CLEVELAND—If Donald Trump can talk shit on Pope Francis, then certainly a nun can talk shit—or its G-rated Catholic equivalent—on Donald Trump.
“The thing that worries me most about Donald Trump is that he’s all about him,” Sister Simone Campbell, an American Roman Catholic Religious Sister and the executive director of the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, told me after an interfaith prayer breakfast on Tuesday morning. “People say we need a business leader. No! Business is about making a profit, government is about caring for the common good. Those are two different instincts.”
Campbell and several other sisters were in Cleveland this week with a small fleet of red wagons that carted lemonade through the streets outside the Republican National Convention. The idea was to start a dialogue with a cold drink and see what happened from there.
“Fear is so rampant and driving us apart,” she said. “A lot of this anger and hate speech, this yelling that we saw at the convention really comes from a place of fear. So what we were trying to do was have conversations so people could talk about what worries them directly, and not the result of the worry, which is the hate.”
There was plenty of hate and other unsavory garbage on display. Members of Westboro Baptist hoisted banners that read “GAY: Got Aids Yet?” in the city’s Public Square while a few blocks over a man with a with a visor and a Guy Fieri haircut hawked T-shirts by yelling: “Hillary sucks—but not like Monica!”
And there the nuns were, red wagons in hand, trying to take a quiet moment to talk.
“We asked people three questions: Who in your family is it difficult to talk with about politics and why? What worries you in this election cycle? And what gives you hope?” she said. “It was so interesting to us that the hope question was the tougher question to answer. People don’t know what gives them hope. How shocking that we don’t know what our hope is.”
Campbell, through her work with NETWORK and her cross-country travels with Nuns on the Bus, is used to having difficult political conversations, particularly with other people of faith. NETWORK is non-partisan, but its policy priorities—a living wage, voting rights, closing racial and economic gaps in access to healthcare, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants—don’t have a home in the modern Republican Party.
That has led to a lot of head-butting with the Republican-majority Congress. (Campbell has called out fellow Catholic and House Speaker Paul Ryan on his austerity budgets:”It’s not Christian,” she has said of his proposed cuts to the safety net while lowering taxes for the wealthiest.)
“Faith is challenging, not reinforcing, our righteousness,” she told me when I asked her about Catholic Republicans like Ryan who say their faith anchors their polices. “It appears they see their faith more as validating their political reality. So that is the challenge that we are facing, this political opportunism.”
She also took the GOP, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to task for their obsession with abortion. (Campbell believes in the church’s moral position on abortion, but it’s not a policy issue for her organization):
“Once you’re born, then what happens? Do you have enough food? Do you have childcare? Do you have a good education? Do you have transportation? Do you have a family that can support you? Do you have systems in your community where your community can come together? Can you live without fear? Those are the pro-life issues.”
And for her, Donald Trump is a stark example of what she called ignoring the common good.
“He articulates the anger and hurt and disappointment of the middle and lower-middle class white community. The disappointment they feel that they have not lived up to what their parents said the American dream was,” she said. “And rather than see it as policy choices led by the GOP, they blame others, they blame immigrants, they blame anybody they can find. And that’s what we see in Mr. Trump’s approach.”
But she is, after all, a woman of faith. So I asked her what she would say to the Republican presidential nominee if she had his ear.
“I really would want him to take some quiet time to listen for the common good,” she said.
Did she think he would do that?
“Probably not,” she laughed. “But I live in hope. I live in hope.”