It may come as a surprise that many Catholics in America will have voted for Donald Trump in this week’s presidential election. It is hard to think of a man more coarse, vulgar, obnoxious, bumptious and offensive. Like Bill Clinton and JFK he has a history of philandering, but he boasts about it, which makes it worse.
Why, then, would a devout Catholic prefer him to Hillary Clinton? “A big issue,” wrote an American friend of many years’ standing, a former English lecturer at Notre Dame, “is the Supreme Court. The President gets to appoint the next Justice when one retires or dies. There is a good chance Trump would appoint a conservative … Hillary, on the other hand, would appoint liberals. More and more, major issues in the US are decided in the Supreme Court rather than in Congress.”
This would cut no ice with bien pensant liberals on this side of the Atlantic, but is there not a measure of hypocrisy in the contempt shown for Trump? He is vilified for his plans to build a wall on the border with Mexico even as we fund razor-wire fences in Calais. He is ridiculed for his “America first” slogan even as we vote for Brexit, and condemned for his protectionism even as we frantically seek to keep open the Port Talbot steelworks. Didn’t Gordon Brown, hardly a right-wing bigot, call for British jobs for British workers, and Amber Rudd float the idea of naming and shaming British companies that employed too many foreigners?
Both the latter ideas are unsound. It seems unlikely that redundant steel-workers in the rust belt could ever be trained to make the elegant gadgets put together for Western consumers by nimble-fingered Chinese. Yet perhaps Trump is right that too little thought has been given to the consequences of free trade. The price of lifting millions in Asia out of poverty, good in itself, has been paid by workers back home.
What about Trump’s foreign policy? The knee-jerk antipathy in both the US and Britain to Vladimir Putin means that any complimentary remarks about the Russian leader are seen as tantamount to treason. Yet, as Lord Richards, the former head of our Armed Forces, said only last week, a Trump victory “might make the world the safer place” by reinvigorating relations with Russia. In concert with President Putin, a President Trump would be more likely than a President Clinton to bring the sanguinary conflict in Syria to an end.
And when it comes to Nato, Trump is surely right that the cost of defending prosperous European nations such as Belgium or Germany falls disproportionally on the US. Trump appears to recognise that Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and support for the Russian-speaking secessionists in eastern Ukraine, are essentially disputes about regional self-determination, and not evidence of a masterplan to recover by force nations that once formed part of the Russian empire.
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