One of the first posts I ever wrote on this here blog concerned last year’s visit of Pope Francis to the US. You can read it here. To recap, the Presidential election cycle had just started, Donald Trump had just entered the race, and everyone was excited about the Pope’s visit. Given the rhetoric of the “Christian Conservatives” and their lack of charity towards the poor and needy , I pondered whether Pope Francis’ visit would have any discernible effect upon their views. The short answer is “no”.
I think that we can agree that His Holiness’ visit did nothing to modify the hateful tone of the right wing politicians and media. If anything, the levels of propriety and common decency, especially among the GOP candidates, have sunk to depths previously unheard of. Once it became clear that, against all reason, Donald Trump was not a summer flash-in-the-pan, the other Republican candidates lowered their racist, sexist, homophobic opinions to the basest common denominator to compete for the limelight.
Over the last couple of days, Donald Trump, who began his campaign with offensive speeches about “Mexicans” and his great plan to build a wall to keep the “rapists and drug dealers” from crossing the border, has taken his ugly bullying in an unexpected direction. During an official visit to Mexico, in response to questions about the Republican front runner’s immigration “policy”, Pope Francis opined that a “true Christian” would build bridges not walls with his fellow man. Trump who apparently has skin as thin as gossamer, immediately retorted with ridiculous claims that the Pope was pandering to the Mexican government and was also “disgraceful” to question Trumps piety. If the whole episode was a piece of fiction, no-one would believe it – I can barely believe it myself!
It would be easy to disregard Trump as an arrogant, foul-mouthed demagogue if his message didn’t resonate with so many of his supporters – people whom, he has claimed, would support him “even if I shot someone on 5th Avenue”. Even some of his Republican opponents (including Catholics like Jeb! Bush) are reluctant to criticize his comments and support the Pope. While poll numbers are often inaccurate, there is little doubt that a not insubstantial segment of the voting public supports him for “saying it like it is”. He handily won the primary in New Hampshire – the South Carolina primary and Nevada caucus are imminent. As is his wont, Trump is supremely confident of victory in both cases. The unbelievably terrifying scenario of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for President of the United States is no longer beyond the realms of credibility.
All of which makes one wonder how a narcissistic blowhard like Trump is able to maintain political traction given his propensity for lies and gross exaggeration. Listening to any of the GOP candidates, one would think the country was on the brink of the apocalypse – lack of jobs, rock bottom economy, besieged by terrorists and murderers from overseas – despite all evidence to the contrary.
I think that the response of the Republican members of Congress this week, to the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, partly explains the Trump phenomenon. Before the Justice was even cold, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, declared that the his party WOULD NOT EVEN LOOK AT anyone President Obama put forward as Scalia’s replacement, ironically violating the Constitution that the late Justice was so fond of. What message does it send to the average voter, when our elected officials exhibit blatant disrespect to the rule of law and the office of the President? Even some of those hoping to replace Obama in the very office for which they are running, feel free to drag the Constitution through the dirt to pander to the hateful base of their party.
I remain confident that the vast majority of the American electorate will ultimately reject the ugly rhetoric of Trump by November. But if, by some nightmarish combination of factors, Trump does reach the White House, I think that the country at large will need to have a hard look at itself and decide if this is still the country of Washington and Lincoln, or merely a manifestation of the inherent greed and avarice within us all.
“Every country has the government it deserves.” Joseph de Maistre