As if further proof were necessary, the results of the recent U.S. elections have forcefully confirmed what we already knew: the United States is a deeply divided nation. And so is the Catholic Church in this country.
On November 7 – four days after Election Day – almost every reputable news organization reported that the Democratic candidate and former vice president, Joe Biden, had won enough electoral votes to be declared the next occupant of the White House.
But the Republican incumbent, President Donald Trump, has yet to concede the election. Without any evidence, he and his diehard supporters are claiming that the voting was “rigged” to help the Democrats “steal the election.”
At the time of this writing, the ongoing tabulation shows that Biden has received just over 77 million popular votes, while Trump has garnered a bit more than 72 million. A five million vote difference seems an awful lot, but not when we’re talking nearly 150 million total.
The Democrats had hoped for a much, much wider margin. They wanted (indeed they needed) a landslide to argue that the American people had repudiated Trump’s dark and divisive politics and rhetoric.
But there was no repudiation. Some 72 million Americans actually told the rest of the nation that they approve of the way the president has conducted himself and conducted the nation’s affairs the past four years.
Various polls suggest that the divide could be even worse among Catholics. Some show that white members of our Church actually voted predominantly for Trump. This is a problem. A big problem. Especially when one considers that Catholics for Trump and Catholics for Biden are basically living like separated spouses under the same religious roof. They are not talking to each other. Or when they are, it is usually in harsh and accusatory tones.
Biden, who is a lifelong Catholic, says he wants to heal this gaping wound. But how can he possibly do that? Most Catholics who voted for Trump have excommunicated the former vice-president because he does not oppose legalized abortion. They, and the rest of Trump’s supporters, are also angry just at the thought that the man who “stole” the election now wants to heal the nation.
So, what is to be done? More specifically, what can Catholics do to move this forward?
First, we need to change our tone and rhetoric. We need to stop demonizing each other and refuse to magnify, retweet, “like” or forward personal attacks on either candidate or their supporters. That includes things that are factually untrue or unsubstantiated.
Second, we need to find a way to talk to one another about our concerns. Many families are divided by their political choices. Some – perhaps most – have decided to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the living room, refrain from mentioning anything pertaining to politics and make believe we’re all one big happy family. Sadly, we are not – not as a Church or as a nation.
Third, let’s finally admit that the U.S. political system is not working. At least not the way it should. That it took nearly a whole week to count enough of the ballots to determine a winner of the presidential election is a sign that all is not well.
Leaving aside Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of vote rigging, we should all be able to agree that the cumbersome, antiquated and extremely slow process – actually 50 different processes – that we witnessed this year was not the most shining moment of a people that has been indoctrinated into believing that theirs is the greatest democracy on earth.
In fact, the history of democracy in the United States is that of trying to severely limit democracy and who has the right to vote. From the very beginning of the nation, when only white male landowners were allowed to cast a ballot, there has been a constant struggle to expand the electorate.
Each state has different voting laws, deadlines, types of ballots, methods of tabulation and so forth. And then there is the uncomfortable matter of the Electoral College. Each time the electoral vote is close, the party whose candidate ends up on the losing end raises suspicions of irregularities or even begins a new drumbeat to abolish the Electoral College. The party whose candidate ends up winning is usually not interested in addressing either of these concerns.
Perhaps this year can be different. And maybe Democrats and others who supported Biden (especially Catholics) can actively partner with Republicans and Trump supporters to begin an honest and respectful national discussion aimed at devising reforms that will ensure more transparency, fewer chances of irregularity and – dare I say it? – a fresh look at the usefulness (or not) of the Electoral College.
And, finally, we need to pray – especially for President Trump. We need to pray that he is enlightened and endowed with the good grace to be part of the healing process, rather than the tearing apart of the nation.
Certainly, if there is evidence of voter fraud he – we all – should support every means to verify and clarify. And if the margins of victory are razor thin in key electoral districts, no one should be afraid of recounting the votes.
But we need to stop the harsh and hateful rhetoric, accusations and recriminations. Within the country and within the Church. It won’t be easy after these past four years, during which, one way or another, we have all been drawn into thinking that we have a right – at least at times – to speak our minds without having to abide by political correctness.
No, it won’t be easy.
But what is the alternative? If the United States does not have some sort of national reconciliation, the future will be bleak. And dangerous.
Robert Mickens is the English editor for La Croix International website.