Donald Trump’s New Punching Bag: Pope Francis

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Not content with spewing country club card room invective—“loser,” “jerk,” etc.—at other Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump now has turned on Pope Francis I.

The pontiff is currently on a pastoral visit to Mexico, where over the course of the next few days he will meet with indigenous people and business leaders, celebrate Mass at the shrine of the country’s patroness, Our Lady of Guadalupe, visit a prison and lunch with seminarians.

His itinerary consciously mirrors the journey of Mexican and Central American migrants northward to the Rio Grande and will culminate in Ciudad Juarez, where the pope will celebrate a “cross-border Mass” at an outdoor venue that accommodates nearly a quarter million people. Tickets are being made available to Catholics on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border.

“During Mass, Pope Francis will undoubtedly call attention to many realities that are lived on both sides of our U.S.-Mexico border, particularly the plight of so many migrants and refugees fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, in search of better lives for themselves and their children,” El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz wrote in a statement announcing the event. “Pope Francis is expected to approach the U.S./Mexico divide as a symbol of the same journey taken by migrants.”

Trump, as you’ll recall, initially launched his transition from campy schlock TV personality to presidential candidate by spewing a particularly rancid brand of rabid nativism. He pledged to expel some 11 million undocumented immigrants from the United States and to compel Mexico to pay for the construction of a gigantic wall along our southern border. Since then, he’s also talked of denying entry to any Muslim immigrant, legal or otherwise.

During an appearance on the Fox Business channel Thursday, host Stuart Varney asked Trump what he thought of Francis’ plans “to stand at the border” with the migrants. The blowhard developer replied: “I think that the Pope is a very political person,” adding that Francis is allowing himself to be used by Mexico to advance its interests at the expense of the United States.

“I think he doesn’t understand the problems our country has,” the casino operator continued. “I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico. And I think Mexico got him to do it because Mexico wants to keep the border just the way it is because they’re making a fortune and we’re losing.”

Really?

Neither history—nor, for that matter, reality—are particularly familiar to Trump, but the notion of the Mexican government with its long and savagely murderous history of anti-clericalism stretching back to the war of independence “getting” the Pope to do something simply is looney. (It wasn’t until 1992 that prohibitions against political speech by the church or on the clergy voting finally were excised from Mexico’s constitution.) Moreover, from the beginning of his papacy, Francis has made the cause of migrants—African, Middle Eastern and Latin American—his own. He is acting according to the imperatives of conscience and the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

If there was a “deal” between Francis and the Mexican government, it sure looks like the pontiff has welched. Shortly after Mexico City welcomed the Pope to town, he accused the government officials, including the president, of corruption, cronyism and neglecting the interests of poor Mexicans to feather their own nests. Later, the Pope addressed the assembled Mexican bishops in terms so biting that Vatican watchers were sent scrambling to find a president for his scolding—which could not find in modern times. Francis accused the bishops of neglecting their flock and cozying up to the government and drug dealers.

He denounced them for taking on the airs of “princes” and of using “gossip and slander” in their notorious internal squabbling. Francis demanded that they “fight like men,” saying they should speak their differences face-to-face. In the sternest possible terms—alluding to cooperation with the government and cartels—he warned them against “going into the back room to make deals with pharaoh.”

He visited Mexico City’s poorest neighborhood and urged residents there to make their country a place from which people wouldn’t have to “immigrate to live their dreams.” Monday, he went to the poverty-stricken state of Chiapas to declare his solidarity with the indigenous people who have engaged in an on-and-off armed struggle with the central government.

So, this is a Pope who is allowing himself to be used by the Mexican Government, as the huckster-turned-candidate suggests? Hardly. Why should Trump’s flawed view of the papacy be any different than all of his others?

Trump is manifestly indifferent to facts, but you’d think that the native cunning that so furthered his avarice might have clicked in before he insulted the pope. With the exception of George W. Bush in the disputed 2000 election, no candidate has won the presidency without carrying the Catholic vote.

Barack Obama received 53% of the Catholic vote in his first election and 53% last time around. . Nearly one-third of all American Catholics now are Latinos, as are more than 50% of all Catholics under 40. They broke overwhelmingly for Obama because of his stands on the economy and immigration.

Now, Catholics may squabble internally over many things, but there are a couple of issues on which they march in virtual lockstep: One is immigration reform, where even the most conservative U.S. prelates—Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke and Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, for example—support the Pope’s outreach to migrants.

The other is respect for the papacy itself. Catholics may grouse to each other about a Pope being too liberal or too conservative, but an outsider who insults the pontiff is about as likely to trigger an old-fashioned tribal response as remains in the American church.

Trump—to borrow his well-worn phrase—is a loser on both those counts.

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