What Donald Trump doesn’t understand about the Pope

Pope Francis delivered tough talk at his recent visit to Mexico—a ‘principled declaration’ seen as a necessary tonic in these times of Trump

Pope Francis waves as he boards his flight to Rome during the farewell ceremony at Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

Pope Francis waves as he boards his flight to Rome during the farewell ceremony at Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (L’Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

Pope Francis pilloried politicians as princes of privilege on his six-day trip to Mexico, which ended with a Mass celebrated a stone’s throw away from the Rio Grande and included an impassioned plea for immigrants. The Pope, though, saved his strongest statements for the flight home and a non-Mexican politico: Donald Trump, blasting the billionaire’s proposed border wall—which Trump says he’ll build and make the Mexican government pay for. A “person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Pope Francis told reporters in a papal flight press conference.

Trump, who says he’s “proud to be a Christian,” shot back with his usual belligerence, portraying the Pope as more a pawn of Mexican interest. “They are using the Pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant,” Trump said conspiratorially of the Mexican government. “The Pope only heard one side of the story—he didn’t see the crime, the drug trafficking and the negative economic impact the current policies have on the United States. He doesn’t see how Mexican leadership is outsmarting President Obama and our leadership in every aspect of negotiation.”

If Trump had paid any attention to Mexico over the past five years he would have noticed emigration has crashed, with many Mexicans preferring to stay put instead of risking an increasingly fortified border and anti-immigrant initiatives in some U.S. states. Those trying their luck these days are largely Central Americans, who risk robbery and rape as they transit Mexico, and, more recently, increasing robust immigration enforcement before arriving at the U.S. border.

And had Trump paid attention to the Feb. 12-17 papal trip to Mexico, he would have heard the Pope excoriate Mexican elites and seen him head for peripheral places that an image-conscious Mexican government didn’t want him to go. Pope Francis asked indigenous populations in southern Chiapas state for forgiveness for the dispossession of their lands, demanded a better deal for poorly paid factory workers in Ciudad Juárez and told youth without options in Michoacán state—where outward migration was once rife and the drug trade has deep roots—to eschew the seemingly easy money of organized crime. “[Jesus] would never encourage you to be hitmen,” he told them at a soccer stadium in the city of Morelia.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts as he makes a joke about Pope Francis as he arrives for a CNN town hall at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts as he makes a joke about Pope Francis as he arrives for a CNN town hall at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Trump, for all his attacks on the Mexican government, has mostly badmouthed migrants. Still, he unites Mexicans like few figures can and causes understandable disquiet and disgust—to the point that Trump piñatas started selling shortly after his comments calling Mexican migrants “rapists” went viral.

He also spooks the Mexican elite like few others (save for the perpetual anti-system candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador who, like Trump, is a populist who talks often of conspiracies against him.) President Enrique Peña Nieto even warned in his 2015 address to the UN General Assembly that populism “of the left and right” loomed as a threat, while “societies must be alert in the face of those taking advantage of their fears and preoccupations”—comments alluding to the likes of López Obrador, who leads early polls for the 2018 elections, and Trump.

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One analyst says the rise of Trump represents a betrayal for many Mexican elites, who thought moving toward democracy and open markets with NAFTA would bring recognition and respect and an end to old stereotypes of underdevelopment. “The kind of automatic goodwill they thought a country like Mexico would get for these kind of changes from the U.S. have yet to materialize,” says Federico Estévez, political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. “Instead … what we’ve seen unveiled in U.S. politics is this really kind of ferocious nativist backlash against Mexicans.”

For all of Francis’s tough talk, Mexican politicians couldn’t snap enough selfies or appear in enough pictures taking communion or kissing his ring—once verboten in a country with a strict separation of church and state and where public officials wouldn’t previously appear publicly with priests. The Michoacán state government leveraged the visit to sponsor Twitter hashtags and tourism ads, while Ciudad Juárez sold journalists—an estimated 1,800 covering the Feb. 17 Mass at the border—on the narrative of redemption and urban renaissance in a city once considered the murder capital of the world.

