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God, country, Notre Dame — and democracy

| Monday, February 8, 2021

Among the Trump flags, confederate flags, anti-government, pro-gun and white supremacy flags waved during the Jan. 6 White House rally to “stop the steal” was one that dismayed members of the Notre Dame community: it read “God, Country, Notre Dame.” 

This flag’s presence at a rally designed to thwart a fair and democratic election, a rally that evolved into a deadly attack on the United States Capitol by an insurrectionist mob, should give pause to everyone in the Notre Dame community.  

The words “God, Country, Notre Dame” adorn the east transept of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Notre Dame’s campus. After the words were carved into the Basilica, in remembrance of Notre Dame students, alumni and faculty members who lost their lives in the First World War, University President Fr. Matthew J. Walsh remarked, “We should imitate our dead in that they have shown us the lesson of patriotism. If only the people of America would follow their example there would be no discrimination because of race or creed.” 

“God, Country, Notre Dame” honors members of the Notre Dame community who died fighting for democracy. How did a flag with these words appear in the crowd on Jan. 6? We don’t know who carried this flag or why. We don’t even know if those who did so had any affiliation with our University, but we do know that divisions in our country are reflected within our Church. Some bishops (notably Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas), some Catholic politicians (notably Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona) and a scattering of priests and lay Catholic leaders promoted President Trump’s unfounded attacks on the election results. A recent Vatican nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, has over the past year released a series of statements and videos increasingly unmoored from fact and championing President Trump’s attacks on a “deep state.” 

These Catholics often veer from praising President Trump in hyperbolic terms to excoriating Pope Francis. They decry Francis’s efforts at reform in the Church and amplify media disinformation about climate change, systemic racism and other issues highlighted by the Pope. For example, Gosar refused to attend Pope Francis’s address to the U.S. Congress in 2015 because he rejected the idea that Catholics have any responsibility to alleviate the effects of climate change.  

No truth-seeking Catholic — indeed no truth-seeking American — would have presented themselves at President Trump’s rally and endorsed claims about a fraudulent election. At Notre Dame, knowledge and love are our two most important commitments. They arise from our understanding of who God is. Our faith rests in a universal God, before whom all persons are equal. This foundation gave rise to our commitment to universal human rights, with its emphasis on the common good and the dignity of every human being. This circle of ideas is as far removed as one could imagine from white racial resentment or the perpetuation of dangerous falsehoods. 

How can a community — a university such as Notre Dame, a country such as the United States, a global institution such as the Catholic Church — advance beyond lies? Tepid responses will fail. To love a university, a country or a church — to be its advocate and patriot — is not to praise it as it is, but to underscore gaps between the institution as it is and as it should be. 

We see the recent attack as a moment of reckoning that holds us accountable to evidence, sound reasoning and loving kindness. Authentic respect for God, country and Notre Dame means rejecting the attack on democracy at the people’s Capitol on Jan. 6, denouncing race-based violence and blocking these toxic political views from distorting conversations about the future of our Church. The alumni memorialized on the east door of the Basilica gave their lives for the ideal of a universal church thriving in (and learning from) the world’s oldest democracy. Renewing that ideal in all of its dimensions — this semester and into the future — is the most appropriate way to honor their memory. 

Sarah A. Mustillo

I. A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and professor of sociology

John T. McGreevy

former dean and McAnaney Professor of History

Mark W. Roche

former dean and Joyce Professor of German

Feb. 2

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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