Proper Political and Moral Alignment


With my belated discovery of Netflix (coinciding with an adjustment of habits to bring some balance to my daily life), I watched Romero last night.  It’s about Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980.

Inasmuch as the oppressors in power in that country at that time were an alliance of capitalists and militarists, the movie implies sympathy for the Marxists on the other side (although not as strongly as I’d expected).  At least as portrayed in the movie, Romero wasn’t interested in communism, but he couldn’t remain passive about the real violence against the people, including some of the more-radical priests under his authority.

Given his concern for the poor (sounding very much like Pope Francis), Archbishop Romero brings out an important theme that those who watch the world more with a political eye than a theological one might miss.  Those who oppress the poor are the enemies of morality, but acknowledging as much doesn’t, of itself, make their opponents its heroes.

That is, Marxists who leverage the ire of the poor in order to foment revolution and bring themselves into power aren’t made moral (or intellectually correct) just because they’re fighting real oppression by somebody else.  Even within the narrow realm of movies about political violence against the Catholic Church in Latin America, one can support this truism with For Greater Glorya story about the Cristero War in Mexico, when Catholics resisted the oppression of Plutarco Elías Calles, who more or less fit the mold of a Marxist revolutionary and who governed that country in the early part of the Twentieth Century.

Properly understood, the collection of views that currently fall under the banner of conservatism in the United States provides a basis for society that resists these unstable extremes.  Archbishop Romero was a heroic figure, and when, in the movie about him, he led a group of El Salvadoran peasants into a church that the military had made into a barracks, it occurred to me that conservatives have ceded ground that is rightfully ours when it comes to supporting the poor and oppressed, balancing order and economic liberty with a moral culture, concern for charity, and belief in equality.

Waking up with these thoughts on a gray February morning brought something of a melancholy feel to the morning.  Today we’ll have further indication whether the United States is truly prepared to give itself a presidential choice between a devotee of the socialist fantasy and a dangerous egomaniac who’s won his popularity as a reality TV cult of personality.  Either way, I suppose, we’ll have opportunity for heroes and martyrs, and after all, a well-balanced sword must be ground from both sides.

But this intellectual understanding doesn’t change the sense of foreboding, which is something like the Garden of Gethsemane or its parallel in Romero, when the archbishop kneels in the road and says, “I can’t… you must… I’m yours… show me the way.”

  • bottomfish

    It is possible that Trump is more intelligent and more resourceful than he appears to be, that he looks on the voters as consumers who are so sick of the Obama brand that they demand something totally different. So he bends all his effort in a calculated role play to becoming the anti-Obama. If so, then he would not be as bad a President as he may appear.

  • GaryM

    Bill Clinton supported NAFTA, along with pushing manufacturing jobs to China via trade agreements (he said the knowledge industry will fill in the gaps). He also eliminated the Glass-Steagall Act, and widened the Community Reinvestment Act of 1995, allowing banks to get into risk taking on steroids.

    The outcome was to create new wealth for the 1%, eliminate jobs that low educated Americans could work, and push the US towards one of the greatest financial meltdowns in world history. Those at the bottom were hit the hardest, and continue to this day to be disproportionately impacted.

    The Dems have used all this as an excuse to layer so much new debt on US taxpayers that the impact of the next crisis cannot be speculated.

    All of this on the false premise that feel-good government helps the poor.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    The Anglican communion, which is not much for modern day “saints”, recognizes Oscar Romero as a “hero of Christianity”.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    While I can agree that Trump is sometimes “full of himself”, I think ‘egomaniac” goes to far. I also think this may act as a safeguard against making a fool of himself, such people do not suffer embarrassment easily.. We also have to consider our situation, would everyone who believes Rubio, or Juan Bush, could defeat Sanders please raise their hand.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      My problem is that I’m no longer sure that Trump would be a better choice than Sanders. They’re horrible in different ways, but I’m not sure which tilts the scales more.

