Wednesday 19 June 2019

Comment: If you're a racist or homophobe you're all right with us - as long as you have some Irish blood in you

'The Taoiseach pivoted from decrying Mr Trump’s comments as racist to rationalising those racist remarks as made “in the heat of battle”, he is quickly adjusting to this new reality.' Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
'The Taoiseach pivoted from decrying Mr Trump’s comments as racist to rationalising those racist remarks as made “in the heat of battle”, he is quickly adjusting to this new reality.' Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Ancestry obviously trumps ethics for some in Ireland as an unseemly rush to brown-nose the odious new American administration begins in earnest.

Donald Trump is the American president-elect, a horrifying reality the Irish government must accept, even if it doesn't like it very much. Given how swiftly the Taoiseach pivoted from decrying Mr Trump's comments as racist to rationalising those racist remarks as made "in the heat of battle", he is quickly adjusting to this new reality.

However, the rest of us can be more circumspect. We don't have to pretend the last 18 months of rancid campaigning never took place. We don't have to forget the racism, the xenophobia and the misogyny that Mr Trump and his acolytes whipped up in order to win the presidency.

More than that, we must remember it. We must guard the memory of every bigoted remark and sexist slur so that when Mr Trump is eventually sworn into office, we can measure his performance against that rhetoric.

Mr Trump's language may become more restrained now that he is president-elect, but we have a duty to recall the racism underpinning much of his policy platform and call it out as such if and when he attempts to enact it.

Unfortunately, there are those out there who don't want to remember. Who are happy to forget. They don't care what Mr Trump and his administration stand for. Their only concern is that they are in power.

Take Tubbercurry Chamber of Commerce, for instance. Spokesperson Roger McCarrick could barely contain his delight last week when Mike Pence, whose grandfather emigrated from the town in 1923, became vice president.

"We will be writing to him officially to invite him to the home of his ancestors. Regardless of policies, he is still an ex-Tubbercurry man as far as we are concerned," he said.

The policies it might be awkward to mention include Mr Pence's well-documented homophobia. He believes gay people can be cured by conversion therapy - a discredited theory that sexual orientation is a choice.

During a previous congressional campaign, in a section of his website called, 'Strengthening the American Family', Mr Pence wrote: "Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour."

He has also spoken out against same-sex marriage, saying its introduction would lead to "societal collapse", and stated LGBT people should not benefit from anti-discrimination legislation, like the kind that has existed in this country for many years.

"Congress should oppose any effort to recognise homosexuals as a discrete and insular minority entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws," he said.

Meanwhile, last year, when Mr Pence was Indiana governor, he signed an anti-LGBT "religious liberty" law that allows businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

There is no evidence Mr Pence has changed these views. In fact, he was chosen by Mr Trump as his VP nominee precisely because he holds them - in an effort to appeal to the Christian right, a demographic Mr Trump needed to win the election.

Today, Mr Pence is in charge of Mr Trump's transition team, which is tasked with filling more than 4,000 government jobs by January. Even more alarming is the fact Mr Trump has previously stated he views the VP position as analogous to a CEO in a company while he would be its chairman - suggesting Mr Pence could be more involved than Mr Trump in the messy minutiae of governing.

Perhaps, Mr McCarrick was cognisant of this when he made his remarks - of the power that Mr Pence, a long-lost son of Tubercurry, now wields. But does he really think he can simply gloss over his bigotry and celebrate his ancestry in a vacuum of shamrocks and shillelaghs?

What do LGBT people living in Tubercurry think of this proud endorsement and invitation? At least one, Hayley Fox-Roberts, was horrified at the prospect.

"As a member of the region's LGBT community and a founder-member of Northwest LGBT Pride, I cannot understand why a man who advocates for LGBT 'conversion therapy', and who speaks hatred, homophobia and transphobia every day, would receive any welcome," she wrote in a letter to Sligo County Council.

Forget whitewashing, we greenwash in this country. Anyone with any genealogical link to the country, no matter how tenuous or how far back, is fawned over and fêted, no matter how despicable.

Are we so insecure, so uncertain about our own talent and influence, that we have to rely on dubious blood ties in order to feel comfortable about our place in the world? Are our genes the best thing that we have to offer?

I have yet to hear British or French or German politicians wax lyrical about foreign leaders' connections to their countries, even though they must exist occasionally.

The previous government even went to the trouble of devising a 'certificate of Irish heritage' for those unfortunates who couldn't find ancestors going back three generations and were denied a passport. Embarrassingly, no one wanted one and the scheme was quietly abandoned.

Drowning foreign dignitaries in a sea of paddywhackery is bad enough, but are we really going to start lionising politicians who hold views as extreme as Mr Pence simply because they've a connection to the country?

Mr Trump's chief strategist, Steven Bannon, who formerly ran far-right website Breitbart News and whose ex-wife stated in court he didn't want his children to attend school with Jews, is also apparently an Irish-American.

Will genealogists be poring over his family tree in a desperate attempt to find an Irish town with links to his ancestors? Will that town be championing their connection? Let's hope they show more restraint than Tubercurry Chamber of Commerce.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss