Almost from the start, Ireland’s shared history with the United States has been accompanied by a sense of bafflement. Back in 1887, Oscar Wilde was remarking that “we have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language”.
These days the situation has changed, in linguistic terms at least: there are times when it seems that every Irish person under 18 speaks in a simulacrum of a Californian accent. But in other areas the mutual miscomprehension appears greater than ever, as when Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday and Sunday) invites on an American guest to profess vocal support for US president Donald Trump.
The American in question, Republican party activist Alice Butler-Short, is Irish by birth, but her endorsement of Trump is charged with a true-born nativist fervour that speaks of her years living in the US state of Virginia (as does her hybrid accent).
Trump, in her account, is not a crass genital-grabbing, racially-divisive, serially-lying bully. Rather, Butler-Short sees a president who “has turned the country around in every way”, by boosting business confidence, reducing illegal immigration and revitalising the military.
And, notably, by not being his predecessor. “We wake up every morning and say ‘thank you God, Obama is gone’,” she says, in a chipper tone.
Butler-Short talks with a folksy optimism far removed from the stereotype of the angry Trump voter, seething with resentment at outsiders and elites. But when Finucane reminds her guest that she is an immigrant herself, Butler-Short says it’s a question of legality, while disdainfully talking about immigrants “who don’t work and are a drain”.
She also dismisses criticism of Trump’s ambivalent attitude to white supremacists, saying the only shared characteristics with other Republicans is a commitment to “maintaining our history”.
And, of course, the media is responsible for all the negativity surrounding the president. In contrast, she says, the “majority of the American people” are pleased with his performance: a factually incorrect statement, which goes unchallenged.
Such views might be called selective. But when she describes Trump as a “kind, loving, compassionate man” and a “unifier”, the gulf between the continents – not to mention between fantasy and reality – seems unbridgeable.
Perhaps predictably she receives a dubious reception from the other guests on Finucane’s customary Sunday panel, even tipping into outright hostility. The host, however, defends Butler-Short’s right to speak.
“It’s a point of view you don’t often hear on this side of the pond,” Finucane says, which is maybe why she doesn’t challenge her guest’s shakier assertions too robustly. Butler-Short’s views may be perplexing to outsiders and, for that matter, the majority of Americans. But it’s instructive to hear from Trump’s supporters no matter how baffling their language.
Author Mary Kenny has never been afraid of controversy, first as an Irish feminist pioneer and later as a right-leaning newspaper columnist. But she strikes an almost equivocal air when interviewed by Miriam O'Callaghan (Sunday With Miriam, RTÉ Radio 1).
Taking her cue from the title of Kenny's new book, Am I a Feminist? Are You?, O'Callaghan starts by asking the obvious question: "So are you a feminist?" Kenny's reply is oddly convoluted, eventually defining a feminist as "someone of an independent cast of mind" who "doesn't conform one way or another". That's clear, so.
Kenny then notes that “equality is complex” as men and women are different. To underline this she points to the challenges faced by women who serve as frontline troops: doubtless true, but hardly a relevant example for most women’s daily experiences.
Later, in relation to sexual harassment, Kenny suggests that in the past some women didn’t mind men wolf-whistling at them: “Maybe they were more robust.”
“Or maybe they just felt they had to put up with it,” replies O’Callaghan, in a rare rebuke, “and now women aren’t prepared to accept that.”
Yet for the most part the conversation is reflective in nature. When O’Callaghan posits that her guest has become increasingly conservative, Kenny prefers a more conciliatory stance that “to live is to change”.
She’s also perceptive. When a listener texts that feminism has brought “misery” by causing working women to “farm out” their children, Kenny suggests there’s no ideal solution to the childcare question, but also observes that “capitalism wants to drive everyone into productive work”.
There’s a hint of melancholia, as when she speaks of her loneliness as a widow.
She also talks about her regret at missing out on education by leaving school at 16. “Feminism has been an education for me, a way of learning,” Kenny says, almost wistfully. It’s as good a definition of feminism as you’ll hear, a thoughtful end to one of the most arresting conversations O’Callaghan has hosted for a while.
Actor Cillian Murphy has long been reticent about his life and career, so when he appears on Mystery Train (Lyric, Sunday-Thursday), host John Kelly stresses that it's not an interview, rather a discussion of the Cork-born star's favourite music.
Yet for all that, Murphy ends up talking about himself quite a bit, from his youthful musical endeavours and early breaks to the demands of his profession and his best-known roles.
Much of this is down to Kelly’s ability as an interviewer. By turns knowledgeable and genial as he surveys his guest’s intriguing musical choices, the host almost imperceptibly nudges Murphy towards professional and even personal areas.
It’s an enjoyable encounter, helped by a wide-ranging soundtrack and the presenter’s disarmingly wry asides. When they discover they both studied German at school, Kelly chuckles. “All I learnt in German was how to count to three and say the Hail Mary. Which is no use in Hamburg.”
Now you’re talking my language.
Radio Moment of the Week: Kenny’s stream of filth
On Wednesday, Paul Murphy TD appears on the Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) to discuss the refunding of water charges. It's a pleasingly spirited exchange, with Kenny gleefully arguing with his guest about the wisdom of abolishing the charges, particularly in regard to using such funds to solve the sewage pollution of waterways. "The child is swimming in the river," Kenny muses, "and the turd floats by, and they're thinking, 'maybe Paul Murphy did this to me?'"
“They’d be wrong,” Murphy replies, unsurprisingly sounding slightly stunned. Talk about a potty mouth.