The Catholic Thing
Indignant Desert Birds Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 07 October 2013

I don’t know anybody – not one single person – who isn’t upset by the spectacle of incivility now ongoing in America’s national politics. This is not to say that many on either side (and there are many more than two “factions”) don’t believe themselves justified in blaming the other. Yet the phrase I hear from most people is, “a pox on both their houses.”

It is, perhaps, some comfort to recall the tenor of nineteenth-century politics, as, for instance, in the Election of 1800, a raucous and vitriolic battle between two “sainted” Founders, Adams vs. Jefferson. Jefferson’s publicist, James T. Callender, called President Adams (Jefferson’s erstwhile friend) a “hideous hermaphroditical character,” and a whoremonger to boot. On Adams’ side (though without his express approval), the New England Courant claimed that in Jeffersonian America: “Murder, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced.”

After Jefferson’s victory, Callender turned on him (when no patronage job was offered) by exposing the Sally Hemings Affair, and Abigail Adams wrote acidly to Jefferson that the “serpent you cherished and warmed, bit the hand that nourished him.” With such vipers loosed, she scolded the president: “all distinctions between vice and virtue are leveled, all respect for character is lost.”

Don’t we know it!

So the temptation may be to say: It was ever thus. But that’s untrue.

Probably every one of us (of a certain age) can recall, in some decades past, either saying or hearing it said (an earlier version of the “pox” comment above) that there’s just no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, who since World War II at least through Watergate seemed like Tweedledee and Tweedledum; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Consider these quotes:

Our nation has entered into an age in which Divine Providence has permitted the genius of man. . .

 [I]t is our prayerful hope that the people, whom we have so faithfully served, will renew the mandate to continue our service and that Almighty God may grant us the wisdom to succeed. . .
Slander, defamation of character, deception and dishonesty are as truly transgressions of God’s commandments, when resorted to by men in public life, as they are for all other men. . . .
The source? It’s the platform of the Democratic Party in 1952.

Alice discusses politics (illustration by Sir John Tenniel, 1871)

And what about this pithy gem?

We hold that government, and those entrusted with government, should set a high example of honesty, of justice, and unselfish devotion to the public good; that they should labor to maintain tranquility at home and peace and friendship with all the nations of the world.
You guessed it: the GOP platform of 1952. And eight years later, although some philosophical differences are apparent, the platforms are nearly interchangeable – so much so that the GOP, eschewing partisanship, notes that: “We have no wish to exaggerate differences between ourselves and the Democratic Party.” And that was because there weren’t very many differences.

And this was a good thing, in that it promoted civility and a deliberate sense about shared goals. So what changed? Take your pick: Vietnam and the rise of the “intellectual” Left, Watergate, Roe v. Wade, the Iran hostage crisis and Carter’s malaise, Reagan (a man of civility who addled his opponents), the impeachment of Clinton, Bush v. Gore, the decline of faith, and – oddly – 9/11, which was briefly unifying.

It’s no exaggeration now to say that Tweedledee and Tweedledum have gone to war, nor is it anything but a certainty that if and when the GOP regains the presidency while controlling one house of Congress that the Democrats will take the same obstructionist positions they now identify as Republican mendacity.

It’s fair to say this weakens America’s position in the world. We all sense this, but it isn’t just a passing matter of Mr. Obama’s ongoing fecklessness. A Republican president is likely to be just as feeble, since his or her constituents no longer have the kind of trust in leadership sufficient to endorse global action with anything approaching democratic consensus. Probably true too of ambitious domestic policies. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. once quipped, what we have now is: “Too much pluribus, not enough unum.”

So people call for new political parties of libertarianism or of religious conservatism or of socialism or of isolationism. The Electoral College, i.e., the Constitution, will always make third, fourth (or however many additional) parties impractical in American presidential politics (every election decided in the House?), but such clarions believe that unity is now an illusion and all that’s left is a kind of guerrilla politics. No common ground. No common good.

Is this the legacy of multiculturalism?

Here’s a formula to consider: multiculturalism = deculturalization = disequilibrium = disintegration.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre . . . That line and the title of this column come from W.B. Yeats The Second Coming, a poem grown more prophetic every year since he wrote it in 1919.

And I can’t help but wonder if this kind of analysis, mine not Yeats’, isn’t what Pope Francis has been offering in the context of Catholicism and the world. He is calling us back to the core mission of the Church, which is bringing Christ’s love to the world.

