When the news comes from the White House that the incumbent US President has a trip planned to visit your country, said news is received with around the same amount of joy as the possibility of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease was back in 2001. When Trump visited Britain, fears of mass protests were so great that his trip almost entirely avoided the capital city. Perhaps one reason for the vitriol the British public displayed towards Trump was that the memory of him and Theresa May holding hands, like the stars of a low-budget, teatime drama about Reagan and Thatcher, was embossed forever on their minds.
As could be expected, as the news that Donald Trump plans to visit Ireland in November adorned the cover of this weekend’s Irish Times, the mood on social media was somewhat similar to what you might expect. It was as if they had announced that a bright young necromancer had just exhumed and reanimated Oliver Cromwell. However, there is gold in the hills for those with the want and will to find it. There is one reason why any proud Irish citizen should welcome Trump to this country, Michael D. Higgins.
The Irish presidential election is due to be held on 26th October, and Higgins, as of yet the only confirmed candidate, is expected to sail quite comfortably to a second term. If he is reelected as expected, a meeting with Trump would be a most fitting way for him to kickstart his second term of Office. History may give us a sense of how a meeting of the two leaders might go. I am specifically referring to an interview Higgins gave, just one year prior to being elected President originally in 2011, to a right-wing American talk show host Michael Graham.
It is important to note the context in which the interview took place. It occurred during the year of the 2010 midterm elections, the watershed which saw the Tea Party movement emerge at the forefront of US national politics, and arguably paved way for Trump’s successful campaign in 2016 (a plurality of 37% of self-identified Tea Party Republicans supported his candidacy). The language which Higgins uses against Graham, a Tea Party organizer, could easily be recycled if one is to transplant Trump into the equation. The line which made the clip go viral is where Higgins urges Graham ‘to be proud to be a decent American rather than just a wanker whipping up fear.’
The tone and content of what Higgins says is most important, nicely punctuated by a well-chosen swear, Higgins noted that the ‘image of the United States is getting better’ as improvements have been made from the economic to issues of civil and human rights. Yet he also urged caution of the ‘Sarah Palin lookalikes and followers’ whose tactic is ‘to get a large crowd, whip them up, try and discover what it is that creates fear, work on that and feed it right back and you get a frenzy,’ which is a line that takes new meaning within the rearview of more recent developments.
Anyone who is familiar with Higgins’ speech and writing will recognise these sentiments, as they will be familiar with not only the sheer depth of his intellect but also passion of his delivery. He represents the very best of the nation- the old legend of a land of saints and scholars- and encourages us away from the work of petty demons which seek to divide us. It does not need to be said that an Uachtaráin is the antithesis of the President.
Another thought to take away from this interview, is that Higgins did not simply walk away from talking to Graham but instead stood his ground and defended his beliefs in a manner which was thoughtful and articulate, though he still allowed himself for a healthy modicum of anger to bubble above the surface. This manner of conducting oneself in political life is worthy to take note of when we see it, so that we may learn from it. In an era where the phenomenon of ‘no-platforming’ is becoming ever more prevalent, and where even in the year when politicians and people of all persuasions came together to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Arlene Foster could not bring herself to meet Pope Francis along with other party leaders.
More and more people seem less and less willing to actively engage with dissenting opinion in ways that don’t include snide remarks and parody. Such a mode of conduct is not conducive to nor is it sustainable within a democratic political process.