Catholics, each and every one of us, face the coming dilemma in the voting booth through the lens of our life experiences. My own is that of a Catholic mother of five, first, but also a psychologist concerned with the state of marriage today. Much of the focus of my work has concerned the causes and consequences of spousal abandonment: men and women who have extramarital affairs, abandon their marriage vows, and move on with the affair partner, either into remarriage or cohabitation.
This phenomenon, which plagues not only the culture at large but the Church, is a singular example of the narcissism of our time. It destroys nuclear and extended families, hurts children (whether their hurt is apparent to us or not, it exists), and deepens the cynicism toward monogamous, permanent marriage currently held by young adults, in particular.
It is worth asking ourselves at what may be lowest point yet in this miserable 2016 election cycle, just what behavior constitutes “beyond the pale” – not only in our candidates for public office, but in our families, our communities, and our churches.
The rise of Donald Trump is not an accident or a bump in the road for conservatism. His crass demeanor and perverse sexual behaviors are simply a reflection of us – a nation that has for too long ignored the real harm caused by adultery, divorce, and pornography. In our failure to take these matters seriously for decades, we conservatives and Christians – perhaps more than any other demographic – hold great responsibility for this mess.
To almost all of us, voting for Hillary was always out of the question. Those who also considered a vote for Trump impossible from the beginning have, with no small amount of sadness, endured erroneous (if sincere) criticism – and sometimes Trump-like abuse – from some of “our very own,” that our failure to overlook Trump’s grave faults was a vote for Hillary.
But for pro-life #NeverTrumpers, there was never a question about which of these two nominees might serve that cause in the long term. The tragedy of abortion is but one horrendous manifestation of an ongoing crisis of sexual morality. As Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore put the issue succinctly: “To be pro-life means to say to the ethic of Margaret Sanger *and* the ethic of Howard Stern: #Never.”
When did the party – and more importantly the Church – lose sight of the central importance of sexual and marital integrity in the lives of individuals, and especially in those tasked with leading us? Yes, we’re not “electing the pope” – we’re electing the leader and representative of our country to the world.
Jobs and other economic issues should be important to a country because they are a means to an end: healthy, stable family life. National security is important because we have a nation of families to protect. Stable family life exists when men and women behave like adults, put their children first, and keep the promises that matter most.
Was it not enough for Christians to know that Trump laid waste to two marriages and boasted of his infidelities with other married women in order to view him as ineligible for the highest office in the land? If such behavior is no longer a disqualifier of our nominees for president, does it not also become irrelevant in our homes and in our communities?
One wonders why it took footage of Trump spewing his vile, twisted thoughts about women – the gist of which any interested reader could have discerned from the countless articles written this past year, to say nothing of Trump’s own books – for some Christian groups to firmly denounce him?
Is it rational to pin any hopes at all on the leadership of such a man? When did we lose sight of that timeless principle: the use of nefarious means to achieve a worthy end (for instance, a solid SCOTUS appointee – itself a gamble) is not only misguided, but is bound to be unsuccessful in the long term. To judge by recent polls, it looks like it will fail even in the short term.
It seems that our ability to be scandalized by sexual behavior now hinges on whether that behavior is considered by the culture at large to be “consensual.” But the men, women, and children who are victims of adulterous affairs between two consenting adults cannot consent. Adults upon whom an unwanted divorce is forced do not consent.
The 10-year-old boy who happens upon porn one evening (and goes back, again and again) doesn’t consent. I suspect the young drug-addicted women in the strip clubs Trump employs at his hotels don’t really give their consent, if we’re being honest. When did our modern, contrived notions of sexual consent replace a common desire for truth, integrity, goodness and the moral well being of others?
I suspect it was around the time conservatives – and Catholics, in particular – removed sexual morality from its rightful place in the list of national priorities: front and center.