Our American mission is different, of course: “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” But perhaps we can all agree that we’ll succeed only if we recover at least a modicum of civility.

That recovery depends on just how much deculturalization has already happened.

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National ReviewThe Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (15)Add Comment
written by Thomas .C. Coleman, Jr., October 07, 2013
Thank you for this gem Dr. Miner. The fact that mulitculturalism is an insidious device invedted to instill the belief that there is no such thing as truth and that therefore there are nor truths to defend or value systems that are better in the eyes of God is utterly lost on those who imagine that it is an innocnet way to promote peace and toleracne. It goes hand in hand with other distortions desinged to instill self-hatred in the remnant. At Mass this morning the celebradnt mentioned St. Franics of Assissi going on one of the Crusades, which struggles he reported were the attmpt of the Catholic Church to forcibly convert Muslims. The Chaldeans and other Mideast Christians present were not amused. Now, there is an aspect to this that might go unnoticed by some who are detached from the possibility of having to militarily defend what is left of Christendom. I am referring to the vulnerablity of those who really believe that there is nothing worth defending; you see, they have no motive to not to cooperate with an enemy, since they think that the we have no enemies that are not of our own making. This time the enemy has infeted the Church rather than just the diplomatic and inteligence services of the US and UK. Of course all of that is trivila compared to the loss of souls.
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, October 07, 2013
In any mature democracy, there will always be two parties (or coalitions of parties:,the friends of corruption and the friends of sedition: those who hope to profit from existing abuses and those who hope to profit from the disaffection those abuses excite.
written by Graham, October 07, 2013
Since I'm one of those Catholics that cringes at phrases such as "civilization of love," I would have written "Christ's Salvation" or "Sacrifice" not "love." Why? Just before Election Day 2012 I listened to the pastor acknowledge that the Church and the parish were "divided," and defaulted to our "unity" in "love and prayer." Sorry, but that is capitulation to the horrors of our culture no matter how you say it... Christ's Sacrifice is a specific, concrete, historical event; "anyone can "love."
written by Mack Hall, October 07, 2013
Yes, but we have the Khardassians, professional football, and television.
written by GKC, October 07, 2013
Excellent. This picks up on an argument I have been having with friends about the culture being everything, and having lost it. The country lacks strong common bonds, cultural bonds, that we once had. The only serious uniter today is a fleeting (and increasingly cras) commercial culture. Seriously, these are the ties that bind? I don't think so. I predict within a generation a serious secession movement that this nation-State will have to confront.
written by Ted Seeber, October 07, 2013
The level of deculturalization is already so low that civil war seems inevitable.

This will get worse before it gets better.
written by Chris in Maryland, October 07, 2013
Meanwhile, those in control throughout the "Roman" Catholic Church maintain their campaign to eradicate Roman Catholic culture, insisting that the Church's children drink only from the river of forgetfulness...

What is the "culture" of the Roman Catholic Church in the US?
written by Matt, October 07, 2013
Seems to me that the problem runs far deeper than politics; for Multiculturalism destroys only a nation ( as tragic as that can be) - Multi-consciousness destroys souls and entire civilizations.

The below quotes are not Adams or Jefferson but suggest the deep well we are in as these differing voices' "political platforms" also are very similar.

What is the most serious evils?

Pope Francis:

“The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old.

The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don't even look for them any more. “

...And I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

What is the biggest spiritual danger we currently face?

Rev Billy Graham

There was a headline recently about more Americans tailoring religion to fit their needs; mixing a little Christianity with the religions of the world. It is called a 'trendy faith.' Society does not object to this kind of faith. We have dismissed God, resulting in skewed thinking and consciences that are desensitized to right and wrong, basing moral decisions solely on what 'fits in' with our individual preferences. I watch the news daily and my heart is burdened. When I hear despair in people's voices, when I see the turmoil on their faces, it tells me that hopelessness abounds. This is my reason for writing the book, to proclaim that there is a way out and it is through Jesus Christ who came to save us from self-destruction. People go on a search for anything but God. Many people do not want to face the truth of the Gospel. They water it down to a myth, causing young and old to doubt the authority of the Bible. We as a nation have turned our back on God who blessed our country because its fundamental principles were grounded in the Word of God. People want designer religion, but I pray that they instead will submit to their Creator who longs to become their God and Savior. He has designed eternal life in Heaven for all those who receive His salvation.
written by Deacon Jim Stagg, October 07, 2013
Dear Thomas Coleman,

When comments are made, it might be wise to document from where they were obtained. Case in point:
"At Mass this morning the celebradnt mentioned St. Franics of Assissi going on one of the Crusades, which struggles he reported were the attmpt of the Catholic Church to forcibly convert Muslims. The Chaldeans and other Mideast Christians present were not amused."

