A vast difference lies between the two "men of the moment"
With a popular Pope Francis due to visit America on Sept. 22 in the midst of a Republican primary race getting record attention, it is hard not to notice eerie similarities between two phenomena: Trump support looks a lot like Pope Francis support.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying Pope Francis is anything like Donald Trump.
Pope Francis is a humble man, profoundly rooted in Gospel principles who lives and preaches a life of simplicity and moral clarity.
Donald Trump is a man who thrives on his swaggering image, whose positions have changed dramatically and who flaunts his life of excess.
But, for all that, their fan-bases looks similar in several respects.
A Similarity:Both are considered independent men stirring up needed trouble.
Why is Trump popular? In the wise words of Michael Brendan Dougherty, “People are attracted to him because Trump is a free man. He is free to ignore conventions of running for politics. … A man who doesn’t need permission and consistently resists any external demands on his behavior.”
Pope Francis is popular in much the same way. Vanity Fair this week dubbed him the “People’s Pope,” and explained his popularity much as Dougherty did Trump:
“He is a free man, that’s what he is. Somehow he has stayed true to himself and to the core Catholic message and has kept free of the pomp of the papacy, the crush of celebrity, and the expectations of the global Church.”
People love Pope Francis because he is his own man, despite his white cassock.
The Difference: They may both be “free men” but, but there’s a big difference. Pope Francis’s “freedom” is freedom from his own selfishness and for the service of others interests. Donald Trump’s freedom is freedom from interest in others and for his own self-serving agenda.
A free “Servant of the Servants of God” is one thing; a “free” president is quite another: A strongman likely to become either a tyrant if he is effective, or a disastrous failure if he is not.
A Similarity: In the media’s narrative, both Trump and Francis seem to exist in a mysterious haze illuminated occasionally by fiery soundbites.
Andy Cush asked at Gawker, What would Trump do if he was actually elected president? “The only honest answer is that neither I, nor Donald Trump, nor anyone else has any idea.”
People don’t know what Trump stands for — they just know they like something about his stance.
The same is true of Pope Francis. He is known for soundbites like “who am I to judge?” But many of his fans haven’t read him carefully; they just have a vague notion that he is kind of a cool guy.
The Difference: Trump’s soundbites are deliberate obfuscation and plays for approval. He is capable of saying, “The Mexican government forces many bad people into our country” and also, “I’ll win the Latino vote because I’ll create jobs.” He is capable of saying he loves women while insulting them. He is capable of praising increased military action while decrying putting troops in harm’s way.
Looking at Trump comments in context makes them look worse.
Look at Pope Francis’ remarks in context and they get better.
The misunderstood “Who am I to judge?” remark — which originally specified a believing homosexual living the Church’s teachings — is just one example. Francis is critical of gender theory he decries artificial contraception, and is not the Squish Pope the media has invented any more than Pope Benedict was the Gaffe Pope the media wanted.
Another Similarity: Their popularity is probably a temporary phenomenon.
Donald Trump’s popularity is a great story, but it is a story with considerable holes.
In his article “Trump’s in the lead but the polls are junk,” John Podhoretz pointed out that Trump’s amazing, remarkable, unstoppable success in August 2015 … matched Rick Perry’s in August 2011 and Rudy Giuliani’s in August 2007.
He also pointed out that a CNN poll showing Trump with 24% support from GOP voters nationwide was “insane” — it assumed that 52% voter turnout in primaries instead of the historical 10%.
Pope Francis’ popularity will also wane. Just as Trump’s support came from those outside the political process, Pope Francis has proved popular with groups that have little stake in religious questions.
And with those who do, as the Washington Post and others note, his popularity is already falling as dissenters realize he isn’t going to change what they want changed, and as the faithful crowd worry that he might.
The Difference: While Trump will probably be surprised by his impending loss of popularity, Pope Francis fully expects his. Both men are popular because of the celebrity culture. But it is a culture that Trump is heavily invested in and that TV-averse Pope Francis scorns.
In fact, Pope Francis recently said in a radio interview: “Jesus also, for a certain time, was very popular, and look at how that turned out.”
When Trump sees the adulation directed his way, he hears the roar of triumph. When Francis sees it, he hears the Hosannas of Palm Sunday.
He knows whose footsteps he walks in, and where they lead.
Tom Hoopesis writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.