Donald Trump. Why are so many Americans drawn to this brash, bombastic billionaire who loves shooting from the hip and ruffling feathers? He is far ahead of his rivals in the polls and shows no sign of slowing down. Whatever you think of Donald Trump and his politics, and even if you disagree with everything he says, it’s undeniable that a significant part of his appeal is that he does not follow the traditional, “safe” path to victory or success. That traditional path says that everything you say has to be filtered through focus groups and couched in politically correct niceties that will cause the least amount of offense possible. Along this safe path, substance and clarity are obliterated in the fog of sensitivity rhetoric nurtured on bland political correctness.
With élan, Trump has thrown out the rule book and, at least for now, is astounding the media and political class by flouting the agreed-upon convention of Safe Speak. He appeals directly to the people with strong language and by drawing stark contrasts with his opponents. The fact that he doesn’t clam up and apologize whenever the media lectures him with a “You can’t say that!” only amplifies his standing in the minds of many Americans. People are tired of marinating in ambiguity and timidity and people are tired of constantly lowering their voice or not speaking altogether because someone, somewhere might get offended. If our words and actions are going to be forever held hostage by fear of causing offense, we might as well surrender now. Trump’s expanding base of supporters are saying, “Finally someone has the guts to speak out and tell it like it is!”
What does the Trump phenomenon tell us about what people are longing for in America, and what can it teach Catholics? Kent Bailey wrote a provocative article entitled, “Donald Trump: Warrior Male Extraordinaire“. The following observations hint at an answer to these questions.
In the past 60 years or so, America has become progressively feminized, and the archetypal warrior male has virtually disappeared. … The everyday people of America long for strong warrior male leadership of the kind that has sustained the human race from the dawn of time.
Politics and religion are separate spheres, as Pope Saint Gelasius reminded the Eastern Roman Emperor Anastasius. We don’t need politicians in chasubles or priests cutting thirty-second campaign ads. That said, I think a lot of Catholics can be found in this group of “everyday people” mentioned by Bailey who “long for strong warrior male leadership”. A lot of everyday Catholics are tired of timid priests and bishops who rarely, if ever, speak clearly and boldly about the great questions of the day. Never have we needed moral clarity and bold leadership more than the present and yet, finding either is becoming harder by the day.
One common thread in politics and in the pews is the regrettable dominance of political correctness and soft-sofa rhetoric that is driving the narrative of what we’re “allowed” to talk about. Much as in the world of politics, fear of giving offense with a “negative tone” and fear of being rejected are undoubtedly two reasons why so many homilies we hear fall flat. Many priests prefer to live in the safe zone of warm platitudes that offer temporary sugar highs, but in the end are hollow. Donald Trump shows us that confidence is attractive. The faithful are thirsting for confidence in the Church too.
It’s interesting that Bailey’s article coincides with the story of three young American men who rushed and disarmed a terrorist on a train in France. In the era of the feeble beta-male, it is encouraging to see that there are young men out there who will rise to the occasion when danger strikes and won’t let fear paralyze (or neuter) them.