Michael Maturen is a Catholic writer, a businessman, a grassroots political activist, a former evangelical Anglican priest and a professional magician.
Seeking the presidency of the United States may not have been the next logical move for this self-proclaimed “nobody” from the tiny town of Harrisville, on Lake Huron in northeast Michigan.
“I’m a magician, I sell cars and I’m running for president,” said Maturen, laughing. “I am not delusional. People in the American Solidarity Party don’t think we can win the presidency. Our goal is to promote the ideas behind our party and the idea that it’s time to change our political system. … Two parties are not enough when you look at the reality of modern America.”
This would have been more obvious if the party’s founders had kept its original name, as in the Christian Democracy Party-USA. That would have linked it to major political parties — primarily in Europe and Latin America — with the “Christian Democrat” label.
Maturen said the name was changed because, while the party is built on Catholic social teachings, America has become such a diverse culture. The new name does offer a nod to St. John Paul II and Poland’s Solidarity movement.
“Lots of people are pretty disgusted with where we are in America,” Maturen said. “What changed my own thinking was the ugliness of this election cycle. As a simple matter of ethics, I knew that I couldn’t support Donald Trump and, since I am pro-life, I knew I couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton.”
The American Solidarity Party is just getting started, of course, with chapters in two dozen states and new members clicking into the ranks through social media. Maturen and his running mate, Juan Munoz of Texas, are on the 2016 ballot in Colorado, while working to clear legal hurdles in Louisiana and Florida.
At this stage, the goal is to arrange authorized write-in status in 30 or more states, he said. At some point, candidates from alternative parties will have to crack into the U.S. House of Representatives. As for the White House, an alternative candidate will eventually need to win enough votes to complicate the “winner take all” structure of the Electoral College.
While seeking a “centrist” label, Maturen stressed that the party’s platform is consistently progressive on matters of economics — supporting single-payer national health care, for example — and conservative on morality and culture. It defends human life from conception to natural death, thus opposing abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and the death penalty. It condemns all forms of torture.
The platform also states: “We deplore the reduction of the ‘free exercise of religion’ guaranteed by the First Amendment to ‘freedom of worship’ that merely exists in private and within a house of worship. … We will defend the rights of public assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. We oppose the expansion of censorship and secrecy in the interests of ‘national security.'”
Obviously, there are hard questions linked to this kind of project, noted philosopher David McPherson of Creighton University, writing in the interfaith journal First Things. For starters, many Americans don’t want to vote for a party that cannot win. But in the year of #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary, there are voters — especially Catholics, Mormons and evangelicals — seeking ways to vote without pangs of guilt.
“Voting for the ASP may be seen as a protest vote against a system that presents us with such poor choices. But it is not merely a protest vote, because if we are to work fully toward the kind of politics we need, we must first break from the political status quo,” McPherson said. “The [American Solidarity Party] should thus be understood as seeking primarily to build up a cultural movement, which ideally will come to have political influence.”
Still, Maturen conceded that it’s hard to think about the future while this White House race keeps causing bitter debates about religious believers needing to vote for the “lesser of two evils.” What about the doomsday scenario in which Trump or Clinton grabs control of the U.S. Supreme Court for years to come?
“As a Catholic, I truly believe that your actions in life are supposed to line up with your beliefs,” he said. “At some point we have to try to start voting that way.”
Terry Mattingly (tmatt.net) leads getreligion.org and is senior fellow for Media and Religion at The King’s College in New York. He lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn.