Catholic citizens ought to be measuring up candidates and issues against more than just the self-interest yardstick.
The political party conventions are over, and the race for President of the United States has now begun in earnest. Analysts, commentators, and spinners dominate the airwaves and opinion polls track the waves of public sentiment. Prognostications and predictions are handed out like candy on Halloween, and there's a heightened level of interest -- at least for a few weeks -- in the state of the nation and our place in world affairs. Some people love election years; more have grown to despise them.
If we're to believe the press, (and that's a big "if"), this year is completely unique in history. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty tired of hearing that this is the single most important election of our lifetimes. (Didn't they say that in 2000 and 2008?) I'm also pretty annoyed by vitriolic spokesmen telling us that the "debate" has never been so charged with negativity and the campaign has never been so ugly. Maybe that's because I remember hearing that a few times before, too.
In all that talk, there's at least one thing that's as true about this election as it has been for every other. Unless you're running for office yourself, (have you ever considered that possiblity, by the way?) you will end up voting or not voting for a less than perfect candidate. And, if you take your faith with you into the voting booth, you may need to hold your nose a little tighter.
As Catholics, we are called to live our civic lives in union with our faith. Our ability to do that is protected in the First Amendment as the right to "free exercise of religion." That means Catholic citizens ought to be measuring up candidates and issues against more than just the self-interest yardstick. Compassion and corruption and the dignity of the human person ought to be part of the equation for every person who considers himself a disciple of Christ.
For my part, I intend to do my best to keep from being baited. That is, I'm going to vote my conscience and not my chromosomes. I'm going to look at past performance rather than promises. I'm going to hear what both Clinton and Trump say -- and how they say it. But I'm also going to "hear" both candidates' actions, and allow them to speak at their usual, louder-than-words volume. I'm not going to cast a vote in order to make history but to create what I hope will be a better future. And the one thing I will not do -- ever -- is abstain from the process. I will cast a vote for somebody on November 8.
You may be politically inclined (as I am), or so disenchanted with American politics that you can hardly wait for it all to be over. Whatever the case, I encourage you to not only look at those who are running for president, but also pray for them and for our country. Neither gloom-and-doom nor rose-colored-glasses will do much to help us as a nation. Government, even at its best, cannot solve the deepest problems human beings encounter -- not even the ones they make for themselves and each other. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have different views, different styles, different strengths, and different weaknesses. Neither has all the answers. Perhaps the best way to judge between them is to look at the questions they are willing to ask, or attempt to answer.
True confession: I never voted for Ronald Regan. When he first ran for President, I was a new voter and a fiercely loyal Democrat. The night the returns came in, I cried. Hard. I had made the mistake of believing that a Reagan presidency would ruin America. I was terrified by what I thought was the likely prospect of Reagan thrusting us willy-nilly into a nuclear war. None of that happened. Instead, for the first time, I experienced what it was like to live in a country its citizens were proud of. Growing up during Vietnam and Watergate, I had never seen genuine patriotism before. In retrospect, I regret not having cast my vote for a man who history will judge as one of our best presidents. To those who approach this election with fear and doubt, trust me: it's never as bad as you fear it will be. And to those who think that the tides will recede and all troubles will cease because so-and-so is living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: it hasn't happened yet.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.