media review

The Young President


I’m watching the Young Pope on HBO and I’ve been struck by the by the similarities to another man unexpectedly thrust into a position of power and world leadership. Yes, you got me right-our 70-year-old President Trump is acting like a young and inexperienced pope with a chip on his shoulder a mile long.

In the Young Pope, Jude Law plays Lenny, a delightfully terrifying iconoclast of the cloth. Early in the series the Cardinal Secretary of State discovers that Lenny, Pope Pius XIII, is a man of few carnal appetites. It’s won’t be easy to manipulate this young American with women or wine. This pope wants to exercise his power, clean up the priesthood, and bring God back into the center of the Church. Lenny isn’t warm and fuzzy. He’s not politically correct. He’s not here to entertain or comfort. This pope is on a mission.

Remind you of someone?

While not a perfect metaphor for the Trump Presidency the Young Pope exposes the tragedy and cruelty of the reformer. Both Washington and the Vatican are riddled with special interest groups, corruption, and actors acting in their own interests and not in the interests of the people they are accountable to. Both President Trump and Pope Pius XIII didn’t expect to be elected and it shows. They aren’t ready while at the same time aren’t willing to wait until they are ready to make important decisions. It’s as if both men fear they are imposters and need to prove their worth before they are found out.

The actions of President Trump and Pope Pius XIII have created grievous emotional suffering for the most vulnerable members of their “flocks.” President Trump seems to have missed the whole idea that America is nation of immigrants. Lenny seems to have missed the whole idea that the Church is a refuge from secular world and the absence of God. Both men want only the purest of the “faithful” to reside in their house. Both want outsiders to work much harder to get in.

Of course, the Young Pope is a television show. Nobody has actually suffered under Pope Pius XIII. While the Trump Presidency might seem like a reality show I don’t have to remind you that it’s all too real.

A Trump supporter, perhaps a member of the Alt-Right or just an average Conservative who wants America to be great again, might be justified in asking, “Well then, what is a reformer supposed to do? Sugar coat his speech? Drag out the process? Compromise?”

In a word, yes.

There is already enough instability and suffering in the world that both President Trump and the Young Pope would be more effective by wrapping that iron fist in a velvet glove. Change is tough. Abrupt change is recipe for anarchy. Both President Trump and the Young Pope are headed for a spiritual and earthly crisis. For Jude Law this might mean an Emmy Award. Unfortunately for President Trump, in the real world, this kind of drama is rewarded in a way that isn’t good for any of us.

I know it’s boring and undramatic but slow, steady, and compassionate reform is the only kind of reform that ever works. By the way, I’m not in personal agreement is any of President Trump’s executive orders or his world view. I just don’t want to world to come crashing down around our ears while President Trump figures out he’s not on a television set.

Our trade agreements, health care, and tax laws probably all need a bit of tweaking. Or a lot of tweaking. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict the impact of any particular change. I’m sure the Young Pope would agree that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I know the people who voted for Trump. In the small town in NJ where I grew up they were religious, down to earth, and only wanted a good job and good life. They didn’t ask for change they are tired of waiting while they watch their world fall part. Factories are closing, job are being distributed around the world, and a new wave of immigrants are setting up shop in strip malls.

But American is always changing. Two hundred years ago, slavery was in full force and the industrial revolution wiped out the craftsman. One hundred years ago, World War I was starting up and electricity and the radio we’re uniting the world into one global community. Nothing of what we today call “globalization” and “immigration” is new. It’s just all part of a trend in how humanity is organizing it’s self around technological progress.

I’m sure by the end of season one Pope Pius XII will realize that he’s only made things worse. That instead of restoring the Catholic Church to glory his hasty and not well-thought-out executive orders will have pushed it to the edge of ruination. This is not a spoiler. I ‘m still in the middle of the series. But I can see where the plot is going.

I hope President Trump has HBO.