Base on Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, it is possible to project the impact of his proposed policies on American Life.
Based on Trump’s own words, we can expect the following;
In Foreign Policy: We can expect less war and occupation aimed at nation building and regime change. We can also expect more war against ISIS and other terrorist organizations, and more conflict with Iran. We can expect special support for Israel, with no stated concern for the Palestinians or their supporters.
We can expect expanded defense spending to “rebuild our depleted military.” We can expect a trade war with China.
The first of these expectations is clearly in line with Catholic Social Teaching, as almost all Catholic leaders opposed the invasion of Iraq and other similar attempts at regime change or nation building. All the other elements are more or less in conflict with Catholic Social Teaching, which has expressed concern for the Palestinian people, and shown a preference for diplomatic agreements (like the one with Iran) 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, Trump was totally silent during his speech. His “America First” agenda is concerned about globalization’s impact, not on developing nations, but only on the US.
On Public Safety and Social Harmony: Based on Trump’s “Law and Order” rhetoric, we can expect more emphasis on police power and its militarization, with no attention to the problem of excessive police force. Trump also expressed no particular concern about (let alone a solution) for the continuing problem of mass incarceration.
We can expect some kind of ban on immigrants (and even tourists from France?) from many countries, based either on their faith or on some other type of profiling. We can expect to see a “Fortress America” with a wall along its southern border, and tightly guarded entry from all sources. We can expect that many families would be torn apart by deportations due to visa problems and undocumented legal status.
We can expect full support for the expansion of gun ownership and markets under Trump, who boasted of his support from the National Rifle Association. We can expect churches to have a tax-exempt license to engage in partisan politics. And we can expect the culture war issues to be largely ignored, with the possible exception of LGBTQ rights.
On nearly all of these issues Catholic Social Teaching takes positions significantly different from Trump’s. This is especially true with regard to Trump’s positions on immigration, as shown by the recent verbal clash between Trump and Pope Francis regarding the U.S.-Mexican border, in which Francis proclaimed that it was “not Christian” to build walls preventing migration. The Church regards migration “for a better life” as a human right, a concept unknown to Trump based on his words.
On Economics. Trump proposed reducing taxes for everyone. Thus we can expect that (1) rich Americans will pay less tax, and that (2) income inequality will become even worse than it is now.
We can expect that markets will be unchecked under a president committed to growth at all costs. We can also expect unchecked industrial practices under a president who opposed regulations. Finally, we can expect exploding carbon emissions once Trump “lifts restrictions” on energy businesses and coal, oil, fracking, and nuclear energy go unregulated (while renewable like sources like wind, solar, etc got no mention). We can expect worsened environmental damages and pollution in the absence of regulations on environmental impacts.
All this flies against 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”), and conflicts as well with its more recent support for environmentalism as “care of creation.”
On Climate Change. In his acceptance speech, Trump was totally silent about climate change; on other occasions, he has been a climate change denier. So we can expect, not only little US initiative to combat and adapt to climate change, but we can even expect the promotion of policies that will accelerate climate change, such as the removal of restrictions on energy practices. This is clearly contrary to Catholic Social Teaching in general and to 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.
On Social Welfare and the Safety Net: Trump said almost nothing about policies regarding jobs, student debt, poverty, crime, mass incarceration, social security, etc. But his speech implied, and earlier speeches have made explicit, that he expects an unregulated market to generate “trillions of dollars” in a free market expansion that would automatically fix all these problems. In short, Trump presents himself not as a neo-conservative, not as a neo-liberal, but as a classic laissez-faire liberal capitalist, who 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.
On the Supreme Court: Trump has promised to name strict constructionists to the Supreme Court, so we can imagine the likely outcome: a SCOTUS more conservative than any we’ve had in our lifetime. From the point of view of Catholic Social Teaching, this would be a mixed blessing, raising the prospect of the reversal of Roe V Wade, but at the same time holding the prospect of many decisions inhibiting the advancement of a freer, more just society.
In short, the American we can imagine under Trump mixes a few ideas congenial to Catholic Social Teaching (he is less combative about international relations), some other issues where he simply remains silent (like climate change, income inequality, and third world development), and many more issues where his position conflicts implicitly or explicitly with Catholic Social Teaching.
Personally, I believe my assumptions at the outset are highly problematic. I do not find Trump a serious leader, I do not expect him to win, I doubt that he would succeed in achieving his goals even if he actually pursued them. Yet it is still instructive to understand exactly what the man is proposing for our country, and how it fits--or does not fit--with the propositions of our faith.© Bernard F. Swain PhD 2016