By Ailin Quinlan
ON Wednesday morning, a lot of people woke up, listened to the early headlines and felt sick as pigs.
On RTE, a well-known Irish solicitor and Hillary Clinton supporter was close to tears over the potential implications for the Supreme Court.
On the other side of the globe, a mother wept bitterly outside the White House over the potential implications for her daughter’s generation.
People were worried and shocked. Some were horrified. Others — and justifiably so, given some of Donald Trump’s previous threats — were plain terrified.
What most of us didn’t ‘get’ in the run-up to the US election was the sheer fury of the dispossessed, the angry disfranchised in the many, many dead and dying towns all over America; the struggling working and lower-middle class who lost mining and manufacturing jobs when industries collapsed or went abroad. The ever swelling army of veterans begging on the sides of the streets.
They listened closely to Trump. This was a side of America that the well-heeled of Washington, New York, Los Angeles and other big, thriving urban centres don’t usually bother to think about.
So it came as a shock when these people rose up in their millions and sent Trump, a loud-mouthed bigot who has boasted of sexually harassing women (women, he believes, should be ranked according to their looks) charging through the doors of the White House.
To me, these people didn’t so much vote for Trump as vote against a political establishment which had let them down; it was a vote for something different.
So-called experts and self-satisfied pundits across the board got it wrong because nobody bothered to notice the mounting rage and frustration of the disenfranchised of small-town America — they were probably, to paraphrase Ryan Tubridy on his programme on Wednesday, too busy having cocktails in Georgetown to bother wondering about the veteran sitting on the sidewalk of a street in Jackson, Mississippi.
As someone said, first Brexit, now Trump, what next?
The triumph of Trump — complete control of the House of representatives, the US senate and the White House — was, in effect, the triumph of hard-pressed working and lower-middle classes living outside big urban areas.
It inevitably dominated the day here in Ireland, over-shadowing things which should have grabbed our attention; the death of a homeless woman in a freezing Limerick basement and the furious rumblings in the public sector, which was exacerbated by news that nurses were about to vote on a series of strike days, joining their voices to those of the gardaí and ASTI in the pay protests.
The victories of Brexit and Trump could hold some worrying lessons for Ireland. Ours is also a government which stands accused of conveniently forgetting the very large numbers of unimportant people who are not at all well-off and who live in boring places outside Dublin and the other major cities.
It’s never a popular thing to stand up for the public sector or for the homeless in this country. Nobody wants to listen.
During the boom, you may recall, nobody wanted to be a teacher or a garda or a nurse. The money was nowhere near good enough for young people entering the workplace — they were after big bucks in the booming construction, IT and finance sectors, and job security was not an issue for them — sure, jobs were like buses as one said to me confidently, somewhere around 2006; another one’d be along in a minute.
Then came the big crash. Big earners in those high-paying but less secure workplaces lost their jobs.
Immediately the drum beats started about how the public sector should be made to ‘pay’ for their security of employment. And so it came to be. The Irish middle class — the gardai, the nurses and the teachers endured excoriating pay cuts.
And now, not so long after TDs complacently awarded themselves a handy little €5,000 pay increase worth some €100 a week, the country is utterly shocked by the fact that the gardaí, the teachers and the nurses are actually rising up and hitting back at the glaring lack of urgency about their pay restitution. Minister Paschal Donohoe said this week he can’t increase the wages of the public sector and pay for all other services at the same time. The same Minister Donohoe recently sneered that Sinn Fein’s bid to stop the pay increases for TDs was “nakedly populist”.
It’s okay, you see, to give TDs a €100 a week rise, but it’s not at all okay to properly and speedily reinstate the pay of the hard-pressed public sector which everybody likes to hate (under the much-hyped deal for pay restoration, average public sector workers will only get a rise of about €20 a week.)
Listen; the reason Trump won was that he managed to convince the little people that finally — finally — someone was listening to them. Whether he actually meant a damn thing he promised is the big question — for example, how on earth can he expect to re-open the coal mines when gas is so much cheaper? But then, hasn’t politics always been this way?
Trump as a politician, I believe — who by the way, has also threatened to eliminate the J1 Visa and drag multinationals out of Ireland back to the US with massive cuts in corporation tax — was simply more shameless about it than most. The experience of America this week provides a message for an Irish government which is still proceeding with its plan to award hefty pay rises to TDs, while refusing to look after homeless women and children or properly reimburse an increasingly resentful public sector bruised by successive recession-time pay cuts, ever-deteriorating working conditions and a lack of public support.
On top of that, despite the fact that we’re supposed to be out of recession, we still have the USC, a massive, and spiralling housing crisis with nearly 2,000 children now in emergency accommodation, families in mortgage arrears who are being harassed and who live under the threat of repossession, and private sector employees on zero-hour work contracts.
Only this week we heard about an ugly HSE memo which said nurses were “entitled” to remove patients from hospital beds “as trespassers,” using minimum force, to free up beds.
Can you imagine nurses hauling protesting patients out of their beds? The memo was later withdrawn by somebody with some sense, but it’s an interesting insight into the kind of people who run that organisation.
On top of all of this we suffer the insanity of a system which releases violent criminals and drug addicts into comfortable State-provided accommodation and then hands them medical cards while homeless single mothers and their children are forced into indefinite emergency accommodation.
Siobhán Donohue, whose three-year-old son Mason has been homeless his entire life and currently facing his third Christmas in emergency accommodation, is another good example of what our government is not doing for those who need help most. Siobhan has been on the Fingal County Council housing list for six years, but has still not been housed. The 41-year-old, who was originally from Clondalkin in Dublin, said she believed that homeless mothers and children were “dirt” to this Government.
Siobhan and so many others are a whole galaxy away from our overpaid, over-expensed TDs in Dáil Eireann who think nothing of awarding themselves a hefty pay-rise while telling ordinary workers to go eat cake.
But remember, if you please, what happened to Marie Antoinette, David Cameron, and, latterly and most shockingly, Hillary Clinton, when the ordinary people refused to eat cake.