Americans in Ireland are deeply divided as Fourth of July arrives

Some fear the direction the US is taking under Trump, while others see cause for celebration

Andrew Grossen is an American living in Ireland. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Andrew Grossen is an American living in Ireland. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

During the summer of 2016, Minnesota native Andrew Grossen was interning with his state’s senator Amy Klobuchar in Washington, DC, in between academic semesters at University College Dublin.

For the Fourth of July, the US holiday that commemorates the country’s declaration of independence, he got to watch the fireworks over the National Mall in the political heart of the country’s capital.

It was the last year of the Obama administration, and Democrats looked set to maintain control of the White House.

According to US pollster FiveThirtyEight, on that midsummer day, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had a 77.6 per cent chance of winning the presidential election the following November.

Donald Trump, the political outsider and candidate for the Republican Party, was trailing her significantly.

As he watched the celebrations that night, Grossen felt hopeful.

“We were kind of wondering where this is going to go, but we still had that hope that it’s going to be okay,” he remembers.

Now, more than two years into a Trump presidency, the Fourth of July is a more reflective and lower-key US national day of celebration for Grossen, who is still living in Ireland pursuing his master’s degree.

He spent a year of his secondary school education in Tipperary and loved Ireland so much he returned to do his undergraduate degree in Dublin.

Arriving on Irish soil during the Obama administration, there was a certain pride in being American. There were people who very critical of the US at that time, and that was to be expected, according to Grossen. But now, things feel different for him.

“I still love my hometown, my home state and the people in America,” he says, but he finds there is a challenge there in conveying the view that opposing the American government is not opposing the American people.

Irish people, according to him, overwhelmingly understand his position.

Among the crowds at the anti-Trump protest in Dublin last month, “the people I saw and met really made that clear and welcomed me as an American in that protest”.

The Dublin demonstration was one of many that took place across the country in response to the US president’s visit, and the 6m inflatable Trump baby blimp was on loan from London for the occasion.

Salute to America

A month after his Irish visit, Trump is set to host a Salute to America celebration in Washington, DC, on the Fourth of July. He will deliver an address at the National Mall, the same stretch of monuments where Grossen watched the commemorative fireworks three years earlier.

NBC News reported that top donors to the Republican National Committee were given the best tickets to the event.

The event, US-born Wexford resident Wendy Connolly says, is “everything in America that we need to solve being celebrated”.

Six years ago, Connolly attended one last Fourth of July celebration in her local town of Cerritos, California, before moving to Ireland.

She remembers people from all sorts of backgrounds gathering in the town park, bringing all of their traditions to one place.

Her local congresswoman, representative Loretta Sanchez from the Democratic Party, sat at a card table listening to her constituents’ stories and complaints. People brought food to the celebration, children played together, and a fireworks display crackled in the evening sky.

“And I looked around, it was extremely poignant, and thought: ‘Yes.’ This was the snapshot of America that I want to bring with me,” Connolly recalls.

“This is where the whole world washes up, brings its best, and starts to create something new. Needless to say, back then I had no idea how fragile that would be.”

Connolly believes Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, whether you agreed with the minutiae of his administration or not, was civil and “represented America to other nations in a very capable and gracious way”.

Now, she says, the first question out of people’s mouths when they hear her accent in Ireland is how does she feel about Trump. “There’s caution there and I don’t blame them in the slightest,” she says.

Cause for celebration

However, for other Americans living Ireland, Trump’s presidency has been a cause for celebration.

For former New York City police officer Thomas O’Hara, who is currently based in the Irish midlands, the president’s message of “America First” was appealing.

According to O’Hara, Trump was the right man for the right time. Someone who wasn’t a politician, who was moving back to having pride in being American.

In the wake of the US president meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last week, O’Hara says that predictions of war between the two countries under a Trump presidency turned out to be wide of the mark.

“Look what’s going on now,” he says, “they’re talking.”

For Thomas, this Fourth of July and the ones preceding it under a Trump presidency don’t feel any different.

“I’ve always been patriotic,” he says, “I’ve always stood for the national anthem, saluted the national anthem.

“So as a registered Republican, I’m happy, especially with what’s going on over there at the moment. It just seems the other side is trying to get away from everything American.”

With the majority of Americans continuing to disapprove of Trump’s presidency, according to the latest polls, the country’s citizens both at home and abroad remain deeply divided along political faultlines.

But, for Maureen Lancaster, an American living in Cork who splits her time between the US and Ireland, the Fourth of July offers a time for unity.

“For me, it symbolises that hope that our generation can live up to the challenge and find a better way,” she says, “including those who support our current president in that effort, and not contribute further to the deep polarisation and divisions within the American people.”