Where Trump and Fran­cis see the same evil

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATH­LEEN PARKER kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

Maybe Trump had a Da­m­as­cus mo­ment and fell from his high horse.

Spalm beach, fla. o the pope, the pres­i­dent, a Mus­lim and a Jew walk into a bar . . .

Surely, I’m not the only one to tighten the frame around Pres­i­dent Trump’s wildly ironic and am­bi­tious for­eign odyssey to pro­mote “tol­er­ance.” Which, let’s face it, would seem to be the joke. The most can­didly in­tol­er­ant pres­i­dent in his­tory set out Fri­day on a Napoleonic ex­pe­di­tion not to con­quer the world but to ad­vance a cause he ap­par­ently em­braced yes­ter­day.

Mean­while, the many pos­si­ble out­comes — from mon­strous, Earth-tilt­ing gaffes to World Peace In Our Time (and lots in be­tween) — are rivet­ing to con­sider. And ev­ery­thing hinges on the per­for­mance of the most un­pre­dictable, un­likely emis­sary ever to cross the thresh­old of Air Force One.

That’s my in­ner cynic speak­ing. My in­ner Pollyanna has a dif­fer­ent take: Maybe he has had a Da­m­as­cus mo­ment and fallen from his high horse. He had a bru­tal week, to be sure. Maybe he has re­ceived grace, dis­cov­ered hu­mil­ity, found the key to his clois­tered em­pa­thy and is em­bark­ing on a his­toric pil­grim­age of re­pen­tance and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

While these two forces wage war in my head and the me­dia take bets on Trump’s first faux pas, I’ll give the pres­i­dent’s ad­vis­ers this: bril­liant idea. Dur­ing his nine-day trip, Trump is touch­ing base with three of the world’s largest re­li­gions, vis­it­ing Saudi Ara­bia, Is­rael and Vat­i­can City. He’s also sched­uled to at­tend a NATO meet­ing in Brus­sels and a G-7 con­fer­ence in Si­cily. His itin­er­ary is al­most too large to grasp, but grandios­ity de­mands grand plans. And, re­ally, what could pos­si­bly go wrong? The pres­i­dent’s mis­sion in­cludes ad­vanc­ing re­li­gious unity and be­seech­ing other na­tions to join the United States in end­ing re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion and hu­man traf­fick­ing, as well as put­ting an end to the Is­lamic State. The agenda is com­pli­cated by more than a few con­found­ing fac­tors. Trump meets with NATO af­ter hav­ing ques­tioned its le­git­i­macy. And Saudi Ara­bia, os­ten­si­bly our ally, is a chief funding source and ex­porter of Wah­habism, the most vir­u­lent and fun­da­men­tal­ist in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam. Speak­ing around such in­con­sis­ten­cies is tough turf even for the most ex­pe­ri­enced diplo­mats.

Most fas­ci­nat­ing and com­pelling, to me at least, is the slated May 24 meet­ing be­tween Trump and Pope Fran­cis, the fig­ure­heads of the sec­u­lar and spiritual worlds. The two men have been ex­chang­ing pot­shots since be­fore Trump’s elec­tion, with Fran­cis crit­i­ciz­ing Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, his at­tempted travel ban and The Wall. He also sug­gested that Trump isn’t very Chris­tian, which prompted Trump to fire back that no one should ques­tion an­other’s re­li­gious be­lief.

With their meet­ing on the hori­zon, Fran­cis has said he al­ways tries to find “doors that are at least a lit­tle bit open.” Maybe if Trump sticks to script, he’ll be on solid ground with the top­ics he in­tends to dis­cuss.

The United States has long rec­og­nized that where re­li­gious free­dom is re­stricted, ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism flour­ish and mi­nori­ties suf­fer. And Fran­cis has made hu­man traf­fick­ing, which he has called “a plague on the body of con­tem­po­rary hu­man­ity,” one of his key is­sues. There are to­day more peo­ple liv­ing in slav­ery than at any other time in his­tory, with es­ti­mates as high as 27 mil­lion.

Trump can make the case that not only is slav­ery evil in its own right but hu­man traf­fick­ing is in­tri­cately in­ter­wo­ven with ter­ror­ism and re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion. This over­lap can be seen in the per­se­cu­tion of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties in the Mid­dle East, such as the Is­lamic State’s Palm Sun­day slaugh­ter of more than 40 Cop­tic Chris­tians in Egypt dur­ing wor­ship ser­vices. Other in­ter­sec­tions are seen in the the­ol­ogy of rape prac­ticed by mem­bers of the Is­lamic State, who, in be­tween prayers, have sex­u­ally as­saulted women and young girls from the Yazidi com­mu­nity as re­li­gious rit­ual.

In other ex­am­ples of slav­ery, just from Burma: Eth­nic Rakhine civil­ians have been forced by the army to dig graves, porter guns and per­form other man­ual la­bor. Child soldiers are drafted into the mil­i­tary and forced la­bor. Eth­nic Kachin women are traf­ficked to China, where they’re forced into mar­riage or work.

One needn’t be aligned with Catholic the­ol­ogy to rec­og­nize the in­her­ent evil of such prac­tices. One only needs to be hu­man. Out of re­spect for the pur­poses of Trump’s trip, we should wish the pres­i­dent god­speed and, if you be­lieve in a higher power, lend him your prayers.

And may your cynic and your Pollyanna make peace.

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