In an interview with El País on Friday, interviewers asked Francis his thoughts about the rise of anti-establishment or populist movements in Europe and the United States, where Donald Trump was last week inaugurated as 45th president of the United States.
“The consequences of a crisis that does not end, the increase in inequality, the absence of strong leadership are giving way to political formations that are collecting the discomfort of citizens,” the interviewer said. “Some of them … take advantage of the fear of the citizenship of an uncertain future to construct a message of xenophobia, of hatred toward the foreigner. The case of Trump is the most striking, but there are also the cases of Austria and even Switzerland. Are you worried about this phenomenon?”
“It’s what they call the populism,” Francis replied. “That is a misleading word … Of course, crises cause fears, alerts. For me the most typical example of populism in the European sense of the word is German.”
Francis went on to discuss Germany’s economic crisis after World War I under the leadership of Paul von Hindenburg amid the global Great Depression that began in the United States in 1929 and spread through the world in the 1930s. Hindenburg opposed and defeated Hitler in Germany’s 1932 presidential elections. Months later in parliamentary elections, Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazi, party won with 14 million votes, or 37 percent of the total popular vote.
Under political pressure, Hindenburg would appoint Hitler as chancellor of Germany in 1933.
When Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler seized that opportunity to declare the office of president vacant and to pronounce himself as head of state.
“After Hindenburg, the crisis of ’30, Germany — [now] destroyed — seeks to rise, seeks its identity, seeks a leader, someone to return its identity and there is a little boy named Adolf Hitler who says ‘I can. I can,’ and all of Germany votes for Hitler. Hitler did not steal power, [he] was voted by his people, and then destroyed his people. That is the danger,” Francis said.
About Trump’s ascension to power, Francis warned people not to become “prophets … of calamities or … wellness” and to instead judge Trump over his “concrete” actions.
“Precisely at this hour, taking over as U.S. President is Donald Trump. And the world is quite tense over that fact. To you, what consideration does it deserve?” El País director Antonio Caño and correspondent Pablo Ordaz asked the pope.
“See what happens. But to frighten myself or rejoice over what may happen, in that I think we can fall into a great recklessness. … It will be seen. We will see what he does and there he will be evaluated. Always the concrete,” Francis replied. “Concrete things. And from the concrete we draw the consequences. We lose much of the sense of the concrete. I was told the other day by a thinker that this world is so disordered that it lacks a fixed point. And it is precisely the concrete that gives you the fixed points. What you did, what you decided, how you moved. That’s why I hope and see.”
The pope made a reference to Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, stating the United States has a right to control its border but no right to ostracize its neighbor.
“Can borders be controlled? Yes, each country has a right to control its borders, who enters and who leaves, and countries that are in danger — of terrorism or the like — have more right to control them more, but no country has the right to deprive its citizens of dialogue with their neighbors.”