Let’s Talk About Hope and Peace, Not Fear

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

Well, the reaction to Donald Trump’s surprise election has certainly been interesting, hasn’t it? There have been tirades and tears, dramas and demands, petitions, pickets and protests. While most of the latter have been peaceful, a few, regrettably, have included violence.

I guess the response is understandable. After all, it comes in the wake of a very long and divisive campaign, marked by outbursts of inflammatory rhetoric and juvenile name calling – remember “Little Marco,” “Lyin’ Ted,” and “Crooked Hillary?” And it’s with good reason that so many people are wondering what a Trump administration will mean for the country, especially in light of the many draconian promises and threats he spouted.

My point today, though, is that across our country and here locally in Rhode Island, the reaction to Donald Trump’s election has been disproportionate, even hysterical at times, and that it’s been driven in part by political leaders operating from a purely partisan perspective. Sometimes their rhetoric hasn’t been at all helpful.

Let me clarify, first of all, that I didn’t support Mr. Trump. I was turned off by his crude, vulgar language, and I wasn’t convinced that he was competent for the office, either by experience or temperament. On more than one occasion during the campaign I publicly criticized him and in the end I didn’t vote for him. (But certainly not for the other one either!)

Also, in criticizing the overreaction to his election, it’s not because I’m insensitive to our neighbors who are genuinely anxious about the future. Particularly when it comes to immigrants, I’ve been a staunch promoter and defender of their status and rights. Remember, I opposed Governor Carcieri’s executive order about immigrants; I rallied our pastors to oppose the workplace ICE raids that were taking place in our region; I’ve supported the call for undocumented residents to have drivers licenses; and with my support the Diocese of Providence has been in the forefront of welcoming and settling refugees.

I’ve been similarly supportive of the Muslim community in Rhode Island.

But there are some sound reasons why we shouldn’t panic at the prospect of a Trump administration. First, the president-elect is already backing off a lot of his rhetoric – on prosecuting Hillary Clinton, on Obamacare, on climate change and on waterboarding, just for starters. We can expect this moderation to continue.

Second, regardless of who’s in office, we’re still a land of laws; our government moves slowly in a byzantine bureaucracy; and we have a proven system of checks and balances. President Trump will be surrounded by staff who will mediate his positions and actions; he will need the support of Congress for major legislative initiatives; and overseeing all of this is the judicial system that will determine the legality of any outlandish proposals. In short, in the United States, there’s very little likelihood of a rogue president.

So then, why are our political leaders, on national, state, and local levels, acting the way they are? They claim that with their town meetings, statements and rallies, they’re responding to the anxiety and fear of their constituents. But, I wonder, are they reflecting the fear or inadvertently creating it? Are they fear-managers or fear-mongers?

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, isn’t it? If you repeatedly gather crowds and rail about fear and division, what will result? Fear and division, of course. (“The sky is falling; the sky is falling!”) I respectfully suggest that our leaders need to evaluate the example they’re giving, and the mood they’re creating.

In this context I can’t help but think of the renowned Western philosopher, Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. A couple years ago, when his team got off to a really slow start, and his fans were despairing, he said he had one word of advice for them, and he even spelled it out: “R-E-L-A-X.” In other words, don’t panic, things will be okay. And indeed they were.

As we anticipate a Trump Administration, then, tainted by the bluster and sound-bites of the campaign, I think we all need to step back, take a deep breath, and R-E-L-A-X. And our political leaders have to help us in this process. They need to comfort and encourage our people, especially the affected communities, not rile them up with frightening forecasts and calls for civil disobedience and resistance.

Of course a new administration will bring about new policies and laws. Every administration does. (Can you say “Obamacare?”) But if our new president is a renegade, if he attempts to impose draconian and unjust laws and policies that are contrary to the common good, we’ll have plenty of lawful ways of opposing him.

Ultimately, though, my serenity comes not from politicians or policies, but from my faith. I believe what Jesus said: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (Jn 16:33)

You see, politicians will come and go. Nations will rise and fall. But the Kingdom of God lasts forever.

The perspective of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was martyred for opposing an unjust government, is instructive: “It helps now and then to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts; it is even beyond our vision. We may never see the end results. But we are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.”

As we prepare for a new administration, then, let’s pray for our new president and all of our elected leaders. Let’s accompany and support one another. But most of all, let’s have faith in the power and providence of God.