We would all go wild for an Irish Trump
We shouldn't be too smug about how populism is sweeping US politics, says Brendan O'Connor. The same could easily happen here
Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30
We are feeling snootier than ever about America these days. Looking down on the country that pretty much defines most of our lives in terms of cinema, TV, music, books, media and thought, is a big pastime with All Right Thinking People.
Most Americans don't even have passports is an oft quoted line to illustrate the ignorance of the diverse population of this massive continent. To explain away anything good that does come out of America, All Right Thinking People will point out to you that it happened on the coast. New York and California are okay apparently. The rest of it? Ignorant hillbillies with guns.
But even All Right Thinking People are a bit taken aback at the popularity of Donald Trump. Even with their low view of Americans, All Right Thinking People still didn't believe that a barbarian like Trump could seriously threaten to become US president. Not with the mass ranks of liberal media types in Ireland and the UK plus George Clooney and the Hollywood liberals lined up against him.
But each week that goes by, All Right Thinking People are having to eat more and more of their hats. A few weeks ago they thought that the New York Times article about Trump getting a woman to put on a bikini and promoting other women in his real estate business (because women work harder! The outrage of it!) was going to sink him. But the fact that the woman he put into the bikini then went out with Trump and didn't seem to have much bad to say about him kind of scuppered that attack. That and the fact that everyone knew before the NYT expose that Trump is a sexist - or, as we say nowadays, misogynist. You will notice that no one is just sexist any more, they are misogynists - woman haters.
What All Right Thinking People are gradually having to come to terms with is that however distasteful we find Trump, he is speaking to and for a huge swathe of America's population. It is a segment of society that All Right Thinking People in America didn't really realise existed and certainly didn't understand. The media ignored these people, the establishment ignored them. Their views were not officially heard or ever sanctioned.
What All Right Thinking People in Ireland probably don't realise is that if a figure like Trump emerged here in Ireland, he or she would probably do really well too. All Right Thinking People would sniffily dismiss this as populism, which is apparently a bad thing. But populism is what happens when people feel no one else is listening to them or speaking for them. And the proportion of Irish people who feel like this is getting bigger, as it is all over Europe.
Throughout Europe, so-called "populism" is taking hold because the people feel that globalisation and migration are robbing them and their children of jobs and opportunity. They also feel that their concerns about this are not listened to and are in fact not even viewed as legitimate. All Right Thinking People welcome globalisation and immigration, as long as it has no major adverse effects on them. Those who get bothered about it, the working classes, are likened to Nazis and the people who give voice to them politically are dismissed as populist extremists.
In Ireland the issue probably hasn't crystallised as much down to immigration and globalisation. For now we feel we are doing fairly well out of globalisation and we only get really racist here when more foreigners start arriving. But there is certainly a huge cohort who feel increasingly abandoned by the establishment and who have lost faith in that establishment. There is also a notable absence of leadership in Ireland right now, and as the original Nazi himself proved, people like strong leadership.
So imagine then if a charismatic, if flaky, politician emerged here who promised to make Ireland great again. Imagine if this weekend such a person was saying, for example, that they would go tough on crime and wipe out the Kinihan drug cartel with draconian powers. Imagine if such a person said they would clean up the streets, intern all the gangland foot-soldiers and introduce special powers and emergency legislation to get the bosses. Imagine if that person promised to solve the drug problem. Even if that politician had some unacceptable views on other things, do you not think there would be huge support for them? There might even be support for this Irish Trump from some Right Thinking People, maybe the kind of people who were traditionally blueshirts, but who were shocked when the leader of their traditional party of law and order basically said last week that there was nothing he could do about this.
And imagine if this Irish Trump decided to take drastic measures to deal with the problems in the Garda. Imagine if this person came out publicly and said that the State would be taking over the direct running of the force for now to go through it like a dose of salts and sort out the problems there. How energising would such a person seem next to our current leadership, whose answer to everything is to kick it to touch in an inquiry?
Imagine how this Irish Trump would point to the impotence of the current Government, who may start finding it impossible to bring in any legislation of its own, while the Opposition seems to be able to bring forward any bills it wants. Imagine how this Irish Trump would promise to be a leader that would actually lead. Are you not starting to see how such an awful person could gain awful "populist" support from the half of the population who have deserted the traditional parties and maybe even the other half who are growing steadily disillusioned?
The Irish Trump would probably promise to declare a state of emergency about homelessness and promise to immediately get homeless families into some of the hundreds of thousands of empty houses in the country. They would also promise to take on the banks and just force them to cut variable rates tomorrow. They would probably make other rash populist promises too, like screwing more taxes out of multinationals here.
The Irish Trump would hear, in fact sense, the fears and anxieties of the people who are not heard or who are pooh poohed by the media and the establishment in Ireland. He (let's face it. He would probably be a man) would say things that were unacceptable to the Irish Times and RTE. He would doubtless say a lot of things that were daft or tasteless or out of date. He might be a dinosaur in many ways. He would possibly even be uncomfortably racist.
But he would promise to make Ireland great again, and to fix the perceived problems in rural Ireland. And he would potentially electrify a huge proportion of the voters. And the more we in the media looked down our noses at him, the more popular he would probably become. He would take on everyone, from Fintan O'Toole and Gene Kerrigan to Ivan Yates and Miriam. And his brand of plain speaking would win. He might even take on the Shinners and the Left.
We can sit here as smug as we like aghast at Trump and comforting ourselves with the fact that it could never happen here. But liberal America and the American establishment and media were the same. They thought it could never happen there. But the political establishment lost touch with the reality of many of the people. And they opened the door for him. Sound familiar?