Being non-religious, I don't see Pope Francis as possessing any special divine inspiration. However, there's no doubt that the Pope is a wise, caring, compassionate person, with messages we here in Salem should take to heart.
After learning about Pope Francis' remarks at the White House yesterday, and at the joint meeting of Congress today, I got to thinking about how some policies of Salem's Mayor, City Council, and other leaders in this town stack up against papal views.
There's a lot to unpack and consider in what Pope Francis said. Here's three "one liners" that offer a beginning for Salemians to ponder.
Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.
Yet when I asked the Mayor, City Manager, and eight city councilors whether they agreed with the scientific consensus on climate change, only two councilors responded affirmatively.
Given that City officials, along with the Chamber of Commerce, are pressing hard to get an unneeded, unwanted, and unpaid-for billion dollar Third Bridge built -- which would substantially increase Salem's carbon footprint and promote harmful sprawl, it's clear that the Pope's urgent moral call for action on climate change isn't shared by Salem's right-wing Mayor and city council majority.
Pope Francis also said:
A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.
Salem's leaders really are falling short here.
For example, the Chamber of Commerce and Salem Hospital are putting big bucks behind an effort to defeat a much-needed November ballot measure that would improve this town's pitifully bad bus service. A small payroll tax would make possible evening and weekend service, something that disadvantaged people who don't have a car direly need.
Yet the Powers That Be in Salem are promoting a selfish "Who Cares?" philosophy that is at odds with the Pope's compassionate message. I've heard that Salem is the only state capital west of the Mississippi that has such a deficient weekday-only bus system.
Our town's version of the 1% seem to want us to adopt a new city slogan: "Salem, Where We Don't Care."
Here's a third and final Pope Francis quote:
Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.
lt is well-known that special interests run Salem.
The communal general interest, the common good that Pope Francis speaks of, gets little attention from City of Salem leaders or the Chamber of Commerce. Making money is what they care about, not livability and quality of life for this town's people.
So many examples could be given.
Anyone who attends City Council meetings sees the disdain our Mayor and right-wing council majority have for public participation. The message citizens are given, both directly and indirectly, is "Shut up and let your elected officials make the decisions; we don't need no damn public input."
Salem's publicly owned trees are cut down for no good reason if a bank president wants this done. A historic building is destroyed against expert advice if Salem's largest employer demands this happen. Low cost sidewalks and bike lanes for the many remain unbuilt while multi-million dollar street projects that benefit a few suck up the transportation budget.
I'm pleased that Pope Francis has cast a light on how discredited "trickle down economics" and climate change denialism are a moral, as well as political, issue. Salem's leaders are acting immorally when they cater to special interests rather than the broad public interest.
Fortunately, redemption always is possible, a core Christian message. I hope our right-wing Mayor and city council majority will recognize the moral failings of their ways.
If not, elections beckon.