NEW YORK – It was just a coincidence, if you believe in coincidences. Readings at Catholic Masses this past Sunday, chosen long in advance by church authorities, told of the end of the times.
Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch.
That was just the Old Testament. The reading from Luke foretold persecutions, executions, wars, earthquakes, famines and plagues.
“I would have given anything not to have an apocalyptic Gospel reading this week,” said Father Larry Ford during his homily at the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Manhattan. Knowing laughter filled the pews. Donald Trump was the elephant in the abbey.
Many who voted for Hillary Clinton (including almost 90 percent of Manhattanites) have been speaking in end-is-nigh terms. And many immigrants — a sizable portion of Holy Name parishioners — are feeling especially uneasy about their future.
At about the same time as Father Larry stood at the pulpit, protesters stood outside Trump Tower just a few kilometers away, chanting and holding signs — some clever (“You Cant Comb Over Misogyny”), some just sad (“Hillary Won!”).
Protests have occurred every day in New York since the election, and in about a dozen other cities, too. Not since 1860 has anything like this happened. The demonstrations may be cathartic, but they are mostly counterproductive, because they are not only about Trump’s policies but his legitimacy. Democrats could hardly have designed a better way to affirm some of Trump’s core campaign messages.
Liberals are hypocrites; Republicans are victims of a media double standard. Democrats (and some Republicans) rightly expressed outrage when Trump suggested he may not accept the results of the election. Yet “Not my president” has become the slogan of the protest movement, with little outcry from liberals. Had Trump supporters adopted the same slogan, Democrats would have called them a threat to democracy.
Liberals are elitists who don’t understand “real” America. The fact that protests have been occurring in large, liberal cities furthers the image of the party as arrogant and out of touch with the heartland. If Democratic leaders want to prevent Republicans from consolidating their gains, they ought to send a clear message: The time for protesting Trump’s policies will probably come, but appearing to be sore losers makes a bad situation worse.
Cities are chaotic and dangerous. The confrontations with police have led to hundreds of arrests and criminal destruction of property in Portland. The protesters could hardly do a better job giving credence to Trump’s false claim that we need a strongman to restore law and order.
The system is rigged. The protesters are setting the stage for Trump to claim, should things go badly: “They never gave us a chance.” President Barack Obama has struck the right note in post-election comments, emphasizing the importance of a peaceful transition of power and the need for national unity. Democrats in Congress ought to echo him more forcefully.
Father Larry expressed sympathy for all those who were deeply disappointed by the election. But without mentioning the demonstrators, he suggested a different response.
Sandwiched between the two apocalyptic readings was a passage from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians: “If anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat. We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others. Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food.”
The message, said Father Larry, is that it’s that easy to get so caught up in what others are doing that we neglect what we ourselves must do. “Some on the left want to tell the right what to do,” he said. “Some on the right want to tell the left what to do. And some in the center want to tell both sides what to do.” (How did he see me in the back of the church?)
Instead, he said, we ought to take the message of St. Paul to heart: “Go and do the work.” He meant the work of following the Gospel in our own lives, but he might as well have been talking to Democrats about rebuilding a shattered party.
There’s a great deal of work to be done, and with the protests continuing, it’s going to get harder by the day.
Francis Barry writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg.
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