Advent has often been called “the season of hope.” A question must be asked: “Are you, am I, hoping for the right things, or the wrong things?” Hope to live a long and healthy life, hope to prosper in one’s work and to do well, hope for peace in one’s family or country—all of these are “natural hopes,” and good things. Ultimate or divine hope is in God: the hope of sharing God’s divine life forever, beyond death. But there are also false hopes, and the first reading, from Isaiah, presents such a false hope that has had an enormous influence on history: “They will beat their swords into pruning hooks.. and never will they train for war again.” The history of Utopian dreaming, of metastatic faith, has begun. Its offspring can be seen in Enlightenment belief in the spread of progress and democracy; in Marxism’s belief in a global world society where “all are free and equal;” and in the American naive belief in the “promised land.” In Advent, one should sit still and seek to give up false hopes. We in our present society and world are bombarded with false hopes, as from the mass media, entertainment, sometimes even in the churches. “Time to wake from sleep,” as St. Paul admonishes us.
The best, brief commentary on the Presidential Election of 2016 that I (Fr. Paul) have seen:
Why Trump Won
by Victor Davis Hanson
Friday, November 11, 2016
Throughout the course of the 2016 election, the conventional groupthink was that the renegade Donald Trump had irrevocably torn apart the Republican Party. His base populism supposedly sandbagged more experienced and electable Republican candidates, who were bewildered that a “conservative” would dare to pander to hoi polloi [the many] by promising deportations of illegal aliens, renegotiation of trade agreements that “ripped off” working people, and a messy attack on the reigning political correctness.
It was also a common complaint that Trump had neither political nor military experience. He trash-talked his way into the nomination, critics said, which led to defections among the outraged Republican elite. By August, a #NeverTrump movement had taken root among many conservatives, including some at National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal. Many neoconservatives who formerly supported President George W. Bush flipped parties, openly supporting the Clinton candidacy.
Trump’s Republican critics variously disparaged him as, at best, a Huey Long or Ross Perot, whose populist message was antithetical to conservative principles of unrestricted trade, open-border immigration, and proper personal comportment. At worse, a few Republican elites wrote Trump off as a dangerous fascist akin to Mussolini, Stalin, or Hitler.
For his part, Trump often sounded bombastic and vulgar. By October, after the Access Hollywood video went viral, many in the party were openly calling for him to step down. Former primary rivals like Jeb Bush and John Kasich reneged on their past oaths to support the eventual Republican nominee and turned on Trump with a vengeance.
By the end of the third debate, it seemed as if Trump had carjacked the Republican limousine and driven it off a cliff. His campaign seemed indifferent to the usual stuff of an election run—high-paid handlers, a ground game, polling, oppositional research, fundraising, social media, establishment endorsements, and celebrity guest appearances at campaign rallies. Pundits ridiculed his supposedly “shallow bench” of advisors, a liability that would necessitate him crawling back to the Republican elite for guidance at some point.
What was forgotten in all this hysteria was that Trump had brought to the race unique advantages, some of his own making, some from finessing naturally occurring phenomena. His advocacy for fair rather than free trade, his insistence on enforcement of federal immigration law, and promises to bring back jobs to the United States brought back formerly disaffected Reagan Democrats, white working-class union members, and blue-dog Democrats—the “missing Romney voters”—into the party. Because of that, the formidable wall of rich electoral blue states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and North Carolina crumbled.
Beyond that, even Trump’s admitted crudity was seen by many as evidence of a street-fighting spirit sorely lacking in Republican candidates that had lost too magnanimously in 1992, 2008, and 2016 to vicious Democratic hit machines. Whatever Trump was, he would not lose nobly, but perhaps pull down the rotten walls of the Philistines with him. That Hillary Clinton never got beyond her email scandals, the pay-for-play Clinton Foundation wrongdoing, and the Wikileaks and Guccifer hackings reminded the electorate that whatever Trump was or had done, he at least had not brazenly broken federal law as a public servant, or colluded with the media and the Republican National Committee to undermine the integrity of the primaries and sabotage his Republican rivals.
