Several significant questions emerge, entwined, from the chaos of the moment. One is about Catholicism and its public expression, the other about our civic/political life and, in each instance, how they might be transformed in the post-pandemic era.
In the civil realm, the question is whether truth, or the pursuit of it, and competence will ever be foundational again to the way we conduct our public affairs. Or will we continue to require that truth bowl us over — actually threaten every area of life — before we believe it?
The question for the church in the United States is whether we will come out of this austere moment able to admit the role Catholics and their leaders played in electing and enabling a man who, far from being pro-life, has proven himself a distinct danger to life on several levels.
It is neither coincidence nor surprising that those who engage in fevered distortions of the truth in the political realm would have companions in the religion realm.
The combination is dangerous, and just how potentially destructive — not only of democratic processes and institutions but now of the body politic itself — is becoming all too clear. Are those bishops who reduced Catholic participation in the political process to a single issue, who tacitly approved when their culture-warrior minions delivered that message from countless pulpits, willing to take responsibility now for the sheer incompetence they helped put in place? If it profits not a man to give his soul for the world, how much worse for the church to hand over its integrity for a few conservative justices.
The consequences are enormous and have to do with much more than policy differences or even single-issue politics. As The Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, recounting how Trump bragged about the ratings for his embarrassing afternoon "briefings," so aptly put it recently:
Exploiting this type of tragedy in the cause of personal vanity reveals Trump's spirit to be a vast, trackless wasteland. Trump seems incapable of imagining and reflecting the fears, suffering and grief of his fellow citizens. We have witnessed the total failure of empathy in presidential leadership.