There are fourteen Jesuit priests on the editorial board of America Magazine, each with 11 years of education and training plus a year of formation review. That is a combined 168 years of exposure to the most rigorous and thorough system of cognitive development in history. Thus, whenever such a group offers its assessment of a serious issue, the expectation is high that it will be both filled with insight and logically impeccable.
Alas, their recent statement, “Donald Trump is a Unique Threat to the Constitution,” fails on both counts.
The statement begins with the claim that “both political parties support policies that offend the Catholic conscience, including abortion on demand for Democrats and the death penalty for Republicans,” as well as “wholly different views of immigration, entrenched racism and economic justice.”
Next the editors note that Catholics should “evaluate the moral issues at stake and the character and integrity of the candidates” in light of “Catholic teaching” and of their “well-formed consciences” on important matters such as the U.S. Constitution, which they rightly note is “inspired by a theological worldview.” They then add, “The constitutional order is ultimately dependent on the character and judgment of our elected officials.” That sentence sets up the central claim of the statement, which is this:
“The administration of Donald J. Trump has undermined the constitutional order to a degree unprecedented in modern American history,” and that the problem is “not with Mr. Trump’s positions on various public policies . . . but with the president’s disregard for the system of laws and customs that establish the necessary conditions for debate, decision-making and public accountability in this republic.”
That charge is quite a mouthful. Interestingly, it is reminiscent of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” repeatedly alleged by the Democrats and the mainstream media since President Trump’s election, repeatedly refuted, then rising again Phoenix-like from its own ashes.
At this point, readers of the essay could reasonably expect such intellectually accomplished authors to present evidence of a quantity and quality consistent with the gravity of their assertions. That, after all, is a fundamental principle of argumentation. But instead, the editors offer mostly generalizations, some at odds with the facts, others disingenuous, some both, as I will demonstrate:
a) “ Trump has subverted the rule of law by politicizing the Justice Department and interfering in its deliberations and investigations in novel ways.” Comment: To begin with, “novelty” is neither a crime nor a sin. More importantly, what they term “politicizing” and “interfering” was in the great majority of cases dealing with internal corruption, the facts of which are still being uncovered to this day!
b) “Mr. Trump has also fired inspectors general across the government, those whose only job is to uncover wrongdoing.“ Comment: All presidents have engaged in such hiring and firing because it is their prerogative to do so. In this case, given the confirmed actions of many officials to undermine Trump’s presidency, his use of the prerogative has been prudent.
c) “The president has repeatedly attacked the press, declaring them to be the “enemy of the people.” Comment: This assertion is shamefully dishonest in its omission of context. In the great majority of cases, Trump’s “attacks” on the press faulted them for omitting and/or distorting important facts from their reporting, serious violations of their own professional code and a disservice to the public.
d) “Mr. Trump has also used the White House as a partisan stage, which is contrary to the spirit and probably the letter of federal law.” Comment: “A partisan stage” is too vague to be meaningful. Also, “probably” is purely speculative and does not qualify as evidence.
e) “He has flouted constitutional norms, including the requirement of Senate confirmation for his cabinet members and other executive officials, by granting power to ‘acting’ department heads for months at a time, saying it gives him ‘greater flexibility.’” Comment: “Flouted” is a loaded word. All presidents do what is spoken of here when the opposing party obstructs the confirmation of their appointees. His doing so is no different.
f) “Without any compelling evidence, the president has also consistently cast doubt on the integrity of the electoral process itself and has declined to state that he will abide by the judgment of the electorate.” Comment: Questioning the integrity of the electoral process is not outlandish. Scholars continue to do so because there are clear indications that electoral fraud is a real problem. Moreover, Democrats express the same concerns as President Trump. In fact, even before the upcoming election, Hillary Clinton has advised Biden not to concede under any circumstances.
g) “Mr. Trump has downplayed attempts by foreign powers to interfere in American elections. This pattern of presidential behavior is unique in American history.“ Comment: President Trump’s “downplaying” has been for the most part a rejection of the media narrative of “Russian collusion” financed and promoted by Democrats to explain why Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election. Subsequent investigations have proved Trump’s position correct. If anything was “unique” in this case, it was the Democrats’ level of duplicity, not Trump’s reaction to it.
h) There is a difference between those presidents of both parties who at times tested or bent the boundaries of constitutional action in pursuit of their self-interest, and Mr. Trump, who time after time has demonstrated that his framework for decisions is merely transactional and that he has little regard for constitutional norms or the common good. [Emphasis added] Comment: The reaction of most knowledgeable people to that final line is “THEY’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING.” Of course, they aren’t. As to “regard for constitutional norms,” President Trump has appointed more judges than any president in the history of the country, and most legal scholars regard his choices as outstanding constitutionalists. And as to “the common good,” prior to the Coronavirus, the President brought the stock market and median housing to record highs and significantly lowered unemployment numbers for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, women, and youth (among other achievements).
So far this essay has demonstrated that the “evidence” offered by the editors of America Magazine comes nowhere near supporting their extravagant claim that President Trump “has undermined the constitutional order to a degree unprecedented in modern American history.”
Moreover, the gap between the editors’ assertion and their evidence raises the question, why didn’t they take a different approach to explaining their choice of Biden over Trump in the forthcoming election? The most obvious alternative was to compare the men’s accomplishments rather than their flaws.That would have had the important advantage of emphasizing the positive rather than the negative and of reflecting Christ’s caution (in Matt 7: 20-21) “So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
Furthermore, focusing on accomplishments would, as a rule, favor the candidate with the longer political career. Biden’s 44 year career could thus be expected to have produced many more accomplishments than Trump’s modest 4 year career. In fact, however, Trump’s accomplishments are far greater in number and kind than Biden’s. Let me be more specific:
President Trump has already achieved more than any other president in history has in a first term. See this partial list of 79 of his achievements. (For a more complete list of 125 achievements, see this link.) One truly historic achievement has been the peace accord between Israel and a number of Arab countries who for decades were determined to wipe that country off the map. This achievement alone could well result in Trump’s being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for which he has already been nominated.
A comparable search of Biden’s record reveals a much smaller number of achievements. Moreover, even Democrats acknowledge that many of the policies Biden championed were at best ill-considered. In fact, Biden himself must agree with them because he has reversed his positions on many issues over the years.
America Magazine’s editors surely realized that basing their support for Biden on his accomplishments would be foolish. Otherwise they would have taken that approach. But wait a moment! If they knew that Trump’s achievements were more numerous and significant than Biden’s, why on earth did they decide to support Biden?
To summarize: the 18 editors of America Magazine put their 168 years of world-class cognitive training together and chose one presidential candidate over the other. The candidate they rejected was the energetic incumbent who a) accomplished more in four years by every significant measure, domestic and foreign, than most of his predecessors did in eight years; and b) who, though not a Catholic, vigorously supported the Catholic position on abortion, a man against whom they could only assemble flimsy, flawed arguments.The candidate they embraced was the lethargic challenger who a) accomplished less in 44 years than his opponent did in 4; and b) actively opposed his own Catholic Church’s position on abortion and other intrinsically evil acts. The lack not only of logic but of simple common sense in the editors’ decision is an embarrassment to all who respect the Jesuit Order’s intellectual tradition.
America Magazine appended this note to its editorial statement choosing Biden over Trump: “This editorial presents the opinion of America Media’s editorial board, which is responsible for the content of the magazine. It is not an official statement of the Society of Jesus.”
I suspect that many members of the Society of Jesus, on reading that last sentence, have said prayerfully, “Thanks be to God.”
Copyright © 2020 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved