Francis, the Anti-Strongman

his critics see his approach as that of a stealthy revolutionary or a reckless agent of disruption. In fact, Francis’s exercise of the papal role reflects the Jesuit practice of discernment, which involves waiting, listening, letting competing options for action emerge, and choosing one after prayer and internal deliberation.

.. The group of advisory cardinals is significant because it belies the supposed solitary autonomy of papal decision-making and incorporates cardinals from places long thought remote from power: Santiago, Chile, and Mumbai, India, as well as Munich and Boston.

.. The 2015 synod on marriage and the family, judged a debacle by many, is better understood as an instance of soft power in action. By calling the synod, Francis signaled that the issues surrounding Catholic teaching on marriage are not closed to further Vatican discussion — in sharp contrast to the “Rome has spoken” approach of his predecessors. Then Francis set out to point the synod discussions in a progressive direction on the issue of whether divorced-and-remarried Catholics in certain countries may receive communion at Mass. Traditionalists accused Francis of flirting with heresy.

.. But discussions were had, and cardinals who opposed Francis were heard — because Francis let them be heard. He gave a closing speech thick with exasperation, replaced some resistant curial officials and demoted the hostile American Cardinal Raymond Burke — but he set aside the most far-reaching proposals about marriage and family for a future time, meanwhile keeping the discussion open.

.. Francis has acted on his conviction that Catholic faith is less about the use of power to shape the social order — the stuff of present strongmen and past popes — than about straightforward efforts of kindness and generosity.

.. Symbolically, the papacy is meant to be a “contrast structure” to worldly forms of authority. Too often, it has been such a structure in the wrong ways: crabbed, self-protecting, aloof and denunciatory. Five years into his pontificate, Francis is no small-d democrat, no faultless leader — and no perfect pope. And yet in this pope, our upside-down age has a leader whose approach and example stand as reminders of what the sensitive exercise of power can look like.

Dictators Love Trump, and He Loves Them

If you’re a murderous dictator, this is a joyous time to be alive.

No one will make much of a fuss if your opposition leader is jailed, if an annoying journalist goes missing or if, as happened in Congo, a judge who displeases the dictatorial president suffers a home invasion in which goons rape his wife and daughter.

.. The U.S. has abandoned a bipartisan consensus on human rights that goes back decades.

.. I’m back from Myanmar, where leaders are finding that this is also the optimal time to commit genocide.

The army conducted a scorched-earth campaign against the Rohingya ethnic minority, with soldiers throwing babies onto bonfires as they raped the mothers.

.. In the past, human rights was at least one thread of our foreign policy.

.. Trump defended Vladimir Putin for killing critics (“What? You think our country’s so innocent?”), and praised Egypt’s brutal president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, for “a fantastic job.” Trump hailed the Philippines’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, whose dirty war on drugs has claimed 12,000 lives, for an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

.. when Trump visited Manila, he laughed as Duterte called reporters “spies” — in a country where aggressive journalism has landed people in the morgue.

.. A record number of journalists are in prison worldwide

.. Trump has met with the leaders of each of the three top jailers of journalists — China, Russia and Turkey — and as far as we know, has never raised the issue of press freedom with them.

.. “What’s completely gone is the bipartisan consensus that was a cornerstone of our foreign policy, that if you imprison journalists and restrict the media, there will be consequences,”

.. In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen approvingly cited Trump’s attacks on fake news as a precedent for closing down radio stations and the much admired newspaper Cambodia Daily. After the crackdown, in November, Trump posed for a photograph with Hun Sen, flashing a thumbs-up — and Hun Sen praised the American president for his lack of interest in human rights.

.. “Your policy is being changed,” Hun Sen declared gratefully, and he lauded Trump for being “most respectful.”

.. Trump told the king of repressive Bahrain, “there won’t be strain with this administration.”

.. the government responded a few days later by killing five protesters

..  sentencing Rajab himself to five years in prison for his tweets.

.. Trump’s soft spot for authoritarianism goes way back. He has spoken sympathetically of the Chinese government’s massacres of pro-democracy protesters in 1989, and of Saddam Hussein’s approach to counterterrorism.

.. Periodically, Trump does raise human rights issues, but only to bludgeon enemies like North Korea or Venezuela. This is so ham-handed and hypocritical that it simply diminishes American standing further.

.. approval of the United States has collapsed to a record low of 30 percent. Indeed, more people now approve of China than of the United States. Russia is just behind us.

.. “Trump has been a disaster for U.S. soft power,”

.. “He’s so hated around the world that he’s radioactive. So on those rare occasions when he does something about human rights, it only tarnishes the cause.”

..  In Myanmar, a young Rohingya man pleaded with me: “Please don’t let us be treated as animals.

Trump has learned a lot. But he’s neglecting a huge part of American leadership.

The real problem the United States confronts is not that it will be overtaken by China or another contender, but that it will face a rise in the power resources of many others — both states and nonstate actors. Our problem will be entropy — the inability to get work done. We will face an increasing number of new transnational issues that will require as much power with others as it does power over others.

This is a world that requires networks, institutions and the soft power of attraction. In a world of growing complexity, the most connected states are the most powerful.