The American political scene is built on a duopoly of two big parties. Because of that many voters are in a difficult situation, appreciating some parts of the Republicans’ and the Democrats’ programmes, but profoundly disagreeing with others. Does Christian Democracy stand any chance in a secularising American society? Is it possible to build any real alternative to such a polarised division for the Republican Party and the Democratic Party? Łukasz Kożuchowski talks to Patrick Harris, Chairman of the National Committee of the American Solidarity.
When most of Polish people think of American politics, the image is simple: the Republicans and the Democrats. In what circumstances did an idea to create another party – the American Solidarity Party – appear?
The party was founded online by a small group of people in 2011 who were interested in Catholic Social Teaching and the Christian Democratic tradition. They believed these traditions had an important contribution to make to an American political landscape with a poverty of options. The original name of the party, the Christian Democratic Party USA, was shortly thereafter changed to the American Solidarity Party (ASP), inspired in part by the Solidarity movement in Poland. However, the party only began to grow quickly and to take shape as an organization in 2016. The presidential election that year—with two of the most unpopular and polarizing candidates in modern history—convinced many Americans to look outside the duopoly for the first time.
What do you have in common with and how do you differ from the Democrats?
The ASP shares certain policy goals with the Democratic Party regarding economic solidarity, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship. For example, we are pro-union, generally favour the protection and expansion of social welfare programs, desire reforms to ensure universal health care, and support action to curb climate change. In these respects, our party’s platform is closer to the Democrats than to the Republicans. On the other hand, our emphasis on the distributist tradition and subsidiarity means that we will not always align with conventional progressives on economic policy. Our ultimate economic goals are to promote secure and thriving families and local communities, which the state can and should support but must not replace. Beyond this, our opposition to abortion and euthanasia, support for traditional marriage, and commitment to religious liberty is radically out-of-step with the modern Democratic Party.
And how would you describe your relations with the Republicans?
In many respects our relationship with the Republican Party is the inverse: while we share many of the socially conservative positions of the GOP, we reject the laissez-faire philosophy that in our view empowers corporations at the expense of workers. We affirm the value of both markets and private property, but we believe that markets should be judged by how they serve families and communities; likewise, we believe that a broad distribution of economic power is a precondition to a healthy and free society, and that this position is ultimately more “conservative” in the best sense than is unrestrained corporate capitalism. We are also suspicious of the more conspiratorial and xenophobic expressions of nationalism that have convulsed the Republican party in recent years. We thus have serious disagreements with the Trumpian hard-right on immigration and police reform, among other issues, even as we share some of its criticism of the old movement-conservative Republican establishment.
In your Statement of Principles you express your support for the Christian values. What are the Christian values for you? What are the core ideas which make the ASP unique?
While the ASP is not a sectarian party and no religious litmus test is required for membership, we are committed to the Christian Democratic philosophy, which has drawn on a Christian understanding of humanity and its place in the world. Fundamentally, the Christian tradition teaches us that every human being possesses an innate dignity as the Imago Dei. Politics should seek to defend and uplift human life at every stage. At the same time, the Christian tradition reminds us that man was created to live in community, and the proper object of politics is the common good, not merely the individual profits of isolated individuals. Our promotion of a consistent ethic of life and a communitarian ethos makes us unique in an American political system dominated by left-liberalism and right-liberalism, one that voters of many religious backgrounds can appreciate.
What activities does the ASP uptake to live up to these values? And – more generally – what are the main fields of activity of the ASP? Do you aim at elections and achieving seats in parliaments, or is it more complex?
We are actively involved in contesting elections at the state, local, and federal levels, as well as working toward electoral reform that will make alternative choices for American voters more viable. At the same time, we recognize that the present structure of the American political system creates extreme difficulties for parties outside duopoly looking to wield power. We hope that presenting a coherent and convincing alternative to the failed ideologies of left and right can serve as a driver in changing the political discourse even in the absence of short-term electoral victories. Indeed, the traditional way that third parties have influenced American politics is by causing the duopoly to adopt aspects of their political programmes in order to appeal to voters whose priorities have been not adequately represented. We are building a party, but also a broader political movement in favour of “whole-life” politics, in which we willing to cooperate across party lines.
Why do you find these steps the most adequate in your position?
Now more than ever, millions of Americans are largely unrepresented by the establishment parties. The American political system is in the middle of an ideological realignment, and there is clearly an appetite for “upper left quadrant” politics that blend social conservatism with economic solidarity. At the same time, as noted, the structure of the American electoral and political system causes that it is very difficult for this discontent to create viable electoral alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans. However, by allowing voters seeking an alternative to this corrupt duopoly, to vote according to their consciences, we are not only offering a protest vote, but creating the nucleus of a broader movement that we hope can break down the harmful ideological binaries of conventional conservatism and progressivism.
When it comes to law, culture and other aspects, the US seems to be quite far from the Christian ideals. What is – in your opinion – the best strategy to make this state of the matter change, not only in the matter of politics, but in general? What roles should Christians play in their societies?
American Christianity is in decline, as most observers will attest. In no small part this development has accelerated due to the reduction of the Christian message to partisanship and culture-war politics over the last several decades. However, this does not mean that Christians can neglect politics or separate their deepest convictions from it. Rather they must seek the good of their neighbours and communities in the political sphere without compromising their beliefs to suit secular agendas. While the ASP does not claim a monopoly on Christian politics, we have always attracted Christians who are seeking to live out their religious commitments more fully in the public sphere. For us, Christian Democracy represents a way of articulating the relationship between faith and politics, and between the individual and society, that is a fruitful challenge to the dominant (and decadent) liberal paradigm in Western politics. We have no illusions of re-establishing Christian cultural dominance at the ballot box; nonetheless, we can serve as salt and light in a culture that has increasingly forgotten the dignity of the human person.
The American and generally all the Western societies are now undergoing many revolutionary changes. Some of the publicists perceive the nearest future as a tough time for Christians. How does the American Solidarity Party see its future in such times?
It is certainly the case that the secularisation of American society is creating pressure on orthodox expressions of Christian belief and practice, particularly at any point where it intersects with the public sphere. Strangely enough, this period of comparative marginalization may be precisely the moment for the ASP. It is a time of sifting, one in which many Christians are reflecting on their, and their sisters’ and brothers’ in Christ, complicity with the political projects which failed in the several past decades. We may now be coming to a time in which many Christians are more interested in being a consistently faithful witness in the public sphere than in making short-sighted compromises with the secular ideologies of the mainstream. As such, even as institutional Christianity and our nation as a whole are undergoing hard times, we believe our growth prospects are bright. We cannot say for certain where this will ultimately lead – what we can do is to speak the truth as we see it and allow God to sort out the rest.
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