Centuries ago, Christendom was accustomed to the periodic existence of “antipopes.”
They were clerics who, whether through spiritual conviction or political machinations, challenged the designated pontiff with rival claims to the top seat in the Vatican. Sometimes kingdoms backed them. Often men died for them.
In our more global and secular context, it’s arguably the principal figure in the White House — not the Holy See — who commands such consequential power on earth. And in the age of President Trump, there are plenty of candidates for a putative anti-POTUS: Consider liberal leaders like the German chancellor or New Zealand’s charismatic prime minister, let alone geopolitical adversaries like the Chinese president.
But what about the pope himself? Over the course of Trump’s tenure in office, few people have cut a more contrasting figure than Pope Francis, the former Buenos Aires bishop with a Jesuit dedication for social justice and the rights of the poor and marginalized. The two have already squabbled: In 2016, Francis suggested Trump was “not Christian” because of his anti-migrant rhetoric and desire to build walls between nations. Trump reacted angrily at the time, calling the comments “disgraceful” and warning darkly that when Islamist terrorists strike the Vatican, the pope would regret not supporting a Trump presidency.