Trump and Public Discourse

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller

Like an awful lot of people, I woke up on Wednesday morning to a sense of shock and disbelief.  Donald Trump had won the US election, and I just couldn’t believe it.

It was hard to stomach, because, on the face of it Trump espoused values that we have seen as being abhorrent, malign, vicious, cruel and petty.

Wednesday was a day spent in a daze, trolling through social media looking for some release of emotion – and there was plenty of emotion there.  Fear, mostly; and shock that over 60 MILLION people voted for him.

So, to put a shape on my thought: What has he said, what will he be like in power, what are the likely repercussions, and what will my reaction be?

What Has He Said?

Over the course of the campaign Trump has been a bruising fighter.  He has displayed an absolute ruthlessness in how he deals with anyone with the misfortune to cross his sights:

  • He has mocked a disabled reporter
  • He has referred to Mexicans in America as rapists and criminals (but he thinks that some are probably ok)
  • He has boasted about sexually assaulting women (and then dismissed it as locker room talk)
  • He has said if Ivanka weren’t his daughter, he could be dating her (!)
  • He tried to deny Obama’s citizenship
  • He tried to promote violence against protesters in his rallies “I’ll pay the legal fees”
  • He wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States

What Will He Be Like In Power?

The simple fact is that we don’t know what he will actually be like in power.  For the very good reason that the American system has checks and balances.  There is the Senate and there is the House of Representatives.  The politicians here all care about being re-elected, and some may have their eyes on a larger prize.  I REALLY hope that they will be able to put the brakes on some of his excesses.

However, some of the signs aren’t good: his Vice President is a right wing Christian who thinks members of the LGBT community can be ‘cured’ by conversion therapy.  Hmmm.  Not to be underestimated is the sinister nature of an advisor who wants to start a register of all Muslims in America.

Public Discourse

Let’s take the idea (possible fairytale) that the checks and balances work, and that Trump doesn’t get to exert the xenophobic, homophobic, islamophobic, misogynistic ideas that he appears to treasure.

No. Even if Trump is kept in check, he has still done an untold amount of damage to Public Discourse.

You see, even if he is kept in check, his words have been uttered.  He has spoken, and he has been repeated, quoted, and (God help us) admired.

There is a trickle down (or flash flood) effect from his words.  When the head of state speaks as if misogyny, racism, discrimination and hatred are normal – then it’s fair to assume a number of citizens will take that lead.

His words alone won’t create racists – but they do give freedom to any racist to express their repugnant views.  Already, there is a lot of evidence of an increase of racism.

So, there is a lot to fear.  Will the next 4 years see the dismantling of civil society?  Will we see a rampant increase in hate crime; in sexual assault; in intolerance?

The fact that the Ku Klux Klan can announce a parade to celebrate Trump’s election means I’m not optimistic.  In other news, one Southern University had posters put up warning white women not to date black men.

My (Our) Response?

As a people, we can’t allow hatred to win.

In a number of American cities there are ongoing protests against Trump’s victory, and against the policies he as spewed.  This is partly heartening, but partly disheartening as some of the protests have turned violent (the very antithesis of what the protests were intended for)

However, correcting a slide in civic discourse is a task that falls to all of us.

How often have any of us:

  • heard racist language against someone in our presence?
  • seen a person with disability overlooked or belittled?
  • tolerated institutional racism in our own country? (Direct Provision in Ireland, anyone?)
  • seen discrimination of women?

It is the task of all of us to stand up to discrimination and hatred in all its forms.  And this only works in a spirit of nonviolence.  Look to the heroes of the 20th century – people like Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King.

This kind of thing isn’t easy.  The good stuff never comes easy, but is worthwhile.  We need to speak out. We need to speak out for the socialists, the Trade Unionists, the Jews.  And yes, we need to speak out for the Muslims, for the members of the LGBT community, for the poor, in fact for any minority who’s Human Rights are being undermined.

There has been huge progress in civil rights over the past century, let’s not let the next four years undermine all of that.

And for any Americans out there – look to the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty:



The Local Elections

In two weeks time we’re heading for the poles to elect our next round of county Councillors and Members of the European Parliament.

There are a few big changes this year.

  • Town councils are being abolished, and some councils are being amalgamated.  (from 114 local authorities to 31)
  • The total number of Councillors in Ireland will reduce from 1,627 to 950 (a drop of 677 seats)
  • With the property tax being earmarked to go to the local councils, they will have their own funding for the first time in about 40 years.


And what do our Councillors do?

  • Make decisions about how the local budget is spent.
  • This may be on Housing, Roads, Libraries, Amenities (playgrounds, etc)
  • Make policy decisions around various local issues
  • Help people dealing with the bureaucracy of a council

Local councillors can’t make any decision regarding national issues, for example in Education, Health, etc.

So, when we go to the polls on Friday 23rd, what are we voting for?

Well, a lot of us are angry at the way the country has gone, and the narrative goes like this:

‘Fianna Fail fiddled while the whole thing exploded, we voted for Fine Gael and Labour to fix it.  Fine Gael because they promised political reform and Labour because we believed they would keep Fine Gael in check (Just in case too much of the blue-shirt gene started showing)

‘Unfortunately, Fine Gael haven’t reformed politics, there were no report cards on under-performing politicians, and very, very few resignations.  Labour have supported FEMPI and seem to be a bit too enthusiastic in cutting some areas and I don’t trust the shinners I’ve heard there’s a Green Party, but haven’t seen of them recently, they’ve gone extinct, I think.’

The question now becomes what does this have to do with the Local Elections?

For each of us it is this.  Do I vote for the person who will work for my local community/needs/interests or do I work to support a party or a political ideal?  And in this case the political ideal may be to shout to the government that ‘enough is enough’.  Do I vote against the government candidates just to prove a point?  And if so, who do I vote for then?

But, if all politics are local, then is it also important to look at the candidates who have served their communities well, and ask them to keep on doing the same?

I haven’t figured out my own answer to that question yet, but I do need to look at it.  The only thing I am sure of is that Saturday 24th will be a very busy day for the pundits.