Tuesday 18 June 2019

Enda puckers up, while Donald bends over

Bowl of shamrock in hand, the Taoiseach packs for his White House visit, damned if he does and if he doesn't

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

You'd almost feel sorry for Enda Kenny. If he bends to kiss the ample hindquarters of Donald Trump, we'll sneer at him.

But if he stands tall and treats Trump as he would any self-confessed sexual predator, he'll be accused of endangering the economic well-being of the nation.

Our culture values truth above deceit, courage above timidity, honesty above hypocrisy.

And these values are reflected in our most enduring fictional heroes - from Cu Chulainn to Don Quixote to The Lord of the Rings. We teach our children to admire honesty, integrity, kindness and courage. To thine own self be true; do the right thing; ask not what your country...

The real-life heroes held in high regard are those who place courage and conscience above sly manoeuvre - from Sylvia Pankhurst to Nelson Mandela, from Martin Luther King to Malala.

Well, that's the rhetoric we use when there's nothing at stake. That's the kind of thing we want to believe matters to us.

And, of course, in the real world most of it is little more than wishing and window dressing.

In practice, we regard courage, truth and frankness in public life as naivety.

Look at the politicians we elect. Yes, there are idealists; there are also many we know to be chancers. There are one or two who should be in jail. There are many, many cute hoors elected not because they stand for anything but because they might be good at charming or coercing a minister into dispensing goodies to the constituency.

We ask not that they do good, merely that they be cuter than the hoor in the next parish.

Look at those on whom we bestow the greatest riches. Not the hardest-working, not the useful, not the socially necessary. Again, the chancers, the ruthless, the inside dealers.

Which is why it's pointless demanding now of Enda Kenny anything other than the obsequious opportunism we have always rewarded.

Yes, Trump is different from previous US presidents.

I'm not qualified to analyse the man's psychological flaws, but his extreme personality disorder seems self-evident.

In treating refugees he has been reckless, cruel, and arguably in breach of US law.

Now, Trump and his cronies are in the process of repealing the Dodd-Frank Act, a set of regulatory measures put in place to try to ensure there won't be a repeat of the 2008 banking collapse.

One aspect of Dodd-Frank very much troubles Trump. It legally requires those handling trillions of dollars of other people's money to - as the Wall Street Journal explained - "act in the best interest of their clients".

That, it seems, is too anti-business for Trump, so it must be removed from law.

More unusual is the removal of senior military veterans from the National Security Council. In their place, Trump put his closest adviser Steve Bannon, an alleged racial extremist with a Goldman Sachs background. Bannon seems to believe a shooting war between Christianity and Islam is inevitable. He doesn't seem dismayed by the prospect.

Trump appears to lack an ideology beyond racism, greed, aggression towards women and a crude authoritarianism. He has, however, surrounded himself with an exotic menagerie of ideologues. They hate Muslims and Mexicans and they're not too fond of Jews.

The decision to leave Jews out of a White House statement about the Holocaust was the considered, deliberate act of those with the crudest of racial hang-ups.

And into this malodorous swamp strolls a smiling Enda, clutching his bowl of shamrock. Hi, lads, any chance of an oul factory or two?

There are great historical shifts under way. The EU will be changed radically by Brexit, if not pushed down a path towards break-up. In Russia, Putin sees opportunities for enlarging his gangster influence. China and India have increasing economic weight to throw around.

In the USA, discontent has allowed a mash-up of right-wing opportunists and full-blown fascists to take power. It's not the second coming of Hitler, but it contains a force of evil intent.

We routinely describe Ireland as "a small, open economy". This translates as "we've no clout, so we have to kiss ass".

We identify the strongest player in the room - be it an EU commissioner, the CEO of Apple or a racist billionaire politician with wandering hands - and we fawn and flatter in the hope that they'll do us a favour, or at least not do us too much harm.

This is described as "punching above our weight". This and other smug phrases disguise the indignity of our leaders' behaviour.

It meant swallowing the bank bailout and the Geithner humiliation. It meant, in Michael Noonan's words, "taking one" for the EU team. That damaged our people - Noonan and his kind did not suffer.

Shamrockery played well with the Clintons. Obama was bemused but gracious. And American business people are respectful of anyone with White House access.

With the Trump White House, though, the effect of shamrockery will be limited.

Enda is handicapped by his previous comments, when he called Trump "racist and dangerous". He followed that by suggesting Americans place their vote elsewhere.

It was the end of May, no one thought Trump would win. Acknowledging and condemning Trump's racism was a safe gesture, a nod and a wink to Hillary Clinton -Ye'll remember, when ye're president, won't ye, that we backed ye all along?

Once Trump was elected, Enda backtracked. He claimed he'd merely said "yes" to "racist and dangerous" when someone else asked a question.

Not true. The words were Enda's own. And Trump will be made aware of them.

He may be waiting to mug Enda, even to force a public apology. However, Trump is a sucker for flattery. If Enda lays it on with a trowel, the old gobshite may purr.

Those surrounding him are immune. There is a fascist element and they cannot be argued with, they cannot be charmed.

So long as the US remains relatively stable, Trump will blunder on, ripping people's lives apart.

Should there be another economic collapse, or a significant terrorist atrocity, there are few limits to the damage the fascist element within the Trump White House will seek to wreak.

Theresa May crawled to Trump, seeking a trade deal to help soften the effects of Brexit. Trump may use this weakness to benefit the US economy, to lever US businesses into the NHS - a move that the Tories could live with.

Or Trump may decide to be generous, in order to weaken the EU and to entice others to leave.

Enda's position is unenviable.

He will, I suspect, follow his usual form: kiss ass and claim to have been tough in private. We will nod and pretend to believe him.

Much of the discontent with politics today arises from the gap between idealistic rhetoric and sordid reality. Fianna Fail speaks of the republic, and huddles with rich cronies. Fine Gael speaks of fairness, and protects the strong while inflicting cruelty on the weak.

But the values we claim to hold dear are not fantasies, they come from our best aspirations and they contain the makings of a better world.

Imagine if there were enough politicians who recognised that and acted on it, regardless of the short-term consequences.

In such circumstances, we might have a future that doesn't include bending down towards those unappetising hindquarters.

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