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:



Voting Yes

With just over two weeks to go until the Marriage Referendum, things have begun to get ugly in the debates (arguments) between the two camps.

This is perfectly understandable.  Many of us hold quite strong views on marriage, and what it stands for.  The problem is that marriage is not something that is tied down to a simple definition or set of beliefs.  There are as many views on what marriage is as there are married people.  We all hold some kind of opinion of what our own marriage is about – or what we think marriage should be about.  Most of us are in one of two camps.

As you may guess from the title, I’m in the ‘Yes’ camp.

Underpinning many of the arguments of the ‘No’ camp is a set of beliefs based on, well, belief.  Based on faith, and on the doctrine of the Catholic Church, a church of which I’m a member.

One part of Catholic faith that is not pursued in either camp is the idea of an informed conscience.  We each have a conscience and can make choices in our lives, so long as we inform ourselves as to what the choices and consequences are.  For me this means going beyond the headlines of the poster campaigns, and actually thinking about what the referendum means for our country, and for the thousands of people who will be directly affected by our vote on Friday 22nd.

I have written before about some of the main reasons for the ‘No’ vote and why I don’t agree with them.  So I’ll try not to repeat myself here.

Really, it’s this simple:  What is the referendum about?

Forget all the posters, forget all the fancy slogans.  Think – what does this referendum mean for you, for your understanding of marriage, for your understanding of family.

If you believe that marriage is about love, then vote yes to allow those who love each other the chance to proclaim their love in front of friends and family.

If you believe that your faith speaks against this referendum, then consider this.  Not all bishops agree with the Irish Hierarchy.  Recently  German Bishops voted to allow same-sex couples to keep their jobs in the Church.  (In Ireland a teacher can lose their job in a Church funded school if they come out as being Gay.  Apparently we have a long way to go)

For me a faith based argument against the referendum is based on a tenuous premise.  Not everyone in Ireland is Catholic, and of those who are, not everyone agrees with some of the rules of the Church.

And, apart from any of this, I base a lot of my faith on the sayings and actions of Jesus.  He was there for people who were excluded, He was there for those who needed a voice, those who needed love.

Based on this alone, I am voting yes.

We’re finally debating LGBT rights openly

There has been a lot of comment recently about the now (in)famous interview on the ‘Saturday Night Show‘ where Brendan O’Connor asked Panti Bliss (Rory O’Neill) to name homophobes, and Rory named the Iona Institute plus some other individuals.  (I’d love to give you a link to the interview, but it seems to have disappeared.  Hmmm.) [Edit, just got the link for it here]

Well, this caused a bit of a stir. In fact, the Iona Institute took such offence that they threatened legal action, and the broadcaster in question (RTE) paid out very, very quickly. They were so worried that they paid out €85,000.  You can kind of see Iona’s logic in chasing this.  They didn’t want to be branded as ‘Homophobes’, and a few quid in the kitty couldn’t hurt.  Could it?

As it turns out, legal action has had the exactly opposite effect to what Iona intended.  Rory O’Neill was invited on to the stage in the Abbey Theatre where he gave an incredibly powerful and moving speech about what it’s like to be gay in modern Ireland.  I thoroughly recommend you watch it.  Newspapers, radio and chat shows are debating homophobia, and the rights of LGBT people in Ireland.

In the Dail, two TDs who are gay spoke of their experiences of dealing with homophobia.  Gerry Buttimer was “beaten, spat at, chased, harassed and mocked”, while John Lyons had hoped he was living “in a society where this stuff isn’t acceptable anymore”.  (Click here for the Irish Times Article)

I’m certain that they didn’t intend this, but it turns out The Iona Institute turned out to be an excellent catalyst in stimulating the debate.  And for that maybe we should thank them.

On Friday (Valentine’s Day) Ellen Page came out as being Gay, in a wonderful speech at an HRCF event.  Her speech really is a must see.

So we are debating things at last.  But some of the discourse is quite disturbing.  One theme goes like this:

“Why are we still listening/reading about this?”

Amazing that after just a few weeks some people are fed up with the idea that we need a debate.  Do they have a point?

Had the same objection been listened to in the 60s in America, then would the civil rights movement had achieved any of the advances that they got?  Would we now have a President Obama?

You see, I believe the debate is needed.  As Rory O’Neill stated at the Abbey, he does feel ashamed of his ‘gayness’ sometimes.  As Ellen Page stated in her speech, she came out simply because she was tired of ‘lying by omission’.

Why should a person feel a need to be ashamed of their sexuality?  Why should any person feel judged simply they are put in a different category?  Until we can treat each other with dignity and respect those who wish to love, then we need this debate.

Shur’ Things Can’t be that bad

Well, have a look at Russia.  It is well known that President Putin has passed a number of laws that restrict the rights of gay people.

Is perspective on this is so twisted that he thought he was being gregarious when he said that gay people could come to the Sochi Olympics so long as they “leave children alone”  And there we have one of the twisted stereotypes: That being gay equates to being a paedeophile, to having a sexual perversion, to somehow being sick

What is not reported is that members of the LGBT community are in physical danger in some Russian cities.  (This article will bring you to some videos)

As it is in Ireland, for some people the term ‘Gay’ is derogatory.  That is just one of the myriad of ways in which members of the LGBT community can be put down.  Imagine.  Just the use of a word to describe you can be an insult.

It Just ain’t Christian

Ummm.  Really?  I must have missed that bit in the New Testament.  Jesus spends very little time mentioning any form of sexuality in the Gospels.   And yes, I do know that the book of Leviticus does condemn homosexuality, but , if we’re going to play games, then the Old Testament is a number card, and the Gospels are Picture Cards.  They trump what had been written beforehand.

Any reading of the person of Jesus, what he said and what he did will give you some subtle hints that he looked out for those on the edges of society.  Those who were persecuted, “beaten, spat at, chased, mocked and harassed”.

You see, Jesus didn’t have much truck with the official setup of the time.  He worked with people, not ideologies.

And, while we’re talking about Christian concerns, allowing Gay Marriage will not take away from the sanctity of marriage.  What you do with your marriage does not affect the validity or the love of mine.  Refusing to allow others to share love may, in fact, harm marriage more.

You may find this interesting.  St. Valentine lived in the Roman Empire in the 3rd Century.  He is famous for helping Christian couples to marry at a time when Christians were persecuted.  St. Valentine was executed for this.  He was willing to die so as to allow others to share their love.  He was willing to stand up for those who were persecuted.

Hold that thought.  In the not too distant future we will be asked to vote on whether we feel that gay people will be allowed to marry.  Our answer will say a lot about us as a society.

But at least we are now discussing it, and for that I say thank you Iona & Co.