Reflections on the Fourth of July

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

MSW writes:

One year ago, we knew that then-President Donald Trump had no compunction about desecrating the cultural norms that had come to surround our democracy: He insulted the press, he lied to the public (and more, way more, than most politicians lie), he tried to get the Department of Justice to function as his own private legal team. Trump made Nixon look clean.

But we did not know, and could not have known, that Trump would try and undermine the results of an election. And try he did. But for the courage and integrity of state election officials like Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, he might have succeeded. It still sends a shudder down my spine when I listen to the recording of Trump’s call to Raffensperger, when he tried to convince him to find enough votes to change the result.

States in which Republicans control the levers of government are now trying to rig future elections in ways that are truly frightening. The thing about democracy is that it presumes those who participate in it do so in good faith, that everyone is playing by the rules, that no one is trying to subvert it. That presumption is now in doubt in a way it has not been since the Civil War….

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise,” said one of democracy’s most distinguished practitioners, Winston Churchill. “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

I do not wish to try any other form of government. On this Fourth of July, it is my fervent hope that enough Americans will care to avoid putting that equation to the test, that our democracy will last a while longer, and that all of us will remember to do our bit to bolster and cultivate those habits of mind and commitments of heart that will keep it going.

Christine Emba writes:

The United States, as we are reminded every year around the Fourth of July, is an idea. Our country is not based on blood and soil, but on a promise of freedom and representation. Our 50 states form a union constantly in the process of being perfected. America is a nation founded out of dissent and discontent; the Declaration of Independence is a literal list of complaints.

And so, fellow Americans, look at flag protests, the 1619 Project, “critical race theory” and the removal of Confederate statuary from the Capitol — and consider them signs of affection, a persistent belief in the possibility of our country’s bettering itself….

Even those held up by conservatives as emulation-worthy examples of peaceful, patriotic Americans were in reality often critics of the sharpest kind. In the same “I Have a Dream” speech in which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. described the Founding Fathers’ high-minded ideals as a “promissory note” on which America could still deliver, he called for a “whirlwinds of revolt” to “shake the foundations of our nation.” In between moments of uplift, King described America’s “vicious racists” and its “shameful condition.”

So what is this more modern critique if not an expression of love?…

But for Black Americans in particular, the act of complaint should rightly be seen as a remarkable expression of commitment. Despite being consistently underserved by — indeed, often excluded completely from — the American project, they remain determined to rehabilitate it, to make it live up to our creed.

It takes a more enduring faith — a more committed patriotism — to compare America to what it could be and to press it to do better than to abandon it altogether.

EJ Dionne writes:

Maybe the best reason to love the United States is that it’s a place where people are free not to love it.

In our country, criticism is constant, disagreement is perpetual, our understanding of our own history is constantly challenged. Every generation finds something — often many things — that previous generations left in a state of terrible disrepair.

Advertising’s “new and improved” trope speaks to a restless place where things are never good enough. We’re the land of new births of freedom, New Deals and New Frontiers.

We embrace patriotic symbols with such ferocity that our protests are frequently organized around them. Athletes who take a knee during our national anthem are wrongly described as disrespectful. On the contrary: They are taking the country at its word. If we’re going to sing that we’re “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” we ought to be that place….

Progressives love our country so much that we know it’s strong enough to acknowledge how racism, nativism, religious prejudice, and other forms of injustice and intolerance are embedded in our nation’s story.

True love can never mean pretending that the object of your affections is perfect, as Baker acknowledges. It means believing that the person or country you revere is capable of transformation — and having confidence that school kids won’t love their country any less if they’re taught honestly about its flaws, its failures and even its grave sins.

In the process, they’ll also learn about the courageous Americans who rose up to right wrongs, to battle smugness, to challenge oppression and to include everyone in the magnificent “We” that opens our Constitution.

Prophetic or Prudential Action?

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At Acting Franciscan, Stephen Schneck writes:

Prophetic or prudential action? As an advocate and activist for faith-based social justice, I struggle more about means rather than ends. My formation in the religious, moral, and social teachings of our faith offers much clarity about ideals. What’s uncertain is the path for progress toward those ideals.

Sometimes this is a question of inside versus outside. Sometimes this is a question of pursuing incremental change versus radical change. Sometimes this is a question of the extent that ends can ever justify means. Ultimately, though, these questions boil down to how “prophetic” versus how prudential to be for making progress….

I here publicly confess that I seem constitutionally predisposed to suspect the prophetic and to favor the prudential. I’m inclined to think that the perfect is more often than not an enemy of the good. I wonder too often that those choosing prophetic action over prudential just want to dodge the hard, grey, and often boring work needed to make incremental progress within the system. It’s glamorous to shout through a megaphone outside the White House; yet, rolling up your sleeves behind the scenes to win a few small provisions for the homeless in a housing bill is real toil. How naïve, unhelpful, and holier-than-thou those who reject working within the system must be, I sometimes think. Yes, I also easily convince myself that the path of prudential action actually achieves measurable progress while prophetic action seldom does and can too often spark counterproductive reaction.