Finally, the more Clinton Inc. talked about the Latino vote, the black vote, the gay vote, the woman vote, the more Americans tired of the same old identity politics pandering. What if minority bloc voters who had turned out for Obama might not be as sympathetic to a middle-aged, multimillionaire white woman? And what if the working white classes might flock to the politically incorrect populist Trump in a way that they would not to a leftist elitist like Hillary Clinton? In other words, the more Clinton played the identity politics card, the more she earned fewer returns for herself and more voters for Trump.
In the end, the #NeverTrump movement fizzled, and most of the party rightly saw, after putting aside the matter of his character, that Trump’s agenda was conservative in almost every area—immigration, energy, gun rights, taxes and regulation, abortion, health care, and military spending. In areas of doubt—foreign policy and entitlements—voters reasoned that sober and judicious Republican advisors would surround and enlighten Trump.
As a result, Republican voters, along with working class Democrats and Independents voted into power a Republican President, Republican Congress, and, in essence, a Republican judiciary. Trump’s cunning and energy, and his unique appeal to the disaffected white working class, did not destroy the Republican down ballot, but more likely saved it. Senators and Representatives followed in Trump’s wake, as did state legislatures and executive officers. Any Republican senatorial candidate who voted for him won election; any who did not, lost. Trump got a greater percentage of Latinos, blacks, and non-minority women than did Romney, and proved to be medicine rather than poison for Republican candidates. With hindsight, it is hard to fathom how any other Republican candidate might have defeated Clinton Inc.—or how, again with hindsight, the Party could be in a stronger, more unified position.
In contrast, the Democratic Party is torn and rent. Barack Obama entered office in 2009 with both houses of Congress, two likely Supreme Court picks, and the good will of the nation. By 2010 he had lost the House; by 2012, the Senate. And by 2016, Obama had ensured that his would-be successor could not win by running on his platform.
A failed health care law, non-existent economic growth, serial zero interest rates, near record labor non-participation rates, $20 trillion in national debt, a Middle East in ruins, failed reset and redlines, and the Iran deal were albatrosses around Democratic Party’s neck. Obama divided the country with the apology tour, the Cairo Speech, the beer summit, the rhetoric of disparagement (“you didn’t build that,” “punish our enemies,” etc.), the encouragement of the Black Lives Matter movement, and a series of anti-Constitutional executive orders.
In other words, even as Obama left the Democrats with ideological and political detritus, he also had established an electoral calculus built on his own transformative identity that neither had coattails nor was transferrable to other candidates. Indeed, his hard-left positions on redistribution, social issues, sanctuary cities, amnesty, foreign policy, and spending would likely doom candidates other than himself who embraced them.
The Bernie Sanders candidacy was the natural response, on the left, to Obama’s ideological presidency. But the cranky socialist septuagenarian mesmerized primary voters on platitudes that would have proven disastrous in a general election—before meekly whining about Clinton sabotage and then endorsing the ticket. What then has the Democratic Party become other than a hard left and elite progressive force, which without Obama’s personal appeal to bloc-voting minorities, resonates with only about 40 percent of the country?
The Democratic Party is now neither a centrist nor a coalition party. Instead, it finds itself at a dead-end: had Hillary Clinton emulated her husband’s pragmatic politics of the 1990s, she would have never won the nomination—even though she would have had a far better chance of winning the general election.
Wikileaks reminded us that the party is run by rich, snobbish, and often ethically bankrupt grandees. In John Podesta’s world, it’s normal and acceptable for Democratic apparatchiks to talk about their stock portfolios and name-drop the Hamptons, while making cruel asides about “needy” Latinos, medieval Catholics, and African-Americans with silly names—who are nonetheless expected to keep them in power. Such paradoxes are not sustainable. Nor is the liberal nexus of colluding journalists, compromised lobbyists, narcissistic Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, family dynasties, and Clintonian get-rich ethics.
The old blue-collar middle class was bewildered by the leftwing social agenda in which gay marriage, women in combat units, and transgendered restrooms went from possible to mandatory party positions in an eye blink. In a party in which “white privilege” was pro forma disparagement, those who were both white and without it grew furious that the elites with such privilege massaged the allegation to provide cover for their own entitlement.
