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Our Catholic President

March 15, 2017

In American politics, Donald Trump is unique, but if we search for reasons why, we struggle to find the key to his political and economic views.  However, if we look to England of forty years ago, we’ll find someone very much like “The Donald.”

In the mid-1960s, a British member of Parliament, Enoch Powell, commanded the attention of the British public by his stance against immigration and the British Labor Party’s Race Relations Bill.

Collapse of Britain’s empire after World War II generated a flood of immigrants from British India and other Dominions that threatened the racial makeup of England.

By the late 1960s, Indian Sikh’s were visible on British transit as bus drivers and Council Housing that had served a largely white British working class was roiled by the admission of non-white immigrants from the Dominions.

Enoch Powell’s stand against immigration attracted the support of British workers who had never supported Conservative politicians, but felt threatened by the influx of immigrants. When the Conservative Party won the 1970 general election, Powell’s supporters claimed that Powell’s stance on immigration guaranteed the Conservative victory.

Enoch Powell, unlike Trump, was an academic, a classicist and student of philosophy who early in his career was fascinated with the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

“Will to power” is a strong impulse in all politicians, but Powell’s identification with Nietzsche went beyond the pale of English politics and raised concerns that Powell had not learned lessons from Britain’s battle with Nazi Germany.

Opponents of President Trump express concern about his immigration policies, his frequent verbal slights against women (the weaker sex), his failure to search for specialists in public policy who might inform and enrich his views, his self-confidence and absolute belief in his own intuition and judgment.

Those characteristics are compatible with Nietzsche’s concept of the Superman or Übermensch. If Nietzsche influenced the President, where might he have read any of Nietzsche’s works?

Though President Trump frequently mentions that he earned an undergraduate degree in Finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, he actually attended his first two years of college at Jesuit Fordham University in Bronx, New York.

What courses were required of students who entered Fordham in 1964 can be learned from the Fordham catalog for that year. I’ve asked Fordham to provide a copy, but I must assume that a survey course in Philosophy required of every Fordham undergraduate would have referred to Nietzsche and perhaps attracted the attention of a Freshman recently graduated from a military academy.

Trump’s appeal to strength against weakness is not necessarily Nietzchean, but we should not be surprised, therefore, that other aspects of Fordham University may have “stuck.” For example, President Trump’s commitment to healthcare for all Americans and his moving statements that the poor will not be abandoned suggest the influence of the Catholic idea of “Social Justice.”  Developed in 1931 by Pope Pius XI in the Encyclical, Quadragessimo Anno, the concept Social Justice directs faithful Catholics to support the working classes, criticizes “individualism” and free markets and argues for an active government role in economic affairs.

It is highly likely that what President Trump learned at Fordham was more influential than what he gained from his studies at Wharton. If that is the case, President Trump may be viewed as a Catholic President.

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