Francis and the Church a bulwark against much of what Trump stands for

Francis and the Church a bulwark against much of what Trump stands for

Feb 10, 2017

By Anil Netto
What happens when you have a government of the 1 per cent, by the 1 per cent, for the 1 per cent?

That is the prospect that the United States finds itself in — and the rest of the world looking out for — with Donald Trump assuming the presidency.

It is frightening to read about the kind of people Trump has surrounded himself with in his cabinet, including climate change deniers and backers of big business. In the first few days of his presidency, Trump has already caused so much alarm. His order to ban migrants from seven Muslim nations provoked widespread protests.

His plan to build a wall along the US-Mexican border has been described as “idiotic” by the billionaire developer, a life-long friend of Trump’s, who was asked (and then declined) to build it. It was a year ago when the Bishop of Rome said that “a person who thinks only of building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, isn’t Christian.”

But why should a Trump presidency concern us, here in Malaysia, and other developing nations? Several points come to mind:

1) Denial of climate change:
This will, of course, suit the top 1 per cent and Big Business interests who will think nothing of rampaging through the Commons and treasured natural habitats, in the endless quest for profits over people and the environment. The sort of thing that Laudato Si warns of.
This kind of thinking could worsen in the coming years as nations around the world might conveniently take a leaf from the Trump administration’s approach.

The concerted global action required to combat climate change could be a major casualty at a time when it is needed most. Christians and other people of goodwill everywhere must not allow this to happen.

2) Lack of US funding – even respect – for the United Nations and its human rights treaties and the rise of authoritarian rule:

Expect bigger superpower politics from the US that could undermine multilateral arrangements, many of which come under the auspices of the United Nations, such as humanitarian and refugee programmes.

The Trump administration is also planning to review its support for certain UN human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

That, in itself, would be bad enough. Worse, some even fear for the future of US democracy and its institutions in the face of any authoritarian tendency, which could send the wrong message to autocrats around the world, especially corrupt rulers inclined towards repression to remain in power.

3) Taking the neoliberal agenda to a new level:

In a sense, it was the wide income and wealth inequality, the pressures on the working class in the United States under Obama and previous administrations, that contributed to the deep-seated public dissatisfaction and insecurities which allowed someone like Trump to emerge.

Trump rode to power by telling US voters what they wanted to hear while stoking their fears: he promised to make America great again while cleverly creating threats of The Other (whether it was “the Muslims” or “the immigrants.”)

His tough stance appears to have struck a chord with even many Christians supporting him, including those alarmed to see IS butchering both Muslims and Christians in the Middle East.

Trump vowed to bring American businesses back to the United States and promptly dumped the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, providing a temporary reprieve to developing nations. But for how long? The end of the TPP might pave the way for tougher bilateral agreements that could extend the interests and influence of US multinational corporations against the public interest in developing nations.

And if American businesses return to the United States, will the lot of the workers in that country improve? Not with the richest cabinet ever at the helm.

The neoliberal agenda is still alive and kicking and could be taken to a new level in the United States.

Trump favours tax cuts and expansion of public spending. His choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, for example, appears to favour privatisation of public education.

Though this won’t be easy to implement, this is the kind of mindset they have.

Over in Malaysia, even with the dumping of the TPP, the neoliberal economic agenda continues unabated, aggravated by rampant corruption and a declining share of government revenue coming from oil and gas.

This has hastened the shift from a progressive tax system to a regressive tax system (GST) and a removal of subsidies, which burdens the poor (despite BR1M). Think of the budget cuts or removal of subsidies in healthcare and education. Our public universities have suffered enormous budget cuts over the last two years.

More and more, we will see the emergence of the neoliberal “user-pay” model. Already, the pilot scheme for the so-called “full-paying patients” scheme to create pseudo “privatised” wings in government hospitals is being extended to more hospitals. Now, dental charges in government hospitals and clinics could soar in March. Many migrant workers and refugees already shun our government hospitals, either because they are unable to afford the expensive charges or they fear deportation.

There are real fears about where a Trump presidency could lead us all — and how he would handle the rise of China as an economic superpower.

In many ways, there is one bulwark against the Trump administration’s alarming ideology — the Church and all that it stands for, especially the compassion for the poor and the oppressed that Jesus espouses. That contrast can be found in the subtext (if we read between the lines) of the Bishop of Rome’s message to Trump on his inauguration:

“At a time when our human family is beset by grave humanitarian crises demanding far-sighted and united political responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation’s commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide.
“Under your leadership, may America’s stature continue to be measured, above all, by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door.”

A columnist in the New Yorker has already described the Church as “a front in the now global struggle against all that Donald Trump has come so quickly to represent. Pope Francis is the anti-Trump.”

That view may not be far off the mark in the coming years.

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