St. Francis or Donald Trump? Pope Francis or the Frackers? You Decide.

donald trump

The lineaments of right-wing criticisms of Pope Francis’ new encyclical “Laudato Si’” are becoming clearer by the day. A critique by Ross Douthat’s appeared in the June 21st edition of the New York Times.

Two days later, David Brooks took his stab in the same newspaper, writing a column called “Fracking and the Franciscans.” The title of Brooks’ article introduced specifically spiritual note into the rebuttal of the pope’s letter. In effect, it asks us to decide between St. Francis’ approach to nature (the pope’s ideal) and that of the fracking industry. Brooks clearly prefers the latter.

More specifically, Brooks’ op-ed makes clear the exact point of diversion between the pope and his conservative critics. On the one hand, the pope is calling for a “bold cultural revolution” – a spiritual revolution – based on love and compassion for the earth and on a “preferential option for the poor.”

On the other hand, Francis’ critics see that as “unrealistic” (in Brooks’ words). They prefer working within the given political and economic framework. For them, a society based on “harnessed” greed and self-interest is better than one based on love and compassion for the poor. There is no need for spiritual change. In short, greed is good. As David Brooks says, “in the end, purity of heart backfires.”

Douthat had earlier moved in the same direction by disparaging what he saw as excessive negativity in the pope’s letter.  He accused the pope of overlooking the unprecedented reduction in global poverty that characterizes our era. Things are not as bad for the poor as the Holy Father would have it. No need to prioritize the interests of the world’s poor majority.

In arguing that way, the columnist overlooked not only the deceptive reasoning behind World Bank poverty measurements. He also ignored the pope’s broadened definition of poverty to include unparalleled impoverishment of the natural environment.

In Douthat’s eyes, the pontiff also errs by downplaying and even rejecting the remedial capabilities of market dynamics and technological innovation. Who knows, he argues, they might be sufficient to solve what the pope describes as an unprecedented crisis. Let’s wait and see.

That’s the conservative position: keep doing what we’re doing; things aren’t as bad as they say; who knows, they might work out in the end.

In his own column, David Brooks takes up that thread not only reiterating that the pope’s negativity overlooks the unprecedented reduction in poverty brought about by market forces, but adding that countries made rich by those same forces are less polluted than their poorer counterparts.

If we followed the pope’s reasoning, Brooks says, we’d all aspire to be poor like St. Francis. And where would that leave us? There’d be no “Asian Miracle,” no technology-based American energy revolution as exemplified in fracking. And don’t worry about fracking, Brooks assures us: the government EPA and the conservative Breakthrough Institute have certified that it produces no widespread harm to water supplies and actually represents “a net environmental plus.”

Face it, Brooks contends: history shows that short-term pollution leads to long-term growth and affluence. Again, the best social programs are based on harnessed greed and self-interest. In the end Franciscan purity of heart stifles progress and wealth accumulation.

So which is better a society based on love and compassion or one based on greed and self-interest? Who should be our guide – someone like St. Francis or Donald Trump? That is the question. At root it is a spiritual question.

Pope Francis has his answer. New York Times and its columnists have theirs.

Each of us as individuals and all of us as a community must decide.

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

13 thoughts on “St. Francis or Donald Trump? Pope Francis or the Frackers? You Decide.”

      1. Thanks for reading it, Hank. My piece was published in the Lexington Herald-Leader. Our new bishop read it and responded. He says he’s about to write something on the encyclical himself. I look forward to reading his essay.


  1. Excellent article!

    “If we followed the pope’s reasoning, Brooks says, we’d all aspire to be poor like St. Francis. And where would that leave us? There’d be no “Asian Miracle,” no technology-based American energy revolution as exemplified in fracking.”

    Well, exactly! The case is made.


  2. Mike, your photo (and quote? or photoshop art?) about Trump above is interesting because Trump is on record endorsing universal healthcare to be sure we’re taking care of everyone. You’ll find Trump endorsing care for everyone on a recent video from Chicago (towards the end, around 55:00). I was surprised, probably you will be also if you look.

    Could it be that Trump and Pope Francis actually agree about taking care of everyone, but disagree about how to effectively achieve that goal?


    1. I’d have to know more about Trump’s words. I’d be surprised at any Republican supporting health care as a right for everyone as Pope Francis has done. As far as I can see, ALL Republican proposals about health care are market-based. That’s not what the pope is talking about.


      1. “any Republican” — note that Trump changes political parties when that accomplishes his goals. Trump has been registered as a Democrat and donated to the Clintons at one point. Some conservatives fear Trump is a dividing tool to prepare the way for Hillary (you know, “divide and conquer”), and Republican leadership has tried to disassociate from him.


  3. I’m also intrigued by a comparison of characterizations of Trump regarding crime and Mexico, alongside Pope Francis’ recent comments about avoiding “Mexicanization” and the violence Mexico has been experiencing. Are we being manipulated, divided and used by partisan politics instead of focusing on how to avoid or relieve human suffering?

    “BUENOS AIRES – Pope Francis expressed his concern about the growing drug trafficking in Argentina in a letter to Buenos Aires legislator Gustavo Vera, in which he asked that Argentine citizens “avoid the Mexicanization” of their country.

    “I was talking with some Mexican bishops and the matter is terrifying,” the pontiff said in the letter posted on the Web site of the non-governmental organization La Alameda, headed by Vera.


      1. I agree that Mexico is run by drug lords in league with anyone they can intimidate (and yes, I find the gangs terrifying, just like the pope).

        Trump is expressing is not “xenophobia” (as in unreasoned fear of what is foreign or strange”) but rather a desire for rule of law instead of rule by violent gangsters. A young friend from Michoacan told me that gangsters called and threatened to kill his mother if he did not pay extortion money — money which the gangsters thought his family must have because his sister managed to buy a modest house. It is not unreasonable to fear that our society will collapse into the same violent, criminal behaviors if we do not maintain our borders and uphold rule of law.

        Hope you and yours enjoy your travels, safe and well.

        Along the topic of this thread, watch to see how carefully the Europeans manage their borders. At every checkpoint, I suspect you and your family will be asked to produce passports and/or other documentation, and you would not be allowed to stay indefinitely without permission.

        European borders are not open at all, and this enables them to provide a wide array of social services that we do not have here in the U.S.. Wages and benefits remain relatively high in Europe, in comparison to other places, but they do not admit everyone, either (as far as I know. If your experience is different than what I describe, I’ll be interested to hear about it). Bon voyage.



        “Las declaraciones del candidato mexicano, Mario Guillén Guillén, aspirante del Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM) a la presidencia municipal de Comitán, Chiapas, han causado enorme polémica, luego de que el político dijera en un acto proselitista que “los delincuentes deberían irse a Guatemala”.


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