In the debate, both candidates ripped morality to shreds

Regardless of which candidate might have won the June 27 debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the American public was the clear loser. The debate demonstrated that neither candidate is fit to be president of the United States for the next four years. Full stop. But unless something dramatic and unforeseen happens, one of them will be. That leaves us Catholics with a lose/lose choice. This is not necessarily to say that we should sit out the presidential election. But the debate reiterated the sad truth that neither candidate is one that we can get behind with any kind of conviction or enthusiasm.

Within minutes, Joe Biden confirmed what everyone already knows, namely that his cognitive decline makes him unfit to be president. He stumbled and mumbled through answers, often veering from the topic into confused and incoherent tangents. It was clear that Biden had rehearsed topical talking points in his debate preparation. Even so, he was not able to repeat those in a comprehensible way. His vacant stares, awkward pauses, and unintelligible answers were painful to watch. We must not celebrate Biden’s decline nor make fun of it. But neither should we reelect him as president.

And, of course, Biden doubled down on his advocacy for abortion on demand for any or no reason up to and including the term to live birth. “I support Roe v. Wade,” he asserted, before rambling through a nonsensical attempt to explain what Roe held. But while his answer was incoherent, his position is clear: women should be able to terminate the lives of their unborn children without any restrictions or limits.

Limited opposition to abortion

On the other hand, Donald Trump’s performance also confirmed what we already know. His petulance, pettiness and dishonesty demonstrated that he is morally unfit to be president. Often, rather than to answer questions, he used his time to repeat misinformation about his record as president and his personal life. Even the best U.S. presidents have had moral and personality shortcomings. But Trump’s faults reach depths that few — if any — presidents or presidential candidates have descended.

Of course, Trump stated that he is opposed to abortion. But his opposition ends at the mythical abortion “to protect the life of the mother.” And he had stated prior to the debate that, having carried out his promises in his prior term, he is washing his hands of the abortion issue. If elected, he will not be an ally of the unborn or those who advocate for them.

Treating immigrants like pawns

Moreover, Trump’s immigration policy is untenable. To be clear: immigration does not have the moral or policy clarity of, for example, abortion. But this does not mean it is unimportant. For a public policy issue that requires the precision of a scalpel, Trump uses a sledgehammer. We Catholics must not punt on immigration simply because it is open to good-faith policy debates. Nor should we excuse our choice for president on such an issue. Trump’s immigration position demonizes every immigrant by his invocation of extreme cases. Do we need immigration reform in the U.S.? Yes, most assuredly. But neither Trump’s nor Biden’s positions are consistent with Catholic moral theology. And neither shows any inclination to treat immigrants as anything other than political pawns.

It is a sad state of affairs when a great country like the United States is faced with a choice of two candidates who are not competent to be president. But here we are. And while we Catholics debate and deliberate over the next several months, we must not limit ourselves to the policy positions of the candidates. Rather, we must ask ourselves whether casting a vote for either of these candidates causes us to participate in the moral erosion of public life. And, as such, we must ask ourselves what it does to our own souls. Readers may come to good-faith conclusions other than mine. But those conclusions must take into consideration the moral fabric of our lives together. My own position is that both candidates rip that fabric to shreds.

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