Several priests say the politicians have tried to “legitimize” themselves or improve their images with the Pope’s visit. In an address to the political class, Francis warned them, “[Seeking] the path of privileges and benefits for the good of all, sooner or later the life of society becomes a fertile soil for corruption, drug trade, exclusion of different cultures, violence and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death, bringing suffering and slowing down development.”

Pope Francis blasted his own bishops, too, in Mexico City, telling them to start denouncing drug violence—an issue the Mexican church has only spoken timidly on and taken criticism for accepting narcolismosnas (drug alms). He left comments in a seminary guest book instructing future priests to avoid becoming “clerics of the state”–a rebuke of the perceived coziness between Mexican bishops and local politicians, and a call for more outspokenness.

Sociologist and church observer Rodolfo Soriano Nuñez sees a similar call to U.S. clergy in the Pope’s comments on Trump. “The risk of a Trump presidency is real,” Soriano says. “It was probably better for the Pope to come forward, and to make a principled declaration, instead of playing by the old Catholic rulebook of how to tame a wild politician.”


What Donald Trump doesn’t understand about the Pope

  1. I am not aTrump fan but he does say some things that need to be said. The pope by criticizing Trump invited the reply. The Catholic church has a tendency to ignore the atrocities perpetrated in its history.
    The pope can make nice statements for others to do things but the church is not able to do them itself which is always easy.

  2. One should not underestimate the ferocity of fundamentalist Protestantism in the US South. The antipathy of whites to Hispanics (and negros) in Texas and other southern states has to be seen to be believed. Obama is a bad word. Pope is even worse.. The Pope’s message will be seen as mixing religion and politics and I am afraid the sympathy in that part of the country will be with Trump whether to his benefit or not I don’t know but I suspect so.

    • And the effect of fundamentalist Protestantism in the southern US is somehow not mixing politics and religion. The Pope was not criticising anyone in particular, he merely said Christians should build bridges not walls. I guess the Sermon on the Mount would be considered communism in that part of the world.

    • The only difference between the pope and donald is the pope where’s a white dress over his pants…those two men have no idea what they’re being used for and who’s actually doing it….for some they are both prophetical entertainment and absolutely hilarious from the prospective of their own self importance….the very issues they speak about have nothing to do with their positions in the media, just a few feet away an invisible supernatural being is furiously manning the puppet strings those two dopes are attached to….

  3. I am a small “C” Catholic, but I think the Pope made an unfortunate misstep. A reporter on the Pope’s airplane sucked the Pope into a strong anti-Trump statement that by implication condemned every Republican presidential candidate, who call for a controlled border – in fact every American who would like to see the influx of illegal aliens stopped – as “not Christian”. I find that a very judgmental, inappropriate thing to say; not worthy of a Pope and not very good public relations for the Vatican!

  4. No inheritance taxes-good for Trump
    No corporate taxes-also good for Trump
    But he doesn’t explain how he will get the fruit and vegetables picked or the meat processed once he deports all the illegal immigrants.
    He doesn’t explain how having Palin in his government will be good for Americans- hopefully she will not be in a position with her finger on the button.
    He doesn’t explain how renegotiating the trade deals will benefit Americans and why any country would trade with the US if there is no benefit to them.
    He hasn’t explained how keeping immigrants and their families out will grow the US consumer economy.

    • He hasn’t explained anything. WHWo will be his cabinet, his advisors?
      I think he is in over his head and doesn’t know how to get out of it. Do you really think Trump is willing and able to give up all his time and business interests for four years to serve the people of the US. Being the POTUS is not a job you can quit if you don’t like it. Historically, the only exit strategies have been death or threatened impeachment.

  5. Touche. So, the Pope is to Donald Trump and Mexico what the Media is to Rachel Notley and Martyrs. By extension then, Rapists are to Mexico what _____ are to Rebel Media. Well then, all compliments to Mexico and Rebel Media, and condolences for the misfortune of Trump linking you to rapists, and Notley linking you to _____.

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