Yesterday’s brouhaha between Pope Francis and Donald Trump was yet another example of the culture of fear and the need for love. First of all, it’s well worth reading the actual transcripts of what Pope Francis was asked and what he answered, as well as what Donald Trump released in his statement. It’s pretty clear from the responses I’ve seen that very few people, including many in the news media, failed to take in that context. One person who did, Father James Martin, S.J., already wrote the piece I thought needed writing on this incident. (And did it better than would I.)
I think, though, that it’s worth looking at the statements again from the Love Not Fear perspective. Beyond the points Father Martin makes on the topic of migration in Catholic social thought, just look at the way each leader chose to frame their comments. Francis doesn’t call Trump by name, nor does he insist that Trump fits the description of the person he is describing, but says
a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt. (emphasis mine)
So Francis does not accept on face value that Trump said what he is alleged to have said. A possible response by Trump (or others) could be something like, “Walls are important for defense and order, but so are bridges. Here are examples of the ways I also seek to build bridges.”
Instead, Trump goes in a different direction, doubling down on fear:
If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened. ISIS would have been eradicated unlike what is happening now with our all talk, no action politicians.
The Mexican government and its leadership has made many disparaging remarks about me to the Pope, because they want to continue to rip off the United States, both on trade and at the border, and they understand I am totally wise to them. 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.
So in his statement, which seems to accept the context presented by the media that Francis was singling him out personally for attack (unlike Francis’ careful caveats), he first responds by trying to stir up fear in ISIS (which seems to presume that Pope Francis, once properly fearful, will change his position on migration, even though it reflects decades of Catholic social thought) and then presents the Mexican government as an enemy of the US that is formidable, intent on sowing “crime, drug trafficking, and negative economic impact.” An enemy we should be afraid of.
This is just an example of what needs to change. It is by no means exclusive to Trump, nor to politics as a whole. We have developed a culture that sees fear as the ultimate lever to shape behavior and use it unreasonably, regardless of the impact on our individual and collective psyches. As a result, we risk becoming so trapped in that culture of fear that we are unable to envision another response.