Donald Trump and Pope Francis are a study in contrasts. The Pope is a leading supporter of climate action, he respects other traditions, and he is a selfless champion for the world’s poor. The pontiff’s attributes are in stark contrast to Trump’s climate denial, xenophobia, and advocacy on behalf of himself and the wealthy.
The meeting between these two men represents a clash of two diametrically opposed ideologies. This organic antagonism extends well beyond their opposing positions on the issue of climate change. Trump is an opportunistic materialist while the pontiff is a principled and spiritual man. The president is a science eschewing narcissist who habitually lies, the pope is an honest and humble man who values the role of science.
After Trump was inaugurated the Pope told the Spanish newspaper El Pais said that that he would defer judgment on the new president until a later date. Four months later the pictures of the two leaders standing together (above left) suggest the time for judgment has come. Trump can be seen sporting a broad smile while the Pope remained stern (in pictures with President Obama, Francis was beaming).
This schism precedes Trump’s win on November 8th and probably dates back to their respective conceptions. Francis and Trump have had some very public disagreements during the presidential election campaign of 2016. Speaking about Trump the pope said that a man who thinks about building walls and not bridges is ‘not a Christian’. Trump called the pontiff’s remarks ‘disgraceful’.
While the Pope is just one of many people Trump has maligned, the Pope’s repeated criticisms of the real estate tycoon are noteworthy. That is because unlike Trump the Pope is not inclined to personal attacks. The fact that Francis has deemed it necessary to publicly chastise Trump speaks volumes.
Climate action vs denial
The pontiff pointedly repudiates the GOP’s climate denial. His encyclical titled, Laudato Si (Blessed Be), On Care for Our Common Home, calls everyone to be good stewards of the Earth. This document was one of the gifts that the pope gave to Trump when he visited the Vatican.
When the Pope visited the US he said we all have a moral obligation to act on climate change and he urged the Republican-controlled Congress to stop obstructing action. In Laudato Si, Francis wrote, “Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity.
Just before he released the 184-page encyclical Francis warned the rich and powerful that God will judge them on whether they fed the poor and cared for the Earth. He delivered these remarks during a Mass for the Vatican’s Caritas Internationalis charity. Even before Laudato Si was published, members of the GOP were voicing their opposition. Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Francis’ key adviser, said he was “stunned” by the slew of Republican complaints.
Economics: Help the poor or help the rich
As reaffirmed in his budget, Trump is helping the wealthy and depriving the poor. The Pope’s encyclical said “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” must be heard by world leaders. The Pope has expressed his concern for the impact that climate change will have on the most vulnerable, he has also said that churches that don’t help the poor should be stripped of their tax-exempt status.
This pontiff has made statements that address the core of the economic rationale behind sustainability. As Trump has revealed he does not understand the first thing about economics let alone sustainability.
Even before Trump called climate change a Chinese hoax the Pope’s scientists had vetted the research and acknowledged the veracity of anthropogenic warming. They also supported the conclusion that we urgently need to act on climate change. A 2014 Statement from the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences acknowledged that the wrongdoings of men towards environment and society. The statement also explores sustainable solutions to the issues we face.
“An economic system centered on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it,” Pope Francis said. “I think a question that we are not asking ourselves is: isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature? Safeguard creation because, if we destroy it, it will destroy us. Never forget this.”
Inclusion vs exclusion
message is for everyone, while Trump continues to pander to his base while much of the rest of the world looks at him with revulsion. Francis explains that we all have a moral obligation
to be responsible stewards of the earth we share and the natural
systems upon which all life depends. For the sake of future generations,
we must safeguard their natural inheritance, set an example of care,
and leave them a livable planet. And we have a moral obligation to those
already paying a high price for climate change and environmental
degradation. Francis says if we deny this obligation, “the very
foundation of our life begin to crumble.
While Trump has a well-earned reputation for xenophobia, Pope Francis offers a message for all faiths. As explained by Rev. Sally Bingham,
Pope Francis’ climate message speaks to all faiths. “All of us,
Catholic or not, Christian or not, must recognize our responsibility and
obligation to act in the face of human-induced climate change.”
Si has been shared widely in both religious and academic settings. The
Pope’s call for climate action helped to galvanize support for the Paris
Climate Agreement which was signed by almost every nation on earth.
Fossil fuels: Two opposing perspectives
While Trump wants to double down on fossil fuels Francis has suggested that they need to be phased out. The Vatican has released a document called, Climate Change and the Common Good,” which lays out the moral and ethical case for climate action. It starts with the words “Unsustainable consumption” and specifically attributes “grave existential risks for the poorest three billion” to the “continued extraction of coal, oil, and gas.” There were calls for a ‘moral awakening’ to reject fossil fuels at a Vatican Climate Conference in April 2015.
The Pope’s fight for climate action and the poor is an extension of church teachings. In a speech in Ireland, the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson said Pope Francis, “is emphasizing Roman Catholic social teaching that links protecting life with fighting global inequality and preserving the environment.” Turkson also helped write the first draft of Laudato Si.