I am repeating last week’s thought experiment, this time for Hillary Clinton. Like last time, I’ll assume Clinton is a serious political leader. I will assume she wins November’s election. I will assume she follows through on her acceptance speech agenda. I will even assume she is successful in implementing her proposed policies. These are all big “ifs,” but they allow us to imagine America under the leadership of Hillary Clinton, and to compare that image with Catholic Social Teaching (CST).
Based on Clinton’s own words, we can expect the following;
In Foreign Policy: We can expect continued war (especially air war and drone war) and occupation aimed at nation building and regime change. We can also expect more war against ISIS and other terrorist organizations. We can expect support for allies, and special support for Israel, with no stated concern for the Palestinians or their supporters. We can expect continued tense relations with Russia. We can expect trade tensions with China. But we can also expect strong efforts at diplomatic solutions, as with Iran.
The first of these expectations is clearly out of step with Catholic Social Teaching, as almost all Catholic leaders opposed the invasion of Iraq and other similar attempts at regime change or nation building. Most of the other elements are also more or less in conflict with CST too, except Clinton’s preference for diplomatic agreements over confrontation.
Catholic Social Teaching has also long shown a major concern for the relation between the advanced industrial nations and the developing world. On this significant issue, Clinton (like Trump) was totally silent during her speech. Her concern about globalization’s impact focuses, not on developing nations, but on the US. We can expect her to fight for our middle class, but not against global poverty. In this respect, both Clinton and Trump talk about solving terror without solving poverty, as if terror has a military solution—a position Pope Francis has soundly rejected.
On Public Safety and Social Harmony: Here Clinton promised many things: no wall with Mexico, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, reform of the criminal justice system to build trust in communities and defend rights, common sense gun reforms, no ban on any religion or religious group, comprehensive immigration reform, and protection for the right to choose abortion. Except for this last, most of Clinton’s promises match Catholic Social Teaching. On other “culture war” issues where we could expect more conflicts with CST, she was mostly silent.
Clinton’s promises on immigration are especially supportive of CST. The Church regards migration “for a better life” as a human right, a concept unknown to Trump based on his words.
On Economics. Based on her words, we can expect many initiatives to reduce income inequality. Clinton called on Wall Street, corporations, and the very rich to begin “paying their fair share”—which sounds like higher taxes for the 1%. She also promised to end tax breaks and loopholes and collect taxes from corporations that outsource jobs. We can expect a “living wage” minimum wage. We can expect large government investments to create jobs (she promised the largest investment since World War II, which seemed to imply New Deal-style public works jobs). We can expect easier credit for small businesses.
All this fits (somewhat roughly) with Catholic Social Teaching’s long-standing critique of “unbridled capitalism,” its calls for income equality and even the redistribution of wealth (Pope Francis labels income inequality “the worst of all social ills”). This contrasts with Trump, who relied entirely on unchecked market forces to improve the economy, and promised to reduce taxes for the wealthy.
On Climate Change. Saying “I believe in science,” Clinton promised to fight climate change and in the process create many new jobs in clean energy. This contrasts with Trump’s total silence about climate change. Clinton thus supports the same perspective as Catholic Social Teaching in general. But she failed to address the specific concerns of Pope Francis in his major encyclical “Laudato Si,” in which he linked climate change to nearly all global and social unrest, including global poverty and terror. In short, Clinton is against climate change while Trump ignores it—but neither of them connects the dots to our global situation they way Francis has.
On Social Welfare and the Safety Net: Based on Clinton’s words, we can expect more good paying jobs, good schools for all, tuition free college for middle class Americans and debt-free college for all, more training for people to learn trades, and an expansion of Social Security. This contrasts with Trump, who said almost nothing about policies regarding jobs, student debt, poverty, social security, etc. Rather, his speech implied that he expects the unbridled forces of the market to resolve all social problems. Catholic Social Teaching, meanwhile, has long rejected this idea, which Pope Francis himself has referred to as a fraud. So in this contrast Clinton’s positions on social welfare are a closer match with CST.
On the Supreme Court: Trump offered a generic promise to name more conservative justices to the Supreme Court, but Clinton was much more specific. With Clinton, we can expect justices prepared to defend Roe v Wade, expand voting rights, and reverse Citizens United—in short, the most “progressive” SCOTUS in a generation. From the point of view of Catholic Social Teaching, this would be a mixed blessing, raising the prospect of the reinforcing Roe v Wade, but at the same time holding the prospect of many decisions promoting the advancement of a freer, more just society.
In short, the America we can imagine under Clinton mixes many ideas congenial to Catholic Social Teaching (especially on issues like inequality, immigration, and social welfare), some other issues where she simply remains silent (like climate change’s global impact, and third world development), and some issues (like war and abortion) where her position conflicts implicitly or explicitly with Catholic Social Teaching.
Compared to my Trump posting, I believe my assumptions this time are a bit less problematic. While I do not find Trump a serious leader, I do find Clinton a potentially strong leader and I do expect her to win. But, given Washington’s gridlock, I doubt that she will succeed in achieving many of her goals, though she will undoubtedly pursue them vigorously. Yet it is still instructive to understand exactly what Clinton (and Trump) are proposing for our country, and how it fits--or does not fit--with the propositions of our faith.© Bernard F. Swain PhD 2016