Continuing with our look at the Pope’s interview with El Pais, the largest leftist newspaper in Spain, the question of populism came up:
Q. Both in Europe and in America, the repercussions of the crisis that never ends, the growing inequalities, the absence of a strong leadership are giving way to political groups that reflect on the citizens’ malaise. Some of them —the so-called anti-system or populists— capitalize on the fears of an uncertain future in order to form a message full of xenophobia and hatred towards foreigners. Trump’s case is the most noteworthy, but there are others such as Austria or Switzerland. Are you worried about this trend?
A. That is what they call populism here. It is an equivocal term, because in Latin America populism has another meaning. In Latin America, it means that the people —for instance, people’s movements— are the protagonists. They are self-organized. When I started to hear about populism in Europe I didn’t know what to make of it, until I realized that it had different meanings. Crises provoke fear, alarm. In my opinion, the most obvious example of populism in the European sense of the word is Germany in 1933. After [Paul von] Hindenburg, after the crisis of 1930, Germany is broken, it needs to get up, to find its identity, it needs a leader, someone capable of restoring its character, and there is a young man named Adolf Hitler who says: “I can, I can”. And Germans vote for Hitler. Hitler didn’t steal power, his people voted for him, and then he destroyed his people. That is the risk. In times of crisis we lack judgment, and that is a constant reference for me. Let’s look for a savior who gives us back our identity and let us defend ourselves with walls, barbed-wire, whatever, from other people who may rob us of our identity. And that is a very serious thing. That is why I always try to say: talk among yourselves, talk to one another. But the case of Germany in 1933 is typical, a people who were immersed in a crisis, who were searching for their identity until this charismatic leader came and promised to give their identity back, and he gave them a distorted identity, and we all know what happened. Where there is no conversation… Can borders be controlled? Yes, each country has the right to control its borders, who comes in and who goes out, and those countries at risk —from terrorism or such things— have even more of a right to control them, but no country has the right to deprive its citizens of the possibility to talk with their neighbors.
Go here to read the rest. Note how the Pope at the outset separates Latin American populism from populism in general. His excuse that populist movements in Latin America are organized by the people themselves is risible. The most famous populist movement in Argentinian history, perhaps in all of Latin American history, is the Peronist movement to which the Pope, on occasion, has been thought to be an adherent. Condemn populism and he has to condemn Peronism, something the Pope clearly does not wish to do. Thus we have a papal fairy tale that distinguishes Latin American populism from populism elsewhere around the globe. That being done, the Pope turns to Europe and, ignoring hundreds of populist movements in Europe since World War II, he raises Nazism as the prime example of populism. Leaving aside whether fascism is populism, a proposition that is certainly debatable, we see the impulse of the Pope to slime those who disagree with him. The Pope tends to think in strawman terms when he considers those he is not in sympathy with. A tragedy for any priest, a disaster for a Pope.