It is weeks before an American general election, the results of which no one can reliably predict. As a (canceled) media hack, I could write “toldja so” summaries for any result, but I would have to know the result first. The alternative drafts would look very foolish.
And yet, the difference could come down to a few hundred disputed ballots, in one state or another. Or might not, if my own (foreign) hunch is sound. I think Trump will win, by a good margin, but I am working on assumptions about the electorate that may well be obsolete.
For this (or any) election is not only a referendum on the candidates. It is also a referendum on the voters. We learn, from the result, what they think important and – almost as important – what they will discount. Opinion polls are flighty, and I have never trusted them; when he votes, the citizen is playing for keeps.
This does not mean he is voting intelligently. As a Canadian, I found it hard to believe that Justin Trudeau could be re-elected. It wasn’t just the “blackface” scandal. He was, in every policy he advanced, undermining Canadian economy and society, and doing it in a way that was hardly invisible. Yet by smearing the opposition, with the support of heavily biased media, he deflected all criticism from himself.
I have the same fear about the American election, which amounts to a suspicion that, at large, Americans have become like Canadians. In polls, they say they don’t trust the media, yet they have bought into their plainly destructive attitudes, themselves.
Especially, I am discouraged by surveys of Catholic voters. For a long time, I thought they were confused. Now it appears that they have, in the majority, settled into clearly anti-Catholic positions – if Catholic beliefs of the last twenty centuries are taken for the standard. They genuinely think statist, or what I call nanny-statist, questions are more important than unambiguous moral principles.
This I feel, not only as a Catholic, but from taking that constituency as a kind of bellwether. Not just Europeans, but Americans are now so post-Christian that moral principles are reduced to fashion statements – not only on the atheistical Left. I am struck by their absence not only from “progressive” arguments, but from the counter-arguments. And even when present, they seem like a posture.
This is not good. For the consequences of the election will be very large. In one respect only can they be foreseen. Whoever wins, the government will be playing a much larger role in our lives. This is because the electorate, in substantial majority, can no longer imagine an authority of any other kind.
While the pseudo-morality of race, and sometimes “gender,” appear to be in play, the partisans are not serious, from either side. They are making fashion statements, sometimes quite violently through riots and looting. The opposition to this isn’t serious, either. The “right to protest” in a way that can only lead to riots, is taken for granted, by both sides – even while a majority, according to the polls, expect this to end in civil war.
More fundamentally, questions of policy CANNOT be discussed. Mr. Trump, to his credit, has done difficult things in office; he campaigns on the promise to do more against the “cancel culture,” and the “deep state.” But the discussion centers instead on his (sometimes appalling) personality, alone.
The Democrats don’t favor this, and oppose that. They make no commitments. Their position is exclusively, “Trump must go,” and many should add, “regardless of the consequences.” Republicans push back as aggressively, and almost as mindlessly, until the contrary positions are shrunk to “Trump,” and “anti-Trump.”
Objectively, when a society is reduced to a personality cult – pro or con one ultimately fragile man – it is vacating its own identity. It has, effectively, raised man above God, forgetting the key lesson of history: that all men are fragile.
The intense politicization of a public health “crisis,” so that it is exaggerated by all sides, is not something that can be ended by politics. The explosion of debt over this “crisis,” after years of irresponsible spending, is no longer something people can vote on. Whoever rules must cope with it; and must, inevitably, intervene to wrestle with the consequences of massive previous interventions.
Can this end well? Whoever wins, I think the answer is No. Either will be looking for a villain, to distract the public from turning on them. And while the nature and identity of this villain can’t yet be guessed, the mechanics of “guilt displacement” should be familiar to everyone. We must find someone to blame, other than ourselves.
From its centerpiece, in the Crucifixion, the Christian religion has resisted this. The perversion of the human impulse to sacrifice is our great political foible. But now we are passing into a time when resistance to this is gone.
Even the pope in Rome avoids the “insensitivity” of insisting that human error is universal; that the Christian message cannot, and must not, be reduced to arguing for a political cause, no matter how obvious, e.g., “climate change” may seem, to him.
When pressed, as the public will press, to “do something,’ the same tawdry tools are employed: arbitrary laws and arbitrary enforcers. But vast new bureaucracies will never solve a problem.
Christians, Jews, other religious, have proved to the authorities that they can be easily intimidated. The Church, and the churches, will agree to close down: accepting that public health must take priority, not only over freedom, but also over God.
Oddly, Mr. Trump is standing against this tide, more bravely than any of our bishops. But in the coming referendum, he may be condemned for this. Or else re-elected, for all the wrong reasons.
As a Catholic Christian, I sincerely believe that the universe ends well. But I find this juncture peculiarly distressing.
*Image: The County Election  by George Caleb Bingham, 1854 [Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, NC]
NOTE: Be sure to click on the banner atop this column to participate in Monday’s online conference, “Rediscovering Columbus,” featuring TCT‘s Robert Royal.