In the aftermath of defeat, where goes the Democratic Party?
It is now a municipal party. It has no real power over the federal government or state houses. Its once feared cudgel of race/class/gender invective has become a false wolf call heard one too many times. The Sanders-Warren branch of the party, along with the now discredited Clinton strays, will hover over the party’s carcass. Meanwhile, President Obama will likely ride off into the sunset to a lucrative globe-trotting ex-presidency. His executive orders will systematically be dismantled by Donald Trump, leaving as his legacy a polarizing electoral formula that had a shelf life of just two terms.
You wait in silence and darkness, hidden to wandering eyes, unheard by noise-filled ears. You wait, silent and alone, like the moon in the dark-night sky. No sound, no movement, nothing seen, nothing known. You alone truly know what or who you are.
I wait in darknesses and in lights, not hidden, eyes wandering, mind wandering, ears filled with noises. I wait, noisy and busy, like dried leaves blowing across a frozen yard. Many sounds, movements, things seen, nothing truly known. The mystery of being has melted in the heat of much busyness. So busy living, no time to live.
I say, “Come, Lord God Almighty,” but if You were not here, how could I—how would I— possibly seek You? You were here before I turned towards You, and You will be here long after I, too, have scurried across the frozen ground, a dried leaf. What does it mean that “You are here?” You are no object, nothing seen, nothing known by your boundaries or limits, nothing heard nor felt. You are here in the darkness from which I turn away, in the silence I cannot hear. You are present, but I am absent—now here, there, perhaps nowhere at all. You are present in ways that nothing is or can be present. You are present in your apparent absence.
How can I seek You when I am dispersed everywhere? My mind is fragmented in so many thoughts, feelings, sensations, that there is no room for your still nothingness. Are our parties and liturgical services truly an aid to seeking You, when they resemble Santa’s sack of stuffed toys? Not silence, but noise; not stillness, but motion-commotion; not darkness, but infatuations.
And still, You wait. You come to the one who sits alone in silence, waiting, as You wait, and listening, as You listen. You speak in silence; our speech drowns out silence, leaving You unheard. You shine into darkened minds, which turn themselves away from your penetratingly bright, discerning gaze. You come, only if I will sit still, and allow You to draw me empty-handed, empty-minded into the Cloud of Unknowing.
A note to my family, supposing that my brother Andy is Donald Trump, and my sister Jeanie is Hillary Clinton.
My dear sister and brother:
I feel very bad for both of you, after such a humiliating and mud-slinging campaign. It has been brutal and ugly for all of us, really. I also feel bad for you because one will win the Presidency, and one will not. And I know that each one of you, my brother and sister, has flaws and weaknesses. And you have personal motives for wanting the highest office in the land, some perhaps not even clear to you in the depth of your heart. You also each have your conscious wishes and plans for the country, for improving our common life here according to your lights. And you both have large swarms of people around you, including some very sharp advisors on both sides—and some who just like to be near the center of power, and could even betray you if they thought it served their own interests.
For the one of you who loses the election, I feel genuine pity. But I will feel even more pity, if less immediate and intense, but sustained over your years in office, for the one of you who wins this bloody election. What you gain, you may live to regret, as other powerful leaders have regretted their terms in office—often ending in shame, humiliation, violent or natural death.
Whichever one of you wins, our country remains deeply divided. We have divided for years, but the intensity and severity of division keeps growing. Whoever wins, more than half of the electorate will be highly critical of you (remember that perhaps 30% of eligible citizens will not bother voting—just a rough guess). Whoever wins, you will be hated by many.
The one of you who becomes President will face a highly turbulent international scene, with grave crises awaiting: Islamic-fundamentalist terrorism; resurgent Iran; Russia and China pressing to expand their spheres of influence/power; wicked regimes as in N Korea; violent unrest blowing up in one country after another (such as in Venezuela recently). So you will face extremely grave crises and challenges—most of which we cannot even now guess. You and your inner circle of advisors—and our whole country whom you will represent—will be utterly tested. Surely you know and expect such tests.
