Into the fray of shrill voices of ego-maniacal politicians who occupy our flat screens these days—for whom self-aggrandizement is both the calculated and unconscious root of talk and behavior—walks an old man in white who holds one of the most powerful positions in the world, and yet is among the most humble of men. Pope Francis is the ultimate patriarch but his modesty is riveting, his lunches with the homeless instead of the power-brokers of Congress telling, and his speech is at once quiet yet compelling. Here’s a strong man whose masculinity is gentle, who demonstrates that a man can be commanding without arrogance and combativeness.
I imagine that I’m like many other people, surprised to tears at the national celebration of Pope Francis: the ecstatic crowds along roads where the pope-mobile passed, cheers in Madison Square Garden louder than those for the New York Rangers, a grinning president and tearful house speaker by his side. Pope Francis comes to us in this time of exceptional cynicism and rancor: his presence feels like awakening to life again after a long and awful illness.
The Ego Versus the Id
In his weekly commentary on the PBS News Hour program of September 25, David Brooks called out “the people who believe that they’re in office not to pass legislation, but merely to express their id.” It is instructive that Brooks chose to speak of the id rather than the ego, which is what we usually think of when we think of power. The id is the more accurate, better appellation because the id is more instinctual, the real power-driver that creates the bravura and grandiosity of too many men’s masculinity.
The id was certainly on display at the Republican presidential debates – and continues into the campaigning. Not surprisingly, candidate, Donald Trump stands in starkest contrast to the Pope: Francis is humble; Trump, a braggart. Francis is principled; Trump says what comes into his erratic mind. Francis is respectful, Trump takes pleasure in castigating others.
Strength in Fallibility
But of all the differences between these two men, what had the greatest impact on me was the Pope’s acknowledgement of fallibility: he repeatedly made the same request of virtually all those with whom he came in contact: “Pray for me.” Trump, on the other hand, apparently perceives himself to be so flawless that he refuses to acknowledge, let alone apologize for missteps. And he wears this refusal as a badge of honor.
In speaking about the Pope, Brooks commented, “Well, I thought it’s so clear how counter-cultural he is. We have ideological fights. He’s anti-ideological. He’s a personalist.” From a little different perspective, it’s clear to me that Pope Francis challenges the worldwide corrupt culture of male power and domination. Here is the ultimate patriarch confronting patriarchy: Putin, Assad, Kim Jong-un, and so many others. Yes, let’s pray for this good man.