Wednesday morning we woke up to find a world in which Donald Trump had become president of the United States. People including myself and many, many others here in Europe and around the world felt shocked, concerned, afraid, filled with uncertainty (and I think Americans have to understand how deeply this news hit people throughout the world – it hit us really, really hard). I know that plenty of my friends in America (also including both Catholic and Protestant Christians) feel the same way, both those who supported Clinton and those who supported Trump as lesser evil but were deeply dissatisfied about both candidates and with the whole of these elections. And then I also know friends who are actually happy with the victory of Trump.
Let’s be honest: we do have serious differences. But I think that especially in these days it can help all of us to go back to September 24, 2015, when Pope Francis visited the United States. During his speech to Congress he held up to Catholics and non-Catholics alike four examples from US history that can help people today to see what it means to be a good American. These four were Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.
Abraham Lincoln as an example of working for the common good in cooperation and in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.
Martin Luther King Jr. as an example to work for full civil and political rights and to realize dreams centered on the Golden Rule.
Dorothy Day as an example of social activism and a passion for justice and the cause of the oppressed.
Thomas Merton as a man of prayer, and a promotor of dialogue and peace.
As Pope Francis concluded: “Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.
Four representatives of the American people.
A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.
In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.
God bless America!”
Whatever our specific political convictions, I think most of us can agree that there are quite some challenges ahead of us (and that some very disturbing and even violent things have happened already in various places in the United States with Trump’s election as justification). Let’s try to come together and work out a way to follow the examples of these four Americans; you as Americans among yourselves, and us as Americans and Europeans – and hopefully many other people around the world. In this, the fate of the poor should be a shared concern for all of us – as pope Francis said recently about Trump: “I do not give judgements on people or politicians, I simply want to understand what are the sufferings that their approach causes to the poor and the excluded”.
We will surely not fully agree on how to follow these four examples (and following these examples will in some ways certainly include disagreement with and resistance to the president of the United States), but at least we will find a few points of contact which will help us to build at least some cooperation, which is better than the deeply divided, shocked, and uncertain world in which we all find ourselves today.