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October 20, 2016

In case you missed it, my piece dismantling Eric Fehrnstrom’s initial support on social media for the Trump campaign’s desperate attempt to label Clinton an “anti-Catholic bigot” can be read here. Comically, Mr. Fehrnstrom went ahead and wrote a Globe column in which he attempts to support this Hail Mary pass by The Donald’s camp (Sorry couldn’t resist). What follows is the debunking Fehrnstrom's latest column so richly deserves.

Fehrnstrom claims that Hillary Clinton hopes to succeed where Henry VIII failed by changing the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Each line of his latest column (“Clinton’s revolution against the Catholic Church”) strains to paint Clinton as a Godless schemer intent on employing the power of the United States Government to foment a secular progressive revolution from within the ranks of faithful American Catholics in direct and audacious contradiction to our creedal commitment to religious liberty.Fehrnstrom writes, “[t]here are few things more chilling than a person in possession of political power, whether a sovereign or a candidate for president, believing they can rid society of religious beliefs they don’t like.”

Apparently, readers were supposed to be too shocked at Clinton’s audacity here to notice that he conflated the government and a political candidate (i.e. “whether a sovereign or a candidate for president.”) Attacking political candidates or activists for seeking to convince American Catholics to support the constitutional rights of women is only a tenable argument if their effort involves the illegal use of government power.Otherwise, it’s a very thinly veiled attack on free speech and open political debate, not to mention an insult to the intelligence of American Catholics. Simply pretending that private citizens trying to influence the opinions of Catholic voters is comparable to “Soviet anti-Catholic campaigns” or to Fidel Castro’s exiling of Catholic priests and the “dismantling of the Catholic educational system” in Cuba is absurd on its face.

Does Fehrnstrom actually believe that Clinton or any of her supporters whose opinions were revealed in the wiki-leaked emails, is suggesting the employment of state power to finish the job abandoned by 16th Century European Catholic reformers?If he does, then he’s a fool.If he doesn’t, then he’s a fool and a liar. Trying to hide the truck-sized hole in his argument in a subordinate clause is pretty clear evidence of intellectual dishonesty.

Fehrnstrom, possibly concerned that his deception was too noticeable, pivots to a tactical critique of Clinton’s “revolution against religious authority.” He claims that her scheme will not work; that it has not helped her to attract Catholic support in this campaign. As evidence, he cites a single poll released last week. The reality is that Trump has and is having quite a bit of trouble holding onto Catholic support that has long been taken for granted by GOP nominees. It’s a problem that has been pretty widely discussed in the media for months (for examples go here and here).

Each Fehrnstrom column in the Globe concludes with the following description of the author: “Eric Fehrnstrom is a Republican political analyst and media strategist, and was a senior advisor to Governor Mitt Romney.” This would seem to suggest that Fehrnstrom is a good political analyst and media strategist, but trying to paint Clinton and her aides as communist schemers attempting to bring down the Vatican by creating advocacy groups for liberal American Catholics seems more like the work of a political satirist than a political strategist.As a very typical American Catholic (i.e. a cafeteria Catholic) I can only assume that Fehrnstrom’s precise motive here is similar to that of Trump’s own “outreach” efforts to voters usually inclined to support the other party. Trump’s outreach to African Americans, for example, is actually an effort to help “alt-right” conservatives avoid the easy exposure of their racist views. More precisely, it’s about giving the “deplorables” among his followers talking points with which to divert and distract.

No one in their right mind thinks American Catholics are naïve Bible thumpers who can be tricked into sinful political behavior. This very thin gruel is just the best Trump’s apologists can come up with as the man they are required to call “Mr. Trump” slouches toward certain defeat.They are just trying to play an awful hand as best they can.Too bad they have to surrender their moral and intellectual credibility to prop up a guy who will be throwing them all under the bus with Hillary starting at about 9-10pm on November 8th.

Eric Fehrnstrom, Donald Trump, Anti-Catholic bigotry

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