Commentary
By Ed Spivey Jr. 5-23-2017

Today is the historic meeting between President Donald Trump and Pope Francis, part of the three-nation visit the White House staff has been planning for weeks, following the well-established and delicate protocols that ensure a smooth visit with foreign leaders, before it all goes to crap with an early-morning tweet. (Several White House staffers have reportedly developed numbness in their hands from keeping their fingers crossed for the first hundred days of the Trump administration. And in packing for this trip, those same staffers had to find space for the president’s extra shoes, since another one seems to drop almost every day.)

Concerns were raised about whether, in this time of political chaos in Washington, it would be good for the leader of the nation to be out of the country. But it was decided that creating physical distance from Comey memos and impeachment rumors might, in fact, be a good reason to leave Washington and make America great again, maybe from Italy.

On the flight across the Atlantic, Trump spoke with reporters and expressed enthusiasm about his audience with the pope. “And I hope there’s going to be a big audience, because audiences love me!” He seemed visibly disappointed, however, when staff members clarified that the only people in the room would be him, the pope, and a photographer from Russian state media.

The first stop was Saudi Arabia, and it went well, with President Trump sharing photo opportunities with the Saudi royal family — “Hey, shouldn’t there be a camel in the picture? Haha! No, seriously.” Aware of the president’s womanizing past, the Saudi government made sure to remove all temptation by requiring Saudi women to be completely covered when in public, to always be accompanied by a male family member, and to never drive. Presumably, these restrictions were lifted after Trump left the country, as befitting the freedom one expects from a free-spirited monarchy still enforcing the egalitarian norms of its founding in 1744.

The president’s sons stayed behind to continue the diplomatic outreach, specifically to explain upcoming hotel projects that are now included with the purchase of F-15 fighter jets. (With 12 or more jets the hotels come with free in-ground pools.)

Trump then proceeded to Israel, the second stop on his Big Religions Tour, where he visited holy sites, admired various walls that separate people, and asked aides why the Likud Party doesn’t have a DJ. Unfortunately for Democratic leaders back home, the president failed for a second time to embarrass our nation on the world stage. His last chance to do so would be in Rome, where Air Force One just touched down.

As the aircraft pulled to a stop, aides did a final protocol briefing with the president, who listened intently for a whole two minutes before asking “When’s the best time to share classified data with the pope? I don’t want him to feel left out.”

He then stood and stretched out his arms so staff could do a final pat down for any cellphones that might be in his clothing, hoping to make the day tweet-free. (One bright spot for anxious presidential aides is that most of his interactions with heads of state will be conveyed by translators, all hand-picked for their willingness to paraphrase whatever Donald Trump says into two simple statements, edited for diplomatic sensitivity, but still in his voice: “I bring the best wishes of the American people, especially the coal miners” or “I love people of all religions [subject to locale], your Muslims, your Catholics, and those Jewish ones.”

The president visits the pope in Vatican City, considered the smallest country in the world, with its own seat at the United Nations. It has no standing army, but it does have guards who stand, but mainly because it’s hard to sit in those outfits. (It’s the puffed sleeves that threaten, with grim authority, “Don’t mess with me.”) The pope is the Bishop of Rome, the earthly head of the Roman Catholic Church, and the successor of Simon Peter. Donald Trump is the successor of George Washington (who is getting bed sores from turning over in his grave so much). Pope Francis leads a church comprising over a billion people worldwide. Donald Trump leads a nation comprised of the Bible Belt, a few counties in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and a pretty good chunk of Missouri.

The president agreed to speak English during their meeting, since that is one of several languages spoken by the pope and, coincidentally, the only one he knows. There are other things Donald Trump doesn’t know, but the pope is too polite to point them out.

Depending on when you are reading this, their meeting may not have happened yet, but we have a transcript because Sojourners recently discovered a crack in the space-time continuum. (It turns out, if you hold down CTRL+Shift when you “like” something on Facebook, you can travel into the future. If you want to go back in time, you hold down CTRL+Shift+Smiley face. But be careful messing with history, although Hillary would probably still lose Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.)

Pope: Welcome to the Holy See, Mr. President.

Trump: Yeah, there’s lots to see here. And great paintings. My favorite is The Transfiguration, the one with Jesus rising to heaven. Did that guy know how to make an exit, or what!? I autographed it for you, in the lower right hand corner, because the Trump name adds value to anything, even really old stuff. You’re welcome.

Pope: I’m glad you’re enjoying Vatican City, Mr. President. It’s an architectural wonder that took over a hundred years to build.

Trump: Yeah, those union carpenters can really drag things out. But I’ll let you in on a little negotiating secret for your next project. Say you want to repaint the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel — I’m thinking a nice beige would tie it all together — what you do is sign the contracts, but then ...

Pope: Mr. President, in these troubled days it’s important that your country continue to be a shining light of democracy. A broken world is crying out for compassionate leadership.

Trump: Where do you keep your wallet?

Pope: 😐

Trump: Why is that such a hard question? The Saudis clammed up when I asked them, too.

Pope: Mr. President, if I may ...

Trump: By the way, I hope I have time to make a speech from that balcony thingie over St. Peter’s Square. That looks really cool, you talking to all those crowds. Huge crowds. Almost as big as my inauguration. And then you go down and kiss all kinds of people. Great optics. Couldn’t do it myself, but awesome.

Pope: Reaching out to the least of these is a cornerstone of the Christian faith.

Trump: Of course. I know more about the Christian faith than anybody. Although what’s up with washing people’s feet? I don’t see the connection, you know, between religion and hygiene.

Pope: Foot washing is a powerful symbol of love and humility, following the example of Jesus Christ.

Trump: Yeah. But that was back in New Testament times. I read the Sermon on the Mountain. “Blessed are the peackeepers” and all that. In fact, nobody knows that sermon better than ...

Pope: Mr. President, it’s important that we talk about the plight of immigrants. As I have said before, it is better to build bridges than walls.

Trump: But pouring cement columns under water is a huge expense, not to mention stabilizing the concrete piers for weight-bearing. You’re not thinking it through, Pope.

Pope: I was using bridge as a metaphor, Mr. President. Reaching across our differences is better than clinging to our tribal prejudices. Wouldn’t you agree?

Trump: I love the gold ceilings in here, Your Wholeness. Reminds me of the toilets in my airplane. They’re all gold. Very classy. Hey, speaking of classy, the next time you come to Florida I’ll get you a room at Mar-a-Lago. My treat, all expenses paid, unless you take something out of the mini-fridge.

Pope: I’m sure it’s very nice, but when I travel I stay at the local rectory. I prefer to be with other priests, the people with whom I share a deep calling to ministry.

Trump: I get that. You and I are alike in many ways.

Pope: And what ways are those, Mr. President?

Trump: We’re two classy guys that the world looks up to. And we want the same things, you know, world peace and whatnot. By the way, they told me to tell you I’ve just named Callista Gingrich to be ambassador to this place. She’s Newt’s third wife, and like I always say, third time’s the charm. You ever think about getting married, Your Oneness?

At this point White House aides felt the president had sufficiently represented the good will of the American people and had honored the main purpose of the trip — not to create a stupefyingly debilitating international crisis — and rushed him to a waiting helicopter. But not before presenting a parting gift to Pope Francis: A signature blue and white striped tie, perfect wear for business meetings and pricier restaurants. Soon afterward, as Air Force One lifted off from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport, the president wistfully gazed out the window. On his lap was a closed copy of Laudato Si, the Pope’s encyclical on the dangers of consumerism and climate change. Donald Trump had looked at it briefly, but there were no pictures.

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Ed Spivey Jr. is Art Director at Sojourners.

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