Wed, Apr 11, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Can Christian democracy save the US from Trump?

Religious conservatism does not have to be populist. It has played an important role for democracy and dignity in Europe — and can do so in the US, too

By Carlo Invernizzi-Accetti and Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Mountain people

Since US President Donald Trump’s election, the American left has asked itself tough questions about what it must do to respond to his rise. An equally important conversation needs to happen over the future of the American right.

In a democratic system based on alternation in power, the left has an interest in the kind of opponent it is confronted with. When the other side is captured by far-right populism, the damage to democracy can be great.

From that point of view, Christian voters are a constituency that can play a key role in moving the right away from the likes of Trump.

Their overwhelming support for him at the polls was essential to his success, but it seems to be at odds with fundamental Christian principles.

This suggests there is scope for a different kind of conservative movement in the US.

Christian democracy, a political ideology embodied by figures like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, contributed to establishing stable democracies in Europe in the aftermath of World War II.

The US was often deeply supportive of this process, yet never cultivated an analogous political movement at home. Now that it is facing a serious institutional threat of its own, it can perhaps learn from what it has long preached abroad.

Christian democracy is just what its label says: A form of democratic politics inspired by Christian values.

More specifically, Christian democracy has historically been based on three core principles.

The first is that the Christian tradition of natural law implies a commitment to the idea of the inherent dignity of the human person, which in turn sustains certain fundamental moral commitments — for instance, to the sanctity of human life, the importance of the traditional family and, more generally, moral authorities to guide human conduct.

The second is a moral critique of capitalism based on the assumption that Christianity is incompatible with materialism and commands a duty of charity toward the poor and needy. Contrary to a widespread misconception, it was precisely on these premises that redistributive “welfare” regimes were built in most European countries after World War II.

For, barring a few exceptions in northern Europe, it was primarily Christian democratic — not social democratic — parties that came to power in continental Europe.

Finally, the third core principle of the Christian democratic ideology is a resolute internationalism, which translates into a commitment to both supranational cooperation amongst established powers and a duty of solidarity with respect to less fortunate peoples and countries.

The role of Christian democratic parties and agents in the creation of the UN, the EU and the international human rights regime was decisive.

Given how different all this is from the direction taken by the American right of late, is there any chance that something of the sort might actually take hold in the US?

Far from a fanciful speculation, there is a clear constituency for a political movement founded on such premises in the US.

As Michael Gerson, a speechwriter for then-US president George W Bush, says in the Atlantic’s latest cover piece: “One of the most extraordinary things about current politics is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump.”

It is so extraordinary that it is hard to imagine Christian voters remaining loyal to Trump if faced with a better alternative.

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