The Vatican’s America Problem

The Democratic Party, whose long-ago New Deal was built in part on Catholic social thought, has become increasingly secular and ever-more-doctrinaire in its social liberalism.

.. The Republican Party, which under George W. Bush wrapped the Catholic-inflected language of “compassionate conservatism” around its pro-life commitments, has been pinballing between an Ayn Rand-ish libertarianism and the white identity politics of the Trump era.

.. Its seems to intend, reasonably enough, to

  • warn against Catholic support for the darker tendencies in Trumpism — the xenophobia and identity politics, the “stigmatization of enemies,”
  • the crude view of Islam and a wider “panorama of threats,”
  • the prosperity-gospel inflected worship of success.

.. the religious votes for the cheerfully pagan Trump and the growing interest in

  • traditionalism,
  • radicalism and
  • separatism

.. Between Leo XIII and the Second Vatican Council, Rome gradually made its peace with secular and liberal government, and embraced a style of Catholic politics that worked comfortably within the liberal order, rather than against its grain. And the church has good prudential reasons not to lean in too far to any kind of populism or post-liberalism, lest it lead toward authoritarianism or simple disaster.

.. their evident paranoia about what the Americans are up to, you see a different spirit: a fear of novelty and disruption, and a desire for a church that’s

The Vatican’s America Problem

The Republican Party, which under George W. Bush wrapped the Catholic-inflected language of “compassionate conservatism” around its pro-life commitments, has been pinballing between an Ayn Rand-ish libertarianism and the white identity politics of the Trump era.

.. old 20th century approaches to Catholic politics — both the ethnic-Catholic liberalism of a Mario Cuomo or a Ted Kennedy and the Catholic neoconservatism that shaped figures like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan — seem like they’re out of energy and influence.

.. Western liberalism writ large seems at once hostile to traditional religion and beset by internal contradictions, making the moment ripe for serious Catholic rethinking, a new and perhaps even post-liberal Catholic politics.

..  the religious votes for the cheerfully pagan Trump and the growing interest in traditionalism, radicalism and separatism, are not the culmination of the Catholic-evangelical alliance but rather a reaction to its political and cultural failures — and the failures of liberal religious politics as well.

.. leaders and thinkers have spent decades rallying to the republic, trying to bring about its moral and political renewal … only to see republican virtues decaying, liberalism turning hostile to religious faith, and democratic capitalism delivering disappointment and dislocation

.. in their evident paranoia about what the Americans are up to, you see a different spirit: a fear of novelty and disruption, and a desire for a church that’s primarily a steward of social peace, a mild and ecumenical presence, a moderate pillar of the establishment in a stable and permanently liberal age.

Kelly’s first task: Stabilize the West Wing

Privately, White House aides and others close to the administration acknowledged it won’t be easy. Even without Priebus, the West Wing remains fractured, with advisers competing for influence over the president.

“I think this is the best and last shot,” said one person close to Kelly. “This is it.”

.. Kelly is expected to nonetheless try to exert his authority early, including by limiting access to the Oval Office, according to people briefed on his plans. Kelly wants to have more of a pecking order among the staff and a more “traditional” approach, one White House official said.

But others in the White House said it’s too early to make predictions. “Everything is up in the air. Anyone who tells you they know anything is lying,” a White House official said.

.. But there is nonetheless concern at the White House about Kelly’s lack of experience with Congress.

“He doesn’t have the relationships over there,” one aide said.

Kelly has built relationships with several top White House aides in recent months, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior adviser Stephen Miller, who have played a central role in Trump’s immigration crackdown.

.. One of the people close to Kelly said he likely won’t have much in common with communications director Anthony Scaramucci, the fast-talking former New York financier.

Asked to name any similarities between the two men, the person said, “They’re both Catholic, but that’s probably about it.”

.. Kelly is expected to make his first staff change at the White House on Monday, when he’ll bring in Kirstjen Nielsen, his chief of staff at DHS.

.. previous stints as the senior military assistant to former defense secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta as highly relevant experience — a role one described as a “mini gatekeeper.”

.. “He has little tolerance for chaos and people who don’t follow orders.”

.. Kelly will also have to be able to take on the president — something few administration officials are expected to do as much as the White House chief of staff.

“He will have to be willing to look the president in the eye and tell him when he is wrong,” Panetta said on Saturday. “He can’t just be a yes man.”

“Whether John can succeed depends on whether President Trump can change.”

.. “A friend said to me recently, ‘John’s morals will be under assault from the moment he enters the role.’

.. earlier in his Marine Corps career Kelly was a congressional liaison and in his last military post — as head of the U.S. Southern Command — he had to regularly deal with political, diplomatic and economic leaders in Latin America.

“But can he succeed where Priebus failed?” he asked. “Trump likes to be his own chief of staff.”

Pope Francis’ Next Act

Among many liberals there is a palpable ambition, a sense that a sweeping opportunity to rout conservative Catholicism might finally be at hand. But there is also a palpable anxiety, since the church’s long-term future is not obviously progressive — not with a growing African church and a shrinking European one, a priesthood whose younger ranks are often quite conservative, and little evidence that the Francis era has brought any sudden renewal.