Apparently, Pope Francis has a problem with Donald Trump. In fact, the pope has used his last two visits to the Americas to deliver taunts directed at the GOP front-runner, resulting in a huge backlash from Trump supporters. In their anger, these Republican hardliners call for the pope to stay out of U.S. politics and the nation’s voters to ignore his anti-Trump comments, claiming Pope Francis’ opinion on Trump does not matter. Sorry, America, but it does.
In a country where the separation of church and state is so valued, church and state are barely separated. The voting public has inserted religion into modern-day American politics at every level, resulting in questions like “Is Obama a Muslim?” and causing the members of Tennessee’s House of Representatives to pass a bill aimed at making the Bible the state book. In a country where voters question the president’s religious affiliation and a sacred text could become a state book, how can the pope’s opinion of Trump, which is that of world’s most powerful religious figure, not matter, especially to conservative Trump supporters?
To be fair, the problem with the assumption that Pope Francis’ opinion of Trump is irrelevant lies only partially in the American religious right’s blatant refusal to fully honor the idea of the separation of church and state. Surprising to many is the fact that the pope’s opinion matters to so many voters who are not members of America’s 79.7 million-strong Catholic population.
In fact, the current pope’s financial reforms and liberal stance on cultural issues have earned him the respect of many non-Catholics, who value his opinion as a global, if not religious, leader. The pope has an approval rating averaging 60 percent, while Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is just 27 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll. Statistically, Pope Francis is one of the most popular public figures in America.
— FiveThirtyEight (@FiveThirtyEight) February 19, 2016
Speaking of global leadership, Americans need also remember that the United States is no longer an isolated country on a faraway continent. Instead, the nation is a member of a global community. In that global community, no single person has more influence than Pope Francis. According to a 2015 statistical report published by Fides News Agency, known as Agenzia Fides in Italian, the pope was leading a flock of 1.2 billion at the end of 2013, which was an increase of 25 million followers over year-end 2012 data. Assuming similar increases occurred in 2014 and 2015 based on Pope Francis’ continued popularity, the number of Catholic faithful likely now tops 1.3 billion, which amounts to nearly 20 percent of the world’s population.
What does the pope’s influence on the world’s Catholic population have to do with U.S. politics and Trump’s viability as a candidate? In today’s global society, the answer is: more than one might expect. Many of the world’s leaders are Catholics, and many of those leaders are influenced by the pope’s opinions. Could Pope Francis’ opinions affect international relations should Trump win the bid for the White House? When one considers the effect religious leaders’ opinions have here in the United States, how could they not? Why should other countries be influenced any differently by religious opinion?
In addition to considering Pope Francis’ influence on Americans and the rest of the world, one must also consider the possibility that his opinions are shared by global political leaders. Unfortunately for Trump’s supporters, such a scenario is not merely a possibility but a fact. The Washington Post published an article on Thursday listing a number of unimpressed world leaders who have spoken out against Trump, including Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President. British Prime Minister David Cameron has also expressed his feelings on Trump, chiming in during a session of parliament in 2015.
“I think his remarks are divisive, stupid and wrong and I think if he came to this country it would unite us all against him.”
When the leaders of the country’s closest allies, France, and the United Kingdom share such negative opinions of Trump, American voters may want to consider the implications of continuing to support his bid for the presidency. In the case of Trump, it is possible, even likely, that a White House win would negatively impact foreign relations. Considering the current state of world affairs, a united global front is more important now than ever, which may not be possible should Trump win the election. With the threat of terror always on the horizon, Pope Francis’ message of love, peace and acceptance should unite Americans in hope for a better and safer tomorrow. Instead, Trumps’ supporters appear to be letting that message create a wider divide between right and left.
[Photo by Victor R. Caivano/AP Images]