pope in america

They don’t get it, do they? They…just…don’t…get…it.

I invoke one of the best supercuts on the internet because it’s a perfect reaction to the way the media has covered this week’s historic addresses of Pope Francis I in Washington and New York.

I’m not talking about pundits per se; it’s their job to protect their little ideological viewpoints. And the politicians can be, in Catholic terms, forgiven; you can hardly blame them for shoehorning the Pope’s words into their pre-existing, long-standing agendas.

But the mainstream press doesn’t get the same free pass. In the normal articles which are simply reporting what happened, they insist on viewing everything in the lens of “What do Democrats think?” and “What do Republicans think?” and “Which of the two does the Pope help/hurt?”

And then another article, elsewhere on their sites, will wonder at why fewer Americans identify as Democrats or Republicans than at any time in our nation’s history. Yet another article will wonder why Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders are leading so many polls.


There’s a bi-partisan and non-partisan populist revolution happening all around them, and most popular news sites continue to treat Democrats and Republicans as the only game in town.

Look, if I’m reading Matt Drudge, of course he’s going to tell me that Vatican City has the most restrictive immigration policies in the world. Of course William Saletan is going to tell me why the Pope shows that the GOP are hypocrites.

But the mainstream press can do better. Besides, or at least in addition to, asking how the Pope’s visit affects the two parties, they could insert a line something like “Pope Francis’ visit and message coincides with a time of rising non-partisan populism, when more and more Americans are, like this Pope, rejecting plutocrat-centered policies in favor of more humane, more middle-class-oriented reforms.” Or something. But read the links that I posted a few lines up. They don’t do that. For them, there’s only two teams to worry about.

Imagine that Pope Francis had decided to come to America in February 2015, and traveled to Phoenix to address the convocation (ha ha) of Super Bowl XLIX. The press that has covered Francis’ visit would have scrutinized every word in terms of Did that statement help the Seattle Seahawks? Or did he just upbraid the New England Patriots? (“Where is he on deflate-gate?”) Oh the Patriots will be happy about that! Oh I don’t know, I think the Seahawks are going to use that one…

HELLOOOOO, media. There are 30 other NFL hubs, and millions of unaffiliated fans who only tune in on the one important day. Not everything is One-Big Team-versus-Other-Big-Team. And a government teetering on the edge of another shutdown isn’t exactly a game. So enough with the inside football baseball nonsense.

This will come as a shock to some reporters, but way before this week, Pope Francis was internationally and locally overwhelmingly popular, far more than any American politician and far more than most American celebrities. We know that people love people for style and substance. In Pope Francis’ case, the sizzle – driving a Fiat, cold-calling random people around the world, naming himself after a saint who lived as a shoeless pauper – serves exactly to call attention to the steak.

The steak is concern for the poor, for the Golden Rule, as he told Congress yesterday:

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.

Talk about putting the pope back in pope-ulism! This is the heart of populism – not attacking the 1%, as some have misinterpreted, but simply and directly applying society’s rules for the poor, and the middle-class, to everyone else. Not asking the poor to pay more in taxes than the rich (as in Warren Buffett’s example of his secretary who pays more per capita than he does). Not tilting the field so that a company like Apple can get away with paying zero taxes in 2014. Not putting poor and disadvantaged people in prison for the same crimes for which richer people go free. That sort of thing.

As I said, I don’t have an issue with most pundits defending their little turf, but this article annoyed me. No, Tim Egan, this Pope is actually not the anti-Trump. The apparently-surprising popularity of both figures have everything to do with the same populist movement. In the wake of the messy Middle-Eastern wars and the 2008 financial crisis, people are sick of the failures of elitists, 1%-ers, and Democratic and Republican leaders. People want ordinary Americans addressed, heard from, and catered to.

Scholars of the Papacy know a lot about shaky Assumptions. Right now, the media perpetuates a false assumption that most Americans maintain some loyalty to either Democrats or Republicans, and thus can’t really support the Pope – they like him on climate change and immigration, but not on abortion or God-directives, or vice-versa. But this myopia misunderstands the way that Americans have always supported parties – agreeing on some issues, holding their nose on others. Right now more (way more) Americans identify as Undecided than Democrat or Republican. Is it just possible, then, that the very clearly stated populist agenda of this pope (read his full address to Congress) is actually closer to what the Undecideds feel than the stated agenda of any other major public figure outside of Donald Trump? Is it possible that the mainstream media will wake up in 2017 and wonder why they spent so much time on the Seahawk-Patriots Democrat-Republicans for so long?

The cynics still have a point, because the major parties still have the money. Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio (Nate Silver’s pick, and it’s a good one) are still more likely to win the White House in 2017 than any overtly populist candidate. Yet every week, the establishment candidates adjust their messages (and websites) to adapt to populism’s wave. The press coverage of the Pope implies that the candidates are wasting their time with such adaptations. Well, they’re not.

Is this Pope infallible? Come on. The sexual abuse scandal remains a glaring case of institutional corruption; Francis has been far too forgiving of bishops who protected predators. Do I agree with everything the Pope says? No. I have a personal connection here; my mother’s side of the family may have been ruined, or permanently traumatized, by someone’s too-rigid-adherence to Catholicism. But that’s not the point. The point is that Pope Francis I has done the world, and America, a great service by reminding us of the greatness of Christ’s teachings, that we must love each other and help the neediest amongst us. He calls us to listen to the People and not the plutocrats. Thank you for coming, and thank you for being you, People’s Pope. Let’s try to live up to (most of) your examples.