Charity, as found in Christian theology, was described by Thomas Aquinas as “that which unites us to god” and he considered it “the most excellent of the virtues” explaining “the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbor.” The concept of charity including love of neighbor is anathema to evangelical Christians, and merely mentioning it has created enmity between conservative Christians and Christ’s representative on Earth Pope Francis. Over the past couple of months there is not much the new Pope has said that has not rankled conservatives, evangelical Christians, and even Republican politicians who are self-avowed Catholics. Maybe it is because Americanized Christians have drifted so far-afield from their religion’s namesake and his teachings, or maybe it is hatred for humanity endemic to evangelical Christians, but every utterance from the new Pontiff has elicited varying degrees of condemnation and indignation.
The Pope’s outreach to atheists predictably drove evangelicals mad, and Catholic clergy were shocked he stressed they should devote their time and energy to helping the poor instead of fixating on gays and torturing women for being women. However, what elicited the greatest response from Republicans was his criticism of their religious devotion to “trickle down” economics that, for thirty years, has sent the lion’s share of the nation’s wealth to the richest one-percent of income earners and left the rest of the population struggling to stay out of poverty or wondering where their families’ next meal will come from.
The Republicans’ spokesman, Rush Limbaugh, immediately labeled the Pope a Marxist and all but condemned him to Hell for having the audacity to question America’s economic system that is so tilted toward satisfying the greed of the rich and their corporations. Attention whore Sarah Palin expressed concern that the Pope’s remarks about America’s deification of wealth and greed “sounded kinda’ liberal,” but then again the likes of Palin would assail Jesus Christ for sounding liberal if he returned and preached to help the poor. However, after digesting the Pope’s remarks decrying an economic system that took from the poor to enrich the already wealthy, Republican legislators, especially Catholic Republicans, felt they had to weigh in and give their assessment of a Pope who dared utter an unkind word about their Holy Grail; trickle-down economics.
Catholic Republican lawmakers appear worried that the Pope’s condemnation of their economic agenda upsets their relationship with the church and its support for the party. What is interesting about Republicans’ comments on the Pope’s advocacy for the poor and condemning income inequality is their phony praise for the Pope while asserting he cannot comprehend trickle down’s blessings that helped the poor. The consensus among conservatives is that the Pope’s criticism of unrestrained free market capitalism and “trickle-down” economics are borne of naïveté and unsupported by the facts that are in-and-of-themselves laughable.
The Republican Party’s face of compassion, advocate for selfishness and greed, and a Catholic, Paul Ryan, said the Pope just does not understand free market capitalism and trickle-down economics enough to “fully appreciate its benefits” for America’s poor. Ryan said, “The guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina, they have crony capitalism in Argentina. They don’t have a true free enterprise system.” Ryan also said he liked the Pope’s comments and welcomes the debate about the thirty year experiment of giving the nation’s riches to the wealthy and watching the poor and middle class wait for the “trickle-down” effect to begin. He said, “What I love about the pope is he is triggering the exact kind of dialogue we ought to be having.” However, Americans have been having this exact kind of dialogue for three decades and the results are the same today as they were thirty years ago. As the Pope said, trickle-down’s “promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor.”
Fifty million Americans are living in dire poverty, the middle class is vanishing into near poverty, and income inequality destroying this nation has sent over 95% of economic recovery gains to the richest 1% of income earners. The debate is over, and so are conservatives’ contentions that the Pope’s comprehension of “unrestrained free market capitalism and trickle-down economics are borne of naïveté and unsupported by the facts.” Still, it did not stop Republicans from condemning the Pope’s criticism of unrestrained free market capitalism at the same time they welcomed his concern for the poor.
Senator John McCain said, “His economic perspective I’m not particularly enamored with, but his advocacy for the poor, his lifestyle example, his more modern outlook on social issues — I’ve been very impressed.” Republican Peter King, a Catholic said he found the Pope’s reference to trickle-down economics demeaning and off-putting. “I genuinely believe … supply-side economics does more to help people come out of poverty, move up in the world. The guidance I’d take from this is, when I support conservative economics, I should do it in a way that helps the most people.” Republican Senator Pat Toomey suggested the Pope’s new admirers drew the wrong conclusions from his remarks about Republicans’ economic agenda; “He’s entitled to his opinion, but I think we should look carefully at what he’s saying. It’s easy to draw I think what could be mistaken, superficial conclusions from some of the things that he said. I think he’s a wonderful leader for the church.”
What the Pope said cannot be misinterpreted. Any American who is not filthy rich, or a Republican promoting “trickle-down” economics, understands that Republicans tried their superficial economic scam and after thirty years they understand that regardless the wealth flowing up to the richest 1%, nothing has, or will, ever trickle down to the rest of the population. It does not take the Pope, or President Obama for that matter, to tell 98% of the population that Republicans’ economic agenda did not create a nation devastated by income inequality solely because trickle-down economics favors the richest Americans. The people have witnessed Republicans’ regard for the population in the past two months that cut food stamps, sent 1.3 million Americans into poverty by not extending unemployment benefits, and kept 99.6% of their precious sequester cuts in place for nine more years to save the richest Americans from tax loophole reforms to keep the wealth flowing to the top.
The only reason the entire Republican Party has refrained from openly criticizing the Pope as a Marxist, waging class war on the rich, or inciting the “politics of division” like they have President Obama is because his message rings true with the masses and his popularity is off the charts. Make no mistake, if the Pope’s message was not so popular, or did not resonate with the majority of Americans, Republicans would treat him with the same disdain and hatred they reserve for President Obama. What is really curious is that both men are preaching the same economic message and it leads one to wonder; if the Pope was Black would he be given the tepid deference Republicans have afforded him thus far?