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09th Nov 2016

Irish people have the power to change the impact of a President Trump

Nobody thought it would happen, and then it did. 

It is a familiar cycle from across the Atlantic. We hope, we despair. We hope, we despair. This is the pattern that governs us, our bi-polar expression of political engagement. The glimmering hope of Bill Clinton, the blundering despair of George Bush, the pure hope of Obama, the crushing despair of President Elect Donald Trump and on and on and on.

It is easy to say we do not engage in this rolling wheel of emotion in Ireland, easy to say that Irish people recognise when political hope must be sustained and believed in for long enough to effect change.

Yes it is easy to criticise America, especially today. Yet it is important to recognise that the vast ocean between Ireland and America is one of similarities, not of vast difference. 

We too suffer from a collective amnesia that means as a nation we are ready to forget the past and vote back in the same parties, the same politicians, the same policies that left our country in the doldrums of a recession.

We continue to abide by the same corruptions and inconsistencies, continue to be distracted by small details, while politicians continue to pander to the private sector, meaning a select few get rich and many more just get to survive.

We lament America choosing an anti-immigration candidate and yet Ireland’s policy of sentencing asylum seekers to the indefinite prison of direct provision has been more effective than a stone wall in keeping immigrants off our green isle.

We besiege America for its misogyny, yet fail to change the composition of our cabinet.

We wonder how so many people can be taken in by the hyperbole of 140 characters and look no further than their tailor-made Facebook feeds for news and analysis.

The drama of the US election is on such a scale that Irish politics can seem to fade into insignificance for all but an invested few.

As voters and perhaps as humans we have itchy feet, we strive for the unknown, whether that is the top of a mountain or the bottom of an ocean or the uncertainty of a President who has never held a position of public office.

Donald Trump’s victory has cast a white shadow over millions of people. His is a triumph of racism, misogyny, demagoguery and narcissism.

It is a triumph of the Republican party over the Democrats but it is not a triumph of one man over a nation. It was the American people who elected Donald Trump, but should they be held responsible?

Donald Trump speaks to the marginalised people of America who feel left behind by globalisation and a diversifying world economy. Inequality has risen in the USA and the median income has fallen in recent years, particularly among the under-educated and those with no college degree. This is a group that dominantly voted for the Republican candidate.

Over the coming days there will be an effort to normalise Donald Trump’s behaviour, to neutralise the controversies of his campaign and to restore some semblance of trust in the man who will lead America until 2020.

In this effort by commentators, much will be made of Trump being ‘the people’s choice’, echoes of Brexit will reverberate as experts are rejected and the the ‘will of the people’ will demand to be respected.

Donald Trump is the despair. He is a symptom of the disease that has been steeping within a system for years, the final and catalytic product of a culture that has continually endorsed celebrity over substance.

The salve to the Trump inflicted wounds is not in a *deep breath* mantra of ‘it is only four years’. The anecdote must be people and their ability to continue rather than resign.

In Ireland too, politics is power, but it is not powerful without its people. Ideas which at the outset are considered ridiculous or extreme gradually become what people think they’ve always believed. The idea of same-sex marriage was abhorrent in our country until it wasn’t. The fringe idea of President Trump was an obscene dream, until it isn’t.

The transformation that occurs between ideas existing only on the fringes to become accepted staples of the mainstream can be quick. It is the cliché of people power, our ability to give gravitas to an idea and a microphone to its preacher.

Just as Americans plea for every individual to vote, emphasising the power of a single ballot. The obligations of individuals Irish and American to lend their voices and support to issues of conscience remain.

2016 has been a year of fractures, of war and of death.

The temptation is to turn away from Syria, from Mosul, from Calais, from the onslaught of media coverage that seems to produce nothing but dirt and human horror. But turning away is as pointless as a vote for President Harambe.

It may feel like a momentary hit of anti-establishment dopamine, to ignore the world around you, but the despair will continue as long as the disease of a system which doesn’t hear the plights of its people continues.