NEW YORK – Almost two years after Pope Francis addressed the United Nations General Assembly with a plea to “set aside partisan and ideological interests…to serve the common good,” President Trump praised the body for its ability to work together for a “better future” — but made it clear that he was intent on prioritizing American interests.
“I will always put America first just like you, the leaders of your countries, should put your countries first,” Trump said in his inaugural address to the more than 150 international delegates.
The president used his time at the dais to advocate for a limited refugee resettlement program, hinted at potential military action in Venezuela, and pledged to “totally destroy North Korea” should they continue with their nuclear threats.
While the president was quick to praise the compassion and generosity of the American people, he also made it clear that it had limitations.
“If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph,” said Trump. “Major portions of the world are in conflict and some, in fact, are going to hell,” he added.
Republican Congressman Sean Duffy told Crux that he was proud of the president’s bold words on Tuesday.
“As a Catholic and father of eight, I am proud that President Donald Trump stood up for the dignity of human life all over the world, and that he called on all nations of the world to allow their people to ‘flourish in the fullness of the life intended by God,’” he said.
“I am encouraged that he was crystal clear about standing up to the threat of both radical Islamic terrorism and rogue regimes who plot against our freedoms,” he added.
A Compassionate Country – with Limitations and Borders
In addressing the global refugee crisis, the president said that the United States was a compassionate country and would continue to support efforts to resettle refugees, but would focus on doing so closer to their home countries.
“For the cost of resettling one refugee in the United States, we can assist more than 10 in their home region,” said Trump.
William Canny, executive director of Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, believes the president’s remarks fail to account for the refugees that are unable to be settled close to their countries of origin.
“I share the President’s desire to help people stay where they are and in nearby surrounding countries,” said Canny, “but the United Nations has made specific, consolidated appeals to provide for basic needs, such as food, shelter, and schooling, and only 60 percent of the outlined needs of refugees were met last year and only 38 percent of those needs have been met so far this year.”
According to Canny, the U.N. has determined that approximately one million refugees can’t go home or stay in the country from where they fled.
“Historically, we have been able to welcome 75,000 to 90,000 — a small percentage of that number — to this country to start new lives,” Canny told Crux.
“These are vulnerable families, often with children, that have had extensive security vetting. There is no trade-off to be made. This is not merely about the generosity of taxpayers and citizens but a personal commitment to welcoming the stranger,” he said.
Addressing Venezuela’s ‘humanitarian problem’
The president also had strong words for President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, whom he labeled as a “socialist dictator” who has “brought a once thriving nation to the brink of total collapse.”
En route home from Colombia last week, Pope Francis said he would like for the United Nations to intervene in what he described as a “humanitarian problem” in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan bishops have maintained a strong position against the Maduro government and the Vatican has sent multiple diplomatic delegations to work toward a solution to the crisis.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Trump said “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.” He went on to imply that he was willing to use military action if necessary.
Father Robert Sirico, president of the Action Institute, a free-market based think tank, welcomed the president’s remarks.
“Having visited Venezuela over the years both pre and post Chávez, and I have seen a beautiful and prosperous society turned into one racked by a ruinous and unjust economic system,” Sirico told Crux.
(Hugo Chávez, Maduro’s predecessor, instituted his “Bolivarian Revolution” while in office from 1999 until his death in 2013.)
“I was relieved and encouraged to hear President Trump’s remarks at the U.N. about the causes for the social, political and economic dislocation it is presently experiencing. Everywhere socialism has been tried, in part or in whole, proves that it is, in the words of St. John Paul II, ‘an anthropological error,’ one that has left numerous bodies in its wake,” he said.
“Those leaders in politics, the church and the entertainment industry who have attempted to defend, justify or explain away the social injustice of Venezuelan socialism owe the world community and especially the beleaguered people of Venezuela, an apology,” Sirico added.
Catholic Social Thought—and Tensions
In an interview with Crux, Claes Ryn, executive director of the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at the Catholic University of America, said Trump’s speech would be remembered for its confrontational style, particularly against North Korea, and his emphasis on the importance of national sovereignty.
Ryn said he believes that on one hand the President is fairly well aligned with Catholic social thought when it comes to emphasizing sovereignty — but he believes the President’s approach to North Korea fails to match Catholic teaching.
“Catholic social thought, in its predominant trend, regards the principle of subsidiarity as a primary, which says only if the people directly involved cannot handle their own problems should one turn to a different authority,” said Ryn.
“Independence, patriotism, sovereignty — you can easily see how these themes link up with Catholic social thought to the extent that it emphasizes subsidiarity,” he said.
“The current rhetoric of the administration and the president is headed in the opposite direction of trying to diffuse conflict…it seems to be hard to reconcile the President’s rhetoric with Catholic social thought on this particular score,” he added.
In a tweet on Tuesday morning offering a veiled commentary on the global proceedings, Pope Francis urged international cooperation.
“Let us work together to find concrete solutions to help the poor, refugees, victims of modern forms of slavery, in order to promote peace,” he wrote.
But for the President, his Twitter summation was more direct: “As President of the United States of America, I will ALWAYS put #AmericaFirst.”