Today, the two meet at the Vatican; it is a change of perspective for the U.S. president who is said to be honored by the invitation of Pope Francis, even though the electoral campaign wasn’t without confrontations, such as the one about the Mexican border wall.*
After the rather less than friendly exchanges during his election campaign, it appears Donald Trump has changed his tune. With a U-turn of sorts, now Trump likes Pope Francis. It was while Donald was still flying from Tel Aviv to Rome on Tuesday afternoon that the peacemaking signal arrived from Air Force One. Better yet, it was a message paying homage and reverence. “I am honored that Pope Francis has invited me, I have a lot of respect for him,” the American president made clear while he was still flying over Mediterranean skies.* *Needless to say, the dialogue of this morning’s encounter is easy to forecast. As with many other cases – from the Chinese president Xi Jinping to the leaders of Mexico and Japan – Trump will be preparing for his umpteenth U-turn. It’s all part of his style. He does it so often that he can do it with ease.
A little background: During the election campaign, it was Pope Francis who began the hostilities, criticizing the idea of a Mexican border wall, and defining Trump’s hostility toward immigrants as a message contrary to Christian values. Trump retorted sharply, rejecting the pope’s right to grant a license for Christianity. There was, therefore, the premise for a tense meeting at the Vatican, though in all likelihood, that won’t be the case. At least, it’s not Trump’s intention. In offering an olive branch, he’s also called upon the services of two women from his family. Today, the first lady, Melania, will visit Bambin Gesù, an institution of the Church. More importantly still, Ivanka, the first daughter, will go to the Community of Sant’Egidio for a meeting regarding the status of women in poor countries, a gesture that is dense with political significance. The Community of Sant’Egidio is highly esteemed by Pope Francis, and contributed (among other things) to the thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba. back in the days of Barack Obama, of course. In short, the White House is employing all the resources it has available for “deconflicting,” as they say in military jargon.
What remains to be seen is whether Pope Francis will maintain a critical tone. The pontiff represents values that are the polar opposite of Trump’s. Donald is a man who has never been religious and a man who when quoting the Bible often does so in the style of a late night satirical talk show. However, in spite of this, Trump is liked by the most conservative ecclesiastical hierarchies in the U.S. After all, this is a president who has just appointed an “anti-abortion” judge to the Supreme Court. He has also recently given all religious groups the privilege of greater political freedom – to make political propaganda – while retaining tax deductions on any donations they receive.
On Nov. 8, the votes of the Protestant evangelical right, who forgave him three weddings and the many other thorny details of his personal life, were essential in bringing Trump to the White House. Even among the Catholic Italian-Americans, there is a constituency of the right who voted for Trump. Will Pope Francis take this balancing act into account? He’ll certainly be faced with a tame and respectful president. However, don’t be expecting any self-criticism; that, Trump will never do.
*Editor’s note: This article was written prior to President Trump’s visit with Pope Francis, but its perspective remains relevant.
**Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.