It’s the off-year summer of a presidential cycle, which makes it time for people to get excited about candidates who will never be president.

For some, it’s Donald Trump. I prefer Pope Francis.

Constitutional sticklers are going to say that the pope can’t run for president because he wasn’t born here. But I refuse to believe that Trump could be elected in the land of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, so both candidates are equally improbable.

Let’s just say these two figures in the summer’s news represent the two poles of our polarized politics, the fight between unfettered acquisition and communitarian values.

Or, on the one hand, you have a dogmatic ruler who lives in a palace and thinks he’s infallible – and on the other, you have the pope.

Imagine this debate:

Pope: “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation.”

Trump: “Here’s the good news: I’m very rich. The money you’re talking about is a lot, but it’s peanuts for me.”

As the old labor movement anthem goes, “Which side are you on?”

Easy. The pope’s. I’m not Catholic, but after reading the inspiring speeches he delivered in South America last week, I’m jumping on the bandwagon, or Popemobile, at least as far as politics goes.

The pope cast environmental and global economic issues in stark moral terms. He is calling for rejection of policies that lead to “poverty, inequality and exclusion.” These are problems that demand fundamental change, he said, and they stem from our love of money.

“Once capital becomes an idol, and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.”


But we are living in a world where there are many people on “the Donald’s” side.

Despite making a spectacle of his greed for decades, despite showing that his lust for money is only matched by his lack of taste, despite being one of the least attractive human beings on the planet – Trump is leading in some polls for the Republican presidential nomination.

That’s not an endorsement of his comb-over, it’s a direct response to his relentless and false attacks on immigrants, especially those from Mexico, who he has libelously accused of mass criminality including drug running, rape and murder.

This is something that other politicians try to do with more subtlety (like Gov. LePage’s baseless but repeated claim that African immigrants are the source of diseases), but it is in line with what the part of America that lives by Fox News has been taught to fear.

LePage has already endorsed his pal Chris Christie for president, but who would the Maine governor team up with in a Trump-versus-Pope Francis smackdown? Probably not the guy who tweeted, “To change the world we must be good to those who cannot repay us.”

I think we can also guess where LePage’s commissioner of health and human services would land. You could almost hear Mary Mayhew squeal with delight when this newspaper reported Monday that some of immigrants categorized as asylum seekers may not have filed their application paperwork.

Using the term “illegal alien” 11 times in a 350-word news release, Mayhew implied that the distribution of humanitarian aid for foreign-born people in desperate need was the reason that the state is not taking adequate care of elderly and disabled “citizens.”

And Team Trump could probably count on the handful of Republican lawmakers who, along with Lewiston conservative activist Stavros Mendros, are threatening a people’s veto campaign to yank back the basic aid through General Assistance for people who have escaped death, torture, rape and oppression in their home countries.

Spending money and exerting effort to put the fate of a small group of powerless immigrants up for a vote would be an appalling act of selfishness, hysteria and racism. And it would dovetail perfectly with a Trump campaign.

The pope is singing a different tune, and others in American politics are humming along.

Bernie Sanders, the former socialist from Vermont who filled the Cross Insurance Center last week to deliver an anti-Wall Street message, would land squarely in the pope’s camp.

Hillary Clinton desperately appeared to be trying to lean that way Monday, when she called for economic fairness without proposing any major changes to the financial system.

If the question of this election is “which side are you on,” leaning may not be enough.