OPINION: With All Due Respect, Archbishop, We Must Call Trump a Bigot

Vourvoulias: In representing Trump as “a vulgar, boorish lout and disrespecter of women,” Archbishop Chaput was far too magnanimous.

Chaput Trump

As a Philly Catholic, I read every one of Archbishop Charles Chaput’s weekly columns. I don’t do so in order to take issue with what he says (though sometimes I do) nor to argue with/exult in the way he illuminates Catholic teachings (frequently in quite elegant ways).

I read his columns because: 1) as a vocal member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he is a public figure of influence; 2) my faith is an important part of who I am, and in that (as in all other aspects of my life) I have a desire to live in community and no desire for it to be an echo chamber.

Even when I strongly and publicly disagree with the Archbishop (as I have about a number of things, including the closure of La Milagrosa and the proposed change to the deed of St. Peter Claver), I want to understand how he arrived at his conclusions, I want to make sense of the underpinnings of his thinking, and I definitely want to accord him the respect of a thoughtful and close reading of his words.

So, I was very troubled by the Archbishop’s column last week.

Not so much for his harsh representation of Hillary Clinton as “a scheming, robotic liar with a lifelong appetite for power and an entourage riddled with anti-Catholic bigots,” but his magnanimous representation of Donald Trump as “a vulgar, boorish lout and disrespecter of women.”

I really wish Trump were only a vulgar boorish lout who disrespects women. But that assessment divests him of the intentionality and agency of his campaign, and soft-pedals the tenor and impact of his comments throughout this long electoral season.

If the Archbishop is willing to use the word bigot for those who insulted Catholics by calling us backward in emails exchanged with Clinton, why not use it to describe Trump? There is ample evidence of his bigotry, spanning from the launch of his campaign to recent days.

While Trump supporters like to retroactively insert the words “illegal immigrants” into his first bigoted attack on Latinxs, the video evidence disproves their revisionist version of his candidacy announcement and first campaign speech:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

And it is not an isolated instance. In July 2015 he again singled out Mexicans: “”The worst elements in Mexico are being pushed into the United States by the Mexican government.” In August 2015, when two of Trump supporters urinated on a Mexican homeless man and beat him until he was senseless while proclaiming “Donald Trump was right,” Trump publicly excused the violent act: “”I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country, they want this country to be great again.”

Every month of his campaign, Trump has stoked anti-immigrant sentiment with his comments, but even more specifically he has stoked anti-Mexican bigotry — regardless of documentation status. One of the most telling instances of this was his insistence in June of this year that Judge Gonzalo Curiel should be disqualified from hearing the case against Trump University simply on the basis of the Indiana-born judge’s Mexican heritage. Trump has also singled out the ultra-successful Mexican businessman Carlos Slim for ridicule at different points during his candidacy, and as recently as a few days ago named him part of the cabal of people and organizations the candidate thinks are working to discredit him.

“We become what we do, for good or for evil. If we act and speak like bigots, that’s what we become.” Those are Archbishop Chaput’s words from February 2013, and I wholeheartedly believe them.

Bigotry is more than simple loutishness. It is calculated to strip human beings of their dignity and their very humanness. It excuses any action, no matter how vile. The video evidence of Trump gleefully mocking the disability of journalist Serge Kovaleski is another tell that this is no mere vulgarity, but a disturbing contempt for those the candidate considers lesser than himself.

“Every child with Down syndrome, every adult with special needs; in fact, every unwanted unborn child, every person who is poor, weak, abandoned or homeless – each one of these persons is an icon of God’s face and a vessel of his love,” Archbishop Chaput wrote back in 2012. “How we treat these persons – whether we revere them and welcome them, or throw them away in distaste – shows what we really believe about human dignity, both as individuals and as a nation.”

This, of course, applies to the born and grown, as well as to the unborn the Archbishop was in that instance referring to.

Like the characterization of Trump as a “vulgar, boorish lout,” the description of him as a “disrespecter of women” sanitizes a harsher and grosser reality.

Far beyond the public comments about individual women being too ugly to garner votes or characterizing them as “fat pigs,” Trump’s most recently disclosed comments about forcing himself on women and grabbing them by the genitals (again, evidenced by audio) speaks of someone who has already divested women of their innate human dignity and their very humanity.

It indicates that for Trump, every woman is for the taking. An object to be possessed, with or without her permission, because “superior” men like him need no permission.

“God created men and women to be his sons and daughters, not property; not trash; not chattel,” Archbishop Chaput wrote in an important column about human trafficking in 2013.

I believe this sentence is a remarkably succinct distillation of what is at the core of every aspect of Catholic social teaching, from our treatment of the poor to the Church’s desire to protect the unborn. Trump has said he is anti-abortion, but is there any reason to suppose that he’d treat the unborn any less like property, or with any less hubris and contempt than he has women? Or Mexicans? Or folks with disabilities? Or the many other groups he has gleefully and publicly said are less deserving than he is of the rights and protections our nation was built on — including Muslims and those ordinary workers he’s engaged over the years whose labor he decided not to pay?

I was having lunch the other day with two other Latina Catholics, and all of these observations about Trump were the heart of our conversation. All of us are mothers (two of us with daughters), and, of course, all Latinas, though from different originating heritages.

Fifty-four percent of Catholics are women, and Latinos represent 34 percent of the total membership of the Church in America. We also hold within our families the Church’s future — 46 percent of Catholic millennials and 60 percent of Catholics under the age of 18 are Latino.

Each of us at lunch that day, and most of the Latino and Latina Catholics I speak to, are uniformly horrified and terrified by what Trump has shown himself to be — and what a Trump presidency portends for us, and for our nation.

I hope that Archbishop Chaput will move past the sanitized Trump of last week’s column and speak to those of us in his flock as fully about Trump’s bigotry as he did about Clinton’s. I hope this because, as St. Pope John Paul II used to say to the faithful, we can never give up on hope. We can never tire. We can never be discouraged.

We must not be afraid to speak the truth.