For Pope Francis, Trump’s Vilification of Others Is a Form of Terrorism

Donald Trump has poisoned the political climate of liberal democracies. His victory encourages dangerous voices in Europe.
11/16/2016 04:21 pm ET
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STOCKHOLM ― Since Donald Trump was elected president of the U.S., I am losing sleep. Not least because Trump never seems to be sleeping. During the campaign, he was up in the wee hours, tweeting at people who had slighted him ever so little. Now that he’s been elected, he is still at it. 

Of course, I know as little as anyone else about whether or not Trump will carry out anything of what he promised to do. It might very well turn out that he has lied about it all and that all he intends to do is as Silvio Berlusconi has ― that is, to make his private business interests the business of the state.

What we do know for certain is that Trump’s victorious election campaign has poisoned the political climate of liberal democracies. We have been shown that defamation, hatred and lying can be a road to power. The outcome of the U.S. election is a clear message to the burgeoning populist and xenophobic parties of Europe that hate and fear-mongering is a winning concept and that they henceforth should feel free to smear, vilify and incite without any fear of transgressing the “politically correct” borders of decency and shame. 

We have been shown that defamation, hatred and lying can be a road to power.

You might think that there are no such borders left to transgress in the Europe of Jimmie Åkesson, Viktor Orbán, Jarosław Kaczyński and Marine Le Pen, but Trump has arguably taken the rhetoric a bit farther down that road than anyone in a similar position in Europe. The political fallout from Trump’s victory might be more devastating for Europe than for America. We know only too well what the rhetoric of fear, vilification and hatred once did to the democracies of Europe. The Nazis didn’t come into power with guns but with words. 

In a recent interview in the Swedish daily Dagens NyheterPope Francis spoke of slander and vilification as a form of terrorism. I find this a very apt description for what we saw in action in the U.S. election campaign. Once again, this world spiritual leader uses the words and gestures of faith and trust to resist the words and gestures of fear and hatred. 

“Every human being is capable of turning into a terrorist simply by just abusing language,” the Pope told the Swedish daily. “You see, I am not speaking here about fighting a battle as in a war. I am speaking of a deceitful and hidden form of terrorism that uses words as bombs that explode, causing devastation in peoples’ lives. It is a sort of criminality and the root of it is original sin. It is a way of creating space for yourself by destroying others.”

The political fallout from Trump’s victory might be more devastating for Europe than for America.

With Trump’s election, we are again learning that democracy ultimately depends on the people, the demos, having a democratic disposition and that the terrorism of vilification is a weapon in the hands of those who intend to weaken and demolish it.  

I will now think of all the Americans that didn’t vote for Trump (the majority, in fact) and try to get some sleep.

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