Since Inauguration Day, critics of Donald Trump have marched, rioted, and verbally abused and in some cases viciously assaulted their opponents on a scale previously unseen.
Some of the anger is understandable. As I said repeatedly last fall, Mr. Trump’s words and behavior during the presidential campaign, on immigration and other issues, were deeply troubling. But in one of our history’s darker ironies, Mr. Trump benefited from an opposing candidate who had her own equally, though different, ugly and disqualifying baggage.
Mr. Trump is now President Trump, and curiously, some of the harshest, ongoing fury directed at him has nothing to do with his personal character. Rather, it’s a very special brand of “progressive” intolerance for the approach his administration may take toward a range of difficult social issues, including abortion. It involves a visceral media and leadership-class contempt for people like the hundreds of thousands of stubbornly good persons who continue to march each January—peacefully, respectfully, and joyfully—in defense of the unborn child. The contrast with their critics is a lesson in what does, and does not, constitute responsible public witness.
When the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized permissive abortion forty-four years ago this month, abortion supporters argued that abortion was a sad necessity. As such, it needed to be made safe, legal, and rare. Now it’s celebrated as a sacred right that demands veneration from the whole culture, including the millions of ordinary people who see this kind of officially blessed homicide as a gravely evil act. One of the more promising signs from the new administration is its apparent sympathy for some key pro-life concerns, from the appointment of Supreme Court Justices to the defunding of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.
Of course, being “pro-life” involves a great deal more than a defense of the unborn child, though it certainly needs to start there. Maybe the best way to amplify and elevate President Trump’s understanding of that word “pro-life” would be for a premier Catholic university—say, for example, the University of Notre Dame—to invite him to campus to offer its commencement address, to explain his personal evolution on the abortion issue, and to share, listen, and learn with a cross-section of students and faculty in a respectful dialogue on the meaning of human dignity.
Notre Dame takes pride in its tradition of welcoming to campus U.S. presidents from both parties and with very different views. In that light, the invitation would certainly make sense and might be fruitful in unforeseen ways. God writes straight with crooked lines.
In the meantime, abortion is still with us. As thousands of Catholics and other pro-life persons gather in Washington on January 27 and walk together in the annual March for Life, the time has never been better, nor the need more urgent, to pray for our country, to pray for the end of abortion, and to pray for a conversion in the hearts our leaders. Forty-four years after Roe, a reverence for the sanctity of human life still burns in the spirit of far too many people to ignore.
Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is archbishop of Philadelphia.