Sunday 25 September 2016

Like a 'long, slow swim through a bed of sewage'

The Republican candidate has emerged as champion of the armies of the alienated who will say the unsayable and who has no fear of the consequences

Fergal Keane

Published 07/08/2016 | 02:30

Donald Trump unburdens himself at a campaign event in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo: Sara D Davis/Getty Images
Donald Trump unburdens himself at a campaign event in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo: Sara D Davis/Getty Images

It has become a journalistic commonplace to describe the Trump campaign for the White House as a 'rollercoaster'. It is both tediously literal and fundamentally untrue. A rollercoaster does indeed soar up and swoop down. But it is a playground attraction full of breathless excitement.

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Critics of the Trump campaign effectively characterise it by appropriating the phrase of Frank O'Connor who described certain proceeds of the Senate as being like "a long, slow swim through a bed of sewage".

Let us remind ourselves of what the news cycle so swiftly forgets: the presidential nominee of the party of Lincoln has described Mexican immigrants to the United States as rapists and thieves; he has called for a wall to be built between Mexico and the US; he has called for a ban - generously described as a temporary - on Muslims entering the United States; mocked a fellow Republican who suffered torture at the hands of the Viet Cong; denigrated the parents of a Muslim soldier who died fighting for America; indulged in misogynyistic bullying of a television journalist and mockery of another who suffers from a physical disability.

This is just a very abbreviated list. There are many reasons for his popularity. The armies of the alienated have found a champion who will say the unsayable, legitimising their rage and zeroing in on targets who cannot fight back.

Trump does not fear the consequences of his words because for him, there are no consequences. A man of some entrepreneurial failures - including bankruptcies - and success, has been transformed into a tribune of those impoverished by the big finance madness of the noughties.

The big secret in this is the role of television. For more than 20 years across the English speaking world reality television, and the bear pit chat shows of Jerry Springer et al, has elevated such behaviour.

Well-educated men and women in high positions chased ratings while claiming to be democratising the mass media.

Those who argued about where this downward gallop might be heading were dismissed as elitist and old fashioned. The terms 'metropolitan' and 'elite' were hurled at anybody who wanted to inject reason into a debate. To be 'out of touch' with the feelings of the masses was the greatest sin. It was in this climate that Trump could prosper and become a household name.

Now he has emerged fully formed from the world of television with the essential attributes for victory in an age like ours.

***

To Cork and the warm welcome of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival. I was invited to speak about human rights in a divided world.

The festival is held in honour of the brave Cork woman Mary Harris Jones who emigrated to America after the Famine and became a champion of organised labour and defender of children's rights. Such a woman is needed to fight Mr Trump. The audience was informed and engaged. The questions were lively and intelligent.

In all such gatherings there will be at least one individual who believes that America and the West in general are the root of all evils.

Mr Putin's armed aggression in Ukraine will not trouble such a world view.

One such character stood up and asked if the rise of Trump was not altogether a bad thing as it would hasten the end of the American empire "which had caused so much suffering in the world".

I replied that the fall of empires usually hurt the people at the bottom of the pile far more than those at the top. Afterwards my interlocutor approached. I noticed he had a Robert Fisk book under his arm. Noam Chomsky and Jon Pilger must have been in the vicinity.

The Holy Trinity of the absolutely certain are never far from each other in the bookshelves of the pure minded.

"That Turkish coup," he said "surely it was a black flag operation?"

On the far left and far right everything is a conspiracy. No it was not, I tried to explain. It was the real deal, a coup that could very easily have decapitated the Turkish leadership and brought back military rule. I don't think I convinced him. Somewhere in his mind he saw the vast fluttering tentacles of the CIA and the Military Industrial Complex.

***

I have taken to swimming in the early morning or rather I have succumbed to the peer pressure of uncles and cousins.

So it was I found myself at Goat Island yesterday under a pale sun with even paler skin contemplating the frigid seas.

It has become the fashion in this locality for a group of as many as 20 to leap into the morning tide here whatever the weather. Has anybody any idea when this tendency gained popularity in Ireland? It is very much out of character.

The avoidance of any undue physical strain has always been, to me, one of the more progressive aspects of our national nature.

Perhaps it is a response to austerity. We may be finding our way back to the more spartan ideals of the early monks. Or maybe not.

I could not bear to have my own feeble efforts witnessed by a large crowd so I arrived earlier with a few sturdy relatives.

My dear uncle Paul Hassett is an arch-proponent of the 'Val' theory of life. He believes it is the obligation of each of us to extract maximum value from the day, thus mortifying dives in cold water are regarded as getting the "full Val".

By God, the cold nearly did for me. I quickly lost feeling in the lower part of my body. On diving under my lungs were propelled into my mouth, my eyes retreated into the interior of my skull.

A few strokes later I was staggering out of the water uttering a stream of profanities when my eye caught sight of a Peregrine falcon riding the breeze on the cliffs above.

Proud bird of the morning. He carried my spirits with him.

Fergal Keane is a BBC Speical Correspondent

Sunday Independent

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