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November 20, 2016

Philly archbishop: Where to begin after Trump's win? Decency

This column originally appeared in

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“[To] ‘make America great again’ we also need a comprehensive immigration reform that protects our borders and at the same time allows a path to citizenship for the millions who already live among us. If we need ‘walls,’ we need walls with ‘doors’ because some of our ‘greatest Americans’ have been immigrants or refugees … we won’t make America great again by making America mean.”

— Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, November 14

Where to begin.

This is a column impossible to imagine just 10 days ago. Despite raising and spending vastly more money than Donald Trump, despite celebrity endorsements, despite the predictions of experts and pollsters, despite the vigorous support of a sitting president, and despite the thinly disguised loathing of her rival by much of the mass media, Hillary Clinton is not the president-elect. Donald Trump is.

Whatever else can be said about the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump’s message clearly connected with massive numbers of ordinary Americans, and he won an open election fairly. He cannot be dismissed as a fluke. He deserves our prayers and an opportunity to serve the nation well without being deliberately undermined by his critics.

As others have already noted, Mr. Trump is a pragmatist. After eight years of an ideologically zealous White House, that could be a good thing. But words and actions have consequences. The trademark Trump bluster on the campaign trail further divided a fractured nation and frightened millions of immigrants and members of ethnic and racial minorities. Media hostile to Mr. Trump have clearly made the problem worse. But the main author of the current ugliness is Trump himself. And only he can fix it with responsible language and behavior, and a willingness to listen to those who feel threatened by his victory.

Ensuring public safety, the solvency of our public institutions and the nation’s border security in an age of narco-syndicates and terrorism — Mr. Trump has voiced all these concerns, and they’re all legitimate goals. But the vast majority of undocumented persons in the United States are decent people. They pose no threat to anyone. They want a fruitful life, they work for a living, they raise families, and their children born here are American citizens.

In other words, they’re a vital resource for the future of our country, not a tumor to be cut out of the body. Sweeping talk of building a border wall and deporting millions of people is not just impractical and wrong-headed. It’s also dangerous. It fuels anti-immigrant resentment. And it feeds the anxiety now creating turmoil in immigrant and minority communities.

Over the past week I’ve heard from dozens of laypeople and pastors in our Latino and other minority communities. Many spoke of sleepless nights and “great concern and fear” among their people. Another wrote that his “community was very upset, and feeling numb and hopeless.” Another, who lives in Center City, said that someone threatened his foreign-born wife on the street and warned her to go back where she came from. These are not invented stories. They involve real people and real suffering.

One of our pastoral workers wrote of a young man we’ll call Eduardo:

Eduardo’s younger sister is a citizen, but he is not. His mother is undocumented, living here, and his father was deported shortly after his asylum papers were denied. I’ve known Eduardo since he was a boy. Currently he volunteers his time to help others with computer, social media and young adult activities. Eduardo is now able to attend university, have a license, work and help support his family due to DACA [the Obama administration’s executive order Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy]. He had a very successful internship with a bank this past summer and was already offered a job upon graduation. All of this could be lost if President-elect Trump overturns DACA and decides to deport all the undocumented members of our society and Church. This will tear apart families and have terrible consequences for many of our American citizens and the very fiber of our communities.

Hate crimes, racist incidents and anti-immigrant prejudice all rose during the recent presidential campaign. For a nation where most people still describe themselves as Christians, these things are inexcusable. But we’d also be wise to remember that hate has not been a monopoly of the cultural right over the past 15 months. There have been numerous incidents of Trump supporters who have been beaten, threatened, spit on, verbally abused, their property damaged and their meetings disrupted. Along with many expressions of fear from the immigrant community last week, I also received this email from a committed Catholic woman friend:

Please keep my extended family in your prayers. My guess is you may be receiving this kind of request from many families across the country. There’s a rift growing day by day between Trump and Clinton voters. I must say it is mainly the Clinton voters who are attacking the Trump supporters. The worst is one of my sisters who read the riot act to another sister who happens to be 85 years old and a nun. She [the religious sister] was driven to tears all the while thinking she must defend her vote. This must stop. I am not sure even how to handle all of this. Please pray for us.

Mr. Trump’s election has drawn the contradictions in American public life to the surface; poisons that have been brewing on both the cultural left and cultural right for a very long time. As Catholics, we now get to choose whether we’re Christians first and consistently, or just the latest version of political animals in religious clothing. We need to help the president-elect do what’s right, support him when he does, and resist him — respectfully but firmly — when doesn’t.

We need to begin that work now. And decency to the strangers and immigrants among us is the right place to start.

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Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. is Archbishop of Philadelphia.