Every time Donald Trump opens his mouth to say something brash and provocative, whose sharp edges distract from whatever grains of truth he might have grasped, I imagine how his children must feel. Do they wince and read every word — or blink and look away? Do they spin the quotes to their friends, say that they were taken out of context, or probably misreported?
I need no leap of empathy here, because I feel exactly the same whenever Pope Francis speaks on economics or politics. My friends here will jump in and say that I’m being unfair here — either to Francis or to Trump, depending on which friend — but the analogy is exact.
Like one of Trump’s children, I feel a deep, gut-level aversion to bashing Il Papa. Even as I note when he oversteps his expertise and his authority, I worry about undermining the credibility of his office, which wiser men have held before and will someday inherit. I think back to all that I’ve gained from the words and deeds of previous popes, and recall that respect for fathers (spiritual or fleshly) is a deep and sacred thing. One of the primal curses in the Bible is that laid on Ham for mocking his father Noah, who got drunk and passed out naked in a field (Gen. 9). Ever since, the phrase “the nakedness of Noah” has been a byword for the duty of children to protect their parents’ dignity, even when they do or say something ridiculous. You’re supposed to act like Shem and Japheth, and quietly cover dad up.
If that were our sole imperative, we could point only to what is true in what our fathers have said. Yes, a young Trump could observe, U.S. borders are completely out of control. Republican elites have repeatedly frustrated the will of most voters and of a supermajority of Republicans, who want illegal immigration stopped, the borders secured, and even legal immigration reduced. Big corporations and big investors who benefit from cheap labor are colluding with left-wing Democrats who want to import more low-skill, low-income voters — gravely harming blue-collar Americans, and building a demographic juggernaut that threatens every conservative cause, from religious liberty to unborn life. Too many churches are complicit in that campaign, in part from short-sighted humanitarianism but also because they wish to fill their otherwise emptying pews and rake in tens of millions from lucrative federal contracts providing taxpayer-funded aid to immigrants. All that is true, and a pious junior Trump might content himself with saying it. He would have fulfilled his duty as a son, but not as a citizen.
In fact, he would not even really be serving his father’s best interests by colluding in such a half-truth. Sometimes our fathers stray much more gravely than Noah ever did. Imagine if you were one of Lot’s daughters and you saw him start to turn around and journey back into Sodom. Your siblings were keen to follow him to certain doom. Your duty would not be silence, submission, or pious acquiescence. You would need to kick and scream, and drag your family to safety, come what may. Likewise, a wise young Trump would do well to intervene behind the scenes, and convince The Donald to stop his reckless showboating, which harms the conservative cause and in fact discredits some really urgent political truths.
I won’t take part in any campaign to mitigate the seriousness of Pope Francis’s economic and political misjudgments, to “spin” every unbalanced statement or histrionic gesture.
With this in mind, I won’t take part in any campaign to mitigate the seriousness of Pope Francis’s economic and political misjudgments, to “spin” every unbalanced statement or histrionic gesture. In fact, such a campaign is dangerous, because it feeds into a cult of personality that has been created by secular media with zero interest in promoting the Christian message. Like President Obama, who received a Nobel Peace Prize . . . basically, for showing up, Pope Francis has been lionized and lauded as if he had already transformed history. What really attracts those secular reporters is their hope — which I hope is unfounded — that he will transform the Catholic Church, dismantling pesky doctrines that impede sexual freedom, and refocusing the church as a vast NGO concerned with global poverty and empowerment.
I don’t want to be unfair here to such reporters; the pope has done or allowed many things that give them legitimate reason to hope. He has appointed progressives such Archbishop Cupich of Chicago, with deep ties to far-Left dissenters from core Church teachings. He elevated to the rank of papal advisor the Malthusian scientific pessimist John Schellnhuber and radical feminist socialist Naomi Klein, and invited to speak at the Vatican pro-abortion luminaries Ban Ki-moon and Jeffrey Sachs, whose contempt for unborn life would disqualify them from speaking at a Catholic-college commencement in America.
The debate Pope Francis enabled about core moral doctrines at last year’s synod on the family was a profound source of scandal to faithful Catholics; if the permanence of marriage and the status of the homosexual “orientation” are up for debate, what else is up for grabs? If the pope is really considering reversing — or evading through tortuous loopholes — an infallible decree from the Council of Trent condemning divorce, why should we hearken to him when he goes far beyond his competence or authority to issue long-winded farragoes denouncing the free market, embracing dubious scientific projections, or demanding that European nations accept millions more Muslim “refugees” into a cash-strapped, jihad-haunted continent?
I don’t have the space or frankly the heart to go into just how crude, how conspiratorial, simplistic, and uncharitable Pope Francis’s recent statements on the causes of poverty really are. For a measured account, see Samuel Gregg’s analysis at the Stream. Like Donald Trump, Pope Francis has grasped some simple truths; he has pointed to real and enduring problems that need to be taken seriously. Also like Trump he has adopted a frankly Manichean stance, looking for villains and exploiters and recklessly casting blame. Instead of sober analyses of economics and immigration, what the pope and The Donald have given us are Huey Long–level rants, which feed the worst impulses of demagogic politicians, and do nothing at all to further the common good. To say so isn’t impious. To say less would frankly be unfaithful — to our country, our church, and even the papacy itself. No less a Catholic than Dante was outraged at the megalomania of the reigning pope of his day, and in The Divine Comedy he pictured that pope in Hell.
Of course I won’t go that far. I like to picture Pope Francis in comfortable retirement, reading Borges again in Buenos Aires some time sooner rather than later. He has accomplished quite enough.