Chris McDonnell’s weekly Catholic Times column: America…

The time of reckoning

Chris McDonnell CT January 22nd 2021

These few words are being written in the days leading up to the Inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice-President of the United States of America. They have been days of turbulence and anxiety as a major democracy seeks a peaceful transfer of power, days of darkness and division, a time of harsh noise and confusion. Given the speed of events it is quite likely that there will have been significant change by the time of publication. That is in the nature of a weekly publication.

Maybe we are too close to events to make a balanced judgment of the long term consequences of these concluding days of the Trump Presidency; that will be for another generation to judge. But we can, within the context of our immediate time, reflect on the period we have lived through during the four years of the 45th President.

The events of January 6th have already been given many titles, Revolution, Insurrection, Civil Terrorism, intended Coup to name but a few. What is clear is that a large crowd on the streets were encouraged to advance on the Capitol buildings carrying their assorted flags and banners of allegiance and who then proceeded to cause chaos in the seat of government at the behest of their nation’s President.

That is not how a democracy functions. When, after vigorous debate, an election determines the prevailing voice, those in the majority govern by consent of the people. That position has been challenged in a basic and fundamentally flawed manner in recent days with a denial of the validity of the Presidential vote.

Could we have seen it coming? What warning lights have been flashing that have been ignored? The constant twitter stream emanating from the depths of the White House should have alerted us to the emotional instability of the holder of the Presidential Office. The removal of that avenue of malicious misrepresentation was finally taken last week – not without cries about freedom of speech being raised loud and clear.

One question that Christians have to face is the justification of their political allegiance to a President who held to such a dubious ethical position. They were fully aware of his incipient racism, of his casual sexual behavior and crude attempts to cover his tracks, his bullying manner, his over-inflated egotism and his inability to tell the truth. Yet still their vote wrote a cross by his name, and he came to power legitimately through national election.

One of the first warning signs after election was his persistent attack on the validity of the media. What he didn’t like he called ‘fake news’, a clear reflection from history. Dictators, whether from the Right or Left of the political spectrum, have always sought to pour scorn on a free press fearing it will, rightly, call them to account for their actions. The courage of journalists who filmed and reported the devastating events in the Capitol at great personal risk should be recognized.

Some commentaries have spoken of the Senate and the House in religious terms, as being ‘sacred spaces’. It is a term we usually reserve for places of prayer significant to a religious community. Yet in the present context it is understandable. Somewhere special has been violated and its significance in the life of a nation sullied.

Where was the voice of the US hierarchy during the years of this emerging aberration? ‘Missing’ would be an appropriate term, save for a few honest voices. ‘Supportive’ would be an appropriate phrase for the pro-Trump leadership of the Cardinal Archbishop of New York. They failed to see that his pro-life position was little more than a political ploy to win Catholic votes.

Now we have in Joe Biden, a President taking office whose life-long adherence is to our Catholic faith in the Risen Christ. Yet in November 2019, he was refused the Eucharist in a parish in South Carolina due to his perceived views on the complex issue of abortion. Even since his election as the 46th President there have been those in the hierarchy and in parishes who cannot bring themselves to show enthusiastic support of his Presidency. Their association with the far Right seems to be the preferred option. The tone of antagonistic posts relating to Biden on some US Catholic websites is despicable.

When Abraham Lincoln gave his Presidential Inaugural speech in March 1861, he used these words: We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’ Within a few months however the United States was plunged into a bitter civil war between North and South which was to cost countless thousands of lives before its conclusion in May 1865. It was stunning to see the flag of the Confederacy being paraded through the corridors of power all these years later. Symbols have meaning.

Each of us has a personal responsibility for our actions within a democracy. Respect for the rule of law is at the root of any democratic society. The right to protest must not be confused with the riot of mob rule where the violation of sacred places replaces reasoned argument. We should never forget the account of Moses and the Burning Bush and the injunction to ‘Take off your shoes, this is holy ground’.

The recent Presidential phone call to election officials in Georgia, trying to get 11,000 odd votes reassigned was an abuse of power. It gave rise to these few lines written the following day.


The asking price


Eleven seven eighty was the asking price

demanded by Crow from his lofty perch

pecking through the final fall of crumbs

that litter the arid ground.


He who begs to differ with the people’s

voice, who seeks to emulate the power

of despots and dictators from by-gone

years of tattered memory.


A time of danger and hysterical division

of harsh raised voices and shaking fists

seeking to outplay the honest ball-park

game with cries of ‘foul!’


A never-ending shout, calling out mobs

to run the city streets, creating trouble

encouraging the stand between patriots

and traitors once again.


Listen to the endless list of brazen lies

spilling with insidious intent in streams

of garbled utterances, running torrents

of a crazy, made-up tale.


Speak truth to falsehood, let others see

the courage of your voice, hear you tell

the story as it really is, democracy hung

out to dry in winter wind.


Cry tears of dreams from another time

remember words of a passionate regret

spoken to courageous crowds gathered

once by a seat of Lincoln.

What happened on this recent Feast of Epiphany cannot, must not, pass unchallenged. The raw scenes of savage fighting that we saw from the seat of US government were mind-blowing. Such scenes in other countries would have rightly been called to critical account. The following week the House moved swiftly to vote impeachment for a second time of this Presidency, bringing a number of Republicans across the Floor in support of the Motion. By the time this is published the United States will have a new President, the 46th. Let us hope and pray that peace may now return to a divided nation.





















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