Sunday’s readings, though, bring me up short. They take my breath away. Unmistakably, the message is that the prophetic is imperative.

Prudential action can never be sufficient in itself. It risks getting lost in the trees and losing sight of the forest, confusing means as ends. Prudential action without the judgmental vision of prophecy can too easily settle, can too easily accommodate itself to the status quo, and can too easily become complicit and compromised in its deferral to the system, traditions, existing laws, and even to our natural desire to be liked and approved….

The readings make clear that prophetic vision cannot be simply set aside if progress is to be made. Progress requires keeping our “eyes on the prize,” as the Civil Rights Movement put it so well. Prudential action is in many cases – and perhaps most cases, more efficacious for progress, but the prudential must always be directed by the prophetic and in service to the prophetic.

Pro-Life Democratic Governor Signs Law Ending Sales Tax on Diapers and Feminine Hygiene Products

Photo by Kseniya Safronova on Unsplash

via the AP:

Louisiana women and families won’t have to pay sales taxes on diapers, tampons and other feminine hygiene products, under a bill signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards….

The measure will exempt diapers for children and adults and all types of feminine hygiene products from the 4.45% state sales tax and from any local sales taxes traditionally charged on those items. Women and families in the state buy about $249 million of those products each year, according to a nonpartisan financial estimate of the legislation.


15 Key Quotes from Pope Francis’ Let Us Dream

Here are some key quotes from Pope Francis’ Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future:

  1. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded, and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that impact their lives.
  2. Now, more than ever, what is revealed is the fallacy of making individualism the organizing principle of society.
  3. We need a movement of people who know we need each other, who have a sense of responsibility to others and to the world. We need to proclaim that being kind, having faith, and working for the common good are great life goals that need courage and vigor; while glib superficiality and the mockery of ethics have done us no good.
  4. It is better to live a shorter life serving others than a longer one resisting that call.
  5. We need to feel again that we need each other, that we have a responsibility for others, including for those not yet born and for those not yet deemed to be citizens.
  6. This is a time to recover values, in the proper sense of the word: to return to what is authentically worthwhile. The value of life, of nature, of the dignity of the person, of work, of relationship—all these are values key to human life, which cannot be traded away or sacrificed. It amazes me when I hear people talk of “non-negotiable values.” All true values, human values, are non-negotiable.
  7. Solidarity acknowledges our interconnectedness: we are creatures in relationship, with duties toward each other, and all are called to participate in society. That means welcoming the stranger, forgiving debts, giving a home to the disabled, and allowing other people’s dreams and hopes for a better life to become our own. But subsidiarity ensures that we do not distort the idea of solidarity, which involves recognizing and respecting the autonomy of others as subjects of their own destiny. The poor are not the objects of our good intentions but the subjects of change. We do not just act for the poor but with them, as Benedict XVI so well explained in the second part of his 2007 encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (“God Is Love”).
  8. To dream of a different future we need to choose fraternity over individualism as our organizing principle. Fraternity, the sense of belonging to each other and to the whole of humanity, is the capacity to come together and work together against a shared horizon of possibility.
  9. Feverish consumerism breaks the bonds of belonging. It causes us to focus on our self-preservation and makes us anxious. Our fears are exacerbated and exploited by a certain kind of populist politics that seeks power over society. It is hard to build a culture of encounter, in which we meet as people with a shared dignity, within a throwaway culture which regards the elderly, the unemployed, the disabled, and the unborn as surplus to our well-being.
  10. Just as what separates me from my brother and sister is my (and their) spirit of self-sufficiency and superiority, so what unites us is our shared insufficiency, our mutual dependence on God and on each other.
  11. Calamities unmask our shared vulnerability and expose those false, superfluous securities around which we had organized our plans, routines, and priorities. They reveal our neglect of what nourishes and strengthens the life of the community, how we had shriveled within our bubbles of indifference and well-being.
  12. For in spite of the constant social erosions, there persists in all peoples reserves of fundamental values: the struggle for life from conception to natural death, the defense of human dignity, a love of freedom, a concern for justice and creation, the love of family and fiesta.
  13. This is why a Christian will always defend individual rights and freedoms but can never be an individualist. A Christian will love and serve her country with patriotic feeling, but cannot be merely a nationalist.
  14. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone.
  15. When the accumulation of wealth becomes our chief goal, whether as individuals or as an economy, we practice a form of idolatry that puts us in chains.

Who Are the Bishops Who Want to Deny People Communion?

