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When Ronald Reagan visited Ireland I marched in protest, and if Trump comes I will be proud to carry a banner against him too.
As I write this, there is no way of knowing if he will come to Ireland or even if he will still be President of America in a few weeks. He is already making the mess of the job that was predicted, so why should I be getting my marching boots ready? I have several reasons, but mainly it is a bit like the old wartime poster: ‘What did you do in the war, daddy?’ Or nowadays: ‘Were you on the side of Meryl Streep or the Ku Klux Klan?’
Reagan is now seen as a genial old buffer who, depending on your point of view, either made the world safe for democracy or was an excellent frontman for the Republicans. The idea of spreading democracy around the world is not inherently wicked. It seems not unreasonable that if the concepts of a vote-for-all, human rights and free elections spread throughout the world, it would be generally a good thing, even if it meant that more people would drink Coca-Cola and watch the Disney Channel.
The problem is that the Americans have often had a funny notion of what constitutes democracy and have unleashed the CIA on many an elected government. So even though they might talk tough about keeping Kuwait free for democracy and going to war on its behalf, it is not a democracy at all but has plenty of oil and a right-wing disposition, while Allende’s elected government in Chile was seen as a legitimate target.
Of course, Reagan and Thatcher became great friends with the fascist dictator Pinochet and cared not at all for the tortured and the disappeared. The current US President sees nothing wrong with torture and has said so on camera. The notion that a human being can order another to inflict pain on a person in cold blood — and still worship in a Christian church — is so hypocritical and downright evil that it is a wonder it is tolerated in the 21st Century, but there you are. I suppose we are not as civilised as we like to pretend.
Why get exercised about America? After all, Ireland has its own populist party with the same leader for over 30 years, and many of the members could probably have given Pinochet a tip or two on how to treat prisoners. Nobody knows who picks the leader and there is no dissent.
The shadowy figures who call the shots have their counterparts in every country in the world. Trump, and Reagan before him; Farage, Le Pen and Adams are all puppets. The ones we should protest about are the puppeteers. To use a different example: Just as for every damaged, depraved priest there seemed to have been a committee — a group of ostensibly civilised and worldly men who decided in the cold light of day to cover up his actions and move him on to fresh victims. These are the ones who need to receive the message that the right to peaceful protest is not dead, and not everybody believes their lies.
Before fascism turned the people of Europe on each other, many a decent person was taken in. At least Mussolini ‘made the trains run on time’ and Hitler had ‘the right idea about unemployment’. Tragically, the loud voices belonged to the mob, and we know how that turned out.
Trump’s regime is cruel. It is made to suit corporations. Corporations don’t have children, parents or consciences.
Decisions are made that affect refugee children. They don’t care about providing access to assault rifles to the mentally ill so they can shoot in schools, they moved to remove animal welfare legislation in the first weeks of their reign, and they are selling the future of our children’s health to the fossil fuel companies.
So I will stand against Trump, side-by-side with the Standing Rock protesters, and the environmentalists, and the LGBTQ community, defenders of women’s rights and the poor and the marginalised and the people who the big boys think don’t matter; just as I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Michael D and Noel Browne and Sr Stan and Bishop Casey on a summer’s day in Galway long ago.
In the course of history, many a man remained silent and stayed at home and one day they came for him, and he was dragged into the back of an unmarked car while the likes of Trump and Putin and Reagan toasted each other at banquets and congratulated themselves on doing a good job.