It’s a horrible feeling.
A sick dread in the pit of your stomach, a sense of shock and disbelief. Hopelessness too, but more: there’s also a sense of despair at the utter unfairness of what’s just happened.
It feels like when you’re a kid and the bully just won.
“Everybody knows that the good guys lost,” as the much-loved Leonard Cohen sang.
You keep hoping it’s a bad dream, and it is, but you’re not going to wake up. This nightmare is real.
It’s more than a disappointment or an upset. It’s more than just a reaction to a defeat. We’re all used to losing – that’s part of life – but this is something far worse. This feels like a betrayal. This feels personal.
You go through life, trying to do your best. You try to have hope, you try to have faith, you try to have charity. You try to believe that – in their secret, sacred hearts – most people are good.
You hope that people are generous and inclusive and well-informed. You hope that people are optimistic and well-intentioned and outward-looking. You hope that people are clever and decent and kind.
And then, in their exercise of democracy – surely our greatest shared civic ritual – people reveal that they’re full of rage, full of fear, and perhaps even full of hatred.
That’s why it feels so personal.
It feels like you were wrong about everything, and wrong about everyone.
It’s a horrible feeling and I’ll never forget how awful I felt as I processed the result of the vote.
No, this wasn’t last Wednesday. This was twelve years ago.
Don’t get me wrong, though, I still haven’t got my head around the fact that on the 20th of January 2017, the 45th president of the United States, a self-confessed sex abuser, will place one stubby orange hand on the Holy Bible and wave the other in the air in that stupid ‘okay’ gesture and pout “I, Donald J. Trump, do solemnly swear–”
I keep thinking of Woody Guthrie. In 1951, the man who wrote ‘This Land Is Your Land‘ railed against his then-landlord Fred Trump (father of the Donald) for his policy of denying homes to Black tenants.
Old Man Trump knows
Just how much
he stirred up
In the bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed
That color line
Here at his
Eighteen hundred family project ….”
Fred Trump was a profiteer who took federal funding to build colour-blind housing projects and then denied Black people access to them to boost his profits, but Old Man Trump could never have dreamed of the racial hate his son would stir up, 65 years later, in the bloodpot of human hearts.
One of Woody Guthrie’s heirs said of Donald Trump before the election “It’s not even malevolence, it’s just… sheer stupidity.”
Bruce Springsteen said: “I don’t think he understands the forces that are in society that can get let loose, and you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. By his language, by the way he approaches his rallies, he’s given people freedom to say things that previously they may have been ashamed to do.”
And that’s the key point of the sheer awfulness of Trump. As reports come in of racist attacks on immigrants and stories from playgrounds across America tell of little children suddenly bullying proudly, it seems clear that President Elect Trump has infected every aspect of civic society in the US.
But still, though, isn’t America awful all the same?
Full of horrible, angry, racist rednecks who listen to opportunistic, populist politicians pointing the finger of blame at vulnerable minorities for political advantage.
That could never happen in Ireland.
Except it did. It happened here twelve years ago.
And strangely enough, most Irish people seem to not remember at all. Odd, that.
The 27th Amendment reads “Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, a person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, who does not have, at the time of the birth of that person, at least one parent who is an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen is not entitled to Irish citizenship or nationality, unless provided for by law.
“This section shall not apply to persons born before the date of the enactment of this section.”
I call it ‘Michael McDowell’s Say No To Black Babies Referendum’. Do you still not remember?
(If you could vote back then and profess to not remember, then I have a good idea how you voted.)
The country was awash with money when the then Justice Minister Michael McDowell, facing the European and Local Elections, decided the greatest crisis afflicting Ireland was babies. McDowell proposed a constitutional amendment to deny automatic Irish citizenship to children born here.
‘Birth tourism’ was the preferred phrase for those not actually racist enough to say ‘anchor babies’. Oh teleporting in, so they were Joe. Eleven months pregnant. Caravan trains of them. Millions. Foreigners. Blacks, like.
And so we decided that babies born in Ireland wouldn’t necessarily be born Irish babies. (Those babies would still be born here, of course. They just wouldn’t have citizenship rights and would instead live blighted childhoods in the inhumane limbo of Direct Provision.)
I’ll never forgive Fianna Fáil and the unmourned PDs for the 27th Amendment. I’ll never forgive Fine Gael either, led still by the same man who supported McDowell’s amendment.
Credit where it’s due: Labour, the Greens, Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party, the SDLP and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties all opposed the referendum.
Fat lot of good it did.
Perhaps we Irish should not be so quick to condemn or sneer at those angry British who lashed out for Brexit or those disaffected Americans we think xenophobes and misogynists for electing Trump.
In 2004, an unusually high referendum turnout of 1.8 million voters (60%) voted to pass the 27th Amendment by a staggering 80%.
It’s not just on Trumpworld that voters can be racist and reactionary. Given the same chance, Ireland grabbed it with both hands.