On Thursday, September 21, the well-known public intellectual and editor of First Things magazine, R. R. Reno, visited the College of the Holy Cross to give a lecture. Also an author of several books, Dr. Reno focuses his work largely on Catholic theology and Catholic social teaching. Sponsored by the Society of Saints Peter and Paul and the Fenwick Review, the lecture, titled “A Christian Interpretation of the Age of Trump,” was an analysis of America’s current political climate as seen through the lens of a Christian perspective.
In an attempt to discern what Trump’s election has revealed about American society, Dr. Reno highlighted the difference between the era marked by change, openness, and deregulation after World War II, and the dawning modern-day era of re-consolidation and limits; in essence, the dichotomy between flux and permanence in American society.
What Dr. Reno described as the “postwar consensus” was the United States’ emphasis on deconsolidation, openness, and fluidity. He contended that this sparked major changes in the U.S. after World War II, including desegregation/anti-discrimination, the feminist movement, and economic deregulation (especially under President Reagan). Despite the fact that the policies and changes of the “postwar consensus” were needed, Dr. Reno maintained that the U.S. has since taken deconsolidation and openness to the extreme. This consensus has become so “decadent and dysfunctional” that “everything is liquid and we exhaust ourselves treading water in an endless ocean of flux and change,” he stated. According to Dr. Reno, these priorities are not in sync with our modern day realities.
President Trump, however, ran on a rejection of this “postwar consensus.” He contradicted the openness of our current immigration system and of free trade agreements such as NAFTA. Consequently, Dr. Reno argued, after Trump’s victory and amidst our changing political and social climate, many Americans have become unsettled because this consensus is breaking down. Dr. Reno projected that a new consensus of reconsolidation and boundaries is upon us; an era defined by things such as more stringent immigration reform, less universalism in international politics, and an economy that is less open. In his view, Americans are drowning in fluidity and require structure, stability, and regulation. He asserted that we cannot mend our divided society and build bridges on water; only from one piece of land to another. In essence, his argument centered on the notion that America desperately needs a rebalancing of society, which seems to have been, in part, ushered in by the age of Trump.
One of the attendees at the lecture was Geoffrey Vaughan, a professor at Assumption College in Worcester, who has read Dr. Reno’s work for years and was eager to hear him speak. When asked about his opinions of the lecture, Vaughan remarked, “We have this underlying consensus of left and right, democrat and republican, and that deconsolidation is the way to go, and the difference between the two parties is merely emphasis on culture or on economy. You can make this a bigger argument about both parties and not just Trump. I like what [Dr. Reno] had to say because I think it gives a more robust explanation than simply populism.”
A Holy Cross senior named Melissa Gryan, when asked about her takeaway from the lecture, commented, “I think the main thing that comes to mind is immigration. In caring for our country and making sure we have something to offer people, we can’t move away and discredit the needs of others. Although we do have a strong duty to family and to the close neighbor, we can’t completely abandon ‘the other’. So, if we can’t admit people into this country for one reason or another, [we must] find another substantial way to help them.”