Friday 23 March 2018

It's not about Trump. What has happened in America is a rebellion

A century after 1916, the US and UK are staging their own risings, says Barbara Scully

Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

On October 31, I tweeted the following: "In 9 days' time could we be waking up to the realisation that Donald Trump is the new President of the USA? I have a sinking feeling."

I am no expert on American politics, nor am I psychic, but there was a raw energy about his campaign that worried me. I also was disappointed that Hillary never really went after him in the debates as I felt she should have. There was no slam-dunk moment when she dispensed with him as someone who so clearly outclassed and out-­experienced him, should have.

And now, as we are all reeling from the result, the media is full of questions mainly asking how we didn't see this coming. How did the polls get it so wrong? Twitter is full of despair as to how America could have elected a man who has promoted violence and hatred and spread a gospel of intolerance and misogyny.

So, has America gone rogue? Is the country populated by a majority of people who fully support The Donald's attitude to women, to immigrants, to Mexicans, to Muslims? I don't think so. Sure, there are some mad Americans who have very dysfunctional thinking about all those issues, but there are mad people in every country. I don't believe that Americans in the main voted for Trump because they think it's okay to sexually assault women or even that they want to build a wall to keep out Mexicans.

Just like Brexit, I think that the people are angry; they feel unrepresented, ignored and patronised by the establishment. Along comes The Donald, all brash incoherent nonsense, and suddenly the people have a way to make their anger felt. They use the only power they have - the power of the ballot - in order to send a very clear message which, to borrow a phrase, is that they are "mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore".

This is not about Trump. This is about the people who voted for him. And that is where our focus should be. What has happened in the US (and indeed in the UK over Brexit) is a rebellion. The conversation should now focus on why such huge numbers of people in one of the most powerful, advanced countries on the planet, feel so disenfranchised, so left behind, so ignored.

Politics surely should be about serving the people, all the people, and it is clearly failing to do that in the UK and the US and other countries including Ireland. Could it be because increasingly our ­governments are focussed on running economies as opposed to societies?

And when we focus on running economies, much like when a country goes to war, the weakest and most vulnerable become ­'collateral damage' which is considered ­justifiable in order to ensure the economy thrives.

We have lost sight of the huge pain that is inflicted on those who pay the highest price for ­austerity or the loss of industry and jobs. Whole communities were ­decimated in the US and they were then left to fester and make do, with no help to rebuild their lives. Similarly, here during the so-called austerity budgets, the highest price was paid by the weakest while those at the top in terms of wealth became wealthier.

The problem of the disenfranchised is compounded by the fact that they are rarely given a voice. In the aftermath of the US election, just like after Brexit, there is a rush to accuse voters of being stupid and uneducated, and to assume that is what led them to vote so seemingly recklessly. But that is to ­underestimate and misunderstand what has happened. We are not listening. Or maybe it is that we are not hearing. Was the media too quick to write off The Donald as a joke and then his followers as ­idiotic? Yes, most definitely. But equally, the media didn't capture what was happening at grassroots level until it was too late.

We have had two wake-up calls in quick succession this year. 2016, the year we commemorated our own Rising, will go down in history as the year that our neighbours on both sides experienced their own 'risings'. The big difference between becoming collateral damage in war and due to political decisions, is that in war you are dead and so cease to be a problem. But ­economic victims retain that most powerful of tools, their vote.

This is democracy in action and democracy is not like economics where the rules can be changed, such as happened here when it was decided that we should bail out the bondholders. The people have spoken, and they have delivered an earthquake to the political landscape in both the UK and the US. While the neighbours struggle with their new reality, we in Ireland would do well to take a long hard look at ourselves.

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