There are many good reasons for Americans in general and Christians in particular to be hesitant about real estate tycoon Donald J. Trump, but the Donald is right about one thing—Pope Francis does not understand America. Francis is a great man, but he is somehow blind to the powerful engine of growth and well-being which elevated the United States above its competitors—the free market.Trump is Right About Pope Francis—He Doesn’t Get America
Francis is currently touring Mexico, on a trip that will feature a visit to the United States’ southern border. The pope is known for his outreach to the poor and suffering (a noble Christian calling), but also for his misunderstanding of economics and the free market, a set of institutions that have raised vast numbers of people out of poverty, arguably developed under Christian auspices.
Trump’s Outrageous Attack
Trump’s attacks almost always go too far, and his criticism of Francis is no exception. “I think that the Pope is a very political person,” the Donald said on Fox Business Network’s “Varney & Co.”
“I think he doesn’t understand the problems that our country has,” Trump continued. “I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico. I think Mexico got him to do it because they want to keep the border just the way it is. They’re making a fortune and we’re losing.”
Does Trump seriously believe that Mexico is manipulating the Pope to keep the U.S. – Mexico border porous? Make no mistake, this attack is an outrage.
But the Donald does get one very important point right, though perhaps it wasn’t even the point he was trying to make—Francis does not understand America’s problems, and that may be because the pope is too political.
Francis’ American Brothers-in-Arms
Even before self-declared socialist and Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced his presidential run, he was quoting Pope Francis. According to Time Magazine’s Elizabeth Dias, Sanders is “the likely 2016 presidential candidate whose political philosophy lines up most closely with the economic and social theories of Pope Francis.”
Dias notes that many leaders name-drop the pontiff to score political points, since Francis is “likely the most popular man on the planet.” Sanders, however, channels Francis’ economic views—and that should be scary to any red-blooded American who remembers the Cold War.
Sanders has quoted the pontiff liberally on social media, as Dias noted. One quote in particular stands out to anyone schooled in understanding free market economics.
Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
Has this opinion “never been confirmed by the facts?” Free markets have transformed the idea of poverty—throughout most of human history, the majority of people were poor and worked themselves to the bone to stay alive. In the United States today, all but the most destitute have access to running water, easy access to cheap food, and leisure time to enjoy a mind-boggling variety of entertainment.
Yes, there are the very rich, and there are the very poor—Jesus said the poor would always be with us—but the life of a poor man in America today is not to be compared to that of a king in the 1500s. The modern man can eat a more nutritious diet, access infinitely better forms of healthcare, and enjoy more forms of comfort than even the most wealthy and powerful medieval king.
Pope Francis and America’s Real Problems
Francis especially goes too far when it comes to climate change. In Mexico, he recently declared that “We can no longer remain silent before one of the greatest environmental crises in world history.” The pope’s embrace of alarmist claims overlooks the unreliability of climate models, and seems to misunderstand the economic damage that further climate regulations would do—to the poor especially.
Energy regulations increase the cost of energy, which disproportionately hits the poor. They would also drive up the costs of goods companies use energy to produce. Even if it could be scientifically proven that carbon emissions impacted the climate and that these impacts were negative overall, any benefits from forestalling climate change would have to be weighed against their tremendous economic costs.
In his trip to Mexico, the pope visited the state of Chiapas, a region on the Guatemalan border known for the struggles and armed rebellions of Mexico’s Mayan communities. His trip is set to end with a visit to the US-Mexico border, where sources say he will pray for the immigrants who cross it.
Francis’ focus on serving the poor is noble, and his outreach to the oppressed fits a key Christian doctrine—that we should love others as we love ourselves. But praying for the immigrants who crossed that border and giving them legal immunity are two very different things.
It is a Christian’s duty to help the poor, but it is also a Christian leader’s duty to protect the people and to steward public resources wisely. The global terror group Islamic State has smuggled thousands of extremists into Europe under the guise of refugees in the current crisis. In addition to this terror, Europe has had to pay the economic costs of higher immigration, as unassimilated foreigners put an even greater strain on large budget deficits and high rates of unemployment.
This is far from a simple matter. The government’s first job is protect the people and promote justice, not to save the world. Our leaders are put in the very delicate position of determining where that balance is, and there truly is no easy answer. Declaring the most apparently compassionate position to be unequivocally correct ignores half the issue.
Pope Francis is a wonderful moral leader, but that doesn’t mean he understands the multifaceted issues of economics and immigration policy. To take his embrace of the poor and needy at the US border as a divine dictate for specific political policy would go a mite too far.