Peggy Noonan, once a Ronald Reagan speechwriter, now a Wall Street Journal columnist, wrote a few weeks ago about that “2016 moment” — the moment when you realize something dramatic is happening in politics, one with uncertain implications.
Various versions of the moment involve cataclysmic and even apocalyptic thoughts about what’s ahead. There are often tears involved in said moment. Or over-the-counter anesthesia.
Interestingly, during the same week that Donald Trump won the Indiana primary and the path appeared clear for him to be the Republican nominee for president, Pope Francis talked in his Friday morning homily about Christians not anesthetizing pain.
According to the Vatican radio translation, he said: “Pain is pain, but if lived through with joy and hope it will open the door for you to the joy of a new being. This image of the Lord should give us great hope amidst our difficulties: difficulties that often are awful, horrible difficulties that can even make us doubt our faith. … But with joy and hope we journey forward because after this tempest a new man arrives, just like with a woman giving birth. And Jesus tells us that this is a lasting joy and hope that will not go away.”
So I wouldn’t recommend drowning out the sounds of Trump — or anyone else’s political rallies. Alarming, sure. Shocking, not at all.
For anyone shocked that Donald Trump looks to be one of the main choices for president this election year, don’t be. Look around. We’ve been distracted to death.
Death of political parties? Death of the republic? Death of the soul? Some or all of the above? It might be much simpler than that, and one that requires a widespread examination of conscience.
It was about eight years ago now when we were facing the prospect of the most “pro-choice” (as they say) president we’ve ever had. (Though Bill Clinton vetoing the ban on partial-birth abortion was certainly a brutal moment in itself, he did cover it up with language about “safe, legal and rare,” though to a country that poll numbers suggest only reluctantly supports legal abortion, mostly having very little idea of just how much the Supreme Court made legal in 1973.)
In one interview, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput pointed out that it was a somewhat shocking that the Democratic party had become the standard-bearer for legal abortion given how many Catholics are in it. Remember the days of Catholic schools getting out early to campaign for John F. Kennedy? And it’s been a long time now since the late Democratic Governor Robert P. Casey challenged his party on the issue. (Congressman Dan Lipinski of Illinois soldiers on, but without many elected allies.)
This poison in our midst is not just another political issue, although that’s the way it looks during a political campaign — one that we give the impression can be dealt with the right adviser and language. Change the narrative, they say. Get the right messaging.
So presumably if Donald Trump doesn’t fall into a criminalizing women trap again, the problem is taken care of for Republican voters? Maybe that’s enough for some, but it would really constitute yet another contribution to the problem.
Donald Trump, of course, has — even during the Republican primary — admitted he’s a fan of Planned Parenthood, the premier provider of abortion in the United States, one with such a stranglehold over the Democratic party that this White House caused the Little Sisters of the Poor to go to the Supreme Court. (According to reports, Planned Parenthood was in the room when a meaningless “accommodation” was crafted that was supposed to make the Obamacare regulation that makes even these women religious who serve the elderly poor provide abortion-drug, contraception, and female sterilization coverage to their employees.)
Over the past few election cycles, you’ve had so many Republican candidates you needed an “undercard” or “kiddie table” debate — both an insult and an absurdity. Potential presidential nominees relegated to a debate before most working Americans would make it home, long-forgotten history before the primetime debate was over and done with.
Substance and seriousness often was cast aside for entertainment and but one candidate in the mix is an expert there. And so it is that Donald Trump would come out on top.
Don’t get me wrong, I was among those looking up how to change party registration this past week. But it would be wrong to pretend the problem with American politics started the day reality TV took over our presidential election in the person of Donald Trump.
This has been a long road, one where our sense of stewardship of not just the republic, but life, liberty and, indeed, the pursuit of happiness, has diminished with each season of “American Idol” and Kardashian series.
I confess I try to write often about the persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria for selfish reasons: they remind me what great lengths people will go to be who they say they are and preserve that which is most important. Here at home, there are people — maybe you’re reading this right now — who do the hard work of stewardship. They make life plausible for others. They befriend strangers and make countless sacrifices to mentor them. They walk with the sick and the suffering. They comfort the dying and weep with the grieving.
These are the people who don’t make headlines, who make things better. A president will never get that accomplished on his own; that’s never been his role.
I happened to be standing outside the flagship Planned Parenthood at Margaret Sanger place hailing a cab as the news broke that Ted Cruz was dropping out. The backdrop seemed to underscore the reality that “making America great again” will never happen without eliminating the mainstreaming of abortion from our midst.
Activists in recent years have gone from euphemistically referring to it as choice and freedom and even health, to praising and even bragging about it. Mercifully, that may be a last gasp of desperation for a movement that sees people posting their sonogram pictures on Facebook.
We could say “this shouldn’t happen in the United States of America in 2016” about a lot of things. Letting women think they have no other option than to end the life of the child in their womb has got to be chief among them. It doesn’t get more fundamental.
And as much as “Scandal” and every other glamorous outlet tells you there’s nothing to be ashamed of, Americans should be. Don’t shame women, no. Instead acknowledge that women and families suffer because we pretend abortion is freedom. Help them choose life and flourish!
And as long as that lie about abortion and freedom persists, and our government doubles down on it while political rhetoric makes it even worse — pouring salt into wounds and making it the third rail no one wants to go near — expect more of the same and worse.
The good news is this political moment is an opportunity. Turn off the spectacle and live your life being who you say you are. Take this time to support a crisis pregnancy center or maternity home or program that helps single mothers and struggling families.
This will make America great. People on the frontlines of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Raise a family who treasures politics as a noble pursuit that preserves that which they have been weaned. Stop pretending a president will somehow fix it. Stop letting ideology or a passing campaign anesthetize things for a moment in time before reality inevitably cancels the distracting fantasy.
If your 2016 moment hurts, challenges, brings you to do something different, you might be exactly where you should be. Embrace it and look locally to see what good you can do to renew parish and community life. Let this be a moment for choosing enduring things — the good, true and the beautiful — rather than lamenting the passing presidential political scene and others will follow your lead.