The Pope vs. The Donald

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Why, oh, how did it come to be that the deranged Muppet that is Donald J. Trump is an actual contender for President of the United States?

I have a good friend who has spent the past three years in the Peace Corps, in a bleak post-Soviet country. She has been following the news here at home with flabbergasted dismay. Joking, but not, she has said that this development almost makes her not want to come back now that her term is up.

It’s not so much that Trump is running, but that he has found such a hearty following amongst our countrymen. I mean, honestly, no one thinks he is really going to go the distance. But what he is selling (master businessman that he is) is hate and fear and, God help us, a lot of us want to buy it.

How did it happen? One word: immigration.

The Donald has based his platform on an issue that plays to Americans’ lowest common denominator of xenophobia and knee-jerk defensiveness.  Trump the capitalist maven knows that “hot button marketing” is an actual thing —in other words: appeal to people’s basest fears in order to make them buy what you’re selling. Sadly, this technique has proven effective in the marketplace. (Does the presidential election = the marketplace? This is a question for another day.)

But obviously Trump’s cries have struck a nerve:

Build a wall! Ship ‘em out! Don’t let the “rapists”  come in and take our jobs and use up our services and destroy our country.

It’s not just here, either. The refugee crises abroad that are wrenching our hearts stem from the same sentiment: NIMBY. We don’t want ‘em. Send ‘em back.

This is all very far from the ideals of openness and pluralism that founded our fine nation. What happened to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?”  As even schoolchildren know, America is a country of immigrants. Trump himself is a child of immigrants (and don’t even ask about the national status of his numerous wives…)

The Pope gets it: “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.

As our growing nation struggled throughout history with these questions, different approaches emerged. John F. Kennedy wrote a whole book about it.

Ronald Reagan had this to say:

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still…”

Maybe Trump doesn’t believe a word of what he’s saying and it’s all just a (successful) marketing ploy. Even if so, it is unfortunate that his invective is getting so much airtime.

Now the Pope has come and gone, and he says: “Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart. Although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remain truly convincing.” Amen.

Thank Heaven, the Pope’s is a voice of sanity, humanity and acceptance of the current global reality that evidently a bunch of Americans just can’t grasp. This is the new normal. Ideas, currency, germs, etc. are obviously not constrained by national borders anymore. Neither are bodies–if ever they were.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that it must come from a place of: 1) acceptance; 2) triumph over fear; 3) international co-operation; 4) morality and compassion. Pope Francis is adding these to the conversation when he says things like: “Humanity has the ability to work together in building our common home.

Now, more than ever, it is clear that we indeed have one (global) home, no matter where we were born, have lived, or are moving.

May words like the Pope’s drown out the shrill exclamations of hostility and fear that have found such willing ears. And may our country rise in this strange new landscape like that beacon of tolerance and hope that it was founded to be.

That, Mr. Trump, might even “make America great again.”