New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan shares a light moment with U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the 71st annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City Oct. 20. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

U.S. election points to a great divide

  • November 3, 2016

At a recent event in New York City, Cardinal Timothy Dolan achieved somewhat of a coup when he cajoled Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to set aside their obvious enmity and, in a private moment, pray together. A day earlier they had refused to even shake hands at a presidential debate. Yet at Dolan’s request the candidates agreed to pray, and afterwards they briefly hid their snarls and traded polite banter, creating what Dolan called a “touching moment.”

We’ll take the cardinal at his word, but to declare it “touching” that people who aspire to the White House should deign to share a few seconds of basic civility is exactly why U.S. election day can’t come soon enough.

With the world watching, and much of it worrying, the presidential campaign has unfolded like a season of The Jerry Springer Show, with episode after episode assaulting such fundamental values as dignity, respect, courtesy, honour and truth. The political circus has been sad to witness from afar and, we suspect, even more painful for the vast majority of sensible Americans who must be appalled at this brutish spectacle.

When Pope Francis addressed the U.S. congress last year, he praised the legacies of four great Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. These inspiring figures understood the need to raise common good and fundamental dignity above self-interest and personal differences. Sadly, the Clinton-Trump affair lacks even a whisper of that inspiration.

The Pope also urged American leaders to guard against dividing the world into good and evil, “the righteous and sinners.” Be wary of polarization, he said, and become examples of hope, healing, peace and justice, respecting other’s differences.

Instead, the opposite has played out throughout this campaign. The world is witnessing a troubled America become less respectful and more polarized. This divide is fuelled by a Republican alleged to have sexually assaulted women and a Democrat who has so far dodged indictment for allegedly using a private email server to transmit classified government information.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput has described the duo as “very bad news for our country” and said that in his voting life “the major parties have never, at the same time, offered two such deeply flawed candidates.” He has called them “a national embarrassment.”

Yet one will soon be president.

Being president of a robust democracy entails many responsibilities. One of them is to provide moral leadership. But it’s difficult to see how Trump or Clinton can emerge from this political brawl with much moral authority. The winner will be as wounded as the nation he or she will lead.

Cardinal Dolan had it right. We should all say a prayer.

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