But furthermore, whoever wins, you will face our country struggling with numerous serious problems: breakdown of families and community bonds; spiritual-intellectual-moral decay in many citizens; a poor educational system for many Americans; profound racial tensions; breakdown of order in inner cities; rampant drug abuse; influx of millions of “undocumented” migrants; increasing concentration of wealth in large cities, with third-world poverty in small towns and rural areas; sluggish economic growth and perhaps a recession; an enormous and growing national debt; and so on. You will face an empire that is, in my opinion, dying from within. You may disagree, but surely you will have to deal with many symptoms of internal disease and disorder.
You may win the election, dear brother or sister, but I think that you will often feel enormous burdens on your shoulders, and be deprived of quiet rest. You will have sleepless nights as you must struggle through many difficult decisions—all the while as you are mocked and even vilified by the mass media and entertainment industries. Few will be concerned for you as a person. Even friends and associates will see you as a means to their own gain. You will wonder, “Who are my real friends?” You will often be alone in the quiet or turmoil of your own heart.
So whichever one of you wins, my brother and sister, my heart goes out to you. I owe you and promise you my love and support, and well-intentioned advice should you ever ask me for it. No matter what happens to you, you are my brother and my sister.
Each one of us faces the prospects of dying as our body suffers death. And each of us knows bodily death to be the fate not only of every human being, but by observation and reﬂection, of every living being: whatever lives in a body must die. This is the one certainty in existence.
How our animal friends deal with death, I do not know, but many of us have observed dogs or horses grieving the loss of a companion, and elephants seem to practice some kind of ritual at the site where one of their members died.Our primitive human ancestors buried their dead, and archaic cave drawings suggest early beliefs about life beyond death.
The ways of dealing with death and the possibility of existence beyond bodily death that show up in recorded human history are highly varied, all pointing to the desire of every human being to endure in some form beyond death, even if only in the memories of loved ones. Living on in the memories of others, “in history,” is the weakest form of immortality, but the only form known to imaginations bound to space-time, to secular souls. Another pale or weak form of existence beyond death was held by ancient Israelites, who speculated little on life beyond death, other than conceiving of death in “Sheol,” a kind of shadowy underworld, about which nothing could be known. A far more elaborate set of beliefs is embodied in what is called metempsychosis, or the “transmigration of the soul” from one form of existence to another. We may be familiar with this belief in the form of “reincarnation,” as taught, for example, within Hinduism. The soul of the being, its interior life, may return in some other bodily existence.
I know of two other speculative beliefs about “after life” which have had millions of adherents. One is the “resurrection of the body,” as believed in ancient Zoroastrianism and then in Pharisaic Judaism and early Christianity. We hear this belief in the ancient creeds of the Church: “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” Given his experience of Christ as “Resurrected” beyond death, the Apostle Paul accepted resurrection, but not in a physical form, but as a “spiritual body” (I Corinthians 15). The Apostle strains to make a vital distinction. The second major speculation on a form of life beyond death was held by the ancient Greeks in the teaching of the “immortality of the soul.” What this meant, and which parts of the soul might endure beyond death, received attention even by the best Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. The general agreement in Greek teaching was that at least the divine intellect in human being endured beyond death.
As recorded in our Gospels, Jesus offered no speculation on life beyond death: he did not teach the “resurrection of the body” or the “immortality of the soul,” and surely not “reincarnation.” Hence, he broke from Pharisaic Judaism and from Greek culture. But he did not share the secularist view that after death—nothing. What we ﬁnd in the Gospels is far more simple and profound: “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living; to God all are alive.” That is Jesus’ deﬁnitive statement on life beyond death, and perhaps all that can be said. He does not restrict his claim to “all human beings,” but says, “to God all are alive.” In a similar teaching in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Because I live, you also will live.” Period. Again, that is all, devoid of speculation on how, when, and so on. All he adds, in refuting his clever questioners, is what we read in Luke 20, read at Mass today: that one cannot die again, so there is no need for marriage. Christ’s simple assertion is crystal clear: “To God all are alive.” In that phrase I place my hope in Life, life eternal. “The rest is silence.”
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