      • Rhett Hardwick

        In this day and age, I suppose the real question would be ” who are the advisers”. Granted,. Trump might draw sycophants. I fear Sanders would attract “fellow travelers” . Who knows what will happen; Washington seems to have been sterile but managed to father a country.
        While Trump is not my ideal, I believe he could be contained. Sanders’ insidious appeal of “free” might prove more difficult.
        I run into a lot of blue collar guys. I am not sure where they get their information, but at 5 PM they are well up on the day’s news. They are universally for Trump. I find this heartening.

        • ShannonEntropy

          I fear Sanders would attract “fellow travelers”

          Most Bernie voters are what you might call
          “Youth·ful Idiots”

  • Rhett Hardwick

    Having mulled Justin’s assertion that Trump is an egomaniac, some other possibilities have suggested themselves. First, can it reasonably be thought that anyone running for President does not have a substantial ego? Most are “politicians” they have learned to be “humble” and suggest that they have been “called to duty”. Could it simply be that Trump is unvarnished and untutored? He must draw some glee from the idea that he has walked into the lions den and kicked ass. Caution should not be abandoned.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      Here’s one example of the difference: A person with a strong (even overly strong) ego who has had experience with the media skewing his statements hears that the pope has said he’s not a Christian and has the humility and cool to pause, consider the implications, seek the full context, and offer a humble public statement, even if he gives no ground. An egomaniac takes to Twitter to defend his honor.

      • Rhett Hardwick

        As I said, Trump is unvarnished and untutored, this may be his downfall. Common sense would argue against offering offense. I am sure that Trump is “on a roll”.

        As an ardent Catholic, in the Northeast, you might have difficulty in seeing how this might play out in South Carolina. Many who regard themselves as serious “Christians” see the Pope’s claim to be the “vicar of Christ on earth” as at least presumptuous. Trump may have been concerned about the primary directly in front of him, and decided to “play it”. I saw that he did rather well with the “evangelicals”. This does not necessarily meet with my approval. A restrained reference to a “foreign” religious leader lecturing on “American” politics might have served as well.

        In my own mind, I draw parallels with the fall of the Wiemar Republic. I am certainly not associating Trump with the Nazis. It is more that the government has failed in many people’s estimates, and the “natives are restless”. They desire a “man on a horse’.

        • OceanStateCurrent

          I’m not looking at it as a Northeastern Catholic, but as an American citizen watching people audition for the job of president. I wouldn’t want a candidate to react like that to any religious leader. It was a foolish reaction, and it doesn’t make it any better if it was pandering.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            I agree that pandering is, ultimately, divisive. I would much prefer a “united front” with broad appeal. Still, as a country, we are not as good as we seek to believe. I do not recall, but understand, that when the first Catholic, Kennedy, was elected there were rumors of a “hot line to the Vatican so that he could get orders”. I regard myself as a Christian and took offense at the Pope’s comments. My response would probably be along the lines of “Thank you for your opinion, Holy Father. But don’t expect to see us begging in the snow like Heinrich IV”. I would certainly have thought “how about some ameliorating compliments on the billions we have expended to improve the lot of Central Americans”. When the Pope speaks to Americans,he has to remember he is not “preaching to the choir”. Many will be skeptical remembering papal schemes from the past. For myself, I do not think him a bad man, although perhaps a bit confused. I am sure these are trying times for him.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            As Catholicism shifts from a Euro-centric religion, to a Third World religion; I wonder if the Pope is not confused as to what groups to address.

