Anti-Catholic bigotry

When President Trump nominated Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court last month, some media outlets and politicians suggested she would bring her Catholic faith onto the bench when deciding matters of law.

The roughly 51 million Catholic adults in the United States are racially and ethnically diverse. Politically, registered Catholic voters are evenly split between those who lean toward the Democratic Party (47 percent) and those who favor the Republicans (46 percent).

For a long time, many Americans have seen Catholics as taking their cues from Rome and not the U.S. Constitution. In the mid-19th century nativist groups combined to form the Supreme Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, which was obsessed with a hatred of Catholics. Ultimately members of the movement were labelled the “Know-Nothings”. Among their demands were to ban Catholics from holding public office and fears that the growing Irish population was making the church a force in American government.

For years, American politics remained plagued by widespread anti-Catholic sentiment, especially in the South. The Irish bore the brunt of tensions that sometimes erupted into violence between Catholics and the Protestant majority. It was another instance of where white privilege was not equally distributed.

Today Catholics are fully assimilated into society. They inhabit an increasingly secular world in which theological dictates from the church carry far less weight than in earlier generations. Catholics, like members of any faith, pick and choose which teachings to follow. For instance, many U.S, Catholics want the church to allow priests to marry, allow women to become priests and come down hard on child abuse by priests and the church’s shameful cover-up of it.

The nomination of then-Professor Amy Coney Barrett to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 stirred up an awakening of anti-Catholicism. California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has the kind of voice that makes you wish you have remote control, tried to undermine the candidate’s legitimacy because she was a Catholic. Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Professor Barrett, “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern”.

Senator Feinstein’s brand of bigotry is less like old-fashioned anti-Catholicism and more about the failure of Catholicism to distinguish between public and private moral duties, such as when the Little Sisters of the Poor fought the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate all the way to the Supreme Court and won, or the church’s opposition to capital punishment. Of course, there was no mention of how some governors and mayors are keeping houses of worship closed because of the coronavirus while opening schools, businesses, and even athletic events. Hypocrisy is alive and well.

Ironically, it was because of the questioning of Judge Barrett during her previous confirmation hearing three years ago and the subsequent blowback that Senate Judiciary Committee members avoided obsessive and nauseating spritzing about Judge Barrett’s Catholicism. Republican senators were smart to repackage questions about the Judge’s religious beliefs into bigotry, hoping the Democrats would alienate Catholic voters just before the Nov. 3 election.

Democrats avoided the trap. While arguing that a Justice Barrett would jeopardize Roe vs. Wade and the Affordable Care Act, they bent over backward to make clear that they did not oppose the nomination because of her Catholicism. Other senators asked probing questions such as do you support white supremacy, have you ever committed a sexual assault, who does the laundry in the Barrett household, and do you play a musical instrument.

The rest, as they say, is pure commentary.

The rise of the new left

Much has been said and written about our divided society, in which there appears to be more tension than ever. The nation is angry, and America’s polarized discourse leaves many Americans rightfully fearing for the future.

Some claim the contemporary ideology underlying this division derives from cultural Marxism, a contentious term that refers to the strategy propounded by new left-wing theorists in the last century to use the institutions of a society’s culture to bring about revolution.

Cultural Marxism had its roots in the political philosophy propounded by far-left thinkers known as the Frankfurt School. Founded in Germany in 1923, the “Institute for Social Research” was the official name for a group of intellectuals who would play an important role in Europe and the U.S. Among their ideas was to dismantle and undermine the totality of a capitalist society.

Fleeing Hitler in the 1930s, these German academics first set up shop at Columbia University in New York City and then, beginning in 1940, in California. They identified popular culture as wielding a pervasive influence that conditioned the masses into acceptance of capitalist society.

From the 1960s onwards, the strategy was to infiltrate and eventually dominate social and cultural institutions, and thereby achieve cultural hegemony. Rather than the class warfare and the plight of workers, which was the focus of classical Marxist thinkers, they concentrated on areas such as racial, ethnic, and gender warfare, and identity politics.

The Frankfurt School’s new-left intellectuals realized that a Soviet-style revolution was not attractive to democratic Western societies and was unlikely to succeed. Conditions for the working class were improving due to trade union representation and an expanding franchise, among other things. Communism held little appeal to the industrial working class in whose name it had been invented.

Rather than expecting workers to seize control of the levers of political and economic life, they believed the way to bring about revolutionary change was to seed radical ideas within core institutions of society such as the media, arts, and universities.

They understood that culture mass produces consent for the West’s political system, and political revolution would be impossible without a cultural revolution. A successful revolution requires not just seizing political and economic power, but also conquest of the culture, broadly defined as everything from art and entertainment to social and sexual norms. The 1960s radical left-wing German student leader Rudi Dutschke described the strategy of capturing society’s commanding heights as the “long march through the institutions.” A cultural revolution to be achieved by using existing institutions, not overthrowing them.

The outcome of the culture war, like all wars, is wholly uncertain. But what is certain is that the late great Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was right when he said “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”

In plain terms, if you capture culture, politics will surely follow.