“Words matter. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can empower. Words can divide.” – Michael D Higgins, in his acceptance speech on Saturday, having been re-elected president, with the greatest personal mandate in the history of the State.
On Saturday morning, a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Three separate services were underway in the synagogue, including a baby-naming service. Armed with an AR 15-style assault rifle and hand guns, and shouting anti-Semitic slogans, he shot dead 11 people. His eldest victim was 97.
Shortly before the attack, the gunman posted: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
Earlier in the week, pipe bombs had been posted to prominent Democrats and Democrat supporters. An FBI profile suggested the MAGABomber (a play on Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan) was likely to be an older, working-class single white male, known to law enforcement agencies and poorly educated. He was also likely be a Trump supporter.
That last was hardly a surprise, given that those targeted were all critics of Trump and had been subjected to Trump’s trademark Twitter tirades.
Among those sent pipe bombs were Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, former attorney general Eric Holder, former director of national intelligence James Clapper, former CIA director John Brennan, Democrat senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Oscar-winning Hollywood star Robert DeNiro and liberal billionaires Tom Steyer and George Soros.
George Soros is a name which Irish readers might recognise: a bogeyman for right-wing campaigners, the Jewish billionaire Soros was a particular target for anti-choice voices in the Repeal referendum. He has been subjected by his opponents to centuries-old anti-Semitic slurs.
On Friday, when Cesar Sayoc (56) was arrested in Florida, it turned out the FBI’s profile was on the money. A fanatical Trump fan, Sayoc seems to have lived in his van, which was festooned in pro-Trump, anti-Democrat stickers, including one which depicted Hillary Clinton in cross-hairs. A registered Republican, he had numerous previous convictions for assault and battery.
On Twitter, of course, President Trump blamed the media, and hinted that Sayoc was in some way a Democrat stooge, just as Trump pretended he hasn’t stirred up anti-Semitic hatred against prominent Jewish voices like Soros.
“The Fake News is doing everything in their power to blame Republicans, Conservatives and me for the division and hatred that has been going on for so long in our Country,” tweeted President Hairdo.
“Actually, it is their Fake & Dishonest reporting which is causing problems far greater than they understand!
“There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame…”
Truthfully, it is disturbing to see how quickly the United States has descended into Hell.
But of course, here in kind and gentle Ireland, we would never fall for a Trump, a millionaire who coarsens public discourse and who targets minorities and who plays to the worst instincts of his disaffected supporters.
You can see where I’m going with this.
Peter Casey was trailing at 2% in opinion polls before the presidential election.
A somewhat incoherent speaker, Casey’s unique selling point, such as it was, was the diaspora, although it was hard to avoid the suspicion that Casey vaguely remembered hearing Mary Robinson banging on about the diaspora, whatever that was, and figured he’d swipe it.
Casey made rambling, barely-thought-through statements about harnessing the power of the internet, giving every impression that he had only just heard of the internet from some lad he met in the pub the other night.
Then Casey made what may well have been top-of-the-head remarks about the Travelling Community and his campaign took off. The media fell for it – of course we did – and Casey was suddenly box-office. He doubled down on Travellers, and for good effect attacked those of us who depend on social welfare too.
Imagine that. Imagine the unmitigated gall of a millionaire who pays his taxes in the US, a golf-club boor, a man who contributes next to nothing to Ireland, having a go at some of the most vulnerable people in this country.
Doing it for votes. Doing it for the laugh.
In the end, Casey finished second in the presidential election, albeit a very distant second. But by attacking Travellers, his vote rocketed from 2% to 23%.
Some dismissed Casey’s vote as an aberration, a one-off protest. In the Irish Times, Pat Leahy asked: “Do you really think Peter Casey will be a significant figure in our politics in six months? In six weeks? Like Dana is? Like Declan Ganley is? If there was a space for a right-wing, conservative, law and order, low taxes party, what happened to Renua?”
An obvious answer to that is that perhaps Renua might have thrived had its founder gone after Travellers the way Casey did. She didn’t, because – whatever her politics – Lucinda Creighton is a decent and responsible human being, and she would never in a million years pander to racism. (Her successors in Renua have no such scruples, offering Casey the party leadership.)
In a second-tier election, some people voted for Casey in a no-consequence protest vote, secure in the knowledge that they could kick the establishment while the outcome was a foregone conclusion. You know, like the Brits thought they were doing with Brexit.
Some people voted for Casey because they don’t like Michael D, perhaps finding his ideas too high-falutin’, or his prosidontial occent aaahhrritating.
Some people voted for Casey because, as the last two referendums showed, there is a solid third of the electorate that doesn’t buy into the prevailing liberal consensus and resents the direction the country has taken.
And some people voted for Casey because they are racists and hate Travellers.
The real headline from the presidential election should be that Ireland re-elected a feminist, socialist intellectual as our Head of State, granting him the largest personal mandate in the history of the State.
If you want a follow-up for that headline, 43% of those who voted for Michael D – like me – simply could not bring themselves to give a second preference to any other candidate.
In his acceptance speech, President Higgins took no prisoners.
“We are in a time of transformation and there is a momentum for empathy, compassion, inclusion and solidarity which must be recognised and celebrated.
“A real republic is a life lived together and ‘together’ has been one of those words that has resonated throughout this campaign, as has another word – ‘authenticity’. Both are so important. People are interested in conversations and ideas that are sincere and constructive.
“Words matter. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can empower. Words can divide.
“A real republic is one where every person is encouraged and supported to participate fully and where every person and community is treated with dignity and respect.”
That’s the Ireland I want.
That’s why I voted for Michael D.