end of coervice liberalism?
Presidential elections often involve oddities and upsets. In 1992 I stood in an Ohio field
watching George Bush Sr's campaign train, Spirit of America, grind to a halt
and the president emerge to be greeted by a man dressed as a chicken - a recurrent and
effective tactic referencing his refusal to debate with Bill Clinton. Eight years later, I
sat in a labour union hall watching the returns from Florida flip to and fro between Al
Gore and Bush Jr only to be resolved by the US Supreme Court a month later in favour of
point of the nickname was to mark the Texan pronunciation of 'W', and it was in Waco,
Texas, at Baylor University, a few miles from Bush's Prairie Chapel Ranch, that for the
last three months I watched the intensifying drama of this year's presidential
campaign and its undoubtedly historic result.
election week was busy. On the eve of the vote I flew back to Waco from the annual meeting
of the American Catholic Philosophical Association in San Francisco, and later in the week
I took part in a public conversation on faith and politics with Robert George, McCormick
professor of jurisprudence at Princeton. On the Friday, I flew to Notre Dame University,
Indiana, for a conference of the Center for Ethics and Culture, where other speakers
included Alasdair Maclntyre, Mary Ann Glendon and Roger Scruton.
mention these names to give a sense of the regional, political and cultural range and
intensity of discussion I have been listening to - and the fact that much of it has been
with Christians, and specifically with Catholics. It is too early to give predictions -
and Donald Trump's fitful character prohibits them - but it is not too soon to give some
impressions of what is happening in America and how it may relate to opinions in its
press and pollsters got things as wrong as they did because they had little
understanding of and no feel for middle America; which is less a geographical than a
cultural designation. Head west or north of the Washington Beltway into Virginia or
Pennsylvania and one soon enters middle America, which extends largely
uninterrupted for over 2,500 miles all the way to the California valleys. It includes
thousands of towns and hundreds of cities, and now it is all shaded red, the colour of the
Republicans. Amid it, and on the coasts, lie a few heavily populated blue islands, as the
Democratic vote contracts into the major metropolises.
of a divided USA is obviously correct, but the commentators' assumption was
that traditional America would eventually follow the progressive trend of New York, Los
Angeles and other leading cities, or else rot away like the steel mills, car plants and
factories of the rust belt that runs from New York State to Wisconsin. That analysis is
now in question.
progressive liberal USA is aghast that an ignorant, oafish, misogynist should
have secured 60 per cent of the states, and is inclined to think this proves Hillary
Clinton's claim about millions of Americans being irredeemable deplorables.
But that misses the more lately point that many people voted for 'Thump in spite of his
obviously reprehensible character.
initial analysis by the Pew Research Center calculates that 52 per cent of Catholics
(rising to 60 per cent of white RCs) and 58 per cent of non-evangelical Protestants voted
for him; the figures for Clinton are 45 per cent and 39 per cent. Among white
evangelicals, it was 81 per cent to 16 per cent 'Trump also secured 58 per cent (to 37 per
cent) of white non-Hispanic voters, 49 per cent (to 45 per cent) of whites with college
degrees, and 53 per cent (to 43 per cent) of white women.
my impression from talking to lower- and middle-income people in Texas and elsewhere is
that they think Trump is rough and tough but discount the former in the hope that the
latter will enable him to take on vested political interests and halt, if not reverse, the
'progressive' social agenda.
the Presidential debates, he generally came off worse as regards knowledge and
temperament but Clinton conveyed an impression of entitlement, superiority and
condescension to those she regarded as morally unenlightened. A critical point came in
the final debate when the moderator asked: 'You have been quoted as saying that the foetus
has no constitutional rights. You also voted against a ban on late-term, partial-birth
abortions. Why?' To which she replied: 'I do not think the United States government
should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions?'
had said he would appoint pro-life justices to the supreme court and Clinton's
uncompromising reply elicited the fiery response, Well, I think it's terrible. If
you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the
baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby. Abortion
continues to divide America but there is evidence of a growing desire for restrictions and
some legal balancing of the rights of foetus and mother. This exchange suggested she
disregards that trend.
and her seeming intent to use the law to restrict the scope for religious conscientious
action cost her support among educated Christian& Catholic academics and others of my
acquaintance generally felt they could not vote for Trump but also lacked enthusiasm for
his opponent. My sense now, however, is that while they still doubt his capacity for
competent and caring leadership, they also feel there may be the possibility of political
the coastal cities, post-tribal Catholics tend to share the outlook of their social class,
but elsewhere among church-going Catholics - and increasingly among committed Catholic
college and university students -there is a turn towards moral conservatism in thought and
practice. For all those people, the defeat of Clinton represents hope for freedom from
has not gone unnoticed that Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and Kellyanne Conway - the
first woman to manage a successful presidential campaign - are both committed pro-life
Christians: Pence is a conservative evangelical and Conway a Catholic. The likely
leading cabinet members Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani are also, to some degree, in that
camp. These facts may be in the mind of the US Catholic bishops as they gather this week
for their Fall Assembly in Baltimore.
back at Notre Dame, an unexpected issue looms. In 2009, in response to opposition to the
decision to confer an honorary degree on Barack Obama, the good and well-intentioned ND
president, Fr John Jenkins, wrote to that year's graduates, 'Notre Dame has a long custom
of conferring honorary degrees on the President of the United States. It has never been
a political statement or an endorsement of policy. It is the University's expression of
respect for the leader of the nation and the Office of the President.'
that custom, which includes the recipient giving the commencement address to new
graduates, be maintained in respect of Donald Trump? And if it is not, can it later be
resumed in favour of some other candidate without that decision appearing as a political
statement or endorsement? This is not an issue that has yet attracted the attention of the
media, but it is just another awkward aspect of an extraordinary election that may change
the course of US history.
J. Newton Rayzor Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University, Texas, and
professor of philosophy in the University of St Andrews.