Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Argentina’s Juan Peron: A common thread between President Trump and Pope Francis -- similar men in very different roles

by David Pence

Juan Peron (1895-1974) was elected president of Argentina twice from 1946 to 1955 when he was removed in a coup d’etat. He was elected again in 1973, and died in office July 1974. He understood Christianity as the soil of the nation and the military as her guardian. He was formed in a rigorous Catholic boarding school and then entered a military school to complete his training. He and his wife Evita were popular and successful leaders for most of his first two terms.

After WWII, the emergence of the worldwide Communist movement drew countries and conflicts into the bipolar paradigm of America vs. the Soviet Union. Juan Peron was a different voice and led a different kind of national social movement. He was a military man but identified first and foremost with the workers. He wanted some industries nationalized but did not believe class conflict was more fundamental than national solidarity. He looked more to Christ than Marx or Adam Smith as the base of his humanism. In two speeches on Peronism in 1948 and 1950 he defined the movement:
"Perónism is not learned, nor just talked about: one feels it or else disagrees. Perónism is a question of the heart rather than of the head. Fortunately I am not one of those presidents who live a life apart, but on the contrary I live among my people, just as I have always lived; so that I share all the ups and downs, all their successes an all their disappointments with my working-class people. I feel an intimate satisfaction when I see a workman who is well dressed or taking his family to the theatre. I feel just as satisfied as I would feel if I were that workman myself... 
"They are good Argentines, no matter what their origin, their race or their religion may be, if they work every day for the greatness of the Nation, and they are bad Argentines, no matter what they say or how much they shout, if they are not laying a new stone every day towards the construction of the building of the happiness and grandeur of our Nation."

From The Twenty Truths of Peronism, 1950
4. There is only one class of men for the Perónist cause: the workers.
11. Perónism desires the establishment of national unity and the abolition of civil strife. It welcomes heroes but does not want martyrs.
12. In the New Argentina the only privileged ones are the children.
13. A Government without a doctrine is a body without a soul. That is why Perónism has established its own political, economic, and social doctrines: Justicialism.
14. Justicialism is a new philosophical school of life. It is simple, practical, popular and endowed with deeply Christian and humanitarian sentiments.

Juan with Eva, who died in 1952

Donald Trump is not a man of the left or right. He centers his political loyalty on America and speaks for the forgotten laboring man. He has no antipathy to the rich nor a desire to eliminate the bosses. His foes are those who are globalists before patriots. His foreign policy is good will to all; but America first. He too has an Evita.

His mixture of left-right appeal and willingness to be a strong leader of an activist government building public works infrastructure would be appreciated by Peron. Trump sees Christianity and economic nationalism, not free markets, as the religious and economic base of America. His critics think he does not speak like a president.

Pope Francis in Argentina was sympathetic to the earliest rendition of Peron and his movement. The Argentine archbishop had icy relationships with the modernist Peronists like the secular feminist President Cristina de Kirchner. Kirchner is to Peron what Hillary Clinton is to John Kennedy: same label but not quite the same deal. Pope Francis sees global capitalism and international finance as an organized kleptocracy. He sees the nation as a primary locus of solidarity in politics, the way he sees the parish as the local base of solidarity in church life. He refuses to reduce political life to liberty and equality saying there must be fraternity as well. He refers to the Falkland Islands as the Malvinas.  His cry for the workingman has been for land, labor, and lodging. His theology finds the locus of the people not in the divide of the working class against the rich but in the faithful people united as a nation. His peculiar Latin and Argentine political theology is not Marxist liberation nor globalist liberalism.  He doesn’t speak in either voice. His critics think he doesn’t speak like a pope.

The pope for all of humanity and the president for the largest Christian country have very different roles as they speak for their different interlocking social bodies. The pope sees refugees as fellow humans who need a place to stay -- Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt. The president sees refugees as possible murderers of his people and acts to keep them away. Christianity is speaking in two voices. The pope must call men to sit and talk all the time. The president must also sit and talk. But sometimes he must kill, and then sit and talk again. The pope must not shed blood. The president must not shirk from shedding blood to build the tranquility of order. They have very different roles. After the president sheds blood, he will need a Christian who did not. In Christian civilization, there are many presidents protecting distinct peoples. There is one pope speaking for the species.

We should not let these different roles obscure how very similar these two new leaders of this new epoch are. They have both broken through the conservative-liberal stalemate by opening new fronts in the life of the church and nation. They are both men shaped by a Christian notion of politics in which Christian love and loyalty runs through the corporate form of the nation. They both confound the intellectual class. The pope now is reviled by the right, while the president is reviled by the left. Give them time and for each the reviling will soon come from the other wing. They are both strongly conscious of the man who works with his hands  for his bread and lodging. They must both heed the will of God and be open to the Spirit. They both know we are in an epochal change of relations between men and nations. And thanks to each of them, so we are.    

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