Seeking the Common Good Amid the U.S. Presidential Election

By Christopher G. Kerr, Executive Director, Ignatian Solidarity Network

Photo by Chris Kerr (Ignatian Solidarity Network)

Photo by Chris Kerr (Ignatian Solidarity Network)

"We need to participate for the common good. Sometimes we hear: a good Catholic is not interested in politics. This is not true: good Catholics immerse themselves in politics by offering the best of themselves so that the leader can govern." ­— Pope Francis

The United States is in the midst of one of the most tumultuous and vile presidential election battles in modern time. Throughout the primary and general election, we have seen candidates find new and disturbing ways to defy the values of decency presumed to be innate in public service. Candidates have called each other names, questioned the size of each other’s genitals, blatantly lied about the actions or words of another candidate during a public debate, suggested that violence might be justified if election results don’t support their cause, fueled conspiracy theories, thrown insults at fellow citizens who support their opponent, and used racism as a tool to gain support. All in all, it has been more than just a sad showing ­— it can leave us without much hope for the future of our country.
What is most disturbing to me, especially as Election Day nears, is the lack of emphasis on key issues facing the people of our country and the world, particularly issues facing those marginalized by poverty and injustice. Where is the common good? One does not have to look far to see these realities playing out in the lives of our neighbors near and far.
How can the Jesuit and Catholic heritage of our institutions help us make sense of the madness that Election 2016 has become? It would be easy to simply say, “I am out,” and steer clear of the voting booth this November. But as Pope Francis notes, this is not the call of our faith, regardless of how challenging it might be. We are called to immerse ourselves, to lift up the Gospel values that ground our campus communities and intersect with current civic realities. We are called to be people of hope and sometimes that means we need to step back and reflect on where that hope exists. 

Earlier this fall, the Ignatian Solidarity Network rolled out the Ignatian Examen for Civic Life, a nonpartisan prayer and reflection tool. Like many elements of our Jesuit heritage, the process of engaging in the election should start with reflection. Are we willing to engage in conversation with ourselves, with others, and even with God about the needs of our country — particularly the needs of the most vulnerable who are impacted by our country’s policies and actions? What can we be grateful for as a nation? How is the “common good” a part of our nation’s ethos? Where is there a need for reconciliation and healing? How are we giving a preferential option to those marginalized by poverty and injustice? These are a few of the questions that the Ignatian Examen for Civic Life asks us to consider.

Certainly (hopefully) we will vote, giving attention to the intersection of Gospel values and current civic realities. However, thinking beyond November, our reflection has to lead us to more than just a stop at the ballot box. Regardless of who is elected president, we need to be prepared to hold them accountable, not just for the commitments they will make, but the commitments that respond to the “common good,” that protect the vulnerable in our own borders, and promote a spirit of global citizenship. We have a lot of work to do.