No matter which way you look at it, I’m the child of immigrants. My mother was born on a small farm in Cavan and emigrated to America in 1980. What else was there to do? Cavan is a small place and the economy was in a terrible state with no work to be found. There were 7 children in the family, 6 of whom emigrated (the rest went to Britain). In New York she met my father, a man from Brooklyn with a Danish surname. In 1990, they returned to Ireland, she had become an American citizen and later him an Irish citizen. So when I was born in 1991, I was automatically a dual citizen with a foot in either world.
To be honest, I’ve never given my American side much thought. In Ireland we don’t really do hyphens or care much about our heritage. I was born in Ireland, I grew up in Ireland, therefore I’m Irish. It’s not as if there is a huge culture clash, after all Irish people listen to American music, watch American TV, wear the same clothes, speak the same language and have a linked history. Sure there are many differences between Ireland and America, but I felt these were no larger than the differences between New York and Texas or New York and other parts of New York. I felt these were no more than regional differences in a larger, shared culture.
Until now. I’ll be honest, I’m still in shock over the fact that Americans have chosen Donald Trump as their next President (even typing that felt weird). I stayed up until 8am watching the results with a mounting sense of fear and horror. My blog post “How Fascism Takes Over” has received a surge in views, it’s receiving more views every hour than this blog gets in a day. How could this be happening? Has the country gone mad?
I’m generally an optimist, so when I saw racism and sexism, I told myself that these problems were fading away over time and that each generation is more tolerant than the last. There certainly are bigots, but they are a tiny and isolated number. While there are those who spread hate and tell us that immigrants are coming to rob us, that Muslims want to oppress us, that women are objects for our enjoyment, I believed that most people were decent and welcoming. That they could see through these lies and keep them isolated.
Now I’m not so sure. Donald Trump ran on an open campaign of racism, sexism and bigotry. He is a bully, a rude and arrogant man who has dragged political discourse into the mud. He is riding a wave of white nationalism appealing to white men who are angry that they no longer control the country alone. He is a semi-Fascist threatening to drag America into darkness. Almost 60 million people looked at his bigotry and lies and decided they liked it.
They saw him call Mexicans rapists and criminals and liked what they saw.
They saw him treat all Muslims as potential terrorists and liked it.
They heard more than a dozen women accuse him of sexual assault, heard him all but confirm it and still voted for him.
They heard him promise to jail his political opponent and liked it.
They heard him promise to reform libel laws to silence critical journalists and voted for him.
He and his father refused to rent apartments to black people and people still voted for him.
They saw a man who cannot be trusted with Twitter and decided to trust him with the nuclear codes.
It horrifies me that people saw the bigotry Trump is spewing and liked it.
The worst thing is that he has taken all this disgusting bigotry and made them normal. Judging people based on the colour of their skin or their ethnicity is no longer a horrible prejudice, it’s just a different political opinion and somehow worthy of respect. Whether or not immigrants are criminals who should be thrown out of the country, is just an issue to be debated. The first time Trump spouted his nonsense, people condemned him, but the more he says it, the more we get used to it, until it becomes politics as normal. Bigots will enthusiastically spread hate about Muslims, confident that their President supports them.
He has issued a tidal wave of lies so large that it’s impossible for fact checkers to keep up with him. Even when he is shown to be wrong, he still keeps lying. His speeches are incoherent ramblings that cannot be parodied because they are too ridiculous. He accuses his opponents of the most bizarre nonsense and uses childish insults. He claimed that Clinton and Obama are the founders of ISIS. The strongest criticism and most cutting satire is to simply repeat his words. His ego is so fragile that he regularly gets in fights over the pettiest things. There is no conspiracy theory too crazy for him, he will repeat them all as fact.
He has gone bankrupt multiple times but ran his campaign on the basis of being a successful businessman. He has promised to build a wall and somehow make Mexico pay for it. He scammed thousands of people with false promises at Trump University. His tax plan will enrich the elite and bankrupt the country. He boost of not paying taxes. He has no idea how to run the country and a complete absence of policies.
Yet people saw all this and still voted for him.
All of this made me realise that I don’t understand Americans. I look at Trump and see a buffoon and a liar. A dishonest scam artist worthy only of ridicule. Yet tens of millions of Americans looked at the same man and saw a leader, a smart businessman who was going to challenge the establishment. I simply don’t understand how anyone can even consider voting for Trump. I don’t understand why Americans cling to their guns as expressions of freedom, how tens of millions believe that every word of the Bible is true and that God talks to them and their leaders. I don’t understand how they believe any act of the government is filthy socialism or why veterans are worshiped as living saints. I don’t understand how they debate over whether global warming is actually real or whether Obama is a Muslim.
Of course it is unfair to blame all Americans for Trump, after all, tens of millions voted against him (in fact Clinton received more votes than Trump but still lost, another thing I don’t understand about America). But the fact that there was even a debate is incomprehensible to me. The fact that one half of the country believes the lies is beyond me. When Trump spreads bigotry, millions cheer and this scares me. It horrifies me to see his lies repeated, to see his nonsense taken as fact. This is only the beginning, we will have to endure at least four years of this nightmare. The problem is not one crazy man, it’s the fact that tens of millions think the same as him. The fact that it has gotten this far, makes America seem like a strange and foreign place me.
This isn’t to say that Irish people are the best. We can be petty, tribal and closed-minded. We vote for corrupt politicians just because they are from our parish. We mimic anti-Irish prejudice throughout history in our treatment of Travellers. The legacy of the Catholic Church alone is a mountain of shame. If a semi-Fascist ran for election blaming our problems on immigrants, it wouldn’t be impossible for them to win. Yet these flaws are but a shadow of Trump. Even at our worse there is an absence of the extremism that Americans consider normal. More importantly, I understand these flaws, I understand how and why people believe them. For better or worse, they are my people. Ireland may be a small, wet and wind-swept island, but it is my home. It is my country.
I have met many Americans who are as decent as anyone else and visited many great places in America. But it will never be home to me and I will never be one of them. I have two passports but only one flag.