Jesuit theologian Gerry O’Hanlon was at first dismayed at the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA. His second response was to begin discerning what it might really mean. In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, he says there is a large section of people today who have broken from the establishment – the ‘elite’ – from whom they feel alienated. They are telling us that something is deeply wrong at the heart of the body politic.
He accepts that they may be telling us this in a way that is most unhelpful, by electing leaders that express extreme and distasteful views, or by leaving the EU for insular and self-centred reasons. Nonetheless they are expressing their experience of a serious disconnect from many of the institutions that should be meaningful in their lives. Ireland is not immune from this, he says, referencing the huge homelessness problem here and the deep dissatisfaction felt by Gardaí, teachers, nurses and other public servants.
He says the current economic model is broken and it can only be fixed by “daring, radical and imaginative thinking”. We need people of vision in both secular and Church life who will articulate a new vision for humanity in the 21st century. “Pope Francis is such a person”, he claims. “So is our President, Michael D Higgins.” They speak out about the injustice of the way the world is organised – the economy of inequality and social exclusion, he says.
Gerry wants more people like them to take risks and come together. He wants them to take ownership of the task of forging a new and better society based on the common good and welfare of all. He says that for this to happen, the debate which has become so coarsened and debased, needs to change in form and substance. He cites the Jesuit way of proceeding in group discernment as a possible model for moving forward in a forthright but fruitful way.
The institutional Church, he adds, needs to start acting in a more inclusive and less hierarchical manner. In Ireland, it needs to take risks and encourage the prophets among the laity to come forward. Church leaders need to be prepared to walk with them and sometimes follow them as they lead.
The secular state also has to encourage leaders of substance, like the early founders of the EU – an institution which also seems to have lost it way, disconnected from its citizens. In short, he says, we can be as dismayed as we like about the election of someone like Donald Trump to such a high and important office. The question is, what are we going to do about it?