The term "forcibly" and "Christians present" and "were not amused" seem to be unusual, if verifiable.

Francis of Assisi went on his own to convert the Sultan, who refused conversion, but allowed Franciscans the opportunity to care for the holy Christian sites in and around Jerusalem. methinks there were not many Chaldean or other Christians present at the time Francis met the Sultan near the head of the Nile river (hint, that was Egyptian territory). Whether the Copts were amused or not might be another line of inquiry.

Thank you, Dr. Miner, for this perspective. I fear that not only is our American culture at risk, but perhaps most of Western civilization......we are now becoming very un-civilized, as you point out.

This, the anniversary of Lepanto, is a good time to reconsider multi-culturism.

written by Jack,CT, October 07, 2013
Brad, thanks for a true GEM, THIS kind of article reminds
one why I read here every day, GOd Bless,
written by Sir Mark, October 07, 2013
If you believe that anyone can love, then you have never really tried it.
written by Seanachie, October 07, 2013
Your thought provoking piece, Brad, reminded me of Pat Buchanan's, Death of the West, in which Pat made the case that Western civilization (including its religions) is dying in Europe and the U.S. He contends that diminishing birth rates, loss of morals, and un-checked immigration are eroding the foundations of Western Judeo-Christian based cultures and the societies built upon them. Buchanan warns that disintegration of our (U.S.) culture does not bode well for political and religious freedom in the future. Although I like to think that our best days as a nation are in front of us (especially for my children and grandchildren), your piece and Pat's book are sobering wake-up calls.
written by Thomas .C. Coleman, Jr., October 08, 2013
Dear Deacon Stagg,
Oh, my goodness what confusion I ceated. I am sorry. I was referring to the memebers of our congregation who are from the Mideast, where they suffered under Muslim persecution. Tehy were in attendacne at the Mass when the fasel chacterization of the crusades was made It is my direct expereince that many such people are outraged by the depictions of Muslims as having been the victims of history. Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of the Crusades, neither Pope urban II nor anywho called for later crusades imagined that it was possilbe to convert the entire Muslim world to Catholciism. The celebrant's assertion that purpose of the Crusades was forcibe conversion Mulims was an outright distortion of the historical record.
written by jplsr, October 08, 2013
In the world of slander and counter-slander, it is wise to step carefully to keep your shoes clean. In speaking of Jefferson, you cite Callender's "exposing of the Sally Hemings affair." His slander has no basis in fact. There is no evidence that Jefferson was intimate with her. Sally was the property of his wife, and indeed, was his wife's half-sister, thanks to the philandering of her father. Thus the accusation is that Jefferson committed incest. No one can approve of the institution of slavery, but it was part of the world-wide structure of society everywhere except in Christian Europe. Within that structure, Hemings was given special protection and advantages because she was "family." A panel of experts in American History, including some who were anti-Jefferson, examined the much-touted DNA testing of Hemings relatives a few years ago, and found that it did not point to Jefferson. Rather, it pointed to a rapscallion relative who visited Monticello from time to time. The continuation of the Callender libel in the present day is the work of left-wing activists who seek to undermine the character of the Founding Fathers.
written by Suzana, October 08, 2013
As a teenager in the late 60's, I remember my mother commenting on the state of politics in the USA during a presidential campaign. She was an historian and teacher. Her remark that caused me to ponder and often comes to mind was, "Where are all the Statesmen?" To her mind, those men who had staked their reputations on speaking out in the Public Square, promoting the values and qualities of a culture that gives rise to a great nation, seemed to be absent from politics. My mother believed that professional politicians did not make good presidents. Instead, she trusted those whose ambition to serve was sparked by their discovery of truth and the knowledge of the merits and moments of mankind that shine with beauty and excellence. The good that statesmen bring to politics, especially in electing the leaders of our nation, is to be the clarion voice of reason. Sadly, the remark that my mother made still is significant. Statesmen have disappeared from politics, partly because of the inordinate power of the media to urge
the electorate to vote with their emotions, not their intellect. At the same time, I believe our statesmen (and they still exist in the Public Square) absent themselves from politics... because the power of the media to destroy the truth, would render their efforts in that direction futile, at best.

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