Breda O’Brien: Reflex rejection of Trump as risky as adulation

Reaction to US president’s Supreme Court pick shows dangerous polarisation

As I see it, there are two possible approaches to the president of the United States, Donald Trump – and both are equally dangerous. The first is to endorse him no matter what he does. The second is to abandon all attempts at objectivity when discussing any of his actions or utterances.

Take the reaction to his nominee for the US Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. Apparently, according to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, “If you breathe air, drink water, eat food, take medicine or in any other way interact with the courts – this is a very bad decision”.

Therefore it was pretty irresponsible of the Democrats to endorse Gorsuch, or at least offer no opposition to him, when he was appointed to his current judicial post in 2006?

The reality is that Gorsuch is highly qualified. And while he may not tick all the boxes for conservatives, neither is he the liberal’s nightmare that Pelosi presents. Her rhetoric just reinforces the idea that Democrats are completely out of touch with many Americans.


Supreme Court appointments were the most important issue for about 21 per cent of voters in the presidential election. Of that minority, 57 per cent chose Trump because he promised to appoint a conservative. Mind you, a July 2015 Gallup poll found 44 per cent of Americans had never heard of Antonin Scalia, the larger-than- life justice whose death led to the Supreme Court vacancy.


Obviously, Trump’s choice is not a liberal. Gorsuch resembles Scalia in that he is an originalist. In other words, he thinks that when you interpret the law you should look to the probable intentions of the framers of the US constitution rather than your own personal preferences. He believes that legislators and judges have different roles and that the separation of those roles is vital.

Interestingly, as well, Gorsuch delivered a much-quoted speech after the death of Antonin Scalia. Few have mentioned that in this speech Gorsuch chose to highlight the case of a Mexican citizen, married to a US citizen, and the father of four US citizens. This Mexican man was deported, and his wife sought unsuccessfully to have him readmitted on a spousal visa. His case dragged on for years.

Gorsuch was highly critical of the US immigration bureau, which ignored a ruling made by the court on which Gorsuch currently serves that would have allowed the Mexican man to immediately re-enter the US. Instead, the agency said he would have to wait an additional 10 years before applying. So Gorsuch’s approach is hardly the stuff of “Build the Wall” rhetoric.

Nor is Gorsuch exactly a rock-ribbed conservative in his choice of church, which is Episcopalian. His faith is important to him. He serves as an usher at his church, and the Washington Post reports that it is a liberal one with a female as pastor. (Having a woman as pastor hardly qualifies an Episcopalian church as liberal, but a quick browse of the parish website shows a strong concern for social justice and, in particular,the homeless.)

Unlike Irish Catholics, who if dissatisfied with their faith tend to drift away or noisily leave but go nowhere else, Americans are famous for shopping around for churches. One US commentator, Rod Dreher of the American Conservative, was raised as an evangelical, converted to Catholicism and now is a member of an Orthodox church. He is not atypical.

If Gorsuch were uncomfortable with his church’s stances, there would be lots of places where he could go, which tends to confirm he is not the hard-right bogeyman some liberals are painting him as.

However, the most important points about Gorsuch, if he is appointed (and I think he will be), are that he will honour the law, and that he is disciplined and clear-thinking.

This is in stark contrast to the president who nominated him, and the contrast will only become more pronounced.

Dangerous populism

Trump seems to suffer from a severe lack of impulse control. His executive order on immigration and refugees was ill-thought- out, profoundly unjust and created chaos. It is not, as has been presented, a blanket ban on Muslims because if it were then Saudi Arabia would surely be on the list.

But Trump’s actions do represent a dangerous populism, which sadly, seems to be working for him, as almost half of Americans polled support the travel ban.

Perhaps this temporary stay on immigration may cause American Catholics to think again. As St John Paul said 20 years ago of illegal migrants, welcoming them and showing them solidarity constitutes “a duty of hospitality and fidelity to Christian identity itself”. John Paul was not endorsing open borders, simply respect for and solidarity with the stranger, a key Christian value.

Catholics may share common ground with Trump on his newly discovered respect for human life in the womb, but he is about as far from the Christian message as it is possible to get on other issues.

It is possible to approve of some aspects of someone’s policies while rigorously criticising views that are unjust or inequitable. That is why neither uncritical adulation nor knee-jerk condemnation qualifies as an intelligent approach to an unpredictable, impulsive master of populism.