  • Phil Spadola

    “Properly understood, the collection

    of views that currently fall under the banner of conservatism in the United States provides a basis for society that resists these unstable extremes. Archbishop Romero was a heroic figure, and when, in the movie about him, he led a group of El Salvadoran peasants into a church that the military had made into a barracks, it occurred to me that conservatives have ceded ground that is rightfully ours when it comes to supporting the poor and oppressed, balancing order and economic liberty with a moral culture, concern for charity, and belief in equality. ”

    He was heroic and he practiced liberation theology (a school of Catholic thought that advocates social and economic justice for the poor) which drew the ire of leading conservatives in the us before his assassination in 1980. The US promised investigation and prosecution for those involved as the US at the time were backing the Salvadoran military. Nothing came of it. Aid increased in the years after and the killings of priests increased along with thousands of peasants and suspected leftists. During Reagan’s reign in that decade deaths squads operating throughout Central America were trained in the US at our military bases. Conservative commentary at the time argued for more aid to combat the those who were fighting the oppression in their countries and expressing disgust for those connected to liberation theology as either Marxist dupes or outright Marxists. Conservative Senators such as Jesse Helms , top Reagan officials , conservative media outlets like the Wall Street Journal praised Salvadoran Major Roberto D’Aubuission ( the man who ordered Romero’s death) as a democrat and patriot and capitalist. So back in the day I think your conservatives had plenty of opportunity to do the right thing like in your words support the poor and oppressed. Instead they did the opposite.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      You miss part of the point, which is that these matters are complex. The fact that the Marxists used the poor to their advantage doesn’t mean that advancing Marxists helps the people in the long-term, much less that backing them is the appropriate move for the government of another country, which is responsible for its own people.

      • Phil Spadola

        It’s tough to help people in the long term when they have been killed by death squads that were funded by our government . Trying to escape that reality now and suggest that your favorite ideology would have acted differently is simply wrong. And my comments are not an endorsement of Marxism. The facts are not all known but what is known is that conservatives in the US did nothing about Romero’s death or all the killing that continued through the great conservative Reagan years except aid those who did the killings

        • OceanStateCurrent

          I’m not saying everybody in history who’s been more or less conservative has handled every particular consideration perfectly. Indeed, it is the point of this essay that we need to be more aware of the moral dimensions of our policies.

          But to be clear, I’m also not inclined to join you in attacking the United States in this instance because it’s beside the point.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            “I’m not saying everybody in history who’s been more or less conservative has handled every particular consideration perfectly.”

            The great lesson of history is that if things had not happened as they did does not mean that they would never have happened at all.

            If Al Bell had not invented the telephone, we might not have the National Geographic Society; but it does not mean we would use smoke signals.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            Why is it that Spanish speaking countries seem to have so much trouble with democracy? A professor I know suggested that Spain was the last country in Europe to be reached by the “enlightenment” and that its progress across the Atlantic was even slower.

          • ShannonEntropy

            The two biggest Spanish-speaking nations
            — Spain & Mexico — are democracies

            And Russia — the biggest almost-all-white country — is totalitarian

            Lettuce bring Capitalism fully into Cuba and they will be a democracy within one generation

          • Rhett Hardwick

            And in the course of their history, how many revolutions have they had. Within living memory, Spain decided it needed a king again and went searching through Europe for a King. I think they found a Norwegian with some claim to Hapsburg heredity. In terms of British, or American, democracy, coups are a regular event through much of Latin America. I don’t know how long it takes to be “stable” but it is only a hundred years, or so, since General Patton was driving around with dead Mexicans on the fenders of his car. Cuba’s troubles began when Battista was fraudulently elected and then declared himself “President for Life”. No one seriously objected. Prior to Battista, the U.S. had occupied Cuba 4-5 times. Marines are now active in Honduras. Justin mentions El Salvador, Chile’s coup was about the same period. Argentina’s army has fought one war since 1814 (Falklands) and exists primarily to ward off government overthrow. Nicaragua?

            I suppose we must accept some blame. We created countries as needed and allowed United Fruit to govern many others. The Marine Corps “Small Wars Manual” is still largely based on its experience in Central America. Personally, I think it all stems from the Duchess of Alba agreeing to pose for Goya’s “The nude Maja”.