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Trump’s positions and Catholic social doctrine: What we should look for?


Jeffrey Bruno for Aleteia

John Burger - Joanne McPortland - published on 11/14/16 - updated on 06/08/17

People of faith tended to take a chance on him. Now we'll see how the president-elect "makes America great again."

On November 8, 60% of voters identifying themselves as Catholic cast their votes for the now president-elect, Donald J. Trump. White born-again or Evangelical Christians supported Trump even more strongly, with 81% of their vote. It has been a long, contentious campaign, with historically low levels of trust and personal likability for both major party candidates. Nevertheless, enough people of faith were willing to take a chance on the Republican candidate and the party’s platform to help swing an electoral-college victory. Now, as the nation moves into what at present feels like an equally contentious transition process, Catholics who voted for Trump are hoping their trust was well-placed.

For reasons unique to this campaign and this president-elect, there is not a lot of certainty at this point what policies will be in place in the new administration. Campaign promises are campaign promises, of course, and no candidate signs a solemn oath to fulfill each and every one of them. For President-elect Trump, the usual autumn prognostications are more difficult to make than usual, both because of his personal penchant for not signalling policy decisions too far in advance and because his campaign-trail positions have changed many times, occasionally contradicting those of his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence, the Republican party leadership, and even Trump himself.

What then, can Catholics — both those who supported the Trump-Pence team and those who did not — look for from a Trump administration when it comes to key issues of public policy? Here Aleteia presents an overview of these issues drawn from a summary of key social doctrine by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (passages reproduced in italics) with notes on what we know so far and what we can and should watch for.

Life and Dignity of the Human Person

The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. In our society, human life is under direct attack from abortion and euthanasia. The value of human life is being threatened by cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and the use of the death penalty. The intentional targeting of civilians in war or terrorist attacks is always wrong. Catholic teaching also calls on us to work to avoid war. Nations must protect the right to life by finding increasingly effective ways to prevent conflicts and resolve them by peaceful means. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.

President-elect Trump has expressed support for the pro-life movement and for religious liberty. During the campaign, he spoke of appointing pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. In primary and candidate debates, Trump — who once held pro-choice views — expressed an evolution in his personal attitude toward abortion. He has spoken of limiting legal abortion to the three “Reagan exceptions” (incest, rape, and health of the mother) and has expressed abhorrence with late-term, partial-birth abortion on demand. In an interview for “60 Minutes” Sunday night, Trump repeated his promise to name a Supreme Court justice who opposes legal abortion and would help overturn Roe v. Wade. He has expressed preference for abortion law to be set at the state level.

The president-elect favors retaining the Hyde amendment, which bans federal funding of abortion. His party platform calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, although Trump has said he believes the organization’s non-abortion services provide important health care. Trump’s pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) includes removing the HHS mandate for insurers to provide free contraceptive and sterilization coverage for women. He has made no public statements on euthanasia.

In other aspects of pro-life concern, Trump has publicly supported the death penalty, unilateral military action, and expanded use of enemy-interrogation techniques categorized by the international community and the Church as torture. He has suggested that nuclear proliferation might be acceptable as a defense strategy. However, he is in favor of disengaging from US military involvement in foreign conflicts.

Call to Family, Community, and Participation

The person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our society — in economics and politics, in law and policy — directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. Marriage and the family are the central social institutions that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.

In contrast to his running mate, Trump has not called for an end to legalized same-sex marriage. He has reached out to some degree to the LGBTQ electorate, in particular vowing to defeat terrorists and challenge allies who practice repressive anti-homosexual policies. This outreach would align with Catholic teaching that all people are to be respected and protected from discrimination and oppression. In terms of the freedom of Christians to practice their faith when it comes into conflict with societal pressure or government legislation, the Trump-Pence team has vowed to end federal interference into the practice of religion and the imposition of federal mandates that prohibit believers from exercising their conscience.

Because freedom of religion is a human right, Catholics and other Christians will need to monitor whether this right is extended to people of all faiths, especially — given some of the president-elect’s other policy suggestions — Muslims.

Another way the Trump administration may support families is in the enacting of programs that provide jobs with a living wage, opportunities for education, adequate and affordable health care for all ages and stages of life, tax strategies that promote marriage and family, and other incentives for family growth and stability. The president-elect’s priorities, once set, should be evaluated for their effectiveness in this area.

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