Fighting Irish critique the modern versions of the men and women who have done so much for the University of Notre Dame and this country.

Had these men and women assimilated by only playing by the pre-established rules, had they been prevented from “invading” our country, we might still be playing football without the forward pass and be missing out on countless other innovations that impact our lives far beyond the football field.

I’ll close with this: A poor Jew from Nazareth once reminded us to love the stranger, for we were once him. Today His statue sits squarely in the center of the University of Notre Dame’s campus with arms open. And another statue sits in welcome off the coast of New York City.

We must never forget our identity, as strangers, as Americans, as fighting Irish. “They” are not them—we are “they,” those who made this university and country great and who will make them greater still.

Madelyn Lugli is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame.


It is Time for Europe’s “Pope Francis Moment”


Yesterday, Pope Francis was presented with the Charlemagne Prize by the City of Aachen, or Aix-La-Chapelle, an honor given annually to individuals for their extraordinary commitment to European unity and solidarity.

In honoring a Pope who has been very vocal and outspoken in his criticism of the European Union, the award committee reminds us that European unity and solidarity are values that cannot be defined and rewritten by bureaucrats in Brussels.

When Pope Francis asks, “What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?”, he is challenging all of us, regardless of which European nation we call home, to resist the Westphalian temptation of misplaced nationalism and to practice at home what we preach so well overseas.

Reminding us of the vision that bore the European project after the apocalypse of World War II, creating “an edifice made up of states united not by force but by free commitment to the common good,” the Pope offered a scathing indictment of European politics in the 21st century. It is a clear and unequivocal message in a year where EU member states have started closing and securing their borders to the south, European leaders have called for strict caps to the admission of refugees and asylum seekers, and far-right politicians have been able to garner popular support by asserting that we “cannot allow ourselves to be blackmailed by children’s eyes.

It is not the first time that Pope Francis has called out European leaders on their lack of solidarity, not only in regards to refugee and migration policy. In 2014, the Pontiff traveled to Strasbourg, France, to address 700 members of the European Parliament. Strongly criticizing the Union’s internal and external social policies, he decried the erosion of “transcendent human dignity” in societies that place the pursuit of opulence over the pursuit of happiness. The centrality of the human person, an essential component of the European idea, has been replaced with numerical identifiers and mainstream indifference, he offered, stating:

In addressing you today, I would like, as a pastor, to offer a message of hope and encouragement to all the citizens of Europe.

It is a message of encouragement to return to the firm conviction of the founders of the European Union, who envisioned a future based on the capacity to work together in bridging divisions and in fostering peace and fellowship between all the peoples of this continent. At the heart of this ambitious political project was confidence in man, not so much as a citizen or an economic agent, but in man, in men and women as persons endowed with transcendent dignity.

Two years after this famous address to the European Parliament, it is time for our “Pope Francis moment”, for a “memory transfusion”, as he called it, referencing Elie Wiesel. It is time for us to put the brakes on Europe’s humanist disintegration and reclaim “a Europe that promotes and protects the rights of everyone, without neglecting its duties toward all.”

Matthias Witt works in international development and humanitarian emergencies. A German native, he is currently based at the World Bank in Washington, DC. You can follow him on twitter @msbcw.