Pope Francis Takes ‘Wait and See’ Attitude Towards President Trump
In a new interview, the Pope warns that populism in a time of crisis is what led to the rise of Hitler and urges dialogue.
On the heels of the presidential inauguration, Pope Francis has said he is taking a “wait and see” attitude about President Donald Trump and wants to deal with “specifics” before making a judgment on the new leader of the free world.
The Holy Father also warned that the political phenomenon taking place in both the U.S. and Europe has led to a form of populism where people look to a charismatic leader to be a savior from crises and to restore a nation’s identity — just as they did, he added, in 1930s Germany when its citizens elected Adolf Hitler.
“That is a very serious thing,” Francis said. “That is why I always try to say: talk among yourselves, talk to one another.”
But he also appeared to express agreement with Trump on border policy, saying “each country has the right to control its borders, who comes and who goes, and those countries at risk —from terrorism or such things— have even more the right to control them more, but no country has the right to deprive its citizens of the possibility to talk with their neighbors.”
On the day of Trump's inauguration, the Pope sent the new President a letter in which he offered him his good wishes and prayers.
The Pope’s comments, excerpted below, were made in a lengthy exchange published today by the Spanish daily El Pais (see full English text here). The interview took place as President Trump was being inaugurated Jan. 20.
El Pais: Your Holiness, about the world's problems that you have just mentioned, Donald Trump has just become the president of the US, and the whole world is tense because of it. What do you think about that?
Pope Francis: I think that we must wait and see. I don't like to get ahead of myself nor judge people prematurely. We will see how he acts, what he does, and then I will have an opinion. But being afraid or rejoicing beforehand because of something that might happen is, in my view, quite unwise. It would be like prophets predicting calamities or windfalls that will not be either. We will see. We will see what he does and will judge. Always on the specific. Christianity,either is specific or it is not Christianity.
It is interesting that the first heresy in the Church took place just after the death of Jesus Christ. The gnostic heresy, condemned by the apostle John. Which was what I call a spray religiousness, a non-specific religiousness. Yes, me, spirituality, the law... but nothing concrete. No, no way. We need specifics. And from the specific we can draw consequences. We lose sense of the concrete. The other day, a thinker was telling me that this world is so upside down that it needs a fixed point. And those fixed points stem from the concrete. What did you do, what did you decide, how do you move. That is what I prefer to wait and see.
El Pais: Both in Europe and in America, the repercussions of the crisis that never ends, the growing inequalities, the absence of strong leadership are giving way to political groups that reflect on the citizens' malaise. Some of them —the so-called anti-system or populists— capitalize on the fears in face of an uncertain future in order to form a message full of xenophobia and hatred towards the foreigner. Trump's case is the most noteworthy, but there are others such as Austria or Switzerland. Are you worried about this phenomenon?
Pope Francis: That is what they call populism. Which is an equivocal term, because, in Latin America, populism has another meaning. In Latin America, it means that the people —for instance, people's movements— are the protagonists. They are self-organized, it is something else. When I started to hear about populism in Europe I didn't know what to make of it, I got lost, until I realized that it had different meanings. Crises provoke fear, alarm. In my opinion, the most obvious example of European populism is Germany in 1933. After [Paul von] Hindenburg, after the crisis of 1930, Germany is broken, it needs to get up, to find its identity, a leader, someone capable of restoring its character, and there is a young man named Adolf Hitler who says: "I can, I can". And all Germans vote for Hitler. Hitler didn't steal the power, his people voted for him, and then he destroyed his people. That is the risk. In times of crisis, we lack judgment, and that is a constant reference for me. Let's look for a savior who gives us back our identity and lets defend ourselves with walls, barbed-wire, whatever, from other peoples that may rob us of our identity. And that is a very serious thing. That is why I always try to say: talk among yourselves, talk to one another. But the case of Germany in 1933 is typical, a people that was immersed in a crisis, that looked for its identity until this charismatic leader came and promised to give their identity back, and he gave them a distorted identity, and we all know what happened. Where there is no conversation... Can borders be controlled? Yes, each country has the right to control its borders, who comes and who goes, and those countries at risk —from terrorism or such things— have even more the right to control them more, but no country has the right to deprive its citizens of the possibility to talk with their neighbors.