Christopher White writes:

When Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the disgraced former papal nuncio to the United States, released an unprecedented and soon discredited letter in 2018 alleging Pope Francis’ complicity in covering up for former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s history of abuse, San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone came to Viganò’s defense.

Despite Viganò’s shocking call for Pope Francis’ resignation, Cordileone was joined by a number of U.S. bishops who bolstered the testimony of the former nuncio. Among them, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, all of whom issued personal statements or gave interviews echoing Cordileone’s praise of Viganò as a man of faith and integrity.

Today, those same bishops are also driving the controversial efforts aimed at pressing the U.S. bishops’ conference to draft a document that will have far sweeping effects to deny Communion to Catholic politicians who support pro-choice legislation….

Many of the bishops now leading the push to deny pro-choice Catholic politicians Communion have been interconnected through a web of conservative Catholic organizations resistant towards Pope Francis and favorable to former President Donald Trump and the Republican Party.

One of the primary organizations behind the resistance effort is the Napa Institute, which regularly holds high-end conferences that provide a platform to some of the pope’s most notorious critics. Attendees pay $2,600 in registration fees (plus hotel resort fees and travel expenses) to attend talks from high-ranking conservative bishops and priestsalong with politicians such as Sens. Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum, while attending wine and cigar receptions in Napa Valley.

One of the inspirations for the Napa Institute was now-retired Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who served as its inaugural ecclesiastical adviser and who has been among the most vocal prelates against President Joe Biden.

Included on Napa’s current ecclessiastical advisory board are Aquila, Cordileone, Gomez and Paprocki. Naumann is among those slated to take part in this summer’s conference, along with Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, who has repeatedly defied Pope Francis and the Vatican on the moral efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, endorsed a video claiming that one cannot be a faithful Catholic and a Democrat, and offered a prayer at the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington last December, which falsely alleged widespread election fraud.

You can read his full report here.

We Must Fight Racism and Defend Immigrants

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

via NCR:

Comparing the United States to a large family of mixed immigration status, panelists in a virtual discussion on May 25 said Catholics need to do more to combat racism and defend the dignity of immigrants.

“Human dignity is the bedrock. … It is a keystone for this conversation,” said Nichole Flores, a theologian at the University of Virginia, in the panel, titled “The Ethics of Immigration” and hosted by the Lumen Christi Institute. “[It] helps us to think about the purpose of a border, the purpose of a state authority, the purpose of human rights.”

Flores said Catholic tradition can offer a lot of wisdom to debates around immigration policy. Because the church is global, Catholic perspectives on immigration consider the needs of those in all nations.

The Catholic social teaching principles of preferential option for the poor and workers’ rights support protecting immigrants, she said. The Biblical story of the relationship between Ruth, a young widow from a foreign nation, and Naomi, her mother-in-law, gives an example of navigating intergenerational and intercultural tensions, Flores said.

The Catholic Church, however, hasn’t always taken its responsibility to fight racism and defend immigrants as seriously as it should, she said.

“One of the challenges we face as a church today, at every level, is that we’re a bunch of hypocrites,” Flores said. “We’re over here saying, ‘Every life matters in the womb.’ But we cannot say ‘Black lives matter.’ “

Juneteenth Becomes a Federal Holiday

via Washington Post:

President Biden on Thursday signed into law a measure that establishes Juneteenth as a federal holiday, taking advantage of sudden and broad bipartisan agreement to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States after years of debate and inaction.

In signing the measure — which resulted in an unexpected day off Friday for federal workers — Biden also used the occasion to advocate for more aggressive action on voting access and other racial equity measures that have been at the heart of his administration’s agenda.

“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. They embrace them,” Biden said in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. “Great nations don’t walk away. We come to terms with mistakes we made. And remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger.”

Christine Emba writes:

A cynic — or simply a realist — would remind us that symbolic change is not the same as substantive improvement. Anti-racist reading lists haven’t stopped Black Americans from being killed by the police. Corporate diversity, equity and inclusion workshops haven’t closed the racial wealth gap.

The Senate may have voted in favor of recognizing Juneteenth, but the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is still withering away waiting for the Senate to act. The For the People Act and its voting rights protections are all but dead. And some of the same senators who voted in favor of a new Black holiday are sponsoring legislation that would ban the teaching of our country’s racist history.

A new holiday won’t fix the material injustices that continue to fall most heavily on Black America: poverty, state violence, incarceration, environmental hazards, poor access to health care, a legacy of financial discrimination and limitations on political power. In fact, symbolic wins more often serve to let their champions off the hook. “Your national greatness, swelling vanity; … your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery,” Douglass said.

But symbols accomplish something, too.

The debates over statues, the fury over the New York Times’s 1619 Project, the Republican horror at the teaching of “critical race theory” in public schools should be signs that even the symbolic holds some value. If these smaller declarations didn’t have power, would they be seen as such a threat?