09 November 2016

Like many Irish people, and people all around the world, I went to bed last night feeling apprehensive, and woke up to realise that a nightmare had become a reality.

A man who has, at every opportunity, sought to demean and belittle whole swathes of his society, has become the leader of the largest free nation in the world. That’s a sobering reality.

Most of us got involved in politics because at a really basic level, we wanted to do our bit to make the world a better place; to improve the lives of our people. In doing so, we have a duty to set high standards, and to hold ourselves to them; to imagine a better world, and to persuade people that our imaginings can be brought to life.

There isn’t a politician who hasn’t occasionally failed in that endeavour. We are human, and we err. But time and again, we try to be better. And sometimes we succeed.

The trying is most of the battle. But our occasional successes can lift a people, and renew their faith in democracy.
What we saw last night was in a different vein entirely.

President-elect Trump never once sought to be the best possible version of himself. Over the last year and more, he sought out every possible fear and insecurity in the American people. And then he ruthlessly preyed upon them.

He brought political discourse to a new and shameful low-point. And along the way, he picked almost every marginalised group, and targeted them with hate-filled rhetoric.

And this is all the more tragic because the United States gave the world the very idea of a Bill of Rights, and has long presented itself as the land of the free and the brave.

There’s an old adage that people campaign in poetry, and govern in prose. In his poetry, President-elect Trump always sought to go low. In his prose we can only hope that he occasionally reaches high.

That said, as a democrat, I must and do respect the decision of the American people. They have voted for a man they believe will change things, and they have voted to say they are unhappy with the status quo. Across the western world, we need to reflect on that message.

But as President Putin congratulates President-elect Trump, and as Nigel Farage and Marine le Pen look forward to meeting with him, we truly have cause to be concerned.

We commemorated a century of our proud history during the course of this year. But today, we have to wonder how much of our history we in the western world have managed to forget.

Far-right forces, building on support from disaffected working class communities, are once more growing and targeting bile at vulnerable minorities. How quickly we forget.

Today, those of us who reject such an approach to politics must turn to our task with renewed determination.

We must fight to rebuild the basic social contract, allowing each generation to know that progress will mean their lives will be better than those of their parents, and that the same will be true in turn for their children.

We must fight against segregation within our schools, or the ghettoization of vulnerable communities – we must do these things because we need to once more live with our neighbours and know them.

We can no longer allow an underclass to develop across society – a group who feel that society is failing them, and as a result feel no loyalty to that society.

This is a real and substantial challenge to democrats and progressives the world over. But it is a challenge we must take on.


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