For baseball fans of a certain age, Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals stands alone. Musial's on-field statistics were beyond impressive. He led the National League in batting seven times, was named the league's MVP three times, was selected as an all-star 24 times and had 3,630 career hits. But what is most cherished about "Stan the Man" is his signature decency. He granted every autograph request. He treated opponents and fans with respect. In contrast with so many of today's professional athletes - the ones who egotistically showboat and pound their chest after the most ordinary of on-field plays - Musial, with his head down, would simply acknowledge the crowd's cheers after one of his 475 career home runs by modestly touching the tip of his cap.
In 2017, President Donald Trump and Pope Francis provide us almost daily with two polar opposite examples for how a leader ought to conduct himself before the crowds and in private. The pope - whom faithful Catholics believe to be infallible on matters of doctrine - is humble, publicly confessing that he is a sinner. Trump, obviously pleased with his personal and professional success, announces regularly that he is a winner.
Francis looks at the world from the bottom up, from the outside in. Donald boasts about the famous and powerful people - including Bill and Hillary Clinton, guests at Trump's most recent wedding - whom he knows and who seek his company.
After receiving a rapturous welcome in Washington and almost unanimous praise for his address to a joint session of Congress, Pope Francis declined any invitation-only china-and-crystal lunch with the powerful to go instead to the city's downtown and, as Georgetown University's John Carr wrote, spend "time with the least, those who are hungry, homeless or new to our nation." The president prefers the comfort of his own exclusive clubs and properties.
Trump is committed to building a "great" wall and to banning refugees. Francis, who traveled to meet with desperate refugees, once returned to Rome from Lesbos with three Syrian families and exhorted Christians to build bridges. Francis wrote the first papal encyclical ever on the environment, telling Catholics that their protecting "God's handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect" of their faith.
President Trump has withdrawn the United States from the agreement we reached with 194 other nations to limit carbon emissions and reduce dangerous global warming. Francis has reminded us that the human race is a family and that all wars must be, by definition, civil wars. Trump celebrates arms sales in place of global solidarity and stands unapologetically for "America first."
Washington is frankly a dispirited non-community today. Virtually all who are identified or closely associated with President Trump are either diminished or scarred, including his own White House staff, House Speaker Paul Ryan, public service and even the American value of encouraging and recognizing individual sacrifice for the common good. Pope Francis, an old Jesuit from Argentina, through the powerful teaching of his personal humility and his commitment to the poor and the marginalized, has revitalized a church that was rightly reviled and demoralized after its widespread clerical abuse of children.
The pope, according to the BBC, is the world's most popular leader. Trump is the least popular new U.S. president in the history of modern polling. President Trump personifies a culture of "me." ("Am I better off?") Pope Francis embodies a culture of "we." ("Are we better off? Are the strong among us more just? Are the weak among us more secure and more valued?") Polar opposite examples.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.