by Luis Rosales.
"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," Pope Francis said in reference to Donald Trump in February on his trip returning from Mexico to Rome. These were uncommonly hard words, especially when directed toward a candidate in the middle of an electorate process in another country.
Taking into consideration his role as a spiritual leader of a worldwide religion that's very powerful and influential among Americans, he answered several journalists who wanted him to make a recommendation to Catholics: "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," the pontiff said, avoiding being pushed into the very core of the U.S. election.
Following these sentences and the slightly ironic response of the candidate — "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 . . ." — one could easily predict that these two leaders would, at best, have a distant relationship when the president-elect takes office.
The relationship between the Emperor and the Pontifex Maximus was never easy in Roman times, during Charlemagne's reign, or even later with Napoleon and other earthly powers. There was always tension between the real politics of the commander in chief, on the one hand, and the role of the papacy as a lighthouse marking the dangerous cliffs that humankind must avoid, on the other.
Until the reunification of Italy in 1871, the pope was also a local power controlling a vast area of territories in the center of the peninsula. At that time, being a main player on the real chessboard implied complications in the relationship between the Vatican and other European countries. Taking advantage of his dual role as an Italian prince and a worldwide spiritual leader, for centuries the pope was a kind of ultimate resource for legitimacy. If the power came directly from God to the crowned heads, being the representative of his Son on earth was extremely important. They gave the thumbs up for dynastic unions or divisions, and could excommunicate entire royal families or even divide whole continents among colonial powers.
On the contrary, there were many chapters in human history when there was agreement between the dominant power and the Vatican, sometimes in specific issues or even in a broader array of themes about geopolitics. When that was the case, and the emperor and the pope were really aligned, the result was usually impressive. Maybe one of the last opportunities was when Pope John Paul II and President Reagan, together with Margaret Thatcher, joined forces to combat communism, first in Poland, and later across the entire world. Together, they precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Empire, which controlled almost half of the planet from Moscow.
But coming back to the present day, and going a little deeper, separating the wheat from the chaff, we could find that there need not be difference and distance between the pope and the president-elect, who are in the top positions in the world in terms of power and influence. There could be more agreement and points in common than one may imagine.
The pope and the president-elect are different results from almost the same process. They came from European families who emigrated to the "new" continent in order to restart their lives. The Trumps coming from the Protestant north and the Bergoglios from the Catholic south, but in both cases escaping from wars, famine, and lack of opportunities. Like many other millions of immigrants from all over Europe, they took their ships to New York or to Buenos Aires. The different cultures and the different backgrounds made the rest.
Donald grew up in a very pro-business family in the typical New York environment and Jorge Mario lived in the more government-oriented Argentina after the Second World War and embraced the clergy early. In the U.S., the market is the center and the main source of wealth, while the state plays those roles in the latter country.
But those different backgrounds and their fights during the campaign over the status of illegal immigrants — showing Trump as a tougher wall-builder and Francis as a more compassionate bridge developer — could obscure a couple of great issues they have in common.
They both came to the pinnacle of power as outsiders, denouncing the failures of their respective systems and with a clear idea of reform.
Trump’s path was more than evident during the campaign. Politically incorrect, he was vaulted to the Republican Party nomination by a defamatory campaign that tried to demonize him, but instead framed him as the anti-establishment choice. Francis started his ascent to the Throne of Saint Peter by denouncing in several documents the negative consequences and injustices of the current economic order, ideas that were clearly included in several documents produced by the Latin American Church. Cardinal Bergoglio from Buenos Aires was always their editor and inspiration. Being the leader of 40 percent of Catholics (who live on that continent) was a way to be the anti-establishment representative (in contrast to the Roman Curia and the European Cardinals). To win the election at the Conclave, after Pope Benedict’s resignation, he got the whole support of Latin America, plus Africa, and the key vote from the North American cardinals.
However, the main and probably the most important coincidence in thinking is related to the pope and president-elect's position against an apparently unstoppable process: globalization. Nowadays, the main discussion all over the world is no longer related to the political left or right wings, but the globalists and the anti-globalists. Both the pope and the president-elect are active members of the second group and talk on behalf of different people who are directly suffering its strong negative effects. The idea to control globalization in some way could be the field on which we can see Francis and Trump playing for the same team. They have an extremely strong common enemy and sometimes that is enough to work together and seek unity, instead of marking differences.
In this struggle, they could also have an unexpected common ally.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is in a close relation to both the pope and president-elect, and in some sense shares their critical views about the global economy. The Russian president played all his cards during the U.S. elections, and could be a close friend for the White House during the Trump era. As Dr. Kissinger says, Russia could be a strategic ally of the U.S. in the following years by demanding a relatively low cost. They want to recover their area of influence by avoiding the spread of NATO in their neighborhood, principally in the Ukraine. That is a small prize for coordinating efforts around the world with the second largest military power.
Pope Francis is also in the same process of seducing the Russian bear, but seeks a different goal. Since his time as Arch Bishop of the cosmopolitan and heterogeneous city of Buenos Aires, he is embarked in a never-ending process of reuniting the Christian family. He proclaimed himself the Bishop of Rome and never said a word about his titles as the Supreme Leader of Christianity. He always tried to follow the path inaugurated by his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict, in sending positive signs to the other branches of the followers of Jesus. He accepted and happily participated in Sweden on the 500 anniversary of the Lutheran reform, even when the Protestants broke with Rome because of the abuses of the Papacy. He started his papacy strengthening his bond with his "colleague," the Patriarch of Constantinople, the primus inter pares among the other leaders of the 300 million Orthodox in the World. He accepted the invitation of Bartholomew I to visit together the Holy Land to make a joint prayer at Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the real hard nut to crack are the Russian Orthodox. Last February, on his way to Mexico, Francis made a two-hour stop at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, to meet for the first time in history the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, leader of the Russian Church, the largest in the Slavic world, who is in perfect communion with the Kremlin, as always, since the time of the Empire. In some sense, Kirill is exactly the same as Putin.
If the new czar decides to take advantage of this incredibly key position as friend of two of the most powerful men on earth, he can also bring about an unexpected geo-strategic alignment — three strong legs of an old table, which can sustain the weight of an entire civilization. Trump, with his Presbyterian belief, could represent the Northern European tradition and extension in the northern part of the Americas; Francis, the Catholics of the South across two continents; and Putin, the Slavic orthodox component that symbolizes the third-largest Christian branch. Different traditions but in the fight against a common enemy — the negative consequences of globalization — they can reinvigorate a whole civilization that is losing importance among the emerging ones: China, the Muslim World, etc. Trump, Francis, and Putin playing together on the same team — maybe a crazy idea, maybe a reality of the crazy times we are faced with.
Luis Rosales was elected as the youngest state representative in Mendoza, Argentina, in 1989. In 2011 he was candidate for governor in Mendoza, representing Compromiso Federal, a union of three local and national conservative parties. He is the Latin American partner of Dick Morris. Together they have worked in more than a dozen presidential campaigns around the region. They have written the book “El Poder,” about their experiences in Latin America and other parts of the world. To read more of Luis Rosales